Two Bits on Seven Gigs

Time to put in my two bits* on a technology story that’s been making the rounds. Sure, I’m late to the party, but I’m going to jump in anyway because it gives me a chance to exercise my contrarian side.

* Yes, I know the expression is “two cents worth”. I could claim it’s inflation, but the truth is, I like to think my opinion–however belated–is worth more than a couple of pennies. Either way, though, you’re getting it for free, so take it for what it’s worth to you.

Word on the street is that Microsoft is again tweaking the way Windows upgrades itself. This time it’s got nothing to do with forced reboots while you’re trying to get work done. Microsoft has noticed–and, gosh, it only took them three and a half years–that Windows 10 often runs out of disk space during upgrades.

There are all kinds of ways to avoid this problem. Making updates smaller springs to mind immediately. Upgrade files in use–a technique Linux has been using for years. Hardcore geeks will undoubtedly have other ideas.

Microsoft’s idea is to set aside a chunk of the hard drive for its own use. About seven gigabytes.

It has the advantage of simplicity.

To be fair, I’m making it sound worse than it is. On any reasonably sized drive, either 7GB is so small as to be unnoticeable or the drive is so full that sacrificing 7GB to the Deities of Richmond isn’t going to make any difference.

Where this will be a problem is on computers with small drives. Like, say, tablets, which often have no more than 32GB drives. (If the rumors are true that Google is going to allow Chromebooks to dual-boot Windows, the same will be true there.)

Much as I love my Windows tablet, space is tight. As I said in that original post, once the initial Windows updates were installed, it was down to a mere 1.5GB. After two years of use, installing just a few programs, and putting as much data on an SD card as I can, I usually have around 5GB free. If Windows sets aside 7GB for its own use, I’m going to be in negative numbers.

It may not be quite that bad, actually. Supposedly, certain temporary files will be stored in that reserved area, freeing up space elsewhere. But while zero is better than negative, it’s an awfully slim margin.

On the other hand, I have gotten rather tired of the semi-annual reclamation of disk space.

Bottom line–and this is where the contrarian bit comes in–I think this news is completely irrelevant to ninety percent of Windows 10 users.

If your hard drive is 256GB or larger, ignore the fuss. You’ll never notice those seven gigabytes.

Same goes for those of you with 128GB, unless you’re in the habit of carrying around your entire library of cat videos. If you’re in that group, embrace the cloud. Put the videos in OneDrive or Dropbox and enjoy the digital elbow room.

If you’ve only got 64GB, you’re in an odd spot. Space is likely to be tight enough that seven gigabytes will hurt, but you’ve probably got enough accumulated junk that you can free up that much space after Microsoft claims its share, and be right back where you are now. Cloud storage will definitely be your friend.

Case in point: my Windows laptop is currently using 57GB. That’s a bit tight, but quite usable. But I’d better clear out some deadwood before the spring Windows update. I note that I’ve got about eight gigabytes of photos and videos on there–a few Ragtime Festival movies and pretty much every picture of the cats I’ve ever taken. Maybe I’ll move those out to OneDrive.

As for those of us with itty-bitty teeny-weenie 32GB drives. Find that space is going to hurt. But on the bright side, once it’s done, we shouldn’t have to do it again. No more trying to scrounge those last few megabytes every six months. No more installing updates manually from USB drives and hoping the tablet’s battery doesn’t run down halfway through the upgrade. I’m inclined to think that right there is worth the initial pain.

So, yeah. Thank you, Microsoft, for trying to solve the problem. You may not have the most elegant solution possible, but if it works, don’t listen to the hip crowd. Take my seven gigs. Please!

Falling Into an Update

I decided to try something different this time around.

Microsoft released the Fall Creators Update, the latest and greatest version of Windows 10, a few days ago. You probably haven’t gotten it yet, because they roll it out in batches.

The first batch goes to computers they’re absolutely sure it’ll install cleanly on. After that, they start pushing it out to machines they’re progressively less confident about. It’s a reasonable approach. When problems arise, as they inevitably will, they can include the fixes with the next batch.

But it means some users may have to wait a long time for the update, as I found out with the previous update. Counting the little Windows tablet, I’ve got three computers running Windows 10. I upgraded the tablet manually in April when the “Creators Update” was released–I had to do it by hand because it doesn’t have enough disk space to install it automatically. One of the desktops got the update in July. The other didn’t get it until September.

