SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Microsoft Ends Windows 7 Retail Sales

Microsoft has announced that, as of the end of October, it has ended distribution of all retail copies of Windows 7. In addition, sales of PCs with Windows 7 on them will end on an undetermined date. Mainstream support, or updates, fixes, and technical assistance, to the original version of Windows 7, is expected to end on January 13, 2015 and extended support (for the latest service pack release of Win7) will end on January 14, 2020.

A Microsoft spokesperson told TheNextWeb.com, “We have yet to determine the end of sales date for PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled.”

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Microsoft Announces Renewed Effort to Protect Customer Data

Microsoft, recoiling from recent revelations about government tracking of user data, made an announcement on Wednesday of its plans to more closely guard its users from snooping eyes.

“Like many others, we are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures – and in our view, legal processes and protections – in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data,” posted Brad Smith, who is General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs for Microsoft.

He went on to add that the confidence of users’ private information and communications has been undermined to such a degree that Microsoft felt it must act to restore that confidence. The user data referred to here is personal information about the user and their activities, including address books, emails, video chats and more.

Encryption, Transparency, and the Law

Most of the action to be taken can be implemented immediately. In the post, Smith elaborates that Microsoft plans to expand encryption, reinforce legal protections of customer data, and enhance the transparency of the software code.

Microsoft already encrypts much of the information that passes through services such as Outlook.com, Office 365, Windows Azure, and SkyDrive. However, there will be an effort to strengthen the existing encryption across all of the services. With regard to reinforcing legal protection, Microsoft plans to notify a user if a legal order related to their data is received, and if a gag order is in place, to challenge it legally. For increased transparency, the plan is to take "additional steps to increase transparency by building on our long-standing program that provides government customers with an appropriate ability to review our source code, reassure themselves of its integrity, and confirm there are no back doors."

Smith concluded, “We all want to live in a world that is safe and secure, but we also want to live in a country that is protected by the Constitution. We want to ensure that important questions about government access are decided by courts rather than dictated by technological might. And we’re focused on applying new safeguards worldwide, recognizing the global nature of these issues and challenges. We believe these new steps strike the right balance, advancing for all of us both the security we need and the privacy we deserve.”

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Watching The Next Generation Utilizing Today's Technologies: Part II

Read Part I of this article here

Least We Be Gods

As we watch little Johnnie and Suzie divine from the devices at hand whatever they are attempting to accomplish at the moment, we must realize that the majority of their actions are centered around navigation with the occasional "action" of Play or Attach or Send and so on. But I only mean to diminish such accomplishments in this light. If a caveman were to observe a human from our time utilizing a doorknob, such an activity would seem quite amazing. And let's now even dive into the shock of automatic doors jumping out of the way as one of us enters a supermarket! Certainly, to the eyes of our caveman, the human with the ability to manipulate a doorknob or command vast doors out of one's way would certainly be a god! But just out of view sits another observer. The builder that carved and hung the door, applied the hinges, and installed the doorknob. Perhaps the observer is the one that designed the technology that controls the sliding and timing of the supermarket doors. No matter how much in command today's human may seem to the caveman, the person that had a hand in the design and implementation has a real understanding of what is going on.

The door and doorknob represent a user interface. The same goes for the electronic eye and motors controlling the supermarket door. Even websites, databases, and complete applications for our phones and tablets (apps) are being "built" through the means of User Interfaces - UIs for short. And there is the real problem. UI on top of UI on top of UI. Before long, all originality is forgotten and new concepts for development become nothing more than a dream. The real control of all of these devices - from our personal computers to the extremely powerful phones in the palm of our hands - still resides at the level of understand - and writing - source code.

I watched a kid on YouTube dragging an image into place and selecting a background for the box the image was placed in. The teacher had the audacity to suggest that her class was Advanced Computer Skills with Web Design as part of the final stage of learning. They were all using a particular brand of user interface knows as WYSIWYG (wiz-see-wig - What You See Is What you Get). All of that is fine and dandy, but it was quite apparent that not a one of them - least of which the teacher - could have bolded, underlined, or italicized a word in HTML to save their lives! Perhaps the saddest part is that the age range for this class was 12 to 14 years old.

What REALLY Drew That Box?

Looking back at what those of us that started out in "the days of DOS" went through and the struggles of learning one language, only to move on to the next and the next, I can only see it for what it truly was - a rite of passage. Our accomplishments were a direct result of commitment and a genuine desire to learn more. For most of us, it was the first time in our respective lives that we could truly control something - even if in the beginning it were only characters on a monochrome screen. Fortunately for us, those characters, and how they were arranged, would become important to businesses in almost every market one could imagine.

So, given such a history, I am forced to ask the question, "What is it that little Johnnie and Suzie are doing?" Furthermore, what command and control do they really have of the devices we now decorate our lives with? Where is the commitment past the built in limitations of the user interfaces? Where is the genuine desire to learn more?

