Category: Operating Systems

It is now simple to port iOS and Android apps to Windows 10

Articles Windows logo courtesy of Microsoft

How Microsoft Is Going To Port Everything To Windows | Gizmodo

Android applications will be able to run on Windows 10 | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Welcome speech for Build 2015 – Blogging Windows

My Comments

Candy Crush Saga gameplay screen Android

This game has been the test-bed for porting to Windows 10

The Web has been awash with rumours about Microsoft allowing Android apps to run on Windows 10. The image projected by these rumours underscored ideas of users running Android APK program files in the Windows 10 environment or a gateway to Google Play on this operating system.

But Microsoft announced at Build 2015 conference a very different scenario that is more about developers being able to easily port iOS and Android apps to Windows 10 Universal Apps. It is part of a simplified code-porting mechanism that will come with this new operating system.

As you already know, a Windows 10 Universal app is designed from the outset to run on a regular desktop / laptop computing environment, a tablet or 2-in-1 in “tablet mode”, a smartphone or even the XBox One games console.

The process of “porting” an app to run on different computing platforms is about making sure that the program conveys a user experience that doesn’t differ no matter the platform that you are running it on. Rather it takes advantage of the bouquets that the platform provides like improved sound or graphics and is something I have seen in action through the late 1980s with games written by the likes of Sierra and Broderbund. In that era, there were a few different home / desktop computing platforms in circulation ranging from the IBM PC (MS-DOS) platform, Apple’s Apple II and Macintosh platforms, to Commodore’s legendary C64 and Amiga computer platforms and anyone who wanted to cover a large market with a games title had to port these titles across the different platforms.

Windows 10 Start Menu courtesy of Microsoft

Now easier to port from mobile platforms to this platform

Take for example “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego” which I had played on an Apple IIe and on an IBM-compatible running MS-DOS 3.3 . These games were ported in a way to take advantage of the graphics abilities the different platforms offered and were worked to give the same smooth operating environment for the platform you bought it for. If I had played that game on a Commodore Amiga, it would have come through with graphics and sound performance appropriate for that platform such as sharper graphics with many different colours along with a richer music soundtrack.

If you were to port an application or game to a different platform, you had to rewrite the program code from the ground up to target that platform. As well, you had to re-engineer all of the resources like the graphics and sound for that platform. This became a costly affair because you had to hire programmers who were conversant with your native computing platform and the target platform to do this job and make sure they run as expected on that platform. In some cases, the software may not run exactly as required nor would it properly take advantage of the platform’s assets.

Microsoft has made this process simpler courtesy of the Project Islandwood and Project Astoria software-development kits which simplify the process of porting iOS or Android apps to Windows 10 Universal Apps. These would allow the developer to reuse the iOS Objective C or Android Java/C++ code as the mechanism for the program and allow them to tweak the code to run smoothly in Windows 10, taking advantage of its assets like Cortana, Live Tiles, XBox Achievements and the like where appropriate.

They worked with King.com to use the new software-development kits to port Candy Crush Saga to Windows, having the gameplay experience on a Windows Phone similar to what was expected out of an iPhone.

What does this mean? It could allow a software developer to target iOS or Android for their programs then have it ready for the Windows platform very shortly after that without it being a costly affair..Who knows when a game like Candy Crush Saga could appear on the XBox One as a “quick-play” game to play on your TV?

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Removing Superfish from your Lenovo computer

Article

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Removing Superfish from this Lenovo laptop

Lenovo offers tool to remove hidden adware ‘Superfish’ | BBC News

From the horse’s mouth

Lenovo Support

Advisory page with list of affected laptops

Removal-tool download (Run or copy to “toolbox” USB memory key)

Removal Instructions

My Comments and Instructions

If you bought a Lenovo computer through 2014 that was positioned at consumers like the G50-70 or the Yoga 2 Pro, you may have had Superfish’s Visual Discovery software installed on it. This is part of a common practice especially with consumer and small-business computers where they become loaded with software you most likely don’t really want.

Here, the variant of the Visual Discovery which is meant to be an enhanced “machine+Internet” search tool has been behaving like adware. It even has been jeopardising the security of your SSL-based secure-browsing sessions. Here, they were highlighting it as a software-driven client-side “man-in-the-middle” security threat that can intercept data that passes through your computer.

