Monthly Archives: March 2014

End of an Era

Going, Going, Gone!
Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know that on April 8, Microsoft will stop supporting their ancient operating system – Windows XP. 

You might think that an operating system that was actually engineered in the late 90s would be fully obsolete and unused by now. After all, since XP came out, Microsoft has released several major replacement versions: Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 (recently upgraded to Windows 8.1).

But there’s something about Windows XP. It’s basic, stable, fast enough, and good enough for a lot of people. It’s still running on more than 10 percent of the world’s computers.

Still, it’s time has come. It’s hard to keep an operating system this old up to snuff in today’s fast paced online environment. XP works, but it’s not built to the same security level as modern operating systems. Microsoft doesn’t want to keep writing new security upgrades for it, so on April 8, its stopping. No more security updates. No more support. Your XP computer will still work, but Microsoft won’t help you anymore. Microsoft is pretty harsh about it too, stating: “XP cannot be considered safe to use after support ends.”

Microsoft has been urging us to upgrade for a long time. There’s even a site that tells you when your XP world will end: AmIRunningXP.com. Microsoft also has more info on what “end of support” means. To be fair, moving off XP would be a smart thing to do. Newer operating systems are easier to use (at least most of them), they run the cool new apps, and they’re definitely safer. But how do you move from an old computer that’s running XP into the modern era? There’s a lot of advice on how to make the transition. Not all of it good. Here are some good and bad options.

Bad idea #1: Just don’t worry about it
It’s not like Windows XP computers will magically stop working on April 9. So don’t worry about it; just keep on using it.

Why is this a bad idea? The problem with an old operating system is that it’s not up to speed with modern attacks. Operating systems need to be patched (updated) frequently to keep them safe from data thieves, scammers, viruses, and the like. After April 8, there will be no more updates coming.

But if you plan to keep going with XP for a while, at least make sure you’re on the last, ultimate version of it, called Service Pack 3. After April 8, you won’t be able to upgrade. Windows’ own update utility should manage this for you. Make sure it’s done so. 

Microsoft says it will continue to provide updates to its “anti-malware signatures and engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015,” so you can continue to use the company’s antivirus app, Microsoft Security Essentials. That is, assuming you already have MSE installed and running. After April 8, it won’t be available for download. You might even find another antivirus tool from a third party but don’t get too comfortable. According to Microsoft, even up-to-date security software can’t save you if the operating system itself isn’t secure. And Windows XP just isn’t secure. 

So yes, you can keep using XP, but not without risk. You probably don’t want it connected to the Internet, and even plugging a USB drive into it could be unsafe.

Bad idea #2: Upgrade to Windows 8, like Microsoft wants you to
Why not get the latest version of Windows? It’s so shiny!

There are two big reasons why this is a bad idea. The first: It probably won’t work. Your old Win XP machine likely does not have the horsepower, the hard disk space, or the hardware to run Windows 8. 

Second: You’ll hate it. Windows 8 (including 8.1) has two separate interfaces. There’s a Windows desktop-like one in there, which you’ll probably find comfortable, but you have to go through the touchscreen-centric primary interface to get to it. That’s fine if you have a tablet. But your XP machine is no tablet.  You can mostly avoid that tile-based, touchscreen interface, but not completely. It pops up from time to time, usually when you’re in a hurry and stressed out, and it’s frustrating when it happens.

Bad idea #3: Move to Linux
The geek operating system (sorry, geeks) called Linux is stable, fast, cheap, and free, and will run on your old XP machine better than Windows 8 will. The nerds will tell you it’ll do everything that XP will do. They’re right…. But here’s why it’s a bad idea: Linux really is a platform for nerds. Few people you know — unless you know a lot of programmers — will be able to help you out. And your Windows software won’t work. If you have apps you like, you’ll have to find Linux equivalents for them. You’re better off moving to a consumer-friendly operating system.

Better idea #1: Upgrade to Windows 7
The version of Windows that predates Windows 8 is really very good. It’s stable and similar enough to Windows XP that a transition will not be difficult.

It’s not a perfect solution, though. Your computer may not have the juice to run Windows 7, either, as it actually takes a slightly more powerful computer to run Windows 7 well than Windows 8. But you can, for the time being still buy Windows 7 (even though it’s not clear if Microsoft is still manufacturing Win 7 disks), and some hardware vendors still sell computers with Windows 7 installed on them.

Microsoft really wants you on Windows 8 and continues to remind us that Windows 8 is more secure, faster, and uses less energy than Windows 7. But the easiest new version of Windows to learn after Windows XP is Windows 7, so if you’re just using Windows to run a particular application, it’s a very good option.

