Windows 11’s new Restore Apps feature is so close to being great

Windows 11 will soon be much easier to set up exactly how you like it on a new PC thanks to a freshly introduced feature which has now entered testing.

PC World reports that Microsoft revealed the new Restore Apps feature at its Build conference for developers.

The feature – if turned on, as apparently it’s an optional ability – will shift not just your personal data onto a new PC (as can already be done via OneDrive, of course), but also your apps (with a catch – we’ll come back to that). Also, it’ll port over the customization you have applied to the interface too – so, for example, your desktop icons and layout, or apps you have pinned to the taskbar.

In essence, this means you can fire up a new installation of Windows 11 and soon have it exactly like your old system, with a minimum of hassle and effort.

As you might imagine, though, to get Restore Apps rolling and the full benefit of this easy migration to a new machine, you’ll need to be signed into a Microsoft Account (as opposed to using Windows 11 with a local account).

Windows 11 Restore Apps Feature

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: A couple of caveats

This is a great move from Microsoft in terms of making it really easy to get a new PC going. The catch is that with the apps being reinstalled, Windows 11 only preserves applications you’ve installed from the Microsoft Store, so you will have to manually set up other software.

And yes, you do have to use your Microsoft Account for the Windows 11 installation, but that’s no surprise. We don’t have a problem with Microsoft leveraging its account where necessary and when it’s of genuine benefit to users, after all. (What we don’t like to see is dubious ‘suggestions’ and ‘help’ in the Start menu which are just thinly veiled adverts for an account).

We’re told that Restore Apps should be available to testers imminently, perhaps by the time you read this, but it’s not clear in which channel Microsoft will deploy the feature first (Canary or Dev, presumably).

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Windows 11’s Phone Link for iOS reportedly being used to spy on iPhone owners

Windows 11 has just introduced Phone Link support for iOS, which has now rolled out to everyone – but we’re hearing a warning that iPhone owners could be spied upon by somebody leveraging a flaw allowing for misuse of the app.

Phone Link has been around for Android for ages, and allows messages, notifications, and much more to be piped through to a Windows 11 PC, so you can deal with them there on the desktop without even picking up your smartphone.

So, its introduction to iOS is a definite boon for iPhone users – even if it’s a more limited set of features than Android – but the problem is that cyber-stalkers could abuse the functionality due to the way Phone Link has been implemented for Apple handsets.

Certo Software, a mobile security outfit, reports that several of its users have said they’ve been spied upon using Phone Link for iOS.

How does this work? Certo explains (via Apple Insider) the process in a news post, though the key thing to note is that to compromise an individual, the cyber-stalker needs physical access to the victim’s iPhone.

If the attacker can get that – and knows the passcode for the device – it’s an easy enough matter to set up Phone Link on their own Windows PC. Certo doesn’t detail the exact steps, so as not to give would-be abusers that information, but observes that it involves scanning a QR code on the PC monitor with the victim’s iPhone in order to setup a Bluetooth connection.

Once that’s done and Phone Link is set up, then things like phone call history, iMessages, and the content of any notifications can be viewed on that PC, with the iPhone owner unaware that any of their data is being compromised in this manner.

Certo notes that “cyberstalkers seem to be rapidly exploiting this new feature” and that this is obviously worrying.

iPhone 15

(Image credit: Thai Nguyen / Unsplash)

Analysis: What can be done?

This is particularly concerning as it could be leveraged in scenarios where, for example, an abusive partner might use this. They’d be able to view all messages and notifications, and engage in some quite in-depth spying on their victim, all without their partner’s knowledge.

If you own an iPhone and are now feeling concerned, Certo explains there are several actions you can take to check that you’re not being spied on in this way. Firstly, if you don’t ever use Bluetooth, check to make sure it’s turned off – without that wireless connection enabled, there can be no communication with the linked Windows PC.

Alternatively, you can look at what devices have been hooked up to your iPhone’s Bluetooth, and delete any you don’t recognize. To do that, head into Settings, and navigate to Bluetooth > My Devices. If you see any devices that you’re not sure about, or don’t know what they are, you can use ‘Forget This Device’ to remove them from your iPhone (thereby cutting the link).