But you can remove the software form your G50-70, Yoga 2 Pro or other Lenovo laptop, and is a very similar practice to what I have done with a lot of adware that ends up on peoples’ computers.

Lenovo offers a single-purpose download to remove the Superfish software but if you have the patience to work through Windows to “root it out” or a computer-literate relative or friend can do this for you, here are the instructions which I have paraphrased from their Website.

Remove Superfish software

  1. In Windows 8.1, use the Search Charm in the Modern View to search “remove programs”, then select “Add Or Remove Programs”. On the other hand. right-click on the Windows icon on the Taskbar and select Programs And Features.
  2. Hunt for “Superfish Inc. Visual Discovery” and uninstall it by clicking the Uninstall option. This is a good time to go through all of your software that is on your computer and remove any questionable programs.

Remove Superfish certificates from the Windows Certificate Store

This is to remove the Superfish certificates from the main Certificate Store that Windows uses and is the “go to” certificate location for Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari and co.

  1. In Windows 8.1, use the Search Charm to search “Certificates”, then select “Manage Computer Certificates
  2. Accept Microsoft Management Console’s request to change your computer data
  3. Select “Trusted Root Certificate Authorities” in the Certificate Manager then select “Certificates
  4. Hunt for items with the “Superfish Inc.” name and delete them. When the Certificate Manager asks that you want to delete them, click Yes.

Remove Superfish certificates from Firefox, Thunderbird and other Mozilla software

Mozilla operates a separate certificate store for Website certificates rather than using the Windows Certificate Store. Here, you would have to interact with each Mozilla program separately to remove the certificates.

  1. Open Firefox and, if the address bar and toolbar isn’t visible, click on the orange Firefox button.
  2. Select the Settings drawer with the three lines, then click on the Options gearwheel, then click on the Advanced gearwheel.
  3. Select the Certificates tab and click or touch the View Certificates button.
  4. In the Certificate Manager screen, select Authorities
  5. Hunt for “Superfish Inc” and select that certificate
  6. Click the Delete or Distrust button and click OK to delete the Superfish certificate from Mozilla’s certificate store.

Restart your computer

Immediately, restart your Lenovo computer as you would normally do.

This may be a tipping point for manufacturers to be part of a feedback loop when it comes to the software they supply with computers especially those that are sold to home and small-business users. It involves a requirement to test the software for vulnerabilities before packaging it for installation.

It will also become a time to question the practice of supplying third-party-supplied trial software and demoware with computers, especially notebooks, marketed to consumers.

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Windows 10 to benefit from the FIDO authentication standards

Article

Microsoft to support Fido biometrics | NFC World

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Windows For Your Business blog post

FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance

Press Release

My Comments

Microsoft is to enable Windows 10, which is the next version of Windows, to work with the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance standards for its authentication and authorisation needs.

But what is this about? FIDO is about providing a level playing field where authentication and authorisation technologies like biometrics, electronic keys and the like can work with applications and sites that support these technologies.

The goal with FIDO is to remove the need for drivers, client-side software and certificate-authority setups for 2-factor authentication or password-free authentication. As well, one hardware or software key can be used across compatible services and applications without user parameters being shared between them.

There are two standards that have been defined by FIDO Alliance. One is UAF which supports password-free login using biometrics like fingerprints; USB dongles; MiFare NFC cards; Bluetooth-linked smartphones and the like as the key to your account. The other is U2F which allows these kinds of keys to serve as a “second factor” for a two-factor authentication setup.

But what could this mean? With a UAF setup, I could set things up so I could log in to Facebook using my fingerprint if the computer is equipped with a fingerprint reader but not have to worry about using a password vault that plays nicely with that fingerprint reader. With a U2F setup, I could make sure that I have a tight two-factor login setup for my Website’s management account or my bank account but use a preferred method like a USB key or a smartcard reader that reads my EMV-compliant bank card.

The current implementation tends to ride on client-side software like browser plugins to provide the bridge between a FIDO-enabled site and a FIDO U2F-compliant key and this can impair the user experience you have during the login. It is because of you having to make sure that the client-side software is running properly and you use a particular browser with it before you can interact with the secure site. There is also the risk that the software may be written poorly thus being more demanding on processor and memory resources as well as providing an inconsistent user interface.

