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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

Can’t afford a holiday this year? Let Street View take you further than streets.

world

The ambition behind Google’s Street View was (originally) to provide a little more human context to people’s map searches. It’s all very good to say that a journey will take so many minutes, or that you need to make this sequence of turns in order to get to your destination, but it’s long been a hallmark of Google to use information more intelligently than that. That’s why Google’s Maps application can also provide loose traffic guidance as well, because the thousands of users running the app while driving provide it with a lot of speed data that it can crunch in real-time.

Still, Street View takes that a level further, giving you a visual representation of your destination, which can be extremely handy if you’re travelling somewhere you’ve never been before. After all, if you were describing your home to a friend, you’d most likely not only give them the address, but also quantify it with details, whether it’s the proximity of obvious landmarks or the colour of the roof to assist with them finding you.

Not that everything on Street View has to be quite that serious, because Google has also used the power of its 360 degree cameras to map out some slightly more out-of-the-way places. You might never get there for reasons of practicality or budget in the real world, but if you’re hankering for an end-of-year escape, all you need is a browser and Internet access.

So what’s on offer, then? Google has taken its street view cameras both high and low to unearth some really fascinating views and perspectives on the world today.

If you fancy somewhere up high, you can take in multiple views of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Not high enough for your liking? How about a quick tour of the International Space Station, no space suit required?.

For those with vertigo, that might be a little bit much.

But there’s plenty of attractions back on solid ground to explore instead. Take a dive through the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef or trek though the watery streets of Venice. If you’re more into hot holidays than wet ones, how about a live volcano in Vanuatu? Although that’s probably not one you should try to drive, all things considered.

If you’re a fan of HBO’s very popular Game Of Thrones, you can take a risk-free walk through many of the show’s most iconic locations in Street View. If you like your TV shows with a bit more longevity behind them, the BBC has even managed to sneak in Doctor Who’s TARDIS into street view by parking a police box in Earl’s Court in London – although that one you have to tap or click specifically on the police box to enter.

Street View can even take you places you can’t actually go any more, such as Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territory. There, Google combines its Street View camera views with spoken word guides to provide a complete tour that you couldn’t get any other way, and a fascinating insight into the world’s oldest continually surviving culture as well.

And if all this virtual wandering gives you itchy feet and you’re keen to travel, you can even use Street View to explore the inside of an Emirates Airbus A380, although no complimentary peanuts are provided for the trip.


New Windows laptops will have all-day battery life… with a catch

snapdragon

Ever since the computer market shifted from desktop PCs to laptops, there’s been a significant balancing act going on between the needs of computer users for processing power to run programs, and the needs of those same users for battery power to keep their laptops going. At a simplified level, the harder you push a laptop (or the faster it can go) the more likely it is to chew through the available battery power. It’s a delicate balancing act that some laptops manage better than others, and one that’s often regulated by price. Buy a cheap laptop, and you’re more likely to get the more compromised end of that power/battery performance ratio with a slow machine that doesn’t have much battery life.

Microsoft recently unveiled what it’s calling “Always connected” Windows 10 laptops that, as per manufacturer claims, will be able to manage 20+ real hours of battery usage before conking out, and quite possibly at very attractive price points to boot. Moreover, thanks to the inclusion of built-in wireless modems, as the name suggests, they’ll be able to stay connected to the Internet pretty much wherever you are, albeit at the cost of a little mobile data through whichever carrier you prefer.

So if classically you couldn’t have both without significant cost, you might be wondering what the catch is. The difference with these new computers is that you won’t see any advertising with that familiar “Intel Inside” chime, or for that matter Intel stickers at all on these new machines, set to be built by companies such as HP, Asus and Lenovo. That’s because they’re instead using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processors, the same systems used on popular high-end mobile handsets such as Google’s Pixel 2 phones, Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium and certain models of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8. In the mobile world, the Snapdragon 835 is a powerhouse system, but in the laptop world, it’s a very different kind of proposition.

That’s because while standard notebooks running Intel or AMD processors use what’s called x86 architecture and apps written for them, Qualcomm’s processors use what’s called ARM architecture. Without going into heavy detail, it’s a different way of handling computing instructions that can often be massively more power efficient, but not perhaps as powerful in quite the same way as a processor.

