Users report SkyDrive issues: sync failures, Microsoft Account problems

SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service, is critical to the company’s strategic direction for Windows. It is the means by which content and settings are kept in synch across different Windows machines; or more precisely, user accounts across different Windows machines.

Content in SkyDrive is accessible via any web browser, and there are clients for Windows and for various mobile devices. Office Web Apps are also built-in so you can create and edit documents in the cloud.

In principle it is an excellent service, but since the release of Windows 8.1 a few problems have emerged. Specifically:

Some users report problems synching. Check out this thread which begins with users of the 8.1 preview but continues through to the release. The main issue mentioned is that synchronisation simply fails for some users, but others report duplicate documents created with names like somedoc-mypc.xls and somedoc-mylaptop.xls, where “mypc” and “mylaptop” are the names of computers used with the service. Working out which document is the most current can be tricky.

I have encountered this myself, even on some occasions with a document created and edited solely on one machine. Somehow SkyDrive manages to think there is a conflict.

Another problems is unnecessary network traffic. Here is an example of some of these issues:

My brand new shiny Surface Pro 2 was set to have the documents available offline and everything else online only.  The sync has stalled just like everyone else reports in this thread.  I changed the folder to "online only" and the sync claimed to complete.  I then changed the folder back to "available offline" and it proceeded to redownload thousands of files, finally stalling again with a little more than 200 left.  The Metro app says that the files have completed yet they are still in the pending queue.

Many users express what seems to me a valid complaint, that Windows 8.1 gives you less information and control than was in Windows 8.0.

Some users dislike being tied to a Microsoft account. SkyDrive is a consumer service, and you can only use it with a Microsoft account (MSA) – a descendant of what was once called Passport. In Windows 8 and earlier, which had standalone SkyDrive clients, that was not too bad. You can sign into SkyDrive just as you would into Dropbox or any cloud service. In Windows 8.1 though, SkyDrive is baked into the operating system, which means that you have to sign in centrally to a Microsoft account.

There are several reasons users struggle with this, including privacy concerns, inconvenience if you have more than one SkyDrive account you want to use, and complications when you have a corporate login to a Windows domain as well as SkyDrive:

When I login with my domain account and connect my MSA to it, Skydrive still won’t sync, it keeps creating "Skydrive" folders in the user directory each time it tries to start. I can’t find anything in the logs to help.

If I instead login with the MSA account to the computer it will sync.

SkyDrive is a free service and Microsoft has good reason to encourage users to sign in with one of its accounts, which gives access to the Windows Store, Xbox Music and other services. I can see why users object, but also why Microsoft wants to encourage users to sign in.

It is harder to understand why the service does not work reliably. The impression I get is that this is more to do with the client, especially in Windows 8.1, than with the cloud service; but it is hard to be sure.

How extensive are the problems? Again, it is hard to get firm data. I find it works reasonably well for me, though I get the duplicate file problem as well as regular issues saving Office documents. The notorious Office Upload Center reports a problem and you have to re-open the document in Office and save to resolve it.

Ransomware like CryptoLocker is a game changer in the malware wars – and not in a good way

The rapid spread of CryptoLocker, an example of a malware category known as ransomware, is upping the stakes in the cyber security wars. I think it is a game changer.

Ransomware is malware that steals your data by encrypting it, and then demands a ransom to decrypt it. The latest breed of ransomware uses strong encryption, and the key to decrypt it is only held by the criminals. I have not heard of any successful decryption without paying the ransom.

Why a game changer? The first reason is that the consequences of infection are more severe than was the case with most previous attacks. Previously, your infected machine might send out spam and cause you problems by getting your genuine email blacklisted as well. Or you might have passwords to online accounts stolen, leading to fraudulent transactions where in most cases you can recover the cost from your bank. Or your machine might have to be be wiped and applications reinstalled, which can be expensive if you need professional help as well as inconvenient when you have many applications to reinstall.

Malware like CryptoLocker is different. If the infection succeeds in encrypting data for which you do not have a usable backup, it gives you a difficult decision. Pay up, thus financing the criminals and perhaps making yourself a more attractive future target, or do not pay, and suffer the loss of whatever value that data has to you or your business.

