October 2020 Windows Update – What’s New?

Microsoft have previewed the Windows 10 October 2020 update with a partial re-design aimed at making the display clearer and enhancing security options.

Windows 10 updates are free of charge and are now issued to over a billion devices on a twice yearly update cycle.

Among the changes recently revealed on the Windows Experience Blog were:

  • “A refreshing Start. The Start menu has a more streamlined design. A uniform, partially transparent background to the tiles creates a beautiful stage for the redesigned app icons like Calculator, Mail and Calendar. This refined Start design looks great in both dark and light themes, but if you’re looking for a splash of color, first make sure to turn on Windows dark theme and then toggle “Show accent color on the following surfaces” for “Start, taskbar, and action center” under Settings > Personalization > Color to elegantly apply your accent color to the Start frame and tiles.”

Ease of use has also driven other improvements, such as more natural support for Windows 10 on convertible devices:

  • “2 in 1 toast elimination. 2-in-1 devices now naturally switch by default to the new tablet experience without the notification toast asking you to switch into the tablet mode when you detach the keyboard, helping to keep you in your flow.”
  • “A Taskbar tuned to your liking. Getting a new Windows PC? You will enjoy a cleaner, more personalized, out-of-box experience featuring a taskbar specifically curated for you—less clutter and more content that you’ll love. (This experience is limited to new account creation or first logon scenarios.)”

In addition the new version includes security enhancements – including an updated version of Windows Hello3 single-sign-on & multi-factor authentication technology:

  • “Simpler device management. Mobile Device Management (MDM)1 now includes a Local Users and Groups policy that gives administrators the same options as on-premises Group Policy.”
  • “More secure biometric sign on. With enhanced sign-in security2, Windows Hello3 now offers added support for virtualization-based security for certain fingerprint and face sensors, which protects, isolates and secures a user’s biometric authentication data.”
  • “Stronger app protection. Windows Defender Application Guard (WDAG)4 now helps protect Microsoft 3655 as well as Microsoft Edge with a unique hardware isolation strategy. WDAG keeps enterprise data protected by opening sites and Office files from untrusted sources in a virtualized container.”

 

Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for IT support and solution expertise, please contact our team today.


Windows XP Source Code Leaks Online

The original source code to Microsoft Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 has leaked online – nearly two decades after their original release.

Official support for Windows XP ended back in 2014, and the final security patch was a one-off release in 2017 released in response to the WannaCry ransomware attack that temporarily crippled large parts of the NHS.

Among the interesting things we learned were that Microsoft originally included a hidden theme that made Windows XP look like Apple’s rival macOS operating system, and that the 4chan poster who released the dump had either added or helped spread anti-vax and population control conspiracy-theory material about Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

According to NetMarketShare, Windows XP still accounts for at least 1% of all PCs that generate web traffic worldwide (around 25 million PCs) although may actually include many air-gapped factory PCs and similar in practice.

The 43gb data dump has been available to Government agencies and similar for a while, although it’s unusual that the public at large have the opportunity to discover zero-day exploits for an entire operating system. Microsoft urges that users should not still be using XP, and the outdated platform is insecure even for the oldest legacy services.

 

For IT expertise and guidance, contact our IT team today.


DNS Vulnerability: Your IT Team to the Rescue

July 14th: as Microsoft flag a ‘Critical’ Level-10 DNS vulnerability on Domain Name System (DNS) servers worldwide, Lineal engineers rush to patch the infrastructure of dozens of organisations overnight.

The Microsoft Security Response Center recently released details of CVE-2020-135, a ‘Critical Remote Code Execution’ weakness deemed ‘wormable’ (potentially spreading between devices automatically) affecting all Windows Server versions.

A grade of 10.0 is the highest possible severity level that can be assigned under the Common Vulnerability Scoring System Calculator. For comparison the WannaCry attack, which temporarily crippled the NHS in 2017, had a CVSS rating of 8.5.

