The Future of Cortana and Home Security

I have been following the CIA tweeter handle from day one as I was curious to know what the secretive and for-your-eyes-only agency has to tell the public. I was not disappointed, they’ve been tweeting declassified information from their archives and it has been an eye opening and interesting read up till now (Skyhook anyone?). Continue reading

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Enabling DeDuplication on Windows 10 TP

Here is something geeky and not for the fainthearted. If you’re like me, you’ve not listened to Microsoft with the advise not to install Windows 10 Technical Preview on your production Machine. You believe every tech problem is there to be resolved. Continue reading

Call to Action: Win10 Client Must Support DeDup

This is something for the IT Pros and Devs amongst us. Normal folks will probably not understand what I am talking about here. But you can always support a good cause right?

The Server community has enjoyed something since Server 2012 that is called DeDuplication. This is a HDD data storage technology that writes data to disk at block level only once throughout the lifetime of the file. Your typical file are broken down to unique chunks of data called blocks. These blocks are then written sequentially logically to disk. Now imagine all your typical Word Document, with Aaa, and Bbbs and “the” etc etc. We are at the GUI level forever repeating the same words and letters and phrases. Continue reading

When an Apple person reviews Oranges

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“This thing called Orange doesn’t look like Apple, doesn’t have Apple color, it doesn’t taste like Apple, an Apple can have a worm, but this Orange thing can’t even tolerate a worm”.

Here we go again. Another Microsoft Hardware/Platform launch, followed by rounds of Reviews from people who has little or no interest in Microsoft, neither do they use Microsoft’s products as goto tools in their daily routine. Continue reading

Windows XP Dead as Advertised–Now what?

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Source: @Thurrott & @TheRomit

Unless you’re an alien visiting earth for the first time today or you’ve been living under a rock, no doubt you’ve been bombarded with the so-called death of the most veritable OS on the planet today: Windows XP!

Yes, XP is officially dead today. Tomorrow is the day after and still you haven’t upgraded to a modern OS, or you cat just pissed on your shiny modern device, now you have to use XP for a while. Well, we know there will be some of you roughnecks or by chance still using the OS after its demise; this advice is for you then to make your life bearable.

Warning: All advice given here does not replace upgrading to a modern “Safe” OS. You are aware of your own risk staying on a Dead OS! (Sorry we just have to insert that Legal bit). Continue reading

Designing the Windows Folder for the Mobile Era

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Here is a little suggestion for Microsoft Windows Design team to improve Windows for the modern/mobile age. I have been fighting this past week to get my VHD boot device upgraded to Windows 8.1 as I have grown tired of waiting for Microsoft to fix this problem. If you’ve not heard, Microsoft choose to leave out the upgrade of an official Install Scenario of Windows called VHD Native Boot. This is an officially supported Install option for Windows since Windows 7, but without warning to the community, they are not going to upgrade you from Windows 8RTM to any later version if you’re running in Native Boot. Continue reading

Windows Store Passed 150000 Apps Mark

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I know App count has lost its meaning, still we at McAkins Online feel we should inform you folks that indeed Windows Store has passed the 150000 Apps mark. Really I don’t know whether to cry or to rejoice as I don’t see the real meaning of bloggers beating the app count to death resulting in the OS Publishers allowing junk apps in the Store just to belong to the number success group. If I may have my take I’ll say let Windows Store have just 5000 App that are highly polished and worth users’ time than having to prune the Windows Store just to find App needle in a haystack. Continue reading

Microsoft is rolling out Worldwide Alternative Billing for Apps

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Microsoft is adding easier billing methods in Developing Countries where Creditcard usage is much less than the Western world. It has always been a  problem for users in these countries like Mexico, Indonesia etc to buy Apps in the Store. Most of them just use the Freemium apps and Devs are compensated via ADs revenue. But this is not always a good plan for some apps, therefore this new initiative from Microsoft will go a long way. Now users can get billed via their telephone service providers when they buy an App. Here is the full statement below: Continue reading

How to Turn-OFF App Recommendations in the New Store

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you would have noticed people are raving seriously about the new Windows Store for the new and improved Windows 8.1 Blue. There have been lots of articles about the new Store on various Tech sites that I don’t feel compelled to write another about it here. That’ll be unproductive and a waste of your time. But one thing I want to mention out is the new Recommendation feature of the Store.

