Every week users submit a lot of interesting stuff on our sister site Webdesigner News, highlighting great content from around the web that can be of interest to web designers.
The best way to keep track of all the great stories and news being posted is simply to check out the Webdesigner News site, however, in case you missed some here’s a quick and useful compilation of the most popular designer news that we curated from the past week.
Note that this is only a very small selection of the links that were posted, so don’t miss out and subscribe to our newsletter and follow the site daily for all the news.
Design Trends 2020: Outside the Box
What are the 10 UX Trends for 2020?
Flat UI and a Half
Designers React to the New PS5 Logo (and it’s not Pretty)
This Website Lets You Name a HEX Code
Notably – Create Markdown Content, Code Snippets and Text Notes
New Logo and Identity for Fisher-Price by Pentagram
2019: Projects of the Year
Figma’s Features for the Entire Design Process
Instagram Font Generator
The Next Decade of Design will Be About Fixing the Last Century of Excess
Using the “Flywheel Effect” in Product Design
Neumorphism will not Kill the Skeuomorphism Star
Toyota’s Creepy New ‘Prototype Town’ is a Real-life Westworld
The End of “Someone”
Fritch – Free Vintage Typeface
The Split Personality of Brutalist Web Development
All Design Conferences
Anatomy of a Logo: The Star Wars Logo Evolution
6 Category Page Design Examples
Color Stuck? Try the Color Palette Finding Technique Graphic Designers Love
7 UI Trends to Watch in 2020
Here’s the Typography of the Next Decade
Designers Need to Get Paid. Let’s Ban ‘Exposure’ Once and for all
Want more? No problem! Keep track of top design news from around the web with Webdesigner News.
The company owns a patent on technology designed to rate the “personalities” of prospective guests by analyzing their social media activity to decide if they’re a risky guest who might damage a host’s home.
The end product of their technology is to assign every AirBnB guest customer a “trustworthiness score.” This will reportedly be based not only on social media activity, but other data found online, including blog posts and legal records.
The technology was developed by Trooly, which AirBnB acquired three years ago. Trooly created an AI-based tool designed to “predict trustworthy relationships and interactions,” and which uses social media as one data source.
The software builds the score based on perceived “personality traits” identified by the software, include some you might predict — conscientiousness, openness, extraversion, agreeableness — and some weird ones – “narcissism” and “Machiavellianism,” for example. (Interestingly, the software also looks for involvement in civil litigation, which suggests they may now or in the future ban people based on the prediction that they may be more likely to sue.)
AirBnB hasn’t said whether they use the software or not.
If you’re surprised, shocked or unhappy about this news, then you’re like most people who are unaware of the huge and rapidly growing practice of judging people — customers, citizens, employees and students — using AI applied to social media activity.
AirBnB isn’t the only organization scanning social media to judge personality or predict behavior. Others include the Department of Homeland Security, employers, school districts, police departments, the CIA, insurance companies and many others.
Some estimates say that up to half of all college admissions officers use AI-based social monitoring tools as part of the applicant selection process.
HR departments and hiring managers are also increasingly using AI social monitoring before hiring.
U.S. government agencies, especially those that employ people who need security clearances, are also leaning on social media monitoring to check for untrustworthy employees.
And not only are schools increasingly monitoring social media activity of students, some states are starting to require it by law.
AI-based social media monitoring is a bandwagon. And organizations of all kinds are jumping on it.
There’s only one problem.
AI-based social media monitoring isn’t that smart
Various organizations have been flirting with social media monitoring for years. But recent AI-based monitoring tools have sprouted up and created an industry — and an occupational specialty.
These tools are looking for personality traits like intelligence, social responsibility, financial responsibility and behaviors like obeying the law and behaving responsibly.
The question isn’t whether AI applied to data harvesting works. It surely does. The question is whether social reveals truths about users. I’m questioning the quality of the data.
For example, scanning someone’s Instagram account may “reveal” that they’re fabulously wealthy and travel the world enjoying champagne and caviar. The truth may be that they’re broke, stressed-out wanna-be influencers who barter social exposure for hotel rooms and comped restaurant meals where they take highly manipulated photos created purely for reputation building. Some people use social to deliberately craft a deliberately false image of themselves.
A Twitter account may show a user as an upstanding, constructive and productive member of society, but a second anonymous account unknown to the social media monitoring systems would have revealed that person as a sociopathic troll who just wants to watch the world burn. People have multiple social media accounts for different aspects of their personalities. And some of them are anonymous.
