Friday, May 15, 2009

Windows 7 Release Candidate; The Good and The Ugly Sides

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Microsoft's limited distribution of the Windows 7 release candidate (RC) on April 30 -- followed by its more widespread release a week later -- has triggered a firestorm of opinions, comments, critiques and compliments.
As usual, the commenters can be generally divided into two camps: Windows haters and Windows fans. On the whole, though, the RC has received a considerable amount of praise, even from some Macintosh users.
However, security -- always an issue with Microsoft -- could be a problem with the RC, which apparently has a security hole that has hung around on Windows operating systems for years.
Just Loving It
The Windows 7 RC has generated lots of positive comments.
Michael Cherry, a senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft, is running the RC on a newly purchased netbook with an Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) Atom processor and 1 GB of RAM. "I was skeptical because a lot of Microsoft executives were promoting running it on a notebook, but it works just fine," he told TechNewsWorld.
The RC has also generated quite a bit of fan mail. "So far, I'm apprehensively impressed," one fan signing himself "Daniel" wrote in response to an article on The New York Times' Gadgetwise blog about the RC. "Seems Microsoft really pulled their finger out to make this simple and sexy."
After running the RC for two days, another commenter on the blog, Joe Richards, said that he prefers his PC running Windows 7 RC over his Apple Macintosh.
Even on the Apple Blog, which (perhaps predictably) ripped the Windows 7 RC, there were a few favorable comments.
"I've used Windows 7 RC1 quite a lot and it's been blisteringly fast," wrote Chris Neal in response to a post about Windows 7 RC, suggesting that it outperforms Windows Vista, Windows XP and, in some cases, Apple's own OS X operating system.
The Other Side
Not everyone who has tried the Windows 7 RC has fallen head over heels in love with it, however. Naysayers include many other commenters on the aforementioned Apple Blog.
Among them is Christian Walker, who considers himself as a hardcore Windows user. The Windows 7 RC has "frozen up on me as much as and perhaps even more than Vista," he wrote, adding that the RC also caused him other problems. "Let's just say I'll be purchasing a Mac. My first Mac."
Meanwhile, security vendor F-Secure points out on its blog that the Windows 7 RC retains a known security hole in Windows Explorer that lets malware authors trick people into clicking on and downloading their malware.
This is a feature that hides extensions for files. Instead of seeing a file name with the extension ".doc" or ".txt" ("Finances.doc" or "MyFile.txt"), for example, users will see the file name without the extension (simply "Finances" or "MyFile").
The problem has been around since Windows NT, according to the F-Secure post. Windows NT, a family of operating systems first released in 1993, is the first fully 32-bit version of Windows.
Hiding the Extensions
Malware authors leverage the extension-hiding feature by renaming an executable file, which uses the ".exe" extension. "The trick was to rename 'Virus.exe' to 'Virus.txt.exe' or 'Virus.jpg.exe' and Windows will hide the '.exe' part of the filename," the F-Secure post says.
However, this may not be much of an issue, according to Directions on Microsoft's Cherry. "The first thing I do on any Windows machine is set the file attribute so I can see the attributes even on hidden files," he noted.
"Microsoft uses this feature because it's very confusing to a lot of users to see all these file extensions out there," Cherry explained. "They just want to name their file. They don't want to know the difference between the '.xls,' the '.doc' and the '.dot' extensions, for example."

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