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Posts Tagged ‘Windows 10’


Windows 10 Free Upgrade Window Comes to an End

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

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Those “Upgrade to Windows 10” notifications seem to be showing up everywhere, even in the middle of a weather forecast on Iowa television. What would’ve otherwise been an embarrassing interruption turned into a watercooler moment that anyone who used Windows 7 and 8 over the previous year can relate to (check out the clip on YouTube).

Despite being an annoyance, those alerts are serving an urgent purpose now: Microsoft has announced that they are discontinuing the free Windows 10 upgrade offer on July 29, 2016.

The good news? Those pesky alerts are going to stop bothering hold-outs. The bad news? If you hold out any longer on your upgrade, you won’t be able to do so for free.

Advice for Windows 7 Users

We previously recommended that Windows 7 users should wait as long as possible to upgrade to Windows 10 to give Microsoft more time to iron out launch issues. With the free upgrade window coming to a close, however, those of you who planned to upgrade eventually should consider biting the bullet.

There are still valid reasons to hold off, if you prefer. Windows 10 is new and still receiving major post-release updates, whereas Windows 7 is mature and exceptionally stable/secure. Windows 7 remains an excellent operating system, and you’re going to be fine if you ignore the upgrade. Moreover, Microsoft will continue to support Windows 7 with security updates until January 14, 2020. So if you’re planning to replace your computer between now and then, you’ll move on to Windows 10 without incurring extra costs anyway.

On the other hand, if you’re planning on keeping your Windows 7 devices for more than four years, you’re likely better off upgrading now to avoid the fees. Upgrading after the free period may be cost-prohibitive for your IT infrastructure, so now is the best time to make the transition.

Oh, and one more thing: If you’re sticking with Windows 7, do yourself a favor and install the “Never 10” program to cut off those pesky alerts prior to July 29th.

Advice for Windows 8.1 Users

Windows 8.1 users have little reason to pass on the free update. The much-maligned operating system doesn’t offer any usability benefits over Windows 10 and doesn’t share Windows 7’s usability perks, so moving up makes practical sense. Additionally, IT departments are extremely unlikely to support Windows 8.1 as a standard. Microsoft plans to support Windows 8.1 until January 10, 2023, which puts the “end-of-life” date beyond the expected lifespan of any system currently running it.

Advice for Windows XP and Vista Users

Microsoft has already ceased support for XP, and Vista’s end-of-life date is on the horizon: April 11, 2017. Once the support period is over, using these operating systems is a substantial security risk. Unfortunately, these operating systems are not grandfathered in like Windows 7 and 8, so an upgrade to Windows 10 won’t be free in any case.

Windows 10 has the same requirements as Windows 7—so if you’re going to upgrade, either option will work as long as the computer’s hardware can handle it. However, XP and Vista users with older hardware are probably better off putting the $120 upgrade fee towards a newer device.

Not sure which operating system is right for you? Get in touch, and we’ll help you out.

Internet Explorer: Upgrade Your Relationship or Break Up?

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

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The end is here for all versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer outside of the most recent version. If your business is still using older versions of the browser, it’s important to switch to a different browser—or upgrade to maintain the latest in security and support. According to Microsoft, support for IE10 and prior versions ended on January 12, 2016.

As recently as fall 2015, Internet Explorer still accounted for around 17 percent of all desktop computer web traffic. ZDNet reported that somewhere around 30 to 40 percent of in-use Microsoft web browsers are lower than IE11. So there’s a good chance some of the older systems your employees are using are running an older version of IE. Situations like this are problematic because the security updates help prevent hackers from infecting and infiltrating your business’s systems.

Why should I care?

Microsoft dropping support means that employees using older versions of Internet Explorer will experience security risks for any unpatched vulnerabilities in the browser’s code.

While the mobile web has commanded more than 60 percent of all Internet media viewing time since May of 2014, the traditional desktop web still accounts for a substantial 40 percent of all traffic—and it is still an important productivity platform for many businesses.

How do I upgrade?

If a computer’s operating system supports IE11, updating to IE11 can be as straightforward as running Windows Update and selecting the browser from the update options list. However, if the computer is not cooperating with Windows Update, users can manually download IE11 for Windows 7 from Microsoft’s download page. Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 users are already running IE11 and Edge by default, so the upgrade is unnecessary.

