After more than 12 years of service, Microsoft finally pulled the plug on Windows XP by ceasing to support the operating system last week. However, Microsoft did promise to keep doling out updates for its Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) software, including the version that runs on XP, but in doing so, the Redmond outfit only made things worse. That's because the latest MSE update is causing some XP machines to freeze up and run slow.
This month the doctor tackles XP vs. Windows 7, Upgrading from LGA1366 and PhysX on AMD
Question: My laptop is an Asus G74SX-TH71. It has a GeForce GTX 560M with 4GB of RAM, a 2GHz Core i7 CPU, and 12GB of RAM. It has two 500GB hard drives in it, one for OS and games and the other for videos. I was wondering if I should upgrade my laptop to a desktop. I have about 500 dollars and I’m looking for a good budget gaming computer with a monitor. Can you suggest a computer or a way to upgrade my laptop, maybe an SSD?
Note: This article first appeared in the Holiday 2012 issue of the magazine.
Yesterday was no ordinary Tuesday. It was Microsoft’s eleventh Patch Tuesday of 2011. In keeping with Microsoft’s practice of releasing a lower volume of patches during odd-numbered months as compared to even ones, this month’s Patch Tuesday only contains four security bulletins, which is half of what the company shipped in October.
It apparently doesn't matter how good Windows 7 is -- and it's really frakking good -- XP users are reluctant to part with the OS that helped them make it through the Vista era unscathed. The usage numbers vary, but the conclusion's the same: most Windows users are still rocking out with XP.
According to new market share data by Net Applications, XP's market share sits at 60.03 percent, down slightly from 60.89 percent one month prior. Vista, meanwhile, fell from 14 percent to 13.35 percent, while Windows 7 moved upwards from 15.85 percent to 17.10 percent.
Going by Net Applications' figures, Windows 7 has only posted a net gain in market share in three months since it was released in October 2009, and actually lost nearly 1.5 percentage points in the past 11 months. During that same time frame, Windows XP dropped around 10.5 percentage points.
StatCounter's data shows a slightly more even playing field with Windows XP claiming 54 percent of the Windows market, Windows 7 at 22 percent, and Vista at just over 16.5 percent.
So here it is, folks, the first of what is likely to be many bugs affecting unpatched versions of Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), which of course will remain unpatched since Microsoft cut off support for XP SP2 and earlier.
According to a security advisory (2286198), "the vulnerability exists because Windows incorrectly parses shortcuts in such a way that malicious code may be executed when the user clicks the displayed icon of a specially crafted shortcut. This vulnerability is most likely to be exploited through removable drives," Microsoft says.
While disabling AutoPlay lessens the risk, users with an infected USB thumb drive can still fall prey the attack if they were to manually browse to the root folder. And because it can run when AutoPlay and AutoRun are disabled, Sophos senior security advisor, Chester Wisniewski, warns that the bug is particularly "nasty," pointing out in a blog post that "it bypasses all Windows 7 security mechanisms, including UAC, and doesn't require administrative privilege to run."
After July 13, Windows XP users still using Service Pack 2 or earlier "will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software." Surely everyone has upgraded by now, right?
In a word, 'no.' According to recent PC Advisor poll, 15.1 percent of XP users are still clinging to SP2 or earlier. That's probably higher than most would expect, but on the plus side, that only breaks down to less than 6 percent of the total sample of XP users who particpated in the poll.
Still, these users are running out of time to upgrade, either to SP3 (free) or to a later version of Windows (not free). If you're one of those users, you're down to less than a week to decide before you're on your own.
If your business is still running Windows XP SP2, you could be in for a world of hurt, warns IT services vendor Softchoice. Come July 13, Microsoft will drop support for SP2 and no longer issue security updates.
According to Softchoice, this is no trivial matter. The IT services vendor surveyed 117 organizations from a variety of industries, including finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and education, and found that 80 percent of them are at risk.
"Many users rightfully delayed their SP2 deployments, but at this point there really isn't a compelling reason to delay the move to SP3," says Dean Williams, Services Development Manager for Softchoice.
According to Williams, SP3 is more of an incremental upgrade rather than a major overhaul. But while the service pack is free, larger businesses not using systems management technology have their work cut out for them in trying to deploy the update.
Nevermind that the third Service Pack for Windows XP came out two years ago, or that XP itself is about two generations old. According to security risk and compliance management provider Qualys, out of the hundreds of thousands of PCs the company monitors, half of them are still running Windows XP SP2.
"The normal thing for IT is not to muck around with something that works," said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer for Qualys. "I would expect that come August, SP2 will be getting hard and harder to defend. I expect to see reliable exploits of unpatched vulnerabilities three or four months later."
Kandek's outlook takes into consideration that Microsoft plans to retire Windows XP SP2 on July 13, at which point users will need to upgrade to SP3 in order to continue receiving security updates.
Looking further ahead, Microsoft will retire Windows XP SP3 in April 2014.
IT admins who find themselves in a tug-of-war with the bean counters over whether or not to deploy Windows 7 in place of XP have a bit more ammunition today to plead their case. In a new Security Incident Report released this week, Microsoft unsurprisingly lays out some compelling reasons to upgrade.
The Key Findings Summary is of particularly interest. It's here that Redmond's research team points out several benefits, including the fact that in Windows XP, Microsoft vulnerabilities accounted for 55.3 percent of all attacks in the studied same (comparing targets of browser-based exploits). In Windows Vista and Windows 7, however, the proportion of Microsoft vulnerabilities is a lot smaller and accounted for just 24.6 percent of attacks in the studied sample.
Microsoft's report also points out that the 64-bit versions of Windows 7 and Windows Vista SP2 had lower infection rates than any other OS in the second half of 2009, while the 32-bit versions both had infection rates that were less than half of Windows XP with SP3, the most up-to-date service pack currently available.
There's a ton of great freeware and open-source software in the online world today. That statement should be a no-brainer, especially if you're been reading these application roundups over the past year and a half or thereabouts.
However, that's not to say that every single application that you install on your PC--including your operating system itself--is immediately minted in gold just because it passed your personal, "do I need this?" test. That's no fault of your own; In fact, it's half the point of the open-source movement to begin with. Industrious users think of new ways to use a piece of software or, rather, new add-ons that they can build into a particular application. This transforms the common application into a forked project, which itself can become the source of inspiration for future spin-offs from an even wider range of users.
Seriously, it's open-source 101.
However, you don‘t have to be a coder, or even a visionary, to reap the benefits of new transformations that run on top of the applications you use day-in and day-out. That's why I'm profiling add-ons in this week's Freeware Files: By now, you should have a pretty healthy laundry-list of common apps that you're always fiddling around in. I'm going to show you how to make them just that much better.