HONEYBALL

JON DOES BAT­TLE WITH WIN­DOWS UP­DATE, DIS­COV­ERS A MICROSOFT EX­TEN­SION FOR CHROME, AND SAYS A FEW KIND WORDS ON THE PASS­ING OF AP­PLE AIR­PORT

PC & Tech Authority - - CONTENTS - JON HONEYBALL

Jon does bat­tle with Win­dows Up­date, dis­cov­ers a Microsoft ex­ten­sion for Chrome, and says a few kind words on the pass­ing of Ap­ple Air­Port

It was a some­what grey and wet April Satur­day. With a dead­line loom­ing, I’d come into the lab to try to get ahead with some work, and I needed a Win­dows ma­chine to hand. My nor­mal method­ol­ogy here is to run ev­ery­thing in a VM, us­ing either Par­al­lels or VMware Fu­sion, both run­ning on a de­cent spec of Mac. I like the sep­a­ra­tion of “church and state”, by hav­ing the base OS be some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent to the host.

This is es­pe­cially true when you’re test­ing an­tivirus and net­work se­cu­rity soft­ware. Han­dling Win­dows mal­ware is some­what eas­ier when you know it can’t in­fect the base OS. And the Win­dows ses­sion it­self is tem­po­rary, so can be blown away and restarted at a mo­ment’s no­tice.

But for some rea­son, I de­cided that this work was go­ing to be done on a “real” Win­dows ma­chine, where you run Win­dows on the base hard­ware. I know this is a com­mon thing that peo­ple do, but over the years I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that it’s all just too much has­sle. I’d even go as far as say­ing that Win­dows desk­tops should be run in­side a VM, if you have a choice. Which, of course, you don’t in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment. But for that you have the ex­cel­lent OneDe­ploy tech­nol­ogy I’ve raved about be­fore, which lets you push out im­ages to hard­ware with only a few clicks.

So, to solve my prob­lem, I grabbed the Dell XPS desk­top all-in-one that I’ve had kick­ing around for a few years. As a cheap Win­dows al­ter­na­tive to the iMac, it isn’t a bad bit of kit and it’s worked well for me. I started it up, and went to log in – which is when my trou­bles be­gan. Win­dows wouldn’t let me en­ter. I knew the pass­word was cor­rect, but the more I tried, the less co­op­er­a­tive it be­came.

I re­booted, only to have a big Dell boot icon – along with Win­dowsstyle spin­ning wheel – tell me that the hard disk was cor­rupted and that it needed to spend an hour con­tem­plat­ing its navel. I let it have three hours just to be sure, and got on with other work. Af­ter its gen­er­ous time slot had ended, it was still say­ing the same thing. So, I hit re­boot once more, only to dis­cover that the ma­chine had dis­ap­peared up its own fun­da­ment and I wasn’t even get­ting the BIOS boot splash. In­ser­tion of a gen­uine Microsoft Win­dows boot USB stick did noth­ing to help. Clearly, the ma­chine had gone AWOL.

For­tu­nately, it has an HDMI in­put port, so I de­cided I could hook it up to a lap­top and use it as a big­ger screen. At this point I should have just given up on the whole idea and fired up some VM ses­sions. But, like a bull in a china shop, I wasn’t go­ing to give up now.

I reached for my Sur­face Book, the one with which I’ve had a love­hate re­la­tion­ship af­ter spend­ing umpteen thou­sands of dol­lars on it at launch, and then wait­ing months for the sem­blance of sta­ble firmware for it from Microsoft. I have the desk­top break­out box for it, which pro­vides USB sock­ets, Eth­er­net and a video out. Find­ing the cor­rect ca­ble dealt with the in­ter­con­nect is­sue, and I soon had the Dell run­ning as a sec­ond screen on the Sur­face Book.

Which would have been the end to my tale, ex­cept I went to Win­dows Up­date to en­sure ev­ery­thing was in­deed up to date. And there I found a bunch of firmware up­dates from last Septem­ber for the Book that hadn’t been ap­plied. No, I have no idea why they weren’t in­stalled, but they were listed, loud and proud. So I fired off an up­date, and sat back.

Once that had com­pleted, and the ma­chine re­booted, I did a fi­nal Up­date check, only to dis­cover in big red let­ters the phrase: “Your de­vice is miss­ing im­por­tant se­cu­rity and qual­ity fixes.” Of course, be­ing Microsoft, it wouldn’t deign to tell me which ones were miss­ing or what I should do to rem­edy this. Re­peated press­ing of the “Check for up­dates” but­ton re­sulted in the same out­come.

At this point, my mut­ter­ing be­came some­what pur­ple in na­ture, with me ask­ing out loud into which ori­fices of a Microsoft en­gi­neer a Sur­face Book could be in­serted. I looked at “View up­date his­tory” to dis­cover that it was blank – ap­par­ently some up­dates can clear the up­date his­tory, which ranks as a truly in­spired piece of cod­ing.

