Category Archives: Windows

Skylake, Kaby Lake chips have a crash bug with hyperthreading enabled

Enlarge / A Kaby Lake desktop CPU, not that you can tell the difference in a press shot. (credit: Intel)

Under certain conditions, systems with Skylake or Kaby Lake processors can crash due to a bug that occurs when hyperthreading is enabled. Intel has fixed the bug in a microcode update, but until and unless you install the update, the recommendation is that hyperthreading be disabled in the system firmware.

All Skylake and Kaby Lake processors appear to be affected, with one exception. While the brand-new Skylake-X chips still contain the flaw, their Kaby Lake X counterparts are listed by Intel as being fixed and unaffected.

Systems with the bad hardware will need the microcode fix. The fix appears to have been published back in May, but, as is common with such fixes, there was little to no fanfare around the release. The nature of the flaw and the fact that it has been addressed only came to light this weekend courtesy of a notification from the Debian Linux distribution. This lack of publicity is in spite of all the bug reports pointing to the issue—albeit weird, hard-to-pin-down bug reports, with code that doesn't crash every single time.

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32TB of Windows 10 beta builds, driver source code leaked [Updated]

Enlarge (credit: Rural Learning Center)

32TB of unreleased, private Windows 10 builds, along with source code for certain parts of the driver stack, have been leaked to BetaArchive, reports The Register.

The dump appears to contain a number of Windows 10 builds from the development of codenamed Redstone 2. Redstone 2 was released earlier this year, branded as the Creators Update.

Some of these builds are said to include private debug symbols. Microsoft routinely releases debug symbols for Windows; the symbols contain additional information not found in the compiled Windows binaries that helps software developers identify which functions their code is calling. The symbols normally released are public symbols; while they identify many (though not all) functions and data structures, they don't contain information about each function's variables or parameters. The private symbols, in contrast, contain much more extensive information, giving much more insight into what each piece of code is doing and how it's doing it.

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Windows 10 S‘ security brought down by, of course, Word macros

Enlarge / The Windows 10 S default wallpaper is a rather attractive simplified version of the Windows 10 default wallpaper. (credit: Microsoft)

The major premise justifying Windows 10 S, the new variant of Windows 10 that can only install and run applications from the Windows Store, is that by enforcing such a restriction, Windows 10 S can—like iOS and Chrome OS—offer greater robustness and consistency than regular Windows. For example, as Microsoft has recently written, apps from the Windows Store can't include unwanted malicious software within their installers, eliminating the bundled spyware that has been a regular part of the Windows software ecosystem.

If Windows 10 S can indeed provide much stronger protection against bad actors—both external ones trying to hack and compromise PCs and internal ones, such as schoolkids—then its restrictions represent a reasonable trade-off. The downside is that you can't run arbitrary Windows software; the upside is that you can't run arbitrary Windows malware. That might not be the right trade-off for every Windows user, but it's almost surely the right one for some.

But if that protection is flawed—if the bad guys can somehow circumvent it—then the value of Windows 10 S is substantially undermined. The downside for typical users will remain, as there still won't be any easy and straightforward way to install and run arbitrary Windows software. But the upside, the protection against malware, will evaporate.

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Check Point says Fireball malware hit 250 million; Microsoft says no

Enlarge (credit: Corinne Kuhlmann)

Microsoft sparked a curious squabble over malware discovery and infection rates. At the start of the month security firm Check Point reported on a browser hijacker and malware downloader called Fireball. The firm claimed that it had recently discovered the Chinese malware and that it had infected some 250 million systems.

Today, Microsoft said no. Redmond claimed that actually, far from being a recent discovery, it had been tracking Fireball since 2015 and that the number of infected systems was far lower (though still substantial) at perhaps 40 million.

The two companies do agree on some details. They say that the Fireball hijacker/downloader is spread through being bundled with programs that users are installing deliberately. Microsoft further adds that these installations are often media and apps of "dubious origin" such as pirated software and keygens. Check Point says that the software was developed by a Chinese digital marketing firm named Rafotech and fingers similar installation vectors; it piggy backs on (legitimate) Rafotech software and may also be spread through spam, other malware, and other (non-Rafotech) freeware.

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Windows Server to copy Windows 10, get twice-yearly feature updates

Rows of Open Compute Project racks in a Facebook data center. (credit: Facebook)

The way Microsoft updates Windows Server 2016 is going to get a bit of a shake-up as Microsoft continues to unify its Windows development and deliver new features on a regular basis.

Just as is already the case with Windows 10 and Office, Windows Server is going to receive twice-yearly feature updates.

This new policy addresses one of the big unknowns of Microsoft's unified Windows development. The desktop version of Windows 10 has picked up, for example, new features for the Hyper-V virtualization platform; these are features that server operators might well want. Putting those Windows 10 features in the hands of desktop users is straightforward, as they can just be put into one of the twice-annual feature updates. But until now, Microsoft hadn't said how Windows Server users would be able to get their hands on the same new capabilities.

