Posts tagged Windows 7

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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Chromebooks’ success punches Microsoft in the gut

Chromebooks’ success punches Microsoft in the gut
Amazon, NPD Group trumpet sales of the bare-bones laptops in 2013 to consumers and businesses
Chromebooks had a very good year, according to retailer Amazon.com and industry analysts.

And that’s bad news for Microsoft.

The pared-down laptops powered by Google’s browser-based Chrome OS have surfaced this year as a threat to “Wintel,” the Microsoft-Intel oligarchy that has dominated the personal-computer space for decades with Windows machines.

On Thursday, Amazon.com called out a pair of Chromebooks — one from Samsung, the other from Acer — as two of the three best-selling notebooks during the U.S. holiday season. The third: Asus’ Transformer Book, a Windows 8.1 “2-in-1″ device that transforms from a 10.1-in. tablet to a keyboard-equipped laptop.

As of late Thursday, the trio retained their lock on the top three places on Amazon’s best-selling-laptop list in the order of Acer, Samsung and Asus. Another Acer Chromebook, one that sports 32GB of on-board storage space — double the 16GB of Acer’s lower-priced model — held the No. 7 spot on the retailer’s top 10.

Chromebooks’ holiday success at Amazon was duplicated elsewhere during the year, according to the NPD Group, which tracked U.S. PC sales to commercial buyers such as businesses, schools, government and other organizations.

By NPD’s tallies, Chromebooks accounted for 21% of all U.S. commercial notebook sales in 2013 through November, and 10% of all computers and tablets. Both shares were up massively from 2012; last year, Chromebooks accounted for an almost-invisible two-tenths of one percent of all computer and tablet sales.

Stephen Baker of NPD pointed out what others had said previously: Chromebooks have capitalized on Microsoft’s stumble with Windows 8. “Tepid Windows PC sales allowed brands with a focus on alternative form factors or operating systems, like Apple and Samsung, to capture significant share of a market traditionally dominated by Windows devices,” Baker said in a Monday statement.

Part of the attraction of Chromebooks is their low prices: The systems forgo high-resolution displays, rely on inexpensive graphics chipsets, include paltry amounts of RAM — often just 2GB — and get by with little local storage. And their operating system, Chrome OS, doesn’t cost computer makers a dime.

The 11.6-in. Acer C720 Chromebook, first on Amazon’s top-10 list Thursday, costs $199, while the Samsung Chromebook, at No. 2, runs $243. Amazon prices Acer’s 720P Chromebook, No. 7 on the chart, at $300.

The prices were significantly lower than those for the Windows notebooks on the retailer’s bestseller list. The average price of the seven Windows-powered laptops on Amazon’s top 10 was $359, while the median was $349. Meanwhile, the average price of the three Chromebooks was $247 and the median was $243, representing savings of 31% and 29%, respectively.

In many ways, Chromebooks are the successors to “netbooks,” the cheap, lightweight and underpowered Windows laptops that stormed into the market in 2007, peaked in 2009 as they captured about 20% of the portable PC market, then fell by the wayside in 2010 and 2011 as tablets assumed their roles and full-fledged notebooks closed in on netbook prices.

Chromebooks increasingly threaten Windows’ place in the personal computer market, particularly the laptop side, whose sales dominate those of the even older desktop form factor. Stalwart Microsoft partners, including Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, have all dipped toes into the Chromebook waters, for example.

“OEMs can’t sit back and depend on Wintel anymore,” said Baker in an interview earlier this month.

Microsoft has been concerned enough with Chromebooks’ popularity to target the devices with attack ads in its ongoing “Scroogled” campaign, arguing that they are not legitimate laptops.

Those ads are really Microsoft’s only possible response to Chromebooks, since the Redmond, Wash. company cannot do to them what it did to netbooks.

Although the first wave of netbooks were powered by Linux, Microsoft quickly shoved the open-source OS aside by extending the sales lifespan of Windows XP, then created deliberately-crippled and lower-priced “Starter” editions of Vista and Windows 7 to keep OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) on the Windows train.

But Microsoft has no browser-based OS to show Chromebook OEMs, and has no light-footprint operating system suitable for basement-priced laptops except for Windows RT, which is unsuitable for non-touch screens. And unlike Google, Microsoft can hardly afford to give away Windows.

But Microsoft’s biggest problem isn’t Chrome OS and the Chromebooks its ads have belittled: It’s tablets. Neither Microsoft or its web of partners have found much success in that market.

