Posts tagged Microsoft

Office 365’s spam filter gets smarter with bulk mailings

The Exchange Online Protection email security engine rates promotional messages on a scale of 1 to 9

In time for the holiday shopping season, Microsoft has refined how Office 365 handles bulk promotional emails from vendors like Amazon, eBay and Macy’s.

Those messages, which contain special offers, newsletters and other sales incentives, fall into a gray area between legitimate email and obvious spam. Depending on a variety of factors, recipients sometimes find them useful and other times annoying.

Now, Microsoft has added what it describes as a “simple, intuitive control” to the Exchange Online Protection (EOP) security engine in Exchange Online so that Office 365 admins can fine-tune the treatment of these messages for their domain.

EOP rates bulk messages on a scale of 1 to 9. The lower the rating, the less likely the message will be considered a nuisance by recipients. Criteria used to rate messages include whether recipients signed up for the mailings, whether the sender offers unsubscribe options and how many complaints the emails have generated.

Office 365 sets its default threshold at 7, meaning EOP will deliver bulk messages rated 6 and lower, and throw those rated 7 and above into the spam basket. However, admins can adjust the threshold to a different number.

“Bulk email can be a real nuisance for users. We hope that this feature will help you better manage the amount of bulk email your organization receives and look forward to continually improving our anti-spam service to meet your needs,” wrote Microsoft officials Shobhit Sahay and Chris Nguyen in a blog post Monday.

Microsoft is starting to roll out the improved email management capability now. Admins that want it activated right away on their domains can place a request with Microsoft via their account team.


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Windows XP: No IE9 for you

Microsoft becomes first major browser maker to drop support for world’s most popular OS

Microsoft’s new browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), will not run on Windows XP, now or when the software eventually ships, the company confirmed Tuesday.

The move makes Microsoft the first major browser developer to drop support for XP, the world’s most popular operating system, in a future release.

Although Microsoft excluded Windows XP from the list for the IE9 developer preview, it sidestepped the question about which versions of Windows the final browser would support. In an IE9 FAQ, for example, Microsoft responded, “It’s too early to talk about features of the Internet Explorer 9 Beta” to the query, “Will Internet Explorer 9 run on Windows XP?”
dialog box
This dialog box pops up during attempts to install IE9 Platform Preview on Windows XP.

That caused some users to demand a straight answer. “Please tell whether the final version will run on Windows XP SP3 or not,” said someone identified as “eXPerience” in a comment to a blog post by Dean Hachamovich, Microsoft’s general manager for the IE team. “If not, please be clear about it. Really, enough is enough of keeping users in the lurch about Windows XP support.”

Others bashed Microsoft on the assumption that IE9 would never run on XP. “Dropping Windows XP support is one of the worst decisions ever taken by [the] IE team, probably even worse than disbanding the IE team back in the IE6 days,” claimed an anonymous commenter.

Microsoft had offered up broad hints that IE9 was not in Windows XP’s future, however. Tuesday, a company spokeswoman said the new browser needs a “modern operating system,” a phrase that hasn’t been paired with Window XP for years. “Internet Explorer 9 requires the modern graphics and security underpinnings that have come since 2001,” she added, clearly referring to XP, which appeared that year.

Windows XP’s inability to run the Platform Preview or the final browser stems from, IE9’s graphics hardware acceleration, which relies on the Direct2D and DirectWrite DirectX APIs (applications programming interfaces). Support for those APIs is built into Windows 7, and was added to Vista and Windows Server 2008 last October, but cannot be extended to Windows XP.

Some users worried that by halting browser development for Windows XP, Microsoft would repeat a current problem, getting customers to ditch IE6 for a newer version. “Those who choose to stay with XP will be forced to [then] stay forever on IE8, which will become the new IE6,” said a user named Danny Gibbons in a comment on Hachamovich’s blog.

Tough, said Sheri McLeish, Forrester Research’s browser analyst. “This is the stick to get off XP,” she said. Windows XP users will solve the browser problem themselves when they upgrade, as most eventually will, to Windows 7. “What are they going to do, go to Linux or run XP forever?” she asked.

