Tag Archives: Windows

XP and the User’s Loss of Nerve

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Poor old Microsoft. They’ve had to extend the life of XP by offering it as an option to customers buying new hardware for another six months at least. They realise that people aren’t going to buy a Vista machine unless XP—what’s wonderfully called “downgrade media”–comes with it:

“As more customers make the move to Windows Vista, we want to make sure that they are making that transition with confidence and that it is as smooth as possible,” Microsoft said. “Providing downgrade media for a few more months is part of that commitment, as is the Windows Vista Small Business Assurance program, which provides one-on-one, customized support for our small-business customers.”

There’s a deeper issue here: Microsoft is beginning to recognise that no longer is there any appetite for users to upgrade operating systems themselves. Remember those lines around the block for Windows 3.1, 95, 98 and XP? Well, OK, maybe not all of them, but according to Wikipedia the fanfare surrounding the release of Windows 95 would nowadays be reserved for the ending of a major war. Or the launch of an iPhone, I guess.

Now we’re only interested in software upgrades if it’s a hardware upgrade. If then.

To be fair, I suspect this isn’t just the fault of Vista. I think a few other things have changed:

  • we’re less excited by software these days. Hardware we can get excited about, but as the proportion of people using technology has grown, the appetite for tweaking that technology has shrunk. Apple understand this, which is why they merge hardware and software, something Microsoft’s Balmer still doesn’t get.
  • Part of this is that I don’t think we believe our computers will do the things we think they will anymore. We drank the kool aid back then. We really thought the next iteration of an operating system would seriously improve our day. And, for the most part, it didn’t. So we moved on.
  • We’ve learned that our computers are getting too complex, and we trust them less. If it works, we’re happy. We don’t want to tempt fate by changing it. This feeds into security issues: We don’t feel safe online and so if we have any configuration that hasn’t arisen in calls from our bank or weird things popping up on our screen, we don’t want to experiment.

This feeds back to my running theme of recent weeks: The computer is becoming more and more like an appliance. We need it to to work, preferably out of the box. Apple (and the likes of Nokia, up to a point) have shown that to be possible, and so now we increasingly expect it of all our computing devices.

For the record I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing, because a dulled appetite for experimentation and change is never good, but after the ups and downs of the past few years, and the apparent failure of Vista, I can understand it.

In short, we users have lost our nerve.

Windows XP gets another lifeline : News : Software – ZDNet Asia

Photo credit: Bink.nu

Does IE7 Herald The Death of Windows 98 and 2000?

You may have read that Microsoft has launched a beta version of its browser, Internet Explorer 7. An aspect of this that seems to have not received widespread publicity is the fact that with IE 7, Microsoft has effectively killed off Windows 98 and Windows 2000.

In an interview with eWeek, Gytis Barzdukas, director of product management in Microsoft’s security business technology, says: “When we do all this engineering work, the architecture is changed significantly. In some cases, it’s more expedient for customers to just move to a new operating system where the enhancements are easier to deploy.” Ah. So that’s all we have to do?

Of course, it’s not the first time that folk still using Windows 98 have been left out. Windows 98 has not been supported by Microsoft since June 2002; ‘hotfixes’ — vital software patches, usually security-related — have not been provided since June 2003. The Windows 98 homepage has not been updated since October 2002, and the ‘Still Using Windows 98?’ tip page hasn’t seen a revision since September 2000.

So how many Windows 98 users are there out there? One poster to a Firefox forum reckoned between 20–30% of users, while a survey by AssetMatrix recently concluded that Windows 2000 “still accounts for nearly half of all Windows-based business desktops”, according to ZDNet.

This is always a tough one for Microsoft. It’s easy enough with physical products because there’s not much more you can do to support them, except fix them if they’re broken. With individual software products you could provide upgrades and fixes until a new version comes along but the choice for the consumer is clearer: Stick with an old version of Office if you are happy with the features, and the only thing Microsoft can think of to get back at you is call you a dinosaur (“Ouch! That hurt!”). Most programs have too many features, anyway, so the lure of more features isn’t that much of a lure for most people.

But operating systems — and any software that interacts with the Web and so needs security features — are different. Stop adding fixes and features and the software is effectively useless for the customer. So by not making IE available to Windows 2000 and 98 users, those folk are stuck. Unless of course they move over to Firefox or Opera. And what happens if they stick with IE 6? The first security vulnerability to come along is going to hit the most vulnerable bunch of people — folk who, for one reason or another, are quite happy with their Windows 98 computer.

Another Explorer Replacement

When you’re not looking all these new things start popping up. Further to my post on Directory Opus, here’s another option for file managers: the exotically named A43 File Management from BG’s Home. And it’s free.

Version 2.40 works with Windows 2000/XP. It offers the following:

  • Integrated text editor.
  • Integrated zip/unzip features.
  • Integrated file search.
  • Integrated quick launch area.
  • Favorite buttons to quickly open those often used folders.
  • Dual-pane view.
  • Requires no installation, no data is written to the system registry.

Definitely worth a look. Don’t know much about the person behind, other than they’re called B G Miller.

The Sasser Worm

Four years after LoveLetter, there’s a new worm out, and it looks bad.

Panda Software says Sasser “has positioned itself as one of the quickest-spreading and virulent ones”. Already two variants of the worm are out, according to F-Secure.

