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10 ways Android and Windows 10 can work well together

If you regularly use a Windows 10 PC and an Android phone or tablet, there are several Android apps you can install that can seamlessly link the flow of information between the two. For instance, you can start a quick note on your phone, then finish it later on your Windows 10 PC, or you can receive the same alert on both devices for an appointment.

The following Windows 10-friendly Android apps are all from Microsoft — and all free. To get the kind of interoperability described above, you need to be signed into each of the apps on your Android device with the same Microsoft online account you use to sign into your Windows 10 computer.

1. Cortana: Sync reminders between your Windows PC and Android device

The Cortana app for Android lets you create reminders that will sync with, and send notifications to, your Windows 10 PC. To set a reminder in the Cortana app for Android, tap the three-dot icon on the upper-right of the app’s main screen, tap Reminders, tap “Remember to…” on the next screen, and enter a name for your reminder to the right of the circle icon.

Then you can tap “Set a time” to set the time when you want to be sent a notification for this reminder. You can also enter a destination (by tapping “Set a place”) that will trigger the notification when you physically arrive at that location with your phone, or add an image to the reminder (“Add a photo”).

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Reminders set in the Cortana Android app (left) will appear on your Windows 10 PC, including in the Start menu (right).

Once set, this reminder will sync with your Windows 10 PC; for example, if you have the Calendar app pinned as a live tile on the Start menu, the reminder will appear on the Calendar app’s tile. And when you click the time/date icon on the notification area of Windows 10, the reminder will appear listed on a side panel below a calendar.

And, yes, this works in reverse: You can set reminders on your Windows 10 PC (either through the Calendar app or Cortana) that will show up on your Android device via the Cortana app.

2. OneDrive: Access files on your Windows 10 PC with your Android device

You probably already know that Windows 10 comes with Microsoft’s cloud storage service, OneDrive, which is integrated deeply into the OS — it shows up as a folder in the File Explorer. Dragging documents, images or other types of files to it automatically uploads them to the cloud.

The OneDrive Android app lets you view documents or images stored in your OneDrive folder. (If you tap an image file or PDF in your OneDrive cloud folder, the OneDrive app will load it in its own viewer. If you tap a document, like a plain-text file or Word document, the document will be downloaded to your Android device and the default app that you use to view this document format will load it.)

You can also set the OneDrive app to automatically upload photos and videos that you capture with your Android device’s camera to your OneDrive folder. You can then access these photos and videos on your Windows 10 PC.

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The OneDrive Android app gives you access to documents and images in your OneDrive cloud storage (left). You can also have the app automatically upload photos and videos from your Android device to your OneDrive cloud storage (right).

To enable automatic upload from the camera (or to make sure it already is enabled): In the Android app, tap the Me icon on the lower-right of the main screen, tap Settings, and tap “Camera upload” on the next screen. There are also options for uploading only via Wi-Fi, uploading only while the Android device is plugged in to charge its battery, and including or excluding videos from automatic uploads.

3. Outlook: Sync calendar events between your Windows 10 PC and Android device

Obviously, the Outlook Android app is primarily meant for accessing your email from Microsoft services such as Exchange, Office 365 or Outlook.com. (It can be used with your Gmail or Yahoo Mail account, too.) But the Outlook app also has a calendar tool that syncs with the Calendar app on your Windows 10 PC — through it, you can enter appointments and reminders of things to do on days and times you pick. Both your Android device and your Windows 10 PC will send you alerts as event deadlines approach.

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Events that you create in Outlook on your Android device (left) will appear in the Calendar app on your Windows 10 PC (right).

On the Android app, you get to this calendar tool by tapping the third icon along the bottom of the main screen. (It looks like a page from a daily calendar, showing the current date.) Then you tap on a day you want to mark with an event reminder (by scrolling vertically through a list of dates below a portion of the calendar at the top of the screen).

Next, tap the “+” button on the lower-right of the screen. On the next screen for setting a new event, you pick the time, enter a location for the event, and set how far in advance you’ll receive the alert. You can also add the people from your contacts list you want to receive notifications about the event.

Like setting reminders with the Cortana app, this works in reverse. If you set appointments or events in the Calendar app on your Windows 10 PC, you will get alerts on your Android phone through the Outlook app.

4. OneNote: Sync notes from your Android device to your Windows 10 PC

A Windows app version of OneNote is included with Windows 10. Installing the OneNote Android app on your mobile device can be handy for creating notes while you’re on the go that you can edit more thoroughly later on your Windows 10 PC.

With the Android app, you can make notes or to-do checklists by entering text for them through your Android device’s touchscreen keyboard, handwriting with a digital pen, or voice-typing. You can draw doodles on your notes with your finger or digital pen, and add photos to a note with your Android device’s camera.

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Draw on your notes with a finger or digital pen in the OneNote Android app.

