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cybersecurity-computersThe National Security Agency – NSA has backdoor access via Microsoft Windows, to all Windows software since the release of Windows 95, according to informed sources, a development which follows the insistence by the agency and federal law enforcement for backdoor “keys” to any encryption, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

Having such “keys” is essential for the export of any encryption allowed under U.S. export control laws to foreign users.

The NSA plays a prominent role in deliberations over whether such products can be exported, and routinely turns down any requests above a certain megabyte level that exceeds NSA’s technical capacity to decrypt it. That’s been the standard for years for NSA, as well as the departments of Defense, Commerce and State.

Computer security specialists say that the Windows software driver used for security and encryption functions contains unusual features which give NSA that backdoor access.

These security specialists have identified the driver as ADVAPI.DLL. It enables and controls a variety of security functions. These specialists say that on Windows, it is located at C:\\Windows\system directory of anyone’s computer that uses Windows software.

Nicko van Someren says the driver contains two different keys. One was used by Microsoft to control cryptographic functions in Windows while another initially remained a mystery.

Then, two weeks ago, a U.S. security firm concluded that the second key belonged to NSA. Analysis of the driver revealed that one was labeled KEY while the other was labeled NSAKEY, according to sources. The NSA key apparently had been built into the software by Microsoft, which Microsoft sources don’t deny.

This has allowed restricted access to Microsoft’s source code software that allows for such programming.

Access to Windows source code is supposed to be highly compartmentalized, actually making such actions easier because many of the people working on the software wouldn’t see the access.

Such access to the encryption system of Windows can allow NSA to compromise a person’s entire operating system. The NSA keys are said to be contained inside all versions of Windows from Windows 95 OSR2 onwards.

Having such the secret key inside your Windows operating system makes it “tremendously easier for the NSA to load unauthorized security services on all copies of Microsoft Windows, and once these security services are loaded, they can effectively compromise your entire operating system,” according to Andrew Fernandez, chief scientist with Cryptonym Corporation of North Carolina.


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Microsoft and Windows 8 are squarely blamed in a new report from top research firm IDC for a startling plunge in PC sales last quarter.

The firm said global PC sales suffered one of their steepest drops in decades over the past three months, the first full quarter since Windows 8 went on sale last fall.

Declines were expected since PC sales have fallen during the past year, and the leading manufacturers are casting about for new strategies. But the severity of the drop was unexpected and Microsoft’s radically new operating system is the most obvious target for blame.

Yet it’s still too early to write the PC’s epitaph. It will take another year or so to see whether Windows 8 is accepted by business users, who drive most PC sales.

The quarterly statistics are also an imperfect gauge of the evolution of the PC beyond laptops and desktops into tablets and other new devices. Research firms have made this more confusing by issuing contradictory reports, using different definitions of what’s a PC.

Gartner, the other major research firm tracking PC sales, simultaneously issued a report saying PC sales fell 11.2 percent during the quarter. It said PC shipments fell below 80 million units for the first time since the second quarter of 2009, in the depth of the recession.

IDC said sales in the U.S. fell 12.7 percent from the same period last year and 18.3 percent from the previous quarter. Global sales were down 13.9 percent, almost double the 7.7 percent drop the firm had predicted.

IDC doesn’t count Windows 8 tablets or laptops with detachable keyboards in its PC count. Research vice president Bob O’Donnell said including them would change the numbers by less than 2 percent.

Gartner’s report said consumers are continuing to “migrate content consumption” from PCs to other devices, such as phones and tablets, leading to a full year of declines in PC shipments. Yet the firm saw growth in business sales of PCs, which account for more than half the market.

Generally, even with the sharply declining numbers, people are still buying a lot of PCs. Gartner said 79.2 million systems were sold last quarter, while IDC said 76.3 million units were sold.

IDC’s report came with an unusually sharp critique of Microsoft and its approach with Windows 8.

“At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market,” O’Donnell said in the IDC release.  “While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI [user interface], removal of the familiar Start button and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market.”

Asked for a response, Microsoft provided a statement saying that the PC market “is evolving and highly dynamic” and that today’s PCs “come in multiple forms” that “revolutionize the desktop PC.”

“Windows 8 sold over 60 million licenses in its first few months — a strong start by any measure,” it said. “Along with our partners we continue to bring even more innovation to market across tablets and PCs.”

HP remained the top PC maker, but Lenovo closed the gap by holding sales steady while HP’s sales fell nearly 24 percent, according to IDC.

Tablets such as Apple’s iPad were partly to blame. Even sales of Apple PCs suffered from competition with iPads, IDC said in its release. O’Donnell said the cycle will continue, as tablets are going to see sales siphoned off by mega-sized phones or phablets.

