Posts Tagged ‘windows’

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Syncing Between Linux and Windows with BitTorrent

28/06/2013
Skip the insecure Cloud with BitTorrent Sync

Skip the insecure Cloud with BitTorrent Sync

I’ve always been a DIY kind of guy when it came to technology, and the idea of giving my data to cloud services such as Dropbox or Box.com (and whoever has access to that data besides them) seemed a little iffy. The cloud, as great as it is for some things, isn’t really built for too much security. Keeping data private on an internal system is hard enough, but throwing it out to the internet only multiplies these issues.

That’s where BitTorrent Sync comes in. Built by BitTorrent Labs (and using the BitTorrent Protocol), this solution boasts that it will allow you to sync between different OSes, securely, and without throwing any of it out to the cloud. This increases security incredibly, and isn’t that hard to set up. I put it on my Linux laptop (Stu) and a Windows 8 desktop (Zer0), both of which I’ve used in previous projects. It works, but it has a few caveats as you’ll see below.

Installation on Linux

Linux installation is fairly easy, if a bit obtuse. Instead of an installer of any kind, the package for BitTorrent Sync comes with a License.txt file and a single btsync binary. To start up the software, simply unpack it, navigate to the containing folder in a terminal and run the ./btsync command. That’s it.

$ cd /Location/of/File
$ ./btsync
The Linux binary can be configured through the webGUI (kinda) or the more robust sync.conf file.

The Linux binary can be configured through the webGUI (kinda) or the more robust sync.conf file.

However, unlike it’s Windows and MacOS brethren, there’s no independent GUI to use. You’ll need to open a browser and head to a webpage to administer it. In most cases you can use the address 127.0.0.1:8888

From there you can select the folder you want to sync as well as generate a secret key for said location. The key is to allow other computers on your network to access the folder securely. Barring any conflicting firewall settings on your local machine, this should just be a matter of putting in the secret when you add a folder.

If you need the key from a folder you’ve set up previously, you can get it again from the gear icon next to the listing in BitTorrent Sync. Also, if you head to the Advanced tab you can grab a “Read-Only” secret. If you use this key when setting up another computer, it will read from the folder but never write to it. This is useful if you want the updates to go only one way or you want to give someone the ability to see what’s on your machine without running the risk of them deleting or altering the files.

Installation on Windows

Next, I went to Zer0, my Windows machine, and installed the software. From what I understand, the Windows and MacOS versions are pretty much the same, so other than the intricacies of the Mac platform the installation and use should be very similar.

The Windows application is a little plain, but gets the job done.

The Windows application is a little plain, but gets the job done.

After running the installer, you’ll be presented with a page that has several tabs. Go to the “Shared Folders” tab and click on “Add”. Put in the secret from the share that we want to access and click “Okay”. It should have all the information it needs to connect and start syncing. Mine did it automatically and pulled the four or so test files with no further work on my part.

You can also add a local folder and sync it here. By default it’s the btsync folder in your Documents directory. I just left this as it is for my testing purposes.

Tweaking the System

Now that it’s set up, you can do a few more things to shape it to your preferences. As you first may have noticed you can add any number of folders to sync, for no cost unlike most cloud services. So if your primary concern is just moving files back and forth behind the scenes (as I do) then that’s probably this setup’s greatest strength beyond security.

There are further options as well that fall into the more advanced users’ category. On the Preferences page in both the Linux WebGUI and the Windows application, you can set rate limits, alter whether the software loads at boot and some other odds and ends. In the Advanced section, you can do even more. Here’s a quick rundown of these options:

The conf file has pretty good explanations for every editable line

The conf file has pretty good explanations for every editable line

disk_low_priority: If True, BitTorrent Sync will set itself to Low Priority on the system. Turn this on if you’re noticing serious speed problems when using BitTorrent Sync

lan_encrypt_data: If True, BitTorrent Sync will encrypt data sent over the local network. Turn this on if you want to hide your traffic from others who may be using the same network as you.

lan_use_tcp: If True BitTorrent Sync will use TCP instead of UDP for local transfers. Will use more bandwidth but will be (at least theoretically) more reliable.

rate_limit_local_peers: If True, BitTorrent Sync will apply rate limits (set in General Preferences) to local users. By default rate limits are only applied to external peers (those not on your network).