5. Your Phone Companion: Manage your Android phone notifications, pictures, text messages, and make voice calls from Windows 10

You can have the notifications and text messages that your Android phone gets automatically forwarded to your Windows 10 PC, and also have access to your phone’s photos from the PC. First, install the Your Phone Companion app on your Android phone. Launch the app and sign in to it with the same Microsoft user account that you sign in to your Windows 10 PC with.

On your PC, launch the Your Phone app. Clicking the Photos button on the navigation toolbar on the left lets you view the photos and screenshots that are stored on your Android phone. You can save an image to your PC by right-clicking on its thumbnail.

Click Messages or Notifications in the navigation bar to read the incoming text messages or notifications on your phone. You can reply to text messages or type new text messages right in the Your Phone app on your PC; the messages will be forwarded to your Android phone to send out. If a notification is an incoming message from a messaging app on your phone, you can reply to the sender the same way.

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Using the Your Phone app on your Windows 10 PC, you can view notifications and reply to text messages that your Android phone receives.

To choose the apps on your Android phone that you want to send notifications to on your Windows 10 PC, click the Settings icon in the lower-left corner of the Your Phone app. In the main panel, scroll down to Notifications and click “Choose which apps notify you.” A list of all the apps on your Android phone that can send notifications will scroll down. You can click the switch by each app name to stop its notifications from being forwarded to your Windows 10 PC.

Finally, you can make a voice call by clicking the bottom button in the navigation bar, Calls. This feature, currently in beta, requires that your phone and PC be linked together through a Bluetooth connection, so that the Your Phone app can route your voice call to your phone.

6. Microsoft Launcher: Access your Windows 10 Timeline from your Android device

In Windows 10, Timeline is a record listing various things that you’ve done on your PC, such as opening documents and visiting websites. Click the Task View button in the taskbar to view this extensive history, which is organized by date. You can use Timeline to find a document or image you were working on or a web page you visited and access it again. (See “5 hidden Windows 10 features you should be using” for details about how to use Timeline.)

You can access your Windows 10 Timeline from your Android phone by installing the Microsoft Launcher app on it. Sign in to the app with your Microsoft user account and set Microsoft Launcher as your smartphone’s default Home screen. Then from the Home screen, swipe left to the first screen.

On the bottom toolbar, tap the Timeline icon. A list of web pages you’ve recently visited on your Windows 10 devices appears. Tap an item to open that web page in your phone’s web browser. If you have Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) installed on your phone, you can also use Timeline to open recently used documents in those apps. And if you open a document in an Office app on the phone, the document appears in the Timeline of a Windows 10 PC that’s signed into the same user account.

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You can access your web browsing history on your Windows 10 PC from your Android phone by using the Microsoft Launcher app.

7. Office Lens: Sync “scans” taken with your Android device to your Windows 10 PC

This nifty Office Lens app by Microsoft isn’t specifically linked with Windows 10 but integrated with OneDrive. It’s for capturing documents, which can include business cards and receipts, with your Android device’s camera. (Microsoft likes to say you’re scanning such items, presumably because you’re capturing text, but all you do is take a photo normally.) You can also use the app to snap images of drawings, handwriting or text on chalkboards, whiteboards or signs.

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When you snap a picture with Office Lens (left), the app automatically aligns, cleans up and crops the image before saving it to OneDrive (right).

Office Lens automatically aligns, cleans up and crops the captured image, and can convert it into editable text and graphics in OneNote, PowerPoint or Word format, or preserve its formatting as a PDF. The captured document image is automatically uploaded to your OneDrive folder (which you can, of course, then access on your Windows 10 PC).

Note: The OneDrive app for Android also comes with a tool that lets you capture documents, but it lacks the ability to change your phone’s camera resolution to capture in a higher or lower image quality.

8. Microsoft Launcher or OneNote: Access, create, edit and manage your Sticky Notes from your Android device

On Windows 10, you can quickly create notes and to-do lists using the Sticky Notes app. There is no official Sticky Notes app for mobile devices. Instead, you can access your Sticky Notes, and also create, edit or delete them, through the Microsoft Launcher or OneNote app.

To use the Microsoft Launcher, install it and set it as your smartphone’s default Home screen. Swipe left to the first Home screen and tap the Glance icon on the lower left of the screen. In the main screen, scroll down through the information cards until you see your Sticky Notes.

In OneNote, there’s a Sticky Notes icon on the lower right of the main screen. Tap it to view a listing of your notes.

Notes that you create, edit or delete through either Android app are synced to the Sticky Notes app on your Windows 10 PC.

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You can use either the Microsoft Launcher or OneNote app for Android to access and manage your Sticky Notes that you created on your Windows 10 PC.

9. Microsoft Edge: Sync your browsing history between your phone and Windows 10

Once you sign in to it with your Microsoft user account, the Android version of Microsoft’s web browser, Edge, will sync your bookmarks, history and other data from Edge on your Windows 10 PC to it. But why bother using Edge at all — especially if you’re primarily browsing with Chrome on your PC?

First, it can be helpful to keep an alternative browser on your phone as a backup in case you encounter an issue with the Android version of Chrome. If you’re already using Windows 10 in coordination with your Android phone, Edge is a natural backup choice.

