One day, you look in the Windows Task Scheduler and see the message:

The selected task “{0}” no longer exists.  To see the current tasks click Refresh

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Well after you click OK and then click Refresh, you are still missing that task.  And Windows is really great about not informing you of what that task is.

Other articles on the Internet suggest going through the actual Tasks folder to determine where the disconnect is.  I think I have an easier solution for anyone using a Symantec security product, particularly the Symantec Endpoint Protection Small Business Edition (also known as Symantec.cloud).

Open an elevated command prompt and issue the following commands:

cd \
cd program files\symantec.cloud\antivirus
avagent –SHOW_UI

The GUI will be displayed. (Norton Internet Security users simply open the product.)  Depending on your version, the screen’s appearance may differ from the one shown below (which is from NIS 21.5.0.19)

Click on Settings, and select the General tab.

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When you click the question mark to the right of the Idle Time Optimizer, you see the web page that explains that this “feature” automatically defragments the hard drive when the user is inactive for a period of time.

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I find this too pretentious for words.  If I have set a disk defragment schedule on my computer, or any of my clients’ computers, I fully expect those schedules will be maintained and adhered to.  I certainly don’t expect my security software to come along and interfere with them.  Even worse, is the error message that ends up being displayed as a result of Symantec’s change.

So, turn off the Idle Time Optimizer.  Click OK to apply.  Close the GUI, and the command prompt.

After you turn off this setting, click the Windows Start button, type “defrag” (without the quotes) in the Search bar to launch the Windows Defragmenter.  Change any one of your existing settings to force the entry back into the Task Scheduler.   You can reset the minor change immediately, and then close the Defragmenter.

Now, go back to the Task Schedule and see that there is no error message.

There you have it, an amazingly simple solution to a vexing (and stupidly annoying) error message.

Recently, Symantec updated the Endpoint Protection component of their cloud-based Internet Security offering. The Cloud Agent is a wrapper, while the base product – Endpoint Protection – is the Norton Internet Security product. The current version, NIS-22.5.2.15 has been updated to work with Windows 10 and has been given a new user interface. However, the problem with the update is in the number of settings that were added to this version and turned on by default.

Symantec partners access their clients’ portals via the Partner Management console (https://manage.symanteccloud.com). Most of the operations of the cloud product are controlled via policies and settings that are defined in each client’s web page (https://hostedendpoint.spn.com). From there you can control how the computers and servers will be protected, how USB devices will be controlled, the kind of web protection and network protection to be offered, as well as the scanning schedule. With the exception of providing Firewall rules and Program control rules, those are the only facets of the program that can be controlled via the web.

To control other elements of the product, you have to log in to the client’s computer, open up an elevated Command Prompt, access the C:\Program Files\Symantec.cloud\Antivirus folder and issue the Avagent.exe –SHOW_UI command. And that’s where we can find the latest problem. With the 22.5.2.15 update, the sheer number of settings that have been included – all without any option to control from the web – are startling.

Within the Firewall settings is the “Network Cost Awareness” setting.

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This new policy allows you to configure the amount of bandwidth the agent will use. There is no equivalent setting in the cloud to manage this.

There is a completely new section for Tasks Scheduling.

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Again, none of these settings are controlled via the policies on the web.

Last are the newly enhanced Administrative Settings which contain some of the more egregious changes.

There is now a 30-day report, which is gathering statistics that the end user will never even see.

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And there is the “special offer notification” (what you and I would call advertising), which appeared on one of my client’s computers a few weeks ago. I had opened a case with Symantec Technical Support months ago about this specific setting and I was told that it would never happen again. Someone in the development group apparently didn’t get the message.

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I am, quite frankly, horrified that these settings are on my clients’ computers. As a Managed Services Provider, I already use a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software product to take care of scheduled Windows tasks, including the removal of temporary files. I don’t expect a third-party software product – ostensibly one designed for Internet Security – to be introducing a completely new and totally ungovernable set of tasks to my client base. I certainly don’t expect the software to adversely affect the performance of an end-user’s computer without my ability to control what does, and doesn’t, occur. And I absolutely want the software to respect my clients’ right to privacy from ANY kind of advertising – especially from Norton – because I sold my clients a Symantec product!

I don’t mind that I have to explain why the statistics in my RMM’s monthly reports show a nose dive with respect to performance and file clean-up. But what I do mind is that I cannot explain why Symantec did not inform its partners that they were going to be introducing these new “features” to the product. I have done some research since these settings appeared, and I have yet to find anything mentioned other than the fact that Windows 10 will be supported and that the screens have changed in appearance. It seems that all of the other items that were added did not deserve any mention whatsoever.

This product is marketed as a Symantec business product – and for years, I have sold it as a business-class product. And while I realize that it is built on the Norton consumer base, it must be completely managed; otherwise it is next to useless. There has to be a way to control ALL of these settings from the client’s web portal. Without that ability, it will be necessary log in to each of the affected computers (as they receive this update) and manually change the settings. That is going to take time, effort, and coordination. Plus, I am going to have to keep on checking to see if anything else like this occurs in the future.