And a person’s Facebook account may be peppered with a user’s outrageous sense of humor, full of profanity and exaggerations, which the monitoring tools may conclude reveals an untrustworthy personality, when in fact the problem is that machines have no sense of humor or irony. And the creators of the AI tools themselves may not have a real understanding about personality.
For example, the use of profanity online may reduce a person’s trustworthiness score, based on the assumption that foul language indicates a lack of ethics or morality. But recent research suggests the opposite — people with potty mouths may be on average more trustworthy, as well as smarter, more honest and more capable, professionally. Do we trust Silicon Valley software companies to know or care about the subtleties and complexities of human personality?
And finally, some people are obsessive non-stop users of many social media sites. Other people never use social media. Most fall somewhere in between.
There’s a generational divide as well. Younger people are statistically less likely to post publicly, preferring private messaging and small-group social interaction. Is AI-based social media monitoring fundamentally ageist?
Women are more likely than men to post personal information on social media (information about oneself), whereas men are more likely than women to post impersonal information. Posting about personal matters may be more revealing about personality. Is AI-bases social media monitoring fundamentally sexist?
Is anybody even asking these questions before jumping headlong into this hyper-consequential brand of surveillance?
Companies like AirBnB are trying to solve a real problem. In AirBnB’s case, they’re essentially a match-making service where the “product” for one user is…. another user. And it’s a question of quality assurance. How do they minimize the harming of one user by another user?
Here’s a caveat: In the past 40 years, the tech industry always overhypes the magic pixie dust of the moment. Right now, that happens to be AI. What I fear is that companies like AirBnB have a problem, conclude that the solution is to just let AI sorcery magically solve it. They’ll turn the systems loose on social, run the algorithms, and get results. The systems will tell them who not to admit to the school, who not to hire, who to strip of their security clearance and who to ban from AirBnB.
For the people on the other end of this process, there will be no transparency into the process — no knowledge whatsoever — and no appeals process.
Did the AI reject the right people? How will anyone know?
Did some of the people deemed “trustworthy” by the AI gain that distinction by gaming the system in some way? How will anyone know?
If you scan the internet about social media monitoring, you’ll find lots of advice to “watch what you post online.” It sounds like reasonable advice, until you really think about what that advice implies. They’re basically saying that if you’re somebody who really should be fired, not hired or rejected from a school based on your social media activity, you really need to be smart and simulate or fake the social media activity of a person who isn’t objectionable.
As knowledge about the scope of social media monitoring spreads, the practice of constraining oneself on social sites — playing to the AI audience and feeding it fake data so the machines judge you trustworthy — will become commonplace.
Let me express that more starkly. Many types of organizations — from government agencies to enterprises to Silicon Valley tech companies of all stripes — are jumping on the AI-based social media monitoring bandwagon. Dozens of companies are emerging to specialize in these tools. The practice is growing widespread.
And when the public wakes up to the reality of this widespread practice, the response will inevitably be to change social media behavior, to push the right buttons to maintain one’s “trustworthiness score,” to hack the system — thus rendering the whole thing pointless and obsolete.
It’s time to start caring about AI-based social media monitoring
Here’s something you can definitely intuit from scanning the social networks — even without AI. The knowledgeable tech-loving public is generally wary and disdainful about “surveillance capitalism” practices like personal-data harvesting, web activity tracking and the very widespread practices of slurping down the contact databases of random users of various sites and apps, which uses you to gain access to the personal information of everyone you know without their knowledge and permission.
Everybody seems to talk about it. Nobody seems to like it. But it’s also true that the actual material “harm” of this kind of everyday monitoring is hard to identify.
Meanwhile, you rarely hear online conversations about AI-based social media monitoring. Yet the potential “harms” are gigantic — losing your job, rejection from school, higher insurance rates and not being allowed to rent a beach house on AirBnB.
I’m not here with “tips” for the “untrustworthy” to game the system and trick the machines into trusting. I’m here to tell you that the system can be gamed. And that AI-based social media monitoring to determine “trustworthiness” is itself… untrustworthy.
With most of Microsoft out on vacation, the December 2019 crop of Windows, Office, .NET and other patches left us blissfully unscathed, unless you’re installing Win7/Server 2008 patches (or .NET patches) manually. In that case, a poorly documented, odd installation sequence for Servicing Stack Update KB 4531786 has led many a manual patcher (and admin) to drink.
