As predicted, Windows XP holdouts likely to upgrade to Windows 7

I’ve been saying for a while that corporate/business/enterprise customers are going to avoid Windows 8. IT departments have no interest in helping countless users re-learn Windows basics because of an ill-conceived and unavoidable user interface decision by Microsoft.

Enterprise IT folks are not interested in performing Windows upgrades on thousands of PCs unless there is a good reason to do so. When Microsoft stops developing security patches for Windows XP in April 2014, that will be a good reason to upgrade machines still running XP. Thankfully, there are alternatives to Windows 8.

After a lot of early problems with networking, compatibility and drivers with Windows 7, that O/S has emerged as the next go-to O/S for Windows-based PCs. Moving a user from Windows XP to Windows 7 will not involve a lot of re-training, drivers have matured, and software compatibility issues have mostly been resolved. Windows 7 sales are likely to exceed Windows 8 sales in the coming months, no matter what Microsoft does to encourage people to skip Windows 7.

Apparently, the attendees of a recent TechMentor conference held at Microsoft’s headquarters agree. According to those folks, Windows 7 is going to be the next Windows XP, with 7 assuming the mantle of ‘most solid and reliable Windows O/S’ for enterprise users.

My own plans are to evaluate Windows 8 on a test PC, but switch my Windows XP machines to Linux if possible, and Windows 7 if not. Windows 8 has a lot to prove before I will even consider using it on any of my main PCs.

Usability expert pronounces new Windows 8 UI confusing

Apple fans like to accuse Microsoft of stealing ideas from Apple. They also like to give Steve Jobs credit for inventing things actually invented by others. A recent example of this is the apparent belief among some Apple diehards that Jobs invented tablet computing.

Another common misconception is that Apple (and Jobs) invented the graphical user interface and mouse. In fact that honour goes to the wonderfully creative folks who worked at the Xerox Parc research facility in Palo Alto in the 1980s. Jobs saw a demonstration of a graphical interface at Parc and soon afterward, the Mac appeared on the scene.

In fact, all creative work builds on what came before, whether we’re talking about art or technology. These days, there’s far too much emphasis on ownership of ideas, with hopelessly broken patent and copyright systems making lawyers rich and causing untold misery for everyone else. Don’t get me started.

Raluca Budiu is a computer usability expert who previously worked at both Xerox Parc and Microsoft. She was recently interviewed by laptopmag.com, and was asked about the Windows 8 UI. What she says will surprise nobody who has given any thought to the new tablet/touch-focused UI. It’s confusing. It’s cognitively jarring. It’s more work than previous Windows UIs. Her comments were based on her own personal use of the new O/S and not the result of any kind of formal study, but I think we can agree that her observations have merit. I hope she decides to study the new UI in detail; the results could encourage Microsoft to provide workarounds for some of the more awkward UI issues in Windows 8.

Another new version of Adobe Flash

Yesterday, in yet another attempt to finally get it right, Adobe announced a new minor release of its ubiquitous (and problematic) Flash player for all platforms. The new release takes us from the 10.3 series to 10.4.

Additional details are available in the in the related Security Bulletin.

As usual, the new version addresses security issues that could lead to attacks on systems running older versions. It also includes a few new features; the release notes cover all the changes.

Windows and Mac users should update to the new version (11.4.402.265) as soon as possible. Attacks based on this vulnerability are spreading fast on the Internet.

Low prices for Windows 8 will end after January 31, 2013

I was encouraged by Microsoft’s recent announcement that pricing for Windows 8 was going to be lower than previous Windows offerings. In particular, $40 for the retail Windows 8 Pro Upgrade is a lot more reasonable than I had expected. Of course, that’s the download-only version; the retail box will be priced at $70. The non-upgrade version of Windows 8 Pro will be $70, which is still better than it was for Windows 7.

Alas, these prices are only going to be in effect for a brief period, from the retail release on October 26, 2012 to January 31, 2013. After that, the non-upgrade Pro version will increase from $70 to $200 (gag), while the Pro Upgrade price will increase from $40 to something higher (exactly what remains unclear). These prices are all in US dollars.