Microsoft will bake these authentication standards in to Windows 10 for the login experience and authentication with application-based and Web-based services. This will cut down on the client-side software weight needed to enhance your Internet security and allows those who develop the authentication methods to focus on innovating with them, just as Microsoft has done with other functionality that it has baked in to the various Windows versions. It will apply to Azure-based cloud-hosted Active Directory services and on-premises Active Directory services for business users; along with the Microsoft Account which is used for home and small business users with Windows 8 login and Outlook.com (Hotmail).

The question yet to raise with FIDO UAF and U2F functionality is whether this will be provided for application-based “client-to-server” authentication for situations like word-processors being used to upload blog posts or native clients for online services like Dropbox and Evernote. Similarly, would this technology allow a device to serve as a temporary or conditional authentication factor such as a smart lock that has just been used with your electronic key; or allow a card like a SIM card already installed in our smartphone or a MiFARE-compliant transit pass to serve as an electronic key for our Webmail.

Personally, I find that Windows implementing FIDO Alliance standards will allow us to make more use of various authentication technologies on our home or business computers.

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Preferring highest-throughput on your dual-band Wi-Fi setup

Article

Specify 2.4 or 5 GHz WiFi bands on Surface Pro 3 | Barb’s Connected World (blog)

My Comments

A problem that Barb Bowman had highlighted in her blog was that the Surface Pro 3 was preferring to connect to her Wi-Fi home network on the 2.4GHz band rather than the 5GHz (802.11ac) band that it was capable of. This may be a problem with a lot of dual-band 802.11n/ac devices.

Here, she had ran the same SSID and security parameters for both the bands on her network and the Surface preferred the 2.4GHz band. To work around this, Barb had used the Device Manager to force her Surface Pro 3 to stay on the 5GHz 802.11ac band. With this 2-in-1’s network adaptor, there was an “Advanced” option to lock on 2.4GHz or 5Ghz or simply switch between the bands. The problem would become worse when she took the Surface on the road because of having to head to the Device Manager to set these parameters.

Another way to work around this is to run separate SSIDs for each band, having the 2.4GHz and 5Ghz networks work as separate segments. Here, the network could be set up as MY-NETWORK for the 2.4GHz band and MY-NETWORK-54 for the 5GHz band. Most simultaneous-dual-band access points and routers allow you to set this up and your can prefer to connect to a particular band using your device’s network-selection function. If you wanted to allow automatic switching, you then just set both SSIDs up on your device for automatic connection.

On the other hand, it could be feasible for operating systems to have support for “preferred” bands or operating modes for wireless networks in a similar way to how you can determine in Windows whether a network is a public, home or workplace network and adjust its sharing behaviour according. This kind of manual override could allow a device to prefer the 5GHz band for better performance but fall to the 2.4GHz band if this band works better. 

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Tech support scams now affecting the Macintosh platform

Article

Mac users: Beware of increased tech support scam pop-ups | MalwareBytes Unpacked blog

My Comments

The Apple Macintosh has been seen by its users as a safe regular-computer (desktop / laptop) platform mainly because it didn’t have as much of a foothold as the MS-DOS / Windows platform. Now this platform is starting to appeal to malware authors due to the fact that more people are heading towards it as a regular-computer option along with the fact that Microsoft has been continually hardening the Windows platform.

Windows users had suffered the bane of various unsolicited “tech-support” scams ranging from Website popups through to phone calls. Now the Mac platform is under attack because these scams implement JavaScript to take over the machine in a similar way to what happens with Windows. Also the same scam targets iOS devices due to their use of Safari with the same codebase and JavaScript implementation.

Of course, don’t follow through with the prompts to call these numbers or download the software because this involves activities like malware downloads or paying exorbitant fees to dodgy overseas-based businesses. But what do you do to close these nag screens?

On the Macintosh, you would have to kill the browser session by using the Force Quit routine. The best way IMHO to do this is to press Command+Option+Shift+ESC together if the browser has the foreground. You can also press Command+Option+ESC to bring up the Force Quit menu and use the mouse or trackpad to select the application to stop. The reason I suggest using the keyboard shortcuts is because some of the nuisance dialog boxes can effectively “take over” the pointing device.

iOS users can stop the browser by double-clicking the Home button and swiping the window representing the troublesome app to kill that app.