One big change this month: If you’re running Windows 10, I figure it’s a good idea to move to Win10 version 1903. The last time 1903 had a major meltdown was three months ago, and things have stabilized since then.
Here’s how to get your system updated the (relatively) safe way.
Make a full backup
Make a full system image backup before you install the latest patches.
There’s a non-zero chance that the patches — even the latest, greatest patches of patches of patches — will hose your machine. Best to have a backup that you can reinstall even if your machine refuses to boot. This, in addition to the usual need for System Restore points.
Microsoft is blocking updates to Windows 7 and 8.1 on recent computers. If you are running Windows 7 or 8.1 on a PC that’s 24 months old or newer, follow the instructions in AKB 2000006 or @MrBrian’s summary of @radosuaf’s method to make sure you can use Windows Update to get updates applied.
If you insist on manually installing Security-only patches for Win7 and Server 2008 (I call that the “Group B” approach on AskWoody), there’s a complex series of interactions with the November and December Servicing Stack Updates. You’ll have to reboot at least twice – details from @PKCano on the AskWoody site. If in doubt, ask questions on the site! It’s easy and free.
Realize that some or all of the expected patches for December may not show up or, if they do show up, may not be checked. DON’T CHECK any unchecked patches. Unless you’re very sure of yourself, DON’T GO LOOKING for additional patches. In particular, if you install the December Monthly Rollup, you won’t need (and probably won’t see) the concomitant patches for November. Don’t mess with Mother Microsoft.
If you seeKB 4493132, the “Get Windows 10” nag patch, make sure it’s unchecked.
Watch out for driver updates — you’re far better off getting them from a manufacturer’s website.
If you’re worried about Windows 7 hitting end-of-support later this month, don’t be alarmed. About a quarter of all Windows users will blissfully blow beyond the end-of-support date, just like you. Win7 won’t suddenly stop working on Jan. 14. You have many options – and not all of them end with Windows. We follow the alternatives intently in the Seven Semper Fi series on AskWoody.
Patch Win10 and associated Servers
If you’re running Win10 version 1803, 1809, Server 1809, Server 2019, or any earlier version of Windows 10, I urge you to upgrade to Win10 version 1903. (You can find your version by typing winver in the Search box in the lower left corner and pressing Enter.) There are detailed upgrade instructions, with suitable caveats, here: Why — and how — I’m moving Win10 production machines to version 1903.
Win10 1903 is far from perfect, but it seems to be relatively stable at this point. The one huge advantage: It lets everybody pause updates with a few simple clicks. That feature has my vote for the most important (perhaps the only important) upgrade to Win10 in the past four-plus years.
If you insist on using Win10 version 1809, go through the steps in All’s clear to install Microsoft’s November patches to get 1809 updated. If you’re on Win10 version 1909, I figure you’ve jumped the gun if not the shark, but the instructions here will work.
If you’ve been following my usual advice – to click “Pause updates for 7 days” three times – your machine should’ve installed the December patches around the end of the month. You’re in good shape.
If you haven’t been following that advice, it’s time to start using your Redmond-Given Rights: Click Start > Settings (the gear icon) > Update & Security. Click Windows Update on the left side, then click “Pause updates for 7 days.” Next, click on the newly revealed link, which says “Pause updates for 7 more days,” and click it again. That pauses all updates for 21 days which, historically, has been long enough for Microsoft to fix its most egregious bugs. (Notable recent exceptions: The File Explorer Search bug in Win10 version 1909 and the Keystone Kops IE 0day patch bugs in September/October 2019.)
If you see an offer of an Optional update (screenshot), don’t click Download and install now. There’s a reason why Microsoft deems such patches “optional.”
The January updates should appear next week. With the Win10 dev crew back from a well-deserved holiday nap, expect some significant changes. Some of them (fixing the Win10 1909 File Explorer Search bug?) may actually be worthwhile.
Thanks to the dozens of volunteers on AskWoody who contribute mightily, especially @sb, @PKCano, @abbodi86 and many others.
There are so many productivity tips for iPhone users. Here’s a brand new collection of them.
Save (almost) anything as a PDF
The easiest way to save anything you can print from your iPhone or iPad as a PDF isn’t particularly clear, but this is a great way to gather copies of almost anything and is as simple as:
Open the item you want to save.