Still, IE9’s inability to run on Windows XP will prevent it from becoming widespread until the nearly-nine-year-old OS loses significant share to Windows 7. According to Web metrics company NetApplications’ most recent data, if IE9 was released today, it would be able to run on just over a quarter — 27% — of all Windows machines.

No other major browser maker has announced plans to stop supporting Windows XP, but several have dropped other operating systems or platforms. Last month, for instance, Mozilla said it would not support Apple’s Mac OS X 10.4, known as “Tiger,” in future upgrades to Firefox. Google’s Chrome for the Mac, meanwhile, only runs on Intel-based Macs, not on the older PowerPC-based machines that were discontinued in 2006.

The IE9 Platform Preview can be downloaded from Microsoft’s site. It requires Windows 7, Vista SP2, Windows Server 2008 or Windows 2008 R2.


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Microsoft should grab Apple’s ‘Handoff’ for Office

Rival’s ‘Continuity’ feature would make a useful addition to Office on iOS and OS X, says analyst

There’s no good reason why Microsoft can’t adopt Apple’s “Handoff” technology in its iOS and OS X Office apps, an analyst said today.

“Office would be more useful if they did,” said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “I don’t see a good reason not to.”

Handoff, part of “Continuity,” a term that describes several new features slated to ship in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite this fall, lets users begin an activity — writing an email, browsing the Web, creating a document — and then resume it on another device. The feature relies on Bluetooth-powered proximity awareness to recognize Apple devices registered to the same iCloud account. Once that ad hoc recognition takes place, users can hand off in-progress tasks.

Apple will support Handoff on many of its own iOS apps and OS X applications bundled with iOS 8 and Yosemite, including the iWork troika of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. But it will also open up Handoff to third-party developers via several APIs (application programming interfaces), giving them a chance to bake the feature into their own software.

If Microsoft were to add Handoff support to its iOS apps — Office Mobile on the iPhone, Office for iPad on Apple’s tablet — and its desktop edition for OS X, a document begun on the iPad could be picked up on a MacBook Air at the point it was left when the two devices neared each other.

But Microsoft already has its own solution to the multi-device problem in Office, said Miller. “With OneDrive, Microsoft has ‘document continuity,” Miller said. “You can step away from one device and the document is saved in the background. Then you can open it on another device from OneDrive.”

There are differences: When Computerworld opened a Word 2013 document on the iPad — the document was last edited on a Windows 8.1 notebook — it was positioned with the cursor at the top, not at the location of the last edit. And neither OneDrive nor Office spawned an on-screen alert that pointed the user to the document-in-progress, as does Apple’s Handoff.

Microsoft’s desire to support Handoff in Office will largely depend on how the Redmond, Wash. company perceives its rival’s requirements. To use Handoff, an Apple device owner must have an iCloud ID, and be signed into that account on all hardware meant for content forwarding. (That’s how Handoff recognizes the devices owned by an individual.)

Naturally, Microsoft pushes its own identity system for accessing its services, ranging from Office 365 and OneDrive to Outlook.com and Skype.

There should be no concern in Redmond about document storage, even though Apple makes it much easier for developers who use iCloud as their apps’ document repositories. iCloud is not a requirement — as Microsoft’s own Office for iPad demonstrated — and Microsoft can continue to rely on OneDrive as Office’s default online storage service. There were no other obvious barriers in the limited amount of documentation that Apple’s published on the technology.

Microsoft would likely benefit in the public perception arena — or the subset composed of Mac, iPhone and iPad owners — said Miller. When Microsoft took nine months after Apple debuted a full-screen mode to add the feature to Office’s applications, some customers criticized the firm for not putting its shoulder behind the OS X wheel. By jumping on Handoff, Microsoft would shut up those critics.

The move would also let the company again demonstrate that it’s in the game with all players, not just those inside its own ecosystem, a point CEO Satya Nadella has made numerous times — notably when he introduced Office for iPad — since his February promotion. “They’re more open to being open,” said Miller, citing the new regime’s viewpoint as another factor that could tip the debate.