Second, when you view a web page on your Android phone with Edge, you can forward that page directly to your Windows 10 PC and resume reading it in Edge on your PC. To do this, in Edge for Android, tap the middle icon that’s toward the bottom of the app. A list of your Windows 10 PCs will appear. Tap the one that you want to forward the web page to. Then, on that PC, the Edge browser will automatically launch and load the web page you forwarded.

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With the Android version of Microsoft’s browser Edge, you can forward a web page directly to your Windows 10 PC and continue viewing it on the Windows 10 version of Edge.

10. Microsoft Solitaire Collection: Play the classic Windows card game on your Windows 10 PC and Android device in sync

The classic Microsoft Solitaire game was rebooted for Windows 10 as a Windows app that includes five card games: Klondike, Spider, FreeCell, TriPeaks and Pyramid. You can connect the app to Microsoft’s online gaming service, Xbox Live, to earn achievements, compete against other players, and share video clips of your gaming sessions.

Microsoft released an Android version of Microsoft Solitaire Collection that has all these features. You can even start a game on this app, stop playing, and resume it later on your Windows 10 PC — your game data and progress are saved and synced to the cloud through Xbox Live.

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You can start a game of solitaire on your Android phone and finish it later on your Windows 10 PC, thanks to Xbox Live syncing.

This story was originally published in April 2017 and updated in January 2020.

Read this next: How to create a complete Microsoft experience on Android

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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This month’s Windows and Office security patches: Bugs and solutions

The big patching problems this month fell at the feet of admins who had to deal with an unholy mess of pressing exposures: Fixing the holes in Microsoft’s RD Gateway (CVE-2020-0610; see Susan Bradley’s Patch Watch, paywalled); dealing with Server 2008 R2 systems that booted to Recovery mode after installing the January patches; scrambling to pick up after breaches in Citrix networking products; or the 334 Oracle security patches. They all took a toll.

Those of us not in charge of multinational networks could breathe a little easier. In spite of a stellar advertising campaign from the National Security Agency (NSA), the Chain of Fools/CurveBall CVE-2020-0601 hole hasn’t turned into an active attack. As I said at the time, it’s a long way from a third-degree polynomial to working ransomware.

Yes, you need to patch sooner or later. But, no, the sky isn’t falling. Those reports of the internet’s impending CurveBall doom were just a little bit overblown.

As usual.

Still no ‘optional, non-security’ patches

I would conjecture that the January Patch Tuesday crop is relatively well-behaved because, at least apparently, they only contain security patches. Normally, Microsoft releases dozens of “optional, non-security” patches every month – bug fixes – but those annoying little gnats haven’t made an appearance since October.

I expect that will change shortly. We’ll no doubt see dozens – if not hundreds – of smaller patches out in the usual “C Week/D Week” cadence soon. Since we’ve seen no such infestation in three months, you’d be smart to avoid the “optional” patches, once they arrive, until they’ve been well vetted.

Common patching problems persist

Günter Born has put together a comprehensive list of printing problems associated with recent patches. They seem to come and go – many different printers, many different symptoms.

There are also many reports of January cumulative updates failing to install, with various error message.

None of the problems seem particularly remarkable – or even replicable – to me, but if you get stuck trying to install one of the January patches, your opinion may vary.

Upgrades to 1909 press forward, Microsoft continues to honor 1803 deferrals

If you “seek” by clicking on the “Check for updates” button in Win10 1809 or 1903, Microsoft warns that it may upgrade you to Win10 version 1909:

Current status as of Jan. 21:

Windows 10, version 1909 is available for any user on a recent version of Windows 10 who manually selects “Check for updates” via Windows Update. The recommended servicing status is Semi-Annual Channel.

Of course, Microsoft disavowed any use of the bafflegab phrase “Semi-Annual Channel” a year ago. Consistency. Hobgoblins. Little minds. Microsoft may feel that 1909 is ready for widespread deployment, but I’m still seeing many reports of problems with Win10 version 1909 – the well-documented Search in File Explorer bugs, power problems, video problems, Your Phone oddities.

In addition, Microsoft has warned that it’s starting to force Win10 version 1809 customers onto 1909:

“We are starting the next phase in our controlled approach to automatically initiate a feature update for an increased number of devices running the October 2018 Update (Windows 10, version 1809) Home and Pro editions, keeping those devices supported and receiving the monthly updates that are critical to device security and ecosystem health. Our rollout process starts several months in advance of the end of service date to provide adequate time for a smooth update process.”

For reference, Win10 version 1809 is supposed to hit end of service on May 12. You 1809 users are getting four months shaved off of your promised end of life. As a Service.

Remarkably, tests by @PKCano show that Microsoft is still honoring the “Defer feature updates” setting in Win10 version 1803 Pro. It looks like the methods for staying on 1803, 1809, and 1903 as documented in How to block the Windows 10 November 2019 Update, version 1909, from installing still work. And if you want to upgrade to 1903, avoiding 1909 for the time being, the method described here also works.