Tap Share and select Print.
When the print dialog appears you’ll see a preview of the item you wish to print. Tap this with two fingers and spread them out.
The preview should grow to fill the page. Congratulations – you just made a PDF.
Tap the Share icon and you can now save this item to Files.
Create meeting transcripts the easy way
Are you responsible for writing the minutes of meetings? Perhaps you’re a student wanting accurate lecture notes, or a researcher trying to transcribe lengthy discussions?
The easiest way to transcribe on your iPhone is to use the Otter.ai app.
This works using the microphone on your device, uploading recordings to the service which then transcribes them in real time.
Once fully transcribed you’ll receive a notification and you can search and surf through those transcriptions on your device. You can also export them in various formats. It is also possible to upload recordings (such as recorded calls) to the service for transcription.
While I do find it necessary to work through and correct transcriptions this is way easier than doing the task manually and I find it incredibly useful.
Say it don’t write it
Your iPhone isn’t just good for asking Siri silly questions, it’s a quite capable dictation device. You can even use it to dictate letters, scribble thoughts or write for other reasons while on the move – just ask Siri to open your writing app (Word?) and then tap the microphone icon on the keyboard that appears and dictate away. Yes, you’ll probably need to learn Apple’s built-in dictation commands (there’s a handy list of these here), and you will need to double-check your document for accuracy, but using this feature frees you to work in different environments in places you choose.
NB: Don’t neglect that you can also use Siri to write and send mail and messages, but I imagine most of us already do that, at least to some extent.
Automate the simple things
The number of emails we receive that state “Sent from my iPhone” is the number of people who have not yet managed to set their device up to automatically write a signature at the end of their email. It’s simple to do:
Choose if you want to use the same signature from All Accounts or Per Accounts for emails sent from your device.
You must then create a relevant signature for each account, or one generic signature for each account using the dialog boxes you’ll find.
This one simple step will make your communications look more professional. And leads you nicely onto another form of automation that makes sense:
Text Replacement (Settings>General>Keyboard>Text Replacement).
This lets you create text shortcuts for complex phrases or sentences.
Open it and you will see some of Apple’s oven-ready Text Replacement set ups. Choose a Shortcut, such as “Monitoring form question 3” and then in the Phrase box you can create the block of text for the task.
Why not trim your Notifications?
For example, I only receive email notifications from people I keep in my VIP list, and only see on-screen app notifications from the apps I most need to know about, primarily communications but also project-related apps, such as Slack or Trello.
To achieve this I thought about the nature of notifications.
Urgent apps I set to provide notifications on the Lock screen, Notification Center and Banners with (perhaps) Sound and Badges enabled.
Less urgent apps get granted Lock screen and Notification Center privileges, with (perhaps) Sound and Badges enabled.
Any of the remaining apps that are slightly worth watching are only granted Badges with everything else disabled.
And all the other apps have all notifications disabled. And I’ve probably disabled Location services for them, too.
It is a little tedious setting this up if you have a lot of apps – you need to open Settings>Notifications and then set the relevant permission for each app. You should then make sure to set this up for any new apps you install.
The beauty is that once you have done this then you’ll never miss an important notification and will know that if you are alerted by an app then it is probably one you want to know about.
It really is time to use Do Not Disturb mode
Shut everything out while you try to focus.
Open Control Center, tap the half-moon icon to silence calls, alerts, and notifications until you tap to switch them on again. Better yet, given you might forget to exit Do Not Disturb mode, tap and hold the Do Not Disturb icon and then choose a duration to silence it all.
For 1 hour.
Until this evening.
Until I leave this location.
Schedule your own
You may also benefit from using the Be Focused focus timing app to help you optimize the work you get done while in Do Not Disturb mode with its concentration tips.
Want even more productivity tips? I’ve got you. Try these:
Central banks in Asia and Europe are in the final stages of launching digital currencies for future payment systems and cross-border transactions, according to a new report from accounting firm KPMG.
And governments around the world see the launch of these blockchain-based central bank digital currencies (CBDC) as something that could one day give them a competitive advantage in global trade.
“In 2020, we at KPMG expect to assist regional and central banks in the development of well-defined technology frameworks that can anchor private-sector initiatives,” Arun Ghosh, U.S. Blockchain Leader at KPMG, said in a blog post.