Lineal staff use remote monitoring software to administer large numbers of client servers and devices, monitor hardware health and deploy patches more rapidly – and were quickly on the case overnight to patch the vulnerability as a special emergency.

dns vulnerability conversation

Within 8 hours we’d patched a large number of DNS servers – applying both an initial fix and further scheduled updates.

DNS is a naming technology which translates the identities of computers, servers and other networked devices into the IP addresses used for connecting on private and public IT networks.

dns how stuff works diagram

For this reason, DNS servers often have massive reach, and must be carefully protected to mitigate the risk of compromising an organisation’s technology on a huge scale – even across the globe.

Israeli IT security firm Checkpoint Software Technologies, who discovered the 17-year old hidden bug and reported it to Microsoft, argue ‘this is not just another vulnerability’ and risks handing an attacker ‘complete control of your IT’ if IT admins fail to address the issue urgently.

 

For IT expertise and support, please contact our team today.


Latest Windows 10 Update endangered by humble USB drives

Microsoft have blocked availability of May’s Windows 10 Update from PCs with attached removable storage – such as USB flash drives and SD Cards.

The restriction has been put in place to prevent users encountering accidental drive re-assignment when they try to update: causing D: to become E:, or similar.

Harmless for most personal devices, any change is likely to cause maximum confusion for work devices which often rely on organisations sticking to a fixed structure for drive access.

Instead, users will be confronted by a warning message reading:

  • Your PC can’t be upgrade to Windows 10. Your PC has hardware that isn’t ready for this version of Windows 10. No action is needed. Windows Update will offer this version of Windows 10 automatically once the issue has been resolved.

 

While USB drives may be easily removable to make May’s Windows 10 Update available again, users online have pointed out that Microsoft Surface devices and other Windows 10 enabled tablets are likely to be scuppered by the SD Card, which may have been pre-installed for work devices. More worryingly, Microsoft’s official support article notes ‘The drive reassignment is no limited to removable drives. Internal hard drives may also be affected.’

May’s 2019 Windows Update (which looks to include some promising new features) has undergone an extended testing period with the Windows Insider program this year, after some Windows users suffered file deletion problems during the October 2018 update cycle.

An undetected bug remains a setback for Microsoft’s flagship operating system, and the concept of a constant update cycle on a consistent platform. The problem will not be unfamiliar to Apple, however, whose 2017 OSX High Sierra update somehow reached release with an undetected root password security bug, only discovered weeks after release.

Microsoft have confirmed the removable storage bug will be resolved in a ‘future servicing update for Windows 10’ although May 2019’s Windows 10 update may well turn into June, July or August.

 

For IT support and expertise, contact our team today.


Microsoft Previews Light Theme for May 2019 Update

Microsoft’s Windows Team have previewed a new optional Light Theme to be released in May 2019’s Windows 10 update.

The glossy, bright look is currently available to those on the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build (a kind of test program for volunteer guinea-pigs of future Windows versions – accessed through Windows Update.)

Both Apple and Microsoft have introduced ‘Dark Modes’ more eye-sensitive for night-time use in recent years, either in popular software such as Outlook, or as part of the main operating system itself, as in the case of Apple’s Mojave update.

Windows Light Theme introduces a brighter feel for Microsoft’s signature operating system, likely to prove a hit among companies with certain in-house ‘styles’ favouring brighter tones, or to provide more options to those with visual impairments.

As of March 2019, Windows 10 is now in use across more than 800 million devices worldwide, running on just a smidge under half of all PCs in existence (49.9%.)

May’s Windows update (build 18362.30) also features numerous minor fixes, including improvements to printing processes, splitting Cortana from Windows Search, and extending dark mode within OneDrive.

Light theme will be available within the ‘Personalisation’ settings available by right-clicking on the Windows desktop, once the new update lands in May.

 

For Microsoft expertise and support – contact our team today


Windows 7 Nears Retirement

Windows 7 uptake worldwide has finally been overtaken by Windows 10, with just one year until all consumer support for the popular operating system ends.

2009’s acclaimed Windows release will officially reach end of life from January 14th 2020, beyond which customers operating remaining Windows 7 PCs will receive no additional security updates or patches.

