April, 2013 Blog archives

Will Microsoft bring back the Start button?

Published April 18, 2013

Windows 8.1 aka Blue logo

When Microsoft first revealed Windows 8, complaints started rolling in almost immediately. The lack of the traditional Start Menu and the fact that Windows would no longer be booting directly to the Windows desktop were just a couple examples of the many complaints that continue to trickle in regarding the new OS.

Rumor has it that Windows 8.1, codenamed Blue, will possibly offer preferences that will enable booting directly to the Windows 8 desktop and the ability to bring back the Windows Start Menu. On April 14th, MicrosoftPortal.net blogged about how the twinui.dll file found in the leaked Windows Blue Build 9364 contains code that controls whether the computer will boot directly to the desktop. As previous builds of Windows Blue did not contain this option, it’s pretty clear that Microsoft may be giving in to customer complaints and are working to fix them.

Screenshot form microsoftportal.net
Screenshot from http://microsoftportal.net/windows-blue/2037-windows-blue-pozvolit-otklyuchit-startovyy-ekran.html

As we all know, Microsoft is unpredictable when it comes to making changes. These are just rumors at this point, so we can’t count on these fixes to actually happen. We won’t know until 8.1 is released in August 2013. If you can’t wait for the Windows Blue, programs like Start8 from Stardock may be your answer. Start8 allows users to tweak the Windows 8 experience to more closely mimic that of Windows 7 and XP. You can boot straight to the desktop, skip the new (and sometimes confusing) tiled start menu and bring back the start button.

Windows 8 has some great new features that make it more secure and easier to troubleshoot than previous versions. Bringing back the Start Menu and the ability to boot directly to the desktop will (in my opinion) make Windows 8 the best Microsoft OS yet!

‘Microsoft tech support’ scam captured on video

Published April 11, 2013

For those of us working in the IT industry, we get used to removing viruses and malware from plenty of machines on a regular basis. Malware is a huge problem that seems to only be getting worse. Part of the problem is a lack of education for the end users. It’s easy for the less tech savvy to get tricked into downloading a piece of software that disguises itself as legitimate piece of software (Java, Flash, Adobe etc.) While browsing the internet, users can also get tricked or scared into downloading and installing “Fake AV” programs that look legit, most times copying the GUI (graphical user interface) of popular Anti-Virus programs (AVG, Norton, Microsoft Security Essentials, ESET etc.) by thinking that their computers are infected.

I can understand how confusing all of this is for end users. Being bombarded with ads and scams online constantly can be overwhelming for the casual computer user. Luckily, places like New River Computing able to help folks clean their machines and equip them with software to thwart off these attacks by using good, reputable AV programs, such as VIPRE and Malwarebytes, and using managed service software to keep machines patches and up-to-date. We also recommend users operate under a “user account” instead of an “admin account”.

Having a good AV program installed is certainly important, as well as being mindful of pop-ups and shifty websites. But, one thing AV software can’t protect a computer from is a fake Microsoft technical support phone call scam. These types of scams have been going on for several years but, seem to be increasing in popularity. Criminals are finding that, while more and more people are becoming educated on how to avoid scams on the computer, they are succeeding in scamming people over the phone in to downloading malicious software. Having someone call your house and act like a Microsoft Representative, telling you that your machine is infected and at risk can be pretty alarming. The purpose of these calls is to get an easy $299 (or whatever amount they choose) by scaring you into thinking there’s something really wrong with your computer and that they can fix it for you.

Fortunately, the methods used by some of these criminals to dupe users were recently captured by Jerome Segura, a senior security researcher at anti-malware company Malwarebytes. The video demonstrates the kinds of tactics used by these scammers to trick users into allowing them to remote in to your machine and take it over. Segura played along with the caller and recorded the entire interaction in a YouTube video. These scams usually start off with the alleged Microsoft representative asking you to turn on your computer to perform some checks for errors. They essentially ask you to open different applications which aren’t typically known by regular users, then tell you that the files you are looking at are malicious viruses and spyware. Usually, these are just event log files and/or temp files—neither of which pose any threat to your computers’ security.

