Entries Tagged as 'Windows'

avast!

A couple weeks ago my avast! anti-virus popped up a Window that wanted to reboot the machine, then indicated to me I had NO protection.

Apparently my one year (actually fourteen month) free subscription was up, and it wanted to enter a new registration code.  The software takes you to a screen where you can purchase a subscription, or you can navigate to the free avast! site and request a new registration code (that’s good for another fourteen months).

Now I think a great deal of avast!, it seems to find more mal-ware than most of it’s competitors, is clean and easy to use,  doesn’t try to take over your computer, and you can’t argue with the price.  But I think it’s a HORRIBLE thing for a anti-virus program to just stop working.  I don’t have any problem with it prohibiting updates of the program or signature file until you update; and I certainly don’t have a problem with it popping up a warning every time you boot (or even including  a warning right above the systray like it does when it detects a potential virus) — but to stop providing the service that you depend on it for without any warning before hand… that’s just wrong.

I certainly hope the avast! people reconsider this draconian behavior; I can’t continue to recommend avast! as a good anti-virus solution if it’s just going to leave you high and dry without a reasonable warning.

Originally posted 2009-02-25 01:00:39.

Windows Security

Sometimes I wonder if Microsoft employees actually run the products they work on.

Elevated security, something that debuted on Windows Vista — and apparently derived from OS-X is a good example.

It’s a great idea.

As a user I should get to decide whether or not a pieced of software is allowed to make changed to my computer.  But the failing of Microsoft is they didn’t really think the problem through before they blindly copied what OS-X did.

In Windows there’s at least two levels of changes that should be approved…

When a piece of software I want is approved for install it should be able to make changes to a set of locations that is owned by the software vendor once I approve it’s installation.  However, it should not be able to make changes to my system configuration unless I specifically approve that.

What Microsoft should have done is something more along the lines of this.

A piece of software is launched and requests the user permission to install itself.  Microsoft fetches the security certificate bound into the executable and presents the user with that information when the system asks for the approval (the dialog should also have an additional detail button).  The user approves it, and the task is run with a security token created on the fly that allows the installer access to the vendors specific structure.

Should the installer desire to change system components it should have to ask to an additional elevation; at which time the operating system should again ask for approval and clearly indicate what system level resources the installer has requested access to.

Installers, would, of course generally be designed not to request access to modify the system (meaning they couldn’t install auto-start, install services, install device drivers, etc without a user knowing these things were going to happen).

When you installed software that did not have a certificate the system would still be able to present two levels of authentication (provided the installer properly requested the different access levels properly).

This would make Windows a far more secure environment… and it would prevent software vendors from install unwanted features onto a system.

Why doesn’t Microsoft implement something like this?

Well, it’s any ones guess… I prefer to believe that the people who design Windows don’t actually use it — but there are lots of conspiracy theories that could be put forth as well.

Originally posted 2010-01-18 01:00:02.

Anti-Malware Programs

First, malware is a reality and no operating system is immune to it.

Malware is most common on operating systems that are prevalent (no reason to target 1% of the installed base now is there); so an obscure operating system is far less likely to be the target of malware.

Malware is most common on popular operating systems that generally do not require elevation of privileges to install (OS-X, *nix, Vista, and Server 2008 all require that a user elevate their privileges before installing software, even if they have rights to administer the machine).

The reality is that even a seasoned computer professional can be “tricked” into installing malware; and the only safe computer is a computer that’s disconnected from the rest the world and doesn’t have any way to get new software onto it (that would probably be a fairly useless computer).

Beyond exercising common sense, just not installing software you don’t need or are unsure of (remember, you can install and test software in a virtual machine using UNDO disks before you commit it to a real machine), and using a hardware “firewall” (residential gateway devices should be fine as long as you change the default password, disable WAN administration, and use WPA or WPA2 on your wireless network) between you and your high-speed internet connection; using anti-malware software is your best line of defense.

There are a lot of choices out there, but one of the best you’ll find is Avast! — there’s a free edition for non-commercial use, and of course several commercial version for workstations and servers.

My experience is that on all but the slowest computers Avast! performs well, and catches more malware than most any of the big-name commercial solutions.

For slower computers that you need mal-ware protection for, consider AVG (they also have a free version for non-commercial use); I don’t find it quite as good as Avast! at stopping as wide a range of threats, but it’s much lower on resource demands (and that helps to keep your legacy machine usable).