In Linux, these options as well as a few others are all stored in the configuration of btsync. You’ll need to go to the folder that you have btsync running in to access it. First, you’ll probably want to output a sample configuration and open it in a text editor to see all options you have. There are quite a few.

$ ./btsync --dump-sample-config > sync.conf
$ gedit sync.conf

It’s pretty self-explanatory, but I want to direct your attention to the username/password fields. Remember that webpage we went to earlier to set up the shared folder on Linux? Well it’s actually hosted from your machine, meaning that anyone who as the access to the network can pull up your BitTorrent Sync options and mess with them. So it might behoove you to set this option.

Once you’ve organized things the way you want them in your sync.conf file, save it. Now, you can import it back into the BitTorrent Sync application by running btsync with the modified conf file as such:

$ ./btsync --config sync.conf

Worth the Effort?

And that’s pretty much the ins-and-outs of the BitTorrent Sync application. I imagine that I’ll be using this not as my primary software to sync things between machines or as backups, but I will have it move files and folders from one machine to another periodically. Perhaps one could set up a backup drive on a server that just copies one way from all the machines that are linked to it. I imagine that could be a project for a different day.

On the whole this is a nice piece of software that pretty much does what it says it’s going to do, and securely. I know it’s Linux, but the lack of a real GUI and the complication of editing advanced options by way of the .conf file is kind of a downer. I’m totally fine with using the command line (in some cases I prefer it), but that drags down the score a bit on this one because it’s not very user friendly. Still, a fine piece of software that I will definitely be utilizing in the future.

Rating: 4.5/5 – Pretty darn good. However, the Linux version takes a little work to get customized and the Windows/MacOS advanced pages are a little confusing at first.

-CJ Julius

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Teaching Windows 8 and Ubuntu Linux to Share

08/05/2013
Rinder500 being shared on Zero.

Rinder500 being shared on Zero.

A few weeks ago, I had put together a project to turn a few eSATA drives that I had lying around into a few mobile digital vaults. This was a complete success, and gave me a bunch more room to do future projects. However, it did not give me an easy way to access these drives, especially the one attached to my main Windows machine and my laptop. Having to unplug/replug every time was proving cumbersome.

So, I decided to make my “mobile” drives a little more permanent, and then just give access to them across a system of three computers via wireless. This would give me 750GB between the machines with which to divvy up as I saw fit.

I’ll be approaching this in three parts:

  1. Setting up the 500GB on the Windows 8 machine (Zero) and sharing.
  2. Setting up the 250GB on my Ubuntu File Server (Crusher) and sharing.
  3. Connecting a Laptop (Stewart) and Zero and Crusher.

In my scenario I did not need to share to my file server from my Windows 8 machine. There’s no reason for it to access it, if successful, from anything other than Zero or Stewart.

Zero Trouble

The Rinder 250 share as viewed from the Windows 8 machine (Zero)

The Network as viewed from the Windows 8 machine (Zero)

So, step one was getting my shares running on Zero. The first thing I did was make sure my networking was all in line. Prior to this, I’d only ever used the Windows 8 computer to connect to the internet, never as part of any network. It had been part of another network previously, but not since the OS was upgraded.

In System Properties> Network ID I set it up as part of a Home Computer and gave it the Workgroup “ZRO_WG”. This is so I have an easy way of recognizing this machine on the network uniquely. Then, I simply shared the Rinder500 drive and set it to require a password.

Even though on Windows 8 your login is an email address, you’re only concerned with the username of the account. So if your account is SomeGuy@Somewhere.com then your user name is most likely going to be just “SomeGuy”. In my advanced sharing options (right-click, Advanced Sharing) I put a comment on the share to easily identify it, required a password and a simple name “rinder500”.

