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IRS Missed Windows XP Deadline, To Pay Microsoft Millions

April 14, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirmed that it missed the April 8 cut-off for Windows XP support, and will be shelling out Microsoft millions for an extra year of security patches.

Microsoft terminated Windows XP support on Tuesday when it shipped the final public patches for the nearly-13-year-old operating system. Without patches for vulnerabilities discovered in the future, XP systems will be at risk from cyber criminals who hijack the machines and plant malware on them.

During an IRS budget hearing Monday before the House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee, the chairman, Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) wondered why the agency had not wrapped up its Windows XP-to-Windows 7 move.

“Now we find out that you’ve been struggling to come up with $30 million to finish migrating to Windows 7, even though Microsoft announced in 2008 that it would stop supporting Windows XP past 2014,” Crenshaw said at the hearing. “I know you probably wish you’d already done that.”

According to the IRS, it has approximately 110,000 Windows-powered desktops and notebooks. Of those, 52,000, or about 47%, have been upgraded to Windows 7. The remainder continue to run the aged, now retired, XP.

John Koskinen, the commissioner of the IRS, defended the unfinished migration, saying that his agency had $300 million worth of IT improvements on hold because of budget issues. One of those was the XP-to-7 migration.

“You’re exactly right,” Koskinen said of Crenshaw’s point that everyone had fair warning of XP’s retirement. “It’s been some time where people knew Windows XP was going to disappear.”

But he stressed that the migration had to continue. “Windows XP will no longer be serviced, so we are very concerned if we don’t complete that work we’re going to have an unstable environment in terms of security,” Koskinen said.

According to Crenshaw, the IRS had previously said it would take $30 million out of its enforcement budget to finish the migration.

Part of that $30 million will be payment to Microsoft for what the Redmond, Wash. developer calls “Custom Support,” the label for a program that provides patches for critical vulnerabilities in a retired operating system.

Analysts noted earlier this year that Microsoft had dramatically raised prices for Custom Support, which previously had been capped at $200,000 per customer for the first year. Instead, Microsoft negotiates each contract separately, asking for an average of $200 per PC for the first year of Custom Support.

Using that average — and the number of PCs the IRS admitted were still running XP — the IRS would pay Microsoft $11.6 million for one year of Custom Support.

The remaining $18.4 million would presumably be used to purchase new PCs to replace the oldest ones running XP. If all 58,000 remaining PCs were swapped for newer devices, the IRS would be spending an average of $317 per system.



Dell Unveils 11.6-inch Rugged Laptop That Doubles As A Tablet

April 4, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Dell unveiled a new 11.6-in. screen rugged laptop that has literally has a twist — the screen can rotate 180 degrees to turn the device into a tablet.

At first, the Latitude 12 looks like a laptop. But within the display panel, the screen rotates 180 degrees and the laptop turns into a tablet once placed on the keyboard.

The new Latitude 12 laptop is part of a new Rugged Extreme line of laptops, which also includes the Rugged Extreme 14. The new laptops are robust and can withstand six-foot drops and remain protected from extreme weather conditions.

The laptops have hard covers that add a layer of protection, but also make the products heavy. The Latitude 12 Rugged Extreme weighs 2.72 kilograms with a four-cell battery, while the 14-in. counterpart weighs 3.54 kilograms with a six-cell battery and no optical drive.

The laptops can also withstand solar radiation, “explosive atmosphere” and weather ranging from -20 degrees to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees to 63 degrees Celsius), according to specifications provided by Dell. The products are targeted at field workers like emergency responders and the military, and will compete against Toughbook rugged laptops from Panasonic.

The Latitude 12 rugged laptop has a starting price of $3,649, while the Latitude 14 begins at $3,499. The laptops will ship next month.

The hybrid design in Latitude 12 has been borrowed from the company’s XPS 12 Ultrabook Touch, which has a 12.5-inch screen that can similarly flip to turn the laptop into a tablet. The resistive touch screens on both laptops can show images at a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.