Microsoft has been down the ARM path before; its first generation Surface RT 2-in-1s were ARM-based machines that could only run apps from the Window app store specifically written for the Surface RT. That was a flawed approach (and not a terribly good laptop for its time), but it appears that Microsoft has learned from that approach, at least a little.

Microsoft has substantially rewritten the version of Windows that will run on these new machines to work with most Windows 10 applications, but possibly not all, because it will be emulating x86 commands to run on an ARM processor.

What that means in effect is that it may well be slower to run on these new machines, and some more esoteric applications may not run at all. Microsoft is promising that all larger and more prominent apps, such as Adobe’s widely used Photoshop will run, but it’s not likely to run at the speeds you might see on a standard x86 laptop.

The default OS on the new systems will be Windows 10s, already available on the Surface Laptop devices. By default Windows 10S only runs apps from Microsoft’s own Windows store, but you will apparently be able to upgrade to full Windows 10 at no charge if you do so quickly enough after purchase. The new Always Connected laptops are expected to go on sale worldwide in 2018, with pricing expected on the lower side.

So again, what we’ll return to is a tradeoff between power and battery performance, albeit on a different axis. If you’re a light user of, say, just the Office applications and a web browser tab or two they might be a decent buy, especially if you do need long battery life, but it’s not likely that they’ll supplant years of x86, largely Intel-based laptops in the short or medium term.


Is the tide turning for Mac security?

Apple-Apple

For the longest time, the generally accepted knowledge was that Apple’s Mac computers didn’t get malware or viruses. Apple even went so far as to mock its PC opposition in the famous “Mac vs PC” ads for the issues they had around security and malware, to a fairly solid effect. While Apple’s Macs do still trail Windows machines by a significant percentage, Apple’s overall desktop and laptop market share has grown in recent years, and with it, Apple’s profits.

Back then, if you dug a little deeper, it became apparent that one reason that Apple machines didn’t tend to get targeted by malware writers wasn’t entirely to do with robust security infrastructure, but more to do with that smaller market share. There simply were fewer Macs to target, so malware writers, who these days target ways to get money far more than mere mischief, were less inclined to do so.

In recent times, however, we’ve seen a larger number of malware attacks on the macOS platform, as well as a few security blunders from Apple itself. Just recently it emerged that Apple had left a gaping chasm of a security hole in the latest updated version of its macOS software, High Sierra.

Specifically, if you wanted to sign into any given High Sierra machine, all you had to do was enter your username as “root” and tap the enter key a couple of times. Hey presto, instant access to anything on that Mac, even if you were using more advanced features such as Apple’s encrypted Filevault software.

It’s not exactly clear how or why Apple left this rather large back door open, but if you’re curious as to why that username would even exist on your Mac, it’s because macOS itself is built on a UNIX base. UNIX uses what’s called a “superuser” account for dedicated administrative tasks, but it’s not recommended for everyday use.

That “root” account is the superuser account on macOS systems, and for most users, you’d never know it was there or indeed need to have use of it, because it’s able to do literally anything to the files on your system, including (potentially) leaving the whole system wide open for abuse or unable to be recovered.

If you are running macOS High Sierra, there’s a couple of solutions to hand. Apple rushed out a patch for High Sierra about 18 hours after the bug information went public, and most macOS users should find that this auto-applies to their systems.

However some users have reported that if they’re not running the very latest update to High Sierra itself, version 10.13.1, and they only apply the patch that then updating can re-open the hole, unless you reboot your Mac afterwards.

You should update as soon as feasible, because now that this bug is widely known, it’ll be exploited. Right now, it mostly relies on someone having physical access to your Mac, but it won’t be long before malware writers are figuring out ways to invoke it remotely.

Update to the latest version of High Sierra, and you should be prompted for the patch. Reboot after it’s deployed, and check if the root exploit is still present by trying to log in as the root user with no password.

