I’ve only had one client ask me this exact question recently, but I am getting this general sentiment a lot more these days than I ever had in the past. There’s nothing more disappointing than buying a brand-new device, getting it out of the box, setting it up, only to be severely underwhelmed by its performance, or in some cases, discovering that it’s just plain not working at all. Personally, I feel bad when this happens, and professionally it’s not a good look for C2 when a computer we recommend or procure for a customer stumbles right out of the gate. Unfortunately, this is happening for a lot of clients lately, and while this explanation may seem like we’re trying to pass the buck – we’re really not – you should know what’s actually going on.
So what the heck is going on?
Here comes another numbered list. It helps me think, and hopefully gives you helpful guide posts on where to pause, digest, and uncross your eyes because this is complicated. I wish it were something as simple as gremlins, but we should be so lucky in light of what’s actually going on.
- Microsoft has been releasing some real winners on their recent updates. And by winners, I mean losers. I explained this in a previous post, but basically back in 2015, Microsoft converted its quality assurance operations from a professional, in-house team, to one powered by volunteers in the wider technology community. Microsoft crowd-sources the testing of their updates, and the results are poor.
- New PC’s can sometimes sit on shelves for weeks, if not months, before arriving on your desk. During this time, Microsoft has been dropping (bad) updates like they were hot (see #1), so when it finally gets connected to the internet, your new PC pulls a Kanye and says, “Imma let you finish…” and proceeds to apply gigabytes of back-dated patches, in some cases well over 100 gigabytes if your PC is really behind.
- Oh yeah, some of those updates are bad. Don’t forget #1. Some of them don’t even get successfully applied. Repeat “Imma let you finish…” except in reverse as your PC rolls back an unsuccessful patch. Why did it fail patching? Who knows. Microsoft is not going explain what went wrong. It just throws the whole thing into reverse, reboots, and waits to try again.
- A lot of new PC’s come with antivirus software already installed. Most antivirus software aren’t particularly speedy, especially if it was provided for free. So your PC is applying literally thousands of changes to your operating system files, and the antivirus software has to follow it around with a clipboard, saying, “OK, you can apply that change. WAIT…OK that one too. WAIT…let me check that one…OK.”
- If you happened to buy a PC with a spinning hard drive instead of an SSD, add a speed penalty to all the above nonsense.
- Throughout all of the above, Windows 10 is trying to do this in the “background” while letting you “work” on your PC. Except your PC is pinning the needle on your hard drive and you get the spinning, blue wheel of “please wait an interminable amount of time for this file to open.” This is probably the greatest failing of Windows 10: updates are applied in the background with zero notice to the user of what’s going on. If you dig, you can find out what’s happening, but, “ain’t nobody got time for dat!”
So basically, out of the box, your PC needs to go through a “break-in” period. Any of you who have ever participated in a sport that requires gear knows that this feels like. On a PC, this can mean a new computer won’t actually hit its stride for several days (up to a week, depending on your internet speed!), and that period can be even longer if you are also installing newer versions of software that are now “Windows 10 compatible”, and, oh by the way, also very different from their Windows 7 counterparts you are “upgrading” from. This break-in period happens on high-end, expensive PCs just as often as budget PCs, and in my experience, is not really avoidable. Just like stretching out before exercise, today’s PC’s need a “warm up period” when fresh out of the box, so plan accordingly.
When Windows 10 was first announced Microsoft touted the new architecture and forced, scheduled updating as a means to keep the world’s largest computing platform secure, relevant and consistent across the myriad hardware configurations on which it is used. Many of us who had been around the block more than few times with Microsoft viewed this change with a mixture of skepticism and cautious hope that it would stem the tide of security breaches and vulnerabilities plaguing the OS. Unfortunately, that tender spark of optimism was stamped out by buggy (sometimes disastrous), unstoppable updates forced upon everyone at what seemed like the most inconvenient moment possible. To be fair, Windows 10 is definitely an overall improvement over Windows 7 and 8, especially in terms of performance, stability and security, but its relatively frantic pace in pushing patches and features before thoroughly testing them has led to plenty of high-profile disappointments.