Much like Windows XP before it, Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates (ESU) will theoretically be available for additional years (specifically until 2023), but only to enterprise customers using Professional or Enterprise versions, billed on a ‘per-device basis’ and at increasingly steep annual costs.

Online web market share tracker NetMarketShare now records Windows 10 as a mere 2% ahead of Windows 7, approaching 40% of the overall desktop market – if still some distance behind Microsoft’s original Windows 10 roll-out targets.

Users looking to upgrade to Windows 10 may look to replace hardware, purchase a direct upgrade, or acquire the upgrade via a larger package such as Microsoft 365.

 

For Microsoft advice and support, contact Lineal today.


Microsoft announce end of support for Windows Server 2008

Support and security updates for Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 operating systems will end in January 2020.

Customers operating Windows Server 2008 will then cease to receive security patches and other important system updates.

Around 70% of the world’s server operating systems are Windows based, with Server 2008 one of the most successful versions, still representing more than half of these installations as recently as 2016.

Users of Server 2008 and 2008 R2 have just over 6 months to decide whether to upgrade to a newer version of Windows Server (such as the long-awaited Server 2019, hardware permitting), replace servers with newer models, or migrate those server-based processes to a cloud-based platform, such as Microsoft Azure.

‘Mainstream’ Support for Server 2008 is unlikely to be extended – having already been granted temporary extensions, once from July 2013 to January 2015, and again to the final deadline next year.

As with previous operating systems, enterprise customers will have the option of purchasing ‘Premium Assurance’ support packages of different levels, to extend support as late as 2026 – but as with other legacy Windows products, for increasingly high associated costs.

Businesses will need to weigh up for how long they can afford to delay upgrading, or depending on the physical server hardware, whether it makes more sense to spurn the licensing costs of upgrading the Windows Server version and go directly to either the cloud, or a new server.

 

For IT infrastructure support and expertise, please contact our team today.


Windows XP Antivirus? Bitdefender to the rescue.

Around 6% of PCs are estimated to still be running out of date, unsupported operating systems like Microsoft Windows XP. Here at Lineal we’ve long advocated keeping operating systems up-to-date and secure against the latest threats.

But in certain circumstances that’s not always so easy: legacy XP machines are often connected to third party equipment (e.g.: manufacturing hardware) using cable connections or drivers that are now difficult to obtain. The external hardware can’t be replaced as readily as the connected PC for both cost and practical reasons, so the ageing PC (with a lack of XP antivirus) creates an in-built security vulnerability for a businesses’ whole network.

Users caught by this conundrum can find a solution in Bitdefender’s Security for XP and Vista – a version of Bitdefender’s award-winning security built to be backwards compatible to older PCs, and providing ongoing security against the latest threats for legacy hardware.

Security for XP and Vista is available for Windows XP Service Pack 3 and Vista Service Pack 2 operating systems, and also integrates with older software likely to be found on such machines, such as Outlook 2007, Yahoo Messenger 9, Internet Explorer 8 and other common web browsers of the same generation.

For those concerned that a trusty old machine and lack of XP antivirus could be the very weakest point in their security, Bitdefender could be a shrewd choice indeed.

For IT Security advice and support, contact Lineal today.


Windows Server 2003 vulnerability for 1 in 5 businesses

Windows Server 2003

Nearly 1 in 5 Windows Server users are still running Windows Server 2003 at great risk, more than a year after Microsoft announced end of security support for the product, new findings have shown.

Research by Spiceworks and Cloudphysics both found that 18% of Windows Server licensing market share is still taken up by Windows Server 2003, based on data recorded in June 2016. More than 53% of those surveyed also still ran one or more instances of Windows Server 2003 somewhere in their organisation.

Anyone still using the old software risks becoming vulnerable to security threats, which Microsoft will no longer address, with many organisations potentially being in violation of their compliance, insurance or regulatory obligations for data protection.

