This week I had intended to follow up with part 2 of my exploration of how to make your computer adjust better to your needs. However, as they say in the news media: We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for this important announcement:
IF YOU RECEIVE THE ABOVE MESSAGE UNSOLICATED FROM SOMEONE CLAIMING TO BE FROM MICROSOFT
HANG UP THE PHONE.
Seriously, hang up! They will be persistent and patient. They have been doing this for years. You will need to steel your nerves, abandon your usual phone etiquette and hang up without comment.
They were talking to my client a week ago when I showed up for our regular appointment. Relieved, she said to the caller, “You can explain all this to my computer specialist.” They hung up the phone before I said “hello.”
The Sordid Truth
Have you guessed by now? She wasn’t called by anyone from Microsoft. That is because Microsoft never calls people out of blue to tell them they have an infected system.
It is and has been a scam going around since at least 2009. Microsoft does not send unsolicited emails either. What confused my client especially was this email:
From: Microsoft Corporation
Sent: Fri, Feb 14, 2014
Subject: Microsoft Corporation
This is to let you know that your computer has been sending us some error notifications as its been filled with a lot of junk programs which are malfunctioning with your computer from DELL and it may crash your system at any point of time.
Hence, you got a call from one of our representative.
I haven’t seen this wrinkle before. Normally these kinds of calls are more random. However this email is not from an official Microsoft support email address, contains grammatical errors and assumes that Microsoft’s error collection service (Windows Error Reporting) collects information that can be used to identify individual users.
How the Scam Works
The method is consistent. You are informed that Microsoft has received information that your system is infested with viruses or problematic software and the caller, identified as a support person from the Windows Technical Department Support Group / Microsoft Support / Windows Service Center or other appropriate-sounding name has been asked to help you.
Their actual goal is to collect more information from you, either by having you download remote access software so they can get into your computer or by having you share account or credit card information that they can use. If you stay on the phone with them but appear resistant, they will claim that “unless something is done soon, your computer will crash.”
Depending on the caller, they can become quite argumentative. During one of my calls, (I have had three), I explained that I used to work for Microsoft and knew they were a scam … and they still argued. As long as they have you on the phone, logic must be that you can be worn into submission.
We must getting a lot of these calls right now because A.G. Schneiderman, New York’s Attorney General, issued an consumer alert earlier in the week warning New Yorkers about the scam.
Second, know your computer and its current health so you won’t be vulnerable to this scam. Besides your regular anti-virus software, run a second malware scanner monthly or quarterly that uses a different engine and virus database to get a second opinion. Malwarebyes Free Edition, Kaspersky Security Scan and Trend Micro’s HouseCall are excellent free scanners for this purpose.
Third, spread the word about this problem to your friends and family. The chances of someone you know having this experience is high. Besides my client, two other immediate members of my family have had these calls.
Explain that if the scammer has gained access to the system, they should uninstall any remote software on the system added, run complete malware scans (See Step Two), and change any system passwords as well as passwords to financial or critical websites to avoid potential identity theft (more information). They can also file complaints with the FTC, and your state attorney general (WA state).
Fourth … when your turn comes and the “Microsoft” tech person calls for you … hang up!
The tension is obvious. Head and neck pitched forward; shoulders hunched; brow furrowed, eyes squinting … all supporting the virtual manipulation of objects on a computer screen. I see it all the time, not just in client’s offices and home, but at internet-enabled cafes and in other public spaces. We work very hard to create, modify, read, and navigate our computers and mobile devices.
As a result, we develop CVS (Computer Vision Syndrome), a combination of headaches, eye and neck problems from staring fixedly at the screen. 90% of people who use a computer screen three hours or more are likely to experience these problems. Besides display-related problems, repetitive motions like typing and mouse clicking also take their toll in the form of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and RSI (Repetitive Stress or Strain Injuries).
Most of the time of we work harder than we need to, accommodating how information is presented on the screen or how information is entered, instead of having the screen or software, or input devices accommodating us. It doesn’t have to be that way, because there are many ways to adjust existing settings to improve the experience.