Among other banking entitires, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has shown support for fiat-backed cryptocurrencies, saying they can reduce the reliance on government-issued money, “and unlike bank transfers, crypto asset transactions can be cleared and settled quickly without an intermediary,” Dong He, deputy director of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, wrote in a post for the IMF.
“The advantages are especially apparent in cross-border payments, which are costly, cumbersome, and opaque,” He said. “New services using distributed ledger technology and crypto assets have slashed the time it takes for cross-border payments to reach their destination from days to seconds by bypassing correspondent banking networks.”
In a blog post, the IMF said today’s fiat currencies are in flux “and innovation will transform the landscape of banking and money.”
Other countries are already looking to innovate in ways that given them an advantage.
And the Bank of England has been researching cryptocurrency since 2015. Even though theit does not currently plan to issue a cryptocurrency linked to Pound sterling, it has published extensive research on the monetary policy and financial system implications of issuing CDBCs.
“If a central bank issued a digital currency, then everyone (including businesses, households and financial institutions other than banks) could store value and make payments in electronic central bank money,” the Bank of England said in a research paper. “While this may seem like a small change, it could have wide-ranging implications for monetary policy and financial stability.”
Regardless of any movement by central banks, Ghosh said, fiat-based ‘stablecoins’ are already being issued by the private sector to support enhanced value exchange and settlement within organizations and across banking networks.
For example, JP Morgan Chase announced last year it had developed what was seen at the time as the first cryptocurrency backed by a major bank – a move that could legitimize blockchain as a vehicle for fiat cryptocurrencies. JPM Coin, as the bank calls its new digital money, is considered fiat currency because it’s backed by U.S. dollars in accounts designated at JPMorgan Chase N.A.
Each JPM Coin is equal in value to one U.S. dollar.
Wells Fargo has also announced it will pilot its own cryptocurrency to enable near real-time money movement and cut out settlement middlemen, thus reducing fees.
And the Reserve Bank of Australia has conducted pilots with Ethereum-based cryptocurrency in the hope it could be used by third parties for cross-border payments. So far, the bank has not found a significant case for its use in light of Australia’s relatively stable banking system, according to a Senate inquiry into the matter last month.
“The upside for businesses and consumers will trickle down through adoption…, Ghosh said, nothing that the new systems could result in “near instantaneous value settlement” with “enhanced cash flow realization and/or liquidity of certain positions.”
Blockchain is being piloted by financial services institutions in five primary areas: for clearance and settlement, trade finance, cross-border payments, insurance claims processing and anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) efforts.
For cross-border transactions, stablecoin could cut settlement times from days to minutes by eliminating the need for private organizations such as Depository Trust and Clearance Corp. (DTCC) in the U.S. and Euroclear in the European Union. The DTCC and Euroclear now handle securities settlements.
Blockchain-based systems could also streamline the process of buying and selling stocks and bonds. Those transactions can take up to three days, with longer delays of up to 10 days not uncommon, according to Bruce Fenton, founder and managing director of Atlantic Financial and a board member of the Bitcoin Foundation.
“The challenge with securities now is you need a trusted third party to say what’s true,” Fenton said. “It’s not your broker. It’s not Merrill Lynch or Fidelity and it’s not the issuer either; Apple has no clue who their shareholders are, either. The function is performed by these large centralized groups because the brokers don’t necessarily trust each other; they’re dealing with their competitors.”
The problem with relying on central settlement organizations is that transactions can get bottlenecked through the use of a single ledger, such as VisaNet or SWIFT, he said. With blockchain, trust becomes moot since digital tokens representing securities or money are inextricably linked to the funds or securities – and transfers can be done in hours, Fenton said.
Given those efficiencies, more than a half dozen universities are already working on developing a payment system to rival today’s conventional clearance and settlement networks.
In addition to the scaled adoption of cryptoassets now being driven by the public sector, Ghosh sees four other crypto trends likely to emerge over the next year or so as business executives apply “an unprecedented level of innovation … driving new revenue models by leveraging blockchain and tokenized assets.”
Those trends include:
Advances in cryptoasset custody technology, or how digital assets are owned, stored, secured, transferred and accessed in a decentralized environment.
A shift from private-permissioned to interoperable blockchain implementations. With many private blockchain implementations coming to fruition, the next step is interoperability.
