TWT Newsletter, Issue #046 – Windows 7 Service Pack 1 lands and has UAC improved PC security?
Welcome to another edition of the TWT Newsletter. Marching into March already, the big news this month is the arrival of the first service pack for Windows 7. We also take a look back at one of the most debated features of both Windows Vista and Windows 7 – User Account Control.
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In this months issue:-
1) What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
2) Windows 7 Service Pack 1 lands
3) Tip of the Month – Make the most of your HDTV
4) Free Utility of the Month – Game Booster 2
5) UAC – Success or failure?
What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
To kick off February, we brought you some tutorials for the excellent free password manager, LastPass. Many security experts believe that using a password manager is as important as using an antivirus, so make sure you check out our LastPass tutorials here.
Windows 7 includes parental control tools to help manage your childrens use of the computer. Whilst we covered parental controls for Windows Vista users, the Windows 7 parental controls had changed significantly, so we decided to create a tutorial specifically for Windows 7. You can view that tutorial by clicking here.
On the subject of parental controls, if you are looking for a free system for restricting adult content on your Windows 7 machine, you may have considered OpenDNS before, but been put off by the complicated set-up procedure. To help Windows 7 users who want to configure this powerful tool, we updated our OpenDNS setup tutoral, you can view the tutorial by using this link. Of course, our tutorials for OpenDNS on Windows Vista and Windows XP are still available too.
Windows 7 Service Pack 1 lands
The first service pack for Windows 7 has just arrived. A service pack for Windows operating system typically includes all the important security and operating system updates published so far, as well as new features and enhancements. The first service pack for Windows Vista was a big event, providing much needed improvements to reliability and performance. Windows 7 service pack 1 however, is perhaps not so dramatic. Below, we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to know about Windows 7 service pack 1:-
No, that’s not a mistake! For home users, Windows 7 Service pack 1 barely registers a blip on the radar. Ok, before you all unsubscribe from the newsletter, there are a few small changes that might affect some of our readers. Improved HDMI audio performance will be helpful for anyone that uses their PC with their HDTV. Dynamic Memory support may improve the memory usage of virtual machines, such as Windows XP mode, although it will have the biggest impact on users who run several virtual machines at once (very unusual for home users).
Of course, Windows 7 Service Pack 1 includes a range of important security updates, including some that were not already included as standard Windows updates. If you have not already applied Windows 7 Service Pack 1, Windows update will soon apply it automatically. Alternatively you can manually check for updates and apply the service pack now. See this link for details of how to manually check for updates on a Windows 7 machine.
Tip of the Month – Make the most of your HDTV
Many of us are used to using games consoles with our HDTV’s, but did you know that they make excellent displays for your PC too? If your HDTV has a HDMI or VGA connector, then you can connect your PC directly to your TV for some big screen gaming. Not interested in games? How about movies with Windows Media Player, or even music, taking those Media Player visualizations and displaying them on the big screen can be truly stunning! Take things to the next level with a specially designed home theatre PC front end, such as Windows Media Center or Boxee.
If your PC has a HDMI output, then connecting to a HDTV with a HDMI socket is simply a matter of connecting the cable and turning on the TV. Your PC should detect the new display immediately. For PC’s with a DVI monitor connector, a simple adaptor is usually all that is required. In both instances, you may need to add an additional cable from your sound card into your setup, depending on your PC’s capabilities.
To learn how to configure your PC display settings further, see this page.
Free Utility of the Month – Game Booster 2
Games are some of the most demanding programs you will run on your PC. The less system resources that are taken up by other programs background tasks or services, the more computing power is available for your games. If you want to squeeze every last bit of juice from your system, IOBit’s Game Booster 2 can shut down unnecessary background services and programs and ensure every last scrap of computing power is available for your gameplay.
You can find out more about Game Booster 2 by visiting this link.
UAC – Success or failure?
Windows Vista has been with us since January 2007. Amongst the changes and improvements that carried over to Windows 7, User Account Control (UAC) is probably the one that causes the most controversy. Windows Vista and Windows 7 users will all have come across UAC prompts before, the familiar dimmed screen and nagging prompt asking you if you really want to do what you just told the computer to do. Why did Microsoft introduce such annoying prompts? To understand what UAC is trying to achieve, we need to look back at the venerable Windows XP operating system.
In the days of Windows XP, almost all home users ran their computers using administrator accounts. With this setting, it was very convenient to add new software, change Windows settings or reconfigure the computer however the user pleased. It was also convenient for running older, legacy software that had been designed for Windows 98 or earlier versions of the Operating System. There was one significant problem with this setup however, it made Windows XP extremely vulnerable to malware.
It was possible to run Windows XP using a limited user account, but in this setup, it was necessary to switch accounts every time a system setting needed to be changed or updated. This was fine for the corporate desktop, where users typically have a small set of programs that are pre-configured by their IT department, but far to inconvenient for the home user, that typically wants to install new programs on a regular basis. To make matters worse, many badly written XP programs assumed that administrative rights would be available and would not run otherwise.
User Account Control addressed these problems in two ways. Firstly, it made administrator accounts more secure, by adding extra protection that could stop software installing itself without permission. Secondly, it makes it possible to run standard user accounts, without the need to switch back to the administrator’s account every time an administrative task, such as installing a new program, is required.
Has UAC succeeded as a security feature? While researching this article, we searched for any studies into UAC’s effectiveness but came up largely empty handed. Drawing on our own experience, setting up Windows Vista and Windows 7 machines for users and teaching them how to use UAC on a standard user account certainly seems to have helped reduce the number of computer problems caused by malware.
Microsoft hoped that introducing UAC would encourage software developers to write better software. Software that didn’t need to interfere with system settings or write to system directories. If software is written correctly, the number of UAC prompts it should generate are minimal, only appearing when necessary, such as when an update is available. While much software is now more UAC friendly, there are still many programs that have been slow to catch on. Below are three popular programs that regularly trip up and fail to utilise UAC correctly:-
Mozilla Firefox:- Not only does Firefox not always update correctly on standard accounts, it often isn’t vocal enough about an update that is available, meaning users running a standard account may not even notice that an update has been detected.
Stardock Impulse:- Stardock’s popular digital distribution platform runs correctly under limited user accounts, but when an update is required, instead of using UAC to grant permission, the software simply pops up a dialogue telling the user that the update cannot be installed. The program must then be restarted by right clicking the icon and choosing “Run as administrator”.
Oracle Java:- The popular Java Virtual Machine, used extensively on the web is another program that doesn’t update correctly when running a standard user account. When the Java updater tool detects an update, it asks for permission to install via the UAC prompt. However, even when the correct credentials are entered, all that follows is a window that says “Failed to download required installation files”.
The example of Java is particularly worrying. Users who are running standard user accounts for better security may end up compromising their security by not having the latest Java updates, thanks to inadequate testing by Oracle.
While UAC has clearly made it bearable to run a standard user account, we are still seeing most Windows 7 machines configured to use administrator accounts by default. UAC does make administrator accounts more secure but to really get the full benefit, you should run your Windows Vista or Windows 7 machine with a standard user account wherever possible. Running a standard Windows account, most users will not see any UAC prompts during a regular computing session, so there really is no excuse.
Do you find UAC too inconvenient, or are you now happily running a standard user account? Why not discuss this article or anything about our newsletter in our site forum? Click this link to find out more.
That rounds off our newsletter for March. We’d like to take this opportunity once again to send a huge thank you to all our readers for your support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th April 2011 and will bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7! We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page or by leaving us feedback in our forum. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!