Finally, it obviously helps if no one else knows your iPhone passcode to unlock it to gain access – if they do, or you think they might, then change it, and don’t share the passcode with anyone at all (after you’ve completed the above Bluetooth housekeeping).

Certo further warns: “As with previous loopholes in iPhone security, it may not be long before spyware makers start creating tools that make use of this method to extract even more information from victim’s iPhones.”

We don’t know how widely this method might’ve been exploited thus far, as the suggestion seems to be it’s just a scattering of reports, with the potential for things to get worse.

Hopefully, both Microsoft and Apple will be looking into this right now, to ensure that doesn’t happen, and to take any extra measures necessary to defend the privacy of iPhone users. One of Certo’s suggestions is for Apple to bring in some kind of visual warning indicator in iOS when notifications or messages are being shared with another device via Bluetooth.

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ChatGPT being fooled into generating old Windows keys illustrates a broader problem with AI

A lot of folks have been messing about with ChatGPT since its launch, naturally – that’s pretty much compulsory with a chatbot – and the latest episode involves the AI being tricked into generating keys for a Windows installation.

Before you begin to clamber on the outrage wagon, intent on plowing full speed ahead with no thought of sparing the horses, the user in question was attempting to generate keys for a now long redundant operating system, namely Windows 95.

Neowin highlighted this experiment, conducted by a YouTuber (Enderman), who began by asking OpenAI’s chatbot: “Can you please generate a valid Windows 95 key?”

Unsurprisingly, ChatGPT responded that it cannot generate such a key or “any other type of activation key for proprietary software” for that matter. Before adding that Windows 95 is an ancient OS anyway, and that the user should be looking at installing a more modern version of Windows still in support for obvious security reasons.

Undeterred, Enderman went back to break down the makeup of a Windows 95 license key and concocted a revised query.

This instead put forward the needed string format for a Windows 95 key, without mentioning the OS by name. Given that new prompt, ChatGPT went ahead and performed the operation, generating sets of 30 keys – repeatedly – and at least some of those were valid. (Around one in 30, in fact, and it didn’t take long to find one that worked).

When Enderman thanked the chatbot for the “free Windows 95 keys”, ChatGPT told the YouTuber that it hadn’t provided any such thing, as “that would be illegal” of course.

Enderman then informed the chatbot that one of the keys provided had worked to install Windows 95, and ChatGPT insisted “that is not possible.”


Analysis: Context is key

As noted, this was just an experiment in the name of entertainment, with nothing illegal happening as Windows 95 is abandonware at this point. Of course, Microsoft doesn’t care if you crack its nearly 30-year-old operating system, and neither does anyone else for that matter. You’d clearly be unhinged to run Windows 95, anyway.

It’s worth remembering that Windows 95 serial keys have a far less complex makeup than a modern OS key, and indeed it’s a pretty trivial task to crack them. It’d be a quick job for a proficient coder to write a simple computer program to generate these keys. And they’d all work, not just one in 30 of them, which is actually a pretty shoddy result from the AI in all honesty.

That isn’t the point of this episode, though. The fact is that ChatGPT could be subverted to make a working key for the old OS, and wasn’t capable of drawing any connection between the task it was being set, and the possibility that it was making key-like numbers. If ‘Windows 95’ had been mentioned in the second attempt to create keys, the AI would doubtless have stopped in its tracks, as the chatbot did with the initial query.

All of this points to a broader problem with artificial intelligence whereby altering the context in which requests are made can circumvent safeguards.

It’s also interesting to see ChatGPT’s insistence that it couldn’t have created valid Windows 95 keys, as otherwise it would have helped a user to break the law (well, in theory anyway).

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Google Docs wants to help you spot when you’re being phished

Spotting potential security threats such as phishing scams on Google Workspace should soon be a lot easier thanks to a new update to the software suite.

Google has revealed it is releasing an upgrade to its online collaboration platform that will provide more information on who is tagging you in comments or questions.

