Posts Tagged ‘Windows 10’

Goodbye Windows 7

16 January 2020

Two days ago Microsoft officially ended its free support for Windows 7.

This means that computers connected directly to the internet may become vulnerable to criminal attempts to cripple or steal them.

Because of this, I have switched to Windows 10 on the computer I use the most. It is not the only solution, but I want to play it safe on my most important machine.

Windows 7

Windows 7 was an operating system that remained popular from the day it was introduced in 2009. It operated in a similar way to earlier versions, but was a complete overhaul of the system, and was presented in a very aesthetic and appealing way.

The story of Windows 7 started much earlier, however. Initially, Windows was developed as a graphical “shell” operating over MS-DOS, an operating system that dates back more or less to the start of personal computing. Personal computers were designed as stand-alone machines for home use. But they became so popular so fast that they became widely used in the business world.

The problem with that was that the business world was a networked world, where users had to share work and files with co-workers at the company, even sometimes in other buildings or distant locations. This had been accomplished, usually, with large “mainframe” machines running a business-strength operating system such as Unix. Unix had user accounts, login screens, passwords, multi-tasking capabilities and similar features that were needed in the business world. DOS couldn’t do these things, but as DOS machines grew in popularity, add-ons were created that allowed DOS machines to be used in a business environment.

Operating systems started going graphical in the 1980s. These were big hits with consumers and businesses. Apple also had a graphical operating system, but by creating a system that would run on less expensive generic hardware (the “IBM PC”) Microsoft won a huge share of the graphical OS market.

By the year 2000, DOS-based computing had reached as far as it needed to go. The basic concepts and features of Unix-like operating systems were reworked into products that would run on personal computers instead of mainframes. This was partially due to the pressure from Linux, an Open Source and freely distributed version of Unix that was designed to work on IBM PCs. Microsoft started with Windows NT (marketed as “New Technology” but originally named after a variety of other obscure technical developments) which became the lineage that Windows 7 is a part of. This lineage also includes, famously, Windows XP.

The Windows 7 family of operating systems kept the basic concept of “windows” developed so many years ago and added features that made the operating system a solid choice for business applications, particularly office work. The huge popularity of PCs with consumers has now died out, though many still see a notebook computer as essential. The average smart phone has much more computing power today than the PC of the mid-1990s had. This was mostly a matter of improvements in electronics technology. But for serious home users and in business, Windows 7 became immensely popular. At this late date, it is estimated that almost half of all computers in use worldwide still have Windows 7 on them. Over the course of its existence, Microsoft sold more than half a billion Windows 7 licenses.

Upgrading to Windows 10

On my machine, the upgrade to the newer Windows was very smooth. It took some time, but ran without incident, in the characteristically Microsoft style of using progress windows that tell you as little as possible about what is actually going on, using phrases such as “this may take a while.” My computer is not that old. It has two processor cores. It has USB 3.0. It has the newer UEFI form of BIOS. This latter point, in particular, I am sure helped with the upgrade.

UEFI

The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface allows for more modern electronics to be used on the computer’s main board (motherboard) and can even make the computer hardware appear like “smart” hardware on a network or similar communications system, allowing for certain kinds of remote access. Though to me this would seem to increase security risks, the industry seems to think it’s important.

When Microsoft mentions “modern” hardware, this is mostly what they are talking about. The older operating systems, as far as I know, cannot connect properly to the UEFI. So they found a way to essentially force everyone to upgrade their operating systems if they want to use modern hardware.

Alternatives to Windows

I have a version of Linux running on a small notebook that originally was running Windows 10. Certain features of Linux help it run better on machines with lower-end processors.

Beyond that, Microsoft and the Open Source community operate on significantly different philosophies of life. The Free Software movement takes this even a step further. But the basic difference is that companies like Microsoft have relatively restrictive licenses for their software products, keep most of their code a secret, and think of their end-users as “dumb” when it comes to computer systems. Open Source software on the other hand offers more lenient licenses (in some ways), requires that all source code be non-secret, and tends to think of end-users as “smart.” On top of that, the Free Software movement adds the assumption that if the source code is secret, then software companies can, and will, have things to hide about their software. The freedom of the computer user is compromised and bad control, including unwanted surveillance, can be foisted on users if they wish to use such “closed source” systems.

Though many of us see the dangers that a computer-dependent society could bring, the short-term benefits of using non-free software seem to be worth the risks. Global sanity, not revolution, is the answer to the constant problem of freedom on this planet.