Windows 7 gets its butt slapped on the way out

Everybody’s favorite whipping boy, Windows 7, got slapped with two bugs in the final round of free patches.

Anybody using Win7 who installs the January patches will find that their “stretched” desktop wallpaper comes out black, which can look disconcertingly like a Black Screen of Death. Lawrence Abrams has a full description, and a clever workaround, at BleepingComputer.

More alarmingly, Microsoft posted Security Advisory ADV200001 on Jan. 17. The Advisory details yet another security hole in Internet Explorer’s JScript engine, CVE-2020-0674. There’s a manual workaround with numerous side-effects, at least some of which have been overcome by a 0patch micropatch that you can install if you feel threatened.

Here’s the big open question: Will Microsoft fix Windows 7 later this month, in spite of the Jan. 14 end of service deadline? Or will Win7 drift into the sunset with a Black Screen bug and a known IE hole?

Seven semper fi.

Microsoft’s tone-deaf threat to hijack Google Chrome’s search engine

This isn’t a widespread problem. It only applies to those who are running Office 365 ProPlus, which is directed at (but not limited to) Enterprises with savvy admins. But it’s an astounding push nonetheless.

In an official post from ‘Softie Daniel Brown entitled, Microsoft Search in Bing and Office 365 ProPlus, Microsoft seems to be saying that everyone who installs the latest patch for Office 365 ProPlus will have their default search engine in Google Chrome changed to Bing.

I fully expect someone with some sense at Microsoft will swoop down in the next week or two and rescind the decision. But until that happens, this stands as a browser hijacking threat of unprecedented proportions.

Join us for the latest on AskWoody.com.

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Windows 7 end of support: Separating the bull from the horns

No, Windows 7 isn’t dead.

No, you don’t need to buy a Win10 computer. 

No, you don’t need to upgrade.

No, you don’t need to install the latest Win7 patches right away.

No, Microsoft isn’t withdrawing its unofficial nod-and-a-wink free upgrade from Win7 to Win10. At least, not right away.

No, the old Win7 patches aren’t disappearing.

No, your Internet Service Provider won’t kick you off your network for using Win7.

No, we don’t know if Microsoft will release any more free security patches for Windows 7. They did for XP when WannaCry appeared, years after XP went end-of-life, but past performance isn’t necessarily indicative of future results.

No, running Win7 after Jan. 14 doesn’t “put [your] company and staff data at risk, as well as that of suppliers, partners, and customers, because security patches will no longer be available.”

No, your Win7 computer won’t be pwned by the bad guys any time soon, if you exercise even a modicum of common sense.

No, Office 2010 won’t stop working on Win7. In fact, it’ll keep getting patches (on an unpatched Win7!) until Oct. 13.

No, Microsoft Security Essentials won’t get updated. You need to move to a different antivirus. 

Windows eos notify Microsoft

Yes, you need to stop using Internet Explorer. But you likely made that switch years ago.

Yes, you can buy official Win7 security patches – sign up for the Extended Security Updates – but the first year costs $61 per system and you have to jump through a lot of hoops (see Gregg Keizer’s Last-minute answers about Windows 7’s post-retirement patches and Susan Bradley’s Hunting for an elusive Win7 ESU license, paywalled). 

Yes, there are alternative ways to patch Win7.

Yes, if you tell the full-page “Your Windows 7 PC is out of support” advertisement – the screenshot above – to go away (“Don’t remind me again”), it really does go away. At least for now.

Yes, all of your major software – notably including all major browsers – will continue to work with Win7, at least in the short term. Turbotax won’t work next year, but that’s their problem, and it works fine this year for tax year 2019.

Yes, the new “Chredge” version of Edge will run on Win7. Nobody knows how long MS will continue to support it.

Yes, expect a lot more annoying, wildly inaccurate Win7 misinformation from many quarters.

That should cover about 90% of the drivel currently being bandied about regarding Windows 7.

Here’s what Microsoft says about the Jan. 14 end-of-life:

Microsoft made a commitment to provide 10 years of product support for Windows 7 when it was released on October 22, 2009. This 10-year period has now ended, and Microsoft has discontinued Windows 7 support so that we can focus our investment on supporting newer technologies and great new experiences. The specific end of support day for Windows 7 was January 14, 2020. Technical assistance and software updates from Windows Update that help protect your PC are no longer available for the product. Microsoft strongly recommends that you move to Windows 10 to avoid a situation where you need service or support that is no longer available.

Gag me with a RAMDAC. Microsoft hasn’t provided technical assistance for Win7, officially, since January 2015. And the last time we had a useful Win7 software update was… a decade ago? Sure feels like it. Service Pack 1 was released on Feb. 22, 2011.

Just because we won’t get free security patches in February doesn’t mean you should stampede to get the January patches installed now. Nothing’s going away. Your files are still where you left them. Chillax.

