Category Archives: Microsoft

Windows 10 Privacy Issues – Fact or Fiction?

This guest post is contributed by my Aussie mate, Jim Hillier. Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at Dave’s Computer Tips. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele… as well as writing for DCT, of course.


The release of Windows 10 together with news of its heightened telemetry certainly brought out the conspiracy theorists and paranoid. Publish an article about Windows 10 and, regardless of the actual subject matter, you’re pretty much guaranteed to receive a slew of comments slamming Microsoft and its new operating system for introducing these so-called privacy issues, so much so that it has gotten to the point of becoming tiresome.

The data collection in Windows 10 may be at a new level for a desktop operating system but it is pretty standard fare for mobile devices. Both Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) have been collecting this type of data for years with nary a whimper from the using public.

One has to bear in mind that Windows 10 is, after all, a hybrid operating system, designed to cater for both desktop and mobile users. Mobile by its very nature requires a lot more information than a stationary desktop in order to deliver full functionality. If you ask Cortana to find the nearest pizza shop, for example, how can the digital assistant provide that information if it has no idea where you are located?

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With the increasing trend toward mobile device usage, Microsoft is merely following the age-old law of supply and demand. With Windows 10, Microsoft has produced an operating system which is suitable for both desktop and mobile users – depending on how it is configured.

That’s the whole point with Windows 10, a point which, apparently, many people have failed to grasp – the choice lies squarely in the hands of the end user. Windows 10 can quite easily be set up purely as a desktop operating system, in which case the level of data collection is substantially diminished. Sure, it may take a little time and effort to go through all the settings, but it is definitely not difficult.

Don’t want to use Cortana? Simple… just turn it off. And so on, and so on. It’s easy to disable unwanted apps/features, nobody is being forced to utilize them or the services they provide. They are simply available for those who do want to use them.

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If you go through Windows 10’s Privacy settings and disable everything you don’t want or need, including setting Feedback to minimum, the level of telemetry is no more than one would expect for a desktop PC, no more than [say] in Windows 7 or 8.1.

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I’m not suggesting for one minute that Microsoft hasn’t made bad decisions regarding Windows 10, just that, in my opinion, the telemetry isn’t numbered among them – more a matter of simply keeping up with the times. In fact, I’m far more concerned over the enforced updates in Windows 10 where there simply is no choice. Not to mention the constant upgrade nags and unsolicited upgrades – but that, as they say, is another story for another time.

Bottom Line:

To suggest that Windows 10 is ‘spying’ on consumers is a pretty far stretch. I, for one, don’t really care if Microsoft knows that some anonymous old geezer in Queensland, Australia regularly visits Bill Mullins Tech Thoughts blog.

Do I like Windows 10? Sure I do. Would I recommend upgrading to Windows 10 for free? In a heartbeat.

*BTW: Microsoft recently announced that the Windows 10 free upgrade offer will definitely end on 29th July as originally stated.

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Filed under Microsoft, Myths, Operating Systems, Software, Technicians Advise, Windows 10, Windows Tips and Tools

Windows 8 Consumer Preview – Download Now Available

If you’re the adventurous type and can’t wait to get your hands on Microsoft’s latest OS offering – you’re in luck. Windows 8, Consumer Preview, has just been released for download.

Note: From Microsoft.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview is prerelease software that may be substantially modified before it’s commercially released. Microsoft makes no warranties, express or implied, with respect to the information provided here. Some product features and functionality may require additional hardware or software. If you decide to go back to your previous operating system, you’ll need to reinstall it from the recovery or installation media that came with your PC.

System Requirements:

Windows 8 Consumer Preview works great on the same hardware that powers Windows 7:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device or higher

You can download Win 8 Preview in one of two flavors:

ISO imagehere (I strongly suggest that you take this route). Be sure to take note of the Product Key: DNJXJ-7XBW8-2378T-X22TX-BKG7J

Direct install over the Internethere

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Filed under downloads, Microsoft, Windows 8

Check Your Windows System For Vulnerabilities With Microsoft’s Free Baseline Security Analyzer

imageIf you’re a regular reader here, this post will serve as a reminder that scanning for system vulnerabilities from time to time, is a prudent practice.

