My first thought is to be very cautious about using an online password checker to test the strength of your passwords because you might inadvertantly give away your password to a rogue site. However, this Microsoft sponsored password checker requires no logins or personal information and being that it's a fairly well-known company, chances are smaller that they would abuse the info if they even store it (which I can't imagine it being cost-effective to do so).
(H/T to Lifehacker.com for the link)
A guy in Italy managed to get a refund from HP for Windows XP and Works 8 which were preinstalled on his system. Apparently, the license agreement states that if the customer doesn't accept the agreement, the vendor will refund the money.
This could be the start of a disturbing trend as far as computer retailers are concerned.
Microsoft slipped another bomb into their "critical updates" in the form of a Windows Desktop Search. The reports say that besides being an unwanted feature, it has been slowing machines down considerably.
The worst part is that somehow Microsoft thinks they can change the way our machines work without our consent. But this wouldn't be the first time.
Hellgate, a soon-to-be-released video game includes a license agreement that forces players to accept the harvesting of identifying information from their machine. This is part of an in-game advertising scheme that, so far, doesn't quite reach the level of what the Penny Arcade cartoonists prophesied, but it's getting closer.
(H/T to Slashdot for the link)
Rather than try to prevent people from copying or sharing music with drm, Microsoft has patented a watermarking procedure that will allow them to tag music with IDs that are very hard to remove.
First take: this is bad, bad news. While Ars Technica believes that this could help to get rid of the much hated DRM, I believe the replacement is far worse. Now instead of merely being annoying in preventing you from copying a CD, the RIAA will be able to track music by ID to see where (and who) it came from. If your son shares a song online that's from your CD collection, you will be much easier to find and prosecute.
After one hour of use, a Vista machine that thinks it's illegitimate will go to a black screen with no functionality of any kind.
Remember the article about the activation servers failing and disabling thousands of computers a week or two ago? Combine that with this new policy and things should get pretty interesting. Does it seem to anyone that Microsoft is starting to go a little crazy in the head? It's like a paranoid king who starts killing off the subjects thinking they're going to turn on him.
The scary thing (if I hadn't seen it coming) is that this "feature" was built in to Vista and just needed to be remotely activated by Microsoft. Right now it's an hour then a black screen, but I wonder how far it can go? 10 minutes then self destruction?
Microsoft uses the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) tool, a piece of DRM software with a catchy marketing slogan, to spy on your computer and then make a decision whether or not your version of Windows is valid. Assuming that it decides it's not (even if it is), it will disable your computer. The best part of the deal is that on Windows XP machines, they slipped the "tool" into the list of critical system updates so that anyone who didn't bother to look over the list of installs on the last update (or just has fully automatic updating turned on), would get the software without knowing about it.
Well, it turns out that problems with the WGA server can shut down a lot of computers, very fast. It's nice to know that DRM works isn't it?
It has long been suspected that there is a silent policy that makes Hotmail automatically delete the majority of attachments to save on bandwidth and internal disk space. Therefore it really doesn't matter if every client has access to 2GB of storage since they don't deliver the attachments to fill that space up anyway. If that truly is the case, then Microsoft may be liable for several hundred million cases of conspiracy and mail fraud
The real question is whether or not they'll actually get away with it if that's what they're doing.
(H/T to Slashdot for the link)
I've blogged about how Microsoft has a wealth of spyware on your computer (Vista) for "piracy" reasons, but this is altogether far more sinister.
Feel free to read the article itself, but this is bad, bad news. What they're going to do is scan the content of your files, e-mail, music, and system status alerts to profile you and target you with ads. Penny Arcade covered this concept in one of their comics titled "Advertising in the Future". That was last October.
(For non-gamers, the comic describes a situation where two guys are playing a game, but see different in-game advertising based on the contents of their Internet browser history).
A Slashdot user warns us not to use the "Try before you buy" deal based on his experience with the same deal and Office 2003. He said it changed all the file types to 2003 so when the trial was over, he wasn't able to access any of his files.
Usually, the program will warn you before updating the format, but it won't warn you that anything you create from scratch during the trial will be locked into the newer program.