The continuation of Windows Server 2003 (which Tech Radar last year touted as potentially “the biggest security threat of 2015”) has been left unresolved within many companies, many of whom believe they lack a clear decision, expertise, or funds to replace the now unsupported operating system.

In the short term the best measure is risk mitigation: isolate any Windows Server 2003 systems as much as possible to prevent access by outside security threats.

But sooner or later, all companies will need to upgrade important systems, and those that do make the move are less likely to invest in the capital expense of physical hardware as they were over a decade ago – with increasing numbers likely to utilise an outside IT provider to migrate to a managed virtualised solution, for example business cloud services.

For Windows licensing support or guidance, please contact Lineal today – 01271 375999 or click here.


Lineal achieves Gold Microsoft Partner Status

Microsoft Partner

Lineal has been certified as a Gold Microsoft Partner with immediate effect, becoming the only such Gold Partner in the North of the region.

Our official Microsoft Partner status was upgraded from Silver to Gold after Lineal’s team qualified for Microsoft’s Gold Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions competency – the result of several month’s efforts by the team comprising training, outstanding performance in our deployments and a large number of highly satisfied customers.

Head of Technical Services, Matt Norris, praised the team on all their hard work: “Lineal’s Gold award shows our commitment to providing our customers with only the highest quality Microsoft Cloud Services and Support – and to the continued development of our team’s expertise. I cannot be more proud of our team and the dedication to excellence they have shown which has been recognised in this award.”

The award is Lineal’s latest achievement following a string of Silver Microsoft awards, including Silver Authorised Education Partner (AEP), Silver Midmarket Solution provider, Silver Application Integration and Silver Hosting.

Microsoft certified partners must undergo a rigorous program of technical assessments and examinations via the Microsoft Partner University, as well as demonstrating real-world proficiency in undertaking complex Microsoft deployments for customers, in order to qualify for the prestigious ‘Gold’ status.

In addition, and pivotal to Lineal’s commitment to exceptional knowledge and expertise in the South West region, each Gold Partner must employ a number of Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) whose skills match the requirements of each award. MCP is the global standard for measuring expertise in Microsoft products and technologies with each of our team being required to hold multiple MCP Certifications which are regularly renewed. MCP examinations are widely recognised to be among the hardest professional qualifications to attain in the IT industry.

Lineal’s team are now working towards additional Microsoft Gold awards covering new Microsoft specialisms and products.

 

For expert Microsoft Services and Support, contact Lineal today by clicking here

 


Get Windows 10: How to upgrade your PC

Get Windows 10

If you haven’t already upgraded to Windows 10, Lineal highly recommend doing so before the free upgrade period ends on 29th July 2016. The free upgrade is available to PC users currently running a valid copy of Windows 7, 8 or 8.1.

Step 1 – Visit Microsoft’s Windows 10 Downloads page by clicking here, and select your current version of Windows from the dropdown menu, and click ‘Confirm’.

Step 2 – When prompted, select ‘Upgrade this PC now’.

Step 3 – Windows 10 will begin downloading, showing a progress report on screen. This can take 15 minutes to an hour, depending on your PC and internet connection speed.

Step 4 – When Windows 10 has downloaded, click to install Windows 10 and your PC will reboot – beginning the installation of the new operating system, and copying across all your existing files/settings.

Get Windows 10

Step 5 – When your PC has completed the installation and launched your desktop – enjoy Windows 10!

For extra help or advice in upgrading to Windows 10 for free, please contact Lineal’s IT support team today – 01271 375999


Microsoft ‘trick’ schedules automatic Windows 10 upgrade

automatic windows 10 upgrade

Edit – 14:15 25.05.16: Following customer feedback, Microsoft have now added an additional pop-up which confirms update scheduling time to give users an additional chance to opt-out of the update.


A Microsoft ‘trick’ which prompts an automatic upgrade to Windows 10 has been condemned as misleading by PC users.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 update prompt was recently changed so that the ‘X’ close button, instead of closing the prompt, schedules an automatic update. PC World declared the change a ‘trick’ and Windows users who preferred older operating systems took to social media to complain.

