How to turn your old, slow laptop into an awesome Chromebook for your kids

Even notebook computers that are almost a decade old can get a new lease on life.

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A computer and an 8GB flash drive are all you need to go Chromium.

School starts for my kids in a few weeks and all three of them will be working on Chromebooks in class. We have one at home, but as they’ve grown, so has the amount of time they need to spend on it and, well, they’re not always the best at sharing. There are certainly some good deals on new ones, but I was hoping to find another way.

Buried in a closet of tech flotsam was a 2011 HP Pavilion dm1z, an 11.6-inch netbook running on an AMD E-350 processor with integrated graphics, 3GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive. I made the mistake of updating the laptop’s OS from Windows 7 to Windows 10 in 2016, which essentially turned it into a battery-powered paperweight, but also a perfect candidate for a fresh start as a Chromebook.

Google’s Chrome OS isn’t available for consumers to install, so I went with the next best thing, Neverware’s CloudReady Chromium OS. It looks and feels nearly identical to Chrome OS, but can be installed on just about any laptop or desktop, Windows or Mac. And, although Neverware has paid versions for enterprise and education users, its Home Edition is free for personal use. You don’t get tech support and it can’t be managed with the Google Admin console, but again, free.

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You can boot CloudReady from a flash drive if you want to try it out first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You choose: Install or dual boot

Installing CloudReady is completely painless. In fact, you don’t even have to overwrite your current OS first to test it out. If you have a Windows 7 PC or newer all you need to get started is an 8GB or 16GB flash drive to create a bootable USB drive (SanDisk drives are not recommended). The basic steps are below so you can see how little is involved, but you can head to Neverware’s install page for full instructions. Note, however, older Windows PCs and Macs require a manual install

  • Download and install CloudReady on the flash drive (it takes about 20 minutes and you don’t need to babysit it). 
  • Turn off the laptop or desktop you want to run CloudReady on and plug in the flash drive.
  • Turn it on and press the function key needed to enter your computer’s boot menu options. (CloudReady has a list of function keys for different manufacturers in case you’re not sure.)
  • You should then see a screen giving you the option to boot from either internal storage or the flash drive (see photo above). Select the USB drive and hit Enter.

CloudReady will live boot from the flash drive and you can use the OS just as if it was installed on the computer. You can keep using it that way, too, or wipe your internal drive and install. Instead of overwriting my laptop’s old drive, I simplified the process by slipping in a $20 120GB Kingston SSD. I just removed the old hard drive — a few screws and a cable — and replaced it with the SSD, and then booted from the flash drive again. Plus, this way I still have the original Windows install if I need it for some reason.

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If you want to install, click on the clock in the lower right and click Install OS.

Once you’re in CloudReady again, you can click on the clock in the lower right corner of the screen. The settings menu will pop open and you’ll see an option to install the OS. After it’s installed you don’t need the flash drive, it will just boot from the internal drive.

Ta-da, Chromebook! At least, close enough for my kids’ needs. It doesn’t start up as instantly as an actual Chromebook, but it’s still quick at about 30 seconds to go from off to sign in. Performance is going to depend on what your PC has in it. With the Pavilion dm1z’s netbook specs, it can take a few extra seconds to load sites and open web apps, but it’s noticeably faster than when it was doing the same tasks on top of Windows 10.

If you’ve got a USB flash drive and an old laptop, it’s certainly worth the effort to test out and, again, it’s free.

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Windows 10 just scored a huge victory as Microsoft releases another update to fans

Windows 10 appears to have cemented its dominance over Windows 7.

The newer operating system overtook Windows 7 in terms of market share back in December, however the latter appeared to have clung on to a significant user base even though support for the operating system will cease in mere months.

However, it seems a number of Windows 7 users have finally started migrating to Windows 10, at least according to data from NetMarketShare.


However, the following month the site claimed Windows 7 had lost 3.55 percent of its share while Windows 10 had gained 3.07 percent.