It’s not that having two different versions of Windows 10 running caused me any technical problems. Frankly, the two versions behaved a heck of a lot alike. But it tweaked that part of my brain that gets compulsive about numbers.

So I decided that for the Fall Creators Update, I’d do all three machines manually. Not simultaneously. I’m not that compulsive. But in sequence.

I don’t actually need any of the features in this update. I’m curious about Microsoft’s Augmented Reality implementation, but I don’t think any of my machines have enough muscle to actually run AR software. Goddess knows I haven’t been looking forward to the ability to pin a contact to the task bar. So really, I could have waited until one got the update and then done the other two, but I got impatient.

As I write this, Computer One is running the upgrade. It’s been going for about half an hour and it says it’s 80% complete. Of course, this is a Microsoft progress indicator, and they’re well-known for making optimistic estimates. But in any case, I’ll wait until Computer One finishes the update before I start Computer Two. And I’ll make sure that one is done and functional before I start the tablet.

Barring the unexpected–and with an OS upgrade, one should always expect the Spanish Inquisitionunexpected–I should be running the Fall Creators Update on all three computers before bedtime tonight.

And come February, when the rest of you are finally getting the update, I’ll just laugh, because I’ll have been not using the ability to pin contacts to the task bar for months.

Seriously, though, if you can’t wait to dip a toe into the Fall Creators Update, the Windows 10 Download page is here. Click “Update Now” and follow the prompts. Eventually–I’m now up to 86% on Computer One–you can experience the thrill of being on the cutting edge of Microsoft technology.

(You do realize I wrote this whole post as an excuse to watch that Monty Python clip, right?)

New Toy

Will anyone out there be surprised to hear that I have a new gadget? I didn’t think so.

What you might not have expected is that it’s not an Android or iOS device; it’s a Windows tablet. Not a Surface. Microsoft is positioning those as more of a laptop with a detached keyboard, or at most, a two-in-one.

This is an honest-to-gosh tablet running Windows 10. To be precise, it’s a “NuVision TM800W610L*”.

* Quite a mouthful, that, and a real loser when it comes to advertising. Who’s going to walk into a store and say “Lemme see one a them TM800W610L tablet thingies”? It’s not much fun to type, either. For the sake of my fingers, I’ll call it “Tim”.

When they’re available–and it’s currently not in stock at the Microsoft Store–they normally sell for $149, but shortly before Christmas, Microsoft dropped that to $59. At that price, I couldn’t resist the chance to see what the Windows tablet experience is like.

To be blunt, the reviews of the first generation of Windows tablets were lousy. The hardware was generally underpowered and they were further crippled by being saddled with Windows 8. But Tim’s specs are more or less in line with low-end computers, and Windows 10 is much more usable than Windows 8.

Tim did not have the Windows 10 Anniversary edition installed when he arrived. So the first order of business after connecting him to the Wi-Fi was to wait through several Windows updates. That was the first stumbling point: Tim’s hard drive is only 32GB. By the time all of the updates were installed, he was down to a mere 1.5GB of free space. If you didn’t know, when major Windows updates are installed, the old version is kept around in case there are problems and you need to revert. Windows noticed the lack of space and helpfully suggested deleting the backup. I gave it the go-ahead, and wound up with a much more usable 10GB of free space.

Of course, after installing some software–Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, Firefox, a couple of games, an ebook reader,…–I’m back down to about 7GB. It’s tight. I picked up an SD card for my data files, and that smoothed out the experience significantly.

By default, Tim will run in Windows 10’s “Tablet Mode”. That means you get the Start Screen instead of the traditional desktop/start menu interface, and all programs will be forced to run maximized. It’s a sensible approach, mirroring the iOS and Android “one app at a time” UI, but there’s a bit of a catch.

I’m going to have to digress a little here.

It’s a truism bordering on clich√© (and I won’t address which side of the border it’s on) that the current generation of phones and tablets have as much computing power as a desktop computer from [insert date here, chosen to make your rhetorical point]. But part of the reason so many people feel compelled to make that point over and over is that because the portable gadgets use different UIs than desktops, we don’t really feel how powerful they are.

Holding Tim–0.6 pounds of computer–and seeing that familiar Windows interface on an eight inch screen, without a keyboard or mouse around, the truth hits you like a crowbar to the kneecaps. “This is a computer. Not a toy, not a single-purpose gadget, but a full-fledged computer.”

