Last week’s Windows 8 launch wasn’t just a major product release for Microsoft. It seems to have been a banner day for the government-funded hackers who take Microsoft’s software apart, too.
On Tuesday the French firm Vupen, whose researchers develop software hacking techniques and sell them to government agency customers, announced that it had already developed an exploit that could take over a Window 8 machine running Internet Explorer 10, in spite of the many significant security upgrades Microsoft built into the latest version of its operating system.
“We welcome #Windows 8 with various 0Ds combined to pwn all new Win8/IE10 exploit mitigations,” Vupen’s chief executive Chaouki Bekrar wrote on twitter Tuesday, using an abbreviation for the industry term “zero-days” to refer to security vulnerabilities unknown to Microsoft that his team has discovered in the company’s software, as well as the hacker slang “pwn”-to hack or take control of a machine.
Bekrar’s claim follows up on his promise earlier in the month that Vupen would be ready to compromise Windows 8 immediately upon its launch: “Windows 8 will be officially released by MS on Oct 26th, we’ll release to customers the 1st exploit for Win8 the same day #CoordinatedPwnage”
“IT TRULY is a new era at Microsoft,” gushed Steve Ballmer, the giant software company’s boss, in a letter to shareholders this month. For once, such grandiloquence seems justified. On October 26th Windows 8, the newest version of Microsoft’s operating system for personal computers, is due to be released. It looks very different from past editions; it is designed for touchscreens on both PCs and tablets; and it can run on processors designed by ARM, a British company whose allies dominate mobile devices, as well as chips made by Intel, Microsoft’s long-term partner. Also on sale will be the Surface, a tablet-cum-PC bearing Microsoft’s own brand. A version of Windows 8 for smartphones is due on October 29th.
Whether the new era will be a successful one is an open question. It got off to a stumbling start when the European Commission warned Microsoft not to repeat the sin of steering users away from rivals to its Explorer browser. (The company insisted all would be well before the launch.)
What is not in doubt is how much is at stake for Microsoft. To see that, look at the chart. In its past financial year its Windows division accounted for about a quarter of its revenue of $73.7 billion; three-quarters of that came from sales of Windows to PC-makers for installation on new desk- and laptops. Windows is the dominant system on such devices, with more than 90% of the market despite the growing popularity of Apple’s Macs. But that market has slowed. In the year to the third quarter, shipments of PCs fell by 8.6%, according to IDC, a research firm. However, the drop largely reflected a clear-out of stocks by PC-sellers before Windows 8’s arrival as well as the ropiness of the world economy.
People are doing more and more computing on the go, using tablets and smartphones. Apple rules the tablet market, although devices powered by Google’s Android operating system have been taking a bigger share. On October 23rd Apple unveiled the fourth incarnation of the iPad as well as a smaller version with a screen less than eight inches (20cm) across; Google and Amazon had already launched much cheaper seven-inch tablets. In smartphones, Android devices account for most of the volume; Apple’s iPhone scoops most of the profit. Windows has a tiny share of smartphones; in tablets it is invisible. If you lump these in with PCs, says Frank Gillett of Forrester, another research company, Microsoft’s share of personal-computing devices drops to only 30%.
Consumers are in for a shock when Microsoft releases the Windows 8 operating system later this week. The interface changes are the most widespread the OS maker has undertaken since the release of Windows 95.
At an exclusive press event in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft has given a handful of journalists an insider’s view on how the Surface tablet was conceived, designed, tested, and manufactured. If you had any lingering doubts about the seriousness of Microsoft’s entry into the PC hardware market, they will be banished in the next three hundred words.
According to Steven Sinofsky, work on the Surface tablet began way back in the summer of 2009, as Microsoft began to shift its focus from Windows 7 to Windows 8 — and before the release of the first iPad in spring 2010, incidentally. Microsoft already knew at that point that Windows 8 would be more touch-friendly than Windows 7, and to show the world (and its OEMs) that touch is a viable input method, it decided to make a showcase tablet. I’m not entirely sure that I buy the veracity of this story, but we’ll give Sinofsky the benefit of the doubt.
What followed was a lot of prototyping — hundreds of potential designs that iterated through varying dimensions and screen sizes. 10.1 inches was deemed too cramped for Windows 8′s split-screen mode, while 11.1 inches was apparently too unwieldy. After much testing, 10.6 inches at 16:9 was picked as the Goldilocks size — big enough for split-screen and a generously proportioned keyboard, but not too large for a hand-held device. Because 10.6 inches is a “non-standard” size, Microsoft claims that it had to make the display itself — though again, I find it hard to believe that Microsoft has actually invested billions of dollars in an LCD production line. It may have invested in one of Asia’s screen makers, though, such as Sharp or LG.
Some Windows 8 laptops and PCs could end up running more Android apps than ones written for Microsoft’s software.
Gadgets built around chips made by AMD will come optimised to run the Android apps.
A collaboration between AMD and software firm Bluestacks lets the devices run the 500,000 apps more usually found on Android phones.
By contrast, Microsoft reportedly only has a few thousand apps written specifically for Windows 8 at launch.
The Android apps will be available on Windows 8 devices via AMD’s AppZone player. Inside this is code from Bluestacks that acts as a wrapper around the mobile phone programs so they can run on desktops, laptops and tablets.
AMD has made changes to the core code that runs its processors and graphics cards to ensure apps built for the small screens on mobile phones look good and run well on larger displays.
All but one supported edition of IE are affected: 2001’s IE6, 2006’s IE7, 2009’s IE8 and last year’s IE9. Together, those browsers accounted for 53% of all browsers used worldwide in August. The only exception was IE10, the browser bundled with the new Windows 8, which does not contain the bug.
Monday’s advisory was expected, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle Security. “I think they had to get it out today,” said Storms late Monday in an interview over instant messaging. “Too many people watching and waiting for something official.”
Earlier Monday, Microsoft acknowledged that it was investigating reports of a vulnerability but did not promise a patch.
The bug, when Microsoft gets around to patching it, will be rated “critical,” the company’s highest threat ranking. Exploiting the flaw allows hackers to execute code — in other words, plant malware on a machine — and opens Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 to drive-by attacks that only require getting victims to visit a malicious or compromised website.
Honestly: This is one reason I’m not drawn to boot into 8 each morning (and I have dual boot on the system I’m doing my main work on). I recall once I put 7 beta on a box back in summer 2009, I just kept using it and then figuring out to fund it for all my systems when it came out…not my experience with 8 at all….while “light” and poratable device users may appreciate the simplicity, those with many applications and utilities they are in and out of all day long will not want a tile for every installed program…they’ll have to scroll way too much just to get to the one(s) they need, even when you try to arrange the most used ones closest to the main screen.
I know it’s not 1995 anymore (actually, the statement should have been 1984, but I digress), much of the windowed layout has been time tested, and works. Remember, the Dvorak keyboard never replaced the QWERTY one, even if QWERTY was designed specifically to be the least efficient to prevent typewriter keys from jamming….
Going to be a boom to tablet surface users, for sure, but I’m predicting the corporate world will stand back, not wanting to have to retrain millions of people all at once….just to replace XP on all those desktops without touch screens. Son of Vista, but not because of security? We’ll see….
When Microsoft users launch Windows 8 this fall, they’ll notice getting started with the OS may not be as familiar. The ever-present Start button, a Windows staple since 1995, is going the way of the dodo.
In a report for industry site PC Pro, Microsoft executives reveal that Windows users have already largely abandoned the Start button. An increasing number rely more on pinning favorite apps to their taskbar or simply using keyboard shortcuts to access frequently used applications. As a result, Microsoft will now present a tiled Start screen as part of the new Metro interface.
for you tech bubbas…and, yes, I have my download almost done, thank you….
Microsoft today declined to comment when asked whether it believed it’s required to offer a ballot screen in Windows 8 to European users for selecting rival browsers in the new operating system’s desktop mode.
In late 2009, Microsoft struck a deal with European Union (EU) antitrust regulators that required the company to display a screen in Windows providing download links to other browsers, including Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and Opera Software’s Opera.
The settlement specifically called out future editions of Windows.
“For Windows Client PC Operating Systems after Windows 7, the Choice Screen update will first be made available at the general commercial release date of such an operating system and remain in place for distribution … for the entire duration of these Commitments,” the document stated.