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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Four Faces(Versions) of Windows 8

Instead of having one interface(“Windows Store” formerly Metro) for tablets and a separate one (Desktop) for traditional programs, Microsoft has chosen to include both interfaces in Windows 8. Instead of discussing the interface usability I’ll start with the versions of Windows 8 available.

Understanding the varieties of Windows 8 can be a little confusing even for the experts so I’m going to try and explain it as simple as possible.
There are four versions of Windows 8.  Which one you choose may be pre-determined for you.

1)  Windows 8 RT (once called Windows on ARM)
If you have purchased a new tablet or similar touchy device and you like the new tiled, Windows Store, interface then a Windows RT device may meet your needs. This version isn’t sold by itself. Currently it only comes with a new device. This version won’t run standard Windows applications on its Desktop with the exception of a few provided by Microsoft. All applications must be re-created to run under an “ARM” processor commonly used in tablets and phones. New apps will be available for download and purchase in the Windows 8 Store.


2) Windows 8
For most people currently using Windows, this is the cheapest upgrade path. If you’re buying a new tablet, Ultrabook, laptop or desktop computer this may be the default version of Windows included.  This version includes the new tile or “Windows Store” interface but also includes the normal Windows desktop minus a Start button. Most of the applications that run on Windows 7 will continue to work on Windows 8.


3) Windows 8 Pro
This will be the most popular upgrade path since it includes all the professional features including BitLocker, BitLockerToGo, Client Hyper-V, Domain Join, Encrypting File System, Group Policy, Remote Desktop(host), Boot from VHD. This version also includes both the Windows Store and familiar Windows desktop.


4) Windows 8 Enterprise


This version of Windows 8 won’t be for sale to normal consumers.  If your company has a regular sales contact from Microsoft they probably receive Windows at Volume Licensing pricing.  The Enterprise version provides some extra features that only apply to businesses that rely heavily on Windows and Unique Software Assurance Benefits.

 


Should you Upgrade?
If you’re looking to upgrade your current computer you’ll want to download and run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant.  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/upgrade-to-windows-8

windowsupgrade

The upgrade assistant will let you know if any of your applications are incompatible.

window8nogood

Luckily, it will also show you many of the programs which are compatible.

windows8good

and when the upgrade assistant completes it will even offer you a deal to upgrade.

Windows8ProOrder

 

The Windows 8 Media Center Mystery

You should be aware that Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro doesn’t come with Windows Media Center. If you have Windows 8, you can purchase the Windows 8 Pro Pack which will upgrade you to Windows 8 Pro and install the Windows Media Center.  Currently, the Windows 8 Pro Pack is $69.95.  For a limited time, the Windows Media Center is free but you must request a product key by using your Email address. Giving up your Email isn’t a big deal since it’s required to use Windows 8 anyway.
Click here to request Windows Media Center. You may not care about Windows Media Center since most of its functionality can be accomplished by other apps.

Now that you know your choices for Windows 8 I hope it will help you decide when upgrading to Windows 8 will be right for you.

Microsoft Windows 8 Pro Upgrade $66.99 USD on Amazon

Windows 8 Pro Pack $66.99 USD

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Long History of WinPatrol – 15 Years Old

One night this week I ran into a discussion debating what was considered the first Anti-Spyware program for consumers.  As usual WinPatrol wasn’t considered since we don’t provide traditional scans, or signature files that typify Anti-Virus programs.  According to an article published by Security-FAQS.com, the first program to tackle Spyware was Steve Gibson’s OptOut in 2000.  I’m a huge fan of Steve and being the first isn’t his claim.

I’m not sure everyone on Twitter believed that WinPatrol was first released  in 1997.  Ironically, our discussion was the exact anniversary of Scotty the Windows Watch Dog which was available to anyone on November 19th, 1997. I know the exact date because, at the advise of a lawyer for an unrelated program, I publish the release date on the bottom of the main web page.