Originally posted 2009-01-02 12:00:01.

Acronis TrueImage Home 2009 (v12)

I’ve used Acronis TrueImage since version 3, I switched to it because I grew tired of all the hoops you needed to jump through to use Ghost, and TrueImage offered a more “modern” approach to backup — they actually built a bootable disk AUTOMATICALLY.

Ghost has come a long way since that time, but so has TrueImage.

Why would you want TrueImage?

Well, it works, and it works well — and it’s affordable ($49.99 or $29.99 for an upgrade).

TrueImage has lots of features, but nine times out of ten the ones I care most about is creating an image of a disk and restoring it; or creating a clone of a disk.  TrueImage has excellent support for network adapters and disk channels when you boot it from the rescue media and since you can run it under Windows it will support anything Windows can access.

Previous versions of TrueImage all worked great… so why did I upgrade to v12 aka 2009?  Simple, AHCI support — that’s Advanced Host Controller Interface, it’s the mode you want to run your SATA controller and discs in if your operating system supports it (which Vista does).

Aside from including AHCI support in the new version, Acronis changed the user interface — according to them to be more Vista like; I say they just changed it.

The Acronis user interface is useable, but I would say that it’s never been as clear as it should be.  In my mind they should have sat down in a focus group with some users and hammered out the details of making it present better and clearer information.  As long as you pay attention and read what’s on the screen and don’t continue if you’re not sure you’ll be fine… it works fine and the information is there (it’s just not as clear as you might want).

I definitely recommend Acronis TrueImage (and all the Acronis products I’ve tried are fine).  I do, however, have to gripes that I’ll share.

First, TrueImage basically has most of the functions of Disk Director included in it, so why not just expose them so that they are easy to use.

And that leads to…

Second, Acronis has too many products!  In fact, when I wanted to upgrade my copy of TrueImage I almost just threw my hands up and left when it wasn’t easy to find the product I wanted (and I even knew the name of it).  Why?  Why so many different products that do almost the same thing?  Wouldn’t it be far simpler to have fewer base products and sell option packs (keys) to enable advanced features?

Acronis does a great job of keeping their products up-to-date with patches, and they have a fairly nice web interface to their customer registration system (keeps your previous purchases since version 6 I think in one place along with the serial numbers).

One thing to keep in mind, Vista has some of the capabilities of TrueImage (backup and partition re-size), but not all of them… you may be quite happy with what you already have, or you may want a more complete solution.

If you’re not sure what Acronis can do for you, checkout their web site, and you can even try their trial version (it is crippled unfortunately, but if it weren’t people would just use the trial and never buy).

Originally posted 2008-12-11 12:00:55.

Microsoft Office Accounting

Microsoft has release the 2009 update of their accounting software, including the free Office Accounting Express 2009 (U.S. version) of the software.

The Express 2008 version worked very well, in fact I migrated from an older version of Quick Books (which I refused to pay the ridiculous upgrade fees for) to it, and was quite happy.

The only negative thing about 2008 was the templates for invoices were a little “un-professional” looking; but in their defense it was easy (provided you have Office installed) to create a template which resembled my old Quick Books invoices.

I definitely recommend you take a look at Microsoft Office Accounting, the Express version is one of the few instances of getting what you pay for!

Originally posted 2008-11-22 00:00:45.

Online Capacity Expansion

Well…

  • Call me old fashion…
  • Call me conservative…
  • Call me a doubting “Thomas”…
  • Call me tickled pink…
  • Call me surprised…

I just finished adding four additional spindles to one of my virtual hosts; when I originally built it out I only had four spindles available, and didn’t want to buy more since I knew I would be freeing up smaller spindles for it soon.

The first task was to have the RAID software add the new spindles to the array, then to “expand” the array container… the first step took only a few moments, the second step took about 20 hours for the array controller to rebuild / expand the array.

The second task was to get Windows to actually use the added space by expanding the volume; to do that was a simple matter of using diskpart.exe (you can search Microsoft’s Knowledge Base) only took a few moments.

The incredible thing about this was that my virtual host and virtual machines was online for the entire 20 hours — with absolutely no service interruption.

