Review: Windows 10

Posted in Commentary, Products with tags , on July 30, 2015 by itnerd

Windows 8 was a mistake. I can’t be any more blunt than that. The user interface which was intended for touch screens confused long time Windows users because even with a keyboard and mouse it was pretty much unusable. I have to admit that I made a lot of money downgrading people to Windows 7 when they got fed up with trying to cope with Windows 8.

I’m happy to say that Windows 10 makes up for that.

For starters, a real, honest to goodness Start Menu is back. Not that not so reasonable facsimile that existed in Windows 8. But one that has a Windows 8 concept which is Live Tiles that don’t occupy your entire screen, along with easy access to programs, settings and the like. Plus you can customize it to death so that you see as much or as little as you want. Next, you boot to a desktop and not to Live Tiles that you have to get rid of to get to the desktop. Those two things alone will have long time Windows users singing in the streets. I’ll also add that navigation is really improved. Windows 8 had things like hot corners that drove me nuts. Those have been binned in Windows 10 and replaced with Action Center which works as a notification center to collect alerts from apps and provide quick access to settings. There’s also Task View, which is basically a copy and paste of Mission Control on OS X. It displays all your open windows on a single screen so you can find what you’re looking for quickly. There’s a dedicated button to get to it which is handy. Also stolen from OS X is virtual desktops so that you can put different apps on different desktops if you so choose. Now the initial look of Windows 10 is, well, kind of dark, but it can be customized to pick an accent color that can be shown on the Start menu, task bar, and Action Center. That way you can get the look that you want.

As you can tell, Microsoft has stolen a few things from Apple. Another area that they’ve swiped from Apple is Cortana which is the Microsoft answer to Siri. You can invoke it by saying “hey Cortana” and it learns about you and keeps track of everything in a virtual notebook which you can edit to trim out information you don’t want it to remember. One advantage over Siri is if you run the Cortana app on any of your mobile devices, anything like reminders and the like get shuffled over the Microsoft Cloud to those devices. That makes it powerful in ways that Siri currently is not.

Though you won’t notice it immediately, there’s a new browser called Edge. The icon looks just like the old Internet Explorer icon. But other than that, it’s new from the ground up. Rendering most popular websites is smooth, and load times are usually good. Plus you can do annotations in the browser, and Cortana is integrated into Edge. But at the moment, extensions are scarce. I expect that to change over time, but you may find yourself downloading a copy of Firefox or Chrome, or firing up a Internet Explorer which is still there in Windows 10. But if you do switch browsers, you may have to hop through some hoops to make your choice of browser the default choice. #fail Microsoft. Actually, if you take into account the gong show in the making that is WiFi Sense and the security issues related to that, it’s a #epicfail Microsoft. But those are shockingly the only criticisms I have about Windows 10.

For the gamers out there, Windows 10 comes with the Xbox app. You can stream Xbox One games to your laptop or desktop and play them over your home network. Plus it has a DVR function so you can record your exploits in Call Of Duty and post them to YouTube. That’s not the only app present. The Mail client works a lot like Outlook.com and has swipe and other gestures on board. It’s actually quite decent. So is the Calendar app which works along a similar theme. You also get a Photos app that is actually something that may keep you from having to instantly run out and buy a copy of Photoshop Elements. There’s also a Microsoft App Store so you can get the Windows 10 apps that catch your eye.

Here’s the bottom line. Microsoft has made up for the Windows 8 debacle. And to give you a huge incentive to upgrade, Windows 10 is free if you have a legal copy of Windows 7 or 8. Also, chances are that if your computer can run Windows 7 or 8, it should be able to run Windows 10. As for how stable it is, other than my issues upgrading from Windows 7 thanks to Parallels Desktop not being ready to go on launch day, it’s been fine for me thus far. Microsoft appears to be rolling out daily updates to the OS. Thus if you have stability issues, it may be only days or weeks at the most before an update may address them. Speaking of updates, you have to take them as Microsoft no longer allows you to not accept updates to your computer as they clearly think it’s for your own good. I’m torn on that one. I see their point, but I’d like some choice in the matter as well.

