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Microsoft to Windows 7: Beat it, you bum

Microsoft today figuratively told Window 7 – which ended support with a final security update – not to let the door hit it on the way out.

“Ten-year-old tech just can’t keep up,” Jared Spataro, an executive on the Microsoft 365 team, wrote in a post to a company blog. “As we end support for Windows 7, I encourage you to transition to these newer options right away.”

Not surprisingly, Spataro named those newer options as Windows 10 to replace Windows 7, and Office 365 to fill in for the retiring-in-October Office 2010. Combined, they make up the bulk of Microsoft 365, the business subscription plan Microsoft wants all customers to adopt.

“I see the end of support for Windows 7 and Office 2010 as an opportunity for you to transition to tools designed for the way we work today,” Spataro added. “If you haven’t already, make the move now.”

Spataro’s criticism of Windows 7 was nothing new; Microsoft has been dumping on the older OS for at least three years. “Windows 7 is based on long-outdated security architectures,” said Markus Nitschke, the head of Microsoft Germany, in January 2017. The operating system “does not meet the requirements of modern technology, nor the high security requirements of IT,” Nitschke warned as he touted the then-relatively new Windows 10.

Spataro mentioned Extended Security Updates (ESU), the for-a-fee post-retirement patches Microsoft will sell business customers in one-year increments for up to three years. But he dismissed ESU as nothing more than a “bandage” and again urged everyone to get on Windows 10 right away.

“In order to get the best protection and security features of Windows Defender Antivirus and the full potential of Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), I strongly urge you to migrate to Windows 10 as soon as possible,” he said.

It’s unlikely that this will be Microsoft’s final plea to dump Windows 7. In fact, starting tomorrow, Windows 7 PCs will begin displaying a full-page nag screen reminding users that they risk falling victim to cyber criminals by running unpatched software.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft targets frontline workers with Teams walkie-talkie feature

Microsoft has added new features aimed at frontline workers that use its Teams workstream collaboration app, including a new “walkie-talkie” feature. 

With 200 million monthly active users on Office 365, Microsoft has been expanding its focus on  workers in the hospitality, manufacturing and retail industries. Many such employees have been underserved by IT in the past, the company argued, even though they’re the first point of contact with customers or products. 

Microsoft and others such as Google and Facebook, with its Workplace enterprise social network, see a lucrative – and relatively untapped market – in frontline workers. Microsoft notes there are some two billion people worldwide now in service- or task-oriented roles.

A raft of updates to Teams, Microsoft’s Office 365 collaboration app, arrived last week. Among them is the walkie-talkie feature, which is built into the Teams mobile app and lets users begin a conversation with a coworker at the push of a button or broadcast an audio message just as they’d do on an analog device. 

Unlike traditional walkie-talkies, there is no risk of cross-talk or eavesdropping by outsiders, Microsoft said in a statement. As it relies Wi-Fi or cellular data, the feature can be used across different geographic locations, too. The feature, available in preview “in the first half of this year,” is designed to reduce the number of devices workers carry and cut IT costs. 

The push-to-talk (PTT) function will be integrated into Samsung’s Galaxy XCover Pro, a ruggedized smartphone aimed at enterprise use and unveiled at the end of the CES trade show on Sunday. The XCover Pro features two programmable buttons users can press to activate the voice option in Teams.  

“Microsoft and Samsung have a deep history of bringing together the best hardware and software to help solve our customers’ challenges,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “The powerful combination of Microsoft Teams and the new Galaxy XCover Pro builds on this partnership and will provide firstline workers everywhere with the technology they need to be more collaborative, productive and secure.” 

The push to talk option should help Microsoft as it targets frontline workers with its products, said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research.

“These workers have typically been outside the scope of IT and business communications, but are becoming increasingly relevant for digital transformation initiatives,” he said. “The addition of PTT in Teams is particularly relevant because in many cases, frontline workers can benefit from a ‘heads up, hands free’ approach to mobile communications.”

