Microsoft Software


Because of its importance worldwide, we feel that Microsoft software products, especially the operating systems, deserves a page of its own.  Since its formation in 1975, the Microsoft Corporation has grown into the world’s largest software company. Some of us can remember the original MS-DOS system used in the IBM PC in 1981 and the development of the first Windows operating system, released in 1990 as Windows 3, which provided a graphical user interface. The same year the Micosoft Office suite was also introduced. The operating systems progessed though Windows 95, 98, 2000 and Millenium to XP, which became the most popular operating system ever issued. We would like to start by raising an issue that was faced by many offices and individuals:  the termination of support by Microsoft of Windows XP and Office 2003, on 8 April 2014.

Windows XP introduced in 2001 was the most popular Windows software ever produced by Microsoft. Despite the introduction of Windows Vista in 2006 and Windows 7 in 2009, in 2011 about 43% of desktop computers were still using XP. By July 2013, its use had fallen to 37%, by July 2014 to about 25% and in October 2014 it was only about 17%. However, one source reports that it was still at about 11% in March 2016 and at present about 5% worldwide, with the greatest number of users in Africa and Asia. We leave this old news in place because of there are still millions of people using Windows XP, who should be aware of the issues, if they continue to use this operating system.

With the end of support, desktop users, who wanted to maintain their security, should have moved on. Even when there was extended support for XP users, they were prone to have 6 times more malware attacks than the newer operating systems. This increased after Microsoft stopped their security updates for Windows XP. Similar considerations apply to MS Office 2003, which also lost support. Our philosophy is to keep a good operating system and related software like Office as long it performs well, but this is the end of the line for this software, if you are concerned about security. We installed a countdown clock to remind you of how much time you had left until Microsoft Corporation stopped its support. At the midnight hour, we closed the timer and opened the following important warning message: Windows XP WarningThere is no issue about continuing to use Windows XP or any of the unsupported programmes on computers, which are not on a network and not accessing the Internet. Organisations and companies with such computers should isolate them, but there are many people accessing work computers from home and here lies a danger. In the UK the data security branch of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) proposed that staff still running Windows XP at home should be denied access to corporate networks. Microsoft continued to create and distribute the Malicious Software Removal Tool for Windows XP users until July 14, 2015. However they said that the continued availability of the MSRT was not a good reason to stick with Windows XP, nor were malware detection and removal tools adequate protection for users.

A browser is both a window to the Internet and a doorway for malware to enter a computer. Those who continued to use Windows XP after support ceased could mitigate some risks by using a web browser other than Internet Explorer. US-CERT issued the following warnings: US-CERT is aware of active exploitation of a use-after-free vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Explorer. This vulnerability affected IE versions 6 through 11 and could allow unauthorized remote code execution. Following this, Microsoft released out-of-band updates to address a critical use-after-free vulnerability in Internet Explorer versions 6 through 11, including IE versions running on Windows XP. That was the last time for Windows XP. It indicated the need to stop using Internet Explorer on Windows XP and, as we advised earlier, a web browser other than Internet Explorer should be used to mitigate some risks. This assumed that the versions of alternative browsers, which are compatible with Windows XP will continue to receive support. However, Chrome stopped supporting Windows XP and Windows Vista in April 2016. Another issue is that users may also encounter problems with new hardware and applications software, if they are not compatible with Windows XP. We observed that Google web mail may not open in IE 9, because of security issues.

As an alternative operating system for the impecunious, open source software based on Linux could be used. Ubuntu and similar distributions may be downloaded free or obtained at low-cost on a CD or DVD. Support for this software usually includes free updates, but not comprehensive support as is available for Windows from Microsoft. Again, hardware and application software compatibility issues may arise.

