Archive for December, 2015:

W10Privacy is a smarter Windows 10 telemetry blocker

If you’ve tried more than your share of Windows 10 telemetry blockers recently, then we know just how you feel, but wait — W10Privacy is more interesting than most. No, really.

There’s a lengthy list of tweaks you can apply, for instance — approaching 100 — all neatly organized across several tabs: Privacy, Telemetry, Network, Services and more.

While the competition often leaves you uncertain what a particular option will do, W10Privacy has some very clear descriptions : “Do not let apps use my camera”, “Do not let apps access my name, picture and other account into”, and so on.

If that’s not enough, hovering the mouse over that action displays a tooltip with more information.

W10Privacy gives you quite fine control over some areas. There’s not just a vague “block telemetry” option: instead you can choose to “block IP addresses of known Microsoft telemetry servers” through either a firewall rule or your HOSTS file, in both full-strength and lightweight versions.

Each action is color-coded, too, as either green (safe to set), amber (check carefully) or red (don’t do this unless you’re really sure), reducing the chance that you’ll cause some major problems.

There are some useful bonus features, too, including the ability to uninstall most of the standard Windows apps.

The program does have various issues. There’s no way to disable/ enable a group of settings at once; there’s no “Cancel” option if you hit “Set changed settings” by mistake; the interface and general implementation need a lot of work.

Still, there’s nothing here that can’t be fixed, and W10Privacy’s explanations of what each tweak does are well worth having. It’s also small, portable and entirely free, so if you’re interested, just grab a copy and give it a try.

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Tech’s greatest wins and most epic comebacks of 2015

Drawing the battle lines
While 2014’s greatest tech achievements were largely about steady iteration to existing products, this year’s highlights bring a greater sense of urgency. It seems every company in tech has suddenly awoken to the rapid expansion the next few years will bring, and is now trying to mark as much territory as possible. Here are the best, most successful examples of how that shook out in 2015.

Microsoft’s Surface Book nails the high-end laptop
PC makers were understandably miffed when Microsoft announced the Surface Book. While the company’s previous Surfaces were aimed more at the tablet market, the Surface Book was a direct assault on the laptop establishment, with a proper keyboard base, optional discrete graphics, and a detachable tablet display. Although Microsoft’s hardware has suffered some problems out of the gate, in the long run it’s likely to snap the PC makers out of their daze and compel them to try a little harder.

Net neutrality prevails at the FCC
Around the middle of last year, the Federal Communications Commission seemed to have little interest in ensuring a level playing field on the Internet. Rather than attempt tough regulations, the agency backed the idea of “fast lanes,” in which Internet companies could pay a toll to providers like Comcast for preferential treatment. Maybe it was the consumer outcry, but the FCC eventually reversed its stance, and in February decided that Internet providers should be treated like utilities, with no paid prioritization allowed. The classification is still subject to lawsuits and congressional attacks, but has already made an impact as ISPs avoid policies that would run afoul of the rules.

Nvidia stuffs a desktop GPU into a laptop
Gaming laptops have always been about compromise, but Nvidia is looking to change that with the GeForce GTX 980, the first laptop graphics card that truly mirrors the performance of its desktop counterpart. Of course, GTX 980 laptops are still going to be hulking, expensive monstrosities, but the achievement is still a major milestone for serious gaming on the go.

USB-C paves the way for hassle-free connections
For too long, the simple act of plugging a USB cable into a phone or PC was needlessly frustrating, as the connector had a near-magical tendency to face the wrong way on the first attempt. Relief is coming with USB-C, a fully-reversible cable that can also transfer more power—enough to charge a full-blown laptop—and drive external displays. Some laptops and phones started supporting the standard in 2015, paving the way for widespread adoption next year.

Cutting cable TV gets a lot easier
2015 was a huge year for cord-cutting, as the TV industry scrambled to make up for a declining cable subscriber base through online video. Premium networks HBO and Showtime both launched standalone streaming services, Dish Network launched the first “skinny bundle” of streaming cable channels with Sling TV, and Hulu finally launched an ad-free version. Streaming hardware also got a competitive boost with new devices from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Google. Ditching cable TV still isn’t for everyone, but it’s becoming less of a challenge as the bloated bundle crumbles.