And as you can read in the comments, most people agree that it's ridiculous that Microsoft refuses to make the files backwards compatible.
Let's hear it for the winning team! Yeah!
What's the best way to attract a pile of threatening lawyers' letters from Microsoft? Sell pirate copies of Windows? Write a DRM-busting program?
Londoner Jamie Cansdale has just discovered a new approach. He had the temerity to make Redmond's software better.
Oh wow! First they give him an award (the Most Valuable Professionals MVP award), and then they threaten lawsuits. Classic Microsoft.
I'm going to be watching this to see how it turns out.
This is an iteresting article about how Vista, with it's poor security, lack of compatibility, high price, and integrated features that users hate (like DRM and security alerts) might make people start to seriously wonder why they're still using Windows.
I don't personally buy the argument that Linux will be the system they run to because I haven't yet seen a version of Linux that could match the user friendliness of Windows (with the possible exception of SUSE). But I'm no Linux expert. We'll have to see.
(H/T to Schneier for the link)
And on that note, be sure to check out this link for an article comparing Ubuntu Linux VS MS Vista.
I had to laugh at this. It seems that Microsoft is offering a discount to anyone that downloaded a beta test of Vista. The article suggests it's because no one really wants Vista and why should they?
From the "consider the source" department, Microsoft is tooting their own horn about how well Sender ID prevents spam. The part about this that kills me is that if Microsoft made one stupidly obvious change to Hotmail, I would almost never open spam e-mails.
All they need to do is let me see the actual address of the sender instead of just the name. That way I wouldn't confuse firstname.lastname@example.org with email@example.com (which I do because Hotmail will only show you "Barbara" as the sender for both if that's the name they entered).
Right now, it is only this ridiculous flaw that causes me to open spam messages at all. Sometimes I can't tell if a message is real or not until I do.
While Dell originall switched wholesale to Vista (as did most vendors), due to high demand, they will be offering XP preinstalled again. Of course, if Microsoft refuses to license them to do so, I wonder how that will work out…
The Windows Updater is supposed to patch your system against critical flaws and exploits. To make things easier for normal users, there's an "Express Install" button where you don't have to review each update one at a time and can just trust Microsoft to install only the most security critical patches.
Enter the Windows Genuine Advantage notification tool. It tool doesn't protect you or do anything at all to help your system, it collects data about your computer and declares your copy of Windows legal or not. In millions of cases, it wrongly identifies systems as being "pirated" and nags users repeatedly about having an illegal copy and how to contact Microsoft for a legitimate one. Even worse, it locks you out of further security updates until you do.
To make sure that you don't miss WGA, they slipped it into IE7, Windows Defender, and Windows Media Player 11. But the worst of all was issuing it as a "critical update" on Windows updater. This way, anyone who clicked the "Express Install" button would get it by default without knowing better.
It's because of practices like this that geeks don't like Microsoft. They slipped a tool onto your machine that spies on your system and disables functionality. Sounds like a virus to me.
So why am I posting such old news now? First, I haven't talked about this before and it really ticks me off. Second, the WGA made PC World's 20 all time most annoying tech products (at number 9).
It looks like there's a legitimate working hack for Vista that kills their bogus activation scheme. Microsoft is saying that they're not going to do anything about it yet because they don't know if it will become a wide exploit. But I think this commentor (from the source article) has it more correct:
They didn't think it through as a "hacker" (pirate more like it) would, and now they have a problem. Millions of legitimate users are out there with legitimate hardware sold with Vista. MS can't simply pull the carpet out from under these users. They will need to devise a way that all users can continue using their systems without having to do something drastic like reinstall or update the BIOS because many users simply don't know how to. Even locating the product key on the sticker would be difficult for some.
MS can't simply pull the OEM keys and try again.
But on MS's side, the number of users using this method is very low. And MS have said they'd prefer we pirate Windows than use MacOS or Linux.
Good news: Here's an article on how to use Vista's compatibility mode to run older software.
Bad news: According to all the comments on the article, it doesn't work at all (which matches my experience with the XP compatibility mode).