So what’s this “one good reason” to update?
Even though I’m writing this article with tongue firmly planted in cheek, the news that prompted this particular topic is actually something everyone will find useful: Windows 10 will no longer complain about you pulling your USB drive out without going through the whole “remove USB drive safely” process. As of version 1809 (which has had it’s own share of problems since its release late last year), Windows 10 will load USB drives in “Quick Removal” mode, versus the previous default, “Better Performance” mode, which, as it sounds, means you can get to the business of pulling USB drives a lot quicker than before. Opting for the unplug-and-run lifestyle does come at a performance cost, and for larger, spinning media drives, this may be quite noticeable. It’s progress, one baby-step at a time, but hey, we have to start somewhere, right?
A small percentage of Windows users have opted into the “Insiders” program which grants them early access to new features, bug fixes and content updates for Windows 10, which as I’m sure all of you are painfully familiar with now, updates very frequently. The object of the Insiders program is to “beta test” new updates to the operating system before they are pushed out to the rest of the world, presumably to catch bugs before they can affect the more than 700 million devices that use Windows 10. Well, they caught a bug, but not before it erased data on an undisclosed number of Insider machines.
What this means for you – Get backed up!
If you aren’t an Insider – you have to opt into the program – you only have to worry about fully tested updates destroying your data. I’m only being somewhat sarcastic here, as many of you have experienced some form of loss (data, time, monetary) recovering from the forced death march that is Windows 10’s update cycle, and at least one of my clients experienced a complete wipe of all of his installed applications, necessitating hours of reinstallation work. It’s important to understand that Microsoft, just like any company powered by humans, can and will make mistakes, and those mistakes will cause problems for you. Fortunately, you can counteract this uncertainty with a simple practice: back up your data. There are many options to choose from in this area – some of my clients only work on and store important data on a central server that is backed up, or, if that option isn’t available to them, they use some form of cloud backup, either self-managed or provided to them by C2. Just the other day I had a client suffer a complete data wipe (rare, but it does happen) due to a crashed Windows profile (possibly caused by a Windows update) but they were backed up right until the crash and were able to recover their data, albeit slowly. The backup paid for itself in spades that day, and saved my client from catastrophic loss.
Last week, the majority of US Windows 10 users received a big update from Microsoft nicknamed the “Anniversary Update”, primarily because it was initially released on Aug 2, approximately one year after the official launch of Microsoft’s latest operating system. Amongst a host of improvements to core features like Edge and Cortana and presumably numerous bug fixes, the update also managed to render millions of webcams inoperable. Depending on what you use your computer (and webcam) for, and even what generation you hail from, the impact of this could have been non-existant to a complete showstopper. In the ongoing videochat fight, Apple and Google just scored a TKO without even stepping into the ring.
What this means for you:
Obviously if you don’t use Windows 10 and a webcam, feel free to point and laugh or shake your head in sympathy. What might make this very aggravating for the average Windows 10 user is that they may not even know their computer was updated last week. All they know is their Skype or favorite videochat app is now locking up after a minute with no visible explanation. Even more exasperating is Microsoft’s new rollback policy for Windows 10. Previous versions of Windows allowed the user to uninstall any MS update applied to their system at any time. Now, with Windows 10, you have ten days to rollback your OS to a previous version, otherwise you are just out of luck. In the grand scheme of things, ten days is a very short time to figure out the root cause of an obscure problem like this, so you can imagine that many folks are discovering the root cause of this problem too late to easily solve it.
Though Microsoft has finally acknowledged the problem (WARNING: technical jargon galore!), a patch is unlikely to be released until September. Until that day arrives, the only fix is to rollback the Anniversary update (if you catch it within 10 days) or manually edit your computer’s registry. Buying another webcam won’t necessarily fix this problem unless you know for a fact it can process video through a codec known as YUY2, as Microsoft intentionally removed support for the more common MJPEG and H.264 protocols. According to them, these two older codecs have significant performance issues and support was removed to improve Windows 10. So now instead of degrading performance, your webcam will have zero impact on your computers performance. Working as intended?