Which brings us back to that catch: it’s a computer. Running Windows. On an Intel CPU. That means you can install any of the zillions of Windows programs that have been written since, oh, 1995 or so. To some extent, that’s a good thing. The Windows App Store has a very limited selection of software compared to the Apple and Google stores. But the downside is that not all programs written before “programs” became “apps” play nicely with Tablet Mode.

Some don’t like running full-screen, and you wind up with a tiny window floating in the middle of a vast expanse of blank pixels. Some don’t recognize when they’re in the background and constantly demand attention with pop-ups.

The problem is compounded by NuVision’s decision to design the tablet with portrait mode in mind. Note the pictures in the link at the top of the post–they’re all vertically-oriented. The cameras are on one of the short edges. And the controls are on one of the long edges, where they’re most convenient when holding Tim with the cameras at the top.

Programs written with desktop–or laptop–computers in mind are designed on the assumption that the screen will be wider than it is tall. Maximizing them in portrait mode can make for an unusably skinny interface, with menus half-hidden behind “More” buttons and dialog boxes too wide to fit on the screen.

There’s also the matter of scaling.

NuVision has equipped Tim with an excellent 1200×1920 pixel screen. Squeezed into eight inches, that makes for very tiny pixels, which in turn makes for nigh-microscopic text and controls.

Microsoft’s solution–and, to be fair, it’s the same solution everyone else uses–is to combine multiple pixels into one, thus zooming in on the display. That makes text readable and buttons tappable, but it comes at the price of lowering the effective resolution.

By default, Tim comes set to display UI elements at 200%. That’s great for visibility, but in portrait mode it means the screen is effectively only 600 pixels wide. When was the last time you visited a website that was usable on a 600 pixel screen? No, mobile-optimized sites don’t count. Servers see Tim as a desktop computer and serve up the desktop site, not the mobile version. Nor is the problem limited to the web. Even the oldest of Windows programs assume a screen width of at least 640 pixels. Remember the days when a VGA 640×480 screen was awesome? I do–but it ain’t so spectacular nowadays.

Dial back the magnification to 150%. That makes the functional width 900 pixels, which is much more usable, but still large enough to read. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

That’s a lot of negatives.

But honestly, now that I’ve used Tim for a month and gotten used to his quirks, I like him much more than I expected I would. I’ve been using him as my fulltime ebook reader, and it’s a pleasure to be able to open a book in an ebook editor and fix a broken tag that turns three paragraphs into italics.

I love being able to carry my current project along in my pocket, open it in the same program I’m using at home–not a web app, not a stripped down “mobile version,” but the very same software–and make changes while I wait. Sure, I could almost do that with a laptop, but none of my jackets have a pocket large enough for my laptop.

I wouldn’t want to write a novel on Tim, or even a short story. But the onscreen keyboard is good enough for adding a paragraph when I’ve got ten minutes, and with an external keyboard, I probably could manage a whole chapter in an emergency.

I’m not going to recommend everyone get a Windows tablet instead of an iPad or Samsung/Nexus/Whoever Android tablet. The current state of the art makes it a niche choice. But it’s a damn sight better than it used to be, and that niche is getting larger.

Brace Yourselves

A couple of times a year, I sneer at the new hardware and software announcements coming out of Apple and Google. Microsoft may not be on the same regular announcement schedule, but that shouldn’t exempt them from scorn. I’m an equal-opportunity sneerer, so, without further ado, here’s my take on yesterday’s announcements.

To nobody’s surprise, the Surface Book is getting an upgrade. Faster CPU, faster graphics, larger battery. All the usual tweaks when a device gets an upgrade. Oh, and a price upgrade as well: $2399. If I paid that much for a laptop or two-in-one, I’d be afraid to take it out of the house. But maybe that’s just me.

Then there’s the Surface Studio. That’s Microsoft’s first attempt at an all-in-one computer. It’s aimed squarely at graphics professionals: the 4500×3000 pixel, 28-inch touchscreen is large enough to do 4K video editing with both the video display and the editor interface on the same screen. Imagine what you could do in Photoshop with that much uninterrupted screen real estate. And, I’ll admit, the sheer flexibility of the monitor stand is astounding.

For what you get, the $2999 price tag on the low-end model seems almost reasonable, but if you want the full-blown, top-of-the-line experience, be prepared to come up with $4199. At that price, you might want to consider picking up the Surface Book i7 instead and pairing it with a third-party external monitor. You could probably manage three-quarters as much performance for half the price.