Miller expected Handoff to debut in Office, if it does at all, when Microsoft launches the next edition for the Mac. “I’d expect Office 365 to pick it up automatically, but I wouldn’t expect it on the Mac side until the back-to-school timeframe,” said Miller.

Microsoft would also have to revise Office for iPad and the iPhone version of Office Mobile, and if it decided to support Handoff between native and Web-based apps, modify the free online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.


 


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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 will be the only option for some regions

Some countries that can’t get Surface Pro 2 yet never will, Microsoft says.

Microsoft says that in some countries where its Surface Pro 2 tablet is not yet available, it never will be; the Surface Pro 3 will have to do.

Rather than introduce the device then end-of-life it within months, the company will skip the earlier version of the device altogether in those countries and go with the newer model announced last week, says Cyril Belikoff, the director of Surface marketing at Microsoft.
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That still means at least months of waiting for those countries that don’t yet have access to Surface Pro 2 despite its being available in the U.S. since last October. The newer Surface Pro 3 ships first in the U.S. and Canada June 20, and then to 31 other regions into which Microsoft divides the world. But that won’t be for two or three months at the earliest, Belikoff says.

The unavailability of the device rankles some in countries where it’s not sold. For example, a participant in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session this week, Deniz Yakamoz wanted to know when Surface would be available in her country, Turkey. The answer, written by the Surface Team in Turkish and translated by another AMA participant, was, “Since our plans aren’t finalized, I definitely can’t answer your question, but be certain it’s at the top of my list.”

Belikoff says that demand for Surface Pro 2 in countries where it is already available is strong enough that Microsoft will continue selling it and not relegate it to end-of-life.

Surface Pro 3 is larger (12-inch screen v. 10.5-inch) and has more processor options. Surface Pro 2 comes with Intel Core i5, while Surface Pro 3 has options for i3, i5 and i7 processors.

Meanwhile the company has put Surface Pro 2 on sale in the U.K., according to a ZDNet report by dropping the price of the 64GB version from 771 pounds to 569 pounds, although it’s unclear whether that’s to reduce inventory in anticipation of Surface Pro 3 demand.

Belikoff says in the Surface Blog that corporate customers Avande, BMW Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy and Seattle Children’s Hospital have chosen Surface Pro 3 as one of the devices their organizations issue. Despite the devices being unavailable for a month, they have committed to deploying between hundreds and thousands of them to select groups within the companies, he says.


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Open sources software’s are expensive than Microsoft

Microsoft cheaper to use than open source software, UK CIO says

British government says every time they compare FOSS to MSFT, Redmond wins.

 

A UK government CIO says that every time government citizens evaluate open source and Microsoft products, Microsoft products forever come out cheaper in the long run.

 

Jos Creese, CIO of the Hampshire County Council, told Britain’s “Computing” publication that part of the cause is that most staff are already familiar with Microsoft products and that Microsoft has been flexible and more helpful.

 

“Microsoft has been flexible and obliging in the means we apply their products to progress the action of our frontline services, and this helps to de-risk ongoing cost,” he told the publication. “The tip is that the true charge is in the totality cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the license cost.”

 

Creese went on to say he didn’t have a particular bias about open source over Microsoft, but proprietary solutions from Microsoft or any other commercial software vendor “need to justify themselves and to work doubly hard to have flexible business models to help us further our aims.”

 

He approved that there are troubles on together sides. In some cases, central government has developed an undue dependence on a few big suppliers, which makes it hard to be confident about getting the best value out of the deal.

 

On the other hand, he is leery of depending on a small firm, and Red Hat aside, there aren’t that many large, economically hard firms in open source like Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft. Smaller firms often offer the greatest innovation, but there is a risk in agreeing to a significant deal with a smaller player.

 

“There’s a huge dependency for a large organization using a small organization. [You need] to be mindful of the risk that they can’t handle the scale and complexity, or that the product may need adaptation to work with our infrastructure,” said Creese.

 

I’ve heard this argue before. Open source is cheaper in gaining costs not easy to support over the long run. Part of it is FOSS’s DIY ethos, and bless you guys for being able to debug and recompile a complete app or distro of Linux, but not everyone is that smart.