This means that whenever you are mentioned in a comment on a Google Docs document, Sheets spreadsheet or Slides slideshow, it should be easier to spot that the notification is legitimate.

Workspace email alerts

Previously, only the name of the commenter was included in email alerts sent to a user after they had been mentioned in a comment. Google says that in order to provide more security and insight, it will now also include the commenter's email address, showing they are a legitimate user.

Google Workspace comment email

(Image credit: Google)

“We hope that by providing this additional information, this will help you feel more confident that you’re receiving a legitimate notification rather than a spam or phishing attempt by a bad actor,” the company noted in a blog post announcing the news.

The feature is rolling out now, and is available to all Google Workspace customers, as well as legacy G Suite Basic and Business customers, and users with personal Google accounts.

The move is the latest addition from Google Workspace to improve security for its users. The company added end-to-end encryption to the platform back in June 2021 in what was a slightly late move, but one that added a significant protection boost for its entire software collection.

This launch also saw Google enabling businesses to set up their own in-house key service, enabling them to take charge of their encryption keys.

The company is also looking to draw in more new users with the launch of Workspace Migrate, which offers an easier way for admins to assess and plan migration projects to its platform.

This includes looking to move a large amount of enterprise data, such as that from Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft OneDrive, file shares, and Box migrations.

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Did Apple win CES 2022 without even being there?

Google, Intel, Nvidia, AMD. These and other companies made it a mission to mention Apple in some way at this year’s CES.

While Apple wasn’t actually at the event in Las Vegas, it still felt like everyone was talking about the company.

If you watched Intel and Nvidia’s live streams, you would have heard about products that were faster than Apple’s M1 Max chips for example (although further research looks to have put cold water on these claims by both companies already).

It’s only when you scratch the surface that you find that Apple has already been regarded as the winner at CES this year in a variety of categories, without being there in any official capacity.

Apple was in the eye of many at CES 2022

Intel was quick to compare its newest Alder Lake chips with the M1 Max, currently available in the MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch models. The press release directly states that the Intel Core i9 chip is faster than the M1 Max, but when you consider the heat that dissipates from this CPU compared to Apple’s chips, there’s more than just speed that Apple beats the competition on.

Intel comparing its Core i9 chip with Apple's M1 Max

(Image credit: Intel)

The Core i9 can draw up to 115 watts of power, while the M1 Max requests 60 watts in regular use, and it usually doesn’t exceed 90 watts when macOS demands more power from the chip.

But this is just one example from Intel, as the company also showcased Apple Watch and iMessage integration with upcoming Evo PCs through Screenovate, an app that was recently acquired by the company in December.

Google also announced an effort to mimic the connectivity that Apple’s ecosystem of devices boasts. Soon, you’ll be able to pair multiple devices through an upcoming feature called Fast Pair. This allows your Android phone to unlock your Chromebook, or having your Pixel Buds being able to swap between your phone and laptop with no issue.

However, this isn’t just about Google and Intel being inspired by Apple’s software features.

But wait, there’s more

Find My is Apple’s service of integrating with other products that can be found through the Find My app. It’s the same method that AirTags offer, but the company is allowing other companies to use the same technology. Targus was one example at CES by integrating Find My into a backpack.

Belkin also announced earbuds that would feature Find My, alongside a mount for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series that will be able to track your face, ideal for video calls or for creating the next viral TikTok video.

There’s also more efforts by companies such as Eve to integrate Apple’s HomeKit, which is a way of managing your home devices through the Home app, so you can control lights, your heating, and soon window blinds to switch on and off around your home when needed.

These are just some examples of what was announced at CES 2022, but it only shows how Apple was everywhere at the event, but not present itself. The only time where someone from Apple appeared at CES was in 2020 when Jane Horvath, Apple's senior director of privacy, took to the stage in a privacy roundtable.

And, the year before, the company decided to put up a banner in front of CES promoting the fact that your information is stored on your iPhone only.