Back in 2018, over on AskWoody, we started looking at a Win7 official patch alternative called 0patch. They’ve been “micro-patching” Windows – unleashing specific, narrowly focused fixes for Windows vulnerabilities – since 2016. Mitja Kolsek, CEO of Acros Security and co-founder of 0patch says:

We expect the first micropatches [for Win7/2008 R2] will be issued sometime after the February Patch Tuesday, after we have reviewed what was patched in Windows 7 ESU, and whether any other vulns might affect Windows 7 / Windows Server 2008 R2. 

There are alternatives.

And finally, Yes, you should move to something other than Win7. Eventually.

We take Seven Semper Fi seriously on AskWoody.com. See Susan Bradley’s no-bull FAQ. And Thx @LHiggins.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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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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Saying goodbye to Windows 7 isn’t easy, but you must

Listen, I get it. Windows 7 has worked really well. After the Vista fiasco, you were so happy to get a decent version of Windows. You dodged the Windows 8.x sinkhole, and, boy, were you glad! Then, you thought about Windows 10, but 7 just did the job so you stuck with it, and then you felt vindicated because of Windows 10’s dodgy upgrades and patches. Now, today, Jan. 14, 2020, Windows 7 has reached its end of life, and either you’ve upgraded to Windows 10 or you’re working on another Windows 7 alternative like Chrome OS, macOS or Linux, right?

I mean, you’ve moved on. Right?

Oh, no! What’s this!? According to the most accurate survey of who’s running what on the internet the running totals of the U.S. government’s Digital Analytics Program (DAP) — on Jan. 9, five days before Win7’s end of life, 19% of Windows users were still using Windows 7.

People, people, people. It’s time to switch. Even the simplest update scenario, upgrading to Windows 10, takes a minimum of three hours. Moving your data and applications to Windows 10 can take anywhere from hours to days. It’s long past time to move. If you want an alternative operating system, it will take you even longer.

Of course, many companies are simply retiring their old PCs and replacing them with newer models running Windows 10. That’s the easiest way forward. But, as DAP’s numbers show, lots of people still haven’t made the move.

Indeed, just as in a lame action movie with a bomb countdown, as the clock ticks to zero on Windows 7, I’ve met some people who don’t plan on updating at all. Shudder!

They tell me they’ll be fine if they just keep updating their antiviral software. No! Just no! Where to begin?

First, antivirus (A/V) programs only protect you against known malware. There’s a lot of new trouble coming along every day. A/V programs don’t have a great track record of keeping up with the newest and nastiest malware. One of the best, Microsoft Security Essentials, dies on the same day as Windows 7 — today, remember? Windows Defender Antivirus? It was never available on Windows 7 and it’s sure not going to be ported over now!

Second, as former Firefox developer Robert O’Callahan and Google Chrome’s security chief Justin Schuh have pointed out separately, there is a lot of rotten code in A/V programs. In fact, many developers see A/V programs as more harmful than helpful. That’s because to protect a system they get so deep into it they can also be easily used as an attack vector.

Let’s also not forget that if something goes wrong and you call for help, it’s doubtful that you’ll get a helping hand for troubleshooting problems on an obsolete operating system.

Last, but not least, when new security holes are found in Windows 7 — and they will pop up — you’ll be wide open to attacks.

If you really, really must keep running Windows 7, I can only suggest you run it on a virtual machine (VM) without networking on another operating system. I recommend using Oracle VirtualBox on Linux Mint. It’s what I use for dodgy operating systems. That way you can still run your old apps and be relatively safe.

Of course, the really smart thing to do if you refuse to leave Windows 7 is to bite the bullet and pay for Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU). If you can get it.

First, it’s only available for those with Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Enterprise or Windows 7 Ultimate. Windows 7 Home? So sorry, you’re out of luck.

If you have a small business, you can get ESU, right? Sure! That is, Microsoft claims you can get it via a Microsoft cloud service provider (CSP). In practice, users are saying CSPs don’t want their business. They don’t want your custom because if you only need 30 or fewer ESU units, they can’t make a profit.

The bottom line is Microsoft really wants you to move off Windows 7 to Windows 10 right now. I know, I know, Windows 7 still works and it’s going to be a major headache to upgrade or migrate, no matter what you do. It always is. Nevertheless, the time has come. Move off Windows 7 today or feel a lot of pain tomorrow.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Seven high points of Windows 7

Today Microsoft issues its final free security update for Windows 7, putting an end to that operating system’s decade.

To remember that service – a retirement party but without the cloyingly-sweet cake and cheap gold watch – Computerworld selected seven highlights of Windows 7. While the seven do not pretend to trace Windows 7’s history, they illustrate the influence and impact of the OS.

Here’s to Windows 7. Raise a glass, for cryin’ out loud.

It salvaged Microsoft’s reputation after the Vista debacle

The numbers say it all.

Windows Vista, the 2006 replacement for Windows XP, topped out at 20% of all Windows versions in October 2009. Even though the OS it followed was long in the tooth – XP was nearly twice the age of a typical version when it was supplanted – Vista struggled to put a dent in its forerunner’s share.

Windows XP still accounted for 75% of all Windows activity when Vista peaked.