And that was it.

Doing Samba

Rinder250 shared on Linux

Rinder250 shared on Linux

In Ubuntu it was almost just as easy. I’m currently running Ubuntu 10.04 Server LTS on my file server, because I’m trying to stay away from Unity as long as I can*, and that’s what was around when I first put this machine together. That should also give you an idea of its age. Keep this in mind as I proceed as some of my methods may not work for new versions or the problems I had may not even be an issue anymore.

You can Share a drive on Ubuntu just like you would share any folder, since that’s how they’re treated when mounted. You do this by heading into the drive, in my case /media/Rinder250 and right-click to share. Then, I used the shares-admin command from terminal and added the users I wanted and verified that my shares had been added properly.

Shares-admin shows all the users and your shares.

Shares-admin shows all the users and your shares.

Your Workgroup defaults to your machine name, so it was Crusher for the file server. I used a local user (me) as someone with full rights to the share, just to keep it simple. But, you can use this method to add any number of users to the share and give them different permissions if you want.

To do any of this however, you will need to install Samba. You will be prompted for it when you try to share, so this isn’t an issue, unless your server isn’t connected to the internet for whatever reason.

Building the Intranet

Now that I had both of the shares created, it was time to link all of them together. I had three machines that I wanted to link together: Zero, Stewart and Crusher. All three had different OS’s and different needs so I’m detailing them individually.

Laptop's (Stewart) view of the network.

Laptop’s (Stewart) view of the network.

Zero

Zero is the Windows 8 machine and sharing the 500GB eSATA drive. The only one that it needed to link to was Crusher. I scanned the network (by doing the cumbersome task of clicking on the Network) and selecting Crusher.local. Then I put in my username and password for the share and Viola! everything was able to be read from and written to.

Crusher

Crusher is the Ubuntu 10.04 Server sharing the 250GB eSata drive. This got complicated, mostly because of the way Samba (on 10.04 at least) handles Windows shares. You can’t just find the share in the network, double click on it and be good. You have to manually type in the address and then fill out the user/pass information. Using the Go > Location menu and then putting in something like:

smb://WORKGROUP;username@ip.address.of.server/share/

Note the case of the case of the words, as they are important. The workgroup has to be in upper case and the username and share need to be in lower case. If it isn’t put in exactly as you see here, then it won’t work.

Stewart

Stewart shared nothing, but needed to access both shares on Crusher and Zero using Ubuntu 12.04. This one was finished just like Ubuntu 10.04 machine, except that I had to put in two shares. Also, instead of an IP for Crusher I was able to put in just crusher.local. Other than that, exactly the same.

In Production

On the two Ubuntu machines I ended up making bookmarks for them, so I could easily get to them without having to type in that long address every time. If I reboot the server, which is rarely, and I don’t have a static IP assigned, I will need to add the share again and bookmark it again.

Now that I have put together these shared drives, I can move or save things to them across the network. I will be using these network drives in the future, when I will attempt to digitize my movie library.

*As mentioned, I do have 12.04 on my laptop, Stewart.

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Carve and Sift: My Primer to Linux Computer Forensics

01/05/2013
The Deft Linux Desktop

The Deft Linux Desktop

Actually, the title is a bit of a misnomer. I’d already learned a bit about computer forensics and the process of recovering files on Windows operating systems some years ago. I had pulled a lot of lost data from a machine that had unexpectedly quit working, saving a lot of customer data for a person who, for the sake of their employment, shall remain anonymous.

However, the method I went about it could hardly be called “forensics” as I had to install some software to a USB and I still had to boot into the OS. I did a lot of writing to the disk (a forensics no-no) and not much was really preserved intact, but I did manage to save what needed to be saved. It really didn’t feel like I had done anything that would be useful to, say, a crime lab.