In related news, Microsoft has revamped their licensing for Windows. Among other changes, users will now be able to – for the first time! – legitimately install Windows on a self-built PC without paying full price for a retail version. The new license type is called “Personal Use License for System Builder (PULSB)” and although pricing is not yet know, it will hopefully be significantly lower than the full retail version. Ed Bott has additional analysis over at ZDNet, and he’ll be posting more as his analysis continues. ARS Technica has more info on the new licensing and PULSB.

Windows 8 prevents site blocking using HOSTS file

Another day, another reason to hate Windows 8. And I haven’t even installed it yet. According to ghacks.net, using the Windows HOSTS file to block web sites will no longer work reliably in Windows 8.

Modifying the Windows HOSTS file is a simple and effective way to fiddle with the way domain names are translated into IP addresses. I use it on development PCs to allow access to locally-hosted web sites using their public URLs. It can also be used to redirect unwanted web sites to LOCALHOST, effectively blocking them. This can be used as a rudimentary form of ad blocking, although there are some risks involved.

Microsoft apparently doesn’t want people using the HOSTS file that way, because it silently updates the file, even if it’s marked as read-only, removing entries for facebook.com and ad.doubleclick.net (a major advertising source), and presumably others.

It turns out that the culprit is Windows Defender, which is enabled by default in Windows 8. Exactly why Windows Defender is doing this is not certain, but it’s safe to assume that Microsoft was pressured to do this by Facebook, Doubleclick, and others. Microsoft will probably claim that it was done for reasons of security, in which case it will be interesting to hear their explanation.

Meanwhile, disabling Windows Defender apparently resolves this issue. You should probably use real anti-malware software anyway. There are plenty of free alternatives.

More evidence of shoddy programming by Adobe

Apparently some Google employees decided to test Adobe Reader after they found several security-related bugs in the PDF reader code used in Google Chrome. They found sixty issues that cause crashes, about forty of which could provide attack vectors.

Bugs, crashes and security issues in Adobe software are nothing new. But given the frequency and number of updates for Reader, one might assume that Adobe had a handle on these issues. The ongoing crashing problems with Flash on Windows 7 indicate otherwise, as does this new revelation from Google.

Don’t be fooled by fake FBI warnings

The FBI has issued an alert about Reveton, drive-by ransomware that first appeared in early 2012.

The term “drive-by” is typically applied to malware that affects users when they visit an infected web site. To put it another way: your computer can become infected by this malware if you visit an infected web site, even if you don’t click anything on that web site or view anything other than the home page. This is why even web searches have become somewhat dangerous.

“Ransomware” refers to malware that presents a warning to the user, in some cases pretending to be from a government agency, that they have violated some law or regulation. The solution presented is to pay a ‘fine’; any money paid goes to the malware’s perpetrator. Surprisingly, this fools enough people to make it a worthwhile scam.

PCWorld has additional information.

Updates for Adobe Flash, Shockwave and Acrobat Reader

Adobe issued several new bulletins today.

First up is Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader. Adobe security bulletin APSB12-16 announces Reader and Acrobat versions 10.1.4 and 9.5.2, which address a specific crashing problem that could allow an attacker to gain control of affected computers.

Next is Adobe security bulletin APSB12-17. This bulletin announces version 11.6.6.636 of Shockwave. Once again, the new version addresses a security issue.

Finally, a new version of the Flash player is announced in Adobe security bulletin APSB12-18. The new version is 11.3.300.271, and it addresses yet another crash-leading-to-possible-exploit security problem. As mentioned previously here, Google Chrome users will receive the new version of Flash for Chrome with the latest version of that browser. It remains to be seen whether this latest fix will resolve the long-standing crashing problems with the Flash player on Windows 7 systems.

News for me, stuff that matters… to me. Windows, Linux, security, tools & miscellany.