Given its target market, it’s not surprising that the Surface Studio comes with a Studio Stylus. But it doesn’t come with the new Surface Hockey PuckDial. I blame Apple for this Microsoft innovation. The gang from Cupertino made such a big deal about the interface on the Apple Watch, with all that crown twisting, that Microsoft felt compelled to bring a twist interface to the desktop. Because who wouldn’t want to replace that horrible Alt-Tab combination to switch among running apps with a simple twist of the wrist? How about scrolling pages, changing volume, or undoing commands without touching your mouse? It’s cute; I’ll grant them that much. But I’m not seeing the usability gain here. How is moving your hands from keyboard to puck any better than moving them from keyboard to mouse or keyboard to stylus? Artistically-inclined folks, your thoughts?

Finally, there’s the upcoming “Creator’s Update” to Windows 10. This is the Spring successor to this past July’s “Anniversary Update” and the big enhancements are in exactly the areas you would expect: 3D, VR, and people.

Wait, what?

The 3D and VR enhancements are completely understandable. Apple and Google are putting heavy emphasis on them, so Microsoft has to keep up. But people? According to Microsoft, the idea is to make sharing and communicating more central. For example, they’re working from the idea that when you see something neat, you don’t think, “Hey, I should share that with Lisa.” In reality, they say you think “Hey, Lisa would love that. I should send it to her.”

So, Lisa is going to get her own space on your taskbar. Well, Lisa and all of your other “important contacts.” The idea is that you’ll drag the document you want to share to the contact, instead of finding a “share” link in your program and then hunting through that program’s address list to find the person you want.

Interesting idea, but the implementation seems fraught with peril. I suspect that Cortana is going to decide which of your contacts are important; Microsoft’s track record suggests that overruling her may not be simple. Be prepared to argue with her over whether the prime real estate should go to “Mom,” “Boss,” or “Sweetie”.

Oh, and there’s also going to be a new popup window to show all of the messages from a contact in one place. Any bets on whether this will make it easier to uninstall Skype? I didn’t think so. Hopefully this will be a “right-click and select” popup, not a “move the mouse over” popup. Do you really want every e-mail, text message, and phone call you’ve had with Mom appearing onscreen while you’re making a presentation to the rest of your team?

Creator’s Update builds will start showing up in the beta channels this week. Brace yourselves.

Painfully Obvious

Apparently, Intel has decided that the best way to sell computers with their latest processors is to insult the intelligence of potential buyers.

Consider the pair of ads they’ve been running in heavy rotation recently. The first focuses on the wonders of facial recognition for security.

Let’s consider that for a moment. Leave aside the fact that facial recognition doesn’t require a sixth-generation Core processor and all the Intel trimmings–my old Android phone could do it just as well. Ignore the fact that facial recognition can and has been defeated with photographs or short videos played on a cell phone. Forget the fact that the amount of security provided by any single authentication feature is limited.

Even without considering all of those facts, how in Hell would locking his laptop with his face–or anything else–help the guy in the commercial? He doesn’t keep his money on his laptop*! He keeps it in the bank, like any sensible human being. The chances that someone cracked his laptop to steal his life’s savings are somewhere between slim and none. More likely, his bank’s been breached by a cracker in Asia who’s made off with millions.

The poor schlub being castigated in the commercial is probably delivering cash to the bank so it can cover the expected demand for account closures when word of the breach gets around.

* Well, OK, maybe he’s heavily into Bitcoin. But if he’s that heavily invested in digital currency, he’s not keeping his wallet on his laptop; he’s got it on the machine at home that’s busy mining currency 24/7.

Then there’s the second ad. This one talks up how fast and light the new computers with the latest Intel processors are. “Well, if it’s so old, why are you chasing it?” the spokesperson asks the poor, befuddled woman who just left her old computer in a cab.

Well, maybe it’s got something to do with the years of data she’s got stored on its hard drive. If she’s lucky and smart, most of it’s backed up somewhere, but chances are, there’s something on there that isn’t backed up. Maybe the latest changes to the presentation she’s about give? Or maybe the steamy photos her sweetie just e-mailed her. Why should she care if some random stranger opens her laptop and sees those*?

* Don’t forget: in Intel’s universe, if the computer is that old, it can’t be securely protected, because it won’t do facial recognition!

Again, leaving all of that aside, what good would it do her to have a new, fast, light laptop? She’s still going to be chasing the damn cab trying to get it back when she leaves it on the seat.

Come on, Intel, assume we have a modicum of intelligence, and spend those advertising dollars telling us what your CPUs can do better than anyone else’s.