On both platforms, you clear out the browser cache and history to stop the fake tech-support Website cropping up. This is more important for the iOS platform because if you open up Safari, it will come up with the last-opened Website. For the OS X implementation, you click the “Clear History” option in the “History” menu, which also clears the cache. For the iOS implementation, you go to the Safari option in the Settings app and then tap the Clear History button to stop it from reopening.

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FLAC studio-grade audio files to be supported by Windows 10

HP Elitebook 2560p playing through Naim DAC-V1 USB DAC

Windows 10 could allow this HP laptop and Naim USB DAC to handle FLAC files without extra software

Article

Windows 10 will play your .MKV and .FLAC files all on its own | Engadget

My Comments

As I have observed through the previous Australian Audio And AV Shows, there is increased interest in high-resolution file-based audio. Here, these studio-grade recordings or remasters of classic albums from the studio master tapes are being offered as a “download-to-own” digital audio option along with the regular CDs and MP3 files.

These files would be enjoyed either through a DLNA setup involving a network media player that can handle these files or a regular computer connected to a USB DAC (essentially a USB sound module) connected to the amplifier. But the latter scenario would typically require the use of add-on software and codecs to realise the FLAC audio files for the onboard or external digital-analogue conversion devices to turn in to amplifiable audio signals.

As part of many improvements to the operating system, Microsoft is integrating into Windows 10 the necessary software to decode these high-grade digital files. This is to avoid running a third-party codec pack that may be unstable or be part of a hasty download. Instead it is software that is effectively tuned to run with the operating system and play well with Windows Media Player.

Auralic Taurus control amplifier connected to Auralic Vega DAC

Auralic USB DAC – no extra software or codecs needed to handle FLAC files from Windows 10 onwards

For audio software developers who write for Windows, there isn’t a need to “reinvent the wheel” when catering to this high-quality codec for “download-to-own” digital audio. As well, it is an attempt to make the FLAC file become the “new MP3” file for distributing file-based audio content.

Personally, I would also like to see Microsoft write the necessary codec software to allow the creation of these files so as to take some work off the hands of anyone who is creating digital-audio-workstation software for Windows. It could increase the ability for Windows to become a highly-capable multimedia creation workhorse that is on a par or better than Apple.

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Why do I describe non-Apple operating systems and hardware as being open-frame?

Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible Ultrabook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

Windows 8 – open-frame as can be

I make references to computer systems or mobile devices based on platforms like Windows, Linux or Android as being “open-frame”.

This is compared to Apple’s computer systems and mobile devices which are focused around hardware and software interfaces are peculiar to that manufacturer’s devices. As well, it takes a long time for Apple to integrate a common hardware or software standard in to a platform although other platforms are already implementing the standard; or an accessory or peripheral vendor has to go through hoops to have a device considered “fit” to work with Apple’s products.

Android - also open-frame

Android – also open-frame

Computer systems that are based on an “open-frame” environment has the ability for one to connect peripheral devices easily to it no matter who the hardware or software vendor is. An example of this includes smartphones and tablets implementing a microUSB Type-AB socket for charging or transferring data.

Open-frame computer systems can attach themselves to a network or quickly discover and benefit from or share network resources using commonly-available standards that aren’t particular to one particular vendor. As well, the companies behind the platforms are quick to meld support for most. if not all. of these common standards and specifications in to the next major version of their software platforms and will nurture these standards through their platform’s lifecycle.

Naim UnitiServe - provides music va UPnP AV / DLNA to equipment independent of vendor

Naim UnitiServe – provides music va UPnP AV / DLNA to equipment independent of vendor

There are many examples here that I could mention.

One example is a Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer or an Android smartphone can quickly associate with a WPS-capable Wi-Fi wireless network segment at the click of a button on the wireless router as what happened when I stayed with some friends up in Sydney and when I stayed with another friend up in Ballarat. In both instances, I brought in my Samsung Android smartphone and a Windows-based review-sample laptop  to these locations and brought them on to the hosts’ networks to benefit from their Internet access.

DLNA collections listed as sources on the TV

DLNA content collections listed as sources on a Samsung Smart TV

Another example is to have the ability to discover multimedia content held on a network-attached storage device or media-server software using UPnP AV / DLNA standards which many manufacturers and software developers offer. I have seen this demonstrated many times with setups based around different manufacturers and software developers and, one time, this provided a simple on-ramp for a couple to show travel pictures to the mother-in-law.