What if my OS is incompatible with Edge or IE11?

The only way to run IE11 or Edge on a computer with an incompatible operating system (like Windows XP or Windows Vista) is to upgrade the computer to Windows 7 or an even more recent iteration. The newest operating systems tend to be the most secure overall, providing additional benefits outside of Internet Explorer. Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 for a large portion of Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, which will move computers to Edge, Microsoft’s newest browser.

A Compromise

Some businesses may encounter problems with older website code that does not work on newer web browser versions: They are stuck choosing between dropping support or continuing to run a security risk with an older browser. However, you can maintain legacy support situations like this while using a modern web browser on the same system by installing either Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. These browsers support modern web and security standards, so employees can opt to open Internet Explorer only for legacy support on older services while using a modern web browser for all other purposes.

Not sure how (or when) to upgrade? Get in touch with a local Managed Service Provider who can talk you through it.

Upgrading to Windows 10: Why You Should (Still) Wait

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

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We were as optimistic as anyone about Microsoft’s long-awaited release of the Windows 10 operating system. As we discussed last May, we looked forward to real improvements—chiefly a better desktop interface—over its widely unloved predecessor, Windows 8.1. At the same time, we hoped Microsoft had learned from its troubled history of Windows upgrades and delivered a finished OS which would leave most users thankful, pleased, and productive.

So much for wishful thinking.

You probably don’t need us to tell you Microsoft’s ambitious free online upgrade to Win10’s initial “RTM” version (“Release to Manufacturing”—or perhaps rushed to market!) hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as anticipated.

Of over 100 million worldwide users who clicked an icon and expected a clean, hassle-free install, an overwhelming number experienced a gauntlet of frustrating issues, such as:

  • Continuous stalls, reboots, or cryptic “Something Happened” error messages during the Win10 download.
  • Confusing instructions about locating and entering a new Windows activation key.
  • Incomplete new features (Mail, Edge browser, Cortana voice input, revived Start menu) which proved not-ready-for-primetime.
  • Displaced software apps or compatibility issues with existing hardware drivers that left upgraded computers much less functional—if not totally disabled (or “bricked”).

Many exasperated upgraders were left to that dreaded last resort—a wait in the phone queue of Microsoft tech support. Or they simply threw in the towel and reverted to their previous version of Windows (which Win10 allows within 30 days of upgrade).

Microsoft’s first attempt to correct the early flaws in Windows 10 was the November release of Version 1511, also referred to as Threshold 2—or what Microsoft once called a Service Pack update. While most of those clunky new features generally perform better, the problem of disappearing apps and utilities remains (as discussed in this Reddit thread). For casual users who wouldn’t consider themselves “computer nerds”—and even many who do—upgrading to Windows 10 on their own has been just short of a nightmare.

Where We Stand on Windows 10 Today

  • If you haven’t already attempted upgrading your computers to Win10, we recommend resisting as long as possible—until most of the bugs have been fixed. The current deadline for the free upgrade is July 29, 2016—but we wouldn’t be surprised if that date gets extended, given the massive number of hiccups so far.
  • If you’ve stuck with Windows 7 all along, you’re using a tried-and-true OS which many IT experts actually consider superior to the current Windows 10. Microsoft has pledged extended support for Win7 until January 2020—long after you’ll probably consider your current PC hardware obsolete.
  • We expect Windows 10 to be, eventually, a terrific, reliable user experience. But the first-of-its-kind online download/install—of an entire OS—has been difficult, considering every PC is its own unique combination of hardware and software. It’s hardly a do-it-yourself project… but we can help.

Playing It Safe with Windows 10: Upgrading or Maintaining Your OS with Minimal Pain

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

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Now that the dust has settled around the release of Windows 10, your SMB may be looking to increase productivity by upgrading your OS. Still, you should proceed with caution.

The latest version of the operating system offers a more secure computing environment, better disaster recovery options, and an improved user interface that can optimize your operations. However, if it turns out that the software your business relies on doesn’t work with Windows 10, the downsides to an upgrade will quickly outweigh any upsides.  

Before diving in for a full upgrade, test the waters to ensure that:

A) Your existing software still works, or
B) There are compatible, convenient alternatives.