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The Continuing Windows Saga In October 2013, Microsoft issued Windows 8.0. After testing the first release, we predicted that it would not succeed in the desktop market, because of its radical departure from Windows as we had known it. It was designed for computers with touch screens and the Start Menu, as we had known it, had disappeared. Those used to the older Windows interface were not impressed. Microsoft issued Windows 8.1 a year later followed by Update 1. Although some changes were made, the old Start Menu was still missing. The Windows 8.1 Update 1 corrected many of the shortcomings of Windows 8. Amongst other things, Update 1 intelligently boots users without touch screens to the desktop by default and uses desktop apps by default, it reduced the sensitivity of hot corners, highlighted newly installed apps and improved the Modern UI for keyboard and mouse users. It may now be considered a good operating system as it should have been, when first released.

Despite the improvements in Windows 8.1, we continued to recommend all users of desktops and laptops without touch screens to install Windows 7. In fact some computer companies can offer an option to those keen to get a computer running Windows 7 to “downgrade” from 8.1 to Windows 7 Professional. Windows 7 was a major success for Microsoft, with a market share of about 50% as of May 2014, making it the most widely used version of Windows. However, since 31 October, 2014 consumers could no longer buy copies of the Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate versions of Windows 7. Also, Windows 8 is no longer available. This affected both copies bought in shops or loaded on PCs and laptops. Service pack support ended in 1 December, 2016 and users have to move to Windows 8.1 two years after the general availability date of Windows 8.1, which happened on Nov. 13, 2013.  Extended support for Windows 8 ended on Jan. 12, 2016.

Computers with Windows 7 Professional continued to be sold until October 31, 2016. Mainstream support from Microsoft for Windows 7 ended in January 2015, but extended support will continue until 14 January 2020.

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Microsoft announced the release of Windows 10 Technical Preview on 30 September, 2014. With Windows 8.1 as the last issue of Windows, one is inclined to ask what happened to Windows 9? There are several explanations, the most common of which is that Microsoft just wanted to distance itself from Windows 8, which left much to be desired for regular desktop and laptop users. There was an apocryphal rumour, circulating in Southeast Asia, that Windows 9 would be released as a free upgrade to those suffering with Windows 8. In fact Windows 10 was offered as a free upgrade to Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 for a period of one year after its release.

Installing the Windows 10 Technical Preview was a pleasant surprise. The only issue we experienced was the need to search for a legacy video driver to replace Microsoft’s default driver, before we could get the correct screen resolution. Windows 10 is a big improvement on the updated Windows 8.1. There are options for touch screens and for people using a keyboard and mouse. When you boot up a PC running it, you will find the familiar desktop. A taskbar, with familiar looking icons, sits on the bottom, and the recycle bin sits in the upper left corner. When you press the Start button, you are greeted by the familiar Start menu. You also get the Live Tiles, with news-bites and social updates. However, Windows 10 will look and work a lot more like Windows 7 than Windows 8. Thank you Microsoft!

Windows 10 underwent many builds over the 9 months before it was released and it was also possible to try the new Microsoft Edge browser. The builds were tested by those who downloaded it and subscribed to the Windows Insider programme. A later build introduced a new log-in screen background created with lasers by Microsoft. It was a static graphic, although the original dynamic version shown below is more impressive.

Windows 10

The Insider programme stopped issuing Insider builds on 15 July, 2015 and a new build designated TH1 Professional 10240 was released and, after installation, it showed as Windows Version 10.0 (Build 10240). It was speculated that this is essentially the RTM (release to manufacturing) build. It is running well, even on an older 64-bit AMD Turion laptop and the legacy display driver did not need reinstalling as it had on previous updates. The Windows 10 official release was on 29 July, 2015, which was earlier than previously expected.

We reported that a new hybrid notebook running 64-bit Windows 8.1, which had been set to reserve the Windows 10 upgrade about a week before the release date, showed a notification to upgrade a few hours after the above release time. Its version was identical to that on the older laptop i.e. Windows Version 10.0 (Build 10240), so our speculation about it being the RTM build was correct.