Instead, users must specify to cancel the scheduled upgrade by clicking a small link in the fourth line of text which reads “Click here to change upgrade schedule or cancel scheduled upgrade.”

This is likely to catch out many users who have ignored the ‘GWX app’ so far, who until recently would have used the close button as their only way to close the updater and avoiding an automatic Windows 10 upgrade. Once upgraded by mistake, PC users must use Microsoft’s rollback service to return to Windows 7 or 8.1.

Escalating measures to push users towards upgrading demonstrate Microsoft’s drive to reach its stated target of one billion users running Windows 10 by the start of its 2018 fiscal year (beginning around October 2017).

The controversy surrounding a automatic Windows 10 upgrade is likely to only draw more attention to Microsoft’s Windows 10 upcoming upgrade deadline – the free Windows 10 upgrade will cease to be available to PC users after the 29th of July.

For Windows IT support and expertise, contact Lineal today.


Has Microsoft been tracking your Computer?

 

Almost certainly – but don’t panic. Details of anonymous data gathered from Windows 10 users were released this week, with Microsoft publishing more usage information surrounding Windows 10 tracking.

In a blog post, Microsoft explained that the data is gathered for “Standard diagnostic, anonymous analytics that enables us to deliver the best Windows 10 experience possible.”

Via Windows 10 tracking, Microsoft have now measured more than 200 million active devices running the new operating system, 2.4 billion search questions asked of Virtual Assistant Cortana, and more than 44.5 billion minutes spent using the new Microsoft ‘Edge’ browser.

Routine data collection is unlikely to concern most users – and has clearly been announced to show Windows 10’s success. Microsoft also casually notes that the new operating system, released in the summer of 2015, has been “Outpacing… Windows 8 by nearly 400%.”

The accelerating adoption of Windows 10, including among 22 million Enterprise and Education customers, offers Microsoft renewed hope for growing the user base of associated products, such as Azure cloud computing, Windows Phone and the impressive Office365.

If concerned, users can ‘turn off’ all feedback (aside from error reports) by setting the feedback option to ‘Basic’ in their settings.

Taking a more nuanced view, this admission illustrates an industry ever more capable (and willing) to be flexible with privacy concerns of customers in the quest for the perfect user experience.

 

Need Windows IT support and advice? Contact Lineal today: www.lineal.co.uk or 01271 375999


The Windows 10 update you didn’t notice

 

Windows 10.1 updates security

With ‘Windows 10.1’ now barely a month old, and the Microsoft operating system already running on over 12 million business PCs, how fares Microsoft’s free updates strategy?

Windows 10.1 update was released with relatively little fanfare (be honest, you didn’t notice) adds features that, understandably with hindsight, might have been a distraction at the main Windows 10 release back in July.

Packaged within were mainly performance and security upgrades – Windows 10.1 will now boot almost 30% faster than an old Windows 7 system on the same device, the Cortana virtual assistant has some new handwriting recognition skills and there are new enterprise tools for mobile devices. Microsoft Edge runs smoother too, offering previews of tabs before viewing and syncing favourites across devices.

Most importantly, after recent corporate data breaches in the news, Microsoft have added a range of new security safeguards. These including ‘Windows Hello’, supporting enterprise grade biometrics including fingerprint and facial recognition – sadly currently only available for US users.

Aside from controversy surrounding user privacy then (if you didn’t notice your Windows 10.1 update, that’s maybe because Microsoft installed it automatically on your device without asking you) the first free update went ahead with relevant additions and limited fuss.

Starting free updates officially moves Microsoft into line with Apple’s OS X business model that has become the industry standard. Yet limited promotion of Windows 10’s ongoing development risks downplaying Microsoft’s progress.

Which would be unfair, because Microsoft is plainly taking extra care to develop the business security of their product range, including the excellent Office365, Microsoft Azure and now Windows 10.1. Microsoft is clearly listening to business’ fears, and businesses should welcome it.

 

For help and support with Microsoft enterprise IT, contact Lineal today.