Just when you think Microsoft might have its act together security-wise, some clever/persistent security researcher will do their damndest to shatter your fledgling comfort with the latest exotic bug. In this case, the bug has been around since 1997 – it’s so old it’s officially Bug #4 in Internet Explorer. As in the fourth bug discovered in Internet Explorer, ever. And never fixed! Sadly, this negligence has arisen as a critical security flaw in both Windows 8 and 10, and could lead to your Microsoft Live account being exposed.
What this means for you:
This flaw does not affect the following:
- Windows 7,
- Windows 8 or 10 computers attached to a domain,
- Windows 8 or 10 computers accessed via local accounts,
- Windows 8/10 users who do not use Internet Explorer, Edge or any version of MS Outlook.
The people who fall into #2-4 are what I would call a “select” demographic, which is to say that it’s more likely you are using Windows 8 or 10 with a Live account. Via trivial exploit, a hacker could obtain your login and a hashed version of your password, and depending on how complex that password is, that hash could be cracked in less than a minute, meaning your Live account is now fully compromised. In case you weren’t sure what Live accounts can do, they give you a wide variety of access to Microsoft services including OneDrive, Skype, MS Office, and XBox Live to name a few, not to mention your actual computer, should the hacker somehow gain access to your local network or the device itself.
Before you start panicking, there is a (relatively) simple solution: change your password and switch your Live account to use 2-factor authentication. This won’t change how you log into your computer, but it will force anyone trying to use your credentials elsewhere online from using them without that second authorization that 2-factor provides, even if they manage to steal your password again. To really circumvent this bug from impacting you, switch to using a local account on your computer, or to stop using IE/Edge and Outlook until Microsoft fixes this ancient, but dangerous bug.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It’s time for Decision 2016, but unfortunately not the decision most of us would rather get out of the way to get on with our lives…or is it? Microsoft is ending its year-long offer this Friday of a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 machines to Windows 10. Though I may say with no small amount of sarcasm that I’m surprised more people haven’t taken advantage of this offer (or been taken advantage of, depending on your vantage point), Microsoft is sticking to its guns and after Friday, Windows 10 Home upgrade will be $119. And the decision, in case it hasn’t already been made for you (sound familiar?), is whether or not you should upgrade to Windows 10. With nearly a year of watching people being flung into the upgrade abyss without warning, my answer hasn’t changed, and the release of the cost of taking the free road makes it easier for me to explain why. For every single trouble-free upgrade I’ve come across, I’ve come across 3 that are in varying degrees of dysfunction. If you like those odds, or value multiple hours of your time at less than $119, then push that button before Friday.
Dang it, Woo, why you gotta be such a Debbie Downer?
Windows 10 on a brand new machine runs great. It’s a nice evolution of the Windows operating system, and for the most part it runs just like Windows 7 with a little 8 for spice. The new OS isn’t the problem – the problem is your old computer and its years-old operating system. Even if it’s been professionally managed, kept squeaky clean and “barely used”, all Windows operating systems build up what I call “cruft” over time. With use, Windows computers builds up the technical equivalent of barnacles, but unlike ship hulls, we can’t dry-dock your PC and scrape it clean. If you want to upgrade your computer to Windows 10, the most trouble-free experience will only come if the computer hard drive is wiped clean and Windows 10 installed fresh. Even then, there are no guarantees that your computer (despite Microsoft’s insistence) is really ready for Windows 10. The most common, aggravating problems my clients have experienced have come from buggy drivers for their video cards, network interfaces and peripherals, as well as forced upgrades to Internet Explorer 11 which many times will render older corporate web apps unstable or unusable. The latter problem will be fixed (over time, maybe), but for some older hardware, there won’t be upgraded drivers, forcing you to upgrade the affected device, if you even can. Another inexplicable and (eventually) untreatable problem is a slow degrade in performance after your OS is upgraded. Windows 10 will run, but parts will frequently crash or just won’t open their interfaces. Your computer will take long pauses for no apparent reason, sometimes for Windows updates being applied with no notice, and many times just because.