Other features announced by Microsoft include integration with Microsoft Tasks in Teams,; integration with third-party work management platforms from Kronos and JDA; and identity and management features such as SMS sign-in using one-time codes sent to a smartphone; delegated user management; and shared device sign-out.

This is not the first time Microsoft has offered Teams features for frontline workers. A year ago, the company added location sharing, the ability to record and share audio messages, and a camera module with image annotation. It has also folded in functionality aimed at frontline workers from separate services, including shift management tool StaffHub and WhatsApp-like communications app Kaizala.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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The December 2019 Microsoft patches get the all-clear

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.

As usual, Patch Lady Susan Bradley has a detailed analysis in her Patch Watch column, with a full patch-by-patch reckoning in her Master Patch List (paywall, donation requested).

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.

There are plenty of full-image backup products, including at least two good free ones: Macrium Reflect Free and EaseUS Todo Backup. For Win 7 users, If you aren’t making backups regularly, take a look at this thread started by Cybertooth for details. You have good options, both free and not-so-free.

Patch Win7, Win8.1, or associated Servers

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.

For most Windows 7 and 8.1 users, I recommend following AKB 2000004: How to apply the Win7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollups. You should have one Windows patch, dated Dec. 10 (the Patch Tuesday patch), maybe an Office patch, and possibly a .NET patch. 

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 see KB 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.

After you’ve installed the latest Monthly Rollup, if you’re intent on minimizing Microsoft’s snooping, run through the steps in AKB 2000007: Turning off the worst Win7 and 8.1 snooping. If you want to thoroughly cut out the telemetry, see @abbodi86’s detailed instructions in AKB 2000012: How To Neutralize Telemetry and Sustain Windows 7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollup Model.

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.)

1909 download and install now Microsoft

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.

We’ve moved to MS-DEFCON 5 on the AskWoody Lounge.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft dissolves links between features and Windows 10 releases

Microsoft this week reworked its Windows 10 development model, severing links between features and specific releases so that it can deliver the former “when they are ready.”

“While features in the active development branch may be slated for a future Windows 10 release, they are no longer matched to a specific Windows 10 release,” Brandon LeBlanc, a senior program manager on the Windows Insider team, wrote in a Dec. 16 post to a company blog. “New features and OS improvements done in this branch during these development cycles will show up in future Windows 10 releases when they are ready.”

Since Windows 10’s mid-2015 launch, Microsoft has publicly linked features to their intended releases, usually by introducing them in a blog post connected to the preview build in which they debuted. Microsoft has reinforced those connections by repeatedly trumpeting major new features each time it describes the coming release. On occasion, the linkages have had to be broken as the Redmond, Wash. company retracted a feature previously scheduled for a specific release. But that has been rare.

(One of the most prominent features backed out of a release was Windows Sets, which had been touted in 2017 and slated for a 2018 upgrade but ended up as a no-show.)

The difference between the old way and LeBlanc’s description of the new may be too subtle to be noticeable by outsiders. In the past, Microsoft almost certainly did not share everything related to scheduling the contents of a then-upcoming-now-past upgrade. Just as certainly, that will be the case going forward. What Microsoft doesn’t tell customers are, to quote a former Secretary of Defense, the “unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

But by claiming “when they are ready” as the guide for future features, Microsoft implied that at least some had not been so when they were baked into past upgrades. That’s a puzzling tack, even risky, if customers pause a moment to absorb the phrase and inevitably wonder, “Wait, weren’t they ready before?”

Microsoft’s newfound stance on “not until it’s ready” was reminiscent of browser makers, who have long used that model as they crank out seven or more new versions annually. For browser developers, it’s nothing for a feature to miss the intended “train” or version; the feature can catch the next six or eight weeks later. That was the whole point of a more-is-better release strategy.

The analogy doesn’t track exactly, though. That’s because new Windows 10 features can catch only two trains each year, not seven or eight (as with Chrome) or 12 or 13 (Firefox). Miss one and there’s at least a six-month wait.