This particular machine used a Dell / LSI controller; but the Promise controllers also support dynamic capacity expansion as do 3Ware controllers.  I believe the Intel Matrix pseudo RAID controller also support dynamic capacity expansion; but as with other RAID and pseudo-RAID controllers you should check the documentation specific to it and consult the manufacturer’s web site for errata and updates before proceeding.

The bottom line is Windows and RAID arrays have come a long way, and it’s quite possible that you will be able to expand the capacity of your array without taking your server down; however, if the data on the server is irreplaceable, I recommend you consider backing it up (at least the irreplaceable data).

Originally posted 2008-12-01 12:00:56.

Clean Up Mac droppings on a Windows File System

One of the most annoying thing a Mac does when it connects to a Windows network share is leave a .DS_Store file (if the share is writable).  There’s no harm in deleting the files (to either Windows or OS-X), but finding and removing them can be tedious.

I made my life a little easier to clean those .DS_Store files off my disk by writing a batch file that you can downloads (in a 7z archive) via cleanup_afp.7z

Originally posted 2010-03-29 01:30:29.

SyncMate

Fairly often I get messages from vendors who’ve read a posting I’ve made on a “similar” product to one of theirs and they suggest that I take a look at their product… and I welcome these messages.

When I got such a request from Eltima Software on SyncMate a few months ago I read their web page and thought that their product sounded like it’d be worth taking a look at — so finally this week (mostly because I was talking through the issues of device synchronization with a friend of mine) I got around to testing out the software.

First, the software comes in a free edition as well as an “expert edition” (which isn’t free) — and I’ll go over the list of features and cost later; for now my review will cover only the free version and components.

Second, SyncMate runs only on a Mac; so if you don’t have a Mac, you probably won’t be interested (and SyncMate isn’t the killer app, it won’t justify you running out and buying a Mac to synchronize your devices).

Here’s my objective: keep my contact list and calendar synchronized on my HTC TouchPro2.

Thumbnail —

  • I have a HTC TouchPro2 [unlocked] running Windows Mobile 6.5
  • Over 500 contacts (many with detailed information and a picture)
  • I have several calendar events per week (with reminders); often multiple on a single day
  • I don’t use Outlook (and never will again)
  • I currently use Microsoft MyPhone (the basic features are free, and they are barely worth that price)

Criteria —

  • Sync needs to be “easy”
  • Sync needs to be “reliable”
  • Sync should work via Bluetooth, WiFi, Internet, and/or USB
  • Sync must include all information

And they’re off…

I first tried to get everything working with Bluetooth — that was a fricking night mare; so I dropped by and just plugged in a USB cable (which installed the sync component for SyncMate on my Windows Mobile device).

After that, I just followed the prompts on the screen to setup my device in SyncMate, decide what to sync, and what direction to sync it in (which for me was just syncing my phone to my Mac, since I didn’t really have any information on my Mac), and pressing a button — and then waiting patiently.

SyncMate was able to sync 100% of the contact information and calendar information from the phone to the Mac — and I was able to view that information in the Mac’s Address Book and iCalendar programs.

But wait… I’m not done.

Eltima also provides a sync component for Windows (desktop); so I installed that on a Windows 7 machine — and after a little fumbling around I was able to push the contact synchronization information from my Mac (which I’d gotten from my phone) to Windows 7 — the system Address Book; and then backup the .contact files to my RAID5 array!

A little background —

When I upgraded to Windows 7, Microsoft advertised the Windows 7 Sync Center — a way to manage and synchronize devices; silly me, I just assumed that Microsoft would support Windows Mobile 6.5 (their flag ship mobile phone operating system) out of the box.  They didn’t — you had the run the POS Device Center software that came out with Vista — which would have been acceptable, except it only synchronizes with Outlook and that POS ain’t happening on my computers ever again.

So began my quest began.

OK, so SyncMate works; and sSyncMate will do what I want… but now let’s really “talk” about it.

One of the first things I noticed after setting up the Windows sync component was that it crashed (often)… and it was difficult to convince the SyncMate on the Mac that the PC was alive again after re-launching the sync component.

The interface for SyncMate is a little clunky… it just doesn’t have a very well though out flow; and could definitely use some human engineering to improve it.  It’s usable, but far from ergonomic.

The free version of SyncMate is extremely limited; in fact, I wouldn’t class it as much a free version as I would a teaser version.  For me, it does 99.99% of what I want — it synchronizes my contact (and handles all the fields), it synchronizes my calendar, and it will read my SMS messages (but doesn’t allow me to do anything with them except view them in the free version).