Deft Linux

cyClone_Menu

The cyClone menu system is pretty clear and can produce either raw or compressed image files with SHA1 or MD5 hashes.

A few weeks ago I was asked if I could perform such a task on a newer Windows 7 laptop, one with a terabyte hard drive, resurrecting some home videos and photos that had been deleted. I jumped at the chance for three reasons: First, these files were of special importance to this person, as one of the family members had died recently and had failed to back them up. Secondly, this gave me a chance to try out the new Deft Linux package on a computer that I could actively see if it was successful. Lastly, the data was relatively nonvolatile. If I accidently wiped it, then no one was getting fired.

I downloaded and burned Deft Linux 7 onto a DVD and got to work. Deft is a Live Disc, meaning that the OS loads from the DVD rather than a hard disk, and is largely based on Ubuntu. The Deft Distro itself is an amalgamation of both Linux and Windows software (through WinE) put together by some people in Italy. It has an English version, and is just about as all-inclusive as you can get with the Linux tools. It also is set up not to mount any drives until you tell it to, and even then you can specify to mount as read-only or full access.

After looking through the impressive and useful manual on their website, I concluded that the pieces of software that I was going to use for the job were cyClone, Foremost and Scalpel. Luckily, there is a GUI front-end for the latter and a menu-driven command-line interface for the former. This was just about as simple as it could get.

Carving

After you carve, you'll want to sift through the image file to see what you can find and/or "resurrect".

After the carve you’ll have a dd image file (raw) and a log telling you how long it took and if it passed the SHA1/MD5 verification check.

The first step in getting the data off of a drive is to Carve it. That is to say, you “carve” out the piece of the drive you want to look at and put it somewhere else, some place that ideally has more space or maybe more computing power. In my case, I didn’t have the time, nor interest, in installing the software on my Linux boxes, so I just carved and set it aside.

Also, I wasn’t particularly interested in the entire drive, as they only really used the first 200GB of the 750GB that had been allotted them on the main C: drive. It would have been too time consuming and not revealed much to look at the last ~550GB of it. So, I carved only the first 200GB and placed it on one of the SATA drives that I had made in a previous project. If you want to get really fancy, you can run the command-line dcfldd which is the US Department of Computer Defence Forensics Lab’s enhanced version of the dd command.

Hunchback_GUI

After you carve, you’ll want to sift through the image file to see what you can find and/or “resurrect”.

Remember before when I said that Deft didn’t mount the drive and you could select to mount as Read Only or Full Access? The reason for this is that data is written to the disk when they are mounted in Full Access mode which is default for almost every OS out there. If we’re police investigators trying to get clues about what’s on a computer, we certainly don’t want to taint the crime scene by scribbling all over it. Mounting a partition in read-only mode prevents the us or the OS from accidently doing just that.

Sifting

Sifting is mostly hit-and-miss, with the emphasis on the miss. It also takes quite a long while, depending on the size of the image.

Sifting is mostly hit-and-miss, with the emphasis on the miss. It also takes quite a long while, depending on the size of the image.

This is the part that takes the longest. Now that we have our cloned drive, we need to go through it and pull out all of the files we need and organize them. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest in Deft is to use the Hunchback GUI. This is a GUI front-end for for the scalpel and foremost command-line pieces. Options in Hunchback aren’t as robust as they are from the command-line, which is usually the case, but they were good enough for us.

I selected all the picture and video types, ignoring things like PDFs or EXEs. Then I pointed to another external drive (from a previous project) and told it to drop all the files that it found in that folder and arrange them by type. The software creates folders for each one and copies what it can accordingly.

Once that was done, I re-mounted the internal 750GB drive with full access, dropped the files I had sifted onto it, and I was done. Now, they could look through the files at their leisure (tens of thousands) and get their deleted files back.

A Further Word

This above, while definitely not a how-to, is a very simple way of getting data off of a Windows or other OS’s drive without disturbing the contents. You could even stop at the image stage and take it with you to sift later. It is an EXACT copy of the drive, deleted files and all.

