Avast SafeZone, autoinstallation without consent

I had been reading news during the evening, in Firefox as usual. And when I closed it I noticed a new icon had appeared on my desktop, for an Avast SafeZone Browser.

Now, what’s this?

Updates and signatures, of course, scanner engines, restarts, fine, but I’m not entirely sure I like the idea of Avast installing completely new features like entire webbrowsers without asking for my consent or even telling me in the first place. It reminds me too much of the first time https-certificate insertion appeared and replaced all my banking certificates with Avast proxy certificates, (which led me to try out Panda instead).

Apparently I’m back with using Avast, and apparently again I’m being surprised. In more than one way though, as initially I considered just uninstalling the SafeZone Browser, but then decided to give it a quick test to see how it behaved, and got quite surprised there too.

Facebook is simply lightning fast, I can’t recall it ever having been this fast, and clean. And the same goes for several other sites as well. like Twitter, some newspapers and so on. And after some looking I did actually find my imported bookmarks, so at a first glance things seem quite smooth. (Except it uses the wrong search engine by default. that setting could have been imported as well).

But there are the plugins for Firefox, maybe not the end of the world, but I like them. Especially the XMarks sync for bookmarks, because there’s really more to bookmarks than importing them. I want to be able to switch browsers, when a site requires it for some reason, and I don’t want to import bookmarks. I want them synced, between all my browsers and all my devices. So until XMarks becomes available for the Avast browser, I’m sorry but it won’t be enough, for me. The others are mostly built-in, except HTTPFox, which is nice to have but not crucial, but XMarks is a must.

I guess I’ll keep it for testing for a few more days, but I don’t appreciate not getting told when new software is installed on my computers. And first impressions last.

Restorations and cloud sync

I had to spend last wednesday evening doing a kind of system restore.

OneDrive had finally gone completely bananas, and insisted on stating there was no internet connection, meanwhile sync still worked properly, except the indexing engine consumed all disk capacity on the boot drive, and huge loads of CPU as well.

First I tried a system restore, since I also had a problem with DirectX or the NVidia graphics drivers, where especially CoD:AW continually crashed a few times every day.
That didn’t help at all and actually made things worse since Dropbox stopped working after the restore. Which led to an rollback of the system restore and brought me back to where I was, with the same OneDrive problems unfortunately.

Next attempt was simply to delete my user profile, which felt somewhat risky since it had grown to 175 GB, but all data was supposed to be safe in the cloud so… to boldly go…!

Profile deleted, account needed to be deleted as well, and then re-created, then I could login without errors, and lo! OneDrive started working properly!

And surprisingly much else just started working right out of the box. Steam did not even glitch, some icons for Password Safe and Dropbox went missing but all data was there, even favorites in Firefox since I’m using XMarks. So far the only thing I really have found not working was the start page, plugins and settings in Firefox, and since these could be quite a pain to restore I took a shortcut and exported the whole Firefoxprofile from another computer and loaded, which worked nicely.

It took a few hours for OneDrive to fully resync itself, but apart from the waiting time all now seems fine so I guess it was worth it. If only I could now find the cause or solution for the DirectX error as well.

Surface reflections

I’ve had my new Surface RT for nearly two weeks now and despite my best wishes to make it work I am about to give it up, as currently the feeling I get when trying to use it takes me back some 20 years to the early start of using Windows NT 3.1. Sure we ran the most secure PC of that time at the time of its release, but as we couldn’t run much more than Notepad there was little point to it, and the same goes here as OneNote, one of the few working apps, is really nice, but from functionality perspective I would compare it with a notebook app.

I won’t go as far as some friends (also testing Surface) suggested, as to donate it as a discus in the next Olympics, as for the time being it seems to serve well enough for children’s games, and I could sneak it in as a new toy for my daughters and re-conquer my two Windows 7 desktops…

There are several shortcomings as I see it but the overall greatest lack so far with the Surface is its lack of simplicity, user friendliness and total lack of apps.

It’s not going to compete with the iPad as long as it has no apps, and it will remain less than a normal PC since it can’t run standard x86/x64 applications either.

That sort of leaves it running OneNote, which is great but can quickly be replaced with other apps like Evernote (which incidentally takes less hassle to configure), running a few games, read some email and browse the web. All of these can be done on PC, iPhones and iPads as well, so there’s not really anything new.

The downside is the fight to get even the basic browsing to run.

– I have some 2600 favorites or bookmarks, of course not all are relevant, but I like to keep them for if (when) needed and have quite a big structure of groups to sort them into categories and use XMarks to sync them between PCs and between IE, Firefox and Chrome. (Sadly not Safari, but as most relevant sites comes as apps on iPad it’s no big problem anyway.) But Surface has neither favorites sync nor apps.

– I have about 170 websites using credentials, a few use tokens but most use user/password only. For a long time I used the same credentials everywhere but it became too high risk as it was a major task to change passwords everywhere if some site got compromised. So I use a password manager, in my case Password Safe, which works nicely on PC, iPad, iPhone and all other platforms I know except Surface. The lack of platform support makes it impossible to browse 95% of the sites as I don’t intend to manually type in 25 character long randomized passwords. And though I’ve found a competitor able to import Password Manager entries I’m not really keen in starting all over on all my devices simply for the sake of lacking password handling on the Surface.

So essentially it won’t do browsing either, beyond the most basic things like reading news and letting the kids browse the children’s channel on TV.

And it’s incredibly slow. Especially when browsing via Google Search, but IE is not directly lightning fast either. I assume I’m not supposed to browse the web via Google Search, but IE is so crippled it’s really of no use, it runs fullscreen and lacks all menues and favorites, and basically I prefer Google Search over Bing to get valid search results.

Then there’s also the general unfriendliness in getting stuff to work, like the Store, which for me at most shows 50 applications, total. And either there’s a serious lack of apps in the store, or it’s broken.

I suspect the latter, since searching for apps will turn up links pointing to the store which allows the apps to be installed while searching for the app inside the Store itself simply returns “no match” at in principle all searches.

At first I thought I had missed something and resorted to searching via IE and “Bing”, but again no matches whatsoever. But finally I found out that only searches via Google Search will return working apps from the MS Store. Microsofts own search engine does not. (Bing incidentally seems broken in other aspects too, as the Bingweather happily reports it to be raining while iPad weather and in fact a look out the window will tell you the sun is shining and not a cloud in the sky).

So, after two weeks of frustrated searches, I’ve come up with Dropbox, Citrix, a feeble early-bird of XMarks clone and a competitor password manager (MetroPass for KeePass).
It’s quite a way yet to compete with the AppStore which basically attacks you with (more or less but frankly rather good) recommendations of new apps, and where searches mostly return what you’re looking for, and usually with some additional related suggestions as well. (MS Store on the other hand most often shows only apps like the “1000 Sexy Girls in HD” whenever browsing categories, and no apparent way of permanently blocking them either…)

So, right now it seems the Surface either goes onto the shelf a few months until the app portfolio is larger, my concern is whether the apps will be enough in time for them to make any difference before the hardware on the Surface is outdated? Which is why I’m simply considering swapping it to the kids to play with for a while.

That just needs another round in locking it down, especially the Store, as they’re 6 and 3 and I don’t want them purchasing random stuff on their own just yet, for a few years…

Sad really, but I’m no longer finding the constant challenge of getting basic OS to work as fun as it used to be, nowadays I prefer actually having some time to even use the devices rather than just installing them. For now it’s back to laptop and iPad. I’ll check again closer to Tech-Ed if at that time it might be worth bringing along for the testing of it.