Spoiler: It's not the end of the world

Your PC will still be able to load other OSes if you wish to do so. Windows 8 based ARM devices will be locked down tighter than a drum. #seb #computing #UEFI #Windows #Microsoft

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Windows 8's locked bootloaders: much ado about nothing, or the end of the world as we know it?
Microsoft has published the hardware requirements that manufacturers must follow if they want to slap a "Designed for Windows 8" sticker onto their systems. In among many innocuous requirements—multitouch systems must support at least five points of touch, there must be at least 10 GB of free space available to the user, and more—are a set of requirements for Windows 8 systems' firmware. These requirements have reignited Linux users' fears that they will be locked out of Windows 8 hardware.

Get your test boxes ready to play.

Windows 8 beta coming in late February. #seb #Microsoft #Windows #Computing

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CES 2012: Windows 8 Beta In Late February
There has been some speculation over the last few months over when to expect the beta release of Windows 8. During Microsoft's final CES keynote tonight, Microsoft put that speculation to rest (more or less), announcing that the Windows 8 beta will be released to the public in late February. Also being released alongside the Windows 8 beta will be the Windows Store, Microsoft’s central repository for Metro applications. The Windows Store will be available globally, and will support every lang…

Windows 8 will include a whole new way of dealing with file storage.

You really need to read this ArsTechnica article. This is yet another amazing addition to the upcoming Windows 8. Microsoft seems to be pulling out all the stops to make the next version of Windows a major upgrade.

Windows 8 Storage Spaces detailed: pooling redundant disk space for all

When Microsoft killed Windows Home Server's "Drive Extender" technology, we mourned its loss but held up hope that the company would persevere with the concept. The company has done just that with a new Windows 8 feature called Storage Spaces, described in a lengthy post to its Building Windows 8 blog.

With Storage Spaces, physical disks are grouped together into pools, and pools are then carved up into spaces, which are formatted with a regular filesystem and are used day-to-day just like r…

Microsoft’s official write up on Storage Spaces in Windows 8.

If you want to know all the nitty-gritty details then this article gives a pretty in-depth look at it. I'm really looking forward to Windows 8 and getting my hands on some of these new tools.

Virtualizing storage for scale, resiliency, and efficiency

In this post, we are going to dive into a feature in the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Storage Spaces are going to dramatically improve how you manage large volumes of storage at home (and work). We’ve all tried the gamut of storage solutions—from JBOD arrays, to RAID boxes, or NAS boxes. Many of us have been using Windows Home Server Drive Extender and have been hoping for an approach architected more closely as part of NTFS and integrated with Windows more directly. In building the Windows 8…

Beware cold calls from people claiming to be from Microsoft about problems with your computer.

I got a fun phone call this evening. The number was blocked and my initial reaction was to not answer it, but my boss is in town and the phones at work don’t always show up properly on my phone’s caller ID so I went against my better judgement and answered it. The man on the other end of the line had a very thick Indian accent and sounded like he was working in a call center. He claimed to be an official Microsoft Technical Support technician and that they had been alerted to problems with my PC that could result in “very bad” crashes that could result in “total loss of all data.”

Naturally I was very concerned about this newly discovered risk and he helpfully offered to show me where on my computer I could see for myself the dozens of error messages they had been receiving through a “web server” (you could almost hear the double quotes in the way he said it). He had me sit down in front of my PC (I was already there) and gave me step-by-step instructions on how to launch the Event Viewer in Windows. Therein he directed me to the Custom Views and Administrative Events log where there were, indeed, dozens and dozens of error messages and warnings including some that were critical! Oh my!

These generic error messages spell my DOOOOOM!

This is why, he explained as though I were a five-year-old, that my computer was at risk and that I had hit the limit which triggered their contacting me. Not to fear, they could assist in fixing the problem! He asked if I had Internet Explorer, I said I do, so he instructed me to go to a webpage where I should download a product called Ammyy Admin 3 (it’s free!) which would allow them to assist me directly.

