Dealing with Windows 8

By John Schroeder June 2014.

It’s hard to believe that in October 2014, Windows 8 will be two years old.

When I first saw a copy of Windows 8, I was intimidated. It represented a radical change and learning curve.

But, I have to make a general IT warning about any new operating system. “Do not move to a new operating system during its first year of release.” With Windows 8, that should be changed to say “until at least two years after its release.”

Most of the problems with Windows are 8 cosmetic. The operating system is pretty solid and not prone to blue screens or other performance problems.

However, the real major problem with Windows 8 involves 3rd party issues. The ultimate question is whether 3rd party applications will work with Windows 8.

We’ve noted the following:
Quickbooks will not work properly unless it’s QB 2013 or higher. (QB 2011 will install but will crash… QB2012 will not interface with Outlook for generating a PDF invoice/statement).

Internet Explorer 11 (which ships with Windows 8) is not compatible with some web-based applications and you have no option to roll back to IE 10, 9, or 8. It should be noted, this is not a Windows 8 problem or even an IE 11 problem. The problem is with the 3rd party websites not being ready/able to support IE 11. It should also be noted that IE 11 on Vista or Windows 7 computers have the same problem but at least on those system you can roll your IE back.

Recommendation is to check with your critical application providers and follow their advice prior to moving to a Windows 8 computer.

Webdispatch.com is a Dell reseller and is currently stocking Windows 7 Professional mainly for our business customers. We neither encourage or discourage people from buying Windows 8 unless there are known business capability issues.

The opening Start Page of Windows 8 is all about tablet-type applications (to be downloaded from the Microsoft Store).

The basic concept of using a tablet is to launch one application at a time and then return to your launching screen to launch an application and/or return to a previously launched application.

This is a radical change for Windows users who are simply used to bouncing back and forth between applications without having a number of numerous keystrokes.

The key to approaching Windows 8 begins when you first setup your new system.

By default, during setup, Microsoft is trying to set you up with a Microsoft Store Account (along with a password). This account is going to drive any tablet-application downloads you might want from the store as well as any Microsoft Software you might want to purchase (although not necessarily from Microsoft directly but you would still need to download the software from their store, for example, new versions of Microsoft Office, which are only going to be available from the store … meaning a CD with a product code is ancient history).

During setup, there is an option to setup your new account user on the Windows 8 computer as a “local account.” You have to be watching for this though as it’s not easy to see.

We recommend this option. You can deal with setting up Microsoft Store account later but for simple daily access, it really isn’t necessary. A problem with using the Microsoft Store is forgetting the password.
Resetting this password requires access to your email for a link to reset. Clearly, if you forget the password for your initial sign on and therefore can’t get to your email, you could be toast.

The second setup thing to concentrate on is the “desktop application” from the Start Page. This needs to be setup to behave like a usual Windows Desktop. By default, several key desktop applications are turned off.

Right click on the Windows Desktop and select the option to change “desktop icons.” You should turn on Computer (browsing attached drives), User files (which is access to your documents, pictures, and music), Control Panel which is critical for adding/removing programs as well launching Windows Updates, and if you’re in a networked environment, the icon called Network.

To access your usual applications (such as Word), you should put them on your desktop taskbar. Moving your cursor to the far right evokes the “charm” menu. Pick the “Search” option and type in the name of your application, for example “Word.” The search will show you the Word Application (if installed). Right click and pick the option to “Pin to the Taskbar.” The application will now be available to start from the desktop by clicking on it from its icon on the taskbar. (Note, clicking on a Word document file in your user documents will also bring up the program).

Proceed until all of your commonly used programs have shortcuts on your taskbar or on your desktop as shortcuts.

Training your system:
Sometimes, your new system, by default, is going to invoke the Start/Application programs. For example, click on a picture and you might flip over to the Start Page/Viewer. To view another picture, you have to take multiple steps to get back to where you started.

Correcting this involves working with “program defaults” which has always been a feature of the Windows program.

Due to the possible variations involved, this would require assistance from professional people to help “train your system” for optimal/personal usage.

However, the following cautions should be taken:

  1. Do not take the “mail application” on the start page until you’re ready to decide how you want to handle your email.
  2. Do not take any picture or video applications from the start page until you decide how you want to view/deal with pictures/videos.
  3. Do not open a PDF file until you’ve decided how you want to view these files, which usually means Adobe Reader.