If it’s still present, or for some other reason you’re not able to apply the patch, then what you should do is change the root password yourself. Apple outlines the process in this document under “change the root password”, which is as follows:

  1. Choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Users & Groups (or Accounts).
  2. Click lock icon, then enter an administrator name and password.
  3. Click Login Options.
  4. Click Join (or Edit).
  5. Click Open Directory Utility.
  6. Click lock icon in the Directory Utility window, then enter an administrator name and password.
  7. From the menu bar in Directory Utility, choose Edit > Change Root Password…
  8. Enter a root password when prompted.

Simply changing the root password to anything else, but preferably a strong password combination, will remove the problem of this particular flaw. It’s also a timely reminder that no matter what your computer platform is, it’s wise to keep abreast of the latest security issues and updates.


Intel’s latest flaw could put your computer at risk

intel

Quite often these days when we hear about a major security flaw, it’s to do with the underlying software that we’re running on our PCs, whether it’s a dodgy browser exploit, some kind of flaw in productivity software or even “free” content sites that are awash with malware. It’s not quite so often that we hit underlying issues with the actual hardware that we use every day, but that’s the unfortunate position that hardware giant Intel has found itself in, with a slew of potential high severity exploits affected its recent processor ranges.

This is exceptionally bad news, because the odds are very good that you’ve got at least one product that could bear that iconic “Intel Inside” sticker, whether it’s a Windows laptop, Macintosh desktop or even any number of server or higher end business systems that rely on Intel’s top-tier Xeon processor families.

The flaw affects the underlying architecture that loads well before your operating system does, affecting issues with the Intel Management Engine (ME), Intel Server Platform Services (SPS), and Intel Trusted Execution Engine (TXE). The Management Engine can be used by administrators for maintenance tasks, and it’s essentially a sub-processor that runs its own tiny operating system in order to do so. In order to allow administrators (who should have access, after all), the Management Engine can power up a switched-off PC and run necessary upgrade and checking tasks for an entire fleet of PCs, typically with management technology enabled on the system. Or in other words, it’s usually only a concern for those who run entire fleets of PCs, but it’s not clear if the identified flaws could also be exploited on consumer PCs.

Flaws were also identified in the Trusted Execution Engine, which handles hardware authentication, and also the Server Platform Services, which works in a similar fashion to the ME, but for systems acting as servers. The flaws were identified by external researchers to Intel, and the processor giant then undertook a full audit of those services to check the authenticity of their claims. Sadly, they are vulnerable, at least in theory.

To be specific, Intel has identified that there’s a potential issue with any system running any of the following processors:

  • 6th, 7th, and 8th generation Intel Core Processor Family
  • Intel Xeon Processor E3-1200 v5 and v6 Product Family
  • Intel Xeon Processor Scalable Family
  • Intel Xeon Processor W Family
  • Intel Atom C3000 Processor Family
  • Apollo Lake Intel Atom Processor E3900 series
  • Apollo Lake Intel Pentium Processors
  • Intel Celeron N and J series Processors

If you’re reading that list and figuring that maybe you have an Intel-based system, but wouldn’t know a Celeron from a stick of celery, help is at hand. Intel has released a detection tool for Windows/Linux users to help identify if they’re running on a system with the flaw, as well as guidance on how to update the firmware to close off the security hole, which you can find here.

From what’s been announced so far, the one bit of good news is that Intel-based Macs don’t seem to be affected, but even there, it’s wise to keep ahead of any security alerts and keep your system up to date. It’s always going to be a cat and mouse game, and nobody wants their system to be the unlucky mouse.


Does a standalone e-reader still make sense in 2017?

kindle

I’ve recently spent some time checking out Amazon’s latest Kindle e-reader, the 2nd generation Kindle Oasis. It’s the “luxury” choice in Amazon’s e-reader lineup, with a luxury price to match and a few new features to try to lure in those who love reading above other pursuits.