Linux is not a bad alternative to Windows, though, and the newest versions from the big distributors like Ubuntu have UEFI compatibility. I ruled it out for my main machine because I had so many Windows applications I wanted to keep. But I would consider it for a new machine, or a portable. The best versions now operate very similar to Windows.

Companies with large numbers of Windows 7 machines can keep them protected if they put a good “firewall” or “proxy server” in between their internal computer network and the internet. The internet has become an extremely lawless place; internal company networks are usually much less so. I’m sure there are companies that will operate this way until their Windows 7 machines actually stop working and require replacement.

Installing Linux on an HP Stream 11

25 April 2018

linux mint desktop

The Stream series of portable computers from Hewlett-Packard (HP) are low-cost and rather bare bones devices for connecting to the internet.

I have a Stream 7 which is a tablet and runs Windows 8 (the first version of Windows that introduced various features to desktops that formerly were only used on portable devices like smartphones). And I have a Stream 11 which is a small notebook that has just a little more disk space than it needs to run its OS (operating system) which was Windows 10.

One day while sitting somewhere (probably my church’s café), I got a message that the computer needed to install a security update, but did not have enough disk space to do so. I was not able to reduce the unused space on the disk to the point where the update could be done. What could I do about this?

One alternative would have been to get a bigger disk. I could do this by purchasing a little gizmo called a “Micro SD” card. These are basically thumb drives in a special package designed to be installed more or less permanently in a host device, like a digital camera. They aren’t very expensive; it was an option.

But, I don’t like Microsoft products (like Windows) that much, and am always trying to find excuses to replace them with something else. The “ultimate” anti-Microsoft operating system is Richard Stallman’s GNU/Linux. Loaded onto “free” hardware (no proprietary firmware or hardware-related software – drivers) it creates a totally free computer system. I usually settle for a compromise. The HP hardware is no way totally “free” and I believe there is some proprietary software associated with reading some media files I use that are very popular. So I decided to try Linux Mint. Mint is a Linux distro that is meant to look and behave almost exactly like Windows. The rationale is that if Linux can attract Windows users, they might never go back to Windows. A full install of Mint would require maybe 10GB of disk space, whereas Windows 10 was taking around 20GB.

The UEFI

The Stream 11, like most recent computers, uses the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on its motherboard, instead of a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). The UEFI is implemented with much more modern hardware, and supports stricter security protections. In fact, a manufacturer can use UEFI settings – if it wants to – to limit its motherboard to just one type of operating system.

Thus, updating recent hardware from Windows to Linux can be chancy. Will it work?

Getting a Linux disk

These days the standard way to obtain a Linux install disk is to download the disk “image” (a huge file showing exactly what the final disk should look like) and then burning it to a DVD-ROM on your own DVD drive. The HP Stream has no optical drives. So I had to obtain the image (.ISO) file then burn it to disk on a computer that does have an optical drive. Then I had to get out my portable DVD ROM reader, put the DVD in there, and connect it to the HP Stream. And then I had to get the HP Stream to boot from the attached drive instead of the installed boot partition. This is done by pressing the ESCAPE key when powering up the Stream and selecting the appropriate items from the text-based menu that appears.

escape key

Install

Like most recent versions of Linux, Mint detected the presence of the UEFI and presented me with a variety of special options to deal with it. I needed to install proprietary hardware drivers, and this can be a potential problem for the UEFI (per on-screen instructions) but did not seem to be a problem in this case.

Then I had to decide whether Windows would co-exist with Linux or be totally replaced. In this case, I wanted total replacement. The installer reported to me what disk partitions it was going to create over the old ones and then started the process. The whole thing went rather smoothly.

On reboot, I feared the worst, as the UEFI presented a screen telling me it could not find the operating system (Windows).

But all I had to do was press ESCAPE again, and there after F9…

startup menu

…were a list of boot options that included the new Linux.

UEFI boot options

So: The installer was unable to erase the fact that Windows was the expected default OS on this machine. But it was able to tell the UEFI that a new OS had been installed. Like most Linux distributions, software called “grub” is used as the boot manager. Here is the options screen it displays:

Linux Mint

linux mint password screen

Linux Mint is a very nice OS. It is based on the very popular Ubuntu, but has a special desktop environment that makes it look almost the same as Windows 7. It has an Update Manager just like Windows, and also a software installer called Software Manager. My browser needed immediate updating in order to run videos properly, and now everything runs smoothly. As I only use the Stream to watch the Scientology TV channel and download files occasionally, the OS will never get a full test on this machine. But at least the bulk of Windows 10 and the programs that came with it is gone.