Symantec, this is simply unacceptable behavior. In an effort to improve the consumer product, you’ve thrown garbage into the workings of a business product. The only way that you can reconcile this oversight is by providing discrete controls in the client web portal. Until you do that, I cannot, as a Symantec partner, continue to advise clients to purchase this product.

I have been working with the Windows 10 Technical Preview for several weeks now. It is slowly starting to stabilize, and I am becoming slightly more proficient in working with and around it.

Just the same I have some concerns that lead to questions for which I have not found answers.

I am concerned about support for vendor-specific device drivers from the likes of Dell, HP, and Lenovo. In many cases these manufacturers did not provide new or updated drivers for Windows 8 / 8.1 for “recently released” Windows 7 computers.

What’s going to happen when someone thinks they can update to Windows 10 because Microsoft said it was possible – and they no longer have network access because there are no Windows 10 drivers for their network card? The only option at present is to roll back the upgrade and hope that the computer still operates properly.

I am also concerned about what is going to happen after the first “free” year of Windows 10 as a service. What is Microsoft going to charge consumers and small businesses to continue using the operating system on their computers, laptops, and tablets? Will there be a “buy one – get two free” offering? Will each device require a subscription? How much money does Microsoft think consumers will be willing to spend monthly or annually?

I am patiently waiting for some answers to come from Redmond…

On December 1, 2014, Mozilla released Firefox 34. The major change with this release was the deal the organization struck with Yahoo to place that search companies’ product as the default search engine, displacing Google, which had been the search engine for years.

If you use Google as your home page, and you conduct searches from there, you will not see any difference. However, if you search using either the Address bar or the Search bar (located to the right of the Address bar), you are now using Yahoo to perform your search. That is, unless you change your search providers.

Here’s how to do just that. Click to the immediate right of the magnifying glass in the Search bar. You should see a menu option appear underneath titled, “Change Search Settings.” Click that option and the following window appears:

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In the search preferences window, select a default search engine in the drop-down menu.

Then, add or remove the check mark next to “Provide search suggestions” to turn them on or off.

In the lower half of the window, remove the check mark next to each search engine you don’t want to use. This will keep them in the list of available search engines if you decide later that you want to use them. But, if you simply don’t want to use any one of the listed entries, check each one and click the Remove button.

When you are finished, click OK.

If, at any point, you think you may have made a mistake, you can click the Restore Default Search Engines button to bring the list back. It will still be up to you to select the search engines you want to use.

To find out more, click the Help button.

I had purchased software earlier that day, so when an email from American Express Customer Service appeared, I wasn’t surprised.  What astonished me though, was the message:  “For your security, new charges on the accounts listed above may be declined.”  Hmm, there was a minor problem processing the transaction, maybe that’s it.

Looks real, doesn’t it?

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Nope, this is fake.  What’s missing from this email?  My name, the last four digits of my card, and a phone number…  The link goes to http://american-progrecs.com/americanexpress/.  Investigation shows this to be a web site registered in China, but operating out of Romania!

This is very dangerous, so it bears repeating:  Do NOT click on a link from any email you get regarding “security,” because it is — more than likely — a phishing attempt.

Any questions?  Send me an email.

I have seen it time and time again. A client has a Windows desktop that is completely covered with dozens of icons — a veritable sea of Word, Excel, and Adobe reader files. I often ask, “How do you find what you need?” And the response I get is that it takes a while, but they know where something is (eventually).

Would you like to be a little more organized than that? If so, then I suggest you try these two built-in features of Windows 7 to help you:

  • Jump Lists
  • Pin program to Start Menu

Read More →

As many of you know, I started using Lenovo as a vendor of choice for both desktops and laptops earlier in 2012.  There are several reasons for this change.  One is because I think the design and build of Lenovo’s products is compatible or better than other computer manufacturers.  Now, most people use (and some even like) Dell, and I am a Registered Dell Partner.  Nevertheless, I have always believed in offering an option for my price-conscious clients, and Lenovo frequently beats Dell’s pricing.

Granted, Dell offers a wider array of customization options, but then you have to wait for the factory to build it for you.  Lenovo, on the other hand, has determined a decent core set of options that appeal to a wide segment of my client base.  There has been, so far, very little need to alter the basic hardware configurations.  I discovered long ago that most of you keep your computers far longer than their normal life spans.  I find it comforting to know that Lenovo computers will let me upgrade the memory one or two times to keep it performing like a newer computer.

So what is the headache?  Well, that came during installation.

Read More →

SkyDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage feature for sharing files among various Internet-connected devices.  You can upload files from your computer to the cloud and access them from your web browser, or your phone.  You can even share files with others.