The laptops will have storage options of up to 512GB solid-state drives. Users can configure the laptop with Intel’s latest fourth-generation Core processorscode-named Haswell. The laptops will come with either Windows 8.1 or 7, or Ubuntu Linux operating systems.

Other features include support for up to 16GB of DRAM, Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet through a connector. The laptop also has USB 3.0, USB 2.0, VGA and HDMI ports. Mobile broadband and docking are available as options.



nVidia’s Volta Coming After Pascal

March 28, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Volta was previously supposed to follow in the footsteps of Maxwell, which is rolling out this year, at least this was the case last time we saw Nvidia’s roadmap.

Things changed today at the Nvidia’s GPU technology conference, Jen Hsun Huang, the CEO of Nvidia just showed an updated roadmap with Pascal replacing the Maxwell architecture at some point in 2016.

Volta is currently scheduled to come after Pascal, so definitely from late 2016 onwards. Nvidia told us that the Pascal got pulled in and the module that was shown at the keynote is meant for the increasingly popular HTPC form factor.

To clear any possible confusion, Pascal will make it to mobile, desktop, graphics card factors, so there is nothing to worry about. Just like Maxwell it will show up in all segments where Nvidia needs an up to date GPU.

Volta is now coming after Maxwell, that is the official line. Pascal comes in a unique form factor that opens up a lot of opportunities, but again this very unique chip with stacked memory and NVlink communication is happening in late 2016, quite some time from now.


PC Security Industry Tries To Save Windows XP

March 26, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

It looks like the security industry has seen money in propping up the elderly Window XP software. Malwarebytes has released Anti-Malware Premium, a new tool designed to protect home PCs against what it calls advanced criminal software which traditional anti-virus cannot detect.

However, what is interesting is that the outfit is claiming that it will support XP users for life. Apparently, they make up 20 per cent of Malwarebytes’ user-base and could be at greater risk when updates stop on April 8. So it could be marketing, but it could indicate that Redmond might have difficulty killing off the OS if it is being propped up by the security industry.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium apparently uses Anti-Rootkit technology, which rips out and fixes the damage done by malicious software hiding at an extremely deep-level in the operating system. Premium has added updated malicious URL blocking and enhanced protection from unwanted programs such as aggressive adware and toolbars. A new user interface and ultra-quick threat scan, ensure the product is easy to use.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium is available from the online store for an annual subscription of $24.95, and provides coverage for up to three PCs. Users with existing lifetime licenses for Malwarebytes Anti-Malware PRO will receive a free upgrade to the new product.


Microsoft Offering $50 Enticement For Users To Abandon XP

March 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft has created somewhat of an incentive in  its attempt to convince last-minute laggards to abandon Windows XP by offering $50 to people who purchase a new Windows 8.1 device.

On its online Microsoft Store, the Redmond, Wash. company is giving a $50 gift card to customers who buy one of 16 Windows 8.1 notebooks, desktops, tablets or 2-in-1 hybrids. The card is good for future purchases at the e-store.

Microsoft kicked off the deal on March 4; it ends April 30.

The move was the latest in a series to convince customers to ditch the 13-year-old XP, which was sold on new PCs as recently as October 2010. Microsoft will issue the final public patches for XP security vulnerabilities on April 8.

The 16 devices that come with the $50 incentive include four notebooks, four all-in-one desktops, four tablets and four hybrids, all which run Windows 8.1. Prices range from a low of $229 (for a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet) to $1,299 (for an HP Envy Recline 27-in. all-in-one). Prices of the four notebooks run from $279 (Asus VivoBook) to $699 (Dell Inspiron). All are touch-enabled.

Customers who buy one of the 16 devices will also receive 90 days of free telephone and live-chat support, and can download Laplink Express, thefree file- and settings-transfer tool Microsoft announced last week that is available to anyone, not just those who purchased a new system.

Although Microsoft has beaten the dump-XP drum for almost three years, in the last few months it has gotten more specific, telling customers that they should upgrade their existing PCs to Windows 8.1 or buy a new computer running that operating system. Both those solutions have been met withincredulity and derision by users stuck on XP, who have suggested Microsoft try other strategies to reduce the old OS’s footprint, including reviving Windows 7 at retail — most XP PC owners are suspicious of Windows 8.1′s sweeping changes — and offering deep discounts on new devices.