Windows 8.1 fixes:
Windows 8.1 was generally released in October, 2014. Microsoft made a few cosmetic changes which do help the users somewhat. All of the “work arounds” discussed above still apply but Microsoft did:

  1. Restore some “start button” functionality including being able to shut the computer off from the “start button.”
  2. The items on the “start button” bring a lot of the system operational functionality discussed above closer to the user without having to “turn them on.” In fact, a lot of these system tools used to be located in various locations on the Xp-Windows 7 “start buttons” and so arguably this is actually an improvement.
  3. By right clicking on the task bar/properties, you can tell your system to start to the desktop. It’s still a rather buried function but at least they’re giving you that option.

Future Releases and Promises:
The next operating system is going to be called Windows 9. There is no release date for this and it’s likely there will be a Windows 8.2 update before then. Microsoft has announced trying to make the Windows 8x system look and act more like the Windows 7 environment.

None of third party product problems noted and discussed above will be solved with any Microsoft update. You will have to upgrade those software products.

Other ramifications with Windows 8 and Microsoft new “marketing plans:”

Gone are the COA (Certificate of Authenticity) tags which used to accompany new computers. These were hologram decals put on your computer by whomever you bought it from. The COA included the product keys necessary to reinstall the operating system. Supposedly, the product keys are now being imbedded on the motherboard and if a reinstall is needed, those codes will be picked up automatically. Clearly, you cannot transfer these codes to another computer meaning, it’s a one shot deal only.

News from the Virus Frontline

By John Schroeder June 2014
Virus infections for Windows systems seem to be declining or our customer base is getting better at avoiding infection.

It’s also possible the virus bad-guys are starting to focus more on the Windows 8 systems and aren’t getting it quite right yet.

However, we will note that certain viruses appear to be easy to remove they are damaging the Operating System. Be sure, if you manage to clean the viruses that your test your Operating System; particularly Microsoft Updates.

On the other hand, we’ve noted an uptick in PUP’s. These are Potentially (P) Unwanted (U) Programs.

They are only considered potentially unwanted because some people actually want them. These are programs and configuration changes which re-direct users to the “deal.” Hence, if you are into coupons/rebates/ebates and/or etc. you will find yourself redirected to a “deal site.”

People who provide “freebie” services on the Internet often include these PUP’s in their download because if one of their installations renders you to a commercial site, they can bill that site. It’s a major drive for e-Commerce.

Hence, these things are driven by money and you need to realize that nothing is “really free.” These guys will even co-opt the really free downloads by using Google Ads to appear at the top of your search list so you’ll take the free downloads from them rather than the official site. In short, they’ll go out to the free site, get the download for you and then send it to you along with their packaged PUP’s.

For example, you want an IRS form and you Google it. You go to site but it isn’t the IRS but they’ll go get the form for you and send it down along with their packaged PUP’s.

The more legitimate sites will tell you what additional items they are sending down and give you the option to opt out by unchecking box. The less legitimate ones might bury their additional downloads in a simple “agreement” option which nobody bothers to read.

Generally, there isn’t too much of a problem with the PUP’s as long as there is only one. But, once there is more than one, they fight over your business.

Another problem is that they don’t always know how to properly deliver you to a real website not offering any deals in which case, you go nowhere. This actually happens a lot to people trying to read an email from a web browser. The link to read the email can’t be resolved and therefore you can’t read your email.

We might also add that these PUP’s are the source of numerous pop ups which occur during regular browsing as they aggressively try to deliver you somewhere (anywhere) so they can create billable events.

These PUP’s manifest and result in the following:

  1. A “light application” for reviewing your systems. These are applications run at start and usually find X number of problems and will remove X-20 but if you only if buy the full product to fix all the X problems. The applications tend to be legitimate although their need and ultimate effectiveness is doubtful. (The same can be said for those “clean up” programs advertised on TV).
  2. The PUP’s will change your home page. If you go to their home page for searches, they need to do nothing further (no software) with your computer. They got you where they want you.
  3. They put themselves in as your background search provider. Again no software is needed. They “tell” your system to use their systems for web searching. Again no software needs to be downloaded.
  4. The various anti-virus systems will recognize these PUP’s but since they only “potentially unwanted,” they will not be checked for removal (assuming a software element on the computer). You need to check the box to remove them.
  5. The newer versions of Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware can help find these PUP’s but you still need to READ THE SCREEN in order to remove.