Or double that.

In 2019, Microsoft launched a major release in the spring and a minor one in the fall, making the latter little more than a rerun of the former, a “service pack” retread with few new features, none of significance. If Microsoft maintains that cadence in 2020 and beyond, delayed features of substance could be postponed a full year.

Speaking of major and minor….

Microsoft has yet to answer one of the questions about Windows 10 from 2019: Is the major (spring) and minor (fall) upgrade slate a one-off or the new normal?

More than a month ago, Computerworld predicted that Microsoft would tip its hand when it started previewing the version of Windows that was to follow 2004, the Spring 2020 upgrade that by accounts is finished or nearly so. If Microsoft began seeding Insider participants with early code for 21H1 (Microsoft’s code name for the upgrade eventually released in Spring 2021), 2020 would repeat the cadence of 2019, a major, then a minor release. But if Microsoft instead slotted next year’s second upgrade, 21H2, into Insider, it would be evidence that it was reverting to the 2017-2018 model of two relatively equal feature upgrades.

What Computerworld failed to consider – like someone asked to predict a coin flip not accounting for it to end on its edge – was neither. By separating features from specific releases, Microsoft is able to dodge the question of what comes after Windows 10 2004. What it will preview via Insider could be destined for 20H2, 21H1 or neither.

Nor did Le Blanc give any clues. “We may deliver these new features and OS improvements as full OS build updates or servicing releases,” he wrote, covering both major (full OS) and minor (servicing) releases.

Cynics might be tempted to see the whole instance – the talk of “when they are ready” – as a smokescreen that lets Microsoft put off deciding which upgrade cadence to adopt for 2020. There may be something to that: Microsoft has said it is “closely monitoring feedback” from the major-minor “pilot” of 2019. What with the year’s minor refresh, 1909, having been available for just a month and seeing as how businesses have likely done next to nothing with the service pack since, there probably is little to no feedback to monitor at this point. The firm may want more time to evaluate the 2019 cadence and whether it worked for the most important customers, enterprises.

By claiming that no feature will be assigned a specific upgrade before its time, Microsoft can continue to issue new code for Insiders to test without committing to a release model.

Slow down

Although it can be dangerous to ascribe rationales to decisions others make – it risks organizing something without coherence – that’s not stopped Computerworld.

Separating features from releases so that the former is added to the latter only “when they are ready” may signal that Microsoft expects a slow, if not necessarily slower, upgrade pace – one that is, if nothing else, unhurried.

(If so, the debacle of Windows 10 1809 must still sting in Redmond more so than it has let on publicly. By slowing down the release tempo, Microsoft and its Insiders get more time to test.)

That, in turn, hints at the slower of the two cadences in question: 2019’s major-minor releases.

But if that is to be the case, why bother changing the feature-release relationship? Assuming the tempo of this year is retained next, what’s the purpose of Microsoft saying “((features)) are no longer matched to a specific Windows 10 release”?

Is it because the linkage will be increasingly unimportant, and because there will be really just one feature upgrade annually? What, exactly, was the purpose of this year’s 1909, an update that was in no way an upgrade, what with so few new features, enhancements or improvements over 1903? Was it only to have a release that qualified for 30 months of support for Windows 10 Enterprise users?

That could be arranged without the hassle of building a Potemkin upgrade for the fall: Simply announce that the spring refresh, the one that actually includes new functionality and features, will be supported for 30 months on Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education.

And then boot the fall upgrade so that there’s only one each year.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft blinks: Security Essentials will continue to receive updates after Jan. 14

Late last week, I talked about a discrepancy in Microsoft’s promised handling of Microsoft Security Essentials as Windows 7 reaches end of support. An internally inconsistent official announcement seemed to say that MSE signature file updates would stop — even for those who have paid for Extended Security Updates. 

Which is absurd. Why would Microsoft stop updating its antivirus program even for people who are paying to continue receiving Monthly Rollup patches?

