Category Archives: Microsoft

Windows 10 cumulative updates hopelessly botched

Recently I noticed that my Windows 10 test PC wasn’t staying logged in. Every day, despite not having logged out, I was seeing the login screen. A bit of poking around in the Windows 10 settings showed that Windows was trying to install update KB4013429, rebooting to complete the install, failing to complete the install, and rolling back the changes. Rinse and repeat daily, since March 14.

Searching online, I immediately found plenty of other people experiencing this problem. No official solution from Microsoft, but plenty from other users, including what turned out to be the only thing that worked for many: a total reinstall of Windows 10.

One user pointed to an interesting tool, available in the TechNet Script Center, called Reset Windows Update Agent. This script was created and submitted by a non-Microsoft contributor, not by Microsoft. Since I wasn’t getting anywhere looking for an official solution, I tried the tool’s main feature, which does indeed reset all things Windows Update. After rebooting, Windows successfully installed a few updates, then started to install ‘Cumulative Update for Windows 10 Version 1607 (KB4015438)’, which Microsoft issued on March 20 to address problems with KB4013429. But that update also failed to install.

I admit to being tempted to contact Microsoft about this, but then I remembered my previous encounters with Microsoft support, shuddered, and thought better of it. After all, Microsoft already knows my PC is having trouble installing this update, because of all the telemetry in Windows 10, right? If anything, they should be contacting me with a solution. Yeah, right. Like that would ever happen.

I feel sorry for anyone who tries to do anything productive with Windows 10. I only use it for testing and media playback, but even so, this is the end of the line for my relationship with Windows 10. I’ll be installing Linux Mint MATE next.

Windows Vista to be put out of its misery on April 11

I’m sure there are a few people out there still using Vista. It may even have a few fans, and maybe they’re sad about Vista’s impending trip to the back of the woodshed. But they’re crazy: Vista was a terrible O/S.

CERT’s announcement of Vista’s coming demise.

After April 11, Vista will no longer receive any updates from Microsoft, including security updates. Beyond that point, no Vista computer should be allowed to connect to the Internet.

Patch Tuesday updates from Microsoft and Adobe

It looks like Microsoft fixed the technical issues that led to February’s updates being postponed until March. Today they announced eighteen updates that address security issues in Windows, Internet Explorer, Edge, Office, Silverlight, as well as Windows Server software, including Exchange.

Critical vulnerabilities for which updates were expected in February, including an SMB flaw in Windows (CVE-2017-0016), and two others that were disclosed by Google’s Project Zero that affect the Windows GDI library (CVE-2017-0038), and Internet Explorer and Edge (CVE-2017-0037), finally get fixes today.

A total of one hundred and forty vulnerabilities are addressed by today’s updates from Microsoft. That’s higher than usual, but of course this is two months’ worth of updates.

Adobe’s contribution to the patching fun this month is new versions of Flash and Shockwave. Flash 25.0.0.127 includes fixes for seven vulnerabilities in earlier versions, while Shockwave 12.2.8.198 resolves a single security issue in versions 12.2.7.197 and earlier.

Chrome will update itself with the new version of Flash in the next day or so, but you can usually trigger the update process by navigating to its About page. Flash updates for Internet Explorer and Edge are included in this month’s updates from Microsoft.

If you’re still using a web browser with a Flash plugin, you should make sure it’s up to date as soon as possible.

Update 2017Mar17: Ars Technica points out — quite rightly — that Microsoft still owes us all an explanation for why the February updates were cancelled. My favourite quote from the Ars article: “when marketers drive communications concerning a reported zero-day exploit, customers lose.” I’d argue that when marketing folk are the only ones talking about technical issues of any kind, we should all be very worried.

They’re here: ads in Windows 10

We called it. Microsoft denied it. Now the reality of advertising in Windows has arrived. We’re not talking about the tiny, easily-ignored ads commonly seen in Skype, either. The ads that just started appearing in Windows 10 are hard to miss, and they’re in Windows Explorer, arguably the core user interface of the system.

Of course Microsoft is calling these ads ‘tips’ and insists that they just provide helpful information to Windows 10 users. Okay, let’s take a look at what users are seeing:

You be the judge: is this an advertisement?

You may disagree, but in my opinion, that’s an ad. It might as well say “Your Advertisement Here” or “Advertise In This Space”. At this stage, I’m sure we’ll only see ads from Microsoft in Explorer, but once the anger subsides, it’s difficult to imagine Microsoft won’t start selling that space – and others like it – to the highest bidder.

