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?
Though they “warned” everyone that they were making a change to the way the Windows 10 upgrade was being offered to Windows 7 and 8 users, it was still distressing to discover exactly what Microsoft meant when it said it was making the Windows 10 upgrade a “recommended update“. Instead of an increasingly annoying pop-up “upgrade now” message, many of my clients woke up last week to a brand-new Windows 10 upgrade that they did not approve, nor initiate. Prior to that, only a small handful of my clients had experienced the spontaneous Windows 10 upgrade since it launched last year, and one even experienced the full combo: upgrade and then rollback, neither initiated by him. It was like some sort of social experiment gone awry. If you happened to be the surprise owner of a Windows 10 computer, you are not alone: thousands of reports are rolling in of unwanted, unapproved upgrades.
What this means for you:
If you fall into the camp of as-of-yet unvictimized Windows 7 and 8 users, you need to do the following immediately if you want to avoid your very own Windows 10 surprise party:
Easy-mode: Call us at 818-584-6021 and we’ll take care of it for you.
DIY-mode (view a step-by-step video here):
- Go to the Windows Update control panel and disable (uncheck) “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates”.
- Download and install GWX Control Panel from Ultimate Outsider, or if you are worried about visiting a strange site, you can download it from the C2 Datto Drive .
- Click the following buttons in GWX Control Panel: “Click to disable Get Windows 10 App”, “Click to Prevent Windows 10 Upgrades”, “Click to Disable Non-critical Windows 10 Settings”.
- If you never plan to upgrade to Windows 10 and the buttons are available, you can also use these buttons, “Click to Delete Windows 10 Programs”, “Click to Delete Windows 10 Download Folders”.
- If you’d like the control panel to watch for more upgrade attempts, you can also use “Click to Enable Monitor Mode” which will run in the background and warn you when Microsoft tries to upgrade your computer again.
For the record, Windows 10 is a perfectly serviceable OS and is, in many ways, an improvement over Windows 7 and 8. However, an unplanned upgrade can cause a loss in productivity while you learn your way about the new OS which is the best case scenario. A worst case scenario could result in loss of data, incompatible applications and severe performance issues. Don’t let Microsoft dictate how you use your computer. If you want to upgrade to Windows 10, plan for it and make sure you have experts on hand to ensure long term success.
Security holes in Adobe’s Flash and Oracle’s Java have become so commonplace, it’s actually helped to raise awareness about the necessity of keeping these platforms updated, but there’s a third platform that many of you probably use everyday without ever realizing that it too needs to be patched. Would it surprise you to know that it’s a Microsoft product? Microsoft’s Silverlight technology was originally built to compete with Flash, but it’s probably best known as the platform that delivers Netflix’s streaming content to your computer. Hackers, unfortunately, are very much aware of how widespread Silverlight is, and are currently pressing their attacks on older versions of Silverlight, seeing as their usual punching bags, Java and Flash, are now firmly in the security spotlight.
What this means for you:
If you’ve ever watched Netflix streaming content on your computer, you have Silverlight installed. Even if you don’t use Netflix streaming, there is a high probability Silverlight is installed on your computer, even if it’s a Mac. Depending on how long ago it was initially installed, it might be out of date, especially if you disallowed automatic updates of the software. The latest version of Silverlight is 5, and to make sure you are up to date, you can use this link here. While you are at it, double check to make sure Java and Flash are both up to date as well, but be careful of the “optional software” both companies push when you update their platforms. Oracle variously pushes the Ask toolbar or McAfee Security Scan, the former a very annoying adware-spawning toolbar, and the latter may be redundant if you already have a decent antimalware app installed. Adobe is a little less obnoxious, but it does offer to automatically install Google Chrome (and the Google Toolbar), which may be redundant if you already have it installed, or possibly very confusing to a less savvy computer user who thinks Internet Explorer is the web browser.
In case you haven’t heard, about a third of the world’s computers are about lose official support from Microsoft on April 8. Any computer running Windows XP will no longer receive updates or fixes to any vulnerabilities discovered after the cutoff date. Microsoft will continue to provide limited support to its XP-compatible security products, like Security Essentials (their free anti-malware product), but that is set to end sometime in 2015. Most antivirus manufacturers have stated that they will continue to support XP-compatible versions of their apps into 2016, but without core patches to the XP operating system, their efforts will be merely fingers in a deteriorating dike.
What this means for you:
Though you may not know it, your company or the vendors that service you may be heavily reliant on XP. Case in point – one of my clients relies on XP workstations to monitor environmental-control equipment (think air-conditioning and heating) and building automation systems, and some of the computers running these applications haven’t been updated for years, and in some extreme cases, the hardware may be close to a decade old. Hardware failure aside, the lack of support for XP going forward will mean those computers will need to be replaced ASAP, and may be a cost you hadn’t considered in your 2014 or 2015 budget.
Windows XP powered computers are likely to show up in places where they are used regularly, but maybe not by a single individual and are thus overlooked during the part of the regular upgrade process: kiosks (lobby directories, ATMs, silent radios), point-of-sale systems, document scanning stations, etc. Make sure you comb through your organization’s infrastructure for these computers, as they will become vulnerability points for your entire operation and could lead to serious security breaches. Unfortunately, rectifying these obsoleted workstations won’t be cheap nor easy, especially if they power critical systems, but in some cases it may be possible to port XP-only applications to Windows 7 and run them in compatibility mode. Make sure you work closely with vendors who supply this older software to determine what, if any, plans they have to bring their platform to Windows 7, and if they have no plans, it may be time to consider a new vendor or service.