After a little research, the oldest page I could find was for WinPatrol 2.2, My recommendation and thanks to the long time popular Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

wayback
The Internet Archive included a web page from May 7th, 1999 which includes a description of WinPatrol 2.2 and our features at that time.

winpatrol2

Click Image to view entire page.

Spyware and Adware Prevention
As described here WinPatrol has always included features designed to detect and remove the behavior of Adware and Spyware. It monitored startup locations that malware needed to reside on your computer. Like Windows Task Manager, it allowed users to kill tasks but WinPatrol allowed multiple selection so partner tasks could be removed with a single click.  Users could manage and delete adware cookies which were a very common concern at the time. It even included a WhoIs feature allowing users to verify the owner of a web domain before accepting an invitation to go to a new web page.

BirthdayWare
At the top of the archived page is a link that described WinPatrol’s unique use policy. WinPatrol was free to use but on my birthday, a message popped up requesting an Email.

winpatrolbirthday

From May 1999 web page…

When I created WinPatrol it was for my own personal use.  As I continued to add features I gave to friends and family.  Eventually, I published it here on the web for everyone to use free of charge. Just for a new twist I decided to make WinPatrol "BirthdayWare". WinPatrol users found out on April 24 what BirthdayWare was when Scotty popped up inviting you to wish me a Happy Birthday. The results today indicate BirthdayWare might be the best way to develop software yet.

While I'm sure it startled a few, your responses has made this day one of the greatest birthdays ever!  When the E-mail started to come in on April 23rd, I wondered how so many people could have their dates set wrong on the computers. Then I realized, Duh, it was already the 24th in so many other countries. Scotty the Windows Watch Dog is truly an international traveler.

Eventually, I had to stop including the BirthdayWare message. It did make my birthdays fun for a couple years but the volume of Email became overwhelming. The main problem was many fans would take the time to go to one of the online card sites/ While this was a nice gesture, the greeting card sites were one of the easiest ways to get infected with adware that required WinPatrol to remove it.


It Happens To Anyone
Just like the popularity of Facebook now attracts malware distributers, in the 90’s American Online users were targeted by programs designed to steal their password and take over accounts.  A friend who worked at AOL had her account compromised and since I was in her address book, a routine Email with an attachment was sent to me. Even though I was suspicious I downloaded what claimed to be a text file. On opening the text file a familiar message appeared. It said something like, “This file is too large for Notepad to open. Would you like to use WordPad to read this file?”

While Notepad is a simple text editor, WordPad was OLE Compliant which meant files could include executable objects.  As soon as I clicked “Yes” my brain in slow motion was shouting, “Noooooooooooo…”
Sure enough, the file included a very sophisticated and evil OLE(now called ActiveX) object. When I called AOL Support for help, they insisted I must format my hard drive.  Naturally, I wasn’t about to do that and knew there was a better way.

And WinPatrol was Born
Using what tools were available at the time, along with experience, I was able to find three separate locations where this infiltrator had created startup entries so multiple program would not be removed.
1) In the Win.INI file(no longer used) was a section called [windows] that included “run=” or “load=” command. The attacker used the trick of putting over 100 blank spaces before the “run=” and virus name so even standard admin tools didn’t show it.
2) Another program was added to one of most common autorun locations:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
3) And lastly to fool simple users a shortcut .lnk file was added to the Startup folder.
Once I removed all these changes I rebooted with all threats disabled. It was a then a simple matter to delete any files which were part of the attack.

It became obvious to me that any attack would include certain behaviors including the attempt to run on reboot and to hide companion programs. This led to the creation of WinPatrol so I would never have to deal again with idiots telling me to format my hard driver.

WinPatrol PLUS
One mistake I made was not realizing how huge and insidious adware and spyware would become.  In 2002, a friend at Epson America convinced me to create a premium version of WinPatrol to help defray the costs. I had no idea how much WinPatrol would take over my life and never considered creating an actual business plan.