But the company’s use of the $50 gift card shows that, even at this late date, Microsoft is not interested in a radical solution to XP’s refusal to die. According to metrics firm Net Applications, XP currently powers 29.5% of all the world’s personal computers, and 32.2% of those running Windows.



Most ATMs To Be Left Vulnerable When Microsoft Ends XP Support

March 14, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Nearly 95% of the world’s ATMs may be left wide open to hackers next month when Microsoft ends tech support for the Windows XP operating system, the PCI Security Standards Council is warning.

In a long trailed move, from 8 April Microsoft will discontinue offering security updates and patches for XP, leaving machines running the 12-year-old operating system more vulnerable to attack.

ATMs running XP Embedded are not affected because Microsoft is not cutting off its support until 2016.

The process of upgrading to an alternative such as Windows 7 is both complicated and expensive for ATM operators – with many older machines needing to be altered one by one. Most are not expected to have made the switch within the next month.

JPMorgan has bought a custom one-year tech support agreement from Microsoft and will not begin migrating its 19000 machines to Windows 7 until July, the bank has told Bloomberg. Wells Fargo and Citi say that they are working on upgrading their networks.

It’s not just ATMs that are at risk – Microsoft recently warned that the Indian banking industry’s reliance on XP could put more than 34,000 branches at risk.

In a notice on its site, the PCI SSC is urging firms to take the plunge: “Don’t make yourself an easy target, talk to your technology provider today and make sure your PC and systems are not putting your customers’ confidential payment card data and your business at risk.”


Intel Releases New Xeon Chipset

February 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Intel has released details about its new Xeon E7 v2 chipset. The Xeon processor E7 8800/4800/2800 v2 product family is designed to support up to 32-socket servers with configurations of up to 15 processing cores and up to 1.5 terabytes of memory per socket.

The chip is designed for the big data end of the Internet of Things movement, which the processor maker projected will grow to consist of at least 30 billion devices by 2020. Beyond two times better performance power, Intel is promising a few other upgrades with the next generation of this data-focused chipset, including triple the memory capacity, four times the I/O bandwidth and the potential to reduce total cost of ownership by up to 80 percent.

The 15-core variants with the largest thermal envelope (155W) run at 2.8GHz with 37.5MB of cache and 8 GT/s QuickPath connectivity. The lowest-power models in the list have 105W TDPs and run at 2.3GHz with 24MB of cache and 7.2 GT/s of QuickPath bandwidth. There was also talk of 40W, 1.4GHz models at ISSCC but they have not been announced yet.

Intel has signed on nearly two dozen hardware partners to support the platform, including Asus, Cisco, Dell, EMC, and Lenovo. On the software end, Microsoft, SAP, Teradata, Splunk, and Pivotal also already support the new Xeon family. IBM and Oracle are among the few that support Xeon E7 v2 on both sides of the spectrum.



nVidia’s Maxwell Appears Not To Be Compatible With DirectX-12

January 15, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

This should not come as much of a surprise to most people in the loop, but Nvidia’s next generation GPU architecture codenamed Maxwell does not support DirectX Next aka DirectX 12. The reason is rather simple as the new DirectX next is still under development and Microsoft still hasn’t locked down the final specification.

From what we heard, DirectX Next actually fixes a lot of latency related issues that are present in DirectX 11 and earlier versions. The new DirectX should have lower driver latency something that developers have complained for quite some time but we are not aware of any major feature set that will come with the DirectX Next.

Since the Maxwell core launches in Q1 2014, probably March, support was not possible and most likely you will have to wait for Volta graphics to support it in a year or two. In case AMD’s Mantle delivers as much as 45 percent performance boost as AMD claims in Battlefield 4, this might put a lot of pressure on Microsoft to speed up development. This might force Microsoft to solve long standing issues including driver latency. On a side note, we don’t have any info on AMD’s DirectX plans, either.