As you might have read, the Store is now powered by the awesome engines of Bing. For better or for worse, we are being followed everyday by the Search Engines we use, whether you belong to Google or to Microsoft or whatever, there’s no denying it, our lives is being interpreted by these AIs (almost AI then, have it your way!). So unless you don’t use the internet, there is no denying it that these machines know one thing or other about us. So, we have the advantage in this case that due to your usage and search patterns, these engines knows what it good for you. So you have recommendations of Apps that the AI think will be interesting to you.

But you may not want your patterns to be recorded, and the new Recommendation features of the new Store turned OFF, well how you do it is right there in that picture. Microsoft, worrying about your privacy as usual, has added an Option for you Tin-foil wearing conspiracy theorists to turn off machine recommendations. Not that it matters, the NSA has got your backside via PRISM, so you might as well leave the darned option ON and enjoy the discovery it brings to the Store. :-)

In Microsoft Windows Store, Anything goes! Really!

Store Madness

I have been planning to write an extensive post about the quality of the Windows Store, but providence will not allow time to really dive deep into it. Maybe I will have time in the future to make a complete compilation. But coming across this app in the Store today really broke the Carmel’s back for me. The app was released yesterday, it is already causing users confusion in the Store! This is a blatant abuse of Microsoft Trademarks in all aspect, and an encroachment on Microsoft’s own turf. You can imagine my jaw dropping to the ground seeing this in the Store. Someone from Microsoft have to have approved this in the Store, or not? My question then is, is there anyone at Microsoft actually policing the Store? Is there any policy still being upheld in the Store at the moment?

Those of us Windows users spending a great deal of time in the Store are simply baffled by the kinds of apps we come across in the Store. It looked as if MS has abandoned the Store and relegated the Store accreditation to Machine AIs or something. No one in their right mind will let the kind of apps we see in the Store go through, even after 5 bottles of Beer! I am talking of apps that clearly encroach on Trademarked products. Apps that call themselves Facebook, with the trademarked logo thrown in. Apps that are so Fugly Steve Jobs would weep in his graves seeing MS murder a concept he made popular. I mean Apps with Logo’s that reek of stupidity and incompetence, Color themes that are not readable to users, like black fonts on a very dark background, totally opaque to any sane person. Apps that looked like they were created by monkeys in a zoo. Apps that clearly no one will touch with a 100m pole.

What is the point of Microsoft allowing these kinds of apps in the Store? Is it for the numbers? It will turn to bite MS in the long run, and people will take a look at the Store and conclude MS Store is crap compared to competing platform and move on. This is not competing with established Mobile Store leaders Microsoft. This is not the promise you made us when you were talking about the design principles of Metro. Your keyword: Beautiful is nowhere to be found in some of these apps.

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Take for example the Media Player Classic Home Cinema app, when I twitted some time back above, the app then cost $10.00 in the Store. Ten bucks for an app you cannot preview, nor test-run. No Screenshots, just the splashscreen. You are asking the users to trust you with their money and shell out their hard-earned dollars for something they can’t see. That’s a tough sell. Thank God, not a single soul has touched the app, so the Dev is now forced to drop the price to $5.00. Still a steep price for an app you have to buy in pure faith alone. It should be policy in the Store that any app that doesn’t allow Trials should have at least lots of Screenshots of the actual app so the users have an idea of what they are getting.

I can go on and on with what is wrong with the Store, but today is not the day for it. I am sure MS is aware of all these problems, the question is are they doing anything about it to keep their promise of fixing Windows 8 by the Windows Blue timeframe. Like the saying goes Microsoft, when you’re riding a Tiger, you can’t afford to make any mistake, like getting off for example. So to keep riding this Tiger, please fix everything that is wrong with Windows 8, including the Windows Store. Prune this Garden, it is now full of weeds. Weeds that are preventing your true lovers from seeing the awesome apps in the Store. Like we’ve all agreed for the Windows Platform, the Store should not be about App Count, but the quality of Apps therein. We would rather have a thousand Killer apps in the Store than a million junk Apps no one appreciates. Fix the Store MS, we know you can do it!

