Category Archives: Things that make me happy

Microsoft news: the good, the bad, and the spiteful

The Good

Windows 7 support ended earlier this month, and with it any hope of fixing newly-discovered security vulnerabilities. Or did it? Microsoft recently discovered a problem with an update, released in Novemeber 2019, that is causing problems with desktop wallpaper on Windows 7 computers. This isn’t a security issue, but it probably affects thousands of users, and Microsoft has now released a special update that fixes the wallpaper problem. You can get the update via Windows Update on Windows 7 computers.

The Bad

Microsoft’s plans for expanding advertising in Windows 10 continue, albeit very slowly. The latest change is in Windows 10’s default rich text editor, Wordpad. When you run Wordpad, you’ll see an advertisement for Microsoft Office. It’s not much, and many users will never see it, but I’m reminded of the proverbial frog in steadily-warming water.

The Spiteful

Microsoft’s shenanigans with Google show no signs of slowing down. Both companies have engaged in questionable behaviour in trying to promote their software and services. The latest shot from Microsoft is particularly annoying: when Office 365 updates itself — a process that is both frequent and difficult to control — it will look for an installation of Google’s Chrome web browser, and change its default search engine to Bing.

Microsoft has a history of inappropriately reverting settings during updates, which is annoying enough, but this is excessive and downright spiteful, in my opinion. Microsoft, please play out your differences with Google in a way that doesn’t annoy millions of users.

Update 2020Feb11: Microsoft relented, and won’t be switching Windows 10 searches to use Bing during Office 365 updates. I guess they realized that they didn’t need yet another public relations disaster.

More about those troubling emails

Some months ago I wrote about the flood of ‘sextortion’ emails almost all of us have been receiving since mid-2018.

Now Brian Krebs reports that the person who most likely wrote the code that started the wave of sextortion emails has surrendered to authorities in France, after being pursued across Europe.

It’s too soon to know what kind of punishment this jerk will face, but here’s hoping it’s significant.

Google improves GMail security

I’ve tried other search services, but I always end up back at Google, because the search results are consistently better. Google does collect information about its users, and uses that information to target advertising. Google also looks at the content of GMail messages for the same reason. If that bothers you, there are ways to prevent it, or you can stop using Google’s products and services.

That said, in all my years of using Google’s services, I’ve never encountered anything that made me want to stop using them. Google does occasionally annoy me by dropping services like Reader, and Google’s advertising is ridiculously overpriced, but on balance the company provides far more benefit than any potential harm.

For example, Google spends enormous amounts of time and resources on making the web safer for everyone. Much of that effort goes unheralded, but occasionally we catch glimpses in the form of blog posts, like this one, describing recent improvements to GMail security. Compare that with Yahoo’s recent track record, which clearly shows that user security and privacy are not a priority at that company.

Let’s Encrypt’s finances

I’m a big fan of Let’s Encrypt, an organization committed to encrypting all web traffic by proving free security certificates.

I’m also a big fan of transparency, so when LE published a summary of their financial information recently, my regard for their efforts clicked up another notch.

Highlights from LE’s financial information post:

  • Let’s Encrypt will require about $2.9M USD to operate in 2017.
  • The majority of LE’s funding comes from corporate sponsorships.
  • You can donate to Let’s Encrypt using PayPal.

For the record, this web site (boot13.com) and all my other secure sites now use Let’s Encrypt certificates.

How to make an operating system better

With Microsoft taking Windows in a direction that’s distinctly unappealing, it’s a pleasure to write about an operating system that’s actually being improved and enhanced in useful ways: Apple ProDOS.

You read that right: ProDOS. It’s a decades old system that runs on hardware nobody uses any more (Apple IIs), but with the dedicated efforts of a single developer, a new, greatly improved version of ProDOS was recently released as version 2.4.

Why am I so excited about this? Because operating systems are important. They form the core of all the computer systems we use daily. I want to use an O/S that’s reliable, fast, and mostly invisible. A good O/S provides this critical underpinning without compromising our privacy or trying to sell us anything.

As reported by Jason Scott on his ASCII blog, ProDOS 2.4 was a labour of love for its developer. He says:

“The current mainstream OS environment is, frankly, horrifying, and to see a pure note, a trumpet of clear-minded attention to efficiency, functionality and improvement, stands in testament to the fact that it is still possible to achieve this, albeit a smaller, slower-moving target. Either way, it’s an inspiration.”

I agree completely. There’s no reason for a new version of an operating system to ever get worse. This really applies to all software, but it’s especially important for operating systems. Microsoft would do well to look at this project and learn from it.

If you happen to have an old Apple II lying around (as I do), you can run ProDOS 2.4 on it. Otherwise, you’ll need to use an Apple II emulator like AppleWin.