Apple establishes the smartwatch market
Officially, Apple doesn’t disclose sales figures for the Apple Watch, but a recent third-party estimate put sales at 7 million after six months, while traditional watches have seen their biggest year-over-year drop since 2008. The Apple Watch is far from perfect, and remains a barely detectable blip in Apple’s earnings, but it’s already managed to get on consumers’ radars in a way that

Fitbit doesn’t sweat the smartwatch threat
Before the Apple Watch actually launched, pundits predicted that it would wipe out the dedicated fitness tracker market. But Fitbit is doing better than ever, with 4.8 million sales last quarter, and 168 percent year-over-year revenue growth. Although smartwatches could still prevail in the long run, plenty of people see more value in a cheaper device that’s laser-focused on personal health.

Facebook rules the planet
Three years after Facebook logged 1 billion active monthly users, the social network behemoth set another record with 1 billion logins in a day, and 1.5 billion monthly active users. One out of every seven people on earth sign in every day, and that doesn’t even count Facebook-owned services like Instagram and Whatsapp. People have been insisting that Facebook has lost its cool for years now, but the numbers show that users are more hooked than ever.

The mid-range phone gets great
Now’s a fine time to buy a phone if you don’t want to spend upwards of $650 off-contract.

Between the Nexus 5X ($379), Nexus 6P ($499), OnePlus 2 ($389), Moto X Pure Edition ($400, pictured), and Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 ($250), buyers have more options than ever for solid, unlocked Android phones. And now that U.S. carriers offer cheaper service with unsubsidized handsets, buying one of these phones actually makes sense.

Driverless cars get real
While Google’s self-driving cars get all the attention—and hit a milestone with the first custom prototypes hitting public roads this year—the launch of Tesla’s Autopilot feature (pictured) was just as significant. The feature allows Model X SUVs and newer Model S sedans to steer, brake, and accelerate by themselves on highways, alerting drivers only when human intervention becomes necessary.

We’re still a long way from fully autonomous cars—even Autopilot suggests eyes on the road—but 2015 brought some major steps forward.

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Dispelling the myths of hybrid hosting

Hybrid hosting lets you run your database on dedicated servers, put your front-end in the cloud, and tie everything together with a single click

When the Amazon Web Services platform failed recently some of the internet’s biggest sites — including Netflix and Tinder – suffered extended outages. The culprit? AWS’s NoSQL database DynamoDB, where increased error rates led to increased errors and latency in more than 20 AWS services.

These and other sites wouldn’t have had a problem if they used hybrid hosting, the best way to architect modern apps. Hybrid hosting lets businesses set up their databases on dedicated servers, put their front-end Web apps in the cloud, then tie everything together with a single click.

While many companies recognize that hybrid hosting and the hybrid cloud are “the next big thing” in hosting, some are intimidated by what they don’t know. Because hybrid cloud adoption is still nascent, there remains a lot of confusion about the technology. It’s time to debunk some myths.

Myth: Hybrid cloud is only used for cloud bursting.
When an application running in a private cloud gets a sudden demand for computing capacity, it can “burst” to a public cloud to handle that spike. This cannot be a reactive measure, though, and it is difficult to run applications on traditional, dedicated servers and then swap that same workload to the cloud at will. For cloud bursting to work properly, applications must be designed from the ground up with that in mind; the vast majority of applications are not built this way. It takes special skill and intent to build applications that know how to burst to the cloud.

Hosting on a hybrid infrastructure does not magically make an application cloud burst; the application must be designed for that. Furthermore, the hybrid cloud must allow for the cloud burst at the networking level, which requires integration of hybrid at the networking level. It is unreasonable to expect legacy applications running on traditional dedicated servers to just swap their workloads to the cloud on demand.

Hybrid cloud cannot, in fact, be used for cloud bursting unless the application was designed for that. Combining an adequately designed application with a hybrid cloud infrastructure, however, would enable an organization to build up an auto-scaling and burst-capable application on hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Myth: Hybrid cloud is complicated to implement.
This is only true if hybrid cloud is done in a non-automated, non-productized manner. If an organization attempts to build its own configuration, things can get complicated quickly and it can take weeks to implement. However, when hybrid cloud technology is implemented through an automated platform, it can be done in less than a few hours, if not minutes.

Ideally, a hosted hybrid cloud solution should be designed with drag-and-drop functionality in mind for every component. This method allows you to configure your infrastructure the way you want, while keeping the network automation in the background. A drag-and-drop interface makes implementing the hybrid cloud a breeze.