 

The extra problem is the lack of support from vendors or third parties. IBM has done what no one else has the power to do. 20 after Linus first tossed his creation on the Internet for all to use, we still don’t have an open source equivalent to Microsoft or Oracle. Don’t say that’s a good thing because that’s only seeing it from one side. Business users will demand support levels that FOSS vendors can’t provide. That’s why we have yet to see an open source Oracle.

 

The part that saddens me is that reading Creese’s interview makes it clear he has more of a clue about technology than pretty much anyone we have in office on this side of the pond.
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Microsoft Patch Tuesday bids adieu to Windows XP

Microsoft will no longer issue security patches for Windows XP

This month’s “Patch Tuesday” includes the final round of security fixes Microsoft will issue for Windows XP, potentially leaving millions that continue to use the OS open to attack.

XP will become an easy target for attackers now that Microsoft has stopped supporting it, said Wolfgang Kandek, CTO for IT security firm Qualys.A The OS will no longer receive fixes for holes that Microsoft and others might find in the OS. Moreover, attackers will be able to reverse engineer patches issued for newer versions of Windows, giving them clues to the remaining unfixed vulnerabilities in XP, Kandek said.

Microsoft has acknowledged the problem and has been pushing hard to get users onto newer versions of Windows.

“If you continue to use Windows XP now that support has ended, your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses,” it said in an advisory.

Its efforts haven’t always been successful. Qualys compiled data from 6,700 companies and found that use of XP still represents a sizable portion of OSes running in the enterprise.A About one-fifth of companies in finance, for instance, still use XP — a surprisingly large number for an industry handling sensitive data. A

In retail, 14 percent of PCs still run XP, and in heath care the figure is 3 percent.

Organizations may be holding off on updating for a number of reasons, Kandek said. Some didn’t realize support was closing and are just now putting a migration plan in place. Others may be taking a calculated risk, saving on the cost of an upgrade and trying to minimize exposure by limiting access to the Internet and through other measures.

In addition to ending support for XP, Microsoft is no longer supporting Office 2003 or Internet Explorer 8.

The company released four security updates altogether on Tuesday. They cover 11 vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and Microsoft Publisher. Two of the updates are marked as critical. One of those, MS14-018, fixes a number of issues with Internet Explorer. The other, MS14-017, addresses critical vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word and Office Web Apps. They include a zero day in how Office 2010 handles documents encoded in the Rich Text Format.

Even after that fix is applied, organizations might want to disable Word’s ability to open RTF files, if those types of files aren’t routinely used, Kandek advised.A

The two other updates in April’s round of patches were marked important. One of them, MS14-020, handles a vulnerability in the company’s Publisher program. The other, MS14-019, covers how Windows, including XP, handles files.

Kandek also advised administrators to apply the patch Adobe issued Tuesday for a serious vulnerability in its Flash multimedia software.


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Patch Tuesday: Final Microsoft support for Windows XP addresses Internet Explorer problems

It is a light month from Microsoft lacking a flurry of last-second patches for XP

Microsoft’s final patches for Windows XP that come out next week focus on critical problems with older versions of Internet Explorer that can result in malicious code being run remotely on victim machines.

Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 that operate within Windows XP are all being patched in the April Microsoft Security Bulletins, as are vulnerabilities in Windows XP itself that are ranked as important but not critical.

These final XP patches come out April 8 and so represent the end of support for the operating system.

Internet Explorer patches are a routine piece of every month’s bulletins, says Russ Ernst, director product management at Lumension. “The second bulletin is the now-expected cumulative update for Internet Explorer,” he says. “It’s also rated critical and of course key for the many IE users out there.”

Other than the historical XP significance of the bulletins this month, they are otherwise unremarkable. There are just four of them, two critical and two rated important. The difference between them is that the important ones require action by the victim – such as clicking on a link – while the critical ones don’t.