Making things easier to see
Most icons, mouse pointers, cursors, and text are too small to comfortably locate or understand at today’s high screen resolutions. Icons and pointers, for example are usually 16×16 or 32×32 pixels (picture elements). This was fine years ago on a 19” monitor with 1024×758 pixel resolution. However, a common scenario today is closer to a HD screen (1920×1080 pixels) on a 15” laptop. This reduces the relative size of these objects tremendously. Here are some ways your system can adjust this relative size.
Change the size of your mouse pointer
Mac: On older Macs, go to Universal Access in System Preferences, choose Mouse and Trackpad. For newer Macs, locate Accessibility in System Preferences (or press Command-Option-F5, choosing Preferences) and select Display. In all cases, locate the cursor size slide control and adjust the slider to your desire pointer size.
Windows: Choose one of the large or extra-large Schemes in the Pointer tab of Mouse Properties. In Windows 7 or earlier, you can quickly search for Mouse Properties by typing “mouse” directly in Control Panel (upper right-corner) or from the Start Menu. In Windows 8/8.1, use the Search charm to locate this Control Panel item.
Change the pixel size or DPI (dots per inch) of your text and icons
Mac: Right-click on the Desktop and choose Show View Options from the menu. This will display a panel that lets you adjust both icons and text for the Desktop. There are also additional options for adjusting finder windows and applications.
Windows: Right-click on the Desktop and choose Screen resolution from the menu. Click on the link “Make text and other items larger or smaller.” The Control Page that displays will let you switch from the default of 100% to 125% or 150% (the last item only appearing on systems supporting at least 1200×900 pixels). You can also set a custom or larger size using the “set custom text size (DPI) link on the left side. For Windows 7 and later, this is consistent. The procedure changes for Windows Vista and Windows XP.
For Windows 8/8.1, these settings do not impact the new Windows 8 UI or apps. For those, go to Ease of Access in PC Settings at bottom of the Settings charm and turn on “Make everything on your screen bigger.” This option is disabled on displays less than 1024 pixels high.
Other sizing and accommodation alternatives
Of course, your web browser also has the ability to resize text on web page. We will explore some of those options next week.
Today marks the 48th-day countdown to a major event in the computer world. It’s not a major product launch or a new technical advance. “It’s the end of an era,” some say or at least, the beginning of the end <smile>.
On April 8th, Microsoft stops supporting Windows XP.
Microsoft has been promoting this day for years in the tech press, hoping to move businesses and consumers out of an operating system that launched the same year they launched the original Xbox game console, and were still working out an anti-trust agreement with the US Justice Department. It was 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks and our entry into Afghanistan; the year Wikipedia went online, Apple started a music download service called iTunes and their first portable music player, the iPod.
Windows XP, despite its age, is still being used by 29% of Windows users, according to Netshare, so there is concern about what this move by Microsoft means. Here are some answers to the common questions I am hearing about the 12 year-old operating system.
Does Windows XP stop working on April 8th? Can I continue to install it or reinstall it.
No, Windows XP will continue to function and you can continue to install it on computers. Of course Windows XP has not been available as a new purchase with or without a computer for years.
Since Windows XP still requires activation to continue to use it within 30 days of installation, the online activation feature will still continue to function. What will not be available is activation through a phone call. Microsoft will no longer be staffing that service.
What does Microsoft mean by “end of support?”
End of support is defined in some detail for Windows XP on Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle page, but essentially it falls into Mainstream support and Extended Support categories. Mainstream includes free warranty support for a new product installation and other no-charge support options. For Extended Support, focus shifts to paid support, and free online support options.
At the end of Extended Support (in this case, April 8, 2014), Microsoft stops staffing support, as well as development and testing of updates for the product. While many of these free online support options like the Microsoft’s Download Center may still continue to be available, any active or staffed services related to Windows XP will not. Windows XP-specific support topics in Microsoft’s Knowledge Base will still be available on the web site, but no longer be updated or maintained.
Microsoft’s most utilized support service is Windows Update. WU provides product fixes and security updates to improve the system and keep it protected. End of support for most people means the elimination of that service. The implications of not receiving additional security updates is that Windows XP will not be protected from attack if there are vulnerabilities discovered after April 8th.
What are the dangers of going on the web with my Windows XP system after the 8th?