Yesterday Microsoft held an Ask Me Anything session for the Win7 forlorn, on the Microsoft Tech Community Forum. I asked:

Can you confirm that Microsoft will really, for sure, cut off Microsoft Security Essentials malware signature updates after January 14? Even if you’re paying for Extended Support?

Microsoft engineer Mike Cure provided an official response:

MSE will continue to receive signature updates after Jan. 14.

Citing the Windows 7 support FAQ which says: 

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) will continue to receive signature updates after January 14, 2020. However, the MSE platform will no longer be updated.

Then on the AMA, @Brian responded by referring to the Extended Security Update FAQ, which says:

Will Microsoft Security Essentials continue to protect my PC after end of support?

No, your Windows 7 PC will not be protected by Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) after January 14, 2020. This product is unique to Windows 7 and follows the same lifecycle dates for support.

That’s an obfuscating piece of bafflegab, subject to whimsical interpretation, as I described in the Computerworld article last week.

Mike Cure then clarified the situation by promising:

I’ll get [the ESU FAQ] corrected as soon as possible.

Except, as of early Wednesday morning, nothing’s been corrected. Those of us who actually like and rely on MSE are still hanging on a limb.

Join us for the Seven Semper Fi watch on AskWoody.com.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft offers tools to block Chromium-Edge from silently downloading to Windows 10 PCs

Microsoft has revived a practice from the heydays of Internet Explorer (IE), releasing tools to block the new all-Chromium Edge from automatically reaching Windows 10 PCs starting next month.

When deployed and run, the Blocker Toolkit will retain the original Edge, the one built with Microsoft’s homegrown rendering and JavaScript engines and bundled with Windows 10 since its mid-2015 debut. Its tools, like other such kits before it, included a very small executable to run locally, as well as an administrative template that IT admins can use to broadly block original-Edge through Group Policy settings.

Microsoft issued similar toolkits for IE7, IE8, IE9, IE10 and IE11 prior to the public release of those browsers, usually as a sop to business customers who don’t want to disrupt workflows with a new application they has not yet tested. The toolkits became progressively more important because Microsoft accelerated the IE development and release tempo and changed how it distributed the browser.

In late 2011, Microsoft announced it would silently upgrade IE to the newest version suitable for a user’s version of Windows. Before then, Microsoft had asked for user permission before upgrading IE from one version to the next, even if Windows’ Automatic Updates were enabled.

Microsoft will use the silent approach for Chromium-Edge as well, pushing the browser to customers without seeking approval beforehand. The process will begin Jan. 15; absent problems, Microsoft will scale up the rollout from there.

Previously, Microsoft had promised it would honor the PC’s default browser setting. However, Chromium-Edge will still be downloaded and installed on machines where a rival browser has been made the default.

Original-Edge will remain on the system after Chromium-Edge has been added to the device. “When the new version of Microsoft Edge is installed, the old version (Microsoft Edge Legacy) will be hidden,” Microsoft said in another support document. “All attempts to launch the old version will redirect the user to the newly installed version of Microsoft Edge.”

Both Edge versions can be run simultaneously if an organization’s IT staff sets the Allow Microsoft Edge Side by Side browser experience policy to “Enabled.” Alternately, users themselves can create a dual-browser setup by running the Blocker Toolkit’s executable (which retains Original-Edge) and then downloading and installing the Beta build of Chromium Edge. This support document contains detailed instructions for both methods.

Although Microsoft usually set time limits on the use of past IE blockers – forcing everyone on unmanaged PCs to eventually succumb to the newer browser – the Redmond, Wash. company did not do that with the Edge toolkit. “The Blocker Toolkit will not expire,” Microsoft pledged.

Microsoft also spelled out several caveats about the Blocker Toolkit, including:

  • The toolkit prevents PCs running Windows 10 1803 or later from pulling in Chromium-Edge through Automatic Updates.
  • Users can still manually download and install Chromium Edge after the Blocker Toolkit has been deployed.
  • Organizations managing machines using an update/patch manager, including WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) and SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) don’t need the Blocker Toolkit as IT can use those tools to deploy or bar Chromium-Edge as desired.

