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Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

The Australian Federal Government department that handles social security, Centelink, is testing the Windows 7 beta . That may not be exciting news for most people . It isn’t for me either, really. But the nature of the computing world is such that any new operating system release by Microsoft is a big deal.

Government departments and businesses were slow to take up Vista. I’m not sure why – it was a good product, but got a bad press from the moment it came out.

Businesses and government departments which did not upgrade to Vista will almost have to upgrade to Windows 7. XP is now getting too old to support fully, and even getting XP drivers for new devices may become a problem. This will make Windows 7 Microsoft’s biggest ever selling operating system.

I have run Vista HP on my home computers since the day it was released, Vista Business on my main work computer, and Vista Ultimate on my video processing and games computers at work. All without any significant hitches.

I installed the Windows 7 beta on my home computer a couple of months ago. It is fast and stable. Impressively so for a beta. Changes to the taskbar are the most obvious new feature, and as this review points out, they are all good. At first I missed the ‘Show Desktop’ button, which I used all the time, but it is still there, just tucked away at the very bottom right hand corner. I dislike the new Windows Explorer which seems to me to make basic file operations (moving, copying, etc) less intuitive. But its new default setting of opening to ‘Libraries’ makes sense and will suit most people.

All in all a solid new product. And I don’t mind spending the money. If there was anything else out there that was better, I’d buy it. But there isn’t. And yes, I’ve tried Macs and Linux.

I only heard of this today. Australian parents and caregivers can get back up to 50% of the cost of eligible education expenses for primary and secondary schooling. The link is worth following if you live in Australia and have children at school.

Eligible expenses includes computers and related equipment, computer repairs, internet costs, etc.

It might do my business some good, so I’m not going to complain.

But that money given back to some means more money taken from others. Or reduced government spending elsewhere.

OK, so that’s not likely. You’re right. It’s going to come out of your pocket.

Emergency medicine specialists say as many lives are lost in Australia each year because of inadequate ER resources (including staff), as are lost on our roads.

Time to think about your priorities, boys and girls. Or get some decent IT advice. Or both.

National broadband gets the go ahead, but the government will do it itself. There are already some criticisms.

 No time to write in detail about this today, but a few questions spring to mind.

If the Federal Government has over $2,000 to spend for every man, woman and child in Australia, is this the best way to spend it?

Why does this require government intervention at all? If the government couldn’t find any corporate groups willing to invest in optical fibre technology on this scale, what makes them think they can do it 1) at all, and 2) at a profit?

When other nations are moving to high speed wireless (or satellite for remote regions) why are we even considering embarking on massively costly door to door fibre optic cabling?

This would have been exciting ten years ago. Or even five ears ago. But now – this is a horribly overpriced sytem which will be out of date before it is even completed.

In an article on the Australian ABC website, Patrick Gray suggests that the major motivation for writing viruses is financial. This is certainly true with ‘key logger’ type infections, but I am not sure it is true with the ‘I’m cleverer than you’ type viruses, which Conficker seems to be, nor with the ‘Cause as much damage as possible’ type.

Gray makes some interesting points about banks leaving most of the liability for online ‘card not present’ transaction fraud with merchants. He suggests that if banks were liable, or carried a greater share of liability for online fraud, they would instantly increase credit card security, and this would make writing keyloggers less profitable.

I think he overestimates the percentage of viruses which are of the ripoff – key logger type, and that he underestimates the speed with which profit seeking programmers are able to respond to changing security measures. Consider for example how quickly hackers were able to work around DVD and then Blu-Ray copy protection.

Also, putting further security measures in place to protect against online fraud may make it more difficult and time-consuming for both customers and merchants to conduct legitimate transactions. VeriSign’s chief technology officer Ken Silva has said: “If all the security measures were deployed that should be deployed, they would become too annoying and too difficult for most consumers.”

Nonetheless I agree that present security measures are inadequate, and that banks should take a greater share of responsibility, instead of leaving merchants to carry any losses. SMS authentication and portable keys (like a USB drive you put into your computer to confirm your identity) are two methods which could be implemented without too much extra fuss or cost.

Also known as Downadup.

As I noted earlier, so far the worm has not caused any damage, except for giving scareware makers another way of cheating people out of their money, and well meaning friends sending annoying email warnings. But the worm is set to check with its masters on April 1st. If it downloads new instructions then, it could become nasty.

If you are already infected, get your anti-virus to run a pre-Windows start-up scan.