One of the key new features is the inclusion of water resistance, rated at IPX8. Specifically, that means that Amazon reckons it can survive immersion in water up to 2 metres deep for up to 60 minutes, which is impressive at a technical level, but not without its catches. One key factor to remember with any water resistant gadget is that the testing always takes place in clean, room temperature lab water. That means your dreams of surfing and reading, not to mention taking your Kindle into the bath need to remain just dreams. A water resistant Kindle Oasis might survive those kinds of conditions, but it’s not what it’s been tested for. The other catch there is that the capacitive screen in the kindle will frequently treat water as just another touch event. I tested this in a room temperature water shower, and while it was entertaining watching the Kindle Oasis go mildly nuts under the water, it wasn’t a situation where I could actually read anything.

Reading is central to the Kindle experience, as it has always been, but for the Oasis it’s especially true given its premium price, and the fact that Amazon offers Kindle apps for just about any device you’d care to read eBooks on. Want to read a Kindle book on PC or Mac? That’s as easy as installing the Kindle App, and the same is true for any smartphone or tablet you’d care to name.

As such, buying a Kindle might not seem to make that much sense if you can so easily read on other platforms. Leaving aside the relative comfort of reading on the e-ink displays that e-readers like the Kindle Oasis offers (which is a somewhat subjective matter), my testing reminded me of what dedicated e-readers actually do very well.

It’s not so much that they’re good for reading electronic books, but that in being essentially single purpose, they’re good for distraction-free reading. If I read an e-book on my phone, tablet or PC, the odds are pretty good I’ll get a notification of an incoming email, social media message or call when what I really want to do is curl up in a corner with my novel and a nice hot cup of tea. The Kindle does, it’s true, have an “experimental browser” onboard, which you could use for browsing the web if you opted for the 4G-compatible version, but when they say it’s experimental, they’re not kidding. Not only is it slow, but you’ll struggle to find too many sites it’s workable for. 4G on the Kindle is so much more about buying ebooks through Amazon, and given the relatively heavy saturation of free Wi-Fi services, I’m not convinced there’s much value anyway. If you were desperate for a new book while out and about, you could always duck into a coffee shop and jump onto their Wi-Fi to browse books anyway.

If all you want to do is read ebooks, then a Kindle is by no means an essential option. If what you want to do is read without interruption, and if you’re serious about wanting a really nice eBook reader, the Kindle Oasis is a solid, if not exactly inexpensive gadget.


What will Twitter’s length change mean for social media?

twitter

Social media popularity comes and goes in waves; it wasn’t that long ago that your social media presence could be measured by how many MySpace friends you had, back when Facebook insisted that every status update had to start with your name followed by “is”.

In 2017, MySpace is all but a memory, and Facebook will let you publish status using any grammatical form you’d like. Social media services change, in other words, because those that run them want to ensure that their user bases at least stay engaged, if not in fact growing. It’s always worth bearing in mind that these services are offered for free because we (as the users) are supplying both rich personal information about our activities which can be used for analysis and marketing, as well as our eyeballs which can be subjected to paid advertising within the social media space.

The latest social media service to make a major change is “microblogging” platform Twitter, which recently doubled the acceptable length of a tweet (a message on the platform) from 140 characters to 280 characters. Twitter announced a trial of the idea not that long ago, before turning on the ability for most users recently to tweet any thought, concept or argument twice the length they used to be able to. The primary limitation of 140 characters will still apply if you’re tweeting in Japanese, Korean or Chinese, however.

If you’re wondering why Twitter used 140 characters originally, you can blame SMS. Individual SMS messages are capped at 160 characters, and Twitter originally wanted to be SMS-compatible to ensure a wide variety of message delivery methods, although few would be that interested in Twitter-over-SMS now.

The shift has seen a number of users, both en masse and some high profile individuals come out against the double character limit, citing the potential for greater levels of online abuse and the forced brevity that the 140 character limit imposed. Twitter had already dropped the 140 character limit for direct messages — in essence, private tweets sent directly from one Twitter user to another — and the company just sees this as another step on the road.

At the same time it’s doubled Twitter message lengths, it’s also extended the display names users can adopt from 20 characters up to 50. This isn’t the twitter handle — the identifying name prefixed with an ‘@’ symbol — but the displayed title used within Twitter apps and the Twitter web interface. That’s less contentious, as many users do like to append funny or topical sections into their names, and some names are simply longer if fully expressed.

