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Microsoft to stop serving non-security monthly updates to Windows

Beginning in May, Microsoft plans to halt the delivery of all non-security updates to Windows, another step in its suspension of non-essential revisions to the OS and other important products.

The optional updates, which Microsoft designates as Windows’ C and D updates, are released during the third and fourth week of each month, respectively.

“We have been evaluating the public health situation, and we understand this is impacting our customers,” Microsoft said to some understatement in a March 24 post to the Windows 10 messaging center. “In response to these challenges we are prioritizing our focus on security updates.”

Security updates, labeled as B updates, are better known as those released on Patch Tuesday – Microsoft prefers Update Tuesday – or the second Tuesday of each month. The stoppage of C and D updates will not affect the company’s patching efforts. “There is no change to the monthly security updates; these will continue as planned to ensure business continuity and to keep our customers protected and productive,” the message read.

The C and D updates are used to test non-security fixes which are to be officially released the following month as part of the all-encompassing Patch Tuesday cumulative update. According to Microsoft, the C and D updates should not be distributed to all Windows client systems. Instead, the D update, which Microsoft ships two weeks after one Patch Tuesday and two weeks before the next, should be used to “…test the updates included in the release and provide feedback, reducing the amount of testing necessary following Update Tuesday and, thereby, improving our ability to solve issues before they even happen.”

Because they’re optional, some customers simply skip them.

The most recent D update was released Tuesday for Windows 10 1903 and Windows 10 1909._

Windows 10’s C updates are relatively rare. In the five months since Microsoft released Windows 10 1909, for example, the version has been served three D updates but zero C updates.

Wednesday’s May shuttering of C and D updates is the latest move by Microsoft to limit update efforts to security fixes or reduce IT overhead while the COVID-19 pandemic upends business, businesses in general and business processes. So far this month, Microsoft has extended support for Windows 10 1709 an additional six months for customers running Windows 10 Enterprise or Education, and curtailed feature upgrades for its Edge browser.

Microsoft gave no explanation as to why it’s waiting until May to suspend the non-security updates, rather than put the policy into immediate effect and thus block potential updates expected on April 21 (C) and/or April 28 (D).

Copyright © 2020 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

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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8 Reasons to Stop Buying Games on Steam

Steam is the largest digital distribution service for PC games. So if you’re a PC gamer it’s likely that you own games on Steam. But is it really the best way to buy games? Here are some reasons to stop buying games on Steam.

1. DRM Means You Don’t Own Anything

Steam is a form of digital rights management (DRM), which is a method to protect against piracy. When you launch a game, Steam launches with it, ensuring you can benefit from platform features like achievements, cloud saves, and trading cards (how to get Steam trading cards

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The good thing is that the DRM is optional. Developers can disable it and allow their games to launch without Steam running. However, many don’t.

For those that don’t, that game is tied to your Steam account. So, if Steam closes down or your account gets banned, you’ll no longer have access to the games you bought. Which means that, in essence, you are merely renting a license to a game.

2. You Can’t Resell Your Steam Games

GameStop store
Image Credit: JJBers/Flickr

Once you buy a game on Steam, there’s no way to sell it on. While you can get a refund under certain conditions, you can’t list it on any marketplace. The game is tied to your account.

That’s different to a game that you buy physically, for example (providing you don’t have to redeem a key to activate the game.) They can easily be sold on eBay, traded in, or donated to a thrift store.

However, a French court ruled that Steam users do have a right to resell their games. That’s something that hasn’t come in to practice yet as Valve is appealing the decision.

3. Steam Games Rarely Come With Bonus Goodies

Playing the game you buy is of course the main draw, but it’s always nice to receive some extras for free. Sadly, you rarely get any bonus goodies when you buy a game on Steam.

If you buy direct through the developer, or on another storefront like GOG, you often get downloadable treats like art books, soundtracks, wallpapers, and more.

It harks back to the days when you would get physical bonuses with your games, like a cloth map or figurine.

4. Valve Takes a Huge Cut From Developers

empty wallet
Image Credit: Marco Verch/Flickr

Making video games is difficult. Turning a profit on them? That’s even tougher. As standard, Valve takes a 30 percent cut of the revenue of all Steam purchases. That percentage reduces on a sliding scale when certain revenue targets are reached, but most developers will never get to that point.

Some developers don’t think Valve deserve such a large chunk of the pie, but Steam’s ubiquity makes it hard to argue. It’s where many consumers automatically go to buy games, so not having a game listed on Steam is risky.

If you want to support a developer then you should stop buying games on Steam. Instead, your best approach is to buy games directly from developers, if possible. Alternatively, the Epic Store only takes a 12 percent cut, while Humble Bundle lets you choose how much of the purchase price goes to the developer.