More success when scaling the technology with a converged artificial intelligence (AI) framework – and better results when initializing their AI investments.
The convergence of AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) to help manage climate change.
About that last prediction, Ghosh said: “Decentralized, transparent data models enabled by blockchain, which houses data transferred via IoT that is measurable using advanced analytic techniques, can be visible to a vast number of countries and regulators that are jointly monitoring and reporting on carbon emissions, rising sea levels and the remediation of toxic waste, among other applications.”
This pilot fish fresh out of college, Class of ’80-something, gets a job in county government as a developer. At the end of each week, the computer operators pass around a large pile of accordion-fold, tractor-feed computer paper with the names of files created that week, and each one circles the files that can be deleted.
Naturally, the file names can be quite similar, and one time fish the newbie circles the wrong one. Which goes unnoticed until someone discovers that the voter registration database has been deleted. Panic ensues, but there’s a tape backup, and the restoration is soon done and verified, so no harm done.
Fish notes, in his defense: “The recovery process had never been tested until I forced the issue.”
Beyond HR considerations, IBM CIO Fletcher Previn points out multiple advantages Cupertino’s computers offer, not least in terms of net promoter score, user experience and the actual costs of management, upgrade and support.
“Now, I don’t know if better employees want Macs, or giving Macs to employees makes them better. You got to be careful about cause and effect — but there seems to be a lot of corroborating evidence that says you want to have a choice programme,” he said in November ’19.
The real enterprise IT
The positive upswell in support for Apple’s systems comes as around 417 million Windows 7 devices (a big chunk of all Windows PCs currently in use worldwide) are about to see Microsoft terminate support on Jan. 14.
It’s a relatively safe assumption to think that at least some tens of thousands of these PCs could now be replaced by an iPad, or even a Mac. Why wouldn’t some of these migrate to Apple’s platforms, when Microsoft’s fee-based extended support package costs up to $200 per device?
Apple’s Windows 7 replacement pitch
That’s a real opportunity for Apple, and gives the company a really deep chance to use the popularity of iPhones among enterprise users to pitch Mac sales in the new replacement drive.
It might not even need to try too hard to be successful. IBM has previously explained how running Macs is up to $543 per machine cheaper than running a Windows PC.
Add the cost of extended Windows 7 support to the likely cost savings of using a Mac and factor in recruitment and staff retention costs and spice the sum with employee satisfaction, digital transformation and productivity benefits, and Apple has a good story to tell.
Now, 13% of all the Windows 7 devices out there equates to tens of millions of additional Mac sales in the coming 12 to 24 months, though the number of those systems deployed across the enterprise is likely considerably smaller.
All the same, it’s hard to ignore the potential for millions of additional Mac sales. And those sales could snowball, particularly now that Apple’s fixed the butterfly keyboard on its latest MacBook Pro and returned to pressing for high user satisfaction levels.
Recent financial data suggests Apple is indeed experiencing such a Mac renaissance; 2019 saw what Apple CEO Tim Cook described as the, “highest annual revenue ever from our Mac business.”
Mac sales revenues climbed 2% across 2019, despite PC market stagnation. So it’s a fairly good bet that more enterprise IT decision makers than ever are at least now considering offering Mac choice programs as they move to upgrade existing Windows 7 installations.
Analysts will be (or should be) asking questions about Mac sales during Apple’s Jan. 28 financial call to build some sense of how Apple is performing in the Windows replacement curve.
I think it’s fair to assume that many of these Windows 7 machines will be replaced by Apple, but that replacement may achieve something even more profound.
Think back to the moment in 2003 when Steve Jobs announced “Hell had frozen over” and introduced Windows support to iPods. The already popular device was selling hundreds of thousands at that time; the introduction of Windows support pushed that number to tens of millions within months.
Those happy iPod owners helped juice higher Mac sales, while also setting the scene for the release of the iPhone, which (arguably, depending on who you speak to) now dominates the mobile enterprise.
With half a billion Windows PCs to replace, how many Macs does Apple have to sell through for the industry to declare the platform a success? At what point will we see a “Mac halo” emerge?
After all, as people use and share the benefits of the Macs they just got upgraded to, what chance is there that we’ll see a more profound move to replace PCs outside of Apple’s traditional markets? Perhaps there’s even an opening for a high-end Mac for the games market?
It’s something to play for with a third of the existing Windows market on the gaming table.