Better idea #2: Get a Mac
Interestingly enough, it’s easier to move from Windows XP to the Macintosh operating system, OS X, than to Windows 8.1. There are many small differences, but OS X is pretty similar to Windows XP (and every other version of Windows other than Windows 8). It doesn’t take people very long to adapt. Most (though not all) good PC applications are available in Mac versions, too, and your data files should transfer over just fine.

It’s an expensive move, though. The cheapest new Mac costs $600 (the entry-level Mac Mini can use the screen, mouse, and keyboard from your old Windows computer). Laptops start at $1000 and desktops at $1,300. Complete Windows machines today start in the $500 range, or very nicely equipped at about $800. If you can afford it and you’re not married to specific Windows XP software, a new Mac might be the perfect answer for you.

You’re not alone
Why are people still using Windows XP? Some people keep old machines for specific purposes, like running XP-only software. Some are just of the opinion that if they have a computer that works for what they want, there’s no reason to spend money on an upgrade.

Just because a manufacturer deems one of its products obsolete, it doesn’t mean everyone who uses the product has to stop using it immediately. However, over time, an old product in the modern world will present challenges: It will be less safe, there won’t be people  trained to fix it, or some other component it relies on will fail, and replacements will no longer be available. When you get into this portion of the lifecycle, you might be forced to move on. You’ll have a lot of options when it’s time to do so — they just might not be the options the manufacturer recommends.

Outlook Alternative

If you’re one of the millions of us who just don’t like using Webmail or Gmail type mail interfaces here’s a client side email program that can easily take the place of Outlook or Outlook Express.

eM Client works with Gmail, iCloud, Microsoft Office 365, Outlook, Outlook.com, Microsoft Exchange, Apple Server and just about any POP3, SMTP or IMAP mail server available.  You can easily import your data from most of the other e-mail clients including Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird, The Bat and many others. It’s also optimized to run smoothly on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 and fully supports touch enabled devices like laptops, tablets and hybrid devices.

Some of the other high end features include: Secure communication (SSL/TLS) Message encrypting (S/MIME), advanced email rules management, spell check throughout the entire application, a built-in email translator using the Bing translate engine, email templates, signatures, tags and categorizations.

But wait – there’s more. You also get a robust calendar which you can customize and share with others, send and receive meeting invitations/confirmations as well as free/busy scheduling features. A comprehensive contact management interface is included as well as a built in chat interface running inside the application or as a detached window that works with all the common chat services (Google chat, Facebook chat, Jabber, ICQ  to name a few) Throw in File Transfer support to round out the package.

So – what’s all this power and productivity going to cost you??? For non-commercial users, not a penny. That’s righthome users get a free license with no functional limitations except that you’re limited to 2 email accounts.

eM Client is so loaded with features it’s easy to forget it only supports 2 email accounts. While this could be a burden for some, many others will find this mail client to be the answer to their email prayers.

If you’re looking for a Microsoft Outlook experience without paying an arm and a leg, you should definitely consider eM Client. It’s a functional dead ringer for Microsoft’s flagship e-mail client and it’s organized in largely the same manner. If you know Outlook, you’ll have no trouble using eM Client, and eM Client has many more features.

Check it out:
http://www.emclient.com/

 

Google Drive Phishing Scam

You can usually tell a legitimate Google notification from a phishing scam by reading the imbedded URL’s domain name—a message that redirects you to a non-Google address is sure to be a scam. However, a sophisticated phisher has come up with a method of stealing Google login information by using the company’s own servers against it.

Security firm, Symantec, discovered the phishing attempt and reported the incident on its blog. The new scam comes in an email with the subject line “Documents” and encourages you to click on an included link to check out an important message on Google Drive.

The link leads to a login page hosted on a bona fide Google website URL, complete with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) authentication making the page seem even more legitimate. The login prompt is identical to that of a legitimate Google site, inviting you to sign in for “One account. All of Google.” Those who log in get redirected to an actual Google Docs document making the whole process seem legitimate.

Of course, the document isn’t the point; the point is that the phishers now have access to your Google account credentials. This gives them access to Google Drive documents, private email, and—perhaps most alarming—payment information for Google Play.

The scam works because the fake document is actually hosted on Google Drive. Combined with the convincing login page, this scam could theoretically fool the tech savvy as well as the uninformed.

Still, cautious people would spot a few red flags in this otherwise clever scam. First of all, the email itself does not come from an official Google email address, even if its preferred display name indicates otherwise. Clicking on links embedded in emails is also generally a bad practice, although in this case, even copying and pasting it would still bring you to a “verified” Google page.