The “Expert Edition” adds a number of features that you might want; but given that it’s $39.95 for a single license (plus $11.99 for lifetime upgrades — which I would say is an absolute requirement) I think it’s priced way too high; you can review the additional features (one of which is a SMS manager, which I think it’s a little retarded that they have two SMS plugins — one that reads, one that manages — I think of the two together).

Here are the pluses to the free edition:

  • Synchronizes contacts (their feature chart notes Entourage 2008 support, but in fact they don’t do anything but give you the instructions to make Entourage use the OS-X contacts)
  • Synchronizes calendar events (again with the Entourage support — see above)
  • Provided device information (handy but not essential)
  • SMS reader
  • Internet sharing (hmm… I thought OS-X could do that by itself)

The expert editions provide these features that I think would probably be nice:

  • Backup
  • SMS manager
  • Call history
  • To Do’s
  • Autosync

And the following are enhancements they should add:

  • Stable Windows sync component
  • Android support (without using Google)
  • Windows Live Mail support
  • Windows Live Calendar support
  • Windows Live synchronization
  • Windows version

Finally, they need to rethink the pricing model.  $39.95 for the personal license is just too much; I’d think $19.95 is more in keeping, particularly since a lifetime upgrade guarantee is $11.99 extra; and the business license is $49.95 (I don’t really why there’s a difference unless the business license included the one of the “priority support plans” they offer — and of course I didn’t see a guarantee on the “priority support” — like getting you money back if they failed to resolve an issue, or answer within a specified time period.

Here’s what I think they should consider:


Personal License $19.95
Family Pack (5) $39.95
Lifetime Upgrade Guarantee $9.95


So basically I think their prices are too high (and yeah, mine above are on the low side, and certainly $24.95 and $49.95 are not unreasonable amounts, but that’s about the limit in my mind, and I think the lower price would encourage a larger user base — and probably end up being more profitable); and I think their “family pack” being 6 units rather than 5 units like Apple is retarded; and I think the lifetime upgrade should be one price… I don’t have any comments on the pricing of the priority support plans since they don’t have any details on the plans.  As to corporate licensing, they can handle that on a case-by-case basis; but they definitely need to eliminate their distinction between a personal and business license; though I have no issue with excluding business use of the family pack.

I would have purchased a license right away (just because I like to support reasonably well done software) had it been priced right; but at the price they want to charge, they’re going to have to fix the Windows sync component, and actually make it have a reasonable feature set…

I am going to use the free version; and I’ll consider upgrading to the “Expert Edition” when they either add features (fix features) and / or address the pricing.

Eltima Software
SyncMate

Originally posted 2010-07-08 02:00:43.

Compression

There are two distinct features that Windows Server 2008 outshines Linux on; and both are centric on compression.

For a very long time Microsoft has supported transparent compression as a part of NTFS; you can designate on a file-by-file or directory level what parts of the file system are compressed by the operating system (applications need do nothing to use compressed files).  This feature was probably originally intended to save the disk foot print of seldom used files; however, with the explosive growth in computing power what’s happened is that compressed files can often be read and decompressed much faster from a disk than a uncompressed file can.  Of course, if you’re modifying say a byte or two in the middle of a compressed file over and over, it might not be a good idea to mark it as compressed — but if you’re basically reading the file sequentially then compression may dramatically increase the overall performance of the system.

The reason for this increase is easy to understand; many files can be compressed ten to one (or better), that means each disk read is reading effectively ten times the information, and for a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor to decompress this stream of data put no appreciable burden on the processing unit(s).

Recently, with SMBv2, Microsoft has expanded the file sharing protocol to be able to transport a compressed data stream, or even a differential data stream (Remote Differential Compression – RDC) rather than necessarily having to send every byte of the file.  This also has the effect of often greatly enhancing the effect data rate, since once again a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor can compress (and decompress) a data stream at a much higher rate than most any network fabric can transmit the data (the exception would be 10G).  In cases of highly constrained networks, or networks with extremely high error rates the increase in effect through put could be staggering.

Unfortunately, Linux lags behind in both areas.

Ext4 does not include transparent compression; and currently no implementation of SMBv2 is available for Linux servers (or clients).