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor NFC tie clip

Touch your NFC-capable phone on the clip to pair it with the headphone adaptor

Yet another example is my Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor that quickly pairs with my Samsung Android phone when I touched them together in a same vein as a Braven Bluetooth wireless speaker that I reviewed. In some cases, this even applies to the ability for Android users to exchange contact details with each other or Windows 7/8 computers via Bluetooth or NFC.

How I see the personal-computing scene for both regular (desktop) and mobile applications is that there will be balkanisation taking place between Apple and the rest of the field and this has been underscored in the computer press as simply “the cult of Apple”.

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Setting up a “his-and-hers” computing environment

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

A large laptop that is commonly used in a “his-and-hers” computing environment

A common situation that I face when providing IT support for couples, families and similar households is providing a level of individual operation for each user who uses shared computer equipment. A typical situation is a couple who have desktop, laptop or tablet computers that they share with each other or a family who maintains the “family” computer that is used also by the children.

On the other hand, you may make sure each of you have your own computing devices that are set up with your own operating environments. This is more so with tablets or other ultra-portable computer equipment where you want to effectively “take it with you”.

But there is a goal where each person may want to “keep their space their space”. That is to have their preferred operating environment with their preferred user-interface customisations (wallpaper, button styling, etc), preferred email client, preferred Web bookmarks and other parameters maintained while they operate the equipment. As well, they may want to keep their communications with their social community private or prevent confusion with your communications. This is even though both or all of you will have the same relatives and friends that you maintain regular contact with.

Most of you may operate on a trust-based environment where you will want to know the passwords to each other’s accounts simply as a symbol of “our love for each other has nothing to hide”. This may not be applicable for those of you who are running or working in a business where confidentiality concerning business data is so important.

How do computer operating environments handle this?

Regular computers

Create multiple Microsoft.com accounts on your Windows 8 computer to achieve a unique user experience across all of your Windows 8 computers

Create multiple Microsoft.com accounts on your Windows 8 computer to achieve a unique user experience across all of your Windows 8 computers

Most “regular-computer” operating environments such as Windows, MacOS X and Linux allow multiple individual accounts to be created. These accounts support their own username and password and allow the computer to open up to a desktop environment that is personalised for each of the users. You even have concepts like separate user folders, desktop wallpapers and themes, or, in some cases, email clients that are peculiar to each user.

This functionality has been baked in to the “regular-computer” operating environment due to the fact that these machines are used by different employees in the workplace or are used to work with data that is confidential to a particular user.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Copy your Windows 8 user experience to that secondary convertible Ultrabook

Windows 8 and newer versions of the Windows operating system even takes this further by allowing you to create a Microsoft.com login account that you can take between different computers. Here, this allows you to use the same user credentials which will lead you to your same user environment on the different computers. For example, you could share use of different computer types such as a 15” mainstream laptop or an all-in-one desktop that lives at home and an Ultrabook or detachable tablet that you use while travelling or maintain as an “around the house” computer for example.

Last but not least Google implemented multiple-account operation on the ChromeOS platform which then adds most of the cheap Chromebooks to the list of devices that can support “his and hers” computing. This is through a blind update (version 37.0.2062.119) that should be in your Chromebook by 6 September 2014.

Mobile computing devices (tablets)

The tablet, typically the 10” tablet like the Apple iPad, is very much the only device that runs any mobile operating environment which ends up being shared by a couple or family.

Recent iterations of Android installed on tablets can support this kind of operation. This has been introduced to support “privileged operation environments” in the workplace. The same also holds true for tablets that are powered with the Windows 8 operating system.

The only tablet device that doesn’t support a true “his-and-hers” environment is the Apple iPad. This is bound to one Apple ID account, which affects use of the iTunes Store, the App Store and other Apple-provided apps and services. The passcode on these devices doesn’t even provide separate or unique login environments on these devices.

Email, Social Networks and Instant Messaging

Windows Live Mail client-based email interface

Windows Live Mail – an example of a client-based email interface

If these services are operated via a Web-based user interface, they can support “his-and-hers” operation as long as each user logs out of their account at the end of each session. This is more critical if both of you use the same provider.