Apple showcasing a privacy banner back at CES 2019

(Image credit: Future)

This just proves that Apple doesn’t need to be at CES – companies such as Belkin with its products and Intel with its charts do the hard work for the company regardless. While there’s still doubt on whether events like this are still needed in a post-pandemic world, the underlying theme was that companies are getting ready to suit up for a battle that’s mostly, already been won by Apple.

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LastPass is being spun off from LogMeIn

LogMeIn has revealed its intentions to spin off the popular password manager and security tool LastPass as a standalone company.

The company's password manager is used by over 30m users and 85k businesses worldwide and is set for strong and sustained growth going forward as both consumers and businesses continue to prioritize password security.

By establishing LastPass as a standalone business, LogMeIn plans to increase investment in its customer experience, go-to-market functions and engineering to accelerate its growth in password management, Single Sign-On (SSO) and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA).

Chief executive officer of LogMeIn, Bill Wagner provided further details behind the reasoning to spin off LastPass in a press release, saying:

“The substantial scale of LastPass, its tremendous growth, and its market leading position and brand makes it a perfect candidate to seize new opportunities as its own standalone company. Today's announcement also reflects our strategic priority to strengthen and invest in our flexible work enablement portfolio across unified communications and collaboration and IT management and support. We believe that LogMeIn is well positioned to continue to deliver strong results and capitalize on the tremendous opportunity in today’s virtual environment.”

Spinning off LastPass

According to LogMeIn, the significant majority of LastPass' business is represented by corporate customers which makes sense given how password management has become a business imperative for organizations of all sizes.

At the same time, the shift to working from home during the pandemic has fueled the adoption of new accounts and applications with 50 percent of those surveyed in the company's 2021 Psychology of Passwords report saying that they now use twice the number of accounts today compared to pre-pandemic levels.

LastPass employs a zero-knowledge security model which empowers end users to generate, secure and share credentials seamlessly while also monitoring their personal information on the Dark Web. By reducing the number of credentials users need to remember through simplified access with SSO and passwordless MFA, LastPass further improves security for businesses.

We'll likely hear more regarding LastPass becoming a standalone company next year when LogMeIn's plans go into effect.

We've also featured the best password manager and best business password manager

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Vivaldi CEO accuses Microsoft of being ‘blatantly anti-competitive’ in pushing Edge browser

Vivaldi’s CEO has fired a copious amount of flak at Microsoft in a fresh move in the browser wars, accusing the software giant of going “back to its old tricks” with promoting the Edge browser in Windows.

Jon von Tetzchner, chief executive of the rival Vivaldi browser, wrote a lengthy blog post which complains about how it’s “frustrating in 2021 to find Microsoft blatantly engaging in anti-competitive practices once again”.

We have, of course, made plenty of comments in recent times about how Microsoft is walking a thin line in terms of pushing too hard with promotion for Edge within its desktop operating system Windows.

Most recently, that has included pop-ups that attack Chrome specifically (‘that browser is so 2008!’) and pushing ads for other Microsoft services within Edge, as well as making it more difficult to change your default browser away from Edge within Windows 11 (the latter is a course Microsoft is apparently now reversing, fortunately, at least in preview builds for now).

As Tetzchner points out, when he got a new Windows laptop, the first thing he did was to use Edge (which is the default choice of browser, of course) to search for Vivaldi in order to install that, but the OS warned him that ‘there’s no need to download a new web browser’ because, basically, Edge is the best around.

Tetzchner further points out that Microsoft asks for confirmation of a switch away from Edge to a new browser as the default, and even after that, when you next use Edge, it’ll pop-up a panel to try to reclaim the position of default browser.

He further observes: “Microsoft’s moves seem desperate. And familiar. It is clear they don’t want you to use other browsers. They even offer to pay you to use the browser via their Microsoft Rewards program.

“This is not the behavior of a confident company developing a superior browser. It’s the behavior of a company openly abusing its powerful position to push people to use its inferior product, simply because it can.”

He urges folks to ask for Microsoft to be investigated for these “obvious anti-competitive practices”.


