TED Talk Feature – How Better Tech Could Protect Us From Distraction

This week’s Featured TED Talk attempts to help us control how tech controls us. Does that make sense? If you think about it – tech today controls what we do. How can we get control of our tech?

Check out Tristan Harris’ TED Talk, “How Better Tech Could Protect Us From Distraction”.

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Windows 10 Anniversary Edition Gets a Date

Today Microsoft announced that the Windows 10 Anniversary Update will be available to the general public on August 2.

The blog post didn’t provide any new details other than the headline with the date, so it was likely posted earlier than intended. However it is well known that update was due to be released by the end of the summer, so the August 2nd date makes sense.

win10anniversary

Originally announced at this year’s Build conference, the Anniversary Update includes a large suite of new tools for Windows 10 users. Most exciting perhaps is a revamped set of stylus features with Windows Ink and the new Ink Workspace, which includes improved Sticky Notes with Cortana support, and a whiteboard & screen capture tool that you can get to from any app.

There are also a new set of API’s (application programming interface) allowing apps to better take advantage of inking tools, including a awesome new ruler than can be programmed into any UWP (universal windows platform) app.

This is also an important update for developers thanks to a native implementation of Ubuntu Bash, allowing Linux code to run natively right on top of Windows. For the first time, Windows has a real Unix terminal.

win10start

There are too many changes to list, but here are some notable ones:

  • The start menu has gotten a cleaner, more sensible redesign. (pictured above)
  • There’s a dark mode for all deppresives
  • Skype has a UWP app
  • Biometric authentication (Windows Hello) can be used to sign into apps and websites
  • Cortana can be augmented through apps and bots
  • Cortana can send notifications from your phone (even Android ones) to your PC, Apple Continuity style. Windows {hone users can answer phone calls on their PCs
  • Cortana works even when you’re logged out
  • You can finally switch between virtual desktops with a single gesture (a four-finger swipe)
  • Some UI refreshments and new icons
  • Notifications can now include images and more detail
  • Taskbar icons for UWP apps can show notification counts and other badges
  • Microsoft Edge finally has support for extensions, as well as gestures for navigating back and forward

Those of us who are Windows Insiders have been beta-testing the Anniversary Update since its announcement. The last couple of builds have been particularly stable so it seems Microsoft just has to just put some polish on it before August 2.

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Facebook Gets Slideshows

Facebook is launching a very cool update today that many of you may be excited about.

Slideshows.

If you have have taken more than five photos or videos in the last 24 hours, Facebook will pre-make a video for you and pop it up to the top of your News Feed. You can then customize the clip to your liking – much like the Friendship videos from earlier this year.

Slideshows Facebook

You can also simply click the “Try it” button if you see a friend’s slideshow.

There are 10 different themes at the moment, using various overlays and background music. These include: “Inspired, Nostalgic, Playful, Night Out, Birthday, Epic, Thankful, Tropical, Bollywood, and Amped.”

“Slideshows” is small but fun update that stops users from having to install a separate app just for creating a slideshow. It is also similar to both Google’s and Apple’s photos apps, which include dynamic slideshow creation tools.

Facebook reports that it be adding more themes over time. The feature is launching globally this week, but as is usually the case, it’s iOS only to start.

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Should You Upgrade to Windows 10 While It is Free?

Microsoft’s Windows 10 offer was one of the most unprecedented offers Microsoft made in the past few years. Typically, Microsoft would offer Windows updates to users via servicing packs and patch updates for free for the lifetime of the OS, then give consumers the opportunity to pay for updates to the new OS. Of course, most consumers typically stuck to the old version of the OS with updates only happening when people got new PCs/Tablets when their old one broke.

With Microsoft’s Windows 10 update, all that’s changed. Now the new update is being offered for free to users on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 devices. Over 300 million have already upgraded to Windows 10 and use it daily, so Microsoft’s off to a good start. With the free upgrade period coming to a close on July 29, some users of Microsoft’s older OS may be unsure of what to do.

Unless your PC is more then 3 or 4 years old I would take Microsoft up on their offer and here are a few reasons why.

Windows 10 Apps

Typically people who are against upgrading to Windows 10 often cite this as a reason not to update. Some believe that “apps” are useless and should be confined to the realm of the smartphone or tablet. After all, the browser can do everything for you, with little or no fuss. That may be true to some extent, but Universal Windows apps offer value for users who choose to use them.

windows10store

I use the USA Today App everyday and the Netflix, Hulu, WatchESPN ESPN & NFL apps are top of the line. The Windows 10 App Store does have a way to go – but it is a far better experience then what we had with Windows 8. I look for this to continue to improve.