It’s a delicate balancing act for Twitter, however, because it very much wants to remain a cultural force and not go the way of the aforementioned MySpace. If you’re a Twitter user and you’re not seeing the 280 character limit, try refreshing your browser or updating your Twitter app, although bear in mind that some third party Twitter apps may not yet support the newer 280 character limit. Also bear in mind that sometimes less is more, and just because you can talk for twice as long in a single tweet now doesn’t always mean that you should.


Apple’s new iPhone X is impressive, but not bulletproof

iphonex

One of the hottest tech gadgets on the market right now is Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone, the iPhone X. That’s “X” as in the Roman numeral 10, by the way, although I figure if you’re spending the kind of money you need to get an iPhone X, you should be allowed to call it whatever you like.

It’s an impressive phone, and it’s also Apple’s first phone with an OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display. OLEDs have been in use in other Android handsets for some years, most notably from Apple arch-rival Samsung, although reportedly Samsung is in fact manufacturing the displays for Apple in the new phone; this may also be a significant reasoning behind its higher-than-usual pricing. Apple has made the shift to OLED for the iPhone X, but not the new iPhone 8 or iPhone 8 Plus, both of which feature the more traditional LCD displays we’ve seen in previous iPhone models.

So why shift to OLED? Partly it’s a question of colour accuracy, with OLED displays able to display absolute black colours with ease, and partially it’s a question of power consumption. OLEDs tend to sip a little less power than LCDs, and they also run considerably cooler, leading to better overall battery life, at least in theory. As with any smartphone, if you’re a heavy user you’ll be able to send the iPhone X flat within a day, but more moderate users should find the combination of OLED and the new A11 Bionic chip to give improved battery life over previous iPhone generations.

It’s a bright, vibrant display, as OLEDs tend to be, but even Apple is playing it safe with what is new technology for its iOS platform, and that means that you should do so as well if you’ve made the significant investment in the new handset. Specifically, over time, if an image is left on an OLED display, there’s a higher-than-usual chance of a persistent image burning into the display and not clearing quickly. Quite how persistent this will be with the iPhone X isn’t precisely known, because they’re brand new phones. This is an issue you’re more likely to have in a couple of years with the phone, not from day one. Apple, for its part, says that it’s ” engineered the Super Retina display to be the best in the industry in reducing the effects of OLED “burn-in.”

So what can you do to minimise the risk to your pricey new phone? Apple has a support document that runs through best practice, noting that the key factor is, predictably, to avoid displaying static images for long periods of time, especially at peak brightness.

Mix it up a little, make sure Automatic Brightness (which adjusts the screen’s brightness based on the lighting environment around the phone) is on, and minimise the duration before your screen switches itself off. That’s actually sound security advice too, because you can set an iPhone (or any Android phone, for that matter) to lock down when the screen goes off.

As noted, the burn-in issue is something you should see over a span of years, not months. If something else goes wrong with your new phone, by all means complain in Apple’s direction. You’re certainly paying enough for a premium device to expect premium service from them!


Are you making the most of online search?

google

In the very early days of the public internet, getting around was easy, because there simply wasn’t all that much to get around in any case. The indexes of everything available online were so small that numerous print books popped up pointing out interesting web sites you could visit, because it was just that small. These days you’d never print such a thing, but even a static index would rapidly go out of date and take several months to scroll through in any case.

That’s where search engines have real power, because in theory they make it easier to actually find what you’re looking for. Google’s the best known, having seen off countless competitors, although it’s far from your only choice; you could alternatively use Microsoft’s Bing, or if you’re particularly privacy-minded, the oddly-named DuckDuckGo.

Many people simply thump in the rough idea of what they’re searching for and hope for the best, but with a few small tweaks you can greatly expand the scope of your searches, and the likelihood of finding exactly what you want first time, rather than hitting multiple websites fruitlessly, wasting both data and time. The competition to get visibility on search engines is fierce, and it’s complicated by the selling of ad spots above search results, which can often be both confusing and irritating. Making your searches work for you is a really useful skill, and while I’m only going to touch on a few basics, they’re tips that are well worth keeping in mind.