Baker’s data on commercial sales illustrated that better than a busload of analysts. While Windows notebooks accounted for 34% of all personal computers and tablets sold to commercial buyers in the first 11 months of 2013, that represented a 20% decline from 2012. During the same period, tablets’ share climbed by one-fifth to 27%, with Apple’s iPad accounting for the majority of the tablets.

“The market for personal computing devices in commercial markets continues to shift and change, said Baker. “It is no accident that we are seeing the fruits of this change in the commercial markets as business and institutional buyers exploit the flexibility inherent in the new range of choices now open to them.”

But when you’re at the top of the personal computing device heap — as Microsoft was as recently as 2011 — words like “change” and “choice” are not welcome. From the mountaintop, the only way is down.


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Malware: War without end

We may be facing a stalemate. Or, we may be evolving a new cyber biosphere.

Ceaselessly, with no end in sight despite outlays that amount to a tax on doing business, the decades-long struggle against malware drags on.

Today, around 5% of the average IT budget is devoted to security, estimates John Pescatore, a director at the SANS Technology Institute. Cybercrime (including malicious insider attacks and theft of devices) costs U.S. corporations an average of $11.6 million yearly, according to an October 2013 study by the Ponemon Institute that was sponsored by HP Enterprise Security. This cost represents a 23% increase over last year’s average of $8.9 million per company.

Asked why malware is the war without end, experts commonly embrace either a military or an ecological metaphor. Those with the military viewpoint say flawed defenses have led to a stalemate. The ecology-minded don’t see it as a war to be won or lost — they see an eternal cycle between prey and predator, and the goal is not victory but equilibrium.
Around 5% of the average IT budget is devoted to security, says John Pescatore, a director at the SANS Technology Institute.

One who favors the military metaphor is David Hoelzer, director of research for Enclave Forensics in Henderson, Nev. “We are essentially going in circles,” he says. “We improve only after our adversaries defeat our defenses. Most software is still riddled with vulnerabilities, but the vendors typically make no move to fix one until it becomes publicly disclosed. Coders are not trained in security, and ‘well written’ means ‘under budget.'”

Security consultant Lenny Zeltser chooses the ecology metaphor. “Attackers take advantage of the defenders, and the defenders respond. It’s part of the cycle,” he says. “If attackers get in too easily, they are spending too much to attack us. If we are blocking 100% of the attacks, we are probably spending too much on defense. We have been in a state of equilibrium for some time and always will be. But being complacent is dangerous, as we must constantly apply energy to maintain the equilibrium.”

Developments in the financial sector offer an example of why it’s important to constantly apply energy to maintain the equilibrium. A new report from Trend Micro points out that attacks aimed at stealing online banking credentials recently surged to a level not seen since 2002.

Nevertheless, experts agree that progress has been made — even if only toward the maintenance of ecological equilibrium or a military stalemate.
The wins so far

At this point, “there are no types of malware for which there are no defenses that we are currently aware of,” says Roel Schouwenberg, a researcher at anti-malware software vendor Kaspersky Lab.

“We no longer see the kinds of big spreading malware that we saw three or four years ago, [such as] the ILOVEYOU virus of 2000,” adds William Hugh Murray, a security consultant and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Interviews with analysts and executives at security vendors McAfee, AVG and Kaspersky Lab suggest that the following are the four principal weapons that make this possible:

• Signature detection. This approach gives you the ability to spot malicious code, among other things.

• Behavior monitoring. By adopting this technique, you can do things like spot malicious activity in a computer or determine if a suspicious file will respond to virtual bait

• Blacklisting. This is a mechanism for blocking access to sites and files that are included on a list of undesirable entities.

• Whitelisting. With this approach, essentially the opposite blacklisting, users are only allowed access to sites and files on a list of entities known to be harmless; access is denied to sites and files that aren’t on the list.

Each of the four has its supporters and detractors, and all the anti-malware software vendors queried for this article said they use some form of all four weapons, in combination.

Other defenses include firewalls, which can prevent intrusions and — with Windows at least — are part of the operating system, and periodic vendor patches to address vulnerabilities.
Frequency of cyberattacks

The frequency of different types of attacks experienced during a four-week period in 60 companies benchmarked.
Viruses, worms, trojans 100%
Malware 97%
Botnets 73%
Web-based attacks 63%
Denial of service 50%
Malicious code 48%
Malicious insiders 42%
Phishing/social engineering 42%
Stolen devices 33%
Source: Ponemon Institute/HP Enterprise Security “2013 Cost of Cyber Crime” study.

A question sometimes raised is whether there are more advanced weapons that we haven’t yet learned about. “I’ve heard that [the anti-malware vendors] have better defenses up their sleeve that they choose not to release since they are not necessary yet, and they don’t want to tip their hand,” says Zeltser.