Integration 

Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 integrated heavily with Windows Phone , sharing tabs in internet explorer, apps in the app store, theme colours, and more. In Windows 10, not only is Microsoft deepening the integration, but they are also adding in support for more phones on other operating systems. Take an iPhone for example, if you add Cortana, OneDrive, Groove Music and the office apps to it, you can share data between your devices quickly and easily. An Android phone can be even more easily integrated, allowing you to share text messages and notifications through the cloud using Cortana. If you don’t particularly care which phone you use, a Windows phone offers near the same functionality as a Windows 10 PC would provide you in the new universal environment. In essence, you get a great amount of compatibility between your phone and your PC that no other OS offers.

Updates Forever

Windows 10 comes with the promise of more free updates from Microsoft as long as your device can handle it. Microsoft defines Windows 10 as an OS that is never really “finished” in terms of features and stability fixes. For example, Windows 10 launched in July and received a huge update in November 2015 (The November Update), it is due another update in July (The Anniversary Update) and will most likely end up with a cycle of 2 major updates a year. That’s two updates that add more features to your computer for free. If you update to Windows 10 today, you don’t have to pay for any other Windows updates – if you don’t, you do.

Cortana

Microsoft’s Cortana is an experience that debuted on Windows Phone 8.1 devices about 2 years ago. Shortly after that, the firm began work on migrating the Cortana experience to Windows 10 PCs and other devices. Cortana provides on Windows 10 a well-rounded experience, allowing you to type or speak commands into it through the search box experience.

As someone who predominately uses Cortana by typing, it is very much like a command line interface for those who don’t like using the command line. The best thing about Cortana is that it remains synced between all your devices and actively works to tie your devices together allowing you to send text messages via Cortana, make cross-device reminders or even sync your notifications.

New is Good

Let’s face it, Windows 7 looks dated and Windows 8.1 has a very divisive user interface. With Windows 10 for PCs, Microsoft draws inspiration from their much-lauded (design wise) mobile OS. There’s a new action center which handles all your notifications, a unification of the Windows 10 universal app with “classic” Windows apps via use of “windows” and a more standardized design language.

There are more customization options like the native Windows spotlight service which you have a different lockscreen wallpaper everyday and apps like Dynamic theme having the ability to pull down background images from the service of your choice.

If Windows 10 is slicker, prettier, freer and just better than older versions of Windows, why are people still resisting the update? Now, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Windows 10, as with any other OS, there are concerns about updating the OS. People may just dislike the changes, Microsoft’s new integrated servicing model may tick power-users the wrong way and Microsoft’s heavy-handed tactics in downloading the Windows 10 update on older PCs may have turned some people off.

 

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Apple’s iPhone 7 Brings Small Changes

In case you missed it Apple’s new iPhone, appropriately named, the iPhone7 will be here soon. What can we expect from Apple with the new model? Will it be worth an upgrade?

Here are some of the changes that I have found are coming.

The new iPhone will reportedly feature a longer ear speaker. Also the ambient light sensor, which automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness based on the surrounding light, will swap positions from the left to the right side of the phone.

The proximity sensor, which detects the distance between the phone and your ear, will adopt a “dual specification”. This could mean the phone will have two such sensors to provide faster and more accurate readings. The rear camera face on the iPhone 7 will become larger. And the iPhone 7 Plus (the larger phone) may sport a dual rear camera which has been rumored for some time so it will be nice to see if this actually does happen. This upgrade could push sales the Apple’s plus sized phone.

Oddly this year’s iPhone will apparently only offer these minor physical changes, and that it will be next year’s model that will bring much bigger design changes.

This is also apparently going to be a 256GB model available which will also make many happy as well.

You can expect the iPhone7 to arrive this September.

 

It appears if you can wait another year you will be able to skip this one.

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Android Users Beware “Godless”

If you are an Android user – you have have reason to fear “Godless”, a new
family of malware targeting Android mobile devices that has been detected by digital security firm Trend Micro. The malware, named after the ANDROIDOS_GODLESS.HRX filename it uses, uses multiple exploits to root users’ devices.

New 'Godless' Malware Targets Android Mobile Devices

Godless can target virtually any Android device running on Android 5.1 (Lollipop) or earlier. Today almost 90 percent of Android devices run on Android 5.1 or earlier. Apparently malicious apps related to this threat can be found in all over Android app stores, including Google Play, and has affected over 850,000 devices worldwide.