There are the simple operator commands that services such as Google (and others will use), all of which are worth learning. For a start, if you want to be hyper-specific on a search, throw the entire thing within quotation marks. It’s also a great way to find movie quotes, by the way, but anything you put in quotes will be searched for directly, while anything not in quotes is searched for word-by-word.

Keep getting results you don’t want in your searches because they happen to coincide with another search? If you add a minus sign before those unwanted terms, search engines will specifically ignore results that match those terms. So a search for “bananas -apples” will find sites that mention bananas, but not those that also mention apples as the primary results.

What about if you wanted a search to include similar words to those you’re using? You could type them all in, but instead, try using the tilde symbol (that’s the squiggly line, usually found above the reverse slash/around the escape key on most keyboards) before your primary term. So for a simple example, a search for “dogs” ~jumper would also return other items of clothing for your canine friend beyond simple jumpers, if that’s your thing.

You can apply search modifiers to other data you might wish to know, which can also save you time searching up specific sites. Want to know what the weather is like in Abu Dhabi, or for that matter St Petersburg? Simply type “Weather” followed by your city of choice, and Google will fetch you a 7 day weather forecast. Type in simple sums in the URL bar, and the results will be returned to you, without needing a calculator or calculator app. You can even use the URL bar as a simple timer, by typing in an amount of time followed by “timer“. So to boil an egg, type in “3 minutes timer“, and your browser will open a window that will start counting down for you.

If you know what you want to search for is on a particular site, but it doesn’t have a search function (or a particularly good search function), you can tell Google or other search engines to limit searches to that site alone, with the site: command. So to search all of, say, Amazon for Bananas, you’d type bananas site:www.amazon.com, and the only results it would return would be from the popular shopping site. It’s even feasible, if you’re using Google’s popular Chrome web browser, to set up short keywords to trigger site searches.


What can you do to combat the Wi-Fi KRACK problem?

krack

Millions of people around the world use Wi-Fi networking for both their home and office work, because it’s extremely convenient to go fully wireless, and, indeed, many of today’s devices don’t even consider the older wired networking technology at all. That’s not just the obvious fare such as smartphones or tablets, where it would be difficult if not impossible to tether an ethernet cable, but even most laptops, where ethernet is often skipped over to keep costs low and devices as thin as possible.

Wireless is convenient, but because it’s a radio signal at its heart, it’s never been quite as secure as a physical cabled connection. Somebody running a CAT6 cable out of your home or office would be rather obvious, after all, whereas somebody relatively near your wireless network (if it’s completely unsecured) could gain effective free access. That’s why best practice is to enable wireless security. While older standards such as WEP and WPA have largely been depreciated due to older security flaws, WPA2 has stood the test of time as a robust security standard.

Well, it did. The bad news here is that researchers uncovered a very serious flaw in the WPA2 standard that could compromise just about any currently locked down network. Known as KRACK (for Key Reinstallation attACK), the flaw is inherent in the core protocols used for Wi-Fi transmission.

The good news here is that it was uncovered by a security researcher, not a malware author. The bad news is that its impact could be incredibly widespread, leaving numerous systems potentially vulnerable to outside attack.

That’s a statement that has to be predicated by “potentially”, because there are some significant caveats to the KRACK issue. First of all, while a system that uses Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet might be susceptible to KRACK, it’s only susceptible within range of the actual Wi-Fi network. If you have Wi-Fi at home, in other words, a miscreant would have to actually be standing in range of your network, which typically means your home or garden. Fairly obvious in other words, and the more likely targets there would be high value targets such as, say, banks, rather than ordinary consumers.

As yet there’s also little evidence of actual KRACK-based attacks on systems. That may well come in time as exploits are developed, but it’s not a widely exploited flaw to date.

Still, it’s an issue if the core security that’s meant to lock down your Wi-Fi doesn’t work properly. So what can you actually do to stay secure online in the shadow of KRACK?

Firstly (and this should be a regular part of your system maintenance anyway), make sure you’re up to date with any patches for any Wi-Fi connected equipment, including your router and any computers, tablets, smartphones or other devices. That’s going to be a somewhat uneven experience depending on the number of devices and who’s responsible for their updates.