Without the protection of new security updates for Windows XP, the chance of a newly discovered security weakness being exploited by malware is very high. Some people are suggesting that malware authors will try to hold information back on vulnerabilities in order exploit them on Windows XP after the April date. Others speculate that Windows XP will simply become more vulnerable as time goes on.
While up-to-date anti-malware software will often catch viruses and other malware, a system update is the most effective deterrent against infection, data loss, or other consequences. For that reason, I recommend that you not connect a Windows XP system to the Internet after April 8th.
I need my Windows XP computer for Internet access to email and other web sites, what do I do?
I recognize this is a tough spot if your goal is to keep your existing computer running Windows XP. Aside from purchasing a new computer, you might also upgrade your system to Windows 7. Though less common today than a year ago, it is still possible to find Windows 7 available for purchase online. The key concern is whether your computer hardware will support a later version of Windows. Downloading the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor can help you determine this.
While Microsoft is providing some customized options for large companies, the only other alternative is to purchase a new system. Fortunately, the average price range of a new PC desktop or laptop is about the same it was 10 years ago though the system has evolved in capability and capacity.
I am running Windows 7 but have programs running in “Windows XP Mode.” Does this impact them?
Windows XP Mode is the capability of Windows 7 to run applications that don’t work under Windows 7 itself in a “virtual” Windows XP system. As this is a complete Windows XP environment, that environment is also subject to the same lifecycle constraints as Windows XP on the standalone computer. If you truly need Windows XP Mode to run your program and do not need Internet access, I recommend going to the settings of Windows XP Mode (right-click on XP Mode in the Windows Virtual PC folder and chose settings) and under Networking, change Adapter in use to “Not Connected”
I heard that Microsoft Security Essentials for XP will also no longer be supported. Is this true?
Yes, but in April, the only restriction is that the Security Essential for XP program will no longer be downloadable. If you are current using Security Essentials on XP as your anti-virus, virus signature updates will continue to be available until July 2015.
Is Microsoft ending support for anything else soon?
Yes, Microsoft Office 2003, the last version of Office that doesn’t use the Office “ribbon” also reaches its end of support on April 8th. Many of the same security concerns about Windows XP also apply to this version of Office.
While leading a discussion on electronic books recently, an attendee raised a question about security. He didn’t like the idea of having his credit card “on file” with the eBook retailer. Unfortunately, most providers of eBooks devices and applications seem to require this. I recently tried to download an eBook from Barnes and Noble. Though the eBook was free, they still required a credit card on file to complete the transaction.
The Price of a “Buy” Button
It’s not just eBook stores. Anyone who has a iTunes account, buys apps for their tablet or smartphone, or uses Google Wallet or a Starbucks card often has a credit card on file. In a world where purchases are made with a single button, giving out your card info has become a necessity. While there are legal protections against fraudulent charges, it is still uncomfortable to not control your own credit card.
The Flexibility of Virtual Cards
There are card companies who offer “virtual card” for customers in place of your regular credit card. CITI calls their program, Virtual Account Numbers. Bank of America’s service is ShopSafe.
Both these services let you set payment limits and expiration dates from one month to 12 months, providing the period is within the expiration date of your regular credit card.
I used Bank of America’s ShopSafe and found that it works well, though finding the feature on the web was a bit challenging. To find Shopsafe in a current BoA account, go into your current credit card area after signing in to view your card activity. Then switch tabs to Information and Services. Finally click on ShopeSafe under Features to display ShopSafe’s activity window. From here you can create a new card number and manage any existing numbers you have created.
The ShopSafe activity window is built using Adobe Flash Player which does not work well for some mobile devices like iPads and iPhone but should work fine elsewhere. When I have had problem displaying the window, usually closing the web browser and logging back into the Bank of America web will solve that problem.
One requirement for ShopSafe card numbers is that they are tied to a specific merchant. Once you have used a card number to pay for something, that card can only be used at that place of business as a security measure. Fortunately, you have no limit in creating additional card numbers to use elsewhere.
As useful as virtual credit cards are, not all credit card vendors offer them. American Express shelved their vCard plan a few years ago in favor of prepaid credit cards, a sort of debit card that you can load the card with cash for use. Discover has discontinued its Secure Online Account Numbers service, effective February 6th of this year.