What about all this talk about Spying and Credit Card Hacks????

By John Schroeder June 2014
Snowden, NSA, PRISM, Target, Neiman Marcus…

Everywhere we look our “privacy” is being compromised.

However, the crucial question is how much privacy do we really have?

Now granted, when you cough up a credit/debit card for a POS sale at any store, you have done nothing to invite having that data compromised. You’re simply trying to transact a transaction so the retailer can be paid and you can pay the bill. It’s business as usual. It’s all very fair straight forward. Moreover, you never clicked on an “agreement” which said your data might not be secure and could be stolen by third parties.

That said, these credit card information breeches are inexcusable. They should never have happened. It’s simply a total breech of your trust.

And, you are quite justified in asking why such data was ever stored in the first place.

Eventually, there will be a lot of excuses made about getting marketing data so they can send you custom advertisements or it will slow things down at the check stands (not that people applying for a store credit card in the checkout line doesn’t already slow things down…and heaven forbid, they’d open more check stands)…

You get the idea.

Make no mistake the problem is a reluctance to spend money on security.

The scapegoating will be high (a high level person will be fired or will resign – – the CEO of Target has already resigned) but ultimately it will never reach the folks who wanted to have that data in the first place or question their motivation much less their successes in having such data. Those people will never be blamed or called to really account for their successfulness in having such data.

Now, we get to talking about those places where you have “specifically waived” your privacy rights.

Most Internet and/or Email, Service Providers, DO require you to “click to agree” to their various agreements. To be sure, they will provide you with a “privacy policy” statement which is subject to change (without notice) and of course, we all don’t bother to read it and simply click on the agreement.

The bottom line is that you could be waiving whatever privacy you might have.

And, if that’s the case, why should you complain?

However, sometimes when you read those agreements you might be giving up more than you ever could have intended much less imaged. Sadly some of these “agreements” have included statements that the CONTENT of your data is transferred to them. That would mean if you wrote a novel using one of their document applications, you may have granted them ownership of the content of your documents and therefore ownership your novel.

Now, let’s turn our attention to phone calls records.

The people that provide our phone service are recording our call to destinations for billing purposes. This has been going on since phones were invented. And that means this data exists whether we like it or not. And, therefore, it can be discovered or otherwise revealed.

Bottom line is that you make a phone call, information about that call is going to be recorded and at some point that information might be revealed. Now, that’s the easy side of things. It’s simply record-keeping by your provider and it’s subject to being divulged, hacked, or discovered by others.

However, the unanswered question is whether anyone is “listening” on the broadcasting CONTENT of our cell phone calls and whether that information can be intercepted and recorded.

This IS the REAL difficult question.

Accusation have been leveled at US surveillance in Europe and accusing them of intercepting business messages (in the air) and then turning that information over to US competitors.

WOW!

I guess we need to stay tuned for the determination/revelation that surveillance technology exists that can “sniff data out of the air” while it’s in transit; meaning that your conversations could be “recorded” simply because they are “in the air.” And of course, the same could be said of your email or banking transactions.

My strong guess is that such technology exists and is probably being used.

And, there’s a larger question about whether such transmissions “in the air” are privacy protected?

I do realize that anyone intercepting such calls (or data transmissions) of mine would be a complete waste of time and anyone listening or intercepting such calls or transmissions would be totally bored listening to me talk about my trip to Alaska much less enjoying any fuzzy and out of focus pictures I might send to a loved one so they’d appreciate and be jealous of my boring time.

In other words … YAWN to any spy who is spying on me.

Nevertheless, when the Patriot Act was first proposed (and that Act is the source of all the current controversy), I flashed back on the Church Hearings from the 1970’s. These were the post-Watergate revelations about abuses by the US Intelligence agencies. These agencies, under the guise of “looking for subversives,” simply did anything they wanted. And the scope of their snooping and the extremes of some of their plans were frightening and ultimately viewed as historically unnecessary.