The Blocker Toolkit can be downloaded here. More information about the toolkit’s script and policy templates can be found in this support document.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Just because Microsoft sells Windows 7 support doesn’t mean you can buy it

In four weeks, Microsoft will push Windows 7 down a flight of stairs, proving that it thinks the decade-old OS has outlived its purpose and must give way to a sleeker, shinier, newer Windows 10, which, by the way, will live forever.

How humiliating for Windows 7, the OS that once powered 1 billion-plus PCs.

Microsoft has made exceptions, as it often does, for its most valued customers. Enterprises can fork over fees for what Microsoft has tapped as “Extended Security Updates,” or ESU; in exchange they’ll receive patches that repair critical and important vulnerabilities. The ESU program will run for three years, starting in January, in one-year increments. A company that paid for the first year would receive updates through January 2021, at which time it would decide whether to continue another year – for double the price of the previous period – or drop out.

That model, Microsoft has implied, should motivate customers to adopt Windows 10 as soon as possible.

Compared to past instances of OS expiration, like Windows XP’s in 2014, Microsoft has been positively transparent about post-retirement plans for Windows 7. It discussed ESU publicly for one thing, announcing the deal in September 2018 and starting to sell the add-on licenses in April 2019.

Not surprisingly, ESU was to be available only to the larger and largest customers, businesses that obtained Windows via volume licensing. (It’s not so much the squeaky wheel that gets the Microsoft grease, but the biggest squeaky wheels that buy the most lubricant.) Additionally, firms with Software Assurance plans or subscriptions to Windows 10 Enterprise would receive discounts.

Only in October did Microsoft expand ESU to businesses of all sizes. Smaller customers not eligible under the original rules, Microsoft said, were to contact a Microsoft cloud solution provider (CSP), the reseller program authorized to sell ESU licenses to this secondary crowd.

“Starting on December 1, 2019, businesses of any size can purchase ESU through the cloud solution provider (CSP) program,” wrote Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in an Oct. 1 post to a company blog.

Sounded great. Too bad it wasn’t so.

It may be for sale but that’s doesn’t mean you can buy it

Those who have been trying to purchase an ESU license through a CSP haven’t had any luck.

“At this point, purchasing an ESU license isn’t easy,” said Susan Bradley, a computer network and security consultant, the moderator of the PatchMangement.org mailing list and the contributor known as “The Patch Lady” to the AskWoody.com Windows tip site, in a Monday post to the latter. “Microsoft recommends searching for a CSP through its online database. But most of those vendors are probably not interested in handling one or a few Windows 7 ESU purchases.”

Bradley and Amy Babinchak, a Michigan-based IT consultant and Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), teamed up earlier this month to work through and document the ESU purchasing process for “businesses of any size.”

In a Dec. 7 status update, Bradley said Babinchak’s usual distributor (Babinchak is a registered CSP) wasn’t “aware of it coming” and pointed out that the searchable list of CSPs – where Microsoft recommends customers start – largely consisted of partners that don’t work with small businesses.

Bradley and Babinchak have so far struck out.

So did Ed Bott, the well-known Windows columnist at ZDNet. On Monday, Bott reported a similar result from his search for an ESU seller to very-small-to-small business.

Bott’s money quote? “Microsoft doesn’t seem particularly interested in taking your money if your business is too small.”

How small is too small?

“Normally, I would prefer not to sell that SKU in small quantities,” said a remarkably candid representative from a CSP that Computerworld spoke with, referring to Windows 7 ESU. The representative asked that their name and the name of their company remain anonymous, not wanting to risk their relationship with Microsoft.

When asked why, the representative was crystal clear. “It has a small margin and it’s not a subscription and it has a manual ordering process [on our end],” the representative said.

As the representative mentioned, ESU is not a subscription: Each year must be purchased separately as each new year approaches. Rather than “touch” the order once – preferable from the sellers’ perspective – they would have to potentially process it three times.