Some client-side environments like email clients may allow you to have different sets of account credentials tied to particular system user accounts. But some other clients like a few mobile-platform or entry-level desktop clients or most social-network clients won’t allow you to keep service login parameters peculiar to a system user account. Here, you may have to log out of your account at the end of each session. As well, some client-side email programs may maintain only one address book or contact list that is available to all users.

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking "Log Out" in Settings

Log out properly of Facebook by clicking “Log Out” in Settings

On the other hand, you may be able to preserve separate email or social-network accounts by using a separate client-side program for each login. This may limit your ability to use application-driven functionality like “share this via email”. On the other hand, you could always have a practice of each user logging in to the client with their credentials for the duration of their session.

Cloud-based online storage

Most “cloud-based” online storage services like Dropbox can support different logins for each user and you can tie these different logins to a particular device-based login for most regular-computing platforms like Windows. But you can’t have two different service logins associated with one computer login unless you use premium or “business” variants of their services.

But you can create a “household” folder in these services which is shared by all of you, simply by having one account-holder create a folder and invite the other account-holders to have full access rights to that folder. The only limitation with this is that if a friend or relative outside the household wants to share resources with all of the household, they have to invite each Dropbox account to the folder they want to share.

App Stores and gaming league tables

Some operating environments like the Apple MacOS and iOS environments implement a “family-share” option for software bought through their app stores so that you can share the same content that you have purchased across multiple accounts. These features place a limit on the number of accounts you can share with, typically a number you can count on one hand.

Otherwise each user has to purchase their own content through the storefronts and only be able to use it themselves.

Operating environments that have their own gaming-league or similar functionality will typically bind your identity in that league to your user ID that is part of that operating environment.

NAS units

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

NAS units like the WD MyCloud EX2 can work well in a “his-and-hers” computing environment

You can create individual storage accounts on your network-attached storage to allow each member of your household to store their data on their own space in the network-attached-storage unit. Here, you also use the “public” spaces on the NAS to store and share data that is of common interest but doesn’t have a perceived disclosure risk like your file-based AV collection or, if the data is confidential to you both, you could create a private share that you grant the other accounts access to.

The multiple account feature would tie in well with the remote-access or “cloud” features that an increasing number of NAS units like the WD MyCloud EX2 are equipped with. This will maintain the “private data pools” and allow the remote access to these resources.

Some of you may want to use two or three different NAS units connected to the network so you can keep individual units as personal data stores, which may be of importance if each of you run your own enterprise or you want to set up a NAS for the teenager or young adult about to leave the “family nest”.

What can you do to achieve “his-and-hers” computing

Some of you may decide to have a one or more smaller devices that you personally use, like iPads or work-home computers but you may then have to identify devices that you want to operate on a shared basis like larger tablets, laptops or desktops. Here, you can set these up with separate accounts so you can have a unique operation experience for each of you.

If you have equipment that runs Windows 8 or newer variants of that operating system, you could then set up personal Microsoft.com accounts for each of you and use these to log in to your equipment, personalising the operating environment as you see fit. As well, if you are using programs that don’t “switch users” as you change accounts or can’t “switch users” with a program, get in to the habit of logging out when you have finished.

When managing your contacts, you may have to copy your “common” contacts between each others’ contact lists on your email and other messaging clients and keep these up-to-date as each contact changes their details.

Conclusion

Once you know how to set up a “his-and-hers” computing environment, you can be sure that you have the ability to share devices yet know how to keep your working environments “as you like it”.

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Windows 8–How about apps that exploit both the Desktop and Modern UI?

After upgrading to Windows 8 on my main computer and utilising Windows 8 on review-sample laptop computers, I had a good chance to use the classic Desktop user interface along with the newer Modern user interface for a lot of computing needs.

Windows 8 Modern UI start screen

Windows 8 Modern UI has some benefits for some tasks

What I had found was that each of the “views” appealed to different tasks and working conditions. For example, I could use the Desktop View for applications that required detailed work and were more mouse / keyboard focused. This is although I had used the touchscreen with this interface for coarse navigation tasks like selecting functions on a toolbar or hyperlinks on a Webpage.