That’s right, Windows 10 really is an advertising platform, just as we’ve been saying all along. It explains why Microsoft was so happy to give away the O/S to anyone who upgraded from an earlier version, why they pushed so hard and literally tricked people to upgrade from earlier versions, why they included so much user activity tracking in Windows 10, and why they retrofitted that tracking into earlier versions when people failed to upgrade in sufficient numbers.

Clearly, the underlying reason for Microsoft’s advertising-in-Windows strategy is simply the enormous amount of money being made by Google from advertising.

Linux is looking a lot better now, isn’t it?

Analysis from The Verge and Ars Technica.

Update 2017Mar17: Tom Warren over at The Verge reacts to the new ads in Windows 10. He describes it as an ‘infestation’, and I agree with his assessment.

Microsoft announces amazing new Windows 10 feature

There’s a surprisingly lengthy post on the Windows Experience blog, co-written by two senior Microsoft managers: Michael Fortin (CVP of Windows and Devices Group Core Quality) and John Cable (Director of Program Management, Windows Servicing and Delivery).

Okay, what’s so important that these two folks decided to write about it? Just this: after the upcoming Windows 10 “Creators Update”, Windows 10 will be slightly less likely to do things at inconvenient times.

I don’t know about you, but allowing users to have control over when updates are installed, and when their computer reboots, seems like a pretty basic feature. And in fact that kind of control has existed in Windows for years. Until Windows 10. But instead of fixing the problem and apologizing for it, we get senior Microsoft managers talking about this bug fix as if it was the most amazing new feature ever.

I understand that there are good reasons to force updates and restarts, the main one being that otherwise many people allow their computers to get out of date, and vulnerable. But seriously, wouldn’t it have made more sense for automatic updates and restarts to be the default behaviour, and allow for this behaviour to be overridden, when Windows 10 was released?

The Verge’s take on this. And Ars Technica’s.

Update 2017Mar22: A new ‘tip’ from Microsoft shows Windows 10 users how to change ‘Active Hours’, during which Microsoft hopefully won’t remotely restart their computer. Of course, the maximum duration for active hours is still only twelve hours. On a related note, I was wondering why my Windows 10 test PC always seemed to be logged out lately, and discovered that it’s been trying to install one particular update every night for a couple of weeks. Windows reboots to complete the install, but the installation fails, and the cycle repeats. This is exactly the kind of thing that bothers me about letting Microsoft screw around with my computer without my knowledge.

Microsoft releases update for Flash

Normally, Microsoft releases updates for Flash in Edge and Internet Explorer along with everything else on the second Tuesday of each month.

This month, something went wrong with the Windows Update system, and Microsoft pushed all the February updates to March, including an expected fix for a serious SMS flaw.

Someone at Microsoft apparently realized that this decision would leave some Flash users (those using Flash in Edge and Internet Explorer) vulnerable for an extra month. Flash vulnerabilities are targeted aggressively by malicious hackers, so this is obviously a bad thing. As a result, Microsoft has released a Flash update, one week later than originally planned.

Anyone who uses Flash in Internet Explorer or Edge should visit Windows Update and install the Flash update as soon as possible.

So we do get a Microsoft Security Bulletin Summary for February 2017 after all, but it only includes a single bulletin.

Microsoft pushes February updates to March

In an unprecedented move, Microsoft has decided to delay all February updates until next Patch Tuesday, which is March 14. It’s still not clear exactly why this is happening, but Microsoft is working on structural changes to the Windows Update system, so presumably something went horribly wrong in testing.

This is bad news for anyone who runs a server that’s vulnerable to a recently-discovered SMB flaw that was expected to be fixed with Tuesday’s updates.

Update 2017Feb23: Meanwhile, Google’s Project Zero went ahead and published the details of another vulnerability (in the GDI graphics library) that was supposed to be fixed this month. This was done in keeping with GPZ’s own policy, but as usual Microsoft isn’t happy about it.

Update 2017Feb28: Yet another vulnerability that was expected to be fixed in the February updates from Microsoft was just revealed by GPZ. This one affects Internet Explorer and Edge, and it’s ranked highly severe.

Microsoft will patch recently-discovered SMB flaw in February

The flaw itself is not particularly dangerous for most users: it can only be used to crash Windows computers with file shares that are exposed to the Internet. But when an exploit was published on Thursday, the vulnerability was initially assigned the highest risk rating by CERT. That rating has since been downgraded, as details of the flaw became more clear.