Moving on.

A brief Windows 10 Anniversary Edition note: There are reports from the first people to install the new Windows 10 that it’s not playing nicely on computers that dual-boot Windows and Linux. Details are inconsistent; some users are saying that their Linux partitions have been deleted; others report that the partitions are present, but inaccessible; still others say that Windows detects the partitions as unformatted and asks permission to format them.

Naturally, users are screaming about Microsoft’s insidious plan to force a “Windows-only” world on us.

Let’s be honest: Windows has never played well in a dual-boot scenario, especially when it comes to upgrades. I strongly doubt that Microsoft is intentionally wiping out Linux installations. For one thing, if they were, every dual-boot system would be affected, and we’d have a lot more information about what’s going on by now.

The smart money says it’s a bug–and given the incredible variety of hardware configurations Microsoft supports, it’s not even a “Who QAed This Shit?” bug. High-severity, yes. Hopefully a high priority for a fix, as well. But I think it’s a mistake to ascribe it to malice or a plan for world domination.

That said, if you do dual-boot, I’d recommend postponing the upgrade as long as possible. Let someone else risk their setup until more details emerge.

If you don’t dual-boot, the upgrade to the Anniversary Edition shouldn’t be any riskier than any other Windows upgrade. The most likely outcome is a successful install, possibly combined with some changes to your desktop (i.e. if you’ve turned Cortana off, the upgrade may turn her back on.)

For what it’s worth, my Windows-only laptop is installing the upgrade now. But my desktop machine, which is dual-boot, will stay in Linux for at least a couple of weeks–if I don’t go into Windows, I won’t get Anniversary Edition.

Word Outta Redmond

Multiple sources are reporting that Microsoft has released a pricetag for upgrading to Windows 10 when the current free upgrade offer expires at the end of July.

The cost? A mere $119.

Color me skeptical.

Not that I doubt that will be the official price. But consider that, as Ars notes, there are currently three times as many Windows 7 systems out there than Windows 10. Does anybody really believe that Microsoft sincerely thinks users who haven’t upgraded at no cost will pay for the privilege?

And remember, it’s greatly to Microsoft’s benefit to convince everybody to upgrade. Not only are there the cost savings for them in reducing their support burden for older OSes, but there’s also a significant income opportunity for them in monetizing the user information they get from Cortana and the OS in general.

So I suspect that Microsoft will find continuing opportunities to reduce or eliminate the upgrade fee after July 29th. For example, “To celebrate the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update on July 30th, we’re offering a free upgrade to users of Windows 7 and Windows 8!”

OK, I’m not an advertising copywriter. But I’m sure Microsoft has several of them on staff, fully capable of making the same thing Microsoft has been doing for a year sound fresh and exciting.

Am I changing my recommendation to those of you still running 7 and 8 that you should upgrade before the end of July? No. Microsoft has fooled the experts in the past, and it could happen again. And, realistically, the user experience in Windows 10 is miles ahead of 8. It’s more of a wash compared with Windows 7, but even there once you get to the top of the learning curve, it’s no worse.

And there’s one other thing to consider: If you upgrade to 10 and decide you absolutely can’t stand it, you can still downgrade back to your previous operating system. But that does not invalidate the Windows 10 license you got when you upgraded. So you would still have the option of waiting a year or two, seeing where Microsoft goes with Windows 10, and then re-upgrading when support for 7 and 8 runs out.

One final note. I mentioned the monetization of user data earlier. It’s true that Windows 10 collects a lot of information about what you’re doing. It’s also true that you can’t turn it all off. But you can take a few steps to minimize it.

Number One is Cortana. If you’re trying to cut down on how much Microsoft knows about you, don’t use Cortana. Turn her off.

And while you’re at it, turn off a few other things:
Open the Privacy Settings dialog (the easiest way to find it is to type “privacy” in the search field at the left end of the task bar). Work your way down the left menu and turn off everything you can live without. Everything on the “General” screen–although if you use Microsoft’s Edge browser, you should probably leave the “SmartScreen Filter” on.

Turn off Location, turn off the camera or strictly limit the apps that are allowed to use it, and ditto for the microphone.

“Speech, inking, & typing” is, by and large, Cortana.

Strictly limit the apps that have access to your Account Info, Contacts, Calendar, Call history, Email, and Messaging. Radios and “Other devices” should be under tight control too.