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OneDrive done right is back, and now it works properly

OneDrive placeholders are back. A new OneDrive client is available for the latest Windows 10 Insider build, and it brings back seamless integration with OneDrive cloud storage under the name "OneDrive Files On Demand."

With cloud storage services, it's very easy to have large amounts of storage and data "in the cloud" that you don't necessarily have room for locally. The traditional solution has been some kind of selective sync; some folders are nominated to be stored locally, while others are visible only through the service provider's Web interface. While this addresses immediate size constraints—it means that your hundreds of gigabytes of cloud files won't overflow your laptop's paltry 128GB SSD—it typically represents an awkward usability trade-off. Those files that aren't synchronized locally become invisible to the operating system, so you can't browse and manage them in Explorer, and neither can you open them directly in your applications.

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Win XP patched to avert new outbreaks spawned by NSA-leaking Shadow Brokers

(credit: Microsoft)

On Tuesday, Microsoft took the highly unusual step of issuing security patches for XP and other unsupported versions of Windows. The company did this in a bid to protect the OSes against a series of "destructive" exploits developed by, and later stolen from, the National Security Agency.

By Ars' count, Tuesday is only the third time in Microsoft history that the company has issued free security updates for a decommissioned product. One of those came one day after last month's outbreak of the highly virulent "WCry" ransom worm, which repurposed NSA-developed exploits. The exploits were leaked by the Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group that somehow got hold of weaponized NSA hacking tools. (WCry is also known as "WannaCry" and "WannaCrypt.")

Tuesday's updates, this updated Microsoft post shows, include fixes for three other exploits that were also released by the Shadow Brokers. A Microsoft blog post announcing the move said the patches were prompted by an "elevated risk of destructive cyberattacks" by government organizations.

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Intel fires warning shots at Microsoft, claims x86 emulation is a patent minefield

Enlarge / Qualcomm's prototype of a Snapdragon 835 motherboard for an ARM PC has an area of 50.4 square centimetres. (credit: Qualcomm)

In celebrating the x86 architecture's 39th birthday yesterday—the 8086 processor first came to market on June 8, 1978—Intel took the rather uncelebratory step of threatening any company working on x86 emulator technology.

Intel's blog post offers a rundown of all the investments that the company has made in extending and improving the x86 instruction set, with features such as SSE, AVX, TSX transactional memory, and SGX secure enclaves acting as a demonstration of how the company has transformed this ancient instruction set into something cutting edge and forward-looking. But the second part of the post takes a more sour note: Intel notes that many of these developments are patented and that it has a history of using patents to protect its x86 innovations  AMD, Cyrix, VIA, and Transmeta are all named as victims of this defence.

The post doesn't name any names, but it's not too hard to figure out who it's likely to be aimed at: Microsoft, perhaps with a hint of Qualcomm. Later in the year, companies including Asus, HP, and Lenovo will be releasing Windows laptops using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor. This is not the first time that Windows has been released on ARM processors—Microsoft's first attempt to bring Windows to ARM was the ill-fated Windows 8-era Windows RT in 2012—but this time around there's a key difference. Windows RT systems could not run any x86 applications. Windows 10 for ARM machines, however, will include a software-based x86 emulator that will provide compatibility with most or all 32-bit x86 applications.

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Cortana can now do price comparisons when you’re shopping online

 Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana will now be able to save you money when you’re shopping online. The company announced today that it will begin a pilot test of a new Cortana feature that will pop up the best price and availability of similar products, when you’re shopping the websites of over a dozen top retailers in the U.S., including Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Best Buy,… Read More

NT Workstation may make a return with new high-end desktop Windows SKU

Enlarge / Back in the olden days, the "workstation" appellation truly meant something, with both Windows and Unix workstations (such as this SGI Indigo 2) using exotic hardware in fabulous colors. One only hopes that the new generation of Windows workstations can live up to the high standards by these '90s-era relics. (credit: Kai Wegner)

People have been poring over the bad Windows builds that Microsoft accidentally distributed to members of the Windows Insider program last week, and they've found signs that Microsoft is planning to release yet more variations of Windows 10.

Each Insider build contains a file enumerating all the different SKUs and their respective product keys. The build that was released last week included keys for three new variants: a version of Windows Server 2016 named "ServerRdsh" and two variants of "Windows 10 Pro for Advanced PCs" (one a standard variant, one an "N" variant that omits certain minor features to appease the EU).

It's not immediately clear what "ServerRdsh" means, so the contents of the Server 2016 release are uncertain, but there's a clearer picture of what's in the Windows 10 version thanks to some leaked slides. The slides use a different (temporary) name—Windows 10 Pro for Workstation PCs—bringing to mind the very earliest days of Windows NT where the desktop version was branded "Workstation" to indicate that it was for big, powerful desktop PCs, unlike its low-end Windows 95 sibling. Whether it's for "Workstation" PCs or "Advanced" PCs, the contents appear to be the same: it's a version of Windows 10 designed for high-end, performance systems used for compute- and graphics-intensive workloads.

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