April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

While more than half of the businesses worldwide have adopted Windows 10 for at least some of their machines, many are still using Windows XP and even Vista, Microsoft’s least popular operating system in recent years, to some degree and for a variety of reasons.

That’s the findings of a survey from Spiceworks, which announced its 2017 OS Adoption Trends of desktop and laptop PCs used in businesses worldwide. Despite Microsoft ending support for XP and Vista, and making no bones about its desire to get people to move, the survey found 52% of businesses are still running at least one instance of Windows XP and 9% are running at least one instance of Windows Vista.

Support for Windows XP ended on April 8, 2014, and support for Windows Vista will end on April 11, 2017. By support, that means no more fixes to vulnerabilities in the OS.

“Although some IT departments aren’t able to upgrade on time due to a lack of time or budget, it’s critical for IT professionals to make a business case for more resources, given the security risks of running operating systems with unpatched vulnerabilities,” said Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks in a statement.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

mac-pro-heating-up.jpg

The Mac Pro is finally heating up again.

By now, you’ve probably heard the news: Apple is working on a new, redesigned Mac Pro. The company also announced that the current Mac Pro is getting a processor bump this week, and that there will be a new pro-user focused iMac coming later this year.

The importance of this news cannot be overstated.

Let’s not beat around the bush. The continued existence of the entire Mac ecosystem has been in question. Yes, Apple has said it cares about the Mac, but its actions haven’t reflected that in ways that matter to the folks who need to make some tough decisions.

It’s all about the ecosystem

At the core of an ecosystem like the Mac are, of course, the products. These include the Macs, and also MacOS, as well as various accessories ranging from mice to monitors. When a company introduces popular products, a market is formed.

If there are enough customers, the market becomes attractive for companies to create aftermarket products designed to enhance and extend the core. This has been one of the strengths of the Mac market for decades. The popularity of the Mac has inspired a strong army of software and hardware vendors to build products that enhance the use of Macs, and, in some cases, overcome limitations.

Customers buying Macs provide an opportunity for developers, giving them the justification to invest in the research, development, production, and distribution of products designed to work with Macs.

Since 1984, the Mac has suffered its share of slumps; but since the days of the first iMacs, it’s been a solid market. It has a strong base of loyal application developers providing excellent software products. It also has an equally strong base of hardware add-on manufacturers providing both broad market products (like laptop cases) and specialized hardware products (like broadcast video capture cards).

While there are many mainstream applications (like Office and Adobe’s Creative Cloud) that work almost identically on the Mac and on Windows, there are also a great many specialized applications that only work on the Mac. Because the Mac found its early differentiation from the Microsoft world in the creative community, there are many tools that appeal strongly to creative professionals. Over time, some of them became available on both platforms, but some tools remain available only on the Mac.

The decisions that aftermarket developers and manufacturers make when choosing a platform to support often involve enormous investments, so they’re not made lightly. Careful consideration of the current market, the history of the market, and — especially — the future of the market goes into any analysis. Only if the prospects look good for a reasonable ROI does a vendor choose to build a product for a given platform.

But it’s not just vendors who must make careful ROI calculations before investing in a computing platform. So, too, must customers. Individual users, especially with Macs, need to decide if the price premium is worth it. Do they want to invest in applications for that platform? Will they get enough value from the platform long term to invest in the time to learn and optimize it for their needs?

Corporate customers and professionals have even bigger decisions. Corporate customers must decide if they can justify the costs of provisioning and support to outfit an entire fleet of hardware and software, thereby creating their own internal ecosystem. Professionals have to decide if they’re willing to base projects they’re working on upon a hardware platform, essentially linking the success of their projects to the promise that the computing platform can perform well enough to meet their needs.

Backseat to the iPhone

For more than three decades, the Mac platform has provided the capabilities needed by its professional, corporate, and individual customers to allow them to derive value. In doing so, it has created a strong enough market to justify investment by aftermarket vendors.