So, where is the tipping point, sell or don’t sell?

“All things combined, it’s not profitable to sell anything less than 20-30 units, at least,” the representative said.

There it is. Just because it’s for sale doesn’t mean you can buy it. Not if your small business is well, small.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Will Microsoft stop updating its Security Essentials on Jan. 14? Are you sure?

You know that businesses will be able to pay for Win7 security patches after Win7 hits end-of-life on Jan. 14. Many of Microsoft’s Extended Security Update program details aren’t clear to me — How does a very small business buy ESU? Why is Microsoft releasing Edge on Win7 the day after it goes end-of-life? Will that new full-screen nag keep coming back? — but there’s one loose end that sits in the middle of my confusion.

Will Microsoft really stop pushing malware signature files to Microsoft Security Essentials on Jan. 14?

I’ve been wondering about that since I read in the Extended Support FAQ:

Will Microsoft Security Essentials continue to protect my PC after end of support?

No, your Windows 7 PC will not be protected by Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) after January 14, 2020. This product is unique to Windows 7 and follows the same lifecycle dates for support.

The wording has me all tied up. If you pay for Extended Support, doesn’t that, by definition, extend the Win7 lifecycle date? And if the lifecycle date is extended, wouldn’t MSE follow the same extended lifecycle date?

Gregg Keizer had an excellent article in Computerworld a few days ago on this same topic. He talked about how MSE updates would stop on Jan. 14, even for those paying for Extended Support.

Computerworld previously speculated that Microsoft would provide updates to MSE even after Windows 7’s retirement, slated for Jan. 14. The forecast was based on Microsoft’s behavior five years ago, when it kept cranking out malware signature updates for Windows XP users of MSE in the months after that operating system’s April 2014 retirement.

A bit of history here.

Back when Windows XP was about to hit end-of-life on April 8, 2014, we were treated to a deluge of dire warnings, saying that MSE updates would die on the same date that XP hit the skids. 

That didn’t happen.

In fact, Microsoft kept releasing MSE signature files for XP until the last one appeared 15 months later, on July 14, 2015. Microsoft blocked downloading MSE on XP machines on April 8, 2014 — you had to jump through some hoops to install MSE on XP machines after that — but those with MSE installed on WinXP machines got 15 months of official, free updates, whether they paid for extended support on XP or not.

I was expecting a replay of the XP scenario. (Still do, frankly.)

Soooo … has anybody out there seen a definitive statement from Microsoft that it’ll cut off MSE signature file updates on Jan. 14? Not some mealy-mouthed pabulum about lifecycle dates and extended support. Just an up-or-down yes-or-no answer about MSE updates, on both ESU supported and unsupported machines.

We’ll keep you posted on AskWoody.com.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft begins Windows 10’s 1809-to-1909 compulsory upgrade

Microsoft has begun forcibly upgrading Windows 10 PCs running version 1809 with the latest, the November 2019 Update, aka 1909, which the company launched less than a month ago.

“We will slowly start the phased process to automatically initiate a feature update for devices running the October 2018 Update (Windows 10, version 1809) Home and Pro editions,” Microsoft said in a Dec. 5 message on Windows 10 1909’s page of the Windows Release Health Dashboard. “We are starting this rollout process several months in advance of the end of service date to provide adequate time for a smooth update process.”

Windows 10 1809 officially “launched” Nov. 13, 2018. On Home and Pro, the version will fall off Microsoft’s support list on May 12, 2020.

So, Microsoft started its automatic 1809-to-1909 upgrades more than five months before the former becomes obsolete. That’s a month earlier than the previous forcible refresh, the 1803-to-1903 upgrade Microsoft kicked off July 17, 2019 – four months ahead of 1803’s Nov. 12 retirement.

The announcement marked the second time Microsoft has taken the upgrade reins since upending its servicing model in April. Then, the company said that those running Windows 10 Home, as well as users running unmanaged devices powered by Windows 10 Pro, would be able to decide when to upgrade from one version of the operating system to another using a “Download and install now” option. Previously, Microsoft held tight control over this process.