Deft also contains a gargantuan number of other useful tools for doing things besides straight computer forensics. It also has utilities for network forensics, encryption study and more. If you’ve ever been interested in Computer or Network forensics, then Deft is a must have. It’s definitely tool number one on my belt for this kind of work.

-CJ Julius

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How I Turned an Old Computer Into a Mobile Digital Vault

24/04/2013

For a couple of years I’ve had an older HP AMD64 sitting around that the motherboard went out on, and I’ve been looking for a use for the parts. More specifically, I’ve been looking for a way to use the 500GB SATA HD that’s inside. It seemed like an awful lot of space to waste.

Stripped Insides of the old computer

I just took the HD, RAM and CPU.

I posted a while back on my Twitter (or possibly LinkedIn, it’s been a while) a link to LifeHacker’s “Five Best Drive Enclosures” and slowly the idea has been making its way up my project list.

But I wanted to one-up the project. I didn’t just want a portable hard drive, I wanted a device that I could move around, somewhat, and still be secured in the event that it was stolen. Basically I wanted a mobile digital vault.

First step was to get the drive out of the computer and into something that was useful. Referring back to the LifeHacker article before I chose the Rosewill RX-358 which met all of my criteria: It had to be cooled (fan), support larger drives (500GB) and be ESATA compatible.

HD just before putting top on

It slides right in to the connectors on the back and fits like it came from the factory that way. Kudos to Rosewill.

I dropped the old SATA drive into it, which fit snugly into the case. Once you put the Rosewill back together, it actually feels like it was factory built to be a mobile drive. It feels solid and secure.

I backed up any data on it I wanted, which wasn’t much, and then formatted the drive. I chose NTFS for the drive format type because both Windows and Linux, the two OSes I use most, can both read it. I didn’t plan to turn all 500GB into an digital vault, since I don’t have that many private documents, but you can certainly do that with the software.

Now that I had a newly-formatted 500GB drive I used TrueCrypt to create the virtual drive on it. This software runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, so a drive created in one is readable on any device that has TrueCrypt installed. This is of course assuming that it’s in a filesystem that the OS can read.

TrueCrypt Main Screen

The TrueCrypt Main Screen before I hit the “Mount” button. You can have several encrypted virtual drives running at once.

I tried initially to create a 50GB drive (more than enough for me) in NTFS through Windows, but for some reason Windows wasn’t able to write past about 7GB before shutting down. I tried again in Linux and it had no problem creating the entire 50GB partition and encrypting it with my key.

When I did this, however, NTFS was not an option and I chose EXT4 (Linux filesystem) instead. This meant that while I was able to mount it in Windows, I wouldn’t be able to read the virtual drive without some extra work. This was fine for me, as I use Linux primarily. If you are trying this on your own, keep this in mind.

After the new drive was created, formatted and mounted (with password required)*, I put a copy of a faux folder called “Important Documents” into it with a few files and dismounted. The dismounted virtual drive was an unintelligible mess with no indication of what it was supposed to be, which is exactly what you want.

My "Important" documents

My “Important” Documents encrypted and decrypted fine. Ubuntu acts like it’s just another drive, but in Linux it isn’t in fstab so it won’t show up in your Unity dock.

The device mounted again, after rebooting on the machine it was created on and on another system entirely, showing me my documents in good condition. I was able to mount it on Windows as well, though as mentioned I was not able to read the files from it. I tried a program that was built to read mounted EXT2/3/4 drives, but it didn’t seem to pick up my encrypted drive. There are other methods, such as installing a driver to read the other filesystems, but since this was not a high priority for me I did not do it. Perhaps I will try those options later. I’ll post an update on this blog post if I get anything to work (or not!).

So, there you have it. I now have a 500GB mobile drive with a 50GB digital vault. I would recommend also putting a copy of Truecrypt on your un-encrypted portion so you can install it if need be. If not that, then you can do as I have and sync the installer to your Dropbox. My method, of course, assumes that you’ll have internet access. I wouldn’t recommend encrypting the entire drive for this reason as well, especially if you have a large one. Truecrypt is very smooth, but you don’t want to have to do that every time you get on your drive to move some pictures or something.