It was at this point that I informed him that I was a computer technician myself and that I knew there wasn’t anything wrong with my computer and that they weren’t receiving notifications through a “web server” of problems I might be having and… that’s when he hung up on me.

Now it appears that the Ammyy Admin 3 software is a legitimate product used by a number of folks that asshole scammers have latched onto for this cold calling scam because it’s free and allows them to take control of your PC once it’s installed. There’s even a forum thread on their site about this scam. Not to mention that if you Google the URL you were given you find that immediately after the link to the Ammyy software homepage are links to people reporting on this scam. Word has it that if you go along with the scam they’ll show you some more generic error messages in the Event Viewer logs and tell you it’s because your system is infected with a virus and then they’ll take you to a website where they’ll try to get you to buy an anti-virus software package that probably doesn’t do jack shit. The details vary as does the software — this account from another support professional back in 2005 said they used a remote desktop package called Teamviewer — but the scam is the same. Show you some scary looking logs and convince you to buy their bullshit software.

Here’s the thing, at any given point in time the Event Viewer is almost always going to be chock full of error messages. That’s just the nature of the Windows beast. If you’re familiar with the Event Viewer then it’s not too difficult to figure out that most of these aren’t anything to be concerned about, but for the average Jane or Joe it can look pretty alarming. Folks have said that once they take control of your PC they’ll also do stupid things like list the files in your Temp or Prefetch folder and then tell you that those files are the result of spyware or a virus. Again, if you’re not that familiar with how Windows works it could look pretty scary. One red flag that you’re being bullshitted is the fact that they have you download a free third-party Remote Desktop tool. Windows already has a Remote Desktop tool built in along with a Remote Assistance tool which Microsoft would probably make use of if it was really Microsoft. Which it isn’t because Microsoft would never call you for something like this.

As near as I can tell, the scammers aren’t using the opportunity of having full access to your computer to steal your personal information (e.g. documents, credit card numbers, bank passwords, etc.) but I didn’t dig into too many of the websites that are talking about this so I can’t say for sure that they aren’t. Needless to say, once you’ve given them access to your machine you should probably consider it comprised badly enough to back up your data, erase your hard drive, and reinstall everything from scratch. Hopefully you’ll have read this first and will recognize these assholes when they come calling.

Trying out Microsoft Security Essentials.

Microsoft entered the free anti-virus utility arena today with the release of Microsoft Security Essentials:

Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection for your home PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free* download from Microsoft that is simple to install, easy to use, and always kept up to date so you can be assured your PC is protected by the latest technology. It’s easy to tell if your PC is secure — when you’re green, you’re good. It’s that simple.

Microsoft Security Essentials runs quietly and efficiently in the background so that you are free to use your Windows-based PC the way you want—without interruptions or long computer wait times.

Early reports from folks that participated in the beta and others who have tried the final product are that it’s pretty good so I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s most attractive feature is that it’s relatively lightweight, the Vista/Win 7 (64 bit) install was 4.71MB and XP was 8.61MB, and it has a low impact on system resources. I’ve been running the free version of Avast Anti-Virus for home users for a few years now and it does a pretty good job, but can slow your system down a bit at times. One big advantage of Microsoft’s solution over Avast’s is that I’ll no longer need to reapply for a license key once a year. Not that it was ever a huge burden, but it’s nice not to have to worry about it.

Assuming, of course, that I decide to stick with it. Already after install it managed to detect a dormant trojan on my system which Avast had missed. The trojan wasn’t running as it had never been launched, but it was still surprising to see it was on my system. Avast probably would’ve caught it if I were to launch it, but it’s always best to catch it before it ever gets a toehold on your system. I suspect it tagged along on a recent ISO burning utility I downloaded to fill an immediate need as I couldn’t find my Nero Burning ROM discs. The folks over at ArsTechnica are impressed with it as well.