Yet Microsoft does not let users perpetually avoid an upgrade. Citing security, it said it would intervene when the current feature upgrade neared end of support by forcing an upgrade. It is that intervention Microsoft has now begun on systems running 1809.

It’s unclear why Microsoft jumpstarted the 1809-to-1909 upgrade a month sooner than the 1803-to-1903 predecessor.

The most obvious reason, although not necessarily accurate, is that Microsoft underestimated the time it would take to push the 1803 crowd to the next year’s version, and so had not wrapped up the previous forced refresh by the Nov. 12 expiration of 1803. That would have left an uncertain number of Home- and Pro-powered systems temporarily cut off from updates, security or otherwise. Measurements by analytics company AdDuplex, for instance, estimated the 1803 portion of Windows 10 overall base at around 14% at the end of October, just two weeks before that version was to vanish from the support list.

Because of the scrambled rollout of 1809, the sooner-than-expected launch of forced upgrades to 1909 may result in some users pushed off the former less than a year after they got it.

Windows 10 1809’s launch was a disaster. Initially begun in early October 2018, distribution was almost immediately suspended when reports of lost data multiplied. Microsoft went back to work on 1809. Although it designated Nov. 12, 2018, as 1809’s official debut, few had it prior to mid-January 2019, when the company began automatically installing it on customers’ PCs, making the upgrade at least three months late.

Those Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro users who were at the front of the 1809 distribution line would also be the most likely to get 1909 off the bat. Microsoft starts upgrade rollouts with the systems it believes most likely to accept them without balking; those are typically the newest machines.

Users can retrieve and install Windows 10 1909 on their own schedule at any time – they don’t have to wait for Microsoft to do it for them – by following the steps outlined in this Nov. 12 post to a Microsoft blog.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Microsoft Teams comes to Linux

Microsoft Teams is now available on Linux as a public preview, the first time an Office 365 application has been brought to the open source operating system.

A native Linux client has been one of the most requested Teams features on Microsoft’s User Voice forum; plans to introduce were announced at the company’s Ignite conference last month. The app will feature all of the core Teams capabilities available in Windows and MacOS versions.

Native Linux packages can be downloaded in .deb and.rpm formats.

“We are committed to supporting mixed environments across our cloud and productivity offerings, and with this announcement, we are pleased to extend the Teams experience to Linux users,” Microsoft said in a blog post Tuesday. “It’s also an exciting opportunity for developers who have built apps for Teams to be able to grow their reach to this new set of users.”

The new Teams app will help connect employees at Swedish car manufacturer Volvo, where Linux is in use by several departments.

“Up until now, our Linux users have largely been stuck on a collaboration island with different unofficial and unsupported clients for Skype for Business and more recently Microsoft Teams,” Jimmy Beckman of Volvo Cars said in a statement. “With Teams for Linux from Microsoft, we have been able to leave that island and collaborate across our different platforms with the full functionality of a rich client. …Being able to participate in screen sharing is a huge improvement for the Linux users at Volvo Cars.”

Microsoft claims that Teams has grown to more than 20 million daily active users since its launch as a rival to Slack in 2017.

By introducing a Linux client, Microsoft is hoping to increase the appeal of Teams to developers –  an area where Slack has typically held a stronger position.

“Microsoft knows it needs to have a better story here, and I think this is the first sign of the company investing strongly in this opportunity,” said Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight.

“A Linux client for Teams has been one of the biggest requests on its ideas community, UserVoice,” she said. “So there is clear demand and Microsoft no doubt recognizes this as a tangible and relatively straightforward first step to engaging this audience better.”

Microsoft recently announced another highly requested feature, bringing private channels to Teams. This lets users create channels that that are viewable and accessible only by specified co-workers, which can be useful for teams dealing with sensitive or confidential content. Another requested feature, multi-window chat, is also on its way.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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