Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

About the Author Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols


Thanks, Microsoft, but I’m still saying no to Windows 10

I’ve been hearing a lot from friends recently about how Windows 10 is the best Windows ever and people would be stupid not to switch. These being friends, I don’t want to be rude, but — cough, ahem — I don’t buy it.

Is security your No. 1 concern? Well, Windows 10 is no more secure than Windows 7 — which is to say it is a profoundly insecure operating system. There have been a lot of serious Windows security patches in the last year, and Windows 10 had all the same problems as Windows 7.

True, Windows didn’t have anything as bad as macOS’s unbelievably stupid “Let anyone log in as the administrator” security hole, but just because Microsoft didn’t botch things as badly as Apple did doesn’t get it off the hook. I mean, what do you call it when Microsoft fixes security holes in Windows 10 that it doesn’t patch in Windows 7? I call it really, really stupid.

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Firefox Quantum: A leap forward, or a fatal trip?

I used to really like Firefox. Back in 2004, when Firefox 0.93 rolled out, I loved it. It was so much better than the competition. Mind you, when your chief rival is Internet Explorer 6, it doesn’t take much to be impressive. My love didn’t last, though.

Within a few years, Firefox grew slow and bloated. By the time Google released Chrome in 2008, I was ready for a change. Since then, I’ve kept a reviewer’s eye on Firefox, but I was never tempted to go back.

In the most recent web browser report from the federal government’s Digital Analytics Program (DAP), (the only reliable measurement of web browser popularity), Firefox is down in the dumps with 6%, far, far below Chrome, at 44.5%; Safari, at 26.7%; and even Internet Explorer, at 12.9%. Indeed, earlier this year, Andreas Gal, a former Mozilla CTO, declared Firefox all but doomed to a long, slow death. Not good.

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eSIM: No more roaming fees, ever!

Each year these days, I spend about a month overseas on business. With every trip I rack up frequent-flier miles, and before every trip I have an internal debate over whether I should buy a local phone, pay Verizon enormous fees, or perform phone surgery to transplant SIM cards. I hate these choices. I just want a phone I can switch from carrier to carrier and country to country without swearing. Now, thanks to a newly standardized technology called embedded SIM (eSIM), I may be able to change carriers, both domestic and international, in seconds.

Well, that’s the theory anyway. I’ll see how it works out soon with my new Google Pixel 2.

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Don’t be the fool in the cloud

When I hear people worrying about cloud security, they’re usually shaking in their boots about some obscure bug beyond their control. Ha! Ordinary, stupid human mistakes are more than bad enough.

For example, Accenture left hundreds of gigabytes of private user and corporate data on four unsecured Amazon Web Services (AWS) S3 cloud servers. The data included passwords and decryption keys. What did you need to dig into this treasure trove? The servers’ web addresses.

That’s all. No user ID, no password, no nothing.

Adding insult to injury, according to Chris Vickery, director of cyber-risk research at security firm UpGuard, Accenture’s revealed data included its AWS Key Management System (KMS) master keys. With those, an attacker could have also taken control of all the company’s encrypted AWS data.

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You WILL pay a grand for the iPhone X

Is the iPhone X, with its starting price of $999 — with 256 GBs of RAM it will cost $1,149 — worth the money? Nope. Will you buy it anyway? Yep.

Not all of you. But enough of you. And you know who you are.

Now let me tell you why you’ll buy it.

Sure, it’s a nice phone. It has oodles of new features, such as an all-new 5.8-inch OLED Super Retina display, a faster A11 Bionic processor, wireless charging capabilities, and an improved TrueDepth camera. None of those are the reasons.

And its one “newish” feature, Face ID facial recognition, creeps me out. I’m not the only one. As my colleague and friend Mike Elgan pointed out in a recent Computerworld column, “privacy invasion [using] face recognition is 100 times more dangerous than all other” kinds of biometric scanning.

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Bugs? What bugs? Microsoft sees no evil.

On Aug. 23, Microsoft released Windows 10 Fall Creators Update Build 16273. This late beta doesn’t introduce new features. It’s all about stabilizing the next Windows 10 update before releasing it to the public. In short, it’s a bug-fix version — with a twist. While Microsoft tells us which bugs have been fixed in this build, it doesn’t say anything about new bugs, or old bugs that haven’t been fixed.

What the #@$!%? (Hey, can I use that kind of language in Computerworld? It’s appropriate.)

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Microsoft gets sloppy with Surface

Microsoft has egg on its face. So long as a software company makes simple hardware, such as keyboards and mice, it does OK, but when it comes to laptops and smartphones, it’s one fiasco after another.