The second critical bulletin affects all versions of Office and addresses vulnerabilities and active attacks identified last week in an advisory from Microsoft that offered up a workaround until this permanent fix was ready. “This is a critical vulnerability that could allow remote code execution if a user opens a RTF file in Word 2010 or in Outlook while using Word as the email viewer,” Ernst says.


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Microsoft sets Oct. 31 as stop date for Windows 7 consumer PC sales

But extends end-of-sales date for business PCs running Windows 7 Professional

Microsoft has set Oct. 31 as the end of sales of new consumer-grade Windows 7 PCs, but for now has left open the do-not-sell-after-this-date for business machines.

On the site where it posts such policies, Microsoft now notes that Oct. 31, 2014, is the end-of-sales date for new PCs equipped with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate. All three are consumer-oriented versions of Windows 7; Home Premium has been the overwhelming choice of OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for consumer systems.

Microsoft’s practice, first defined in 2010, is to stop selling an older operating system in retail one year after the launch of its successor, and halt delivery of the previous Windows edition to OEMs two years after a new version launches. The company shipped Windows 8, Windows 7’s replacement, in October 2012.

The setting of a deadline for consumer Windows 7 PCs followed a glitch last year when Microsoft named the same Oct. 31 date for all Windows 7 PCs, but then quickly retracted the posting, claiming that the notification had been posted “in error.”

Some OEMs, notably Hewlett-Packard, have made headlines for marketing consumer-grade Windows 7 PCs, a sign of the fragmentation of the once-dominant Windows oligarchy, which always pushed the newest at the expense of older editions.

But while it has established an end-of-sales date for consumer PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed, Microsoft has yet to do the same for business PCs.

Microsoft will give a one-year warning before it demands that OEMs stop selling PCs with Windows 7 Professional, the commercial-quality version. Under that rule, Microsoft will allow computer makers such as Lenovo, HP and Dell to continue selling PCs with Windows 7 Professional until at least February 2015.

It’s likely that the extension will be much longer.

Windows 7 has become the standard version for businesses, which have spurned Windows 8, largely because of its two-user interface (UI) model, which they consider disruptive to productivity and a needless cost that would require employee retraining.

Most analysts believe that Windows 7 will remain the most popular Microsoft operating system deployed by companies for years to come.

“There’s a good chance that enterprises will stay on Windows 7 as long as possible,” said Gartner analyst Michael Silver in an October 2013 interview. If his prediction turns out to be accurate, Windows 7 may reprise the stubborn persistence of Windows XP, the nearly-13-year-old OS that Microsoft will retire in April.

Even after Windows 8’s launch, Windows 7’s user share, a rough measurement of the prevalence of the OS on operational machines, has continued to grow. From October 2012 to January 2014, Windows 7’s user share increased nearly 3 percentage points, representing a 6% gain during that period, according to data from analytics company Net Applications.

Some of Windows 7’s gains certainly came at the expense of Windows XP, which has fallen more than 11 percentage points, a 28% decline, since October 2012 as users abandoned the old OS.

By making Windows 7 available, Microsoft and its OEMs not only continue to serve customers who want the OS, but make sure that new PC sales do not slump even more dramatically than they have already.

Consumer PC sales have plummeted — last month Microsoft said sales of consumer-grade Windows licenses fell 20% in the December quarter compared to the same period the year before — while the Redmond, Wash. company’s business line of operating systems grew 12% year-over-year. In effect, enterprise spending kept PC shipments from tanking even more than the 10% contraction the industry experienced in 2013.

Extending Windows 7 Professional’s availability on new hardware will also give Microsoft breathing room to continue its retreat from Windows 8’s radical shift to a touch-first, tile-based UI, and to roll out a successor that caters even more to customers who rely on keyboard and mouse.

Microsoft is expected to unveil an update to Windows 8.1 this spring, perhaps in April, that will restore several desktop-oriented features and tools. Some reports based on leaked builds of this Windows 8.1 Update 1 have noted that on non-touch devices, the boot-to-desktop option will be enabled by default; if accurate, most users of traditional PCs will skip the colorful, tile-style Start screen. Windows 9 may appear as early as April 2015.