The vendors deny this. “Our secret weapons are in force every day — it’s a daily battle,” says Tony Anscombe, an executive at anti-malware software vendor AVG Technologies. Indeed, if vendors had something that can stop all viruses “it would be foolish to wait to use it,” says Kevin Haley, spokesman for anti-malware software vendor Symantec. “It would be a competitive advantage” to help sell more software, he points out.

Either way, the end result is that anti-malware software vendors can now respond to a new (or “zero-day”) exploit within two hours, although complicated exploits may require subsequent follow-up, says Haley.

In parallel, there have been efforts to make software less vulnerable to infection. For instance, Tim Rains, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing, says that Microsoft has revamped the code libraries used by developers to remove errors and vulnerabilities.
There are no types of malware for which there are no defenses that we are currently aware of.
Roel Schouwenberg, researcher, Kaspersky Lab

As a result, he notes, stack corruption was the vulnerability exploited 43% of the time in 2006, but now it’s used only 7% of the time. He also cites a study conducted in 2011 by analyst Dan Kaminsky and others indicating there were 126 exploitable vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office 2003, but only seven in Office 2010.

Years of security-related software patches downloadable by users have also had a measurable effect. Rains cites statistics derived from executions of Microsoft’s online Malicious Software Removal Tool, which showed that systems with up-to-date protection were 5.5 times less likely to be infected.

As of December 2012, the rate was 12.2 infections per 1,000 machines for unprotected systems vs. 2 per 1,000 for protected systems. The global average was 6 infections per 1,000.

On the other hand, infections still happen. But even the nature of the infections seems to have reached a state of equilibrium.
Today’s attacks: Two broad categories

Roger Thompson, chief security researcher at security testing firm and Verizon subsidiary ICSA Labs, divides today’s most common infections into two categories: APT (“advanced persistent threat”) and AFT (“another freaking Trojan.”)

New examples of APT malware appear about once a month, are aimed at a particular target and are produced by organizations with impressive resources, abilities and patience, he says. The classic example is the Stuxnet virus of 2010, whose goal appears to have been to make centrifuges in Iranian nuclear research labs destroy themselves by spinning too fast.

“Each one is different and scary,” Thompson notes.

As for AFTs, self-replicating malware is no longer the infection vector of choice, with attackers preferring to launch drive-by attacks from infected websites against victims who were tricked into visiting. (However, worms and older malware are still lurking on the Internet, and an unprotected machine can still get infected in a matter of minutes, sources agree.)
Average annualized cybercrime cost

These costs are weighted by attack frequency in 60 companies benchmarked.
Denial of service – $243,913
Malicious insiders – $198,769
Web-based attacks – $125,101
Malicious code – $102,216
Phishing/social engineering – $21,094
Stolen devices – $20,070
Botnets – $2,088
Viruses, worms, trojans – $1,324
Malware $997
Source: Ponemon Institute/HP Enterprise Security “2013 Cost of Cyber Crime” study.

The acquisition of new Trojans appears to be limited only by a researcher’s ability to download examples, experts agree; hundreds of thousands can be collected each day. Many examples are simply members of long-standing malware families that have been newly recompiled, and some malicious websites will recompile their payload — creating a unique file — for each drive-by attack. There are probably no more than a thousand such families, since there is a finite number of ways to take over a machine without crashing it, notes Thompson.

The initial infection is usually a compact boot-strapping mechanism that downloads other components. It may report back to the attacker on what kind of host it has infected, and the attackers can then decide how to use the victim, explains Zeltser.

These days, an infected home system is typically hijacked by the attackers for their own use. With a small enterprise, the object is to steal banking credentials, while with large enterprises, the object is typically industrial espionage, Murray explains.

While the anti-malware vendors have adopted a multi-pronged strategy, so have the attackers — for instance, writing malware that does not stir until it sees that it is not in the kind of virtual machine used to trick malware into revealing itself.

Meanwhile, the attackers have formed their own economy, with a division of labor. “Some are good at crafting malware, others are good at infecting systems, and others are good at making money off the infections, such as by sending spam, or by launching distributed-denial-of-service attacks, or by pilfering data,” says Zeltser.

“You can buy the software required to do the account takeover, and then to convert the money into cash you hire mules,” Murray adds.
New battlefields include XP, Android

But while many pundits expect to see a continued cycle of attack and defense, they also foresee additional future dangers: Windows XP may become unusable because of the support situation, and the Android smartphone environment may be the next happy hunting ground for malware.

For its part, Windows Vista is no longer receiving mainstream support, but Microsoft has announced the company will continue issuing security updates for the OS through mid-April 2017.