Windows 7 drove down Vista’s share toot sweet: In 18 months, Vista’s share of all Windows had fallen to 11.5%. Users couldn’t wait to rid themselves of Vista.

But then, what would you expect of an OS that fostered a class-action lawsuit?

The three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar snafu

An oversight – so said Microsoft – with Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) cost the company €561 million ($732 million at the time) when the European Union’s anti-trust regulators fined the firm for omitting a browser choice feature.

The March 2013 decision by EU officials – the first time regulators there punished a company for shirking an antitrust agreement – ultimately stemmed from a 2007 complaint by rival Opera Software, which alleged that Microsoft manipulated the battle for browser share by tying Internet Explorer (IE) to Windows. Two years later, Microsoft agreed to show European users of Windows a “browser ballot,” a screen that displayed download links to other browsers, including Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Opera’s namesake.

But Microsoft failed to show that ballot to users of Windows 7 SP1 for some 14 months, from May 2011 until July 2012. More than 15 million users did not see the ballot as they should have, the EU charged.

In mid-2012, Microsoft admitted the goof and apologized, even as it downplayed the problem, saying it had been purely a “technical error” and blaming an engineering team.

Microsoft failed to disclose the snafu in the self-certified compliance reports it was required to submit to EU authorities.

In fact, Microsoft had ignored a user who reported the omission of the browser ballot in Windows 7 SP1. That user had queried support representatives in March 2011, a month after the launch of SP1 and two months before the start of the span during which regulators claimed Microsoft had scratched the ballot, saying, ” I do not see the options for the browser choice.” Although a support engineer replied to the user in the online forum, he paid no notice to the question of the ballot’s whereabouts.

SKU insanity

Microsoft tried to hang onto the netbook market for a while longer with Windows 7 Starter, one of a ballooning number of SKUs (stock-keeping units) segregating the OS.

Starter, which had been preceded by same-named versions on both Windows XP and Vista, was meant to service the netbook market, the name for the smaller, less capable, and most importantly, cheaper notebook computers that juiced PC sales after their 2007 debut. Windows XP Starter and Windows Vista Starter had been sold only in a small number of markets outside the U.S.; Windows 7 Starter was sold domestically, however.

(Microsoft kept calling these systems “small notebooks,” eschewing the “netbook” nomenclature for some reason.)

By the time of Windows 7’s late-2009 launch, netbooks were plainly converging with standard small and light notebooks and/or sub-notebooks (another name for another category, or sub-category). Microsoft acknowledged that, at least to some extent, by dropping the three-application-at-a-time restriction from Windows 7 Starter that had been imposed on XP’s and Vista’s versions.

Other omissions and limitations remained, however. Windows 7 Starter left out the “Aero” graphic user interface (GUI) that was Windows 7’s most visible feature, omitted support for DVD playback and did not provide the ability to change the desktop background. (What?)

Starter was also a signal that Microsoft still held a more-is-better belief when it came to fragmenting an OS into multiple versions, or SKUs. Windows 7, like its Vista forerunner, came in six: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. (Vista had used Business rather than Professional.)

Because Windows XP also featured half a dozen SKUs – although the versions were different in several cases – Microsoft pushed six SKUs from 2001, XP’s launch, through 2017, Vista’s retirement. From 2012 on, however, Microsoft pared Windows to three with Windows 8 (four if you counted Windows RT, which no one should) and maintained that number, at least at the beginning, with Windows 10 (we’re counting Home, Pro and Enterprise). Since 10’s launch, though, Microsoft has loosened its belt, expanding the SKUs with options like Windows 10 Pro Workstation and Windows 10 S, even as it tightened said strip of leather by dropping something-for-everyone SKUs like Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise.

Belly up to the bar

Windows 7 boosted the size of the task bar and added several elements that remain to this day in its successor, 10.

Microsoft beefed up the taskbar’s vertical dimension by 33% – when using the by-default large icon and labels option – from Windows Vista, and also expanded the width of the active application tiles as well as the icons for pinned apps.

Features like jump lists – click on the taskbar icon for Word, say, and a list of recently-opened documents appears – pinning and thumbnails (admittedly introduced in Vista but made larger and interactive in Windows 7) have proven durable enough to last through multiple OS generations.

For a blast from the past, check out this blog about the Windows 7 taskbar that was posted almost a year before the operating system’s release. It was authored by Steven Sinofsky, at the time one of the development heads for the OS. (Later, Sinofsky became president of the Windows Division, where he became the public face of Windows 8, the heir to 7 that bombed.)

The end of an era

Windows 7 was Microsoft’s last stable OS.

For a bit more than a decade, Windows 7 remained fixed, steadfast, unvarying, enduring. According to Microsoft’s model, we’ll never see Windows like that again, not on personal computers. (Windows 10 LTSC may be meant to stay static for 10 years, but it’s not suited for general PC purposes.)