A graph displayed by NetMarketShare showed a huge gap between the two operating systems in terms of users.

While not confirmed, it is assumed the gains made by Windows 10 are mostly from Windows 7 users that have migrated to the newer Microsoft operating system.

Windows 7 support will cease on January 14, 2020 – Microsoft has warned individuals that if they continue to use the software it could become “more vulnerable to security risks and viruses”.

While the American tech giant has declared some Windows 7 PCs will be capable of upgrading to Windows 10, it recommends users obtain newer hardware when changing operating system, too.

The huge victory for Windows 10 comes as Microsoft has started rolling out a new update for the software.

The Redmond-based tech firm recently released a new build of Windows 10 20H1 to Windows Insiders.

Microsoft typically released early Windows 10 versions to members of its Insider programme – the software builds typically provide a glimpse at forthcoming features for the computer platform.

Windows 10 20H1 is expected to be the first substantial upgrade for the operating system to release in 2020.

Microsoft has already discussed a number of changes 20H1 is braced to make – chief of these is a push to make users abandon typical passwords in exchange for Windows Hello Face, fingerprint scanning or a PIN.

Windows 10 update

It seems a number of Windows 7 users have finally started migrating to Windows 10 (Image: NetMarketShare)

Windows 10 update

Microsoft has started rolling out a new update for Windows 10 (Image: Getty)

The newest Windows 10 20H1 build, 18950, does not introduce radical changes but instead appears focused on refining the 2020 software.

First and foremost, the version features a number of improvements to its Japanese Input Method Editor (IME) that allows the language to be typed on English keyboards or those for other languages.

Microsoft’s Snip and Sketch app that is used to quickly edit photos and screenshots has received a new single window mode and allows users to more easily zoom in and out when making changes.

Finally, build 18950 also includes a number of general changes to the operating system.


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Apple contractors ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings

Apple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or “grading”, the company’s Siri voice assistant, the Guardian has learned.

a hand holding a cellphone: Workers heard the information when or providing quality control for Apple’s Siri voice assistant.© Getty Images Workers heard the information when or providing quality control for Apple’s Siri voice assistant.

Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. They are tasked with grading the responses on a variety of factors, including whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with and whether Siri’s response was appropriate.

Apple says the data “is used to help Siri and dictation … understand you better and recognize what you say”.

But the company does not explicitly state that that work is undertaken by humans who listen to the pseudonymized recordings.

Apple told the Guardian: “A small portion of Siri requests are analyzed to improve Siri and dictation. User requests are not associated with the user’s Apple ID. Siri responses are analysed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.” The company added that a very small random subset, less than 1% of daily Siri activations, are used for grading, and those used are typically only a few seconds long.

A whistleblower working for the firm, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears over their job, expressed concerns about this lack of disclosure, particularly given the frequency with which accidental activations pick up extremely sensitive personal information.

Siri can be accidentally activated when it mistakenly hears its “wake word”, the phrase “hey Siri”. Those mistakes can be understandable – a BBC interview about Syria was interrupted by the assistant last year – or less so. “The sound of a zip, Siri often hears as a trigger,” the contractor said. The service can also be activated in other ways. For instance, if an Apple Watch detects it has been raised and then hears speech, Siri is automatically activated.

The whistleblower said: “There have been countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters and so on. These recordings are accompanied by user data showing location, contact details, and app data.”

That accompanying information may be used to verify whether a request was successfully dealt with. In its privacy documents, Apple says the Siri data “is not linked to other data that Apple may have from your use of other Apple services”. There is no specific name or identifier attached to a record and no individual recording can be easily linked to other recordings.

Accidental activations led to the receipt of the most sensitive data that was sent to Apple. Although Siri is included on most Apple devices, the contractor highlighted the Apple Watch and the company’s HomePod smart speaker as the most frequent sources of mistaken recordings. “The regularity of accidental triggers on the watch is incredibly high,” they said. “The watch can record some snippets that will be 30 seconds – not that long but you can gather a good idea of what’s going on.”