Windows XP, released in 2001, is still widely used, but Microsoft will stop issuing security updates for it after April 2014. At that point, Microsoft will continue to issue security updates for Windows 7 and Windows 8, and after each one is issued the malware writers will reverse-engineer it to identify the vulnerability that it addresses, Rains predicts.

“They will then test XP to see if the vulnerability exists there, and if it does they will write exploit code to take advantage of it,” Rains says. “Since XP will never get another update, the malware writers will be in a zero-day-forever scenario. If they can run remote code of their choice on those systems it will be really hard for anti-virus protection to be effective. The situation will get worse and worse and eventually you will not be able trust the operating system for XP.”

“People should not be running XP,” agrees Schouwenberg. “When it was written the malware problem was very different than it is today. It had no mitigation strategies and is extremely vulnerable.”

Android, meanwhile, is going like gangbusters on smartphones — outselling Apple’s iOS phones in the third quarter of this year, according to Gartner — making it a huge target for crackers.

Experts see many parallels between Android’s development and the early history of the Windows market, with hardware vendors adapting a third-party operating system for their products, leaving no single party ensuring security. And with the Android market, the additional involvement of telecommunications carriers is a complicating factor.
Average days to resolve attack in 60 companies benchmarked

Malicious insiders include employees, temporary employees, contractors and, possibly, business partners.
Malicious insiders – 65.5
Malicious code – 49.8
Web-based attacks – 45.1
Denial of service – 19.9
Phishing/social engineering – 14.3
Stolen devices – $10.2
Malware – 6.7
Viruses, worms, trojans – 3
Botnets – 2
Source: Ponemon Institute/HP Enterprise Security “2013 Cost of Cyber Crime” study.

“It is not like the case with Apple, which can push security updates to every iPhone in the world in one day,” says Schouwenberg. “With Android, the manufacturer has to implement the patches and then go through certification with the carrier before the patches are deployed. Assuming your phone still gets security updates it may be months before you get them. That would not be considered acceptable with a laptop.”

“Android is in a position that Windows was in a few years ago; there is not enough protection,” adds Johannes Ullrich, head of research at the SANS Technology Institute, which certifies computer security professionals.
Is there hope?

Returning to the ecology metaphor, sometimes the impact of an asteroid will drive species into extinction. And, indeed, sources can point to extinction types of events in the short history of the malware biosphere.

Thompson, for instance, points out that the adoption of Windows 95 drove MS-DOS malware into extinction by adding protected mode, so one program could not overwrite another at will. Microsoft Office 2000 drove into extinction (PDF) malware based on Office 1995 macros by adding a feature that basically required user permission before a macro could run. Windows XP Service Pack 2 in 2004 set the Windows firewall on by default, wiping out another generation of malware.
The success rate for social engineering is phenomenal.

John Strand, network penetration tester, Black Hills Information Security

“But there is no extinction-level-event in sight to wipe out the current Trojans,” Thompson says.

Even if there were such a miracle, attackers could fall back on persuasive email, officious phone calls, smiling faces or other non-technical manipulations usually referred to as “social engineering.”

“The success rate for social engineering is phenomenal,” says John Strand, network penetration tester with Black Hills Information Security in Sturgis, SD.

People will call in pretending to be from a help desk, suggesting that the user download (infected) software. Or plausible emails such as a delivery notification will entice users to click on infected links, he explains.

And then there’s software that tells the user to disable the system’s malware protection “to ensure compatibility.” “I don’t think there is any legitimate software that needs you to disable security protection for compatibility reasons,” says Schouwenberg. “But some software does ask you to disable it during installation, creating a precedent, so they think it’s all right when they get email from a website telling them to turn it off.”

Even if users are trained to resist such ploys, smiling people with clipboards and faux badges may show up at the front desk saying they need to inspect the server room on some pretext — and they’ll probably be allowed in, says Strand.

Beyond that, large numbers of log-in credentials to corporate networks are always for sale at various malicious sites, because people have registered at third-party sites using their office email addresses and passwords — and those sites were later compromised, Strand adds.
Holding on

“The good news is that it is relatively easy to defend against most malware, if you use up-to-date anti-virus software, run a firewall, get security updates and use strong passwords,” Rains says. “These techniques can block the major attacks used today and probably for years to come.”

“The best practices I was telling people about 10 years ago I still have to tell people about today,” Haley adds. “Have good security software, update the system and use good common sense. Don’t link to email that doesn’t seem right.”