Windows 7 sported just a single service pack (SP), the cumulative roll-ups released at irregular intervals, that was issued in February 2011, about 16 months after the OS’s debut. But although Windows 7 SP1 contained some changes, they were all under the hood; nothing visible to users was altered.

Much the same could be said for a subsequent platform update, a February 2013 release focused on graphics and imaging components and including Internet Explorer 10 (IE10). Meanwhile, Windows 10 morphs every 12 months if enterprise customers are lucky (and the 2019 major-minor pattern continues), every six months if they’re not.

Post-retirement patches step into daylight

Microsoft believed commercial customers were so enamored of Windows 7 – and would hold onto the OS in such numbers – that for the first time the company publicly unveiled a program to provide post-retirement security updates. That was a significantly different approach than the company has used before as an OS nears it end times.

Called Extended Support Updates (ESU) and revealed in September 2018 – a year and a half prior to Windows 7’s expiration – the program focused on volume-licensing customers, its largest and most important patrons. Those businesses would be able to purchase support in one-year increments for up to three years, with prices doubling in the second year, doubling again in the third. Customers with subscriptions to Windows 10 would receive a discount.

(Near the last minute – in October 2019 – Microsoft caved to small businesses and said it would also sell ESU to customers who did not have existing volume licensing plans in place.)

What was remarkable about ESU wasn’t its existence, but that Microsoft was so public about it.

The firm has sold post-retirement programs before, notably when Windows XP neared its retirement. But those deals were clouded in secrecy, with mysterious – and negotiable – price points. Prior to Windows XP’s 2014 exit from support, Microsoft sold “custom support agreements,” or CSAs, to its larger customers. But buying CSA was a completely-behind-the-scenes process done on a company-by-company basis, with virtually no public information about the program nor price lists.

That allowed Microsoft to dramatically raise CSA prices in late 2012 and 2013, then turn around and slash them just days before XP’s retirement.

Don’t it always seem to go…, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

The world-turned-upside-down shock of Windows 10 – its continual updating most notably – did more than anything else to elevate Windows 7’s long-term reputation. Faced with the jolt of Windows 10, its predecessor came off looking that much more composed.

At the risk of being rejoined with an “OK, boomer,” and knowing that nostalgia can backlight even incompetence with an artificial glow, Computerworld proposes that Windows 7 was what an OS should be, serviced as an OS ought to be, useful like an OS better be.

Much of that stems from the habits that Microsoft force-fed customers. Updates should be discrete so that individual patches can be postponed or rejected outright; feature additions should arrive only after years-long intervals to maximize learning “expense;” the OS should not transmit vast quantities of telemetric and diagnostic data to Redmond’s servers. And so on. But Microsoft upturned all of that in a single swoop, unlike the gradualism of Windows’ past.

No wonder there was resistance from enterprise customers, who on the whole valued continuity and tradition. But what they were objecting to was not Windows 10 per se – from the start the OS was widely praised on its merits – but instead Microsoft’s changing policies of servicing. Where features were extensively criticized – such as 10’s data hoovering – they were integral to those policies’ execution (at least in Microsoft’s mind), not integral to the OS as an OS.

That that has been the case can be confirmed by looking at the most substantial changes Microsoft has made to Windows 10 since its mid-2015 launch. Those changes have largely been made to the servicing policies, not to the OS itself.

For these reasons, Computerworld wagers that Windows 7 will be long viewed as peak enterprise OS and remembered, fairly or not, more fondly than if it had been succeeded by, say, Windows 9 in 2015.

(Where’s Windows 8 in all this? Invisible, frankly. That OS was an even bigger dud than Vista for corporate customers.)

Things have gone this way before, of course. Windows is famous, in fact, for its good-bad cadence of editions. Windows XP was good, Vista was not; Windows 7 good, Windows 8 not. Here, however, Microsoft has boosted Windows 7’s standing not by creating a sub-standard edition as follow-up but by changing practices and policies of that successor.

Microsoft recognizes what it has done. That’s clear from the modifications it’s made to Windows 10, such as lengthening the support lifespan and reducing the number of true feature upgrades; it’s shifted that operating system closer to the model of … Windows 7.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Google promises to support Chrome on Windows 7 until July 2021

Google is promising to support Chrome on Windows 7 for at least the next 18 months.

“We will continue to fully support Chrome on Windows 7 for a minimum of 18 months from Microsoft’s End of Life date, until at least July 15, 2021,” Max Christoff, Chrome’s engineering director, wrote last week in a post to a company blog.

Christoff touted the post-retirement support as a win for enterprises, which over the last several years have designated Chrome as their workers’ primary browser. He highlighted the management tools Google offered as well as Chrome’s sync skills. “If you haven’t started your move to Windows 10 yet, or even if your organization is mid-way through migration, you can still benefit from the enterprise capabilities of Chrome,” Christoff contended.

That emphasis was no surprise. This week will mark not only the end of support for Windows 7 (Tuesday, Jan. 14) but also the public debut of Microsoft’s refurbished Edge (Wednesday, Jan. 15). Microsoft, which built the new Edge with Google’s Chromium technologies – the same that drive Chrome – has pitched the browser as a better fit for enterprises, based on Microsoft’s long history of management prowess.