Rosewill Running

The Rosewill attached via the ESATA port. The blue lights are factory standard.

Any way you go about it, this is a good way to securely move your data around. If the unthinkable happens, you’ll know that you don’t have anything to worry about… other than getting a new mobile drive.

*Note: Just to give you an idea of the power of the encryption technology in use, with AES encryption it would take a trillion computers doing a billion brute force attacks (password guesses) a second, two billion years to break into your data. Fort Knox wishes it was this secure.

-CJ Julius

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Windows 8: I’ll Admit It; I Like It.

17/04/2013

With the headlines about Windows 8 Killing PC sales, and the laundry-list of complaints from tech websites about problems with the OS, you’d think that Windows 8 was the worst thing since, well… Vista. But it’s not. I promise you it isn’t.

Main_Start_fxd

My re-arranged “Metro” Start Menu.
Pretty elegant and useful, if I do say so myself.

It’s old-hat by now. Microsoft releases a new operating system, tech people throw a fit, but a year or so later it’s the standard. That’s the way it was with Windows XP and Windows 7. We’ll ignore Vista for the moment, since that OS had objectively bad implementation, as Microsoft’s move away from that titling system has shown.

When Windows 8 first came out, I kept well enough away. If there’s one truism about OS releases, it’s that you wait for the first round up major updates before you even consider installing it. I have lots of work that I need to get done on my computers and excluding a few test machines, I don’t have time to dink around with drivers and install problems.

The Install

One day, my Windows 7 machine crashed hard. After a laborious reinstall process, it turned out to be a hardware issue that I won’t go into here and it got me thinking that it might be time to take the plunge. I had previously had a upgrade from XP to Win7 meaning that I had to install XP first, and then upgrade to Win7 should I need to do a full reinstall. This was a cumbersome method, but I was strapped for cash at the time I made the purchase and I really needed to move away from XP.

Win8_Twitter_fxd

The official Twitter app is okay,
though like other Windows Store apps,
it needs a little more love to be useful.

So, I bought a System Builder version of Windows 8 and reformatted my recently installed Windows 7 to start over. The install was pretty clear, and guided me elegantly from start to finish with a fluidity that I honestly didn’t expect. I really didn’t have any problems of note on my custom-built rig. I was off and running… kind of.

I’d only used Windows 8 on a display in a store, and for a short bit way back in the developer preview version. Aesthetically speaking, it was largely unchanged, but boy was I lost. The main screen was pretty straight-forward, with all the apps listed across the sliding panel and the “Store” to purchase them in.

Where it really lost me though, was the desktop. See, in the new version of Windows, the desktop is kind of an app on your Start Menu. You click it and you’re taken to the old familiar Windows7-ish desktop you’re probably familiar with, sans the Start Icon. Notification area, Recycle Bin, QuickLaunch, etc are all listed there as per usual. This caused me some problems that I’ll talk about in the Not So Neat section of this post.

I shrugged my shoulders at the desktop and returned to the Start Menu, adding/removing apps to and from it, getting rid of ones that I probably will never use. Sorry, but I’m not ever going to click on the “Shopping”App. Once I had everything, including my two backgrounds and color scheme customized, I was ready to actually start using it. I forced myself to work with it for about a month to give it a chance to impress me (or not!).

Pretty Neat

As step one I think it’s fair to go through some of the big things that were important to me that I like about Windows 8. There’s a lot of little stuff that it does well, but these are the things that were important to me and maybe others.

AppSwitch_fxd

The “App Switcher”, while it hasn’t
replaced ALT-TAB, is a nice addition.