5. Steam Isn’t Always the Cheapest Option

Steam store on macOS showing video games on sale

Steam always has sales. There are daily sales and also the big seasonal ones around events like Halloween and Christmas. But even then it’s not necessarily the cheapest place to buy games.

Gaming is an expensive hobby at the best of times, so there’s no point spending more than you need to. Especially when the end product is exactly the same wherever you buy it (things like pre-order bonuses aside.)

Check out our recommendations for the best sites for video game deals

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. Some websites even provide your purchase as a Steam code, meaning there’s literally no difference in the product except the price.

6. You Are Tied Into the Steam Ecosystem

Some people like owning all of their games on Steam and being tied into the Steam ecosystem. Perhaps it’s the collector in them coming out, or it’s just what all of their friends use.

The problem with this comes when you want to buy something outside of Steam.

Let’s say you buy a game through Steam and the developer later releases DLC. You have no choice but to buy that DLC through Steam, even if it’s cheaper elsewhere, because there’s no way to link the two purchases together otherwise.

7. You Don’t Get a Physical Box

PC game box and manual
Image Credit: Sergey Galyonkin/Flickr

Video games used to come in big cardboard boxes, with great artwork perfect for display. That changed with the introduction of CDs and DVDs, but there’s still something satisfying about seeing a shelf lined with your favorite games.

While it’s much quicker to browse and search your collection on Steam, it’s not quite the same. Visitors to your home aren’t going to strike up a conversation about your Steam library like they might if they saw a line of physical game boxes.

There was something special about poring over a game’s manual on your way home from the shop too. That’s an experience lost, although, to be frank, it does cut down on paper and plastic waste.

8. The Steam Store Is Full of Trash

Negatively reviewed games on the Steam store

Steam is home to tens of thousands of games. The number of games on the store has skyrocketed in recent years, in part thanks to Valve’s lack of curation.

Unlike when you walk into your local store, where the stock has been carefully chosen, the Steam store plays host to everything. While it’s good that the barrier to entry is low, it means there’s a lot of trash and low-effort games to wade through.

For instance, 4,000 of the games on the store are classed as Early Access, which means development isn’t finished. And there’s no guarantee that these games will ever be properly finished.

Why should it be on the consumer to separate the wheat from the chaff?

The Best PC Game Launchers

Despite all of these reasons to stop buying games on Steam, it definitely still has its place. The problem is, Steam has such a hold on the market that it’s difficult for competitors to enter and shake things up.

If you own lots of games across different platforms and want to organize them, you need a game launcher. To get you started, take a look at our list of the best PC game launchers

The 6 Best Game Launchers to Launch and Organize Your PC Games

The 6 Best Game Launchers to Launch and Organize Your PC Games

Here are the best ways to launch all of your PC games without hopping between game launchers.
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Google to stop indexing Flash for search

Google on Monday announced that it will soon stop indexing Flash content for its search engine, effectively throwing an invisibility cloak over that content.

“Google Search will stop supporting Flash later this year,” Dong-Hwi Lee, an engineering manager, wrote in a post to the company’s Webmaster Central blog. “In Web pages that contain Flash content, Google Search will ignore the Flash content. [And] Google Search will stop indexing standalone .swf files.”

The .swf extension marks Flash animation files.

Minus indexing, searches for Flash content will come up empty. If Google doesn’t index it, in other words, does it exist? For the vast majority on the web – analytics vendor Net Applications said Google accounted for 75% of global search activity last month – that would be a no.

Flash, on the way out

Adobe laid out Flash’s demise two years ago when it disclosed that it would stop updating and distributing Flash Player at the end of 2020. At the same time, browser makers revealed how they were going to sunset the player software and thus put an end to the multimedia format.

Google, for example, disabled Flash by default in Chrome 76, the version that debuted in July. (Users can manually turn on the Flash Player, as can IT admins through group policies.) Come Chrome 87 – currently slated for a December 2020 release – the browser won’t run Flash at all.

Mozilla’s Firefox also recently met a major Flash milestone: As of September’s Firefox 69, the browser required the user to approve every request to run Flash.

Shutting down Flash indexing will impact only a fraction of all websites: According to technology survey site W3Techs, only 3% of sites now utilize Flash code. That number climbs when more popular sites are polled; 8.4% of the top-1,000 sites, said W3Techs, contain Flash code.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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YouTube Music, Repair a Scratched DVD, Stop Facebook Tracking You

This week Gavin Philips joins Christian Cawley to mull over some of the important tech news of the past week in the tech podcast for technophobes—the Really Useful Podcast!

Tune in for news about YouTube Music, how a Chinese fugitive was found by a drone, as well as tips for recovering data from a scratched DVD and how to stop Facebook from tracking you. You might even hear mention of Peppa Pig…

Really Useful Podcast Season 4 Episode 5 Shownotes

This week we covered:

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If you enjoyed this show, check back in a week for a new Really Useful Podcast!

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