I tried the Win­dows Up­date re­cov­ery tool. That didn’t do any­thing use­ful. I even tried the com­mand prompt method of shut­ting down the ser­vices, mov­ing

the up­date cat­a­logue and log files, and restart­ing the Win­dows Up­date ser­vices. That didn’t work either. There was noth­ing left to do but to start again. I booted from USB and wiped the ma­chine.

Once the in­stall had com­pleted, check­ing up­dates showed the red mes­sage had dis­ap­peared – which was some­thing of a re­lief. The first thing to be in­stalled was Dash­lane, to bring my pass­word sys­tem onto the ma­chine. A quick in­stall of Of­fice 365 fol­lowed, with the in­evitable pon­der­ing of why the Of­fice team tries so very hard to make you take the 32-bit ver­sion when a 64-bit ver­sion is avail­able too. And then Drop­box, fol­lowed by an­other long navel gaze, even though by de­fault all files are left in the cloud for just-in-time down­load.

At this point, it was 3pm. My will to live had mostly dis­ap­peared, and I went home via the pub. All my good in­ten­tions had been blown away by a dead Dell and a wor­ry­ingly un­dead Sur­face Book. Never has a VM looked so tempt­ing.

APP UP­DATES

Last month I had quite a good moan about three com­pa­nies, with tales of woe about their soft­ware up­dates. One good piece of news: Chord has shipped its iOS app for con­trol­ling the Mojo/Poly com­bi­na­tion. The app is quirky but it does what’s needed, so thumbs up there.

Naim did launch a firmware up­date and new iOS app. How­ever, de­spite there be­ing firmware for mostly ev­ery­thing the firm has shipped, there was noth­ing for the Uniti Core prod­uct. So, it re­mains stuck where it was, which is some­thing of a dis­ap­point­ment.

I down­loaded the An­droid app for the Hoover again, and found it still wants a full land-grab of ev­ery con­ceiv­able de­vice, a bit of data, and any­thing else you might ever have thought of – which is noth­ing short of shame­ful. If Hoover’s R&D di­rec­tor wants a grown-up to help, he knows where to look.

SLIDE RULE

One of the items I in­her­ited from my par­ents was my dad’s study desk. It’s filled with won­der­fully evoca­tive mem­o­ra­bilia from my youth, in­clud­ing a large se­lec­tion of Ord­nance Sur­vey maps. In one drawer, I was thrilled to dis­cover his slide rule made by Faber-Castell. It’s at least as old as me, and I know he used it when he was a de­sign en­gi­neer in the 1960s.

Many sneer at slide rules, say­ing they’re an an­tiq­uity. Of­ten such snobs are found to be wear­ing large watches made by Bre­itling, which have a slide rule built into the watch face – but let’s not al­low facts to get in the way.

Out of sheer cu­rios­ity, I went on an in­ter­net hunt for slide rules. And to my de­light, I dis­cov­ered that Faber-Castell still sells them. I went to its Ger­man site, where I found a whole range of brand-new items for sale. I couldn’t re­sist, and bought a 12in tech­ni­cal slide rule – the mod­ern equiv­a­lent to my fa­ther’s trea­sured item. I felt be­holden to con­tinue the tra­di­tion, de­spite the price tag of some €87.

At this point, I’d nor­mally give you the URL for the item. But on vis­it­ing the shop just now at faber-castell.de/ser­vice/in­te­gra­tionon­line-er­satzteil­shop, I see that: “Our on­line shop for spare parts will be in­te­grated into the FaberCastell on­line shop on 31.03.2018.” Head­ing to said on­line shop shows no sign of the slide rules, at least as far as I can see.

If they’ve gone then it’s a door onto my child­hood that’s been closed. I’m only pleased I man­aged to get one of the last ones. Maybe you can find a new item be­fore they’re gone for­ever. Or email FaberCastell to see if they’re still for sale.

TRAVELODGE

A friend sent me the URL to the Travelodge web­site. Do I re­ally need to tell you what it ex­posed? Yes, a full test in­ter­face into its JSON/ REST API test har­ness. Twenty-four

hours later, it was prop­erly locked away.

But some­one re­ally messed up there. I imag­ine there are a few sore bot­toms this morn­ing from the spank­ing that was re­ceived – and rightly so.

One col­league said, “It makes me want to track down Travelodge’s IT peo­ple on LinkedIn, just so I can add them to the black­list of peo­ple I’d never em­ploy in a mil­lion years.” Harsh, but maybe not un­fair.

MICROSOFT BROWSER PRO­TEC­TION… FOR CHROME

Microsoft has launched an ex­ten­sion for Chrome. Yes, in this mod­ern era of Microsoft open­ness, it’s even de­vel­op­ing Chrome en­hance­ments. It seems to work on all plat­form ver­sions of Chrome, so I had no is­sues in­stalling it into Chrome for macOS.

Es­sen­tially, it’s an anti-phish­ing en­gine, as used in the main­stream Microsoft prod­ucts. It’s been pack­aged up and made avail­able for Chrome for free, which if noth­ing else is a nice ges­ture.