First of all, it’s faster. Not in a blazing-your-socks-off kind of way, though it is a definite performance boost. Being someone who upgraded a laptop from XP to Vista, I can tell you that this came as a surprise. This is the first OS I’ve ever upgraded where the upgrade was faster than the previous version. Keep in mind that I had a fresh install of Windows 7 on the exact same hardware prior to wiping and upgrading to Windows 8.

The user interface, while a whole different ballgame from previous versions of Windows, was pretty easy to get the hang of. All apps seemed to work independently of each other, much as you’d expect from a App-architecture and most of them functioned pretty well. Most. (See below for more details) I also had no problem pulling all of the software I’ve used on my Windows 7 system or getting Windows Store equivalents.

All in all, this is the smoothest upgrade I’ve gone through with Windows.* For the most part, everything worked pretty darn well.

Not So Neat

It’s not all sunshine and roses. As with any OS, even those I like, I had a few problems. Win8 has a weird way of going about some things and I try to keep separated what I find genuinely frustrating and what is just different to me. Some things are just fine, but they’re different now and I need time to get used to that. I try pretty hard to avoid crotchety old man syndrome.

Win8_Skype_fxd

Skype is functional,
but not much else.

The learning curve is a bit of a mess. As strange as it sounds, if you’ve never used a computer before, you’re likely to pick up 8 faster than someone like me who’s been using the Windows platform professionally for a while. At least for your particular needs.

Keyboard shortcuts and the behind-the-scenes stuff has remained relatively unchanged but the layout has altered so drastically that even a week after I started using it I was still lost. I’d open up windows only to close them when I realized that I was heading in the wrong direction for what I wanted to do. I can’t count the number of times I’ve opened the Start Menu just to close it immediately when I figured out that I can’t use it for what I needed.

This leads me into my next complaint, that the interaction between the app-driven Start Menu and the desktop, to use a friend of mine’s description, is janky. If you’re on the desktop and you want to open something that’s in your Start menu, you have to go to the menu and open it. No problems there, but if it’s a desktop-based application, then you go back to the desktop to load it. It’s a full-screen back-and-forth that, while generally smooth, is time consuming and feels inefficient. So far, the only way to get around it is to have an icon in the QuickLaunch or on the Desktop, which kind of defeats the purpose of the really neat (are we calling it Metro now or what?) Start Menu system.

Those Start Menu apps also force full-screen. You can drag them off to one side, a process called “snapping” but some apps don’t support this feature as well as others. It’s best to just keep your apps in full screen most of the time. This isn’t terribly annoying, since most people are used to this now from mobile OS’s, but having multiple pieces of software open becomes hard to manage after a while.

Some apps, like Skype as of this writing, turn themselves off if you go to other software. If I’m using Skype to talk to someone and then I go to a full-screen desktop application, it will cut off the sound. There is a possibility that this is a problem in the Skype app, it was pretty rushed and looks it, though judging from the way that other Windows Store apps act, I’m not so sure. Skype is owned by Microsoft, so it should work perfectly in their new OS, right? Right?

And Now

So, after all is said and done, would I go back to Windows 7? Not a chance. Even with its janky nature sometimes, Windows 8 is a step in the right direction. Microsoft needed to do something radical to stay relevant, and this is the OS they needed to make. Short the weird desktop/Start Menu transition, the fundamentals are all there… and then some.

Windows-8-logo-300x300

Windows 8:
Not as bad as you’ve heard.

In the future, as with all Operating Systems, there are going to be improvements maybe even some heavy shifts to address some lingering issues (Check out what’s coming in Windows Blue). But, as a release that could have been horrible or have had no attempt to reinvent the OS at all, I can’t complain that much. So far, this is the most I’ve LIKED a new OS redesign in a long while (don’t even get me started on Ubuntu’s Unity), so I guess that’s something. But rest assured, this ain’t no Vista.

*For the curious, the worst was from Win98 to XP. It was just a big nightmare from start to finish. Keep in mind that this too had a lot in common with the Windows 7 to 8 transition in that it was a fairly radical (for the time) change in OS architecture.

-CJ Julius