Retail sales of Windows 7 by Microsoft to distributors and customers were officially halted as of Oct. 31, 2013, but that deadline has been meaningless, as online retailers have continued to sell packaged copies, sometimes for years, by restocking through distributors who squirreled away older editions.

As of Saturday, for example, Amazon.com had a plentiful supply of various versions of Windows 7 available, as did technology specialist Newegg.com. The former also listed copies of Windows Vista and even Windows XP for sale through partners.

Even after Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows 7, there will be ways to circumvent the shut-down. Windows 8.1 Pro, the more expensive of the two public editions, includes “downgrade” rights that allow PC owners to legally install an older OS. OEMs and system builders can also use downgrade rights to sell a Windows 8.1 Pro-licensed system, but factory-downgrade it to

Windows 7 Professional before it ships.
And enterprises with volume license agreements will never be at risk of losing access to Windows 7, as they are granted downgrade rights as part of those agreements, and so will be able to purchase, say, Windows 8.1 or Windows 9 PCs in 2015 or 2016, then re-image the machines with Windows 7.

The end-of-sales dates for Windows 7 are not linked in any way to the support schedule for the 2009 operating system. Microsoft will provide free non-security bug fixes and vulnerability patches for Windows 7 until Jan. 13, 2015 — called “mainstream support” — and follow that with a five-year stretch of “extended support” during which it will ship free security updates until Jan. 14, 2020.


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Microsoft retains weapon to silently scrub XP

Will automatically push malware cleanup tool to Windows XP until July 2015

Microsoft will be able to silently reach into Windows XP PCs for more than a year after it stops patching the aged OS to clean malware-infected machines, sources close to the company confirmed Friday.

The Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) will continue to be updated and deployed via Windows Update through July 14, 2015, 15 months after the Redmond, Wash. company serves its final public security patches for XP on April 8 of this year.

By extending the life of the MSRT — and more importantly, automatically running it each month — Microsoft will be able to clean some PCs if massive malware outbreaks hit Windows XP after it’s retired from support.

MSRT is updated monthly as Microsoft targets one or more major malware families it believes are the biggest current threats. The tool is posted for manual download on Microsoft’s website and distributed through the Windows Update service on “Patch Tuesday,” the second Tuesday of each month when Microsoft pushes security patches to customers running still-supported editions of Windows. MSRT automatically installs on PCs with Automatic Updates enabled, and then runs a seek-and-destroy mission in the background without any action on the part of the user.

MSRT is not an antivirus program, but rather a cleaning utility designed to eradicate malware that has already snuck onto a Windows PC. The tool was first released in 2005, but was last updated Jan. 14, 2014, when Microsoft added detection and deletion capabilities for the “Bladabindi” malware family.

The extension of MSRT availability was part of the firm’s decision earlier this month to offer new anti-malware signatures to XP customers who run the company’s free Security Essentials antivirus (AV) software.

Previously, Microsoft said it would stop shipping Security Essentials’ signature updates to XP PCs after April 8. But in a tacit nod to XP’s widespread use, Microsoft postponed the cut-off until July 14, 2015.

With MSRT, Microsoft will have a weapon at the ready in case widespread malware infections strike XP machines after April 8, something the company has said is likely. If new malware pops up, or an older virus, worm or Trojan horse begins infecting large numbers of Windows XP systems — perhaps because they exploited a vulnerability that will never be patched — Microsoft can at least use the MSRT to try to disinfect those PCs.

Extending MSRT’s life on XP will not only help customers still running the 13-year-old OS, but is also smart for Microsoft, which could face a public relations backlash if large numbers of compromised Windows XP machines are used by hackers to infect other devices running Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Although Microsoft has not stopped urging customers to dump XP, it has recognized that millions of machines will continue to run the ancient OS for months and maybe even years to come.

According to metrics company Net Applications, Windows XP’s user share — the percentage of all personal computer owners who went online with that OS — stood at 29% at the end of December 2013. Computerworld has predicted that about 20% of all personal computers will be running the operating system at the end of 2014.

Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-Test, a German company that evaluates security software, said Microsoft’s decision to continue providing signatures for Security Essentials was prompted by the still-large numbers of PCs running XP.