Finally, Pescatore suggests looking to the field of public health (rather than the military or ecology) for a metaphor about living with malware. “We have learned to wash our hands and keep the cesspool a certain distance from the drinking water,” he notes. “We still have the common cold, and we still have occasional epidemics — but if we react quickly we can limit the number who are killed.”


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Internet Explorer 10 Release Preview for Windows 7 first-impressions review

 

When Microsoft first announced that Internet Explorer 10 would be part of Windows 8 most users assumed that this would also mean a release of the browser for the version 7 operating system. The first version of Internet Explorer 10 was released publicly with Windows 8’s Developer Preview back in 2011, and then updated whenever new versions of preview builds released. Microsoft at that time was tight lipped about the future of IE10 for Windows 7

October 2012 came and brought along Windows 8’s launch. It was in the week prior to the release of Windows 8 that the company shed some light on the future of IE10 for Windows 7. A blog post indicated that Microsoft had plans to release a preview version for Windows 7 in November 2012.

Internet Explorer 10 Preview for Windows 7 released today for 32-bit and 64-bit editions of the operating system, and for 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2008 R2.

System Requirements
32-bit or 64-bit edition of Windows 7 SP1 or 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1
At least 512 Megabyte of RAM
At least 70 / 120 / 200 Megabyte of hard drive space
At least 1 GHz processor

Installation and uninstallation
The installation of Internet Explorer 10 Preview will replace the current version of the browser on the system. A restart is required before the new version becomes available.

Note that it is possible to uninstall IE10 again on a system it has been installed on. To uninstall the browser do the following:

Click on the Start button.
Type Programs and Features in the search box and select it from the results.
Select View installed updates from the sidebar.
Locate Windows Internet Explorer 10 under Microsoft Windows.
Right-click the entry and select uninstall.
Select Yes when prompted if you really want to uninstall the program.
Restart the PC right then or at a later point to complete the removal.

What’s New
Internet Explorer 10 is nearly identical to the version of the browser that Microsoft released for Windows 8. The core difference: is: Adobe Flash is not natively integrated into the Windows 7 / Windows Server 2012 version.

Both Internet Explorer 10 versions on Windows 8 include a built-in version of Adobe Flash, which is especially important for the Modern UI version of the browser as it does not support browser plugins. Microsoft circumvented this restriction with the direct implementation of Flash in Internet Explorer 10.

Web standards support appears to be identical in both versions of IE10. The Internet Explorer blog notes that the following improvements have been made over previous versions of the browser:

Rich Visual Effects: CSS Text Shadow, CSS 3D Transforms, CSS3 Transitions and Animations, CSS3 Gradient, SVG Filter Effects

Sophisticated Page Layouts: CSS3 for publication quality page layouts and application UI (CSS3 grid, flexbox, multi-column, positioned floats, regions, and hyphenation), HTML5 Forms, input controls, and validation

Enhanced Web Programming Model: Better offline applications through local storage with IndexedDB and the HTML5 Application Cache; Web Sockets, HTML5 History, Async scripts, HTML5 File APIs, HTML5 Drag-drop, HTML5 Sandboxing, Web workers, ES5 Strict mode support.

The browser scores 320 and 6 points in the HTML5test, an indicator of how well browsers support the HTML5 standard. That’s an increase of more than 200 points over Internet Explorer 9. IE10 is still trailing behind other browsers in the test. Google Chrome 23 for instance scores 448 + 13 points in the test, and Firefox 16 372 and 10.

Internet Explorer 10 is the first browser that ships with Do Not Track enabled by default. The feature informs websites and services the browser connects to that users do not want to be tracked. The default nature of the feature in IE10 has been controversially discussed as the Do No Track specification requires users to make the decision. Yahoo as a consequence announced that it would ignore Internet Explorer 10’s Do Not Track header.

IE10 on Windows 7 may run faster than comparable web browsers in select benchmarks. Microsoft claims for instance that Internet Explorer 10 is two times as fast as Google Chrome 23 and 20 percent faster than Firefox 16 in the Mandelbrot benchmark available on Microsoft’s Test Drive website.

The browser does not perform as well in other benchmarks. Its score of 5134 in Google’s Octane benchmark is beaten by Firefox 19’s 9031, and Google Chrome 23’s 12975. Mozilla’s Kraken benchmark paints a similar picture. Firefox and Google Chrome need roughly the same execution time of around 2200ms, while Internet Explorer 10 three times at much with 6800ms.

IE10 performs better when running applications and demos on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Test Drive site. It is somewhat surprising that Google Chrome usually comes in last in these benchmarks, while Internet Explorer 10 and Firefox finish in close proximity to each other.