Smarter working: why you need Office 2016

10.-Office-365-Planner-Charts-View

Microsoft Office 2016 is here: the staple of word processing, spreadsheets and presentation work everywhere is now available for single purchase on Windows 10 and Mac OS X.

Office 2016’s apps will look very familiar to existing customers – but Office 2016 is undoubtedly ‘smarter’ than any previous version of Office, with its most impressive new features aimed at boosting productivity for both home and business customers.

Take Microsoft’s new ‘Smart Lookup’ function for example – click a single word in a document and Office will web search that term (via Bing) within the window, allowing instant research.

Cleverly, Office 2016 will even infer from the context of the surrounding paragraph the exact meaning of the word being searched for, preventing irrelevant homonyms clouding your search results. A neat trick certainly, but also an important one for certain sectors – for instance helping children do school work with protection against loading inappropriate search results based on words with double-meanings.

It is a similar case with 2016’s new ‘Tell me’ function. Gone are the clunky help menus or cartoon paperclips – ‘Tell’ Word for a tool like ‘mail merge’ or ‘footnotes’ and the Office 2016 apps will not load search results, but immediately take you to the exact menu and function needed.

The latest version allows for collaborative working (finally catching up with rival Google Drive) with multiple users able to edit documents in real time with a visible tracked changes function, from remote locations if needed. As an added bonus, Office is integrated with Skype, aimed at making the process of collaborative working more easily communicated.

Part of productivity is personal though, so Office 2016 also introduces ‘Office 365 Planner’, an app aimed at time and project management. Even Outlook will attempt to shave a few minutes off your day by linking attachments from cloud-based OneDrive and introducing ‘Clutter’, an automated email filtering service which avoids distractions by pushing less relevant emails into a separate folder, helping you to best utilise your time. Office 2016 knows that time is worth money, and for some may be a very smart investment indeed.

 

Need advice on software for your business, or help migrating to Microsoft Office 365 services? Lineal can help – contact us today: http://www.lineal.co.uk/contact/

 


Windows 10 – Surviving your first two weeks

windows10desktop

 

Microsoft’s Windows 10 has been available to home PC users for more than two weeks now – but as more users get chance to test its features, how has the new operating system fared against the initial scrutiny of the news cycle?

With more than 67m devices now running Windows 10, some horror stories have already graced the internet post-migration. Not everyone has had an easy upgrade, with some users reporting touchpad or connectivity problems. Windows 10’s propensity to slideshow images, pulled from users’ ‘My Pictures’ Folder into the start menu, has caused the obvious hilarity. Some unfortunate early adopters found their PC displaying adult content from deep in their personal files played in an embarrassing slideshow.

The most widespread complaint though has been Microsoft’s new ‘Wi-Fi Sense’ feature. WiFi Sense by default allows your contacts and Skype friends shared access to your Wi-Fi network credentials without handing over a password. This has prompted serious security and privacy concerns.

The fuss here is not entirely without basis, with the tech community correctly noticing that even if Wi-Fi Sense doesn’t share access from your immediate friend on to a third party, in reality your immediate friend may share access to your network to a third party via their own Wi-Fi Sense if your friend has obtained the password first hand – either from you or via a written source.

Users merely need to turn off Wi-Fi Sense, but it’s important that those making the upgrade are aware of the need to make a decision over protecting their own network security.

Overall though, these problems are a shadow of the grief that Windows 8 gave Microsoft, and here at Lineal we’ve generally been impressed by the transition – the majority of our customers who have wanted to upgrade to the new operating system have done so without incident. The removal of Windows 8 style full-page apps, the introduction of the new Edge browser and the welcome return of the Start Menu have all been greeted warmly by a worldwide user base that has clearly felt listened too.

Most importantly, because some internet stories have reported lost files after upgrade, the golden rule still stands – if you have important data, always make sure this is backed up elsewhere, just in case.

If you’d like advice and support upgrading your systems – why not click here to see what Lineal could offer your business: http://www.lineal.co.uk/systems/