So, after 15 years I’m thankful to everyone who has shared WinPatrol with their friends and family. Special thanks those who have written about WinPatrol and those who have upgraded to WinPatrol PLUS so I could continue making WinPatrol available to everyone around the world.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Jumping Blind Into My “Windows RT” Surface

As as soon I mentioned ordering a Microsoft Surface everyone said they looked forward to my review. My friends know I don’t write typical reviews with technical specs. Instead, my first couple days with a device is an appraisal of the experience. I never used an Apple iPad and while I have chosen Android phones, I began my Surface existence as my new normal.

What I’ll share here are my first impressions using a Microsoft Surface just as if I was someone fresh off the street. Today’s post probably won’t help you decide if you want to own a Surface or Windows RT device. As I learn more, I’ll write about the pro’s and con’s.

SurfaceSystem

My typical day is spent with my hands on a small Lenovo X61 convertible laptop. I use it for almost everything and it allows me to leave my office so I can spend more time with my wife, Cindi. The only reason I still have a desktop in my office is for developing and debugging. Some times I even use GoToMyPC as a remote connection if I need to work on my desktop. 

My goal is to find out how much of my laptop could be replaced and also how quickly I would learn to use a completely new environment. The best word to describe the Microsoft Surface is “ecosystem”. Everyone’s experience will vary depending on their activity on social networks.

“An ecosystem is a community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system.”

SurfaceBox

 

Unpacking my new Surface was a pleasure and I was already configuring my personal preferences within 10 minutes. The absence of any instructions saved a lot of time. It looked so beautiful and glossy my instinct was to get up and wash my hands. This was totally absurd because I knew in no time the entire device would be full of smudges. I chose the 64GB model with a soft black keyboard/cover that feels like brushed felt. Its magnetic connector provides a confident bond and my heavy fingers are adjusting quickly even on uneven surfaces. I expect my typing skills will become more proficient and I know the textured keyboard will attract plenty of grunge over time. I should probably order an extra keyboard cover now.

SurfaceOpening

New Interface (formerly known as Metro)
Years ago when my mother started to use Windows she was a victim of one its early user interface failures. She would keep opening windows until they maxed out the screen and she couldn’t find what she was initially working on. Jumping in blindly, I’ve had a similar first experience with Microsoft Surface. I had launched multiple apps and screens were opened somewhere. I took me longer than it should to learn how to get back to a specific app or screen.  I knew there must be an easier way than what I was doing. Like using Android, most apps don’t have an Exit or Close which may be unsettling to some. By day two I started to search for tips online and quickly discovered there were much better ways to get around.  I’ve listed some tips at the end of this post.

The small instruction pamphlet that came with Surface covered the fact I should swipe the side of the screen. It wasn’t complete explaining when I would need to swipe the screen edge and how it would change based on what was open on the screen. It failed to include many additional swipe methods and operational quick tips. Once I learned more it reminded me of teaching others how useful the right-click mouse button could be in Windows. 

Before leaving his CEO position, Bill Gates promoted the concept of a document concentric operating system.  I was never a fan of this concept and Windows RT remains app concentric. Microsoft has continued to work at fixing the 2nd biggest computer usability problem, “Where did I save that file?”. Microsoft Surface continues trying to reduce the need of a dot file extension and ties user data more directly to its application. The trend continues towards defining a descriptive folder as a repository of file types which I’ve seen work well.

SurfaceStart


The Elephant in the Room
What will be the most talked about aspect of Windows 8 is having two completely separate interfaces. You “Start” with the new interactive tiles that represent apps like those Microsoft hopes you’ll purchase from their store. I’ll cover what I like about the various tiles in a future post. For now you need to be prepared when you click on the Desktop tile or launch one of the Desktop tools. You will see a familiar Windows desktop minus an overly debated Start button.

Things work different in Desktop mode. New Surface users will discover there is a very different touch interface.  My fat fingers are a disadvantage when trying to make selections. Text and windows work as they always have and won’t get smaller if you pinch the screen with your fingers. When you touch on an input box to type, the cursor blinks but the onscreen keyboard doesn’t automatically slide up.