While prepaid credit cards provide a number of the same benefits as virtual credit cards, they may not be protected under the same liability rules as your regular credit card. You should check with your credit card vendor to confirm this and what kinds of virtual cards they offer.
Remember, its not “real”
While virtual cards are great for online and telephone purchases, they do not include a physical card. As a result, you cannot use them for on-site purchases or a purchase that requires you to present your card to confirm merchandise pick-up.
That said, it’s nice to have a card number in situations where you would prefer to limit the time or amount available.
Author’s note: I recently started writing a tech column for an online community newspaper on the theory that if I couldn’t regular commit to regular posts on my own blog, it might be easier to commit to someone else’s publication. We’ll see how this works.
“Quicken 2014 says my Windows 7 is not supported.”
That was the problem posed to me a few weeks ago by a client who had been using Intuit’s accounting package for years, faithfully upgrading it each year. Starting Quicken after his most recent upgrade produced two puzzling error messages.
The first message stated that Quicken does not support “running as administrator.” Closing that message produced another message, stating that “Quicken requires Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later to run.” and adding that his version of Windows is not supported.
Since my client had the only account on the PC, he was the administrator, but the first message suggests he shouldn’t be. The other message suggested that he might be running a pretty old version of Windows. It was very confusing.
Why were these messages appearing? Because Windows 7 was telling Quicken 2014 what it thought it wanted to hear … all in the name of program compatibility.
Compatibility Is in the Eye of the Application
As Windows has changed in feature sophistication and security, its compatibility with existing applications becomes more problematic. Older applications are unaware of these changes and often have difficulty handling the new restrictions placed on them. The most common compatibility problems occur for programs when (1) they either do something no longer permitted or (2) the Windows version is interpreted incorrectly.
As a result applications, as they start up, typically make requests of the operating system to check for earlier, incompatible OS versions. Unfortunately, many applications misinterpret the results of those requests, disqualifying a new, unfamiliar OS.
For this reason, Windows has included the ability to “lie” to applications, telling them that the current version of the operation system is actually earlier version of Windows that is more acceptable to the application. This functionality has been built into Windows for the last decade or so under the name “Compatibility Mode.” Compatibility mode will also change Windows’ interaction with the program to accommodate the use of old-style program requests. The latest form of this is included in the Program Compatibility Assistant.
Older programs are also unaware of many security restriction Windows now have in place to protect the system and other applications from malware infection. So these programs often fail if they cannot access or save to protected areas of the hard drive or system memory. In order to run successfully, they need “administrator access.” or to “run as an administrator.”
As a result, the properties for a program displays a tab for Compatibility (example shown here from Windows 8). To view this on your Windows 8.1 and earlier system, Right-click on a Desktop or Explorer program icon and chose Properties from the resulting menu.)
Though settings have evolved over the time, two of the most useful are “Run this program in compatibility mode for…” and “Run this program as an administrator.”
The first allows you to tell an application you are running in a previous version of Windows. The second grants the program “administrative rights” to access normally protected parts of the system.
Compatibility Settings are a Double-Edged Sword
A check of the compatibility tab on the icon for my client’s version of the software showed both the administrator and compatibility mode options checked and the compatibility mode was set to Windows XP, Service Pack 2.
Now the error messages actually make sense. Quicken 2014 does not support any version less that Windows XP, Service Pack 3. And, as it was designed to work within the security boundaries of Windows 7, an objection was made running the using less secure administrator settings.
How Were These Compatibility Settings Applied Initially?
Its hard to know for sure, but I suspect the icon and its compatibility settings were “inherited” from one version of Quicken to another over the years, until a version of the software was installed wouldn’t tolerate them in place anymore.
This Could Happen to an Application Near You
Given that Windows XP, an common compatibility emulation for Windows Vista, 7, and 8/8.1, is reaching its “end of support” cycle this year, we will probably be seeing more of these scenarios in the coming months. More and more application updates will drop support for Windows XP, and if Windows XP compatibility settings are in place, they will also complain as Quicken 2014 did for my client.
This article originally appeared in the Shoreline Area News on February 6, 2013.