Of course, a lot has changed since 1984. Back then, Apple was a nascent computer company, and was still finding its footing. Today, Apple is the world’s most valuable company. Back then, Apple made all its money selling computers. Today, the vast bulk of Apple’s market value is derived from the iPhone.

For almost any other company, the Mac would be the star player. In Apple’s portfolio, the Mac takes a back seat to the iPhone. Frankly, just about anything would take a back seat to the iPhone. And therein lies the problem.

You see, Apple has behaved, in its events and promotional activities, exactly like one would expect, showcasing the iPhone as the star and the Mac as … not so much.

Mac product refreshes have lagged behind. Some products have gone a very long time between updates. In a business where product performance still generally increases according to Moore’s Law, long delays in upgrades seem even longer to those in need of performance.

The poster child of this problem has been the Mac Pro. By any measure, the odd, trashcan Mac Pro introduced back in 2013 was eye-wateringly expensive. But for those professionals in need of performance, sometimes it’s necessary to pay the price to get the job done. In 2013, weird though it was, and without any internal expansion, the Mac Pro showed its performance chops, at least for certain types of applications.

But after 39 months without an upgrade, the situation has become problematic for many professional users. See, the issue isn’t just the Mac Pro. If the Mac Pro were the only high-performance desktop computer, that would be one thing. But it’s not.

There’s the entire world of completely customizable, boiling hot desktop PCs out there. No, it’s not a market the size of the iPhone. But for a pro who needs to transcode 4K video in realtime, or a scientist who would like to get calculations done this century, it’s been getting increasingly hard to remain loyal to the Mac platform.

Switching Costs

Yes, the Mac platform does have certain advantages that speed the productivity for professional users. But when Mac hardware can’t keep up, and is substantially more expensive than its alternatives, it becomes increasingly hard to justify.

At some point, you start to consider whether it’s time to switch.

More great project ideas

DIY-IT Project Guide

DIY-IT Project Guide

Updated: If you’re working on a DIY project of your own, this comprehensive guide to tech projects is a good place to start.

It’s important to understand that any decision, whether to switch to Windows or stay with the Mac, is something of an act of faith. All buyers — especially professionals — have to predict which platform will best meet their needs. But it’s more than that. It’s the switching costs.

Any professional who bases work on a given platform has a lot invested. It’s not just the hardware. It’s the training, the muscle memory, the add-on gadgets, the software licenses, the data, and all the processes and customizations used to drive daily work. Any switch would require not just a jump to the other OS, but the stepwise migration of all of that entrenchment to a different environment.

Apple seemed to have lost interest in the pro market. The Mac Pro hadn’t been updated for 39 months. The last Mac mini refresh , 900+ days ago, reduced its flexibility and performance. Even the large iPad Pro hasn’t gotten an annual refresh.

Yes, the MacBook Pro was updated late last year. A year earlier, the iMac got a performance boost. But that was it. Yes, last year Tim Cook gave lip service to “great Mac desktops” in the pipeline, but that was last year. As soon as the spring event calendar seemed past its expiration date, pros started worrying that the Mac, especially pro-level Macs, had no future.

Apparently, that’s not the case. Apple finally did what it’s normally loath to do: calm fears and give a look to the future.

The timing of Apple’s special meeting was essential. Columnists, tech reporters, and customers were all just realizing that no spring Mac product announcements were coming, leading to the inevitable sad conclusion that Apple was once again withholding love from the Mac platform.

More to the point, Apple acknowledged (and showed real understanding) of the concerns of professional Mac users, indicating that it’s redesigning the Mac Pro to be more in line with the flexibility required to meet the vastly differing needs of serious professional users.

I cannot stress enough how important this meeting was. Many professionals, myself included, often look two to three years into the future (at minimum) when planning projects. We have to decide the platforms we’re using. It was starting to appear that counting on the Mac platform could be a career-damaging activity.