Closing Words
Microsoft released Internet Explorer 10 as a preview version and it should be handled as such. While it is possible to uninstall the browser on the system to revert to the previous version of Internet Explorer, it is not suited for production environments, even though there does not appear to be any — visible — difference between the preview version for Windows 7 and the final version on Windows 8.

Microsoft managed to close a large part of the performance and web standards support gap between previous versions of Internet Explorer and third-party browsers such as Chrome, Firefox or Opera with the release of IE10.


 

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Microsoft extends Windows Server 2008 support by 18 months

Again nags users to dump Windows XP and move to Windows 7 — but stays mum about Windows 8

Microsoft has extended mainstream support for Windows Server 2008 by 18 months, and again reminded customers that the still-strong Windows XP will retire in April 2014.

Windows watcher Mary Jo Foley, a blogger for ZDNet, first reported the change. Announced in the company’s newest support lifecycle newsletter, the extension was triggered by standard practices at the Redmond, Wash. developer.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Eric Knorr says Microsoft earns cloud cred with Windows Server 2012. | Stay ahead of the key tech business news with InfoWorld's Today's Headlines: First Look newsletter. | Read Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog for what the key business trends mean to you. ]

“The Microsoft policy provides a minimum of five years of Mainstream Support or two years of Mainstream Support after the successor product ships, whichever is longer,” the newsletter stated [emphasis in original].

In mainstream support, which runs the first five years of a product’s lifetime, Microsoft ships free security patches, general fixes and even feature updates. The back-half of the 10-year-support, called extended support, commits the company to free security updates only, although it will provide non-security bug fixes for a price.

But as Microsoft noted, an exception in the rules requires an extension if the follow-up product is slow to arrive.
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Microsoft considers Windows Server 2012 the true successor to Server 2008, even though Windows Server 2008 R2 followed the latter in 2009. Server 2012 debuted earlier this month. The old date for shifting from mainstream to extended support — July 9, 2013 — has been bumped to Jan. 15. 2015. And the end of extended support — in other words, the final retirement date — has been pushed out 18 months, too: It is now Jan. 14, 2020.

Microsoft’s newsletter also reiterated frequently voiced advice from the company: Get off Windows XP.

“We recommend that customers running computers with Windows XP take action and update or upgrade their PCs before the end-of-support date,” read the newsletter, referring to the April 8, 2014 drop-dead date. “If Windows XP is still being run in your environment and you feel that migration will not be complete by April 8, 2014, or you haven’t begun migration yet, Microsoft is eager to help.”

Notably, Microsoft listed links to several online resources for migrating Windows XP to Windows 7, not to Windows 8, perhaps recognizing that customers are much more likely to pick Windows 7 in any case.

Support extensions are rare, but not unprecedented. Last February, for example, Microsoft quietly prolonged support for the consumer versions of Windows 7 and Windows Vista by five years to sync them with the lifespan of enterprise editions.

That move was, in fact, more significant than Monday’s, as it accompanied a promise by Microsoft to support all versions of an operating system, including consumer-targeting SKUs, or “stock-keeping units,” for at least 10 years.

And in Jan. 2007, Microsoft extended mainstream support for Windows XP Home to 2009 and its retirement date to April 2014, primarily to sync its timetable with Windows XP Professional’s but also recognizing reality: XP would remain a powerhouse for the foreseeable future.

According to metrics company Net Applications, Windows XP accounted for 42.5% of all operating systems used to reach the Internet last month. At its current — and relatively slow — rate of decline, Windows XP should still be powering one in four personal computers in April 2014.

Windows sales defy predictions, grow 4%

All credit to businesses upgrading to Windows 7, says MicrosoftComputerworld – Stronger-than-expected sales of Windows helped Microsoft post a 6% increase in revenue for the first quarter of 2012, the company said yesterday.

The Windows and Windows Live division brought in $4.6 billion during the three months ending March 31, an increase of 4% over the same period the year before.

That was a turnaround of sorts: Windows’ revenue for the quarter was just $112 million less than sales during the last three months of 2011, traditionally a strong quarter in the calendar because of holiday purchases of PCs. But in 2011’s fourth quarter, Windows revenue was down 6% compared to the year before.
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Business purchases of PCs — Windows’ revenue is directly tied to the sale of new machines — fueled the gain, with system sales to companies up 8% year-over-year, while consumer computer sales, long sluggish, remained flat.

“The business PC is what really drove the Windows business,” said Peter Klein, Microsoft’s chief financial officer Thursday during an earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

Most analysts had expected a poorer performance, largely on the projections by Gartner and IDC, which initially predicted a PC sales slump but then last week raised their estimates, saying that shipments actually increased about 2% in the quarter.