Maxwell is expected to deliver huge gains in performance per watt and will put another flavour on the graphics market. It will also be used in next generation Tegra products and Nvidia is also planning to license Maxwell IP to other ARM players, taking on the likes of Imagination, Vivante and ARM’s Mali business.


Windows 8 Enjoyed A Surge In December

January 3, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Windows 8 surged in December to end the year with almost 12% of the user share of all Windows desktops, while the slated-for-retirement Windows XP restarted its decline after a two-month pause, a Web analytics company said on Thursday.

Both were good signs for Microsoft, which has bet its future on Windows 8 and implored customers to abandon the aged Windows XP.

According to Net Applications, Windows XP fell 2.2 percentage points in December to 29% of all desktop and notebook computers worldwide, the first time it breached that 30-percent barrier. But the 12-year-old operating system still accounted for nearly a third — 32% — of Windows-powered PCs.

Meanwhile, Windows 8′s and 8.1′s combined user share of all computers reached 10.5%. Of the systems running Microsoft’s OS, Windows 8/8.1 owned a user share of 11.6%.

Both operating systems had taken a break in October and November from earlier trends: Windows XP’s gradual decline and Windows 8′s deliberate growth.

Their December changes were the largest since September, Net Applications data showed.

The gain by Windows 8 and 8.1 was likely due to new PC purchases in the last month of 2013: Most consumer systems come equipped with the newest version, Windows 8.1, which accounted for 34% of the combined total, up from November’s 28%.

Windows 8′s increase put some more distance between it and Windows Vista, the 2007 OS bust: The gap between it and Windows 8 increased by seven-tenths of a percentage point in December.

But Windows 8 remained far behind Windows 7′s adoption. Fourteen months after its debut, Windows 7 powered 23.1% of all Windows systems, nearly twice that of Windows 8. In fact, Windows 7 grew its user share last month, adding nine-tenths of a percentage point to end December at 47.5% of all computer operating systems, and at 52.4% of those running a flavor of Windows. Both were records for the 2009 operating system, hinting that it will remain a standard for years to come.

The decline in Windows XP may have contributed to the increase of Windows 7 as well as Windows 8 and 8.1, as some users migrated from the 2001 OS to Windows 7 as a way to forestall trying the radically-redesigned Windows 8. Most businesses, analysts have said, will stick with Windows 7 as long as possible rather than incur the costs of another migration.



IT Professionals Plan To Stay With Windows XP After EOL

December 20, 2013 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Almost eighty percent of IT professionals are still running Windows XP on at least one device, a Spiceworks report has revealed, raising security concerns as Microsoft counts down to the end of extended support for the obsolescent PC operating system (OS).

In a report entitled ‘Getting Over Your XP’, Spiceworks revealed that 76 percent of IT professionals haven’t upgraded all of their devices from Windows XP to a later version of Windows yet, and nearly half admitted that they will leave the 2002 OS on at least one device past its end of support, which due in less than four months on 8 April, 2014.

Microsoft warned organisations to upgrade their systems in April 2012 when it announced the two year countdown to the end of support for Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003, saying that “the technology environment has shifted” and that those leaving the migration to the last minute might find it difficult to accomplish in time.

In April, software specialist 1E marked the one year countdown to the end of Windows XP support by reporting that less than a quarter of UK companies had completed the migration of their PC estate to a newer version of Windows, with 40 percent still “in the process of upgrading”.

Those that don’t upgrade can expect to be faced with the threat of increasing security concerns, as Windows XP continues to be one of the most targeted operating systems by malware and hacking exploits.

Perhaps tellingly, Spiceworks’ report also said that those IT managers who are still running Windows XP aren’t keen on upgrading to the latest version of Microsoft’s OS, Windows 8, but instead plan to upgrade “at least some” of their systems to Windows 7. According to the report, only seven percent of IT professionals plan to upgrade to Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.


Is Windows XP Literally Getting Slower?

December 18, 2013 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Those still running Windows XP are starting to notice that the software is actually slowing down. This defies a rule which says that software, running on machines that work, should keep running at the same speed that it did when it was born.