The Modern view, previously known as the Metro view, came in handy when I wanted a simpler user experience for the task like viewing a PDF or photograph. Even using Skype or Facebook with the Modern View gave that “dashboard” look which has everything at a glance, This worked well with the mouse on my main computer and with touchscreen setups on suitably-equipped laptops but was a bit of a pain when using just the trackpad on laptops that didn’t come with a touchscreen.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 has integrated Modern UI apps and Desktop apps into the Desktop user interface by allowing users to pin the Modern UI apps to the Desktop UI’s taskbar. This is augmented with the Modern UI apps also having a control strip that can be brought up to minimise or close these apps.

The current problem

Application with Desktop user interface

Skype with uncluttered Modern user interface

Skype with uncluttered Modern user interface

The current problem with the way applications are written for Windows 8 is that two different programs need to be delivered by different channels if you want to perform the same function on both interfaces. Firstly, I would have to install one application through the traditional paths for a regular computer i.e. install it from a CD or other removeable medium or download it from the developer’s site and install that download file. Then, if I want to have the “full” Modern user experience, I would have to visit the Windows Store to download a separate app that exploits that interface.

How could we improve on this?

One direction that Microsoft could offer for this is to allow developers to deliver a Desktop and Modern UI package as part of a single Windows 8.1 application install package. Here, the user just installs this one package as one action and finds both a Desktop-view application and Modern-view application for the same task on their machine.

This could come in the form of separate apps for each of the user experiences or a monolith app that presents in one way for the simplified Modern user interface and another way for the detailed Desktop user interface. This could also cater for a “live tile” option to show always-updating data. The user then has the choice of seeing a simplified user interface that works well with the touchscreen or mouse-based operation or a detailed user interface.

There also has to be the ability to be assured of data continuity between both the Desktop view and the Modern view, which is important for a lot of tasks. Some tasks like VoIP or working on a document can play a difficult hand if you switch between views whereas other “read-only” tasks which relate to a common data source can play properly with a user-interface switch.

The only problem about this ideal is having the ability for a user to determine the view they want to run because it is possible for a Desktop-view app launched from the (Modern-view) Start Screen. Similarly, from Windows 8.1 Update 1, it is possible to put a Modern-view Windows Store app on the Taskbar and launch it from there.

Conclusion

If Microsoft could provide a single-install single-update experience for those of us who run Windows 8 and newer operating systems, this could encourage software developers to work the Modern UI as a clean “dashboard” user experience while the regular Desktop view serves as a “detailed” user experience for those of us who want more control.

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Macintosh users–keeping your computer secure

Article

Apple users: Try these five tips for better Mac security | Naked Security

My Comments

Just lately, I have heard over the dinner table that a few Apple Macintosh computer users have been facing issues with malware and other software with questionable behaviour. Some of these attacks were mainly “overlay attacks” that worked with the user’s Web experience.

What previously used to happen was that Windows computers were the target for viruses, worms, Trojans and similar malware due to them having a stronger installed base compared to the Apple Macintosh platform. This caused some people to switch to the Apple Macintosh platform because of less malware threats occurring on that platform.

But even in 1989 when I was made aware of the virus issue, the awareness about viruses and similar malware was targeted across all personal-computing platforms that were in operation through that year i.e. the MS-DOS-based IBM PC, the Macintosh, the Commodore Amiga and the Apple II amongst others. At that time, there was awareness about keeping a “clean” system and keeping control over how you shared your files.

Similarly, we started to see the arrival of signature-driven anti-virus programs that could scan hard disks or removable “floppy disks” for viruses. Some of these initially scanned the boot sector but moved towards checking files for these viruses. They became a very important part of every computer user’s software toolkit as the virus activity increased. But through the 1990s as the Internet came on the scene, the malware activity was more focused on the MS-DOS / Windows platform with Apple Macintosh users not having as much of that activity. At that time, the MS-DOS / Windows platform was effectively the computing platform for most personal and business computing applications including gaming with the Macintosh being used by creative types due to its inherent prowess with multimedia.

This lead to a sense of complacency concerning secure computing for the Macintosh platform on both Apple’s and their users’ part. Microsoft took proper steps in updating and patching the Windows computing platform since 2001 with the arrival of Windows XP and hardening that platform with the arrival of Windows Vista and 7. Similarly, Windows users jumped over to the Macintosh platform for their home computing because they saw Windows as being slow and virus-ridden; and also due to the arrival of Apple’s iPod and iPhone products.