The upshot is that you now have even less of a reason not to have an up-to-date anti-virus utility on your system. Between all the free options already out there and this new almost no-hassle offering from Microsoft there’s no good reason not to protect yourself.

Microsoft plans to out-Wii the Wii.

This year’s E3 kicked off today and Microsoft was the first to hold their keynote event wherein they made it clear they plan to expand the Xbox 360 in ways that may draw in some of the folks who find Nintendo’s Wii so appealing. They introduced a new 3D motion sensing/voice/facial recognition add-on for the 360 that they claim will make you into the controller. In essence it provides the same full body interaction the Nintendo Wii does and more without the need for any controller at all. Check it:

If the final product does half of what they’re promising in that video it may very well give the Wii a run for its money. That’ll be especially true if they package it in as a bundle with some systems. If it manages to pull off everything in that video it’ll be an amazing bit of technology.

Personally I don’t find that system of control all that appealing for the same reasons I don’t enjoy the Wii all that much. I do look forward to hearing many stories of how Xbox 360 owners—in a repeat of what new Wii owners went through—ending up with a lot of broken TV sets from jumping around and kicking at them. With the Wii it was a matter of people losing their grip on their Wiimotes and chucking them through the screen. With this new controller for the Xbox it’ll undoubtedly be shoes flung off while kicking soccer balls or some such thing.

Found via Boing Boing Offworld.

Try Windows 7 RC free for a year.

On May 5th the Release Candidate version of Windows 7 will be made available to the general public—it’s already available to MSDN subscribers—and if you decide to give it a try you’ll have a full year before it expires:

Windows 7 RC, slated for download by MSDN and TechNet subscribers Thursday and by the general public on May 5, doesn’t expire until June 1, 2010, 13 months from Friday, Microsoft confirmed Thursday.

When asked why the company is giving users such a long free pass for the software, a spokeswoman declined to comment.

The date had been leaked more than a month ago, when a Microsoft site temporarily posted a page that revealed other details of the upcoming RC, including a May delivery and no limit on the number of downloads.

“You don’t need to rush to get Windows 7 RC,” the leaked page read in late March. “The RC release will be available at least through June 2009 and we’re not limiting the number of product keys, so you have plenty of time.”

Vista’s RCs had relatively short trial periods, a little over 6 months, so having 13 months to dick around with Windows 7 makes for a nice change. The OS itself has already generated quite a bit of buzz with a lot of folks saying it’s what Vista should have been. I downloaded the beta myself, but never got around to installing it. I’ll be setting up my system to dual boot with the RC version once it’s available.

ArsTechnica ponders if it’s time for Microsoft to force critical updates.

Meanwhile back in the Windows ‘verse all the anti-virus and system patches in the world won’t make a bit of difference if no one bothers to actually apply them to their systems. A new malware package known as Conficker has been making sudden gains on systems across the net taking advantage of a vulnerability in Windows that was patched months ago. This prompts Joel Hruska over at ArsTechnica.com to ponder whether critical updates should be forced onto systems:

Microsoft issued a patch for MS08-067 on October 23 and rates the severity of the flaw as “Critical.” for all previous versions of Windows 2000, XP, XP-64, and Server 2003. Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 are apparently less vulnerable; Microsoft’s aggregate severity rating for these two operating systems is “Important.”

There’s a story within the rise of Conficker that I think is worth exploring. Microsoft appears to have dealt with this issue in textbook fashion; the company issued a warning, released a patch, and (presumably) rolled that patch into November’s Patch Tuesday. A significant amount of time—five to six weeks—has passed since Microsoft released its fix, yet PC World reports Conficker may have already infected as many as 500,000 systems.

It would be extremely fascinating to see data on how a patch spreads throughout the Internet once released by Microsoft as well as information on whether or not the severity of any particular flaw affects how rapidly users move to apply the patch. Events like this this raise the question of whether or not Microsoft should have the capability to push critical security updates out to home users automatically, regardless of how AutoUpdate is configured. I say home users for a reason; businesses and enterprise-class companies may still need to deploy the patch on a specialized timeline in order to ensure servers stay operational.