Feedback & diagnostics is an interesting one. You can set Feedback frequency to “Never” to prevent Microsoft from occasionally asking you questions about your “Windows experience”. But you can’t turn off Diagnostic and usage data. If a program crashes, Microsoft will be told about it, and they will collect at least some information about what applications you’re using. The best you can do is select “Basic” to minimize what they get.

Don’t forget to review which apps have permission to run in the background. You probably want the calendar running in the background, but do you really want Edge running, downloading whatever Microsoft thinks you might want to see–or more importantly, whatever Microsoft wants you to see?

And one last thing to check: The privacy implications are somewhat limited, but it’s especially important for those of you who have slow network connections or are charged by the amount you use your connection.

Go to the Windows Update settings, click “Advanced options” and then “Choose how updates are delivered”. Turn OFF “Updates from more than one place”. Yes, that’s right. Microsoft is using every Windows 10 computer that leaves the default settings in place as part of the Windows Update delivery system. How charming.

I’ve heard that it works like bittorrent software, in that there’s no central registry of which computers have what updates available, but even so, do you really want your computer advertising that it hasn’t yet installed the latest security fixes?

Windows 10+

Very interesting.

Microsoft’s annual developer’s conference is going on now. There weren’t any astonishing announcements on the scale of last year’s revelation of HoloLens, or even at the level of “free upgrade to Windows 10” announcement*.

* Nor has there been any word about what happens when that free upgrade period runs out at the end of July.

But what they did announce is rather interesting. Not the AI tools and the ongoing announcements of new cloud functions. Developers may go ga-ga over some of that. Consumers will be more interested in the announcement of “Windows 10 Anniversary Update” (which I’ll refer to as “AU” for the rest of this piece).

AU, which will be released “this summer,” will tie Cortana more deeply into the infrastructure, allowing the OS to link applications together–the example demoed was writing a note “Call Mom tomorrow” and having Cortana automatically create a calendar reminder, complete with Mom’s phone number. The functionality will be exposed to third-party developers. If non-Microsoft programs pick up on that–and I suspect they will, and quickly–that just might be useful enough for me to turn Cortana on.

Biometric authentication will also take a big step forward in AU, according to Microsoft. “Windows Hello” isn’t just fingerprint scanners. It will also include other technologies, including facial recognition: sit down at your computer and it’ll use your webcam to recognize your face and unlock itself. Android has had that capability for a while, but it’s still rough around the edges. Hopefully more powerful desktop machines will do a better job of reliably recognizing users than phones do. In any case, AU will not only implement Hello for unlocking the computer, but will also let third-party software use the same technology for other logins: programs, networks, and websites.

Then there’s the third major enhancement for consumers. AU will include what could be called a Linux accessibility layer. For those of you who speak Linux, Windows will introduce the bash shell as an alternative to the aging “DOS” command prompt and the (IMNSHO) over-complicated PowerShell. As you might guess, this is controversial in the Linux community. Accusations of selling out are flying.

This isn’t totally new territory, of course. Tools for running Linux software on Windows have been around for years–Cygwin is arguably the best known, and it dates back to the mid nineties. For that matter, Microsoft has supplied tools to integrate Windows and UNIX systems since the days of NT.

What’s new here is that it’s (a) from Microsoft, (b) written with the help of Canonical (makers of Ubuntu Linux), and (c) doesn’t have the hassles of previous solutions: no recompiling applications, running a full-on virtual machine, or being limited to a tiny subset of available software. If we can believe the early reports, most command line Linux software will run unmodified–just download and go, and GUI software should theoretically* be almost as solid.

* The difference between theory and practice is, of course, that in theory there isn’t a difference…

As I said, there’s a lot of sniping, snapping, and snarling going on in the Linux community right now. Personally, I’m on the side that considers this move a definite positive. At least three-quarters of the Windows-using public will never notice the “Windows Subsystem for Linux”. But those of us who live on the command line should be cheering. No more “bad command or filename” when we absentmindedly type “rm” instead of “del”. And I’ll take vim over Notepad any day. (Maybe that’s just me.)

One final thought: AU is due out “this summer” and the free upgrade offer expires July 29. Here’s my bold, fearless prediction: AU will come out in mid-July, and on August 1, the nag messages upgrade to Windows 10 will stop. Instead, Windows Update will simply go ahead and install AU on every system capable of running it. You heard it here first.

As Predicted

Ha! Nailed it!

Pardon my excitement, but I’m not used to seeing my predictions come true so quickly. Last week I suggested that Microsoft would “encourage” diehard Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10 by making the upgrade tool a “Recommended” update in Windows Update. And now several reputable technology sites, including ArsTechnica, are reporting that Microsoft will do exactly that.