To help you assess the overall state of security on your computer (and close any open windows in Windows), Microsoft provides a free scanning tool – Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA), which will scan your system, and provide you with a report on your machine’s security – based on Microsoft’s security recommendations.

It’s important to remember that changes in system configuration may require additional use of MBSA in order to check the new configuration for compliance. This is particularly true when installing applications, or adding new optional components, which may install programs that have not been updated with the latest fixes.

For reference purposes, I’ve gathered the following statistics from the Iolo  Threat Center as of October 14, 2011. This data is in line with the data obtained from more comprehensive studies we’ve seen over the last several years.

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October 14, 2011.

PCs without active virus protection: 56.16%
PCs without active firewall protection: 36.11%
Average number of security flaws: 29.44

If we contrast this data with Iolo’s Global System Status Details as of March 26, 2011, it appears as if we’re on a slippery slope.

March 26, 2011.

PCs without active virus protection: 53.42%
PCs without active firewall protection: 20.88%
Average number of security flaws: 13.56

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MBSA includes both a graphical and a command line interface, that can perform local or remote scans of Microsoft Windows systems. For this post I’ll focus on the graphical interface.

MBSA is capable of scanning not only a stand-alone system, but multiple systems as well.

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The GUI is straightforward, and as you can see in the following screen capture – checkbox simple.

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Scanning Options:

For each scan, the following options can be enabled, or disabled, as needed, in the MBSA user interface:

Check for Windows administrative vulnerabilities – scans for security issues such as Guest account status, file-system type, available file shares, and members of the Administrators group.

Check for weak passwords –  checks computers for blank and weak passwords during a scan.

Check for Internet Information Services (IIS) administrative vulnerabilities.

Check for SQL administrative vulnerabilities – checks for the type of authentication mode, account password status, and service account memberships.

Check for security updates (missing updates) – scans for missing security updates for the products published to the Microsoft Update site only.

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The two areas, in the report, you will find most useful as a home user, are:

Security misconfiguration (less secure settings and configurations).

Missing security updates and service packs (if any).

The report will provide you with specific steps to take, should the application find issues.

The following screen capture from my test machine, illustrates the partial results of a typical scan – click to expand to original size.

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In this test scan, MBSA has discovered – “2 service packs or update rollups are missing”. Clicking on – “Result details” brought up the following dialogue box and, as you can see, both IE 9 and Win 7 Service Pack 1, are not installed.

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Microsoft didn’t leave me hanging though. Instead, simply clicking “How to correct this”,  brought up the following Microsoft help page which lays out an easy solution.

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The following screen capture illustrates a portion of the report covering Administrative Vulnerabilities. In this area, you may find reminders that Microsoft may not necessarily agree with your personal preferences. Certainly, a number of mind rated a caution.

Should you find similar cautions following your scan, there’s no need to worry. Clicking on “How to correct this” for additional information, will help you determine if your personal preferences are safe. You may feel comfortable with your choices, despite Microsoft’s advice to the contrary.

Remember, you’re the boss.   Smile

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In order to run a scan with MBSA, you may need the IP address of your computer – an easy way to obtain this is here.

System Requirements: Windows 2000; Windows 7; Windows Server 2003; Windows Server 2008; Windows Server 2008 R2; Windows Vista; Windows XP; Windows XP Embedded. (32 bit and 64 bit).

Available languages: English, German, French, Japanese.

Download at: Microsoft

Note: Microsoft recommends viewing the readme.html file, before running MBSA the first time. If you are a regular reader here, I don’t think this is necessary, but….

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Computer Audit Applications, downloads, Freeware, Microsoft, Security Rating Applications, Windows Tips and Tools

Download Microsoft’s Free Microsoft Office Starter Edition 2010

Update: November 30 – This offer is no longer available.

In October of last year, I noted that Microsoft had begun a campaign to tear down OpenOffice by focusing on what Microsoft considered the downside of working with OpenOffice. This struck me as a bit unusual – after all, why waste time on those who can’t hurt your sales. Unless, that is, OpenOffice, LibreOffice and similar open source office suites, are in fact, “real competition” for Microsoft.

It seems that may well be the case since Microsoft has now released Office Starter Edition 2010 (as a freebie), which includes Microsoft Word Starter 2010 and Microsoft Excel Starter 2010 – it does not include PowerPoint or Outlook. Both included components function almost the same as the full editions.

No need to worry about licensing issues either – Office Starter 2010 is not a trial version – it will not expire. On top of that, installing the application to a USB stick makes for the perfect (sort of), portable office.

Installation is an easy task – both application download and installation combine in a seamless single process.

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Following installation you’ll find the application, and its components, neatly laid out in your “Start” menu as illustrated below.image

Word Starter 2010 screenshot:

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Excel Starter 2010 screenshot:

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Fast facts:

Create and edit basic Word documents and Excel spreadsheets with 100 percent file fidelity

Open existing Word and Excel documents

Manage a simple home budget

Write letters

Create newsletters with photos and easily send them out

System requirements: Windows 7, Windows Vista with Service Pack 1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2 and MSXML 6.0 (32-bit Office only), Windows Server 2008, or later 32- or 64-bit OS.

Download Office 2010 Starter at: Microsoft

There is some discussion, at the moment, as to just how long this offer from Microsoft will continue to be available so, if you’re interested, now might be the time to jump on this.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, downloads, flash drive, Free Office Suites, Freeware, Microsoft, Software, USB, Windows Tips and Tools

Microsoft Security Essentials –“Here I Come To Save The Day”

imageOh, the embarrassment of it all! I haven’t had to deal with a malware issue (other than self infecting in AV product testing), for more than 2 years – until this past week. No big deal, except perhaps, for the way I got infected – that old, old, old, malware attack vector – an infected search engine result.

The manipulation of search engine results, exploiting legitimate pages, and the seeding of malicious websites among the top results returned by search engines in order to infect users with malware, continues to be a major threat to system security. And, why not? It bloody well works!

Over the years, I’ve written more than a few articles on search engine malware – the last – Search Engine Malware – The Same Old, Same Old – this past August.

From that article:

Here’s how the cyber crooks do it:

Cyber-crooks can exploit vulnerabilities on the server hosting the web page to insert an iFrame, (an HTML element which makes it possible to embed another HTML document inside the main document). The iFrame can then activate the download of malicious code.

When a potential victim visits one of these infected sites the likelihood of the downloading of malicious code onto the computer by exploiting existing vulnerabilities is high.

So there I was, happily bouncing along the Internet highway Googling a phrase I had read on another blog. Choosing the first Google return proved to be a very bad idea indeed, since I immediately stepped into an infected iFrame.

But thankfully, all was not lost – Microsoft Security Essentials (which incorporates antivirus, antispyware and rootkit protection), halted the malware – Trojan:JS/BlacoleRef.K – in its tracks!

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So what’s the lesson here?

A couple really – AV settings are very important. In this case, as per the following screen shot – nothing moves into, or out of this machine, without being scanned. Microsoft Security Essentials makes it so simple – no esoteric choices.

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The second lesson – a MOST important lesson – absolutely, positively, without fail, come hell or high water, ensure that AV definitions are updated at least daily. Preferably, more often.

You might be surprised to learn, that on the day I stumbled, while MSE recognized the intruder, the vast majority of AVs did not – as per the following VirusTotal report (partially reproduced here).

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Since it was preposterous to assume that MSE had in fact eradicated the Trojan (paranoia has its upside don’t you know?    Smile), I then ran a full scan with Kaspersky Rescue Disk – a free Linux-based antimalware application (a live CD), which scans from the outside looking in. Malware generally can’t hide if it’s not running.

The result? The Kaspersky Rescue Disk scan was clean. MSE had in fact, sent Trojan:JS/BlacoleRef.K to malware hell. Yes!!

I suppose there’s one more lesson that can be dug out of this experience, and that is – those tech journalists who absolutely insist that “pay for” antimalware applications are superior to all free AVs (often, without ever having tested the damn product in real world conditions), should take a step back and reconsider their speculative approach to antimalware application ratings.

Worth repeating: Despite the fact that I’m provided with a free license for all the security applications I test (and then some), I have chosen to run with the following FREE  applications.

Microsoft Security Essentials (free) – an all-in-one antimalware application.

Immunet Protect – a free Cloud based companion antimalware application.

ThreatFire (free) – this application is built around a Host Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS), and behavior based blocking combination.

WinPatrol (free) – another HIPS application with considerable additional functionality. WinPatrol is the elder statesman of this application class and, it just keeps on getting better. A must have application.

PC Tools Firewall Plus (free) – PC Tools Firewall Plus is advanced Firewall technology designed for typical users, not just experts.  The “plus” refers to a HIPS component. Generally, if the ThreatFire HIPS component is triggered on my machine, PC Tools Firewall Plus is triggered as well.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Cyber Crime, downloads, Free Anti-malware Software, Freeware, Immunet Protect, Microsoft, Software, trojans, Windows Tips and Tools

Windows Live Photo Gallery – Top 4 Features

My name is Mitz from http://tips4pc.com/ and I have been a Windows computer geek for over 25 years. I have seen software come and go over the years, succeed and fail, but Windows Live Photo Gallery is definitely a keeper.

I know this software is not new, however I feel that people are not seeing its full potential. Some of the features included with Windows live Gallery are so new to all of us, that we do not even know we have these amazing abilities on our computers.

Without further ado, I will mention some of my favorite features in Windows live photo Gallery.

#1. Windows Live Photo Gallery – Searching

Windows live photo Gallery has its own Find tab entirely dedicated to finding the photo or video you want on your computer. This makes it so much easier to find a lost photo or picture on your computer.

  1. Simply go to the find tab at the top of the program.
  2. Choose a folder from the left navigation pane. If you do not know what folder to choose, I usually click on my pictures folder.
  3. You can search by dates, tagged faces, star rated, or even simple text search.

In the screenshot below, I first pressed on the Months icon and narrowed my search down to April 2011. After doing this I pressed on the text search icon on the right. Now I can type in what I am looking for and the search has already been narrowed down for me.

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#2. Windows Live Photo Gallery – Photo Fuse

This is by far my favorite feature in Windows live photo Gallery! You can get three or four pictures and turn them into one really great photo. Look at my examples below. Initially I started with two photos, took the best from them both, and then ended up with a photo where everyone is facing the front.

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How to fuse photos together?
  1. Select two or more similar photos in the Windows live photo Gallery by putting a tick in the left corner of the photo. This means it is selected.
  2. Go to the create tab at the top and click on the photo fuse icon.
  3. Select the area of the photo that you want to replace.
  4. When you have done this you will see some choices appear. Pick the best part of the photo by clicking on it.
  5. Your photo will now be changed instantly.
  6. Go through and change all the parts of the photo that do not look right.
  7. When you are happy with your picture you can click on the close file icon at the top.
  8. Your picture will be automatically saved. You will see that you now have a new version of the picture in the folder where the original pictures were saved.

#3. Windows Live Photo Gallery – Retouch Tool

If you are an expert at retouching photos using Photoshop then you will probably cringe at the thought of using anything else to do the job. Let me tell you that this retouch tool is just a quick fix and will not do the same job as a professional photo editing program.

Here is an example below. Look very closely at the clothes line in the background. In one photo it has a cloth on the line and in the other it does not. I removed the cloth in literally one second.

All I did was select the area and it was taken away. Now with this kind of photo the Windows Live Gallery retouch tool worked well for me.

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How to retouch a photo?
  1. Double-click on the photo that you want to retouch.
  2. Click on the retouch icon at the top of the screen.
  3. Select the area on the photo that you want to read touch. For example, I selected the cloth hanging from the clothesline. You may not be able to select the entire section, therefore just choose a small area.
  4. As soon as you choose the area it will change.
  5. When you have finished retouching the photo simply press close file.

As I said, this photo retouching tool is really just for the simple jobs but it is very handy to have around because it is so quick to do. I definitely will be using for jobs likes this..

#4. Windows Live Photo Gallery – Importing photos and videos

It is fantastic that Windows live photo Gallery is able to import photos and videos from your digital camera. Back in the days when Windows XP was king, we had the Microsoft scan and camera wizard to import photos to our computers. Unfortunately when Windows Vista came along, the scan and camera wizard disappeared from existence. This is why it is great that Microsoft has bought out Windows live photo Gallery as I see this program as more than an equivalent to the Microsoft scan at and camera wizard.

How to import pictures?
  1. On the home tab in Windows live photo Gallery, simply press on the import icon.
  2. Make sure your camera or device is connected to the computer and on so Windows live Gallery can find it.
  3. Choose your camera from the list and click import.
  4. Now you get many choices when import in your photos to your computer. You can review organize or group photos so you will have no trouble finding them in a year or two.
  5. When you are done choosing, categorizing, and so on, choose import.

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I strongly suggest that you check out Windows live photo Gallery for yourself! It is seriously an all in one program that is absolutely amazing because it is free. There are so many more features included with this software that it would probably take an entire day to go through.

Guest post by Mitz Pantic http://tips4pc.com/

What is your favourite feature in Windows live photo Gallery? Comment below and let me know.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under Free Photo Applications, Freeware, Guest Writers, Integrated Photo Applications, Microsoft, Windows Tips and Tools

Windows 8 – No Thank You – I’ll Pass!

imageRudyard Kipling, in his Barrack-Room Ballads wrote“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, to describe the disconnect between two cultures – but, he might just as easily have been describing Microsoft’s attempt, with the development of Windows 8, to wed a Desktop/Laptop operating system and a Smartphone/Tablet operating system.

No doubt, Microsoft deserves a ton of credit for being adventuress and taking risks with the development of Windows 8. But, in re-imagining Windows “from the chipset to the user experience”, to quote Windows division president Steven Sinofsky – they have failed to meet their own target, which is, according to Microsoft – to give “users the same great experience whether they are on a tablet or on a desktop.” The experience, from my perspective is not so great.

Windows 8, developer preview (expires March 12, 2012) , was released yesterday for download and of course, I had to take the opportunity to test drive Microsoft’s latest OS offering. I’ve been running Windows 8 in a production environment for roughly 12 hours, so I’ve had an opportunity to develop some short term views.

The Windows 8 user interface is a radical departure from the traditional desktop UI and as such, it fails to satisfy my basic requirements. Since a desktop is my primary work unit, I have little interest in swiping features, keyboard shortcuts, slider menus and  an OS navigation system designed with a Tablet PC, or a Smartphone, in mind. As one of my friends observed – “ If I wanted my desktop to have the look and feel of a Tablet, I’d buy a Tablet.

Installation on a test system running Windows 7 (on which I kept settings), was smooth and flawless, with little user interaction required – much like a Win 7 install.

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Following startup and login, the surprises came in bunches – starting with the new Metro GUI. Super on a Tablet, I expect – but on my desktop – Yuck!

All application can be viewed as tiles, and are reachable with the click of a mouse, or accessed with the touch of a finger. The desktop, (shown on the far left tile in this screen capture), has been reconfigured as an application.

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The desktop (which I setup like my old Win 7 desktop), can also be accessed by cursoring to the left edge of the GUI – and voila! However, this is not an instinctive move.

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To take full advantage of Windows 8, users will need to develop a solid background of mouse gestures, and keyboard shortcuts.

Keyboard shortcuts include –

Alt-F4 – closes applications.

Windows key – switch between GUI and running application.

Windows key + R brings up the Run dialog box.

The Start menu has been replaced by the following virtually useless abomination – just look at what’s missing here. Including access to – shutdown. What were these guys thinking!

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Shutdown – Restart can be reached by clicking on Devices, which brings up the following – click on the power button and you’re out. In theory that is. Despite repeated attempts, I could not shutdown the system. I had no choice but to put the system into sleep mode.

Truthfully, I had to Google search “Windows 8 shutdown” to get a grip on the shutdown command – and, I can assure you, I was not alone. How sad is that in a new operating system.

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In my attempt to become familiar with Windows 8 as quickly as possible, I found myself relying on Windows Explorer more than normal – only to find THE RIBBON, has been incorporated into this venerable piece of Windows.

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This would have been a perfect opportunity for Microsoft to improve Windows Explorer with the addition of dual panes (very handy for geeks), but instead – we get the ribbon.

There’s little doubt that back behind the GUI, Windows 8 advances computing technology in a number of very substantial ways. Especially in that most important of areas – system security. But, this hybrid just doesn’t work for me.

Given that this is a developer preview, and at least one of the reasons for its general release is the feedback necessary to fine tune the system, I’m hoping to see a final product that more adequately reflects the “real” needs of desktop users.

In the meantime, within a day or two, Windows 8 on my test system will be deep sixed in favor of Windows 7 – in my view, the best Windows system to come out of Redmond.

If you are interested in checking out Windows 8 developer preview – you can download it here.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Freeware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows 8