Microsoft estimated that PC sales grew between 2% and 4% during the quarter.

PC sales have struggled to match previous periods because of tougher competition from tablets and smartphones for consumer dollars, and the lingering effects of a hard disk drive shortage sparked by flooding last year in Thailand.

The Windows group accounted for 27% of the company’s revenue for the quarter, second behind the Business division, which handles the Office line. Windows’ piece of the pie was larger than the previous quarter — the division contributed 23% of all revenue in the last three months of 2011 — but slightly less than the same period a year before.

Windows 7 continued to gain ground among corporate users, said Klein, who claimed that 40% of all enterprise desktops were running the OS. Klein did not name a source for that number, but Net Applications, which Microsoft’s IE team regularly cites, said that 41% of all machines running Windows worldwide last month did it with Windows 7.

As executives touted the strong sales for Windows 7, they also, although only in the broadest strokes, reminded analysts of the upcoming Windows 8.

After noting that the next fiscal year — which runs July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013 — will include an “unprecedented refresh” of the company’s core products, Klein was upbeat about Windows 8, even though customers have seen only a beta of the desktop version and nothing at all on ARM.

“With Windows 8 and its availability on both x86 and ARM, we believe the ecosystem will capitalize on the new range of capabilities and scenarios Windows 8 enable,” said Klein in prepared remarks.

Although executives divulged no new information about Windows 8’s release date during yesterday’s conference call, Bill Koefoed, the general manager of Microsoft’s investor relations, said that the development of Windows 8 and Windows RT — the official name for the version designed for ARM processors — is “on our schedule.”

Klein dodged a question from one analyst about revenue swings later this year caused by Windows 8 upgrade giveaways. “We haven’t said anything and will not today, but we’ll have more to talk about in terms of programs and promotions as we get closer to the launch date,” Klein said.

With Windows 7, Microsoft offered free or nearly free upgrades to people who purchased a new Vista PC in the months before and after its launch. The company also aggressively discounted Windows 7 upgrades during a two-week pre-sale period. Microsoft may repeat one or both of those promotions with Windows 8.

If it does, the deals will impact the bottom line: Two years ago, Microsoft deferred $1.7 billion in revenue to account for the Windows 7 upgrades due Vista PC buyers.

Klein also sidestepped a question about whether Windows XP’s looming retirement will create additional incentive to upgrade to Windows 7, or even Windows 8, and accelerate sales of those editions. “Obviously, it’s high on the priority list for CIOs to upgrade their business desktop [from XP],” said Klein. “Exactly how that will play out over the next couple of years is hard to say.”

XP will fall off Microsoft’s support list in early April 2014.

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Privacy a concern as Google+ links with Google’s other sites

Users must be alert about having their real identity from Google+ replace pseudonyms in other Google services

Google’s work to integrate its Google+ social networking site broadly with its other services could raise red flags for users who want to closely guard their privacy.

 


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Google wants Google+ to be more than a stand-alone social network. It envisions Google+ integrating with most, maybe all, of its Web applications and sites to provide social sharing capabilities and possibly a uniform online identity.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Google+ poised for push into the enterprise. | And check out the slideshow: 10 ways to enhance Google+ | [ Stay ahead of the key tech business news with InfoWorld's Today's Headlines: First Look newsletter. ]

But there is a crucial difference between Google+ and other company services like Gmail, whose users have long been able to use pseudonyms to protect their privacy, if they wish. Google+ currently requires all members to use their real names — a policy on which it has said it will bend, but not how or when.

There may be a risk that people who use their real name in Google+ but use pseudonyms in other Google services may inadvertently expose their real identity by linking Google+ with those services.

Already there are glimpses of how Google+ integrations are altering identity elsewhere on Google. For example, Google has set up a tight integration between Google+ and its Picasa Web photo management service.

For starters, users have to agree to integrate their existing Picasa Web account with Google+ in order to join Google+. If they do so, the displayed user name on Picasa Web accounts becomes the real name used in Google+, replacing the one being used before if different. (The access settings for photos and albums remain the same as prior to the integration, according to Google.)

Without the Google+ integration, Picasa Web users retain the option of using a pseudonym. However, they then can’t have a Google+ account.

Asked for comment, a Google spokesman said via e-mail: “We designed Google+ with privacy in mind, including a number of features that offer users control over what and how they share. We’re always working to provide users with transparency and choice. We’ll continue to do so as we release new features and updates for our products.”

Currently, most Google consumer online services and applications are grouped under a master umbrella account, called a Google Account. It offers individual accounts for Gmail, Docs, YouTube, Calendar, Blogger, Voice, Groups, Reader, and many others.