If you haven’t already upgraded, you’ll see Windows 10 showing up as an “Optional” update soon, and early next year, it will switch to “Recommended” status. Users who let Windows install updates automatically (the default for non-business users) will see the installer prompting them to carry out the upgrade once the flag is flipped to recommended.

Note that you will be prompted–it won’t be a silent install that suddenly drops you into Windows 10–and you can hide the update in Windows Update to prevent it from being installed, but that could certainly change, especially after the “Upgrade free until July” period.

Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 hard. After October 31, 2016, you won’t be able to buy a new computer with an older version of Windows pre-installed. Windows 7 will still get security updates into January of 2020, but which bugs get fixed is completely at Microsoft’s discretion. As we saw with XP, the number of security flaws deemed not worth fixing grows rapidly as the end of support approaches.


Not all of my predictions come true. After last year’s correct call of the Giants over the Royals in seven games, I had high hopes for the Mets this year.

Unfortunately, the Royals had other ideas. Not only did they stomp the Mets into submission, they didn’t even take the full seven games. A true shame.

New York had good, solid pitching, but as I’ve said before, pure defense will only get you so far. You still need to score runs to win. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but to a significant extent the Mets relied on Yoenis Cespedes to spark their offense for much of the second half of the regular season. When he went cold in the playoffs, Daniel Murphy took over the ignition duties, but nobody (ahem) stepped up to the plate in the World Series after Murphy’s home run streak ended.

Full credit here to KC: they just plain outplayed the Mets–and everyone else they faced in the playoffs–to earn the title. But it’s still disappointing that we only got a five game Series.

Ah well. Back to cooking contests on Food Network to keep me entertained.

Only 108 days until the start of Spring Training.

What Next?

Don’t mind me. I’m feeling the need to indulge my paranoid side today. No, this isn’t going to be about tinfoil hats to prevent the NSA from reading my next novel (or, for that matter, any of the previous ones) before it’s published. It’s about Microsoft’s free Windows 10 upgrade offer.

The offer, for anyone who’s been asleep for the past ten months, is a free upgrade from Windows Vista, 7, 8, or 8.1 to 10. The odd gotcha is that the offer will expire one year after Windows 10 was released, i.e. the end of July 2016. So what happens then?

Presumably, Microsoft figures that everyone who’s going to take advantage of FREE will have done so by August, even the people who take pride in being “late adopters” (the “let someone else find the bugs” crowd).

In January, I suggested that Microsoft might up the ante and try paying users of older operating systems to upgrade, but in reality, that’s unlikely to happen. It would be expensive–for any reasonable incentive amount, the cost of managing the program would probably exceed the total amount of the payouts–and most likely wouldn’t pick up more than a small percentage of the holdouts.

Slight digression: Electronic break-ins are becoming more and more visible. It seems reasonable to assume that large retailers would prefer to shift the liability for credit card thefts to the card services. They, naturally, don’t want to be liable either. I can easily see Visa, Mastercard, and Amex mounting a push to establish software liability, letting them shift costs to vendors who supply software exploited to facilitate break-ins.

At the same time, the argument between personal privacy and law enforcement access is getting louder. My gut says that we’re going to see a period of time where the public by and large becomes increasingly intolerant of security failures.

XP–which, you’ll note, is not covered by the upgrade offer–is no longer supported by Microsoft, and Vista and Seven will become unsupported over the next couple of years. That means no security fixes.

In an environment in which Microsoft could be held liable for break-in that exploits an OS bug (and let’s not forget that huge numbers of ATMs run XP), what’s their best strategy for dealing with old operating systems? Get rid of them.

The Windows 10 upgrade is being delivered through Windows Update, even to computers that haven’t requested it–Microsoft says it’s so the software will be available if users decide to upgrade in the future. It’s flagged as “optional,” which means it won’t be installed automatically, but that can be changed easily enough. In fact, earlier this month it was being pushed by default. It could have been an error as Microsoft says–in fact it probably was–but even if it was, it still serves as a proof of concept.

There are several opportunities to cancel the installation if it starts accidentally, but Microsoft could easily release a new version of the installer that doesn’t have an obvious “Don’t Do It!” button.