For those of us continuing with the Insider updates, we had a series of new builds: Build 10525, with some updated colour options and improvements to the Memory Manager using a compression store, which reduces the amount of memory per process; Build 10532, with some bug fixes and an improved context menu; Build 10547 with improvements to the start menu and the tile arrangement; Build 10565 allowed a preview of Skype’s integrated capabilities, a tab preview and some new syncing features in Microsoft Edge; some Cortana improvements; vibrant title bars; improved context menus on Start; new icons; improved context menus on Start; device activation improvements; and default printer settings; Build 10576 has Media Casting in Microsoft Edge, Ask Cortana inside PDFs in Microsoft Edge and an Updated Xbox beta app. The last one, Build 10586 released on 5 November, has mostly bug fixes and general improvements. It is rumoured that this will be the version that will be the new RTM to be released later this month. After installing on our test laptop the build number disappeared from the screen and the version shows as Windows 10 Version 1511.

Surprisingly the Windows 10 Mobile Build 10586 was released several days before the computer version and then was released as the RTM version to replace Windows 8.1 mobile on 8 December. It finally fixed several annoying issues especially with app updates, but had a new rebooting issue. There have been three updates with bug fixes, with the latest on 17 December. The last update showed as Windows 10.10586.36.

One year after the release of Windows 10 version 1511, an Anniversary Edition of Windows 10 version 1607 was released on 2 August, 2016, with many of the new features tested over the past year by those in the Insider Programme. It was announced that the update may be spread over a three-month period and then there were reports that there were some issues with it and that fixes would be included. We experienced two failed attempts on one our laptops before it was successfully installed.

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Windows Vista Alert. Users of Windows Vista with Service Pack 2 should now be aware that the extended support for this operating system ceased on 10 April, 2017 and now users will no longer receive any updates including those required to protect the security of this operating system.
Windows Vista Warning
Also, the final version of the Microsoft browser available for Vista, Internet Explorer 9, lost its support on  12  January, 2016, although other browsers were available. Internet Explorer 10 which was released with Windows 8, also lost support on this date.  This move  means Microsoft only supports the latest version of IE for any version of Windows. In most cases, that’s IE 11, which ships with Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.  In fact, Microsoft would prefer all its Windows users to move to Windows 10 and the new Edge browser.

Windows Vista was never popular, because it introduced some new features like the Aero graphical interface, which required more powerful CPUs than the popular Windows XP. Users were thus often disappointed with their computer performance after installing Vista. We were always happy with it because we had just built a very fast computer with a top-end AMD CPU and lots of RAM.

As a last note for those still using Vista, if a PC already has Microsoft Security Essentials installed, it will continue to receive anti-malware signature updates for a “limited time” according to Microsoft. However, note that Microsoft Security Essentials and other antivirus software will have limited effectiveness on PCs with operating systems, which do not have the latest security updates, so they will still be at risk for virus and malware.

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Microsoft released its third major version of Windows 10 known as the Creators Update on 11 April, 2017. It will be rolled out across the world in phases, starting with newer machines first. The Windows 10 Creators Update increments Windows 10 to version 1703 and features new improvements such as an updated Paint 3D app, Night Light, Game Mode. Also in Edge there is improved control over your privacy and deeper Cortana integration. Although there are ways to speed up the arrival of your download, we recommend to wait until it appears automatically. This will give you time to watch for any news of update issues, which have ocurred with previous updates.

On April 14, Microsoft confirmed that only a limited subset of Windows Phone handsets will be getting the Windows 10 Creators Update, when it begins rolling out on April 25. The list is as follows: Alcatel IDOL 4S, Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL, HP Elite x3, Lenovo Softbank 503LV, MCJ Madosma Q601, Microsoft Lumia 550, Microsoft Lumia 640/640XL, Microsoft Lumia 650, Microsoft Lumia 950/950 XL, Trinity NuAns Neo, and VAIO VPB051.

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