At this point, Google Account holders can tailor the user name displayed in some of those individual services. For example, one user can have a name shown on his Gmail messages, a different one for his YouTube account and another for a blog published on Blogger. Those names can be pseudonyms.

It’s not clear if options for having different names within a single umbrella Google Account will be maintained as Google pushes forward with the integration of Google+ and other Google services.

Of course, a way to be on Google+ but avoid dealing with its current and future integrations in Google services is to set up a separate Google Account just for it.

ARC 2011: Client Security Software

A year after narrowly missing out on the top honors in the Client Security Software category last year (losing by just over a point to Kaspersky Lab), Sophos climbed over the top in this year’s ARC.

 

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The security company posted top scores in product innovation (94.8) and support (85.5), but Sophos lost the partnership subcategory to none other than Kaspersky.

Sophos has built a strong reputation for sharp endpoint security software and an expanding line of products, thanks to its recent acquisition of unified threat management (UTM) player Astaro Networks. Now, the security vendor is stepping up its partnership plans with the addition of a new channel chief and plans to expand its partner ranks.

Annual Report Card 2011 Home

In May, Sophos hired Steve Hale as its new vice president of global channels; Hale previously served as vice president of global channel sales at Novell (NSDQ:NOVL)’s Security Systems and Operating Platform Group and also worked at Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) and F5 Networks.

“Fundamentally, we have a sound channel program, but we are absolutely working on some things to make it even better,” Hale said. Some of those changes include targeting more security-focused solution providers instead of traditional software resellers. As Sophos builds out its product line into areas like network security and UTM, Hale said the vendor will need to bring in experienced partners.

“If we want to build the next evolution of the partner program, then we need to find ways to invest more in these kinds of partners,” he said. “Security is no longer just a point product.”

Sophos is also taking a more aggressive approach to the small and midsize business market; the vendor recently signed a deal with D&H Distributing that Hale said will help Sophos expand its channel reach. “D&H is an immense set of pipes that branch out to hundreds and hundreds of security VARs,” he said. “With the addition of Astaro, our product line is filling out and that’s made us a lot more relevant in security conversations.”

How Run Android apps on Windows

We’ve run Android apps on Virtualbox, Netbooks and told you about Bluestacks bringing Android apps to Windows PC. Bluestacks is now a reality, available to general  public.

 

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The alpha version allows most Android games & apps to be installed on a PC, but prohibits some games, such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, that all would be available in paid version.

Not every app will work perfectly, but most of the apps should. Users can to push programs from their phone or tablet to the PC from a program that will be available from the Android market.

“Their first computing device is a phone,” Sharma said in a telephone interview. Indeed, BlueStacks had its idea for virtualization technology long before it had the idea to do Android on Windows. That specific implementation, Sharma said, came when one of his colleagues got back from a trip to Switzerland. On that trip, the colleague’s young daughter had played a lot of Android games. Back home, she wanted those same programs to run on the PC. With that, BlueStacks had its business model.

BlueStacks raised $7.6 million in Series A funding earlier this year from backers including Ignition Ventures, Radar Partners, Helion Ventures, Redpoint Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. The company has slightly more than two dozen workers at its headquarters in Campbell, Calif., and at offices in India, Taiwan and Japan.

Parallels release Windows 7 desktop upgrade

Parallels have shipped their ‘Desktop Upgrade’ tool, which is geared toward PC users who are moving from Windows XP or Vista to the latest and greatest, Windows 7. The tool, available for online order now, allows users to upgrade keeping all their applications and settings intact – painlessly.

Supporting in-place upgrades on the same PC, or helps move everything across to a new system, the software will also be available in retail outlets from 31 May internationally.

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CEO of Parallels, Serguei Beloussov, announced that the Desktop Upgrade software for Windows 7 provides “a simple and safe solution for Windows XP and Vista customers who want to successfully move to Windows 7 but may be overwhelmed by the process.”

The software entirely automates the upgrade process, so that the user need only actually answer a few simple questions before leaving the Desktop Upgrade to work its magic. Following the upgrade, the user will be pleasantly surprised to find that their old applications remain installed – and even those with compatibility issues will run under a virtual machine, so as far as the user is concerned, everything that was available previously is still present.

Additionally, Parallels provide interactive video tutorials in order to train users to work in Windows 7! The software – “Parallels Desktop Upgrade to Windows 7″ – is available at £39.95 (GBP) for the tool that upgrades on a single machine, and the price with the cable has yet to be announced.

For more information and a short product tour, visit the Parallel’s website !

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