If you get an email message purporting to come from a big organization such as Google, it’s generally a good idea to check the content of the email against the company’s official blog or Twitter feed. Always better safe than sorry.

Windows 8 Product Activation

Microsoft introduced product activation with the release of Windows XP. Over the years Microsoft has refined the experience. Windows 8 takes it a step further, in fact, product activation is invisible. When you setup Windows 8 on a new computer, you have to initially enter the product key (unlike Windows 7 which required this during the Out of Box Experience). The minute Windows 8 detects an Internet Connection it activates itself. Windows 8 does not have the old 30 day grace period familiar to Windows Vista and Windows 7 users.

What happens if you don’t have Internet access? You can continue to run Windows 8 including Metro applications without any hindrance, you just won’t be able to access certain customization options such as the ability to change your Start Screen background, start screen and color scheme. A watermark will also become apparent on screen and cannot be hidden, it even appears on your programs, so if you watching a full screen movie, you will see a watermark.

Activation still supports tradition phone activation, so if you are nowhere near an Internet activation, you should not have to worry. Managing your genuine status in Windows 8 is also much easier. You can view your partial product key (something that required command line operations in previous versions of Windows), so if you have multiple copies of Windows 8 installed on different PC’s throughout your home, you can match and compare. If you need to purchase an additional license, you can also do so from the new Genuine Center in Windows 8.

One of the improvements Microsoft is making to Activation 3.0 for newly built machines that come preloaded with Windows 8, you won’t have a COA (Certificate of Authenticity) sticker attached to the machine anymore. Instead, this will be embedded in the BIOS. This will avoid product keys from being compromised and the larger OEMs like Dell, HP and Lenovo will buy what they need.

For additional information visit this CNET article:
http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-33642_7-57554240-292/windows-8-moves-to-bios-based-product-keys/

If you ever experience a Windows 8 activation issue you may find the answer here:
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/why-activate-windows

Windows 8 With Bing

Get Windows 8.1 for FREE?

Faced with a poor adoption rate for Windows 8, and no clear sign that this will improve any time soon, Microsoft is thinking about releasing a free or low-cost version of Windows 8.1 called “Windows 8.1 with Bing.” The theory is that, by providing a free (or perhaps low-cost) version of Windows 8.1, users of Windows XP, Vista, and 7, will finally be convinced to upgrade, driving up its market share.

Microsoft hopes to offset the massive loss of income by pushing more users towards services like Bing, OneDrive, and Office. This follows news from MWC 2014 that Microsoft is also considering a similar move for Windows Phone. Apparently desperate times call for desperate measures.

News of Windows 8.1 with Bing was leaked via the internet via a reliable and accurate source. As it stands, this new build appears to be a fairly normal version of Windows 8.1 Update 1. Microsoft insiders tell ZDNet that Windows 8.1 with Bing “is key to Microsoft’s experimentation with monetization.” As for why there doesn’t yet appear to be any money-grabbing monetization, it’s likely that this is just a very early build. We have no idea if Windows 8.1 with Bing will debut at the same time as Update 1 (due to be released on April 8 – the very day that all support for Windows XP sails into oblivion), or whether it’s following its own separate schedule.

The big question, of course, is how Microsoft actually intends to recoup the massive loss of revenue by giving away Windows 8.1 for free. There is some revenue to be gained from OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) and Skype subscriptions (both of which come pre-installed in Windows 8.1), but we’re talking relative peanuts to the billions of dollars that Windows licensing brings in per quarter. (Plus, OneDrive and Skype are available for all other Windows platforms anyway.) The most likely clue is the name of the build — Windows 8 has always had a tight integration with Bing, and 8.1 Update 1 further cements it.

Microsoft is working hard to make Bing much more than just a web search engine — it’s likely to become some kind of deep-querying analytical engine that links together all of your Microsoft devices, services,  and subscriptions — but still there’s no clue how Microsoft intends to make money from it. One thing we can be sure of is that Windows 9, coming in 2015, will try very hard to distance itself from the Windows 8 train wreck.

Still, it’s significant that Microsoft is even considering releasing a free version of Windows. If someone had suggested such an idea at the Old Microsoft, they probably would’ve been fired. To be honest, at this point in the Windows 8′s life cycle, and with the PC market continuing to fade, it’s probably not a bad idea for Microsoft to be exploring some drastic changes.

Microsoft obviously needs to change something if it wants to continue competing in the PC and smartphone markets. If it has to give away its operating systems to grow its market share until they’re non-trivial, then so be it. It’s not like Microsoft can’t afford to experiment for a while, especially if it’s a matter of life and death.

With April 8th only slightly more than a month away – it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

 

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