Back in the not-so-good old days, Microsoft gave us some sort of broad hint when new versions of Win10 had finally been thoroughly tested: “Current Branch for Business” and “Semi-Annual Channel” were nonsense code words signaling that paying customers could finally rely on some stability with the latest version.
We don’t have CBB or SAC anymore, but I’ll stick my neck out and recommend that everyone move to Win10 version 1903.
Win10 version 1903 seems ready
In late September, Microsoft assured us that Win10 version 1903 was “ready for broad deployment.” That was quite an assertion, considering the problems we subsequently saw with audio and other driver bugs, antivirus incompatibilities, and the Keystone Kops episode with four separate patches for the CVE-2019-1367Internet Explorer “0day” patch that extended into October.
Bygones, bygones. It’s been three months since that debacle, and I figure most of the problems with 1903 have finally been ironed out.
Thus, I’m moving my production Win10 machines over to 1903, and recommend that you do, as well.
Many of you are already on version 1909, but to my way of thinking, it’s way, way too early to jump on the 1909 bandwagon. Microsoft has shown no outward signs of fixing the widespread File Explorer Search bug in 1909. Until that bug’s been squashed, and we’ve had a few months to make sure it stays squashed, I strongly recommend that you avoid 1909.
Better to be a stick-in-the-mud
Those of you who love trying the latest and greatest will no doubt decry my slow-moving upgrade schedule. How could anyone wait six months before upgrading Windows? Think of all the great stuff you’re missing — and it’s free!
I get it. Go, boomer. Some folks really want to have the bleeding-edge “best” whether it’s better or not. Just ask anyone who installed iOS 13.0, 13.1, 13.1.1, 13.1.2, 13.1.3, 13.2, 13.2.1, 13.2.2, 13.2.3 and 13.3 in the span of three months.
In Win10’s case, the upgrade tradeoff juggles between highly questionable new features and a demonstrable history of very poor rollouts.
We’ve had very few useful feature improvements in Win10 since the early days. Yes, Microsoft brought back the OneDrive “Files on Demand” (which worked fine in Win 8.1), beefed up Linux (oh boy!), extended Notepad (wowza!), added Dark Mode to File Explorer and similarly dull developments. Unless you include 3D drawing and HoloLens support in Win10’s new feature hit list, the improvements have been slight.
On the other hand, upgrade meltdowns run a dime a dozen. Pick any Win10 version upgrade, and I can list (and have published) dozens of big bugs, some of them debilitating.
Your mileage may vary, but in the almost-five years since Win10 shipped, I’ve only seen one new feature that’s been worth the pain of upgrading, and it appears in Win10 version 1903 and 1909. That’s the ability for everybody — Home, Pro, Enterprise, Education — to easily pause updating. With pause updates, you can free yourself from the unpaid beta-tester karmic wheel. (Those attached to update servers face a different master.)
I think the benefit of pause updates now justifies the potential pain of upgrading.
How to move to 1903
Moving from Win10 version 1803 or 1809 to version 1903 is pretty straightforward. I have the details in my November article Running Win10 version 1803 or 1809? You have options. Here’s how to control your upgrade.In a nutshell, if you’re running Win10 Home, you need to use a Win10 1903 ISO file. If you’re running Win10 Pro, Enterprise or Education, a judicious choice of Update Advanced Options “feature update deferral days” will land in 1903. The deferral settings in that article are still valid today.
When you move to Win10 version 1903, you’ll likely be nudged, or pushed, to the latest build, number 18362.535. That’s fine. I’ll have detailed instructions tomorrow for navigating the few problems with December’s Win10 1903 Cumulative Update.
If you find yourself on version 1909, don’t panic. The File Explorer Search bug may prove very annoying, but you can live with it for a while. After all, Win10 1909 inductees have been putting up with the bug for months already.
On Wednesday, Mozilla issued Firefox 72.0.1, which included one change: A patch for the vulnerability identified as CVE-2019-17026. “We are aware of targeted attacks in the wild abusing this flaw,” Mozilla said in the short description of the flaw, signaling that criminals were already leveraging the zero-day vulnerability, the term applied because there no time elapses between patching and exploitation.
Mozilla rated the vulnerability as “Critical,” the most serious rating in its multi-step ranking system. To manually update the browser, users can select Help > About Firefox on Windows or Firefox > About Firefox on macOS. The resulting page shows that the browser is either up to date or describes the refresh process.