If you really want to upgrade your computer to Windows 10, here is the recommended path:
- Backup your entire hard drive – sometimes called “imaging” or making a bootable copy
- Backup your data and settings separately.
- Make sure you have installation media/files for all your critical applications, including activation keys, codes, proof of purchase, etc.
- Let Microsoft upgrade your computer to Windows 10, and then activate your copy online when the upgrade is complete.
- Create Windows 10 installation media (either DVD or bootable thumb drive)
- WIPE THE DISK
- Reinstal Windows 10 from scratch
- Re-activate your install
- Restore your data and apps to your brand new Windows 10 computer.
- Have a much better day than your peers who stopped at step 4.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Recently I wrote about why Windows 10 has been offered for free to the millions and millions of Windows 7 and 8 users: profit. Get ’em hooked on your shiny new OS, and then reel them in when it comes time to start upgrading your businesses, all who employ people who have become familiar with the new OS (whether they wanted to or not). But wait, Chris, isn’t Windows 10 free for businesses too? Maybe the small ones, but when you have more than a couple dozen computers, your Windows and Office applications are typically acquired through one of Microsoft’s myriad licensing programs. Up until now, one of the licensing options many businesses opted for was essentially a one time purchase of Windows for each computer, providing a license that did not need to be renewed (unless you wanted support directly from Microsoft), and in certain cases, was transferable from computer to computer as you upgraded. This model is changing with Windows 10 Enterprise, and presumably at some point in the future, for all flavors of Windows going forward. Starting this Fall, companies who want to upgrade their fleets of computers to 10 will pay $84/seat/year.
What this means for you:
With previous versions of Windows, Microsoft had committed to providing updates and patches essentially for the life of the product. You bought Windows once, presumably when you bought your computer, and never another dime to Microsoft after that. Though they haven’t outright said so, the subscription model for Windows implies that unless your subscription is maintained, updates and even certain functionality will cease when your subscription lapses. Any of you who have had your Office365 subscription lapse may have already experienced this: the software isn’t removed from your computer, but certain key functions are disabled, such as printing and saving, until your subscription is reactivated. This was a rude awakening for some who were used to the buy-it-once models of Office 2007 and 2010. Microsoft has gone on record stating that the Windows 10 licenses acquired through their free upgrade offer this past year will remain free for the “life of the machine” on which it is installed, but as you may have suspected, this free license is tied to that specific machine, and is not transferrable to a different computer. For the moment, the non-Enterprise versions of Windows 10 appear to be free of subscription hooks, but don’t count on it lasting much longer.
Of all the people I’ve talked to about surprise Windows 10 upgrades, very few were happy with the event even if the upgrade actually ended up in a functional computer (a good percentage don’t). One woman in California was angry enough to sue Microsoft over the unwanted upgrade, and actually prevailed. You’ll notice I didn’t say “won” as Microsoft admitted no wrongdoing on their part and dropped their planned appeal in order to avoid further litigation costs. Truth be told, I’m fairly certain Microsoft could have easily won by throwing their third-string litigation team at this case with microscopic impact on their finances, but perhaps some smart folks got in front of the lawyers to prevent what would surely have been a PR nightmare. Microsoft has been part bully/part implacable juggernaut when it comes to Windows 10 upgrades, and a lot of my clients have been asking why they are pushing so hard.