Microsoft’s Office 2013 officially launched this year after months of previews and promotions. With this launches, the company has the developed a version of the product that could conquer its greatest competitor…itself. Many industry pundits are pointing to Google Apps or Google Drive as Office’s prime competitor. However, the biggest thorns in Microsoft’s side leading up to the release of Office 2013 is Office 2010, Office 2007, and Office 2003 for Windows (or Office 2011, Office 2008, or Office 2004 for the Mac), the versions you and I all use…and our desire to hold on to them.
The Paradox of Progress
We like the idea of progress; that new ideas and ways to do things will stimulate creativity, business, and prosperity. On the other hand, the changes that come with progress often bring chaos and a sense of instability. So we hang on to anchors and try to ride it out the best we can. Most people develop a enough expertise to get by, whether its laundry or letter writing. The hope is that the tools we use to do these things won’t evolve enough to disrupt our daily progress on other fronts and require our attention. Microsoft certainly saw this when it released Office 2007, eliminating menus for what it called a “ribbon-based” user interface. While the new interface exposed buried features and encouraged fuller use of the Office programs, many users clung to Office 2003’s menu system and the time they had invested in it. Today, over 1 out of every 10 Office users still use the ten-year-old version.
Subscribing to a New Model
The game changer for our reluctance to upgrade is the focus on its new online subscription version, Office 365 Home Premium. Instead of paying larger amounts every few years for a major upgrade, Microsoft would prefer an annual subscription of $99/year for Home Premium, covering 5 PC or Mac computers. It gives them a regular income source, provides you with a continually improved version of Office for multiple systems without the disruption of a major upgrade, and helps eliminate the competition with previous versions of its software.
The idea is not new. It’s been used for a few years both by Microsoft and other software makers with large and small businesses as a way to encourage stability on both sides. Businesses like regular subscriptions for which they can budget and software makers appreciate regular cash flow compared to the boom and bust of major software releases. While certain online software makers have used consumer subscriptions (anti-virus makers as an example), this is the first major manufacturer to do so.
A Future without Anchors?
Microsoft isn’t totally forsaking the traditional software paths. It will still offer Office 2013 in stores. With 90% of the market using Microsoft Office, it can’t afford to ignore regular retail channels right now. However, it’s possible that the disk-based version of Office 2013 could be our last anchor in the continuum of Microsoft Office…and its last major competitor.
In the years supporting computer software, this is probably the most common phrase I have heard and continue to hear. For most regular folk, computers straddle that chasm between a modern convenience and an infernal contraption….and it seems like it only takes one thing to topple it the wrong way. It could be a new tool, a security update or even removing something that you didn’t need any more that could balance. Often, it not clear what is updated or changed, especially with all the automatic updates that software programs make to correct bugs or stay ahead of bad guys wishing to exploit their code
When I hear about the situations, the system has been often troubles for days and often weeks. So, “it was working fine until..” is usually follow by “I just want it work like was “before.”
You can never go back…well, maybe you can
A decade ago, this was a tough thing to do and often required a new installation of the system and applications to take the machine back to a state before the problem occurred. For Windows, this pattern changed, starting with Windows XP and the ability to “roll back” a driver for the device having trouble. By saving the old driver and its configuration information, you could restore it easily in case there were problems with the new driver. This was great for situations where you knew that new driver was the culprit. If it wasn’t clear who the culprit is, never fear! There was another option: System Restore.
System Restore periodically stores a snapshot or “restore point” of the current system, applications, and settings, and allow you undo changes made since that restore point was established. While System Restore is a reasonable name, it doesn’t begin to describe its capabilities to people who have had to use it. Macintosh OS X has a version of this feature with more exciting name (Time Machine) and while there are differences between the two tools, they both let you roll back the system to an earlier time…hopefully a time before your problem started.
A good idea with mixed reviews
System Restore made its first appearance in Windows ME before finding itself in Windows XP and future versions. While the idea was laudable, the initial reaction to the utility was mixed, largely because of the amounts of disk space the feature used. Back then, average hard sizes were much smaller. At the release of the Windows XP, 300 gigabytes (GB) drives were just hitting the market and people were more likely to have a drive in the 40-80 GB range. Since System Restore could take over 10% of that drive, people were often advised to lower the maximum space it could use or turn off the feature all together.