Celebrating Space Shuttle History Today–STS-1 Launch

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Today I am embroiled in some kind of nostalgia, we are celebrating today the launch of the first ever re-usable Rocket-ship into Space. It was an enormous undertaking for NASA and giant step for humanity in general as it was a radical departure from how we normally did Space tech.

Yours truly was just a young nerd then, with an incredibly insatiable curiosity for Technology. I didn’t become a nerd as an adult, as some of you might have read in my About page. I was inquisitive about anything tech. As a young African boy I was one of the few that was allowed into the American Embassy to watch NBC News. I was a known face there in the Embassy library, as I have devoured all the tech books at the local library, so I regularly visit the American Embassy library which was always full of new stuffs.

So I usually stay behind to watch the NBC News Nightly on Technology. I was particularly fond of news on the Building the new Space Shuttle. I watched it built from scratch to finish. And of course the joy of seeing the Lift-Off on April 12 1981. That night, right there and then I decided I would be an astronaut. Too bad that dream didn’t come true. But those are the things that influence a budding technologist in my formative years, to make me what I am today.

Thank you NASA for great inspirations and leading humanity in this Next Frontier. Keep the Wheel turning. Keep taking us where “No Man Has Gone Before”

Happy celebrations all you NASA fans!

STS-1 Launch 1981–A new Dawn

My Next Tablet: ASUS got my money, again!–Sorry SurfacePRO

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Yes, I did it! I chose mobility above Power and Style! Those of you that follow me might know about my predicament in a post I wrote some time ago complaining to Microsoft about SurfacePRO on battery life. I was conflicted whether to get the SurfacePro or not. Believe you me, there is nothing I wouldn’t give to get SurfacePro, its got the muscle, its got the style, but the only thing it hasn’t got is the stamina; which I desperately need. In the post I complained I already have a Core i5 tablet giving me an average of 3 hours, I was not ready to get another Core i5 tablet giving me an average of 4 to 5 hours. I need the stamina, to be able to leave the power adapter for once at home!

You could have said why not get the SurfaceRT that was pushing 9hrs of use, well, just one reason, I’m not just an Internet buff trolling the net all day, I’ve got some real work to do in my daily life. I need to be able to access my office and do real work on my Tablet, and I mean real work. VPN, Office, Citrix and Proprietary apps; you know, the real deal. SurfaceRT will not cut it for me. And if SurfaceRT will not cut it, iPad and Android devices could never. I am of the opinion, you stick to the platform that most serve your need. There’s no way to get me to actively use Google’s products. I only use YouTube passively, period. Apple’s walled-garden is too limiting for me, so thank you, I’ll stay on MS campus if you don’t mind.

So, the decision is quickly made, Atom tablet it is! Current x86 Clovertrail tablets are pushing average of 9hrs of use, the only thing is the bad press they are getting. Nearly all of the reviewers were complaining about near uselessness of these tabs. Could they be right? As of this moment, I can tell you for fact, the majority CAN be wrong, and they ARE wrong!

I went to the local Mall to check out the Atom tablets available for myself. There are many of them, but the one that got me is the ASUS Vivotab Smart.

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Dang! That device is small, thin and light! The ultimate mobility candidate! And it could give me 9+ hours? Well, I loved the size and its feature, but I was put off by its screen quality. It has just an IPS screen, a cheaper screen compared to others with Super-IPS screens. And what’s more it’s a bit greenish and washed out. It was the worst screen you could have!

Another thing is I could not for the life of me bring up the Charm on this thing, can’t open app bars, it seems this only Show unit was broken. Asked an attendant why the Charm is not working, he said he didn’t know why, and from his demeanor, I could see he didn’t care neither. This is exactly the reason why Microsoft needs to open motar&brick shops himself, there are just too much MS-hating shop attendants out there! Well, the geek in me did what’s right at that point in time; I reloaded Windows 8 there and then! Have you ever did a complete restore of an OS in a shopping mall?! Thanks to that single action, my opinion of the device changed. The device came back restored to its default state. Some idiots obviously were messing around with the tab, probably disabled the Windows 8 gestures in the registry, sabotaging the product. There are too many haters out there I tell you.