If you are not infected, and way less than 1% of computers are, just make sure you have all Windows updates, and that your anti-virus software is up to date, and you will have nothing to worry about.

Got back to find my home computer (on which I am running the beta of Windows 7, not that that has anything to do with it) is multiply infected with the bagle worm, and various other trojans. Not sure how this could have happened, but it is annoying. Bagle can email anonymously from your computer, and also attempts to download other nasty stuff.

I am using Vipre on this computer. After updating I received a couple of alerts and ran a quick scan. It is now running a deep scan. So far it has taken nearly seven hours, but has been saying 100% completed, 0 seconds remaining for the last three hours.

This seems absurdly slow, and reporting of the percentage complete is obviously wrong. I decided to try Vipre on my home computer rather than Kaspersky, which I use at work, because Kaspersky can be slow, and seems to have some issues with Outlook 2007. I will give Vipre another week or so, but so far, I am not as confident as I am with Kaspersky. I guess nothing is perfect.

The Conficker Worm itself does not seem to do much harm. It’s just a competent piece of programming which is hard to detect, and which so far, seems not to be malicious. It sounds to me like the work of a couple of smarty-pants but good-natured high-schoolers. It will modify itself on Wednesday to make its masters harder to find.

People with genuine copies of Windows who get automatic updates, and have some good anti-virus software, have nothing to worry about. Since it doesn’t seem to do anything, probably no-one has much to worry about.

But the scareware makers will have a field day. Vastly more harm will be done by fake warnings about the conficker worm, either as emails or pop-ups, than will be done by the worm itself.

To repeat my advice of a few days ago, ignore and delete any emails containing breathless warnings about the worst virus ever, and ignore and immediately leave any website which tells you your computer is infected with the conficker worm or any other virus. These things are a con. Even warning emails from friends are a time wasting annoyance.

Just keep Windows updates and anti-virus software up to date, and run a full scan every week or so.

My own Dad, an intelligent and computer savvy former medical scientist, fell for one of these scareware scams, and I frequently encounter them in business – usually after a complaint by a client that the anti-virus software I sold them isn’t working. It is, but they have stuffed up their system by downloading malicious software.

Typically, you enter some common search terms into a search engine, and click on an OK looking (in the search engine results) site. This site then loads multiple pop-ups warning your computer is infected with all sorts of dire viruses or spyware. The site tells you you need to download a product which will clean your computer. If you do, and pay the $19.95, or $69.95, or whatever it is, the warnings will dispappear briefly, and then start up again, claiming further downloads are needed.

Don’t fall for this stuff. Get a reliable anti-virus like Norton, Vipre or Kaspersky and update it regularly. Never trust a pop-up that tells you your computer is infected. Just get out of that website, or if you can’t, do a forced shut-down if necessary, then a complete virus scan when you restart.

As if it wasn’t obvious. This article is a year old, but still gives a good summary of why you be crazy to buy a Mac.

Macs are fine for children and public servants, but in the real world they just don’t cut it.

But this could be better. An app to enable you to read e-books on your smartphone.

The positives are that if you have a smartphone you don’t need another device – saving space in your pocket as well as money.

Not quite as many launch titles as the Kindle, but the list still looks pretty good. It doesn’t have some of the advanced features of the Kindle, and obviously the screen is smaller – but that’s the trade-off for the fact that a smartphone fits easily in your pocket.

This may the motivating factor to move up to a PDA type phone. I will watch the titles list with interest.

I installed the Windows 7 beta on my home computer last night.

It’s a fairly complex machine with four internal drives, a permanently connected external backup drive, Nvidia graphics card, headphones, two printers, ethernet and wireless network connections, webcam, etc.

I was upgrading from the 64 bit version of Vista Home Premium. The upgrade went without a hitch, and all my devices (the ones I have checked so far) seem to have been recognised and appropriate drivers installed.

I had tried an earlier version of the Internet Explorer 8 beta and then removed it – it was confusing and buggy. But the version bundled with Windows 7 seems clean and stable. It can suggest websites you might enjoy based on your browsing history. I’ll be interested to see what it comes up with. 

Windows 7 seems to load more quickly than Vista when it was first installed. I didn’t have any of the driver or BSOD problems I had early on with Vista 64. It is visually attractive, and seems stable, though I haven’t done anything especially demanding with it yet. I will load up World of Warcraft and Crysis over the weekend, and see what it can do.

I’ll keep you informed!