Fortunately, space is less of a problem these days with terabyte-sized drives costing the same as those old 80 GB drive. Yes, System Restore takes space… and that space is good insurance against trouble. Just how much size depends on your version of Windows:
|Windows XP||Drives over 4 Gig||Drives 4 Gig and under|
|12% of total disk space||400 megabytes (MB)|
|Windows Vista||All Drives|
|15% of drive size or 30% of free disk space|
|Windows 7||Drives over 64 gig||Drives 64 gig or under|
|5% of drive or 10 GB Max||3% of drive max|
It’s all about timing
Of course, the concern about disk space was also fueled by how often the system automatically sets restore points. In the opinion of many, Windows XP created restore points too often:
|Windows XP||Restore point is created every 24 hours of operation..|
|Windows Vista||A restore point is created every 24 hour period if no other restore points were created that day.|
|Windows 7||Restore points every 7 days unless other restore points are created during that period.|
With a 24 hour interval, people weren’t terribly happy with how System Restore worked in Windows XP. Also, since the time period not a 24 hour time period but 24 hours of system operation, the interval timer would pause and resume as people shut down or suspended their computers. This made the actual timing of the next restore point difficult to predict.
While the user interface does not provide a way to change this interval setting, you can adjust it by changing a setting directly in the System Registry, something I usually only recommend for knowledgeable people used to working in the Registry (if you are…see Resources for how). Joli Ballew wrote a great article on using System Restore in Windows XP that will help you better use the tool and adjusts many of its settings.
In Windows Vista and Windows 7, the system shifted further away from a rigid schedule, depending more on the actual system changes to determine when to set a restore point. Since most of issues that System Restore can address are related to these system changes, setting a restore point prior to these changes is the most effective and efficient approach. Here are some of the activities that will set a restore point:
· Application installations that work with System Restore. For example, if the application uses the Windows Installer or to add itself to the system, it will set a restore point before any changes are made.
· If an item is automatically downloaded through Windows AutoUpdate, restore point is set prior to installation.
· When you begin a System Restore operation, a restore point is set just in case you need to return to the current system. This is helpful if System Restore fails or the roll-back results in missing applications or settings you had not anticipated.
Understanding what you can lose in a System Restore
While knowing some of the mechanics around restore points is helpful, probably the most important thing to understand is what is saved when a restore point is set and what is not saved. System Restore does not change your documents or saved data at all, only the files and settings used to maintain the system and its applications.
The positive side of this is that system rollback won’t impact your documents when you restore to an earlier time. The downside is if the application you used to create the documents was installed or modified after the restore point used, you will likely have to reinstall or reconfigure the application to return it to the same state it was before the restore.
I recently had to use System Restore on a client’s machine to take the system back a month in time. While this resolved her problem, it also meant that the system needed nearly an hour of security updates to the system, anti-virus software, and other normally automatic updates to other applications. It was as if she had shut the computer down for the month and then had to catch up all at once.
The other point to remember is that System Restore is not a substitute for backup. It only stores executable files, the system registry and other files important to system operation. Windows XP uses the file extensions listed in Filelist.xml (found in the windows\system32\restore folder) as its guide for the files to save. For Windows Vista and Windows 7, that file is not used. You can find the listing of extensions on the Microsoft Developer Network website.
You should make sure that your documents and other hard-to-replace data are separately backed up and protected. If you have downloaded executable files that you need to keep, even if they are in the My Documents folder, I recommend you rename them prior to a system restore. If the restore point is before the file was downloaded, it will be removed unless you do this.
Going back with System Restore can help
As long as you take these precautions, System Restore can be a valuable tool to take your system back before the problem started…providing that the problem is due to a system change. While uninstalling or correcting the offending application are good first and second steps, System Restore is a solid third step to consider.
All Windows versions
eHow: How to Set a Restore Point
Microsoft Knowledge Base:The Registry Keys and Values for the System Restore Utility
Joli Ballow: Windows XP System Restore Is Easy to Use
Kelly’s Korner: System Restore for Windows XP
Microsoft Storage Team: Understanding how System Restore in Windows Vista treats executable files
Microsoft Knowledge Base: How to set a system restore point in Windows XP
Windows BBS: How to schedule creation of restore points
How-To-Geek: Create a Restore Point for Windows 7 or Vista’s System Restore
Microsoft Developer Network: Restore Points