Godless is similar to an exploit kit. Both use a type of open source rooting framework called android-rooting-tools. The framework has various exploits in its arsenal that it can use to root a number of different Android-based devices. The two most prominent vulnerabilities targeted by the rooting kit are CVE-2015-3636 (used by the PingPongRoot exploit) and CVE-2014-3153 (used by the Towelroot exploit).

By gaining root privilege, Godless can connect to a command-and-control (C&C) server capable of delivering remote instructions that force the device to download and install additional apps without the user’s knowledge. At best, an iunfected user receives unwanted apps on the phones. At worst, the same technique can be used to install a backdoor on the phone in order to spy on the user.

Google is apparently aware of the threat, and has stated that they are taking “appropriate actions”. I would recommend that should review the developers listed for apps whenever you download new programs from any app store. You should also be suspicious about unknown developers. All apps should also be downloaded from trusted stores such as Google or Amazon.

 

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Microsoft’s Edge Saves Battery Life

In a post on its official Windows blog, Microsoft reported that  new new browser, Edge offers significantly better battery life than its competitors. According to the Microsoft’s tests, Edge provides 36 to 53-percent longer endurance than Chrome, Firefox or Opera when streaming videos or performing everyday tasks like browsing. If true – these are significant numbers.

edge

Microsoft is reporting that Edge has the best battery life on a Microsoft operating system. The test they ran was on a Microsoft’s Surface Book. The company provided a video detailing their test, which has four of the laptops streaming the same video on four different browsers.

The Microsoft Surface Book running Edge lasted the longest at 7 hours and 22 minutes. The next best was Opera at 6:18, followed by Firefox at 5:20 and Chrome at 4:19.

Microsoft further stated that the laptops were in Battery Saver mode, which can make your laptop last longer, but may also reduce performance levels dramatically. Microsoft said that the version of Edge that gets better battery life will be available with the Windows Anniversary Edition, which is due out in July.

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Netflix & Amazon Urge Users to Change Their Passwords

Both Netflix and Amazon are warning some customers that their accounts may be at risk and are urging them to change their passwords. This appears to be the first major effects of the massive database breaches that have surfaced during the past month.

The emails, which have started to surface in more and more inboxes recently, warn the recipient that their credentials may have been found in a cache of passwords and emails that made their way online. Both Amazon and Netflix assure their customers that neither company was directly breached.

In both the cases of Netflix and Amazon, the services have created temporary passwords for users who have been caught in the leaks. The security step was taken because “many customers reuse their passwords on multiple websites,” according to the email delivered by Amazon.

The belief that users have reused passwords is probably a correct one. Many people still use the same password across many accounts, which is a major problem and why Amazon and Netflix are moving forward with there urging of their customers to change their password.

This precautions taken by Netflix and Amazon follows several weeks of an unprecedented amount of usernames and passwords stolen from major sites and services.

Recent History of Large Services Hacked

A total of 167 million accounts from LinkedIn, the result of a 2012 breach, surfaced in May after appearing available for sale on a dark net marketplace. Just weeks later, 427 million credentials from MySpace appeared online, the result of an apparently unreported breach of the social network’s databases. Sixty-five million Tumblr accounts that were stolen in 2013 were acquired at the end of May. In June, 32 million credentials from Twitter users were put up for sale on the dark web, though Twitter denies it was ever the victim of a hack.

Screenshot of Netflix’s Password Change Notification

Change Your Passwords

Even if you don’t get an email from Netflix or Amazon—or any other company taking extra steps to protect their customers—suggesting a password change, now is the perfect opportunity to do it.

First, you can check to see if your account appears in any of the recent breaches by using the free tools offered by LeakedSource, an online database of stolen credentials, or Have I Been Pwned, a collection of compromised usernames and passwords maintained by security expert Troy Hunt. Regardless if you appear on either list, it never hurts to refresh your current protection.

When filling out the password form, make sure to use a unique combination that isn’t in use for any other account belonging to you; a breach of one service can create a domino effect and compromise you later.

Make sure to use a combination of words, numbers, symbols, and upper and lowercase letters. Try to avoid anything easily guessable—anything on the list of most common passwords is a nonstarter—and keep away from publicly available personal information like your birthday.