Or, if they were really sneaky, they could dispense with the installer completely. What if they included a few Windows 10 files with each update to the earlier OSes and stashed them somewhere on the hard drive? When the switchover date arrives, they could push out a “security update” that updates the bootloader to point to that hidden folder, and presto! After the next reboot, you’re running Windows 10. Granted, I’m oversimplifying the process–among other concerns, some provision would need to be made for machines too old to run Windows 10–but it could be done more or less like this.

Think Microsoft wouldn’t force customers to a new version of Windows? Keep in mind that they’re explicitly billing Windows 10 as “the last version of Windows“. From that perspective, it’s not too big a stretch to consider it the only version, in which case, pushing customers from Vista to 10 isn’t really a version upgrade, it’s just an update, no different from any of the service pack updates Microsoft has pushed out in the past.

So, am I paranoid?

Are You Sure…?

Tomorrow is, as we’ve been told over and over by the tech press, release day for Windows 10, and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to discovering our Windows 7 and 8 machines have been upgraded.

No, of course we’re not. I think we’d all be rather peeved to learn that our OS was changed without being given the opportunity to say “No, wait! I’m not ready!” And Microsoft is smart enough to recognize that. The upgrade will be pushed out to computers that have requested it, but it won’t be installed until the users give the OK.

Good thinking, Microsoft. But apparently there’s a bit of a left hand/right hand disconnect in Redmond.

Y’see, once we install that upgrade, we* lose the ability to control future updates. Since at least XP, Microsoft has allowed users to choose which updates to install and when to install them. It hasn’t always been easy to find the “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them” selection, but it’s been there. Apparently it won’t be there in Windows 10.

* In this context “we” are anybody who has an individual Windows license. The rules will be slightly different for business customers. But if you bought Windows directly from Microsoft–including getting the free upgrade–or had it pre-installed on your new computer, you’re part of the “we” even if you get Windows 10 Professional**.

** Win Pro users will be able to turn off automatic updating and defer updates indefinitely, but if they haven’t installed all updates, they don’t get support from Microsoft. Got a glitch that forces you to call Microsoft to reactivate Windows? Better hope you’ve installed all updates.

In some respects, this is a GoodThing. Quickly getting security updates onto millions of machines is, on the whole, a desirable thing. There’s an obvious analogy here to requiring kids to be vaccinated before they can attend school. (The computing equivalent of children who shouldn’t be vaccinated would be those “high-availability” corporate servers and the like, where the owners have to be able to control exactly what and when updates are installed.)

But Microsoft won’t just be installing security updates. Windows Update will also deliver driver updates. I’ve had a few network cards disabled by an updated driver delivered by Windows Update. I don’t anticipate Windows 10 will be totally free of bad drivers and driver conflicts. Though I suppose if Windows Update kills my network, I don’t need to worry about getting any further updates.

And don’t forget that Windows 10 will get significant feature updates, totally new functionality, delivered via Windows Update too. Fortunately, Microsoft never has bugs in new features, right? OK, maybe that’s a tiny bit optimistic.

Bottom line, being able to control updates meant we could hold off installing them for a few days to check early reports of problems and even opt-out of troublesome updates.

Delaying updates will still be possible, at least for a “limited” amount of time–although there’s no word on how long “limited” is. (Hours? Days?) And Paul Thurrott points out that one of the first updates Microsoft will be pushing out is a functional update to allow users to “hide” updates so they won’t be installed. So it seems Microsoft is backing away from a fully automatic update process–but Thurrott’s screenshots of the “hide” UI shows that Microsoft doesn’t intend you to permanently hide any updates. The exact text is “…if an update isn’t working you can temporarily hide it.” Hopefully by the time “temporarily” expires, it’ll be working.

If not, well, maybe you can roll it back. Thurrott also points out that you can use System Restore to restore your OS to the state it was in before the update was installed. Of course, first you have to turn on System Restore, since Microsoft decided to disable it by default. But you can turn it on (at least for now), roll back any updates you don’t like, and hide them so they won’t be reinstalled. Kinda like playing Whac-A-Mole with your computer.

One final thought: significant updates are still going to require a reboot. One of the things that I loathed about my PS3 was that it frequently required me to install an OS update–with reboot–before I could play any game, and then when I put the game disc in, it would make me wait while it downloaded patches for the game. I often had to wait half an hour or more before I could start playing a game. If Windows 10 forces me to install an update and reboot without giving me the opportunity to defer the reboot until I’m ready without constantly nagging me to reboot, I’ll be reverting to my Windows 7 and 8 backups.

You were going to do a full backup before you installed Windows 10, right?