It remained unclear on Monday how Microsoft will support its new Chromium-based Edge on Windows 7. Historically, Microsoft has stopped serving browser updates when the underlying operating system exited support. However, Edge on Windows 7 will, like Edge on Windows 10, be updated using mechanisms separate from the OS. Microsoft may continue to support its new Edge after this week on all Windows 7 PCs, not just those in organizations that have paid for Extended Support Updates (ESU).

Google’s pledge to support Chrome on Windows 7 for “a minimum of 18 months” was reminiscent of its support for the browser on Windows XP. Months before that operating system’s April 2014 retirement, Google told users it would support Chrome at least until the following April.

Google ended up supporting Chrome on XP for two years after the latter’s expiration, or until April 2016.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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With Patch Tuesday arriving tomorrow, get Windows Automatic Update under control

December was a remarkable patching month. For those of you who use Windows Update, there were few surprises. (Manual updaters had it rough, though.) If you’ve been following along, you’ve already installed the December updates. Great. It’s time to get ready for January by temporarily turning off Windows Automatic Update.

If you’re a member of the “Get patched as soon as they roll out” team (a shrinking cohort, from my observation, anyway), my hat’s off to you. We need all the cannon fodder we can get. Be sure to keep us updated on AskWoody.

But if you figure there’s more danger from Pavlovian patching practices than from malware immediately following a Patch Tuesday, there are reasonably easy alternatives. Wait while we all watch the unpaid beta-testers take one for the Gipper.

Blocking automatic update on Win7 and 8.1

If you’re using Windows 7 or 8.1, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the “Turn automatic updating on or off” link. Click the “Change Settings” link on the left. Verify that you have Important Updates set to “Never check for updates (not recommended)” and click OK.

Yes, this month’s Patch Tuesday brings the last free security patches for Win7. No, you shouldn’t let them install by themselves. We’ll have a lot of coverage of Win7 weaning worries in the coming weeks.

Blocking automatic update on Win10 1803 or 1809

Not sure which version of Win10 you’re running? Down in the Search box, near the Start button, type About, then click About your PC. The version number appears on the right under Windows specifications.

If you’re using Win10 1803 or 1809, I strongly urge you to move on to Win10 version 1903. Microsoft released it (to some consternation) in May of last year. It had a shaky start before plunging into a four-patch debacle in September/October, but now appears to be relatively stable. There are detailed step-by-step instructions for moving to Win10 1903 in “Why — and how — I’m moving Win10 production machines to version 1903.”

If you insist on sticking with Win10 1809 (thrice bitten, thrice shy, eh?), you can block updates by following the steps in last month’s Patch Tuesday warning.

There’s a better way with Win10 versions 1903 or 1909

In version 1903 or 1909 (either Home, Pro, Education or Enterprise, unless you’re attached up an update server), using an administrator account, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. At the top, click the Pause updates for 7 days button. 

1903 pause 7 days 4 Woody Leonhard/IDG

That button changes so it says, “Pause updates for 7 more days.” Click it two more times, for a total of 21 paused days. That defers all updates on your machines until 21 days after you click the button. Once set, you can’t extend the deferral any longer unless you install all the outstanding cumulative updates to that point.

Historically, 21 days has sufficed to avoid the worst problems, although the aforementioned Keystone Kops IE 0day patch bugs persisted for more than three weeks. 

If there are any immediate widespread problems protected by this month’s Patch Tuesday — a rare occurrence, but it does happen — we’ll let you know here, and at AskWoody.com, in very short order.

We’re at MS-DEFCON 2 on AskWoody.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Apple has a chance to grow as half a billion Windows 7 PCs hit EOL

As Microsoft pulls support for nearly half a billion Windows 7 PCs, it’s make or break for Windows-based IT. And Apple has a chance to reap a good harvest when support ends Jan. 14.

The great migration

Apple’s solutions are now in use across the entire Fortune 500 and the company’s enterprise credentials continue to extend. At a recent Apple-focused enterprise IT event, we encountered opinion and statistics to reinforce this fact.

In fact, support for Apple technologies has become a human resources issue, and people entering the workplace will choose to use the company’s technologies – if they can. This has prompted some of the world’s most influential enterprise firms to offer that choice to their employees.

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.

And a billion iPhone owners to tell it, too.

It’s not as if the industry can’t see it coming

The analysts at IDC aren’t known to be Apple evangelists, but even they tell us enterprise IT decision makers expect to replace 13% of their current Windows 7 machines with Macs.

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.

Up next

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.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Your Windows PC may become collateral damage in any conflict with Iran

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.

After Stuxnet, Iran went on the offensive, exploiting Windows vulnerabilities over a period of years to attack more than 45 U.S. financial institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Iran also took over the command-and-control system of a dam outside New York City and hacked the servers of a casino owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a prominent Republican donor who recommended that the U.S. launch a nuclear attack on Iran.

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.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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