Sometimes, “you can definitely hear a doctor and patient, talking about the medical history of the patient. Or you’d hear someone, maybe with car engine background noise – you can’t say definitely, but it’s a drug deal … you can definitely hear it happening. And you’d hear, like, people engaging in sexual acts that are accidentally recorded on the pod or the watch.”

The contractor said staff were encouraged to report accidental activations “but only as a technical problem”, with no specific procedures to deal with sensitive recordings. “We’re encouraged to hit targets, and get through work as fast as possible. The only function for reporting what you’re listening to seems to be for technical problems. There’s nothing about reporting the content.”

As well as the discomfort they felt listening to such private information, the contractor said they were motivated to go public about their job because of their fears that such information could be misused. “There’s not much vetting of who works there, and the amount of data that we’re free to look through seems quite broad. It wouldn’t be difficult to identify the person that you’re listening to, especially with accidental triggers – addresses, names and so on.

“Apple is subcontracting out, there’s a high turnover. It’s not like people are being encouraged to have consideration for people’s privacy, or even consider it. If there were someone with nefarious intentions, it wouldn’t be hard to identify [people on the recordings].”

The contractor argued Apple should reveal to users this human oversight exists – and, specifically, stop publishing some of its jokier responses to Siri queries. Ask the personal assistant “are you always listening”, for instance, and it will respond with: “I only listen when you’re talking to me.”

That is patently false,, the contractor said. They argued that accidental triggers are too regular for such a lighthearted response.

Apple is not alone in employing human oversight of its automatic voice assistants. In April, Amazon was revealed to employ staff to listen to some Alexa recordings, and earlier this month, Google workers were found to be doing the same with Google Assistant.

Apple differs from those companies in some ways, however. For one, Amazon and Google allow users to opt out of some uses of their recordings; Apple offers no similar choice short of disabling Siri entirely. According to Counterpoint Research, Apple has 35% of the smartwatch market, more than three times its nearest competitor Samsung, and more than its next six biggest competitors combined.

The company values its reputation for user privacy highly, regularly wielding it as a competitive advantage against Google and Amazon. In January, it bought a billboard at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas announcing that “what happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone”.

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Microsoft’s Chromium powered Edge will fix one of Edge’s overlooked issues

Late last year, Microsoft decided to move Edge away from its own native Edge HTML engine to a more mainstream Chromium Engine. The benefits of this included more widespread support for the browser and more crucially, faster updates. This is because the Chromium powered Edge was decoupled from the normal Windows update cadence, allowing it to be updated independently of Windows itself.

A study by security firm Duo found that ‘classic’ Edge was often falling behind in terms of updates, with many users on older versions of the browser.

“Understanding the browsers user devices are running — and granting or denying access based on whether these browsers are current or out of date — is critical. At the time of data collection, we found that Edge is the most frequently out-of-date browser on end user devices, while Internet Explorer was the most frequently up to date.” The report said. “When compared to 2018’s data, Edge rose to the No. 1 most frequently out-of-date browser from fifth place. That is likely due to Edge being coupled with Windows 10 and enterprises struggling to run the latest and greatest version.”

With Chromium Edge, users won’t have to install a whole new operating system to get the most secure version of their browser. Perhaps in an ideal world, all users would be on the latest version of Windows, all the time. This isn’t that ideal world, and Microsoft’s move to Chromium Edge ends up looking like a smarter idea every day.

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Windows Defender is getting a new name on Windows 10

Windows Defender

Microsoft is bringing its antivirus software to more platforms and it no longer makes sense to call it Windows Defender, so now it’s Microsoft Defender. It appears that Microsoft will also rename Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender on Windows 10 and the changes could be part of Windows 10’s Spring 2020 update.

Windows Defender branding changes reflect Microsoft’s new cross-platform security which originally started in March 2019 when the company unveiled antivirus software for macOS under its own name.