According to Ars Technica the old operating system is working considerably worse than when it was released in 2001. It is especially slow if you are still using Internet Explorer 6 or 7. The culprit is the svchost.exe, which is chewing up the entire processor. Sometimes it can take an hour for a machine to return to normal.

Redmond thinks that the problem is Windows Update. Machines using Windows Update retrieve patch information from Microsoft’s servers. That patch information contains information about each patch: what software it applies to and what knowledge base article it relates to, and, critically, what historic patch or patches the current patch supersedes. Since Windows patches are cumulative a fresh install of Windows XP, does not need to install all of the dozens of Internet Explorer 6 patches sequentially; you can generally just install the latest patch, and it will include all the historic fixes because it supersedes the historic patches that introduced those fixes.

But the Windows Update client components used an algorithm with exponential scaling when processing these lists. So while a new machine, that processing is almost instantaneous. On an elderly machine it is very slow.

Microsoft thought that it had this problem fixed in November when it culled the supersedence lists. It tried again in December but that didn’t seem to help either. It is probably better to scrap XP anyway.


Is AMD Getting Rid Of FX?

December 12, 2013 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Last week an alleged slide leak purporting to show AMD’s desktop roadmap appeared and it was quickly picked up by most tech sites. Not us of course, since we knew it was rubbish and we’ve got a couple of inboxes littered with similar fakes.

The slide indicated that AMD was about to ditch big-core FX processors, something that has been rumoured for a couple of years. This is not the case. AMD will not pull the plug on FX products in 2015.

AMD Manager of APU/CPU Product Reviews James Prior told Gamers Nexus that the slide was fake and that FX parts aren’t going anywhere. The actual AMD roadmap doesn’t even cover 2015. Prior said it was “rare” to see roadmaps that go more than a year into the future.

That is odd, because we got three such roadmaps over the weekend. One of them is an AMD ARM consumer roadmap 2014-2016. Sounds legit. Perhaps we should publish it just to see how many clickbait loving news editors would fall for it?

Anyway you can submit your fake roadmaps any day of the week, including Sunday. We accept death threats only on weekdays, 9AM to 6PM. Nick Farrell’s astral initiation rituals are available every weekend. Bring your own chicken (BYOC).



Microsoft Quietly Ends Windows 7 Retail Sales

December 9, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft has discreetly ended retail sales of Windows 7, according to a notice on its website.

The company’s policies for shutting off sales to retailers and shipping licenses to OEMS (original equipment manufacturers) are posted on its site, which was recently updated to show that Windows 7′s “retail end of sales” date was Oct. 30.

The next deadline, marked as “End of sales for PCs with Windows preinstalled,” will be Oct. 30, 2014, less than a year away.

Microsoft’s practice, first defined in 2010, is to stop selling an older operating system in retail one year after the launch of its successor, and halt delivery of the previous Windows edition to OEMs two years after a new version launches. The company shipped Windows 8, Windows 7′s replacement, in October 2012.

As recently as late September, the last timeComputerworld cited the online resource, Microsoft had not filled in the deadlines for Windows 7. At the time, Computerworld said that the end-of-October dates were the most likely.

A check of Microsoft’s own online store showed that the company has pulled Windows 7 from those virtual shelves.

In practical terms, the end-of-retail-sales date has been an artificial and largely meaningless deadline, as online retailers have continued to sell packaged copies, sometimes for years, by restocking through distributors which squirreled away older editions.

Today, for example, had a plentiful supply of various versions of Windows 7 available to ship, as did technology specialist The former also listed copies of Windows Vista and even Windows XP for sale through partners.

Microsoft also makes a special exception for retail sales, telling customers that between the first and second end-of-sale deadlines they can purchase Windows 7 from computer makers. “When the retail software product reaches its end of sales date, it can still be purchased through OEMs (the company that made your PC) until it reaches the end of sales date for PCs with Windows preinstalled,” the company’s website stated.

The firmer deadline is the second, the one for offering licenses to OEMs. According to Microsoft, it “will continue to allow OEMs to sell PCs preinstalled with the previous version for up to two years after the launch date of the new version” (emphasis added).