“It’s a significant move, which is likely driven by the (still) high market share for Windows XP, especially in countries like China or India, as well as the millions of users who are using Security Essentials as anti-virus protection on Windows XP,” said Marx in an email reply to questions earlier this month.

Security Essentials has performed poorly in AV-Test’s recent exams, and Marx cautioned users who plan to reply on it to keep their systems safe after Microsoft stops patching XP. “[Security Essentials] is baseline protection and well-suited for people who are not often using the Internet,” Marx said. “But if you’re online quite often and for long times, if you do financial transactions with your system and the like, I would strongly recommend switching to a commercial security suite.”

Most antivirus vendors will continue to provide customers running Windows XP with up-to-date signatures for years after Microsoft pulls the patch plug in April.

Kaspersky, BitDefender and Avira — the last is free — were the top-scoring consumer antivirus programs for Windows XP in AV-Test’s latest head-to-head comparisons. For business PCs, Kaspersky, Symantec and Trend Micro ranked 1-2-3.

Instructions for turning on XP’s Automatic Updates can be found on Microsoft’s support site, along with a “Fixit” tool that takes care of the chore with a single click.

 


 

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As customers fume, Microsoft promises Surface Pro 2 firmware fix ASAP

Some urge patience, but many have long lost it

Even as Microsoft promised to speed up work on a re-release for a flawed Surface Pro 2 firmware update, customers continued to damn the company for the fiasco.

Microsoft yanked the firmware update earlier this month, about a week after it shipped the non-security fixes on Dec. 10. Surface Pro 2 owners had complained that the update reduced their tablets’ battery life and spontaneously changed how the devices went into or out of the power-saving sleep mode.

Originally, Microsoft said that it would re-release the firmware update “after the holidays,” which the company confirmed should be interpreted as some point after New Years Day, or Jan. 1, 2014.

However, this week the Redmond, Wash. company revised its timeline. “We are working to release an alternative update package as soon as possible,” a spokeswoman said via email on Thursday. She declined to be more specific about the re-release’s availability, reiterating only that it would be ASAP.

Microsoft has not said whether the update will repair already-affected Surface Pro 2 tablets.

By the comments posted to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 support forum, many owners had run out of patience.

“Come on Microsoft — give us a date for release of a fix — confirm what an update will fix and exactly when it will be available,” said TrevM in a message posted Thursday on one of the longest support threads about the firmware problems. “My [Surface Pro 2] is now a major pain. All I want to do is use it and not spend hours trying to make it stable when this is the least I would expect!”

Some customers have returned their Surface Pro 2 tablets for replacements, or simply given up on the device.

“I’m quite fortunate that I had just purchased my machine 2 weeks ago,” said someone who identified himself as Mario. “I took my 128GB model back and exchanged it for a new 128GB pre-update, and what a difference. It was night and day.” “I am a consumer and accountant and dropped $1,100 on the Surface Pro 2 last month with my bonus money,” a Computerworld reader reported via email Friday. “Now the thing won’t turn on. I will bring it back to Best Buy.” Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 2, its second-generation Intel-powered tablet, in late September.

It has had to pull flawed updates before — in October, Microsoft yanked the Windows RT 8.1 update after customers reported it “bricked” their tablets — but typically the firm reissues fixes within a few days.

The slower response to the Dec. 10 issues may have been due to engineering staff shortages during the holidays, the complexity of a fix or a combination of the two.

A few people took the problems in stride, and urged people to be patient. But others said the update had soured them on Microsoft and its 2-in-1 tablet.

“I think the question is no longer ‘When does this get fixed?’ It’s been too long already,” said beemr on Tuesday in another long thread. “Now the question is, ‘How does Microsoft regain our trust?’ It is absurd that they haven’t released a firmware [update] that would at the very least just undo the Dec. 10 update. It would seem to me that the overheating (twice for me) and constant charging, draining, charging would take a toll on the lifespan of our SP2’s. Microsoft needs to take ownership and extend its standard and Microsoft Complete warranties by at least another year.”


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