In any case, Microsoft’s reaction to the exploit announcement included statements that are demonstrably false, and seem to have been motivated by the company’s frantic efforts to get everyone on the planet to switch to Windows 10.

“Windows is the only platform with a customer commitment to investigate reported security issues and proactively update impacted devices as soon as possible.”

This is simply false. The same work is done for Linux and MacOS. The unnamed Microsoft staffer who said this may have borrowed it from this TechNet blog post, without checking its veracity.

“We recommend customers use Windows 10 and the Microsoft Edge browser for the best protection.”

This is totally misleading. Windows 10 is arguably the safest version of Windows yet, but the vulnerability affects all versions of Windows. Worse, the vulnerability is completely unrelated to web browsing.

It looks like Microsoft has issued standing orders to its PR department to push Windows 10 at every opportunity, and not to worry too much about accuracy.

Microsoft is expected to issue an update for the vulnerability on February’s Patch Tuesday.

Windows 10 privacy improvements, sort of

The good news is that Microsoft is improving the state of privacy in Windows 10, albeit slowly, and grudgingly. The bad news is that the improvements are unlikely to satisfy anyone genuinely concerned about what Windows 10 is really doing.

New: Privacy Dashboard

A few days ago, Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group, announced a new web-based Privacy Dashboard, accessible via your Microsoft account. If you don’t have a Microsoft account, you’re out of luck. I’m still using my Microsoft account to log into my test system, because otherwise I’d have to buy a Windows 10 license. You probably already have a Microsoft account even if you don’t use Windows 10, as they are used for XBox Live, Skype, and other Microsoft services as well.

Poking around in the Privacy Dashboard, the Browsing History section is empty for me, presumably because I don’t use Cortana or Edge. The Search History section is also empty for me, because I don’t use Bing search. But if you use Cortana, Edge and Bing, you’d be able to see all that history here, and be able to remove it as well.

The Location section shows where you’ve been when you logged in on Windows 8.1 and 10 computers. Again, you can clear any or all of this. The section for Cortana’s database shows everything Cortana knows about you, based on your interactions. This is where things get interesting for me, because I only used Cortana for a couple of days when I first installed Windows 10. Cortana knows how often I eat at restaurants, and how far I go to get there. It knows my main mode of transportation. It knows what kind of news interests me. It’s not much, but it’s enough to be kind of creepy.

The Privacy Dashboard is a step in the right direction, and it’s very useful for anyone interested in seeing exactly what information Microsoft has collected. It also allows you to clear much of that information. But what if you want to prevent Microsoft from gathering this information in the first place?

Privacy improvements in Windows 10

Also revealed in Myerson’s post are upcoming changes to the privacy settings in Windows 10. The initial privacy setup has changed, and now provides a bit more information about the various privacy levels and settings. Microsoft is “simplifying Diagnostic data levels and further reducing the data collected at the Basic level.” But in fact there will be fewer privacy levels to choose from, and there’s still no real explanation of exactly what data is sent. And of course the most useful ‘Security’ level (which disables almost all telemetry) is only available to Enterprise users. Us regular folks can only throttle data collection down to the ‘Basic’ level.

According to Microsoft, the Basic level “includes data that is vital to the operation of Windows. We use this data to help keep Windows and apps secure, up-to-date, and running properly when you let Microsoft know the capabilities of your device, what is installed, and whether Windows is operating correctly. This option also includes basic error reporting back to Microsoft.” This sounds reasonable, but it’s lacking in detail and — for many users — still sounds like an intrusion.

Luckily, there are alternatives. I recently discovered a Powershell script called Reclaim Windows 10 that can disable all of the telemetry settings in Windows 10. I’ve yet to test the script, but it looks promising.

Advertisements in Windows 10?

Microsoft still insists this isn’t about advertising: “We want you to be informed about and in control of your data, which is why we’re working hard on these settings and controls. And regardless of your data collection choices, we will not use the contents of your email, chat, files, or pictures to target ads to you.” I’d like to believe that, but it seems unlikely. Microsoft is clearly taking aim at Google’s huge lead in online advertising, and the idea of having a captive audience for advertising (in the form of millions of Windows users) is obviously just too tempting to resist.

Microsoft continues to push Windows 10, now at the expense of Windows 7, which it now says “does not meet the requirements of modern systems, nor the security requirements of IT departments.”

Update 2017Jan18: Techdirt weighs in.