Myth: Hybrid cloud is more expensive.
Hybrid cloud can be less expensive than a purely dedicated or purely cloud configuration with the proper setup – namely, if cloud servers are leveraged for variable workloads and dedicated servers are leveraged for fixed workloads. There is a possibility for hybrid cloud to run up the costs, but that’s only if bridging devices are used. Done correctly (and without these devices), a business can cut its costs with a hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Take a florist business. Florists are dramatically busier on days like Valentine’s Day than the rest of the year. If a florist pays for dedicated hosting based on those sporadic days they’re paying too much. Cloud, too, can be expensive. Most days of the year the florist sees pretty static load and demand. With hybrid hosting, the florist can run day-to-day business on dedicated servers, add cloud instances for the Valentine’s Day peak, then return to dedicated servers on February 15. This is the most cost-effective way to go.

Costs can run up when businesses pay premiums for resources that should be fixed commodities like bandwidth or storage. A proper strategy utilizes each element of a hybrid cloud set-up to gain operational and cost advantages.

Myth: Hybrid cloud is only for enterprises.
Organizations of all sizes can reap the benefits of hybrid cloud – start-ups and SMBs are even more primed that enterprises to benefit from the hybrid cloud.

Enterprises have the most legacy apps that require a dedicated infrastructure and can gain a lot from the hybrid cloud by integrating existing environments with new ones. However, changing applications, migrations, and IT approvals can take a long time. Start-ups with fixed workloads (like databases) and variable workloads benefit from the hybrid cloud, too. In fact, we’re seeing more adoption of hybrid among startups and SMBs than enterprises due to the agility of decision making in smaller organizations.

Because on-demand hybrid hosting is easy to set up and requires minimal configuration, it is ideal for businesses that have small IT teams (especially for IT “teams” that are just a single person). Hybrid hosting also offers reliability, giving these start-ups and SMBs an edge over their larger, more slower moving competitors.

Myth: Hybrid is good for data redundancy.
“Traditional” hybrid cloud is NOT good for data redundancy. Consider an organization that stores critical data on its local dedicated server environment. This company runs a redundant system on a public cloud for live failover or immediate data recovery. In the traditional hybrid cloud model, this organization is reliant upon a single physical network device to bridge the cloud and dedicated infrastructures. The purpose of redundancy is to eliminate points of failure, not add potential network failure scenarios. A traditional hybrid architecture with a “connect” device is a single point of failure.

On-demand hybrid hosting, which is architected at the layer 2 network level to send data through an automated deep layer of networking, is redundant and ensures the FASTEST data transport path from point to point.

In conclusion, it is clear that the hybrid cloud is the future and will dominate IT for the next decade. The beauty of enabling the on-demand hybrid cloud infrastructure is it’s customizable to the unique needs and usages, while optimizing costs. Hybrid is the antithesis to the “one size fits all” approach that companies have had to deal with for years. Figure out what your ideal infrastructural environment is, then make it happen with the hybrid cloud.


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Cybersecurity 101: Protect your home or personal network

Intrusion detection systems. Network firewalls. Behavioral analysis. Encryption. The toolkit of the modern information security professional is full of complex, advanced technical controls designed to protect enterprise networks against increasingly sophisticated attacks. How should home users protect themselves — without investing thousands of dollars in specialized security equipment — against cybercriminals who want to steal sensitive personal information?

Fortunately, there are simple and inexpensive steps that every home user can take to build a robust, layered defense that will protect them against most of the malicious threats that jeopardize the security of their systems and personal information. Let’s take a look at five simple ways that you can keep your network secure without breaking the bank. Think of these recommendations as being a Cybersecurity 101 course for the average home computer user.

Use a Firewall
Businesses spend thousands of dollars on sophisticated firewalls designed to keep malicious threats out of their protected networks. Firewalls sit at the border between a private network and the Internet, enforcing rules that regulate the traffic allowed to cross that border. Enterprise-grade firewalls are expensive and require extensive configuration to precisely define the types of traffic that should be allowed to enter the network unsolicited. For example, a business firewall would typically allow connections from the Internet to the company’s web server.

Fortunately, home users don’t need a sophisticated firewall because they don’t have sophisticated networking needs. Unless you’re running public web servers in your home, your firewall policy should be very simple: Don’t allow any unsolicited connections to your network. You probably already have a firewall built-in to the Internet router provided by your service provider. Even better, it’s probably already configured to enforce this simple “deny everything” firewall policy.

Take the time to understand what type of router is sitting at the border of your home network. Find the instruction manual for that model router and use it to verify that the firewall function is enabled and blocking all unsolicited connection requests. This will go a long way toward keeping the bad guys out of your network.

Install and Update Antivirus Software
Antivirus software is still one of the tried-and-true ways to protect your network against malicious threats. Signature-based software runs on your systems, scanning them constantly for any signs of malicious software. When antivirus software detects a threat, it acts to immediately neutralize it by removing the software entirely or, if that’s not possible, quarantining it in a safe location until you can take further action to clean your system.

You can’t just simply install antivirus software and walk away, however. The manufacturers of antivirus software release new updates on a daily basis to combat recently discovered strains of malicious software. If you haven’t updated your software in a few years, it’s next to useless as a defense against modern threats. Take a few minutes to verify that all of the systems on your network have current antivirus software and that they’re configured to receive daily signature updates from the vendor.

Keep Computers Patched
Whether you’re running Windows or Macintosh systems, you need to apply security updates on a regular basis to keep your systems secure. Microsoft and Apple release patches whenever they become aware of a security vulnerability in their operating systems. If you don’t apply those patches, attackers will likely discover your vulnerability and exploit it to gain access to your network and data.

Fortunately, it’s easy to keep your computers patched. Both Mac OS X and Windows provide automatic updating mechanisms that check every day for new security patches and automatically apply them to your systems. You just need to ensure that this functionality is turned on and your computer will take care of all of the work.

Encrypt Wireless Networks

Your wireless network is the easiest path for an attacker to gain access to the systems in your home. You should use strong WPA2 encryption to protect your network and configure it with a strong password known only to authorized network users. If you have no encryption, or use the outdated WEP encryption standard, it’s equivalent to leaving your front door unlocked and open, waiting for intruders to wander by and steal your belongings.

Configuring wireless encryption is usually very easy. Check the manual for your wireless access point. You’ll probably just need to select WPA2 encryption from a drop-down menu and then enter a strong passphrase used to access the network. Once it’s up and running, reconfigure all of your devices to use the new encrypted network and the contents of your communications will be safe from prying eyes.

Encrypt Sensitive Files
You don’t have to be a genius to protect your home network.One oft-forgotten risk is the physical theft of computing devices. If an intruder steals a computer out of your home or a thief grabs your bag on the subway, you may lose physical possession of the computer. It’s one thing to lose a couple thousand dollars because of the device theft, but it’s far worse to lose your tax returns, credit card statements and other sensitive information that might be stored on the device.

You can protect yourself against the loss of sensitive information by encrypting the contents of your computer. Even if the computer falls into the wrong hands, the thief won’t be able to access your encrypted personal information without knowing your password. Both Windows and Mac systems offer free built-in encryption technology that you can easily enable. FileVault on Macs and BitLocker on Windows provide an easy way to protect the contents of your hard drive from prying eyes. Just make sure that you know your own password so that you don’t lock yourself out from access to your personal files!


Securing a home network is far simpler than securing the complex corporate networks that offer public services, but it still requires effort. Take the time to assess your network by verifying that your firewall is active, installing antivirus software, applying security patches, using WPA2 on your wireless network and encrypting your sensitive files. The few hours you might spend securing your network today may prove themselves worth the effort when they successfully protect you from hackers down the road!

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70-697 Practice Test – Windows 10 Devices in 2016

Welcome to the free practice test for 70-697 – Configuring Windows Devices. This simulated multiple-choice test was handwritten for the benefit of other IT professionals including engineers, helpdesk and managers. It contains 15 random questions selected from a wide range of Windows 10 topics – all relevant to the 70-697 subject material.

The questions will help to compliment your study material, providing the opportunity to test what you’ve learnt and improve your chance of passing the exam first time. Remember, if you enjoy the questions and answers then please share this page with friends and work colleagues.

The 70-697 Specialist exam was introduced in 2015 for the Windows 10 MCSE certification path. Unlike exams from the Windows 8 series which tended to focus on a core principle the 70-697 exam covers a wider range of topics.

Candidates should bear this in mind when studying for the exam as it will test your experience across a wider spectrum of subjects including cloud based Intune management, virtualization and apps.

Topics you need to know
The exam is an even split between each of the following high level topics:
Windows Store and cloud apps
Desktop and device deployment
Intune device management
Data access and protection
Remote access
Updates and Recovery

● Exam 70-697 Configuring Windows Devices is near completion, and should soon be available. Passing this exam will confer a Microsoft Specialist certification, and it serves as the “recommended prerequisite” for the MCSE: Enterprise Devices and Apps certification (in lieu of exams 70-687 Configuring Windows 8.1 and 70-688 Supporting Windows 8.1). – See more at:

You should be comfortable answering questions around the Windows Store and cloud apps, with an understanding of Microsoft Office 365 and the inner workings of Intune for sideloading apps to devices.

Several authentication mechanisms are available in Windows 10; certificates, Microsoft Passport, virtual smartcards, picture password, biometrics etc. You should be comfortable answering questions for each of these authentication types and any corresponding authorisation processes.

Many of the classic Windows configuration questions reappear, such as profiles and roaming with a focus on virtualization (Hyper-V) and mobile options such as Windows To Go and Wi-Fi Direct.

Networking and storage have their own subject areas which focus on classic networking principles such as name resolution and network adapters. On the storage side expect BitLocker to make an appearance in addition to classic questions on NTFS and data recovery.

Buzz Topics
Intune – provides mobile device management, mobile application management, and PC management capabilities from the cloud.
Hyper-V – software infrastructure and basic management tools that you can use to create and manage a virtualized computing environment.
BitLocker – a full disk encryption feature designed to protect data by providing encryption for entire volumes.
Windows To Go – boot and run from USB mass storage devices such as USB flash drives and external hard disk drives

Azure RemoteApp – brings the functionality of the on-premises Microsoft RemoteApp program, backed by Remote Desktop Services, to Azure. Azure RemoteApp helps you provide secure, remote access to applications from many different user devices.

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Are people abandoning Windows 10?

Despite a growing installed base, its use is growing marginally.

The Windows 10 installed base continues to grow at a fast rate, but its actual usage is lagging far behind. That’s the takeaway from the latest numbers by Net Applications.

Through its analytics, Net Applications puts Windows 10 usage at around 9% of all PCs, which translates to 148 million PCs. Microsoft hasn’t released any new numbers in a while. The last official figure was 110 million around October.

Net Applications acquires its usage data from a network of some 40,000 sensors embedded in websites around the world. It captures data from 160 million unique visitors each month, giving a global usage market share, but not necessarily an installed base market share.

Windows 7 remains the favorite OS, with 56.1%, followed by Windows 8.1 at 11.1% and Windows XP at 10.6%. A deeper look at the Net Apps numbers, though, shows Windows 10’s momentum is slowing. It rocketed to 5.2% in the first month after release, then crawled to 6.6%, 8%, and 9% in the ensuing three months.
See also: Microsoft rolls out several software updates: What you need to know

Meanwhile, Windows 7 ends the year pretty much where it started, at 56% in both January 2015 and November 2015. Windows 8.1 actually rose a tiny bit, from 10% in January to 11.1% in November. Windows XP was the big loser, dropping from 19% at the start of 2015 to 10.6% by November.

So what do we make of all this? Well, the XP numbers tell me a lot of old machines were finally replaced with Windows 10, but the steadiness of Windows 7 and 8.1 means people aren’t upgrading all that much. Again, I’ll remind you that Net Applications measures use, not installations. I’ve downloaded Windows 10 twice, on my desktop and laptop, but promptly removed it from the desktop because, quite frankly, I hate it. It’s still on the laptop because I should have at least one Windows 10 system for testing reasons.

How many other people did as me: downloaded the free update and either hated it, had problems or compatibility issues, or were put off by the rampant spying and went back to Windows 7 or 8? We don’t have a good measure of Windows 10 installs that were reversed, and that number would be more telling than any other.

Now, there has been an interesting new analytics player in the form of the Digital Analytics Program (DAP), which monitors the operating systems of visitors to more than 4,000 websites on over 400 different domains maintained by U.S. government agencies. Its number showed Windows 10 usage in the U.S. was 24% higher than the rest of the world, but since it’s monitoring U.S. government websites, the numbers are going to skew to the U.S. anyway.

The same goes for Steam analytics, which gathers OS and other information from people using the Steam app. Steam has, for all intents and purposes, replaced GameStop and other retail outlets for selling PC games. A Best Buy employee even told me they dumped their PC games section because everyone uses Steam. So it’s a good measure of consumer use.

And, according to Steam, Windows 10 is up to a 28.8% installed base, while Windows 7 is down to 42%. Windows 8.1 is hovering at 16.5%, and XP is effectively dead at 2.1%.

It shows how hard it is to get an accurate picture of things. Although these numbers come out monthly, the next major stats will be in February. That’s when January analytics come out and we see how many new Windows 10 PCs were delivered under Christmas trees.

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