Well, the device is looking good now, and very responsive. WEI (windows experience index) is 3.2, that’s not bad for a device that all reviewers were dumping upon. And from what I can see, there is nothing wrong with the response. The only thing still is the white balance, still tends to the green. Tried to set the color correction to reduce green or bring up blue and red, to my dismay, you can’t do Windows color correction on this device. I was furious with Microsoft. Why in everything holy would they disable color correction in the Display Wizard?! Tweeted about this, bought the device and left the shop.

Guys, it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Don’t listen to idiots when it comes to your devices. Go out there and try it, or order it online and give it a spin yourself, you can always return it if it doesn’t meet your requirement. I tell you, this atom device is perfect. It withstood everything I threw at it up till now. Got the Task Manager permanently fixed on the taskbar watching CPU usage, I’ve never seen such a cool device, and literarily cool too, no heat, no fan. It’s a dream. What’s more, this thing is powered via a standard micro-usb! I don’t have to lug a bulky power adaptor around, I could just charge with the same charger as my Lumia 920! Are you kidding me?! I mean, we all have this notion in our heads, when you mention an Intel device, you automatically see a bulky power adaptor next to it. I am looking at your HP and Dell!

I loaded it with all my Play and Work software. My VPN clients and Lync MX clients worked flawlessly, no lag nothing! Loaded Office 2013 and a few work related clients, everything works! I mean everything! This is a complete opposite experience than what I was reading in reviews. How can there be so much difference in what Reviewers say and what the real life experience is? Something is wrong with this picture! I was prepared for a very slow experience, after all, this is a netbook class CPU. Nothing, no lag at all. The only lag I’ve seen on this thing is my Bluetooth mouse being jerky at times when device is heavily in use. And the most awesome of all, I am getting about 10hrs on this thing! See what Windows PowerCfg says for yourselves:

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That “Since OS install” is just a fair estimation. I am definitely getting more than 10 hours on this thing. Its an eye-opener for someone that is used to meager battery life on my laptops and tablets.

So there you go. The last argument against Intel platform for mobility thrown out of the window. At the moment Intel Atom Clovertrail CPU leave ARM in the dust in terms of performance. And now that Intel can match and exceed ARM battery life, the contest is over as far as I am concerned. I don’t care what the fanboys sing. On lesson is very clear from this experience, don’t listen to Apple or Android-invested sites to tell you about a competing platform. Go out there an test for yourself. Go to GDGT and see the ridicule of it all. Where real users are giving products 9 or 10 and reviewers are giving 6 or 7. I tell you most of these fanboys have lost their credibility. I am mad that they are still being called journalists. There’s nothing journalistic about what they do. They don’t report facts, they only try to shape opinions.

When I was getting this device, my mindset was to get a less-than-average device to get me to the Intel Haswell timeframe when I hope MS will release a Haswell Surface product that combine beauty and brawn, with stamina to boot. But I can tell you I am more than satisfied with this ASUS Vivotab Smart tablet. Its my companion device now. No, I don’t play Crysis on the device, I don’t have ridiculous expectation of an Atom device like the most reviewers do. They should stop comparing apples with oranges. Atom Clovertrail was never meant to compete with Ultrabook class devices, it was meant to compete with ARM devices, and that is where it is leaving the types of iPads and Galaxy Notes and Nexus is the dust. If you’ve been holding back on getting Atom x86 tablets because of what you’ve been reading, don’t wait any longer, they are perfect Work and Play devices!

P.S: The Color correction no more available in the Display Wizard (Read-only now), adjustments is now ONLY available in Intel’s Graphic Media Accelerator Display client:

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See Also:
Engadget: ASUS Vivo Tab Smart
GDGT: ASUS Vivo Tab
GDGT: ASUS Vivo Tab Smart (Sorry, no user reviews yet, I am no GDGT user.)