I know this seems like a nasty thought, but if you really want to help a kid into a far brighter future than that of a cubicle or over glorified tele-commuter, the next phone or tablet you get for them - brick it first! And if little Johnnie or Suzie has the where-with-all to get it back to working order - perhaps even better than it did the day it was purchased - then they will be on the path to truly deserving all the praise their well-meaning ancestors can toss their way!

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Community Corner: Marc Harrison Wins Lilly K. Gottlieb Award

MarcHarrisonWe recently received news that long-time SMB Nation Community member, Marc Harrison, has been awarded the Lilly K. Gottlieb Award by the Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey. Marc was granted this particular award for his ongoing role of the organization’s technology makeover, as well as his general support for the JFS.

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Watching The Next Generation Utilizing Today's Technologies: Part I

I should start out by establishing from where my point of view is derived. Some of you will get this - perhaps with a twinkle in your eye - while those that have no reference for life without Windows, the Internet, an email address, Twitter and Facebook might question the validity of my concerns.

It is said that Isaac Asimov stated that it is far better to teach children how to use calculators vs making them struggle through the rules of working out mathematics on paper. As argument I have put forth on more than one occasion. However, having had the chance to observe 3 nephews and 1 niece as they have utilized various types of handheld technology over the past 10 years, I find I have less appreciation for Isaac's assertion than I initially embraced.

By 1986 I was well on my way from the blinking cursor of the Commodore 64 to the world of what would eventually be known as the XT, then the AT (an XT with a hard drive - life changed when you no longer had to boot from a floppy!), and then from the 8088 to an entirely new plane of existence - the 80286 with the '386 right on its technological heals. All throughout this time of rapid growth one thing remain a constant : DOS! MS-DOS to be specific.

Sure, DOS had new versions, but regardless of what new stuff Microsoft may have included, there were things we could depend on. If we were fortunate to have our computer boot properly, we could expect Microsoft's copyright(s) at the top of the screen, and a few lines down our old blinking friend would stand at the ready. Those of us that were crafty enough to have mastered the autoexec.bat file might include a few commands such as setting the path, navigating to whatever initial directory we wanted to start off in ("folder" for you newbies) and perhaps even clear the screen just because we could.

For most, having to deal with DOS and its persistent blinking cursor was painful. There were some of us, though, that gave ourselves over to discovering what other commands we might play with beyond simple navigation. Before long, and sometimes by accident, we even got good at it. With enough repetition, initiating commands at the "DOS Prompt" would become second nature. Others watching over our shoulders felt a sense of loss and confusion as it became apparent that they were only able to watch this brave new world from the outside looking in.

As the years passed, DOS would no longer offer the satisfaction it once did. Sure, there were always those obscure commands tucked away to play with, but when all was said and done, more times than not we were dealing with navigation and occasionally setting permissions. Then, in the voice of Kevin Flynn as he declared to his son, "Then one day… I got in!", we started to explore this new thing called languages!

Beyond The BASICs

Of course, there was BASIC. Even with that, life changed the first time we entered in…

10 print "This is a test."

20 goto 10

We would discover that there were a number of languages that others before us had used to program these unimaginable things known as "main frames". For us just getting past DOS, though, names such as Pascal, C (then Turbo Pascal and C+) presented new worlds to brave. Shortly thereafter came the concept of keeping one's own database as introduced to us through dBase with my personal favorite, dBase III+ !

Before long, with these growing sets of skills, opportunities began to present themselves. When hearing of a problem some company was having with managing some type of data, we started to realize that we could actually provide a solution. About that time, it started to become quite evident that the individuals that were in need of a problem being solved WERE NOT going to learn how to make the computers that were becoming commonplace do what they need them to do. It was then that the "user interface" was born. A mask, of sorts. Something that offered the intended user clear and concise options while simultaneously protecting them from those cryptic symbols of what must certainly be voodoo and black magic! And it was there that the line of separation became clearly visible : those that explored what would become known as "source code", and those that did not.

Navigating The Digital Frontier

And now, here we are finally at my very real concern. By now we have all heard stories of how gifted someone's kids or grandchildren are with the technology that has become common place. Examples freely flow of the how "little Johnnie found my music files" or "little Suzie located the pictures I thought I had lost". From the 30,000 foot view, I am sure it looks absolutely amazing. Beyond doubt, such capabilities can be quite useful. And, when you think about it, even getting really good at saving the universe by way of whatever game is popular at the moment does seems to support various levels of hand/eye coordination development. But, at best, these seemingly awesome activities are nothing more than standing on the shoulders of giants. Saving grandma's files is usually nothing more than exercising a learned expectation of navigation.

I confess, I had no hand in writing DOS or dBase III+. Certainly, I could never have developed an "interpreter", much less, a "compiler". And I have yet to imagine all the magic behind the curtain of the list of programs I use from audio recording to graphical development. In that sense, I, too, am standing on the shoulders of giants. But, there is a vast difference between the levels of technology that we chose to interface with in the beginning of this "personal computer" stuff and the wide array of technologies that are now extensions of our self-identification.

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