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By author: Seth Rogers

Windows 7

Windows 7 is the newest version of Microsoft Windows, and was released for testing on July 22, with a public release set for October 22.  What is unusual about this new OS is that it is coming out less than three years after the release of its predecessor, Windows Vista.  It took seven years to go from Windows XP to Windows Vista!  The quick rollout is mostly due to the fact that Vista was poorly received (and still not selling well) and that Windows 7 is a less dramatic upgrade to Vista than Vista was to XP, so Microsoft did not have to rewrite everything from scratch.  more...

Vista introduced a large number of new features while Windows 7 is intended to be a more focused, incremental upgrade, with the goal of being fully compatible with applications and hardware with which Vista is already compatible. Changes touted by Microsoft have focused on multi-touch support, a redesigned Windows Shell (look and feel) with a new taskbar, a home networking system called HomeGroup, and performance improvements.

OIT will test Windows 7 upon its final release in October for compatibility with our network and standard software.  In the past, Windows upgrades have created problems with our Novell Network environment, so prematurely adopting the new OS would be a mistake.  Having said that, we are encouraged by the positive reviews 7 is getting and look forward to working with it, as it will likely be the standard PC operating system of the near future.

Windows 7

Laptop Encryption & Backup

On March 1, 2010, Massachusetts Identity Theft legislation will require securing portable electronic devices which have personally identifiable information (PII) on them.  The law is specifically written to protect information such as Social Security Numbers and bank or credit card information, although colleges like Williams also are required to meet FERPA and HIPAA regulations (which covers things like student grades and health information). more...

The two common ways to protect information are to make it unavailable to a thief (don’t carry personal information around on your laptop) or to encrypt the information (so that even if the laptop is stolen, the data is unreadable).

Since it is difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee that no personal information exists on a laptop, or in the email of a laptop owner, Williams is choosing to encrypt laptop hard drives, starting with departments who commonly work with personal information.

Laptop data will be safe, even if the machine is stolen.


The program we have chosen is called TrueCrypt, which allows for full disk encryption of Windows laptops, meaning every piece of information on the laptop is encrypted, including the operating system and programs.  This saves the owner from having to worry about saving personal information files into a special encryption folder.   We are currently looking at Mac encryption options.

Since the whole idea behind encryption is that it requires a password to unlock, there is a danger that if an owner forgot their password, then the data on the drive would become inaccessible. Also, any problem with a laptop drive, like corruption due to a jolt or fall, would prevent data recovery specialists from retrieving any data.  Due to these risks, OIT is also implementing a full network backup system for any laptops which are encrypted.

Laptops are not the only devices to be concerned about – USB thumb drives and smartphones may also need to have security measures added to them.

If you have any questions about personal information security, we encourage you to attend one of the monthly OIT workshops.

If you work in a department that handles personal information, and you have a laptop, OIT will contact you to set up a schedule for implementing the encryption and network backup before March.

Edition:Fall 2009 Department:Desktop Systems Tags:, ,

What about Vista?

If you purchased a PC computer in the past year, you’ve seen Vista, the latest operating system from Microsoft. Vista is designed to replace the venerable Windows XP which has been kicking around for about 8 years now (that is a long time for an OS!). However, many corporations and colleges continue to deploy new computers running XP even now, two years after Vista’s official release. Adoption of Vista has been slower than Microsoft expected. Why? more...

While Vista does have new features and security improvements, it has also been the target of criticism and negative press. Complaints have mostly been about its high system requirements (making it slower than XP on similar hardware). It also has a number of new digital rights management technologies aimed at restricting the copying of protected media, and it requires authorization prompts for User Account Control (to make simple changes on Vista you often have to click an extra button that says “yes I really do want to make this change”). As a result of these and other issues, Windows Vista has seen adoption and satisfaction rates lower than Windows XP.

In addition, Vista has another challenger on the horizon which, strangely enough, is from Microsoft. Windows 7 will be the next operating system out of Redmond, and it was just released in Beta form for review. The initial responses are positive- much more positive that the initial reviews of Vista. Some companies are wondering if they can hold out with XP until Windows 7 becomes viable, skipping Vista altogether!

The bottom line is that at some point Microsoft will stop allowing companies to sell computers with XP installed. Also it is important to recognize that as computer hardware continues to get faster and more powerful, the performance hit that Vista delivers will be less noticeable. It’s possible that in the future people will just say that Vista was too early- computing power wasn’t quite up to the task of running it well.

The Office for Information Technology expects that we will be required to switch to Vista in 2009 and at this point we feel there is no compelling reason to delay. Because we are able to modify the Vista image to our liking before deployment, we expect very little disruption on campus. For most people, using Vista for everyday tasks will be the same as on the familiar XP.

Security Questions

The Office for Information Technology has released a new password changer with a different look and a “forgot my password” feature. The first time you use the system, you will be asked to provide answers for the six “Challenge Response” questions. The idea is that only you will know the answers to these questions. Capitalization does not matter, but spaces do. So if an answer is: ‘New Orleans’, then ‘new orleans’ or ‘New orleans’ will work, but ‘neworleans’ will not. more...

Your responses can be used later to reset the password in case you forget it, or if your password expires before you have a chance to change it. This should reduce the need for support desk intervention if your password expires. Instead, you can click the “Forgot Password?” link. You will enter your username and then be presented with two of the six Challenge Questions (selected at random). If you are able to answer both correctly, you will then be able to choose a new password.

This is just a new feature – the function of the password changer is the same. If you have not forgotten your password, then you simply log in and choose a new one, just as before. You can change your Challenge Questions responses at any time after logging in by selecting the “Password Challenge Response” link. Uncheck the “Use Stored Response” box and you can then enter new values.

As to how the six questions were chosen – that was a long and difficult process. No six questions could satisfy the entire campus fully, so they were chosen to work with the largest possible community base. Remember that the first time you set up your questions you do not have to answer them correctly you just have to remember what you answered. For example, one of the questions is “who is your favorite teacher”. You may not have a favorite teacher, but you could put in Mark Hopkins or Socrates or Britney Spears as long as you can remember that was your answer.

Edition:Spring 2009 Department:Desktop Systems Tags: