Thursday, July 30, 2015

Computer Update Prepping

While it may not be a life-or-death problem, updating or upgrading a computer can be a potential disaster for those who earn a living with their digital devices. Microsoft is rolling out their latest (and last?) version of Windows, Win 10, in an almost irreversible update to Win 7/8. There is no rolling back to a previous restore point with this update. This can be troubling to those of us with a lot of data and resources stored on our computers. Here's how I'm prepping for the transition.

By the way: Apple products have had their issues in the past so I don't need to hear about how superior they are to Windows. We don't need to get into that Ford/Chevy, 45APC/9mm debate. If it works for you, be happy and let others find what works for them.

If you have data or files that cannot be easily replaced, you'd best have multiple copies of them. Everything electronic is ephemeral, it can be wiped out in an instant. It doesn't take a Solar flare or an EMP weapon to wipe out your data. I've had simple static electricity wipe out SD cards full of vacation pictures and USB drives full of files. My work files are backed up on an external drive and the really important ones are also backed up on a "cloud storage" service. Any disaster that wipes out that many copies is going to be bad enough that I won't be worried about computers for a long time after.

Back up often. and in detail.

Do your research
Going into the Win 10 upgrade, I read a lot of reviews and "expert" opinions about the upgrade.
  • Microsoft (MS) has finally driven a stake through the heart of Internet Explorer, replacing it with a new browser called Edge
  • They have also updated the search function to include voice input (if you have a microphone) and named it Cortana, after a character from the popular Halo video game series. 
  • There has been some discussion about the new Wi-Fi credential sharing option (Wi-Fi Sense). Basically, it defaults to share the login info for all of your networks (passwords are kept invisible) with all of your contacts on Facebook, your email lists, and Skype. This is designed to allow people to "crowd-source" wi-fi hotspots and minimize mobile data usage. Security experts are mixed on the vulnerability of using this feature, but it is easy to disable, which is highly recommended.

Make a recovery disk
Back in the days of Win 95/98 you could boot from a floppy disk. Those days are long gone. With Win7/8 you'll need a USB drive of at least 8GB or a few blank DVD-R disks. I keep a recovery USB for each of my computers in a safe as a backup to the recovery partition on the hard drive. Doing a search on your computer for "Recovery" will give the option to "create a recovery disk" and that should walk you through the procedure.

Set aside a couple of hours
The Win 10 is an option that, once selected, will download in the background. Actually installing it takes about two hours, and your PC will be out of commission during this tome. If you're on a laptop, use the power adapter unless you have a very good battery. Your computer will shutdown and restart several times during this process, so it's best to just walk away from it for a while.

Have a back-up plan for your back-up
If something goes completely bonkers during the update process, you run the risk of ending up with an expensive doorstop. A few people have already reported that their computers locked up during the update to Win 10 and turned into a brick. If that were to happen and your recovery disk can't get you back to your previous version of Windows, there is a solution: Download and burn a copy of Linux.

I actually like Ubuntu Linux, and it will run from the install CD without having to actually be installed. As a bonus, it's free. Their long term support (LTS) versions are supported for five years and it's difficult to write malware for any flavor of Linux, so you don't need to worry about anti-virus software.

Time to go see if I have a new operating system or a headache. Wish me luck.

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