MS SurfaceRT Security Broken–Now you can run ANY Desktop App

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We knew it’s a matter of time, in fact I am surprised it took this long, but it has finally happened. Someone has found a way to circumvent the built-in Security of Surface preventing arbitral running of Desktop Apps on SurfaceRT devices. Its all about a Byte in the Kernel, and a hacker going by the handle of Clrokr (@Clrokr) has found it as below:

SeGetImageRequiredSigningLevel+0×18
LDR R3, =0x59FFA6 This is our byte, 0x19FFA6 at 0×400000 image base
LDRB R3, [R3]
CMP R3, #4
BHI loc_HighSigReq
B.W loc_LowSigReq

Here is what he said about it:

Finding the right spot

The minimum signing level determines how good an executable’s signature is on a scale like this: Unsigned(0), Authenticode(4), Microsoft(8), Windows(12). The default value on x86 machines is of course 0 because you can run anything you like on your computer. On ARM machines, it defaults to 8.
That means that even if you sign your apps using your Authenticode certificate, the Surface or any other Windows RT device (at this moment) will not run them. This is not a user setting, but a hardcoded global value in the kernel itself. It cannot be changed permanently on devices with UEFI’s Secure Boot enabled. It can, however, be changed in memory.
Finding this byte in the kernel takes a while, there is no exported symbol for it and not even in the symbol database at MSFT. I found it using WinDbg and a machine running Windows 8 Pro, creating processes and watching how the system behaves when the signature checks happen all the way through CI.dll and back. Because Windows 8 and Windows RT are so similar, locating it in the ARM kernel was not hard…

He provided the sample exploitation code on his blog. But what does it all mean to you as user? First, this is not for the faint hearted, you must know what you are doing. Second, someone will probably write a code to automate the jailbreaking. But the question is would you run this code on your ARM device?

I personally will like to to see how SurfaceRT performs after jailbreak. Remember the version of Office on SurfaceRT is specially crafted and optimized for the RISC architecture and its small power environment. So, will you be able to run the likes of AutoCAD/Photoshop now on Surface, I doubt it, you will be frustrated possibly with the performance speed. We will be keeping an eye on developments for you and report back if anything new come up around this story.

It’s a brave world out there, once again, it has been proven that nothing is secure by default. If it is written by man, it will be broken by man, period. Now that you can jailbreak SurfaceRT, what are you going to do about it? The decision is yours and yours alone.

You can read the rest at Clrockr site: http://surfsec.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/circumventing-windows-rts-code-integrity-mechanism/

[Update]
I have been made aware of the fact that you can’t run “ANY” desktop Apps on ARM devices like the hacker’s post suggested, but even after this jailbreak, you still have to compile your standard Desktop App for ARM before it will run in a jailbroken desktop. So, with this news, we can expect Google and the likes to start compiling Chrome and other apps for Windows RT desktop. And of course all the security risks and exploits will follow. Hopefully people will not be blaming Microsoft for their misfortune then.

Microsoft is Moving Family Safety Service over to Outlook.com

 

Dear Family Safety customer,
Family Safety

We’re making a change to Family Safety, and are contacting you because you’re monitoring or managing one or more children’s Microsoft accounts (formerly known as Windows Live IDs).

There are many different email programs your children can use to communicate with others. But until now, Family Safety has only been able to help parents monitor their children’s email contacts through Microsoft-owned programs like Outlook.com using Family Safety Contact Management.

Starting on 3/18/2013, we’re switching your children’s monitored accounts to Outlook.com’s “exclusive” mode. These settings work for all email programs, so now you can help keep your children safer across any email platform they use, not just those created by Microsoft. The change affects three things:

  • The contacts you currently manage for your child will be added to the Safe Senders and Domains list. Emails from people on the list will go directly to your child’s inbox.
  • Emails from people not on the list will go directly to your child’s junk mail folder. (They can still view these messages there, though, so it’s important to be cautious.)
  • Your child will be able to add their own new contacts.

These accounts will be affected by the change:

  • Kid Account1
  • Kid Account2

Note that these new settings don’t affect your child’s communication in Messenger. However, if you want to block online communication, we recommend setting the Family Safety web filter to “General interest”.

You can also visit Microsoft’s Safety and Security Center page for tips on helping your children use the web more safely.

Thanks for your understanding and patience as we update our services.

Sincerely,
The Family Safety team