The lack of activity on Apple’s part seemed to be sending the message that it was time to start migration planning off the Mac platform.

Sure, it’s still always possible that Apple won’t deliver. But given how much Apple executives value the company’s reputation, I think it’s a worthwhile bet that we’ll see those machines released in due course.

That means that pros and corporate planners can stay their course, don’t need to make migration plans, don’t need to budget time and money for switching costs, and can save up their pennies so they can forklift them to Cupertino when the new machines become available.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Video: Here’s how to enable the new Night Shift mode on your Mac

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

Opera Software today boasted that the number of new U.S. users of its namesake browser more than doubled days after Congress voted to repeal restrictions on broadband providers eager to sell customers’ surfing history.

Opera debuted a VPN — virtual private network — a year ago, and finalized the feature in September. A VPN disguises the actual IP address of the user, effectively anonymizing the browsing, and encrypts the data transmitted to and from sites, creating a secure “tunnel” to the destination.

By using a VPN, U.S. users block their Internet service providers (ISPs) from recording their online activity.

“The average number of daily new Opera users in the U.S. has more than doubled since Congress decided to repeal certain internet privacy protections last Tuesday,” claimed the company in a statement. As support, it offered a graph illustrating a 109 percent increase in new U.S. users from March 28 to March 30.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

Facebook’s appeal against 381 warrants for information from the accounts of its users was rejected by a New York court on the ground that earlier orders refusing to quash the warrants issued in a criminal proceeding could not be appealed.

The decision by the New York State Court of Appeals did not address key issues of whether the broad searches were unconstitutional, and whether internet services like Facebook have standing to challenge such warrants on behalf of their users, particularly when they are served with ‘gag orders’ that prevent providers from informing subscribers about the warrants.

“This case undoubtedly implicates novel and important substantive issues regarding the constitutional rights of privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the parameters of a federal statute establishing methods by which the government may obtain certain types of information,” wrote Judge Leslie E. Stein, writing for the majority.

The judge added that the court was constrained by state law to affirm the Appellate Division’s order. “We have no occasion to consider, and therefore do not pass on, the merits of the parties’ arguments regarding Facebook’s standing to assert Fourth Amendment claims on behalf of its users, whether an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her electronic communications, the constitutionality of the warrants at issue, or the propriety of the District Attorney’s refusal to release the supporting affidavit,” she wrote.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

A coast-to-coast network trial by AT&T last month using open-source “white box” switches, points toward a future of more reliable services that may come quicker than some people think.

The carrier ran a trial on its core network earlier this year using switches based on chips from Intel, Broadcom and startup Barefoot Networks. The latter only started shipping in sample quantities in December, making the trial deployment a remarkably quick turnaround.

Like other carriers and cloud providers, AT&T is aggressively shifting its network toward SDN (software-defined networking). As these changes are carried out across more infrastructure, they should give service providers and subscribers more flexibility and higher performance.

AT&T called its trial the first of its kind in the telecommunications industry. It set up white-box switches from two different manufacturers, using processors from the three merchant-silicon vendors, and ran an open network OS from SnapRoute on all three. The trial involved carrying customer traffic across the U.S. on the carrier’s core network.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

When it comes to the latest in energy tech, solar panels are so 2010. Solar shingles and microgrids are the latest tech tidbits to have if you’re looking to get (kind of) off the grid, help the environment and save some money to boot.

Computerworld senior reporter Lucas Mearian has the details on microgrids, which allow companies and even whole communities to generate their own power from a variety of sources — natural gas, wind, solar, etc. — to cover their own needs. And if there’s excess, it can be sold back to the local power company.

If you’re not ready for your own micro-grid, you might want to know more about the shingles, which Tesla will begin taking orders for this month. The advantage? Not only do they produce electricity from the sun, but they can last as long as 50 years and they don’t cost dramatically more than regular shingles.