Lately, the Apple Macintosh has become the target for various malware campaigns including “write-once run-anyone” attacks based on Adobe Flash and Java software platforms. This is due to the increased new-found popularity that the Macintosh has acquired and, in another context, activities involving the Internet, networks or removeable media are still being seen as vectors where the Mac can share Windows-targeted malware.

Upgrade to Mavericks if you can

To stay secure, Apple Macintosh users need to upgrade to the 10.9.2 Mavericks version of MacOS X, with this version being equipped with various security improvements in a similar way to what Microsoft did with Windows 7. This can be done with newer Macintosh computers and for free with Macs running Lion or Mountain Lion versions.

Keep the operating system and software up-to-date

As well, as part of proper computer housekeeping, it is important to keep the Mac “lock-step” with the latest operating-system updates. Here, you can use the Apple-Menu / System Preferences / App Store option to have the Mac check for and download the updates from Apple by itself; or go to the Apple-Menu / Software Update menu to cause it to check for updates. The latter option can be of use with a MacBook that is used “on-the-road” and you are able to check in at a Wi-Fi hotspot or other Wi-Fi network.

Similarly, keep Adobe Flash and Oracle Java up-to-date by using options in the Apple-Menu / System Preferences menu to check for automatic or manual updating for these programs. If any other “write-once run-anywhere” software-development platforms show up on the Macintosh platform, treat these like you would with Adobe Flash – they can become a path for distributing malware that “hits across all platforms”.

This also applies to the application software and utilities you also run on your Mac and, here, you go to whatever software-option menu there is to check for software updates or cause automatic software updating to occur.

Don’t enable Java if you don’t need it.

As for Java which appeals as a “write once run anywhere” coding system, don’t enable it unless you are intending to run a known trusted program that uses this language or are developing Java software. OS X Mavericks comes with this deactivated by default but you can deactivate this in your Web-browser option menus.

Take advantage of full-disk encryption if you have confidential data

Another practice you could use for all computer platforms is to take advantage of full-disk encryption. Most operating systems provide this as a function that you can use with MacOS X providing it “across the board” for recent iterations in the form of FileVault. Similarly, a commercial or open-source third-party full-disk-encryption tool can do the job better than what the operating system provides.

These tools encrypt and decrypt on an “on-the-fly” basis and mainly protect the local volumes on the computer with some business-tier USB memory keys providing a similar full-disk encryption for their own volumes.

Use a good anti-malware or desktop security program for the Macintosh

Check for and use a good anti-malware program for the Mac platform like Kaspersky, Sophos, AVG or ClamXav . As well, keep the anti-malware program that you run on automatic update in order to keep them ahead of the malware game.

It is also worth noting that the good programs in this field can also keep the Macintosh from being a conduit for spreading Windows-based malware around the Windows platform. This is whether the files are passed through email, message-based file transfers, network-hosted / Internet-hosted file sharing points or removeable media.

Another sign of a good anti-malware program is the ability for it to scan your computer’s primary storage (RAM and paging files) to protect against malware that works on data being held in this space. This is because most data normially encrypted on a secondary storage or in transit is kept “in the clear” in the RAM and is vulnerable to RAM-scraping malware.

Keep stock of what is installed on your Mac

Another way malware gets on to computers is when you load software “in a hurry”. Typically what can happen with some freeware tools is that they can “push” browser extensions and toolbars or utilities of doubtful provenance on to a computer. This can lead to it underperforming or malware creeping in and taking over the system.

If you download from the Mac App Store or similar download locations, check for the app’s reputation by looking at comments, star-ratings and the like. This is something I have raised previously in relation to app stores for mobile-computing platforms along with the newer App stores that are opening up for regular computers and dedicated-purpose devices.

With your browsers and other applications, keep tabs on what plugins, extensions, toolbars and other add-on modules are running and if you notice something being awry about the module since you installed, don’t hesitate to remove it. A good article on this topic concerning uninstalling applications on the Mac is this one on MacRumors.com which highlights that dragging an application bundle to the Trash may not be the only method available.

Conclusion

The main issue here is that the Apple Macintosh is a computing platform vulnerable to malware and will become more so as it be becomes more popular as a mainstream computing platform. So you would need to continue with proper computer-housekeeping practices to keep your Mac from these threats.

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