As an example, however, Microsoft says that up-to-date Windows 10 machines are already immune from KRACK. Apple is working on patches for its mobile and desktop operating systems, as is Google for Android devices. Android is trickier, however, because while inhouse devices like the Pixel phones will almost certainly see quick KRACK fixes, older devices might not see them at all. If you’re still using a much older Android device, it may be wise to consider an upgrade in the near future. It’s certainly worth checking with device vendors to see if they’ve got updates planned for this purpose, and applying them as and when they become available.

Secondly (and again, this is something you should be considering anyway), check what you’re doing online and how secure it actually is. Using online banking as an example, your financial institution almost certainly uses HTTPS, rather than HTTP for its web site. That critical ‘S’ at the end indicates an encrypted session, which means that even if somebody did KRACK into your Wi-Fi, they wouldn’t be able to see your online banking anyway. Not every site uses HTTPS, however, and there it may be wise to consider using VPN (Virtual Private Network) software to encrypt your other communications.

Your other option, of course, is to use actual ethernet wherever feasible. The KRACK exploit doesn’t grant attackers carte blanche access to your network, just the potential to snoop on wireless traffic. Anything running along a fixed wired connection should be entirely safe, or at least as safe as anything on the Internet ever is.


Windows Phone is no more, so what should you switch to?

lumia

For some years now, Microsoft has persisted with a multi-pronged software approach around its Windows 10 platform, going all the way up to high-performance workstation PCs through laptops, tablets and mobile devices, in order to service every possible computing need. While the general dominance of Windows in the desktop and laptop space is quite solidly entrenched, and Microsoft had mobile operating systems back when the iPhone was just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye, it’s had significantly less success when it comes to convincing consumers and businesses to adopt its mobile Windows platforms. Figures from Kantar Worldpanel put the mobile market share of Windows Phones in most places on the planet at 5% or less, and in some cases markedly less. In the UK it’s around 4.9%, in Australia just 2.4% and in China you’d be lucky to see a Windows phone at all, with just 0.1% of the market made up of Windows Phone handsets.

All this despite Microsoft doing a generally excellent job of tying its mobile and desktop platforms together, such that its popular Office apps run smoothly on most Windows handsets, and it ties all content together through its cloud based OneDrive service. Still, consumers and businesses voted with their wallets, and Windows Phone has sunk to the point where even Microsoft has admitted that it’s time to throw in the towel.

In a tweet, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore stated that the company no longer has hardware ambitions for Windows Phone. That’s not exactly a shock, given that the last Microsoft-produced phones, under the Lumia brand are more than a year old, and even the most recently released third party phone, HP’s Elite X3 is reportedly no longer being produced, just sold from existing stock.

So what does that mean if you’re one of the Windows Phone faithful? Microsoft is committed to producing security updates, so your handset should, in theory, stay safe online. But with hardware production essentially ramped down to nothing, it’s likely that sourcing additional batteries or other repair parts may become tricky and expensive in the upcoming years. Realistically, if your existing phone is showing signs of wear and tear, it’s time to jump camps to either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android platform.

For a user coming from Windows Phone, there are good arguments to be had for either platform. Apple’s “walled garden” approach to apps is one that Microsoft essentially copied (albeit with much less success) for Windows Phone, so if you like a controlled total ecosystem, an iPhone could be a smart pickup option. On the other hand, Android is considerably more flexible in terms of what you’re allowed to do, including some launchers that mimic the look and feel of Windows Phone. That could be a more comfortable choice, and given the wider range of Android phones out there, a more affordable choice as well. In the premium end, if the virtual “Continuum” feature of Windows Phone appealed, then something like Samsung’s Note 8 and the Samsung DeX dock may appeal.

The good news is that in dropping its own-brand phone ambitions, Microsoft is still looking at developing for mobile devices, so it’s perfectly feasible to run, for example, the mobile versions of Office apps on iOS and most Android devices. Microsoft may have lost the mobile war, but it’s not likely to cede any ground it doesn’t have to on apps or services moving forward.


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