Plus, they look like…roof shingles.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

Cybercriminals like to subvert legitimate online services like Google Docs and Dropbox to carry out their malicious activities. The free website hosting company Wix is the latest addition to the list of services they’ve abused.

Researchers from security company Cyren found that scammers were creating phishing sites designed to harvest Office 365 login credentials via Wix, which offers a simple click-and-drag editor for building web pages. As typically happens with free services, the criminals are taking advantage of these tools to carry out their operations.

The phishing site looks like a new browser window open to an Office 365 login page. In fact, it’s a screenshot of an Office 365 login page with editable fields overlaid on the image. Users would think the site is legitimate and enter the login credentials, except the information is entered into the fields on the overlay and not the actual Office 365 page.

On the desktop, the overlay is fine, but the fact that fields are separate from the image is much more obvious on the mobile device, Cyren said.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

The news that Microsoft will sell Samsung’s Galaxy S8 in its U.S. stores came as a surprise to many. Shouldn’t Microsoft be concentrating on keeping its Windows 10 Mobile platform going, while we wait for the (perhaps) mythical Surface Phone? It’s a move that’s made many Windows Mobile fans unhappy.

But pull back the curtains a little, and it turns out that Microsoft has slowly been making inroads on the Android ecosystem, co-opting Google’s platform and absorbing it into its overall enterprise software strategy. Starting with Office 365, Microsoft has been slowly bending Android to its own image, even providing its own lock screen and launchers to give it that distinctly Microsoft feel.

Making a Microsoft Android

It’s an approach I’ve become very familiar with over the last year, when I stopped using one of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile-based Lumia smartphones and started carrying an Android-based Samsung Galaxy Note 5. What began as an experiment became my everyday smartphone, and I later upgraded to the newer Galaxy S7 Edge. It turned out that everything I could do with my Lumia’s Windows Mobile I could do on my Galaxy’s Android—and quite a bit more, besides.

Much of that is down to Microsoft’s mobile Office 365 apps. The mobile versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have very similar capabilities across Windows Mobile, iOS, and Android. With your files stored on OneDrive, you also have access to the data you want wherever you are. In my case, that can even be on an underground train, thanks to Wi-Fi’s availability in London’s Tube.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

RISELab, the successor to the U.C. Berkeley group that created Apache Spark, is hatching a project that could replace Spark—or at least displace it for key applications.

Ray is a distributed framework designed for low-latency real-time processing, such as machine learning. Created by two doctoral students at RISELab, Philipp Moritz and Robert Nishihara, it works with Python to run jobs either on a single machine or distributed across a cluster, using C++ for components that need speed.

The main aim for Ray, according to an article at Datanami, is to create a framework that can provide better speeds than Spark. Spark was intended to be faster than what it replaced (mainly, MapReduce), but it still suffers from design decisions that make it difficult to write applications with “complex task dependencies” because of its internal synchronization mechanisms.

On the other hand, Ray has as little state as possible across the cluster. Where there needs to be a record of the system’s state, it’s kept in a central Redis server. The server tracks info like which jobs are located on what machines, but it doesn’t actually contain any data associated with a given job. The framework also makes use of an immutable object model; any objects that can be made immutable don’t need to be synchronized across the cluster, which saves yet more time.

April 5, 2017 brianradio2016

Windows 10 Creators Update, the first major update to Microsoft’s operating system since last summer’s Windows 10 Anniversary Update, is finally here.

As always, Microsoft will make much of its new version — to the point that it’s announced that impatient users can download the Creators Update today, a week before the official April 11th roll-out date. But is it as big a deal as Microsoft wants you to believe? Or is it much ado about nothing?

I’ve been using the Creators Update in its various builds for months, and have put the final version through its paces. Here’s the lowdown.

Start menu folders

One note before I begin: Ignore the name “Creators Update.” This newest upgrade to Windows 10 has very little to do with creating things apart from a few relatively minor features that I’ll describe later.