In Build 18941 of Windows 10 20H1 update, the names of some Windows Defender components have already changed. Windows Defender Exploit Guard, which hosts intrusion prevention capabilities for Windows 10 is now known as Microsoft Defender Exploit Guard.

Microsoft Defender Group Policy

In Group Policy, you will find a folder titled ‘Microsoft Defender Antivirus’ and ‘Microsoft Defender Exploit Guard’. The other features such as Windows Defender Applications Guard haven’t been renamed yet, but sooner or later all Windows Defender services should start using Microsoft branding.

In the support document, Microsoft Defender Exploit Guard is still called Windows Defender Exploit Guard.

For apparent reasons, Microsoft wants to use its name for services that are available on multiple platforms. For instance, Microsoft’s Android app launcher is called Microsoft Launcher and not just Launcher or Apex Launcher. Similarly, Microsoft’s antivirus solution for macOS uses Microsoft branding.

Microsoft is yet to acknowledge Windows Defender’s new name, and whether branding change is going to remain or changed in Windows 10 20H1 remains to be seen.

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How to Safely Run Software With Windows 10 Sandbox

Windows Sandbox is a temporary virtual machine built into Windows 10 that allows you to run software without it affecting the rest of your system.

How to Safely Run Software With Windows 10 Sandbox

Do you want to try out and test new software programs, but don’t want a potentially risky program harming your current Windows environment? You need a way to safely isolate such programs so they can’t interfere with the rest of Windows. For that, you can turn to Windows Sandbox, which Microsoft introduced with the Windows 10 May 2019 Update.

The Sandbox provides an isolated, temporary virtual environment through which you can download, install, and run unknown and untested applications. Beyond using the Sandbox to run unknown applications, you can use it to check out websites that seem suspicious, unfamiliar browser extensions and add-ons, and other items you might not want to run in your regular Windows environment. You can also use it to install trial software you don’t want to clutter up your core Windows system.

If any malware or other dangerous content rears its head, it’s restricted to the Sandbox, so the rest of Windows remains safe and protected. After you’re done using the application or other item, simply close the Sandbox, and all is gone and forgotten with no lasting residue.

The Sandbox is lightweight; it only takes up 100MB of storage space. The main downside is that Sandbox is supported only in Windows 10 Professional and Enterprise. Windows 10 Home users are out of luck.

Now, let’s dig into the Sandbox.

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    • Are You Running the May 2019 Update?

    First, check to see if you already have the May 2019 Update. Open Settings > System > About. Scroll down to the section for Windows Specifications. If you see 1903 as the version number, you’re set.

    If you don’t have the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, you can check for it via Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update. Click the button to Check for Updates.

    If the update is ready for your computer, you’ll see an entry that says Feature Update to Windows 10, Version 1903. To dive in, click the link to Download and install now.


    • System Requirements

    Next, you need to ensure that your PC supports the virtualization required by Sandbox. Right-click the Taskbar and select Task Manager. At the Task Manager window, click the link for More details if necessary. Select the Performance tab and make sure the entry for Virtualization says that it’s enabled.

  • Enable Windows Sandbox

    Now you need to actually add the Sandbox as a Windows feature. Open Control Panel in icon view and select the applet for Programs and Features. Click the link to Turn Windows features on or off.

    In the Windows Features window, scroll down the list until you see a checkbox for Windows Sandbox. Check the box and click OK. After Sandbox is installed, you’re prompted to restart. Reboot your PC and sign back in.

  • Open Windows Sandbox

    The Sandbox is now ready for your command. To open it, click the Start button, scroll down the Apps list, and open the folder for Windows Accessories. Alternatively, just type Sandbox in the search field. Right-click on the app for Windows Sandbox and select the option to Run as administrator.

    The Windows Sandbox opens in its own window with a clean, pristine Windows 10 environment. Only the built-in Windows apps are installed, including Mail, OneDrive, Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Store, and Photos.