SurfaceDesktop
Microsoft Surface in Desktop view

I was surprised to find plenty familiar Microsoft Windows applications, like RegEdit, NotePad, Windows Control Panel apps, File Explorer, IE and many administrative tools. This was a big confidence boost for me even though developing for the Desktop space in Windows RT appears reserved for Microsoft only.

New apps designed for Windows RT need to be built from scratch using a new developer kit. It builds app intended be sold in the Microsoft Store and designed to run in the tile environment.  Microsoft has built a new Visual Studio tool and Software Development Kit so developers can easily create “Window Store Applications” for both a Windows RT machine and for Windows 8 Pro.

Windows 8 Pro
I’m loving my new Surface even if I can’t use legacy applications I now run under Windows 7. I expect to see plenty of Windows RT devices hit the market but at the same time many established companies will be selling Tablets, Ultrabooks, even another Microsoft Surface, loaded with “Windows 8 Pro”.  When you switch to Desktop mode under Windows 8 Pro, all your favorite Windows apps including the full Office suites, should work normally.  Windows printers and other devices should behave in ways that may be required in your work.

The downside is devices with Windows 8 Pro will be more expensive, they will most likely may be heavier and won’t have the same battery life available on a Windows RT based system.  You will find more security options available for Windows 8 Pro. The advantage won’t matter until enough Windows RT devices exist to make creating malware cost effective. Since new apps for Windows RT will come from the Microsoft Store the chance of malware spreading will also be greatly reduced.

For a good comparison see the Microsoft Surface “Help Me Choose” page.
http://www.microsoft.com/Surface/en-US/surface-with-windows-rt/help-me-choose

Microsoft Surface Important Tips
Doing this article it was important to have screen shots to illustrate my points. Most people may not need to do screen captures but as a support person I love all of you who include screen shots when reporting a problem.  Unfortunately, you won’t find a PrintScreen button on the Surface keyboard. There’s a great Snipping Tool that runs in Desktop mode but if you want to do a screen shot of the Start screen or a Windows RT Store Application you need to know the following secret.

Tip: Screen Capture

Find the Volume down button on the left side of the Surface so you have a finger on it. When you’re ready, hold down the physical Windows 8 logo button on the bottom and press Volume Down. The screen will dim for a second and your image will be stored automatically in the Libraries –> Pictures –> Screenshots folder.

Tip: Start Button

One of the most talked about and ridiculous issues of Windows 8 has been the missing Start Button.  When I search Bing.com for “Missing Start Button” it told me it had 131,000,000 Results. Many replacement apps have been created but I’m just as happy with Windows Key + X.
SurfaceWinX


Tip: Task Manager

One of the most useful desktop applications was not easy to find. Even if you ask Windows to include Administration Tools it won’t list Task Manager.  What you can do is press Windows Key + Z or swipe up from the bottom of the Start screen.  This will show you the All Apps charm. Press this and scroll all the way to the right where you’ll find Task Manager along with some other favorites that have been converted to Windows RT. 
SurfaceTaskManager

Closing or Exiting an App

I mentioned one of the things I don’t understand on Android is there doesn’t seem to be an Exit or Close for most applications.  Windows RT apparently manages apps in a similar way.  Apps are suspended and get shoved around in memory until they’re used again or until Windows needs the memory for a new app and/or its data. Microsoft recommends you just let Windows do its thing but if you really need to exit an app you can swipe it closed. When the app is open on the screen take your finger and swipe from the very top of the screen to the very bottom.  You should see the app stuffed away if you do it right. You can also use Alt-F4 if the keyboard is attached but again, according to Microsoft this isn’t necessary because a suspend app won’t slow things down.

You can verify this now that I’ve taught you how to find the new and most improved system application, Task Manager.
SurfaceTaskMan 

Click on any of the images for a larger version.

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