This is easily answered with one word: Money
But wait, isn’t Microsoft giving away Windows 10 for free? Absolutely, and it’s still available up until the end of July for the same low, low price of zero bucks. But just as your favorite aged relative is fond of saying, “Ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!” What many folks don’t know is that Microsoft is intending for Windows 10 to be their gravy train for the foreseeable future by converting the OS to a subscription model, just like they did with Office, which, by the way, is another big money-maker for them. It’s free for now, but at some point in the near future, the next upgrade won’t be. It will only be available for computers that have paid subscriptions to Windows 10. That’s right, your first “hit” was free, but now that you are hooked, you have to pay to support your “habit”.
That’s not the only hook. Some of you noticed that some of your favorite time-wasters like Freecell are now only available through the Windows Store, another “convenient” feature available in Windows 10. By pushing millions of Windows computers to their new operating system, Microsoft is hoping to create a new source of revenue that is sitting right on your start bar. If it sounds familiar, that’s because Microsoft has taken a page from Apple’s playbook, replicating the incredibly profitable app store model used on iOS devices. The forced Windows 10 upgrades will supply the demand, and the supply is handily built into their new OS.
As the adage goes, “All good things must come to and end.” Microsoft has announced that as of July 29, 2016, it will no longer offer the free Windows 10 upgrade to Win7 and 8 users. Now whether this offer qualified as “good” is a matter of debate for some folks, especially the ones that have been nagged to the edge of patience to upgrade, or the ones that finally relented, only to discover that despite Microsoft’s assurances that their computer was readyfor the switch, it was very much not. For those of you still dutifully ignoring Microsoft’s system tray app “Get Windows 10” (aka GWX), your ordeal will be over before the summer is done.
What this means for you:
If you’ve been holding out upgrading, but still plan to take the plunge, you’ll have to make a decision very shortly. Though it’s likely Microsoft will have some sort of upgrade offer to carry on the Windows 10 crusade, it may not be as generous as the one expiring in a few short months. My recommendation hasn’t changed in this regard: your computer needs to be a late model computer (2 years old, max!) with at least 4GB of RAM and at least 500GB of hard drive space, running a 64-bit OS before you should even consider upgrading. On top of this, your OS must be in tip-top shape, meaning no recent malware infections, major software crashes or undiagnosed performance issues – these things will wreck a Windows 10 upgrade without exception. Additionally, you need to make sure any critical software on that computer is Windows 10 compatible and supportable. The latter is key – lots of software will run on Windows 10, but the manufacturer may not provide any support, and even if you have pros like C2 in your corner, there’s only so much we can do without official support. Look before you leap, but start looking now!
It’s getting harder and harder to make excuses for Microsoft when it comes to Windows 10, and they are quickly eroding whatever good will they may have sown with the free upgrades offered last year. If you weren’t already traumatized by an intentional or unintentional “upgrade” to 10, or if you happened to be one of the lucky few to walk the upgrade gauntlet (relatively) unscathed, Microsoft seems determined to make you regret installing its new operating system – let’s call it “death by 1000 annoyances.” The latest insult: many users are reporting a recent update to Windows 10 is resetting the default app assignments on their computers to – you guessed it – Microsoft apps.
Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout Woo?
One of the “features” of Windows 10 is the inexorable, unstoppable OS updates that Microsoft forces upon everyone. There are ways to trick Windows 10 into not downloading updates, and if your computer happens to be a part of a managed domain your administrator may be able to exert some control, but Microsoft has gone on record stating that giving users less control over this aspect is really for everyone’s own good. In the above case, a yet-to-be-identified recently released update from Microsoft is actually resetting choices you’ve made to your own computer to a setting that arguably benefits Microsoft. A good example of this is one that several of my clients have already experienced: instead of using Acrobat to open PDF’s, the OS is being reset to use Microsoft’s new browser, Edge – hardly a comparable substitute, especially for those that paid good money for the full versions of Acrobat. The default PDF app setting is one of possibly hundreds of default settings that Microsoft can “accidentally reset” so the annoyance potential on this “feature” is incredibly high. Fortunately it’s not permanent, and once you figure out what the heck is going on, it’s not hard to reverse. But it’s just another thorn on this once attractive, but increasingly prickly, OS rose.