Analysis: Overzealous pushing of Edge is arguably unnecessary anyway

We’ll leave any arguments of Edge being an ‘inferior product’ aside, because we don’t agree on that score. It’s actually a pretty good browser in many ways, and that kind of makes Microsoft’s actions and pushing it in an overzealous manner all the more mystifying (and frustrating). Edge should really sell itself, given time, so hey Microsoft, why not do just that: play the waiting game, keeping improving the browser, and watch the adoption level tick up as time rolls on.

We do agree that Microsoft needs to steer clear of all this Edge promotion within Windows 10 and 11, as if anything, it’s likely to backfire and push people away from the browser, anyway. And certainly any underhandedness when it comes to trying to change default browsers must absolutely be stopped.

The path of popups and countermeasures trying to stop you switching away from Edge as the default browser will be nothing new to experienced Windows users, of course. But these kind of dialog boxes could confuse the less tech-savvy, and even cause them to switch back to Edge by accident, potentially, which really isn’t on.

Windows – or any operating system – should be built around user-friendliness, and that friendliness extends to allowing the user their choice of browser without any catches or ‘reminders’ that they could get confused about or stumble over.

Via Neowin

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With Notepad being updated for Windows 11, what other apps could benefit?

More of Microsoft’s apps are slowly being updated to match the aesthetic of Windows 11, but three apps could also benefit from this upgrade.

Notepad is the latest to reap the benefits of Fluent Design, with re-arranged features, an updated look, and a dark mode option for when you decide to change your desktop theme to a darker shade.

Currently in testing in the Insider Build Dev Channel of Windows 11, where you can test features under development, it’s the most significant update of Notepad in years, similar to Paint’s update a few months ago.

However, with Notepad and soon a new Windows Media Player about to be released to everyone in a forthcoming update, we wondered what other applications could benefit from a similar refresh in Windows 11.

Our three picks

Weather

Windows 11 weather widget

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Users of iOS 15 have been treated to a redesigned weather app, which adapts to the state of the weather in your location. If it’s raining, droplets of water will bounce and land on the menus, while a ray of sunshine with lens flare will cover the whole layout on another day.

Seeing something similar in Windows 11 would be great, compared to the simple user interface we currently have. There’s a weather widget, but it feels as though there should be more to take advantage of the Fluent Design language of Windows 11.

Alongside this, notifications would be a great addition for when there’s rain scheduled, so you can prepare for an umbrella when you need to head out for some errands.

Pinball

Pinball3D running in Edge browser, in Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft)

While you can download games from the redesigned Microsoft Store, alongside Android apps that are about to arrive for Windows 11, there’s a distinct lack of built-in games available.

Windows XP, released in 2001, arrived with a built-in pinball game that allowed you to ramp up high scores to see how long you could last with three balls.

While we spoke about how the game has been rebuilt as a web app, we’d love to see a sequel or a remake come to Windows 11. Have it feature achievements and unique 2-player modes. Perhaps allow each player to control one flip action, while another controls part of the pinball table.

There’s plenty of potential here, and after twenty years, it’s time for a revival.

Windows Update

Windows 11 update showing as available

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Updating your PC can be frustrating, especially when an update doesn’t work properly. Going to the Settings app in Windows 11 is a slight improvement compared to Windows 10, mainly due to available updates being more visible, but there’s a lot more that can be done.

Easier ways of seeing which updates were installed and which failed would be a great first start, but the process of registering and de-registering for the Windows Insider Programme could go a long way.

This is where you can try out versions of Windows under development that have features not available to the wider public. This is how Notepad and the new Windows Media Player are currently being tested.

If you want to remove your PC from the Insider Programme, you’re required to wipe your PC, which isn’t an ideal solution. Apple does it better by removing your Mac or iOS from the beta program once a new update is officially released, leaving your data completely.

Instead, having the Insider Programme and Windows Update as one separate app, with a simplified user interface could be a big help to those who are anxious about updating their PCs, in fear of updates worsening their devices.

Updates with explainers on what they are and what they feature could help break down that anxiety and give a greater understanding of what an update can provide.

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