While there’s no question, what-so-ever, that the initial cost of a high performance server is less if Linux is chosen as the operating system, the “hidden” costs of lacking compression may make the total cost of ownership harder to determine.

Supporting transparent compression in a file system is merely a design criteria for a new file system (say Ext5 or Ext4.1); however, supporting SMBv2 will be much more difficult since (unlike SMBv1) it is a closed/proprietary file sharing protocol.

Originally posted 2010-07-11 02:00:49.

Operating Systems

I have computers running Windows (most flavors), OS-X, Linux, and BSD (or we could generically call those *nix) — and have had computers running SunOS, Solaris, and OSF… so I consider myself well versed in operating systems from a user standpoint (and a developer standpoint as well).

Recently I took a look at how practical each of the “popular” choices were as a desktop environment for what I would consider an average user; and I set the goals of an average user to be:

  • Email
  • Managing contact and schedules
  • Browsing the internet
  • Office tasks (word processing and simple spread sheets)
  • Multimedia (music and movies)
  • Managing finances

And I looked at Windows (Vista Ultimate, but for this much would apply to XP as well), OS-X, and Ubuntu Linux (I felt that was a good distribution for an average user).

On email, managing contacts and schedules, browsing the internet, and office tasks I would say that all three of the operating systems were reasonably equal… very few real differences in capabilities or ease of use (both Vista and OS-X have option for commercial as well as free software; on Ubuntu only free software was used).  For multimedia both Vista and OS-X were far better than Ubuntu (yes, Ubuntu could do most everything the other two could do, but the software was very piece meal, and didn’t “fit” well with the rest of the system).  For managing finances all of them had non-commercial and commercial solutions and depending on your needs whether any or all of them would be sufficient.

Vista

Microsoft’s current Windows operating system for desktop PCs.  Vista is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of Vista is included in most PC purchases only upgraded expenses need to be considered (this isn’t true if you’re building your own PC from parts — but if you’re recycling an old PC it may already have a license for Windows).  The cost of a PC does not generally include an office suite.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect no to purchase additional software from Microsoft.

 

OS-X

Apple’s current operating system for Macs.  OS-X is well suited for most tasks an average user is likely to do.  Since the cost of OS-X is included in Mac purchases only upgrade expenses need to be considered.  The cost of the mac might include iLife, but not iWorks.  There’s a host of free software that you can use if you elect not to purchase additional software from Apple.

 

Ubuntu

Provided you have a way to download Ubuntu and burn it onto installation media (CD) there’s no cost in acquiring it.  If you have very old hardware using Ubuntu (or a lighter weigth Linux) might be the only option you really have — but my comparison here is not based on what’s cheapest, it’s what’s reasonable.  Most all of what you will need will be installed with the operating system.  There’s a host of free software that you can use by simply downloading it.

 

Observations:

  • Apples are only easier to use if you’re used to Apples — like all tools, human beings have no inherent ability to know how to use them.  Regardless of the operating system you choose you will need to invest a little time into learning how to use it.  How much time you invest will be determined by the relative sophistication of what you’re trying to do, and what kind of background in computers you have.
  • You’ll find that both Vista and OS-X will provide an inexperienced user with much more “hand holding” than Ubuntu.  But that said, one of the first things you need to get proficient at is searching the internet for “answers”.
  • Pretty much all the annoyances people gripe about are universal in all three of the operating systems (it’s comical that Apple had a whole series of advertisements about Vista annoyances — annoyances their own operating system had had for years for the most part).  There are often system settings that can turn off many of these annoyances, but in fact they are present for a reason — and while you’re learning I recommend you just learn to deal with the annoyances and don’t change system settings without good cause.
  • You’re going to find making changes to many settings on Ubuntu (or any Linux) much more difficult than either Vista or OS-X.
  • You’re going to find that things are far more cohesive on both Vista and OS-X; with Ubuntu it becomes fairly obvious quickly that you’re using a collection of dis-associated widgets and parts.

 

Conclusions:

For most computer users I’d recommend that you consider using either Vista or OS-X for your computing needs.  Leave Ubuntu (and other *nix based operating systems) to more experienced computer users who have a “need” for it.  I suspect that we’ll see improvements in the cohesiveness of non-commercial operating system, but for the moment they just aren’t ready for prime time.

Originally posted 2008-12-26 12:00:38.