Panda says the worm uses a trick that “means practically all Microsoft systems will be affected, making millions of computers exposed to infection by this worm virus”. This is because the worm — or its variants, it’s not quite clear to me which — use the same computer port as Windows uses to share folders and printers over the Internet. So, “large companies which have remote users that go on line via virtual networks or which work with laptops without corporate firewall protection may go online on Monday and find themselves affected by the virus even though they have the patch installed and the antivirus upgraded”, Panda warns.

Sasser makes use of a vulnerability that is about 26 days old. It can spread and execute without the user doing anything. Panda sees the worm moving faster than Blaster: Blaster affected 2.5% of computers in the first few hours of its attack, while Sasser.B is nearing 3% in just 24 hours.

If infected, the computer will restart every time the user tries to go on line, change the registry and put a file, avserve.exe, in the Windows folder or, in some cases, put a warning in a Windows menu warning of problems with LSA Shell or errors in Isass.exe. It doesn’t seem to actually do any damage to computers, or to prep itself to download something worse. But who knows?

Solution? Install Microsoft updates as soon as possible and upgrade your antivirus protection. If you think you’re infected, use the Microsoft scanning tool to check. Then again, as F-Secure points out helpfully, if you are infected, you might not make it to that page before your machine is rebooted again. If you are infected, use F-Secure’s Free F-Sasser Tool to clean the worm from your machine. You also need to install the Windows patches to prevent you from getting reinfected.

Not everyone is worried about it: F-Secure believe many larger companies have already installed the updates necessary to be protected, and says the situation is still “relatively calm”. That said, eWeek has pointed out that an early version of the Microsoft patch for this vulnerability itself caused some Windows 2000 systems to lock up. Oh, and the Microsoft website about Sasser misspells ‘Bulletin’ making me wonder for a second whether it wasn’t itself a phishing site. Tsk, tsk.

News: Beware QHosts

 All you need to do to be infected by this virus is visit the homepage of Web hosting provider FortuneCity.com. CNET reports that a malicious program, dubbed QHosts, infects PCs using a recent flaw in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to take control of how computers look up Internet addresses. The program takes advantage of a critical flaw in Internet Explorer , which Microsoft has made an integral part of its Windows operating system. The Trojan horse used a banner ad that the attacker somehow placed there to install the Trojan horse on the user’s PC.
 
The QHosts program then changes the Internet addresses of the computers the infected PC will go to to resolve unknown Web sites and domain names. Known as the domain name service (DNS) servers, such computers are generally operated by a trusted organization, such as an Internet service provider. However, QHosts will send the requests to other servers, which Schmugar believes are likely to be owned by the originator of the Trojan horse.
 
This raises a few troubling questions, such as: How did the banner ad get there? And what is the purpose of the trojan? Is it just malicious or is it commercially related? We should be told.

Update: Microsoft Says It’s Not Fair

  Microsoft is pretty upset about a plan by Japan, China and South Korea to develop an alternative operating system to Microsoft’s Windows software, saying it would raise concerns over fair competition, Reuters reports. “We’d like to see the market decide who the winners are in the software industry,” Tom Robertson, Microsoft’s Tokyo-based director for government affairs in Asia, told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Governments should not be in the position to decide who the winners are,” Robertson said.
 
Um, sure.

News: Step Aside, Bill, Let Asia Take It From Here

 From the Suspect This May Be Wishful Thinking Dept Japan, South Korea and China are set to agree to jointly develop a new computer operating system as an alternative to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows software, Reuters quotes Japanese media as saying on Sunday.
 
It would likely be built upon an open-source operating system, such as Linux. The recent spread of computer viruses targeting the Windows system was one reason behind the plan, as it has awakened governments to the need to reduce their dependence on Windows operating systems.

Update: Microsoft Goes Soft in Thailand

 It’d be too much to suggest that Bill Gates reads my column, but Microsoft seem to be buying my idea (well not mine, really) that prices of their software should be geared to what local people can afford. IDG News Service’s Taipei Bureau reports that the US software company has cut the price of its Windows operating system and Office application suite in Thailand. Quoting a report released by market analyst Gartner Inc (it’s an Acrobat PDF file) Microsoft has reduced the cost of an Office and Windows package there for $40 and may do the same thing in China.
 
The move seems to be in the face of a government program which ended up selecting Red Hat Inc.’s Linux operating system and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s StarOffice productivity suite when Microsoft did not at first participate. Windows XP in the U.S. sells for between $85 and $130, IDG says, while Office XP Professional sells for about $250.
 
All this can only be good news, and bad news — eventually — for pirates.
 
 

Update: Microsoft May Stop Footing Pussies

 Security Wire Digest, published by Information Security Magazine, reports that Microsoft may stop pussyfooting around on updates to its Windows operating system. In the wake of the worm that ripped through networks worldwide by exploiting a vulnerability for which a patch had been released more than three weeks before, the company is considering several plans to beef up security in its products which may automatically install patches on PCs.
 
 
Privacy advocates will have a problem with this, but it’s logical. Most folk don’t update properly, or even know they’re supposed to, although I wonder whether it may leave Microsoft vulnerable legally. It’s tantamount to saying ‘what we’re selling you isn’t safe unless you let us keep patching it.’