When looking at a new version of Windows, it’s tempting to focus on new features that are visible in the user experience, especially when one of those features represents a change to the way a task or activity used to work. Those sorts of changes (“Look, File Explorer now has a dark mode!”) make for easy demos and screenshots. But some of the most important changes in the latest update are essentially invisible.
Also: The top new features for IT pros
In this post, I focus on a handful of changes that are of special value to businesses and might otherwise go unnoticed, because they’re not an obvious part of the user experience.
1. The update experience
This might be the single largest pain point, but it’s also the linchpin of the entire “Windows as a service” experiment that defines Windows 10. Over the past three years, Microsoft has tweaked and tuned the Windows 10 update process, moving more of the installation process to the background, allowing administrators to set active hours during which updates shouldn’t be installed, adding notifications to lessen the risk of surprise reboots, and shrinking the size of downloads for each update package.
Also: Windows 10 October 2018 Update: The 7 best new features CNET
For this release, Microsoft also claims to have done substantial work on the logic that determines when your system reboots to install a pending update. The idea is not just to confirm that a device is not being used but to try to predict whether you’ve left for a long break or just stepped away for a cup of coffee.
The actual impact of these changes, of course, won’t show up until this new version rolls out, but once that update engine is in place across a wide swath of the Windows 10 installed base, the predictive model can be fine-tuned based on feedback (and a few screams) from users.
The Timeline feature represents probably the single greatest change in the Windows user interface since the Start menu. This feature, which debuted in the April 2018 Update, keeps track of your activity history across devices, and then it displays that history along with the list of open program windows when you press Alt+Windows key or click the Task View button to the right of the search box on the taskbar.
The initial release of Timeline was useful for anyone who uses Microsoft Office and Windows 10’s built-in Microsoft Edge browser. Some third-party apps, including Adobe’s Creative Cloud family, have added support for the Timeline APIs as well.
Being able to search your Web history along with files is a crucial part of what makes Timeline work. That’s unfortunate if your preferred browser is Chrome or Firefox (as is the case for the vast majority of Windows 10 users), because neither Google nor Mozilla has added Timeline support, nor have they announced plans to do so.
Also: How to install Windows 10 October 2018 Update right now CNET
As a workaround, Microsoft plans to release extensions for both Chrome and Firefox that will allow Timeline to include your activities in those browsers. (They’re “coming soon,” I’m told.) In addition, the new Launcher app on Android devices can now share activities to the Timeline for a signed-in account, and an update to the Microsoft Edge app will bring similar for iOS, due for release in November, will bring similar features to Apple devices.
3. Usability improvements
One of the biggest benefits of the Windows-as-a-service model is that it doesn’t take years for new features to address usability issues that affect your day-to-day experience. The October 2018 Update includes a handful of changes that fall squarely into this category, including the following:
- Bluetooth device battery life indicators, which allow you to see at a glance how much life is left in a Bluetooth-powered keyboard or mouse
- Magnifier tool customization options
- The Cloud Clipboard, which keeps a history of items you cut and paste, with the option to sync those saved items to other devices. (A new Snip & Sketch app makes it easier to capture screenshots and then annotate, edit, and share those captures.)
- Systemwide text size adjustments that don’t require changes to the overall scaling of Windows (one reader told me “I am ecstatic about this great improvement”)
4. RSAT features available on demand
If any part of your job requires you to administer a Windows Server, you know the Remote Server Administration Tools are valuable. In previous versions of Windows 10, installing those tools required jumping through multiple hoops starting with a manual download, and then you had to repeat the installation after each upgrade.
Also: Windows 10 October 2018 Update: What you need to know TechRepublic
Beginning with the October 2018 Update, all of the RSAT tools are available on demand and can be installed from Settings > Apps > Apps & Features > Manage Optional Features.
5. Windows Defender Application Guard and other security features
Microsoft Edge has one compelling feature for large organizations. A feature called Windows Defender Application Guard (WDAG) allows users to visit websites in an isolated, Hyper-V-enabled container. That approach means a malicious site can’t access a user’s credentials or your enterprise data. As administrator, you define which sites are trusted in an Application Guard window. All other sites are considered untrusted.
Also: Windows 10 October 2018 Update: How to use the new Storage Sense features TechRepublic
The October 2018 Update dramatically improves the performance of Application Guard windows and also adds the ability to download files. That feature is off by default, for security reasons. If you turn it on, downloaded files go into an Untrusted Files folder.
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Work from Home Security
Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company that invents toys and games, produces dozens of television and studio series that are distributed in 160 countries, and creates a variety of digital games played by more than 30 million children. What was once a small private company founded by childhood friends is now a public global supply chain with over 1,500 employees and 28 offices around the world.
Like most organizations in 2020, Spin Master had to adapt quickly to the new normal of remote work, shifting most of its production from cubicles in regional and head offices to hundreds of employees working from home and other remote locations.
This dramatic shift created potential security risks, as most employees were no longer behind the firewall on the corporate network. Without the implementation of hardened endpoint security, the door would be open for bad actors to infiltrate the organization, acquire intellectual property, and ransom customer information. Additionally, the potential downtime caused by a security breach could harm the global supply chain. With that in mind, Spin Master created a self-imposed 30-day deadline to extend its network protection capabilities to the edge.
- Think Long Term: The initial goal of establishing a stop-gap work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategy has since morphed into a permanent strategy, requiring long-term solutions.
- Gather Skills: The real urgency posed by the global pandemic made forging partnerships with providers that could fill all the required skill sets a top priority.
- Build Momentum: The compressed timeline left no room for delay or error. The Board of Directors threw its support behind the implementation team and gave it broad budget authority to ensure rapid action, while providing active guidance to align strategy with action.
- Deliver Value: The team established two key requirements that the selected partner must deliver: implementation support and establishing an ongoing managed security operations center (SOC).
Key Criteria for Evaluating Privileged Access Management
Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables administrative access to critical IT systems while minimizing the chances of security compromises through monitoring, policy enforcement, and credential management.
A key operating principle of all PAM systems is the separation of user credentials for individual staff members from the system administration credentials they are permitted to use. PAM solutions store and manage all of the privileged credentials, providing system access without requiring users to remember, or even know, the privileged password. Of course, all staff have their own unique user ID and password that they use to complete everyday tasks such as accessing email and writing documents. Users who are permitted to handle system administration tasks that require privileged credentials log into the PAM solution, which provides and controls such access according to predefined security policies. These policies control who is allowed to use which privileged credentials when, where, and for what tasks. An organization’s policy may also require logging and recording of the actions undertaken with the privileged credentials.
Once implemented, PAM will improve your security posture in several ways. The first is by segregating day-to-day duties from duties that require elevated access, reducing the risk of accidental privileged actions. Secondly, automated password management reduces the possibility that credentials will be shared while also lowering the risk if credentials are accidentally exposed. Finally, extensive logging and activity recording in PAM solutions aids audits of critical system access for both preventative and forensic security.
How to Read this Report
This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:
Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.
GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.
Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.
Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure
Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:
- Ease of deployment
- Outstanding ROI
- Overall TCO improvement
Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.
Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:
- Improving overall performance for backups
- Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
- Replacing components difficult to manage and support
In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.
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