LUA part 4 (of 5): Changes in Windows Vista/7

This post is part 4 of a series about using a limited (standard) account in Windows for everyday activities rather than logging in as a computer administrator all the time. (You may want to read parts 1, 2, and 3 before continuing.)

When Microsoft released Windows Vista, they introduced a new feature: User Account Control (UAC). This basically meant that when you ran certain programs, you would get a message popping up, asking “Are you sure about this?” It’s fair to say that this wasn’t very popular; lots of people acted as though it was the return of Clippy. Quoting from one of Apple’s “I’m a Mac” adverts (YouTube): “He asks me to authorise pretty much anything I do.” However, if you actually understand what UAC is for then it’s quite useful, and I think that Vista is a definite improvement over Windows XP.

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LUA part 3 (of 5): Compatibility problems

This post is part 3 of a series about using a limited (standard) account in Windows for everyday activities rather than logging in as a computer administrator all the time. (You may want to read part 1 and part 2 before continuing.)

If you follow my advice and switch to a limited account, you may find that some of your programs stop working. This is annoying, but there are various ways to deal with it.

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LUA part 2 (of 5): Setting up separate accounts

In part 1 of this series, I explained why it’s a good idea to have separate accounts on your computer: a standard account for day to day stuff (e.g. reading email), and an administrator account for making system changes (e.g. installing new software).

In this part, I’m going to provide step by step instructions for setting this up on Windows XP. (The process is pretty similar for other versions of Windows.) There are lots of pictures here, to make it as simple as possible. This all applies to a home computer; it’s a bit different for a workplace, since all the accounts will be set up centrally by your IT department, and by default they will just be standard users on each PC.

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LUA part 1 (of 5): Why you shouldn’t always log into Windows as an administrator

The German government have advised people to stop using Internet Explorer and switch to an alternate browser, as reported at the BBC and Mashable. Microsoft have published a security advisory about the problem, and they’ve discussed it on their Security Research & Defense blog. Personally, I’m using IE8 (Protected Mode) on Windows Vista with DEP enabled, so this doesn’t affect me, and switching to a different browser would be an overreaction.

However, this seems like a good time to mention the advantages of “LUA” (Limited User Access). Basically, rather than logging into Windows with full control over the computer, it’s better to have two accounts: one for installing software and one for everyday use. That way, if you run some dodgy code by mistake, you limit how much damage it can do.

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Exchange 2007 – firewall problems on Windows 2008

In Windows 2003, the local firewall was turned off by default. You could enable it, but you had to be careful about defining all your exceptions; unlike a PC running Windows XP, you presumably want people to be able to connect to your server! Finding a list of all the relevant ports/protocols could be difficult, and Microsoft sometimes advised people not to enable the firewall at all. SP1 introduced the Security Configuration Wizard (SCW), which helps you to configure the firewall, but you have to specifically install this as an extra component.

In Windows 2008, this changed: the firewall is turned on by default, and the SCW is installed automatically. You can still turn the firewall off, but that’s not ideal from a security point of view: it’s better to configure it so that only certain traffic can get through.

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70-621

On Monday morning I took the Vista upgrade exam (70-621). I passed it with a healthy margin (pass mark was 700/900 and I scored 820/900), so I’m happy with that, and it gives me two extra certifications:

  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (Microsoft Windows Vista: Configuration)
  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional (Enterprise Support Technician)

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Vista boot menu

I’ve been dual-booting between Windows XP and Windows Vista for a while, so the boot menu gave two choices:

  • Earlier Version of Windows
  • Microsoft Windows Vista

I decided that it would be a bit neater if the first option referred to Windows XP specifically. In Windows 2000/XP, this information was stored in a “boot.ini” file, so you could modify it with a text editor as long as you were careful. However, it’s now stored in a binary file, a bit like the registry hive. Steve Lamb posted an entry about this recently, recommending the (free) application VistaBootPRO. That program does look quite user friendly, but since I’m getting ready for my Vista exam I decided that I’d be better off figuring out how to change the display name with the built-in tools.

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Computer security

I see that there’s now a UK version of the “PC vs Mac” adverts. These are pretty similar to the original American versions, although there are fewer UK ones so far. Still, I think that they’re quite funny, and I actually prefer the UK ones, mainly due to the actors involved (Mitchell and Webb); the “I’m a PC” guy is very enthusiastic about his stupid ideas. Sample quote: “Eye of the tiger! Claw of the eagle! Tentacle of the octopus!”

As a counterpoint to the “Viruses” advert, there’s a Ctrl+Alt+Del strip which offers an alternate theory, and I think that’s also quite funny. (I read that before I’d seen any of the adverts, which may have coloured my opinions a bit.)

More generally, while I found all these things amusing, and I’m sure that there are plenty of valid reasons for choosing a Mac, I wasn’t particularly convinced by any of the technical arguments involved, particularly when it comes to security. Basically, I think that a lot of this comes down to the way you configure your system, rather than the choice of system.

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Windows Vista: first impressions

Two weeks ago I went off to a Microsoft event in Reading: “Ready for a New Day: Microsoft’s Launch of Exchange, Office and Vista”. That was quite interesting, and I came away thinking that there are enough useful features to justify an upgrade. They gave me a freebie copy of Windows Vista and Office 2007 for attending; that’s quite a nice touch, especially since the event itself was free. Now that I’ve been doing some presenting myself, I could sympathise with the people at the front when their demos didn’t quite work properly, and I particularly liked the heartfelt cry of “Thank you, demo gods!” when something went smoothly.

Speaking of Vista, I recently received an email from Microsoft, offering me a place on a beta certification exam. I passed the MCDST exams for Windows XP a couple of years ago and Microsoft are now preparing the equivalent MCITP qualification for Windows Vista. The idea of the beta exam is that they can get an idea of whether the questions are too easy/difficult by trying them out on people with a (roughly) known skill level. Anyway, I’m flattered to be invited, and it’s a free exam, so I’ve signed up for that on 5th January. The only snag is that there aren’t any study guides etc. available yet (the people who write them will probably be doing the beta exams too), so I’ll need to prepare for it on my own. Still, I’ve passed all my previous Microsoft exams on my first attempt (8 so far), so I’m quietly confident about this one.

Vista won’t be available as a retail product until January 27th, and Microsoft haven’t sent out any DVDs to business customers yet, but companies with volume licencing deals can download it. I’ve been playing with it on my home machine, so that I can get a feel for it before I do any big deployments at work; here are my thoughts so far.

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