Still, IDC research found that most consumers aren’t buying tablets to replace PCs, but to supplement their computers. They’re still interested in PCs but the strikingly different tiled interface of Windows 8 and the higher price of touchscreen PCs showcasing the system are keeping them away, O’Donnell said in an interview.

“While people like the general look and feel of the tiles, they’re also very confused and frustrated by the lack of start menu and spend a lot of their time in [traditional] desktop mode,” he said. “So the bottom line is I think they have created a situation where it’s very difficult for people and people who have a PC that works just fine are saying it’s confusing, it costs more money and I don’t really need it.”

O’Donnell said Microsoft isn’t entirely to blame. The economy still isn’t great, sales in China were particularly weak and reorganizations and strategy shifts at top PC vendors Dell and HP have created uncertainty, particularly for business customers.

But he and other IDC researchers believe the Redmond company must make changes to revive the industry built around its software.

“Although IDC had not expected Windows 8 to be a significant driver to help stem the tide of PC volume decline, it now appears that without a course correction from Microsoft, the PC market is headed toward an even worse contraction for 2013 than previously thought,” Jay Chou, senior research analyst on IDC’s quarterly PC tracking service, said in the release.

O’Donnell said he’s suggested to Microsoft that the company give Windows 8 users the option to make the traditional desktop the default setting, and restore the old fashioned “start” button, but he’s not counting on a change.

“I think this is the pride before the fall – because they are unwilling to make those changes, because it would show them as having given up or lost on their radical new vision,” he said.

Here is IDC’s ranking of the top PC vendors last quarter:

IDC q113


Lincoln Spector  Lincoln Spector @lincolnspector
Windows 8 Desktop

I’m writing this in a Microsoft Word 2010 window that fills less than half of my screen. Also visible are two Chrome windows—one containing my inbox, the other some pages relevant to this article—and Windows Media Player, which reports to me that I’m listening to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. I can easily get to any installed program with a few clicks of my mouse.

You can probably guess that I’m not using Windows 8. I have a copy of it set up on another PC for testing purposes, but for the PC I do my work on, I need a powerful and versatile operating system that lets me arrange programs and windows as I see fit. For these purposes, Windows 7 qualifies; Windows 8 does not.

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Loyd Case @loydcase

About the Start screen:First, let’s deal with the divisive Start screen. I’ll admit that I had some misgivings on this score initially. But once I realized that the Windows 8 Start screen simply replaces the old Start menu, my reluctance about moving to Windows 8 vanished. The Start screen is flat, rather than hierarchical, as earlier Windows OSs are; however, that simplification in design makes it much easier to navigate. Whether you use a touch-enabled screen, a laptop touchpad, or the scrollwheel on a mouse, practically everything you need for launching and managing applications is right there, within easy reach. And if you’re a Start menu diehard, you can right-click the lower left portion of the Start screen to bring up a simplified Start menu.

Windows 8 Desktop
Mouse users can right-click in the lower-left area to bring up the useful simplified Start menu. Read more
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introducing Windows 8

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introducing Windows 8

Microsoft introduced Windows 8 to the public Thursday, showcasing the touchable and intuitive operating system on a slew of desktops, laptops, and tablets from the company’s OEM partners. (Related: PCWorld Windows 8 review )

While Microsoft executives highlighted the differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT, a distinction in desperate need of clarification for consumers, the event unveiled no surprises or high-profile app announcements. “More to come” was an oft-repeated phrase.

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On October 14, Microsoft began airing its first television commercials for its Windows 8 operating system.

A short post on the Microsoft Windows Team Blog acknowledged the start of the ad campaign.

The commercials are expected to be prominently featured during the Sunday National Football League games broadcast on TV here. No word as to where else they are being shown.

Microsoft is launching Windows 8 in New York City on October 25. Sales of PCs from Microsoft and other vendors preloaded with Windows 8 and Windows RT begin on October 26.

Microsoft’s Windows ad agency of record, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, is also behind the new ads.

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Microsoft co-founder weighs in on Windows 8

Categories: Tech, Windows 8
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Windows 8 Screen

In a recently-published blog entry, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen shares a detailed, fascinating account of his experience with Windows 8. While Allen seems to like the new OS overall, he does list several “minor” concerns, which could discourage ambivalent users from upgrading.

Allen says Windows 8 is an “evolutionary milestone” in the OS’s development, because it unifies Windows across multiple platforms. The new tablet features, Allen writes, are “bold and innovative,” and he is impressed with the OS’s “clever integration” of tablet and desktop functions into a single, bimodal interface.

Allen even finds Windows 8 to be snappier and more responsive than Windows 7.

However, Allen acknowledges that the new interface might confuse existing Windows users, especially since applications and files can be opened in both desktop mode and tablet mode and run simultaneously.

“Windows 8 does certainly require a brief adjustment period before users become familiar and comfortable with the new bimodal operating system,” Allen notes.