The idea of mandatory updates is unpopular with a lot of folks, myself included, but there’s a fair argument to be made here. Microsoft takes a lot of shit for having major holes in their OS, but a lot of those holes are patched within a reasonable time upon their discovery. Those patches don’t do any good if they’re not applied and the average PC user is not a technical support guy like me and probably won’t even be aware that he needs to apply patches, but he won’t hesitate to blame Microsoft if he gets infected. At the very least I could see an argument for setting the option for critical updates to be installed automatically as the default with the option to turn it off for folks who know what they’re doing. We already have a number of different software packages, mostly DRM systems, that update themselves automatically whether the user wants them to or not and a lot of folks seem to have no problem living with that situation (the rest of us just don’t use that software). I see a much stronger argument that can be made for Microsoft doing the same with critical updates than any DRM system.

The problem of unpatched systems has gotten bad enough that back in 2005 some ISPs started blocking infected systems from using their services and others have been breaking Internet protocols in controversial ways to try and combat the problem, but the best offense is a good defense and that means individual users keeping their systems patched and running current anti-virus software.  The question then becomes: Should Microsoft be allowed to at least force the critical updates on its users?

ArsTechnica covers the unveiling of “Windows 7.”

The folks over at ArsTechnica.com attended Windows PDC and got a good look at the next version of Windows:

At PDC today, Microsoft gave the first public demonstration of Windows 7. Until now, the company has been uncharacteristically secretive about its new OS; over the past few months MS has let on that the taskbar will undergo a number of changes, and that many bundled applications would be unbundled and shipped with Windows Live instead. There have also been occasional screenshots of some of the new applets like Calculator and Paint. Now that the covers are finally off, the scale of the new OS becomes clear. The user interface has undergone the most radical overhaul and update since the introduction of Windows 95 thirteen years ago.

First, however, it’s important to note what Windows 7 isn’t. Windows 7 will not contain anything like the kind of far-reaching architectural modifications that Microsoft made with Windows Vista. Vista brought a new display layer and vastly improved security, but that came at a cost: a significant number of (badly-written) applications had difficulty running on Vista. Applications expecting to run with Administrator access were still widespread when Vista was released, and though many software vendors do a great job, there are still those that haven’t updated or fixed their software. Similarly, at its launch many hardware vendors did not have drivers that worked with the new sound or video subsystems, leaving many users frustrated.

While windows 7 doesn’t undo these architectural changes—they were essential for the long-term health of the platform—it equally hasn’t made any more. Any hardware or software that works with Windows Vista should also work correctly with Windows 7, so unlike the transition from XP to Vista, the transition from Vista to 7 won’t show any regressions; nothing that used to work will stop working.

Which should do a lot to ease concerns about whether or not one should upgrade if you’re already running Vista. So what is changing? The user experience itself:

The biggest visible result of all this is the taskbar. The taskbar in Windows 7 is worlds apart from the taskbar we’ve known and loved ever since the days of Chicago.

Text descriptions on the buttons are gone, in favor of big icons. The icons can—finally—be rearranged; no longer will restarting an application put all your taskbar icons in the wrong order. The navigation between windows is now two-level; mousing over an icon shows a set of window thumbnails, and clicking the thumbnail switches windows.

Right clicking the icons shows a new UI device that MS calls “Jump Lists”.

[…] Jump lists provide quick access to application features. Applications that use the system API for their Most Recently Used list (the list of recently-used filenames that many apps have in their File menus) will automatically acquire a Jump List containing their most recently used files. There’s also an API to allow applications to add custom entries; Media Player, for example, includes special options to control playback.

That’s just one of many major changes to how the desktop works and, frankly, I think a lot of the changes are going to be very popular. They have several screenshots in the article so it’s worth a read just to see what’s changing. The ability to “peek” at windows and the desktop is very cool and I can already see it being useful when I blog.