I figured the same thing about the Patriot Act; it was simply a license to snoop and snoopy people would take advantage of it and run it to extremes.

That means I’m not surprised about any excess taking place.

Although we learned a lot from the Church Hearings, there was a glaring lack of accountability after the fact. Nobody was ever punished.

I had hoped that the Patriot Act would have at least addressed accountability in advance but it didn’t. That means that as we uncover excess after excess; no “heads are going to roll.”

Still, it would have been very simple: “Snoop outside the law and YOU go to jail.”

So what are we going to do? Go back to “land lines” which still (BTW) also transmit our phone conversations “through the air?”

Are we going to go back to paying bills by check rather than online?

Are we going to go back to making banks physically handle every check rather than let merchants scan, send, and destroy our checks?

Are we going to go back to the “green stuff” with no ATM machines?

Probably not.

We’ve all become too addicted to the technology which makes everyone’s life easier and, at least to listen to the supporters of that technology, do reduce costs.

However, we have to move along with “eyes wide open.” This means we recognize our use of technology is risky. We recognize a herd mentality to realize that there is safety in numbers. We recognize that we will deal with compromises as they occur and/or happen.

In short, we continue to do business as usual.

End of Life for Xp

By John Schroeder June 2014.

Microsoft has discontinued support for its Xp Operating System.

What this means:

  1. There will be no more updates being sent down to patch the Operating System.
  2. Microsoft will not provide phone or Internet support for the Operating System.
  3. As Xp shrinks in an install base, third party support and products will also vanish. (Third party could include programs such as iTunes, Adobe products like the Adobe Reader and Flash Player, and various third party anti-virus software).
  4. The danger will be in an unknown exploit emerging that will not be fixed or patched.

What this doesn’t mean:

  1. Support and downloads for other Microsoft products will continue. This does include Internet Explorer 8 and various Microsoft Office Products—based on their own respective end of life dates, Microsoft Security Essentials with promises of definition file updates until mid-2015 although several of our customers are experiencing this program not functioning any longer.
  2. Your computer will continue to operate but various products and applications to help keep you operating will decline.

What to do:

  1. Plan a migration to a new system. In all likelihood, your computer is too old to be upgraded to a new Operating System in which case you’re going to need to get a new computer with a new Operating System and transfer your data and application needs.

About those new Operating Systems on your new computer:

  1. The newest marketed Operating System is Windows 8.x
  2. There are third party compatibility problems with Windows 8.x. These should be reviewed.
    a. For Example: Windows 8.x comes with IE Explorer 11 which cannot be rolled back to an earlier version and not all websites are ready to work with Explorer 11.
    i. Check with your web-based application support group.
    b. For Example: Third party applications will not run properly with Windows 8.x.
    i. Quickbooks 2013 and higher seems to have no problem Windows 8x. but earlier versions have been noted to have anywhere from minor problems to major problems. Plan to upgrade your Quickbooks if you move to Windows 8.x.
  3. Where you worry about compatibility problems, consider buying a Windows 7 computer which currently involves making a special order although a few have been spotted in the open, off the shelf market.

Should You Shut Down Your Computer at Night?

Should you shut your PC or Mac down every night? If your computer does absolutely nothing while you sleep (downloading, converting, backing up, etc), then there really is no reason to keep it on. Many people say turning it off and on will damage your computer, but this is a myth. There is no harm in turning your computer on and off unless you do it 10 times a day.

Shutting down a computer will increase the life of the computer because your components will get less wear and tear. When the computer is on, everything is getting power and the temperature of the memory chips, graphics card, and other parts are higher than if the computer were off. Also, if your computer has a traditional spinning hard drive, shutting down will reduce the total overall spinning of the drive and extend its life. However, since it takes some time for a drive to get up to normal spinning speed, forcing it to stop and then start again and again can also cause more wear on the drive. If you turn off your computer once a day or a few times in a week, you’ll be just fine. However, if you turn it on and off several times a day, it could cause your hard drive’s life to be shortened instead of extended. For an SSD (solid state drive), this is not as much of an issue. You can turn off and on as much as you like.

Shutting down and rebooting either every day or once or twice a week can also help reset the operating system and make it run smoother. Windows and Mac OS X both start to have issues after a few days either with memory or something else and restarting always helps improve the responsiveness of the system.