    Install Programs in Sandbox

    If you’d like to try out a particular software program, your next step is to make that program available in the Sandbox. You can do this a couple of ways. If you haven’t yet downloaded the program and it’s accessible online, open Microsoft Edge in the Sandbox and download the program from the Web. But that’s not your only option.

    Though it runs in an isolated mode, the Sandbox can interact with the rest of Windows in certain ways. As one example, you can copy and paste files back and forth between the Sandbox and your regular Windows environment. So if you’ve already downloaded the application you wish to install, copy it from your regular Windows system and paste it into File Manager in the Sandbox.

    Install the file and launch as you normally would in Windows. Launch the program and you can now use it fully.

    You can resize the Sandbox window just as you can any other window. You can maximize it to take up the full screen. You can also restart or shut down the Sandbox session via the Windows Start button and shut it down by clicking the X in the upper-right corner. If you restart or shut down, you lose any applications you’ve installed and changes you made.

    But that’s the idea behind the Sandbox. When you finish testing or using an application or other item, you close the Sandbox window as you would any window, and everything you did goes kaput. The next time you rev up the Sandbox again, it will present you with a new, clean, and pristine virtual session for you to use.

  • 10 Ways to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal

    Internet Connection in Sandbox

    I wish I could say the Sandbox worked flawlessly for me, but I did run into one hiccup along the way: I was unable to connect to the internet in the Sandbox.

    The Network Status screen in Settings confirmed that I had no internet access in the Sandbox, even though my host computer was connected. After some research, I discovered that the Norton Firewall from my Norton Security software was blocking internet access in the Sandbox. If I disabled the Norton Firewall, then the Sandbox’s internet connection worked fine. But with it enabled, no internet in the Sandbox.

    The same problem may occur with other third-party firewalls. If you run into such a problem, you may have to configure the firewall with a rule or setting that allows the internet to flow in the Sandbox. Your best bet is to contact the vendor of your security software or run a search online to see if and how you can tweak your firewall if it’s not playing nice with the Sandbox.


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Microsoft is making Windows 10 passwordless

It’s part of a bigger push to get rid of passwords


Microsoft is planning to make Windows 10 PCs work without passwords. While the company has been working on removing passwords from Windows 10 and its Microsoft Accounts for a number of months now, the next major update to Windows 10 next year will go one step further. You’ll soon be able to enable a passwordless sign-in for Microsoft accounts on a Windows 10 device. This means PCs will use Windows Hello face authentication, fingerprints, or a PIN code. The password option will simply disappear from the login screen, if you decide to opt in to this new “make your device passwordless” feature.

So why does Microsoft want people to stop using passwords to log into Windows 10 PCs? It’s really simple: passwords suck. People love to reuse them across every website and on their personal devices, and although we have a number of two-factor authentication methods available, it’s still difficult to convince people to use them.

Windows Hello 2 stock

Microsoft argues that a PIN code is far more secure than a password, even if it seems more simple to use a four-digit code. This is thanks to unknown variables and the fact that the code is stored on a device and not shared online. Windows 10 stores your private key on a device with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which is a secure chip that keeps a PIN local to your device only. Servers can be compromised and passwords stolen, but a Windows Hello PIN wouldn’t be affected.

Microsoft has been slowly trying to convince Windows 10 users to opt into two-factor authentication processes like basic SMS, a separate Microsoft Authenticator app, Windows Hello, or even physical security keys with the FIDO2 standard. With the latest Windows 10 May 2019 Update, you can even set up and sign into a Windows 10 PC with just a phone number on a Microsoft Account.

Microsoft is now planning to allow people to remove the password option entirely from the Windows 10 login screen. This will also extend to business users through Azure Active Directory, allowing businesses to go fully passwordless with security keys, the authenticator app, or Windows Hello.

It’s all another step toward a future where hopefully we don’t have to worry about remembering complex passwords, having a password manager, or avoiding reusing passwords. If Microsoft, Apple, and Google have their way then we’ll be using our eyes, fingers, or physical keys that we possess to get into our accounts and devices instead of passwords.

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