The latest? Consumer Reports removed its “Recommended” mark from, not one, but all Microsoft Surface computers. How bad is it? According to Consumer Reports, best known as the consumer-products review publication that never takes advertising, its National Research Center estimates “that 25 percent of Microsoft laptops and tablets will present their owners with problems by the end of the second year of ownership.”

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iPhone vs. Android: 12 points of difference

Want to start an argument? Just say, “There’s no question Android phones are the best,” “iPhones are worth every penny,” “Only a dolt would use an iPhone,” or, “Android sucks,” and then stand back.

Got that out of your system? Good. The truth is both iPhones running iOS and smartphones running Android have their good and bad points.

And make no mistake: The fight is between these two mobile operating systems. All the alternatives are pretty much dead and buried. Microsoft, for example, recently admitted, “We had no material Phone revenue this quarter.” Canonical, Ubuntu Linux’s parent company, has given up on smartphones. BlackBerry exists only as a brand name, and the manufacturer making “BlackBerry” phones is now using Android.

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Windows 10 is making too many PCs obsolete

Microsoft released its latest Windows 10 update earlier this year. The name, Creators Update,makes it sound bigger than it is; it’s really a minor step forward. But about 10 million Windows 10 customers have to face up to an unpleasant surprise: Their machines can’t update to Creators Update.

That’s how many poor sad sacks bought a Windows 8.x laptop in 2013 or 2014 with an Intel Clover Trail processor. Any of them who have tried to update their PC with the March 2017 Creators Update, version 1703, had no success and were presented with this message: “Windows 10 is no longer supported on this PC.” Boy, that must have been fun!

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Kill it! Kill Windows XP now!

The headline — “HMS Queen Elizabeth is ‘running outdated Windows XP’, raising cyber attack fears” — was startling, but wrong. The United Kingdom’s newest aircraft carrier wasn’t running Windows XP. But some of the contractors that built the warship were.

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, has been purchasing Windows XP support, at least through this year, so odds are our military still has XP systems running to this very day.

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Microsoft, please stop doing things for our own good

For over 20 years, Microsoft stomped on its competitors and then defended itself against the resulting antitrust lawsuits. But with desktop Windows waning in importance and its desktop software rivals largely gone, Microsoft seemed to have turned a new leaf. Or had it?

In the one software sphere left where it still has rivals — antivirus and security software — Microsoft is up to its old anti-competitive tricks. Late last year, Eugene Kaspersky, founder of the eponymous antivirus company, said, “When you upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft automatically and without any warning deactivates all ‘incompatible’ security software and in its place installs… you guessed it — its own Defender antivirus. But what did it expect when independent developers were given all of one week before the release of the new version of the OS to make their software compatible?”

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For real Windows 10 privacy, you need the China Government Edition

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WWDC: Apple plays catch-up

I may have been the only tech journalist in the San Francisco area who didn’t bother with the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Why? Because I didn’t expect the company to announce anything new and meaningful. I wasn’t wrong.

Oh, some people thought it was great. If Apple announced a new apple (the kind that grows on trees), some people would swear it was the tastiest fruit ever, before it was even ripe and ready to eat. I’m not one of them.

The one bit of news that caught my attention is that Apple has stopped neglecting the Mac. For several years now, Macs have been the red-haired stepchildren of Apple’s hardware line.

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Windows 10 S is crippleware

The best thing I can say about Windows 10 S is that it’s not Windows RT. RT ran on ARM processors, so you couldn’t run any of your existing applications on it. At least with Windows 10 S, you can run a few older Windows apps: Evernote, Slack, Photoshop Elements and Autodesk Sketch. But serious programs, such as Microsoft Office? Nope. Full Photoshop? Hardly! Full Autodesk? Don’t make me laugh! Heck, you can’t even run Office 365 on it — at least not yet, anyway.

This is not a small office/home office PC operating system.

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The Internet of messy things

In the beginning, devices on the internet were fun. My favorite was the Carnegie-Mellon’s Computer Science Department Coke Machine. Starting in the 1970s, you could “ping” it to see if it had sodas ready and if they were cold yet. It was good, silly fun. Now everything except the cat* is hooked to the internet, and that’s not so funny at all.

Oh, sure, some internet of things (IoT) devices are enjoyable and useful. I have an Amazon Echo in my bedroom and a Google Home in my kitchen. I use them every day. But I’m aware of their privacy problems. You should be too.

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