Windows 8 is designed to force users to navigate an unfamiliar interface. Instead of seeing the familiar Windows desktop when the operating system boots up, a new tiled start screen appears, similar to the screen found on Windows phones and tablets. You can get to the old desktop screen by clicking a tile on the start screen, but you can’t force Windows 8 to take you to the desktop by default – a quirk that bothers Allen.

“The goal must have been to encourage people to acclimatize to Windows 8 style immediately,” Allen writes. For users who don’t want to “acclimatize” themselves with the new interface, this design approach might look like an invitation to remain within the comfortable confines of Windows 7.

Windows 8 Logo

Allen also points out some less-than-intuitive elements. For example, the Charms bar – which includes a number of important tools such as search, start, settings, and devices – has no visual cues to inform the user how to display it. A similar absence of visual cues exists in apps that run under “Windows 8 style,” formerly known as Metro. While Allen finds closing a program on a tablet to be intuitive, doing so on a desktop is less so. To close a program on a desktop, the user must move their cursor to the top of the screen, wait for it to turn into a hand, and then use it to drag the application window to the bottom of the screen.

Windows 8 also suffers from some obvious oversights: there’s no clock on the start screen. Also, to reach power functions (sleep, shutdown, restart), users have to go through two steps instead of one.

Allen’s conclusion: “Desktop PC users, with only minor tweaks and adjustments, should be able to pick things up without much trouble. I am sure most the [sic] minor issues I pointed out will be addressed in the next release of the operating system.”

In other words, users may be better off waiting for SP1 to drop before they dip their toes into the waters of Windows 8.

On September 13, I will have been using Windows 8 as my main operating system for exactly one year. I have used Windows 8 to play games (Diablo 3, Civ 5, DOTA 2), edit photos and videos (Audacity, Photoshop, Premiere Pro), listen to music (Foobar, Spotify), and surf the web (Firefox, Chrome, IE). For the most part, the experience has been surprisingly good. I’ve had a few driver issues, and a few odd compatibility issues (chiefly Firefox and the Adobe suite), but ultimately it has felt like I’ve just been using an updated version of Windows 7 — an updated version of Windows 7 that does away with the Start menu and introduces the abominably godawful mouse-hating Metro Start screen.

Windows 8 Start screen (red)

Ah, the new Start screen. Over the last 12 months, it has become almost universally acknowledged that the Metro interface is lovely on a touchscreen — but with a mouse and keyboard it’s like trying to eat M&Ms with oven mitts. With no easy way to manipulate it using a keyboard and a horizontal scrolling paradigm that scorns your mouse, it’s plain to see that Metro simply wasn’t designed for those couple of billion PCs that run Windows XP, Vista, and 7.

I say “almost universally acknowledged” because I don’t agree; I actually like using the Metro interface with a mouse and keyboard. For 12 months I have been using Windows 8 and the Metro Start screen on a dual-monitor setup — the worst possible setup for monogamous-monitor Metro apps — and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Really, it seems like tech writers and pundits are whining for the sake of hyperbolic titles and a large number of page views — or perhaps they simply haven’t tried the Metro Start screen for a prolonged period of time.

You see, if you use Windows primarily for Desktop apps (i.e. you use a mouse and keyboard), you will only see the Metro interface on two occasions: When you first log in, and if you need to search for an installed application. In the latter case, I won’t deny that it’s a wee bit jarring the first few times you flip to the Metro interface, but you do get used to it — and there’s no doubt that the new Start screen offers a much better search experience than the Start menu.

The first case, though — being forced to use the Metro interface after you log in — is by far the most common complaint when it comes to Windows 8. Again, if you’ve ever used Windows 8 for more than a few days, you will realize this is a non-issue.

The Windows 8 Metro Start screen -- getting rid of it is as simple as clicking one of the icons

Avoiding the Metro Start screen

When you log into Windows 8, you are greeted by a Start screen populated by live tiles (constantly updating icons that hook into Metro apps) and conventional icons. In the screenshot above, most of the buttons on the left are live tiles, and most of the buttons on the right are conventional icons. Now, get this: If you click one of the icons — for Filezilla or Photoshop, say — the Start screen automatically closes and the program opens up.

In my case, the first program I open every morning is Filezilla — so I log in, the Start screen appears, I click Filezilla… and that’s it. On a normal day, that is the sum total of my interaction with Metro. On a bad day (when I need to access an app that isn’t pinned to my taskbar), I hit Windows key, type a few letters, and hit Enter to open a program.

Take a moment to think about that: To hide the Start screen, all you have to do is click a nice, large icon.

Removing the Windows 8 Start screen entirely

If seeing the Start screen once is still too much for your weak constitution, there’s another solution that automatically opens the Desktop after logging in: Simply addC:\Windows\Explorer.exe to your registry in the following location:HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run. This is very easy to do using Regedit, but there are guides if you need help.