Wednesday’s update was the first aimed at a zero-day vulnerability in Firefox since June, when Mozilla patched another critical type confusion flaw.
When Iran launches cyberattacks in revenge for the killing of Major Gen. Qasem Soleimani — which it almost certainly will do — the attack vector, as always, will be Windows. And when that happens, your PC and your business’s PCs will be right in the crosshairs. Here’s why — and how you can protect your machines and your business.
A long history of U.S.-Iranian cyberwarfare
To understand the coming cyberattacks, it’s useful to look back. For more than a decade, the U.S. and Iran have engaged in low-level cyberwarfare, with occasional bursts of higher-level attacks. The most destructive of them was Stuxnet, launched in 2009 by the U.S. and Israel against Iran’s nuclear program. It exploited four zero-day flaws in Windows machines, which controlled the centrifuges Iran used to create nuclear material that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Stuxnet snuck into the machines through the flaws, then took over the Siemens software that operated the centrifuges and ordered thousands of them to spin so fast they self-destructed. The damage was so great that it was believed to have set back Iran’s nuclear program by years. Many people believe the attack was a motivating factor in Iran signing the 2015 deal to curtail its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions against it being lifted — a deal that is no longer honored by the U.S.
The Iranian strikes have continued at a lower level through the years, and in all cases, Windows has been involved. The attack on U.S. financial institutions, for example, was a denial-of-service (DoS) attack using a vast botnet of infected Windows PCs. Iran is also believed to be behind the well-publicized ransomware attack on the city of Atlanta. Spearphishing was used to trick city employees into downloading Windows-based ransomware, which then did its damage.
Iran readies its next wave of attacks
There’s evidence that even before the killing of Soleimani, Iran had been ramping up its cyberattack infrastructure. This came to light in June, as tensions between the countries spiked when Iran seized an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and the U.S. shot down an Iranian drone in response. Foreign Policy magazine reported then that “With relations between the United States and Iran balanced on a knife’s edge, Iranian operatives are doing the work necessary to be able to digitally strike at the United States.”
Among Iran’s preparations, according to the security firm Recorded Future, was the registration of more than 1,200 command-and-control domains linked to Iran. More than 700 of those domains were already communicating with machines that had been infected.
Experts expect Iran to use tools like these and Windows malware to strike back at the U.S. in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. Kiersten Todt, managing director of the Cyber Readiness Institute, told CNN, “Iranians will certainly try to retaliate — definitely in the region, and they will also look at options in our homeland. Of the options available to them, cyber is most compelling.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s National Terrorism Advisory System agrees, and after the Soleimani assassination put out a bulletin that warned, “Iran maintains a robust cyber program and can execute cyber attacks against the United States. Iran is capable, at a minimum, of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effects against critical infrastructure in the United States.”
But U.S. critical infrastructure is generally well-protected, security experts say. So are government agencies and some big tech companies. Columbia University computer science professor Steven Bellovin told CNN that agencies like the CIA and NSA and tech companies like Google and Amazon are probably impervious to attack. However, he warned, “most companies aren’t as good as these” at protecting themselves.
Last summer, cybersecurity expert Zak Doffman echoed that in Forbes when he wrote, “Iran understands that retaliation against the U.S. military in the cyber domain might be akin to throwing rocks at a tank, but it can hit the vast and under-protected U.S. corporate sector at will.”
Given that Iran can’t wreak destruction with cyberattacks, it will likely settle for disruption. And that means launching attacks at many different types of businesses and industries, even if they’re not connected to the military or vital infrastructure.
Those attacks will all be Windows-based. And once those Windows attacks are unleashed, they take a life of their own, and spread randomly to individuals as well as businesses. Which means that your machines could well be hit.
It’s likely that the attacks will be of the types to which we’ve become accustomed, spread by phishing and spearphishing, and seeking out machines that have security holes. And that’s actually good news. Because it means that if you practice basic computer hygiene, you likely won’t be infected. So, first, make sure all of your computers and all of the software on them are updated with the latest security patches. In addition, follow all the usual warnings about not opening attachments that you don’t know are headed your way, and not clicking on links unless you know that someone you trust has sent them. Make sure all of your servers and websites have the latest security patches as well.
Do all that, and even if Iran does unleash cyberattacks on the U.S., you and your business will be more likely to remain safe.