Now you might be won­der­ing why you’d want to use this when Chrome has a strong anti-phish­ing en­gine built right in, and which is en­abled by de­fault. If you don’t be­lieve me, go to the Set­tings win­dow and scroll down to the Ad­vanced sec­tion. You’ll find the set­ting, “Pro­tect you and your de­vice from dan­ger­ous sites”, which is Google-speak for “anti-phish­ing”.

I in­stalled the Microsoft ex­ten­sion and dis­abled the built-in Chrome fea­ture. Then I went to one of my reg­u­lar anti-phish­ing test sites – which has a real-time feed of phish­ing sites – and tried it out. It achieved a high score over some 30 test URLs. I turned off the Microsoft ex­ten­sion and re-en­abled the builtin Chrome fea­ture. Re-run­ning the tests, it re­turned a sim­i­lar score but there were dif­fer­ences on a few sites that one got but the other didn’t. Re-en­abling both caught al­most ev­ery­thing in one or the other.

So far, it doesn’t ap­pear to have gob­bled up my sys­tem RAM or slowed my PC to a crawl. It seems to be an all-up­side and no-down­side add-on for Chrome. In the un­likely event that Chrome’s tool­kit doesn’t catch a site first, the Microsoft tool might catch it as a back­stop. Pro­vid­ing it proves to be a sta­ble and re­li­able com­bi­na­tion over time, this ex­ten­sion is worth hav­ing for those oc­ca­sions it’s needed.

AP­PLE CLOSES ITS AIR­PORTS

Of no sur­prise to any­one, Ap­ple has an­nounced the end of life of the Air­Port range of wire­less routers. I’m a bit dis­ap­pointed, be­cause these Air­Ports were pretty good prod­ucts, es­pe­cially in the early years when most ev­ery­one else was mak­ing garbage. A lot of thought went into the prod­uct; it was one of the few plat­forms that no­ticed if you were be­hind a dou­ble-NAT IP in­stal­la­tion, warned you ac­cord­ingly, and switched it­self to passthrough switch mode.

But time moves on. The com­peti­tors have got bet­ter, and the new mesh sys­tem has sur­passed the rather an­cient mas­ter/slave Ap­ple’s Air­Port re­tires. No doubt it’s mak­ing room for some new, su­per­fast wire­less hard­ware so­lu­tion that Ap­ple de­ployed. Do I think this is the end of the line for Ap­ple and wire­less hard­ware? Not at all. I ex­pect it’s clear­ing the way for some­thing en­tirely new; some su­per-fast, mesh-base­dus­ing tech­nol­ogy to leapfrog the com­pe­ti­tion. Af­ter all, given Ap­ple’s much-ru­moured de­sire to make its own ra­dio chipsets, along­side its CPU de­signs and other cus­tom sil­i­con, it would make great sense to im­ple­ment a bleed­ing-edge spec­i­fi­ca­tion and try to own the space.

Not be­ing re­liant on a third-party chipset ven­dor would be a big win. Heck, Ap­ple could even come up with an en­tirely new spec in the 5GHz open ra­dio space. A gi­ga­bit mesh-en­abled pico-cell-based Wi-Fi so­lu­tion could be quite some­thing. Only time will tell.

NET­FLIX, AMA­ZON PRIME AND FOX­TEL

It was one of those dis­cus­sions that could only hap­pen over din­ner with guests. Should you have Net­flix, Ama­zon Prime or Fox­tel? I started off by say­ing that I’m in the for­tu­nate po­si­tion of need­ing all the ser­vices in the lab for test­ing, so at least I can com­pare.

Our guests piped up that they were think­ing of drop­ping Fox­tel. It wasn’t an is­sue of money; they just didn’t get enough use out of it. For my­self, I find I watch a lot of stuff on Fox­tel, es­pe­cially se­ries and boxsets. Net­flix comes in a close sec­ond, and Ama­zon Prime is down in third – mostly there for the lat­est child­ish an­tics of the ex-Top Gear crew.

But it did raise an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. All of these ser­vices can be watched on your mo­bile phone or tablet, so they can travel with you. They all of­fer a huge range of ma­te­rial, more than you could ever get through in a life­time, or so it feels. Then price kicks in. Net­flix is just $9.99 per month for a pre­mium ac­count. A de­cent Fox­tel pack­age can run to far more than that, and the value ques­tion has to en­gage at some point. Ama­zon Prime as part of the an­nual Ama­zon pack­age isn’t ex­pen­sive, and I’m left won­der­ing if I too, like my friends, could man­age with­out Fox­tel. ◆

Here’s the mes­sage I faced when I checked the Up­dates on my Sur­face Book. Not help­ful

JON HONEYBALL is the MD of an IT con­sul­tancy that spe­cialises in test­ing and de­ploy­ing hard­ware

A Faber-Castell side rule takes me back to my youth

Fi­nally, Chord has shipped its iOS app. It’s quirky, mind

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