My advice would be to dive in as long as the computer that you’re upgrading isn’t critical to your daily existence. But have a good backup first just in case. Chances are that you’ll like Windows 10 and you will be forgiving Microsoft for the mistake that was Windows 8.

Researcher Says GM’s OnStar App Vulnerable To Hacking [UPDATED]

Posted in Commentary with tags , on July 30, 2015 by itnerd

Fresh off the heels of Fiat Chrysler getting schooled on how their cars can be hacked remotely in very dangerous ways which then prompted a recall of said cars, comes this story about GM’s OnStar app and how it can be leveraged to do things that GM never intended:

“White-hat” hacker Samy Kamkar posted a video on Thursday saying he had figured out a way to “locate, unlock and remote-start” vehicles by intercepting communications between the OnStar RemoteLink mobile app and the OnStar service.

Kamkar said he plans to provide technical details on the hack next week in Las Vegas at the Def Con conference, where tens of thousands of hacking aficionados will gather to learn about new cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Now GM is working on a fix that should be out in days, but this is drawing the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who suggested that they disable the functionality that Kamkar has exploited until a fix is released. But in my mind, the bigger issue is this. Car companies are clearly designing functionality for cars where security isn’t top of mind. After all, it seems in every one of the these cases, trivial amounts of work is required to pretty much pwn a car. This I will say again that the car industry needs a “Patch Tuesday” mentality. But I will also add that they also have to have a security first attitude which based on these cases over the last few weeks is clearly missing.

Update: I found the video showing the hack in action using a device that Samy Kamkar created called “OwnStar”:

So…. Upgrading To Windows 10 Was Challenging

Posted in Commentary with tags , on July 29, 2015 by itnerd

As promised, here’s a report on my experience upgrading from Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 10 Home. Now I should mention one thing. The Windows 7 install that I am using is on Parallels Desktop 10 which means that it is a virtual machine. Now I had been running the Technical Preview version of Windows 10 with no issues for some time, so I assumed that upgrading to the release version would be easy. Boy was I wrong. When I fired up the Windows 7 virtual machine, I got this error:

WDDMerrorpropersize

Now, Parallels had months to get this worked out and ensure that their software was ready to go when Windows 10 launched. In fact in the last week they pushed out an update. Though the release notes mention nothing about Windows 10. But still, they shouldn’t be caught off guard like this. As I type this, a thread on the Parallels discussion forum offers nothing but a “we’re working on it” response and a bunch of ticked off Parallels users venting. Fortunately, one of their users had a workaround which I used to upgrade to Windows 10. Clearly Parallels users are more skilled than Parallels tech support.

In any case, it took a very long time to install. From start to finish it took me about 60 minutes and several reboots. But it worked. The process is largely automated and you can safely start it and walk away while it does its thing. Only at the beginning and at the end does it require user intervention.

Thus far I have no real showstopper issues to speak of. I’ll give you my impressions of Windows 10 tomorrow evening after I have had a full day with the release version of Microsoft’s latest OS.

Maliciously Crafted Media File Can Crash Android Phones

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 29, 2015 by itnerd

Hot off the heels of maliciously crafted text messages allowing a bad guy to pwn your Android phone comes this new vulnerability. According to Trend Micro, it’s a maliciously crafted media file that is the attack vector:

We have discovered a vulnerability in Android that can render a phone apparently dead – silent, unable to make calls, with a lifeless screen. This vulnerability is present from Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) up to the current version, Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop). Combined, these versions account for more than half of Android devices in use today. No patch has been issued in the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) code by the Android Engineering Team to fix this vulnerability since we reported it in late May.

This vulnerability can be exploited in two ways: either via a malicious app installed on the device, or through a specially-crafted web site. The first technique can cause long-term effects to the device: an app with an embedded MKV file that registers itself to auto-start whenever the device boots would case the OS to crash every time it is turned on.