Here’s how it works.  To get started, open your web browser and go to http://windows.microsoft.com/skydrive.  Click on the Get SkyDrive button.  A small file will download to your computer.  Double click it to launch it.  As part of the installation process, you will be asked for your Microsoft Account.

If you don’t have one, you can create one at that time (all it requires is an email address and a password).  You will have to verify your existing email address by waiting for an email from Microsoft.

The installation continues to run and creates a SkyDrive folder on your computer .

Click Next and then Done, and you can access your files from anywhere. Read More →

In October 2009, Microsoft made an unusual jump into the “free” software market.  It allowed original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like Dell, HP, and Lenovo to install a replacement to the previously discontinued Microsoft Works suite.  The offering was called Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition.  This starter set of Office only included Word and Excel.  In fact, these versions were a subset of the base products, because they had reduced functionality.  In addition, they were sponsored with relatively unobtrusive Microsoft-sponsored ads.

Face it; if you only used those two Office products, and wanted to save more than $100, you used the “free” version of Office that came pre-installed on your computer.  Many of my clients did that – because the two products just worked and people  found they didn’t need the advanced functionality.  However, Microsoft believed that most consumers would eventually click on one of the ad links and purchase the fully functional version.

This experiment lasted less than three years.  In June 2012, Microsoft announced to the OEMs that they could no longer pre-install the Office 2010 Starter Edition.  With that announcement, the OEMs could offer either a 60-day trial or let you purchase the full product.  There was no “in between” version available.

So what should a consumer do?  Naturally, there are two options.  The first is based on the long-standing practice of purchasing software and installing it on your desktop.  The second is based on the new way things are heading.  In this case, you use a web browser and put your files in the cloud.  Let’s discuss each of these options.

The lowest priced version of Office 2010 costs around $120.  This is the Home and Student version.  All you need to purchase is the product key, which contains the 25-digit code to unlock the Office 2010 software that is already installed on your computer.  If you want, or need, to use Outlook for your email, you’ll have to spend about $70 more for the Home and Business version.

The second option requires a leap of faith and the desire (and ability) to learn new ways of doing things.  Here, you would to select to use the preview version of Microsoft Office Web Apps.  This is (for now) a free, online, edition of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that relies on a scaled-back subset of the desktop versions’ features.  It requires using Microsoft’s SkyDrive (something you have to sign up for separately).

SkyDrive gives you 7 GB of storage in the cloud, and is accessible from a web browser.  This means you can access your files from any computer anywhere there is an Internet connection.  The Office Web Apps can work in conjunction with the desktop versions of Office, but do not require it.

Office Web Apps is still considered to be in “preview” mode.  This is the equivalent of “beta” software, so that means you cannot depend on it 100% of the time.  It also means that your support is solely through email or community forums.  However, because it runs in a browser, Microsoft can update the functions and features on a regular basis – without performing any updates on your computer – to make sure that these programs operate properly.

So, give Microsoft more than $100 for software so you can work on your desktop, or give Microsoft your files so that you can work on them in the cloud.  The decision is up to you, and in most cases will be based on what you want.  To get a glimpse of what the future holds, take a look at Working with Microsoft in the Cloud Using SkyDrive.”

If you have any questions about Microsoft Office, please let me know.

So you finally acquiesce to the nagging prompt that the Java runtime needs to be updated.  You click OK and the download starts.  You wait a few minutes and the installation begins.  You click the Next button repeatedly, because you just want to be done with this update.

Unfortunately, you just installed the Ask toolbar in your browser and changed your homepage and search provider to Ask.  And you never meant to.

But, if you paid careful enough attention during the installation, there was the tiny – pre-checked – mark that “asked” if you wanted to install the Ask toolbar and all of its attendant changes.

Over the years, I have seen Internet Explorer browser windows with more than five toolbars:  Yahoo, Google, Ask, and others.  Why would you need all of those?  Most people don’t have any explanation.  Still others figure it is all part of what they are supposed to have when they use IE (as if Microsoft had decided to update something for them).  Even fewer know how to remove them.

One major problem with all these toolbars is that they slow down your web browser.  In addition, they add clutter to your screen.  Some increase the risk of virus and spyware infections.  Of course some toolbars are the result of spyware, so it is not always your fault.

With the Java update, Oracle gets paid by Ask for each user that gets this toolbar and uses it.  You, as the “victim,” need to jump through hoops to get your settings back to the way they were before the installation.  Unfortunately, even the Windows Restore feature may not work well enough to make things right.

So, what can you do?

For one, you simply have to pay attention during the installation.  Different vendors insert this “permission” step at different points.  Simply clicking the Next button is a lazy approach.  Take your time.  Make sure you read each window carefully.  Uncheck the box that was filled in for you about any toolbar you don’t need.

By the way, my SPF+ and SHADE subscribers do not encounter this problem – the installation is handled automatically, and no toolbar is installed!

Have a lot of toolbars in your web browser?  Send me a screen shot and I’ll post the best entries.