Identify Problematic Software

SMBs often have older software propping up the backbone of their business. Because that software is proven and reliable, dumping it isn’t a move to be taken lightly. Switching to an inferior but compatible product can kill productivity. An IT consulting service can help manage problems like decreased system performance and insufficient hardware to run the new OS by upgrading or replacing systems. If the software doesn’t work in Windows 10, there’s not much you can do to fix it.

It’s a good idea, then, to select one computer, upgrade it to Windows 10, and test all of your usual software before ordering a mass upgrade. Best case scenario, your software will work in Windows 10 as well as it did in the prior version.

If a program doesn’t want to start, there’s a tool at your disposal (included in Windows) that might save the day. “Compatibility Mode,” which can be accessed from the Properties menu located on the program launch icon, resolves many of the software conflicts that prevent older programs from running on newer platforms. You can select which version of Windows you want the computer to try to replicate to work around problems.

However, “Compatibility Mode” is not guaranteed to work—and if it doesn’t, your last option is running programs through virtualization (creating secondary instances of operating systems that run within the main one). Virtualization may work in a pinch for one-off situations, but running it on every computer is far from practical.

Find Compliant Replacements to Balance Security and Functionality

Sticking with older operating systems in favor of new ones becomes an increasing security risk over time, which can put any SMB in the difficult position of choosing a more functional or a more secure solution. A managed service provider can be an invaluable asset when finding software alternatives to replace programs that no longer work on modern operating systems. The OS turnover may provide a great opportunity to switch to a Cloud-based software alternative that’s platform-agnostic—and can put the “upgrade decision” to rest, permanently.

The “Redirect to SMB” Bug: New Windows, Same Danger

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

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The big news out of Microsoft over the past couple of months is the much-ballyhooed release of Windows 10. While “Win10” finally addresses those annoying shortcomings of its predecessor Windows 8 (as we’ve discussed), it still hasn’t corrected a dangerous security flaw known in cybersecurity circles as Redirect to SMB—a hidden vulnerability which has plagued all versions of Windows since 1997.

The original basis of Redirect to SMB was frighteningly simple: A victim simply needed to be duped into clicking on a URL (in a phony website or malicious email) that began with file:// rather than the usual http:// (e.g., file://12.34.567.89 or file://example.com). This would cause the victim’s computer to directly link to the attacker’s server via Server Message Block protocol (SMB), which would render the victim’s computer under the attacker’s control, and ultimately allow access to the victim’s entire login credentials—usernames and passwords—for every protected business or personal account on the Internet.

Redirect to SMB 2.0: Self-Service Cyber-Attacks

This past April, cybersecurity firm Cylance revealed they’d uncovered a potentially devastating new dimension to Redirect to SMB—which requires no additional trigger action on the part of the victim. Windows regularly issues automated “pings” via HTTP/HTTPS authentication for availability of updates and other routine background tasks. Cylance discovered that these pings could be redirected from the legitimate HTTP destination to a rogue SMB server, enabling the attacker to swipe those valuable user logins.

These threats aren’t limited to the Windows operating system itself. After extensive testing, Cylance found exploitable Redirect to SMB vulnerabilities in over 30 “self-updating” Windows-based software products, including common applications you’ve probably used this week:

  • Adobe Reader
  • Apple Software Update (installs QuickTime and iTunes updates)
  • Microsoft apps including Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, and Excel 2010
  • Antivirus programs from leading vendors including Norton, AVG, and Bitdefender

“It Can’t Happen To Me”Until It Does!

Microsoft announced plans to deliver a security patch for Redirect to SMB way back in 2007, but has since publicy downplayed the likelihood of such attacks. (Of course, we remember how the Empire downplayed the likelihood of a direct hit to a small exhaust port destroying the Death Star!) We’ve talked at length about the legions of hackers around the world who’ve dedicated themselves to hijacking your computer. They read the same news reports we do, and we’d be surprised if some form of Redirect to SMB isn’t on a crook or two’s agenda.

In the meantime, the most effective “workaround” against Redirect to SMB is to manually reconfigure a couple specific TCP ports in your firewall to restrict all outgoing SMB communication. You’ll block most external SMB-based attacks, but other useful Windows features may be affected.

The release of Windows 10 was a welcome event, but remember that it’s still not perfect. Rejoice over the return of the “Start” button—but keep security in mind. If you need help protecting your company against threats, get in touch today.