Use a Password Manager

I have suggested this countless times here, on this fine technology blog as well as to my workmates, friends and family. Invest in a Password Manager like “LastPass”. Password Managers can take a daunting job (like having strong, encrypted and unique passwords) and making is very easy. Those of us using a password manager have very little to fear from security hacks like the ones mentioned here.

Consider Two-Factor Authentication

Consider using “two-factor authentication” for your important online accounts, especially financial accounts. These are becoming easier to use. The one I recommend is Google’s Authentication. You can learn more here.

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Windows 10 Battles Bloatware

Yesterday Microsoft released a free tool for Windows 10 that scrubs PCs of the “bloatware” – also commonly known as “crapware”. Bloatware is all of that unwanted software that a new computer almost always comes with.

Refresh Windows must be downloaded from Microsoft’s website, currently works only on preview builds of 10, those seeded to participants of the Insider program. Since Insider is a precursor to the production code, the tool should be usable by owners of systems upgraded to the Anniversary Update, version 1607, which is slated to ship next month.

At the moment, the tool can be downloaded via a link embedded in a long message on Microsoft’s support forum; the message appears in Edge after clicking a new link in the Settings panel under the “Update & Security” item’s “Recovery” option.

refresh windows

The Refresh Windows tool lets Windows 10 users install a recent, pristine copy of the operating system on their PC, eliminating all applications — including pre-loaded ‘crapware’ — but retaining the personal files already on the drive.

According to the forum message — which was penned by a Microsoft employee identified only as “Jason” — Refresh Windows downloads and installs a recent, pristine build of Windows 10 on the PC, overwriting the pre-installed version.

More importantly, all non-Microsoft applications that were bundled or already installed on Windows 10 — the exception include the Mail email client and the Edge browser — are eliminated during the refresh. “It will also remove most pre-installed applications such as OEM applications, support applications, and drivers,” wrote Jason. The term “OEM” (original equipment manufacturers) refers to computer makers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo.

For that reason, Refresh Windows would be best used immediately after purchasing a new Windows 10 system, and before the buyer installed any software on the machine.

Users of Refresh Windows may choose to retain their personal files — those stashed in the core folders such as “Pictures” and “Documents” — or wipe everything from the drive. In all cases, they will have to reinstall applications, including Microsoft Office and third-party programs, and probably download and install new device drivers, either through Windows Update or from the individual websites of the PC maker, graphics card manufacturer and the like.

As of yesterday, Refresh Windows worked only on Insider build 14342 or later. Microsoft issued build 14342 on May 26, but has followed with several since then, most recently on Thursday with build 14677. Assuming Microsoft follows through, the tool will work with the production code set ship in July, which means this promising tool will be available to all Windows 10 users later this summer.

Windows users have long been able to reach the same result by downloading a clean disk image of Windows, then installing that on a crapware-filled PC. But that approach has been largely used by experienced hands: Refresh Windows still requires much manual work in re-installing deleted apps, but it automates the process somewhat by taking care of the image downloading.

For that reason, Refresh Windows should appeal to a regular, non technical Windows 10 users.

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Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday “Fixes” 40 Vulnerabilities

Microsoft fixed more than 40 vulnerabilities in its products Tuesday, including critical ones in Windows, Internet Explorer, Edge and Office.

The vulnerabilities are covered in 16 security bulletins, six of which are marked as critical and the rest as important. This puts the total number of Microsoft security bulletins for the past six months to more than 160, a six-month record for the past decade.

Attackers can exploit this vulnerability by sending specifically crafted DNS requests to a Windows Server 2012 or a Windows Server 2012 R2 deployment configured as a DNS server.

The critical bulletins for Internet Explorer and Edge, namely MS16-063 and MS16-068, should also be high on the priority list because they cover remote code execution flaws that can be exploited by simply browsing to a specially crafted website.

Next on the list should be the Microsoft Office security bulletin, MS16-070, because the applications in the Office suite are a common target for attackers, particularly through malicious email attachments.

The most important vulnerability in the Microsoft Office bulletin is a remote code execution flaw tracked as CVE-2016-0025 that stems from the Microsoft Word RTF format. Since RTF can be used to attack through Outlook’s preview pane, the flaw can be triggered with a simple e-mail without user interaction.

To check for Windows updates

  1. Open Windows Update by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking All Programs, and then clicking Windows Update.

  2. In the left pane, click Check for updates, and then wait while Windows looks for the latest updates for your computer.

  3. If any updates are found, click Install updates. Administrator permission required If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

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