I highly recommend watching this video. Pay attention to what the scammers asks Jerome to do and notice how strange the callers are act when he asks questions. And also, just for the record, Microsoft will NEVER call a user to let them know that their machine is infected…NEVER! That’s not how they operate. To avoid being the next victim, don’t ever take a phone call from someone who claims to be from Microsoft tell you that your machine has a problem. And also, make sure that your computer is up-to-date, remove unwanted software and also use a good anti-virus solution.

Stay safe and be skeptical!

How is AOL Still Earning Most of its Money from “AOL Connect” Subscribers?

Published April 10, 2013

A Dawson's Creek meme comparing 2013 to 1996

I remember when I received my first “internet capable” computer; it was a long time ago on my birthday in July. If you know anything about July in the southeast, you know it’s typically hot, humid and sticky. This weather is far too miserable to spend any real time outside. And until receiving my first computer, there was no reason to hide inside during the summer, other than to catch a brief reprieve from the heat and bask in AC. But that all changed the day the Internets came to my house. In fact, not only did the Internet fairy come to my house, it came to my own ROOM! I felt like Steve Jobs, who was once quoted as saying, “I'm very excited about having the Internet in my den.” And I agree: One of coolest things ever!

I had a great time learning how to navigate the new and endless amount of information at my fingertips. Thanks to AOL I had means of connecting to the web back then. I remember how awesome it was to get email and hear “You’ve Got Mail!” out of my little desktop speakers. I also remember how insanely slow the connection was and the amount of time it took to download ANYTHING!!! The end of the world didn’t seem nearly as scary as it did when a landline telephone call would boot me offline and stifle all of my patiently awaited downloads-in-progress. At 56k max download speeds, it took a long time to download anything larger than a text document. The bigger the file, the longer it took, and the greater the chances that someone would call and muddle it all up!

Ah, those were the good ol’ days: when the Internet was fresh and new and MTV still played music videos. But that was a long time ago. With blazing fast Internet connection speeds available now to most people in major parts of the world, dial-up Internet and AOL seems like a thing of the distant past. But wait…could it be…is AOL still around? Are there STILL people out there that readily pay AOL a regular subscription fee to connect to the Internet? Well contrary to popular opinion it’s true. Not only is it true, is seems that AOL still has some meat left on its bone in the “AOL Connect” market. Unfortunately, in this case, any meat left on the bone is too much.

Recently, AOL posted its fourth quarter financial results and it was a shock to find out that they are still earning most of their money from subscribers who are still, for whatever reason, actually paying to connect to the Internet using AOL. Worse, some people pay for AOL services while paying someone else for Internet. Do people not realize that they can just get an Internet connection bundled with their cable or phone service provider? Or do they simply love the outdated, glitch and slow AOL browser/toolbar combo, plastered with ads and worthless celebrity gossip headlines? Apparently some people purposefully choose AOL, or they don’t realize contemporary avenues for more sophisticated accessibility.

Amazingly, according to the financial news site Business Insider, AOL Connect subscribers are still one of the biggest reasons AOL is staying profitable. They reported that in the fourth quarter, the company earned $176.7 million from its “Membership Group,” which is more than company’s overall $133.1 million profit. I find this shameful. AOL makes a pretty underhanded and dishonest move by misleading their customers into thinking that the company holds the magical key to the Internet. In no small way, AOL is blatantly lying to customers and stealing their money.

There are longtime AOL customers that I’ve spoken with over the past few years that still think that AOL exclusively allows online access, web browsing and email. I thought that this population was very small, with only a few pockets of people scattered throughout the U.S. But I was wrong – there are many more AOL subscribers out there than I initially thought. Fortunately the tides are slowly turning. People are becoming more technologically savvy each day by learning that Internet service isn’t nearly as complex and fixed by primary providers. Furthermore, the masses are learning that AOL isn’t the only email service that exists and that there are much better email services nowadays to choose from.

Don’t get me wrong; most of us recognize that AOL was useful (and fantastic!) in its heyday. But those days are gone for the better. Lucky other areas of the AOL corporation seems to be slowly growing since those “old school” subscribers aren’t going to stick around and line their stockholders’ pockets forever. If they don’t get it together and start focusing on new and honest ways of generating revenue, then the useful existence of AOL as a whole could be a thing of the past entirely…just like MTV.

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