After that date, Microsoft shuts off the spigot, more or less, although OEMs, especially smaller “white box” builders, can and often do stockpile licenses prior to the cut-off.

But officially, the major PC vendors — like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo — will discontinue most Windows 7 PC sales in October 2014, making Windows 8 and its follow-ups, including Windows 8.1, the default.

Even then, however, there are ways to circumvent the shut-down. Windows 8 Pro, the more expensive of the two public editions, includes “downgrade” rights that allow PC owners to legally install an older OS. OEMs and system builders can also use downgrade rights to sell a Windows 8- or Windows 8.1-licensed system, but factory-downgrade it to Windows 7 Professional before it ships.

Enterprises with volume license agreements are not at risk of losing access to Windows 7, as they are granted downgrade rights as part of those agreements. In other words, while Microsoft may try to stymie Windows 7 sales, the 2009 operating system will long remain a standard.

As of the end of November, approximately 46.6% of all personal computers ran Windows 7, according to Web measurement vendor Net Applications, a number that represented 51.3% of all the systems running Windows.



Microsoft Updates Coming Tomorrow

November 11, 2013 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Software king of the world Microsoft is preparing to fix more than eight flaws in Windows, Office and Internet explorer tomorrow. The patches will fix an unspecified number of vulnerabilities in their flagship products. Three of the updates, affecting Windows and Internet Explorer, are rated critical.

All supported versions of Windows, including the recently-released 8.1, are affected by at least one critical vulnerability. The one bulletin that affects IE fixed a critical vulnerability in all versions of the browser, including the new IE 11. Three other Windows bulletins are rated Important. Two other bulletins, both rated important, affect all supported versions of Microsoft Office.

Microsoft will also release their other usual monthly updates, including a new version of the Malicious Software Removal Tool and a large number of non-security updates. Curiously while many thought it likely that Redmond will be fixing a zero day bug in Windows and Office. The vulnerability is being used in zero-day attacks specifically against Office. The Patch Tuesday updates this month will not address this vulnerability.

Redmond said that only some Office users are being attacked, not users of the other products who are not running an affected version of Office.


Google Ends Support For Microsoft’s IE9

November 8, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

As expected, Google has officially stated that it has ended support for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) browser for its own Google Apps.

“Each time a new version of [a supported browser] is released, we begin supporting the update and stop supporting the third-oldest version,” Google said in a post to the Google Apps blog.

Google regularly warns customers when it has dropped a version of IE from the support list, so the announcement was not really suprising. In September 2012, Google said the same of IE8, and in 2011, of IE7, as Microsoft readied new versions.

Microsoft launched IE11 last month for Windows 8.1 as part of that free update to Windows 8. While it has yet to ship IE11 for Windows 7, it will likely do so this month, based on the release three weeks ago of a blocking toolkit for the browser.

“Google’s test plans have been adjusted to now stop all testing and engineering work related to Internet Explorer 9,” the company said today.

As is its practice, Google will also begin warning users of Gmail and other services that it has dropped IE9 through messages urging them to upgrade.

Google’s policy is to support only the current version of a browser, and its immediate predecessor. Its ditch-IE9 move was the first by a major online service provider.

Older, unsupported browsers can still be used to connect to Google Apps and other of its services, but some features may be off-limits or limited, and at some point the apps may stop working entirely in IE9.

On a support page dedicated to its browser support policy, for example, Google noted that its Calendar app displays in read-only mode under IE8. In the same document, Google encouraged users that rely on older versions of IE to “consider a dual browser strategy.”

The end-of-support plan for Google Apps will not disrupt access to Google’s search site via older browsers, including IE9.

Google does not have a corresponding policy for operating systems. In fact, Google recently poked at Microsoft when it said it would continue to support Windows XP with its own Chrome browser for at least a year after Microsoft stops patching IE8 on the aged OS this coming April.

Microsoft launched IE9 in March 2011. The browser runs on Windows Vista and Windows 7. Microsoft will continue to support IE9 on those platforms until 2017 and 2020, respectively.