Lovely. One other thing to consider is that like the other vulnerability that I linked to, it may take a very long time to get this fixed, assuming that you get it fixed at all. You can blame the fact that the responsibility for Android OS is so fragmented for that.

Let’s see how long it takes before exploits show up in the wild.

Windows 10 Shares Your WiFi Access With Your Contacts…. WTF?

Posted in Commentary with tags , on July 29, 2015 by itnerd

There’s one feature that Windows 10 has that you need to know about which is called WiFi Sense. Unless you opt out, it will share an encrypted version of your Wi-Fi network password with any contacts you may have listed in Outlook and Skype. The exception being Facebook friends which require an opt-in. The end result is that if one of your friends comes anywhere near your network and you’re using this feature, they can automatically connect to your network.

Here’s my concern. Microsoft does say that your contacts will only be able to share your network access, and that Wi-Fi Sense will block those users from accessing any other shared resources on your network, including computers, file shares or other devices. However, a skilled hacker is going to find some way to make all of that invalid and then they pwn your network and anything on it. But there’s more. This feature, if you want to call it that, integrates with Google Maps by letting Google index the location of your WiFi Network.

Holy lack of privacy Batman!

Microsoft’s solution, if you want to call it that, requires you to change the name of their Wi-Fi network to include the text “_optout” somewhere in the network name (for example, “oldnetworknamehere_optout”). If you want to opt out of having Google index the location of your network, you need to add  “_nomap”. But it appears that according to this article you may not be able to do both which is a #fail.

Now, those among you will note that the Microsoft article on WiFi Sense is for Windows Phone 8.x. I linked that article because it’s the only one out there that explains the feature. Plus this illustrates that this is not a new feature. It was less of a concern because Windows Phone basically has no market share. Now that Microsoft has put it into Windows 10, it’s a security nightmare waiting to happen. Microsoft really needs to rethink this and do something about it as this is something that they will live to regret.

SOTI Announces Same Day Support For Windows 10

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 29, 2015 by itnerd

In the first of many Windows 10 announcements that I expect to get today, SOTI who is a Canadian technology company that I have written about previously, has announced same day support for Windows 10 via their MobiControl Enterprise Mobility Management Solution.

MobiControl 12.3 delivers the following benefits for businesses deploying Windows 10:

  • Disabling Wi-Fi, VPN and Cellular connectivity
  • Package Deployment – IT can deploy software and data packages to Windows devices and leverage custom scripting capability for advanced policy controls
  • Enterprise File Sync – Enterprise content can be synced seamlessly between enterprise repositories and Windows 10 devices
  • With Remote Help Desk Suite, IT administrators can initiate full remote control sessions with desktop devices (PCs, laptops) running Windows 10
  • Location Services – MobiControl’s robust location services technology is now available to locate and track Windows laptops and tablets
  • Data Collection – MobiControl can run diagnostics and collect real-time data from Windows 10 devices, including device status, location, and configurable custom data

Users of Apple and Android products are also getting some love as well with the following new features:

  • Improved support for Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program

  • Improvements to Android for Work via the introduction of support for private apps and advanced policy enforcement.

For more information, SOTI has posted this blog post: www.soti.net/windows10blog

Plus they have a video online that shows their support for Windows 10 in action:

Windows 10 Launching Today…. And I Will Document My Move To It

Posted in Commentary with tags on July 29, 2015 by itnerd

Today is the day that Windows 10 launches and a Windows Blog post is trumpeting why you should make the move. Admittedly, I’ve been running a preview version for some time now in a Virtual Machine, but I wanted to see what the average user would have to go through to make the jump to Windows 10. Thus in the interest of science, I will be taking a Windows 7 Home Premium install that works perfectly, and documenting the jump to Windows 10. That way you can see what you have in store for you if you choose to do the same thing. After I make the move, I will document my thoughts on the OS now that it is officially available.

Stay tuned!

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