That value may well exceed the ransom amount, which suggests that the rational thing to do in these circumstances is to pay up. That is risky though, not only because of the long-term consequences but also because there is no guarantee that it will work, or that the cost will not escalate. You are dealing with criminals after all.

Some people are paying. For example:

We paid as our client did not have new enough backups of the files. It encrypted 90,000 files in 5 hours, silently and then announced itself.

For reference, we researched this for 15 hours straight before paying and it really was the last resort.

Since this type of attack is highly profitable, it seems likely that we will see increasing frequency and variety of attacks, until the industry figures out the best way to counter the threat.

The best defence, of course, is not to get infected. The second best defence is to have a reliable disconnected backup. In general, data on servers or in the cloud is more likely to be protected, because it is more likely to be backed up or have a file history so you can revert to an earlier version; but bear in mind that malware executes with the same rights as the user, so in principle if you have the rights to modify data then the malware does as well.

Synchronisation services, now popular with applications like Dropbox and SkyDrive, can work against you if your encrypted documents are dutifully encrypted across all your devices.

Here are my immediate questions:

  • What is the most effective way to prevent infection? We are confronted with the failure of anti-virus products to protect effectively against new and rapidly mutating threats.
  • How much safer is a Mac? How much safer is Linux?
  • How much safer is Windows RT (a lot)
  • How much safer is an iOS or Android tablet?
  • What action, if any, should system administrators take now to protect their users?
  • What will Microsoft do to protect its users?

It would not surprise me if this kind of threat drives the industry more towards locked-own operating systems, whether Windows RT, iOS or Android, to the extent that a full operating system like OS X or Windows x86 is only used by those who specifically require it.

For more information about CryptoLocker see for example:

Sophos: Destructive malware CryptoLocker on the loose

As BlackBerry stumbles, there are now three mobile platforms that matter

Today has been tumultuous for BlackBerry. Investment company Fairfax Financial, BlackBerry’s biggest shareholder, was intending to buy the company for US $4.7bn, but that deal fell through, apparently because of failure to attract other investors to what seemed a risky endeavour. Instead, Fairfax and other investors will invest US $1bn of new money into BlackBerry. CEO Thorsten Heins is to step down, and John S Chen, formerly CEO of Sybase, will take on the CEO role. Here is what Chen says:

BlackBerry is an iconic brand with enormous potential – but it’s going to take time, discipline and tough decisions to reclaim our success.  I look forward to leading BlackBerry in its turnaround and business model transformation for the benefit of all of its constituencies, including its customers, shareholders and employees.

Note the key phrase here: business model transformation. What does that mean? Presumably, that the company cannot no longer be primarily a supplier of mobile devices, but will attempt to build a new business based on mobile device management, mobile security, messaging, or who knows what.

It is relatively easy to explain why BlackBerry, whose dire financials released at the end of September triggered the crisis changes, got into trouble. Like Nokia, it found that a strong position in mobile phones had suddenly become a weak position, thanks to competition from Apple and then Android. The iPhone was not just a better mobile phone, but one that changed the computing landscape. I am not going to reiterate why, but think design, think apps, think usability, think mobile computing in place of smart phones. BlackBerry was not prepared for this, nor was Nokia, nor was Microsoft.

In October 2010 I wrote about which mobile platforms will fail. This was my list of current mobile platforms:

  • Apple iOS
  • Google Android
  • Samsung Bada
  • MeeGo
  • BlackBerry Tablet OS (QNX)
  • HP/Palm WebOS
  • Symbian
  • Windows Phone 7 and successors

Today, Samsung Bada, MeeGo, WebOS, Symbian and now BlackBerry 10 are gone or all-but gone. There are now three mobile platforms that matter:

  • Apple iOS
  • Google Android
  • Windows Phone

I realise that many have written off Windows Phone as a contender, but I include it because it is actually growing its market share, and because it is the future of Windows. Desktop and mobile versions of Windows will merge, and while Microsoft has challenges in this market, for sure it is not dead yet.

We should also at least nod to Amazon which is building its Kindle platform, based on Android but an Amazon platform, and will likely introduce a mobile phone at some point; and to Mozilla for Firefox OS; and to Samsung which is making efforts to meld Android into more of its own OS thus fracturing the platform, and to Chinese vendors like Xiaomi who are doing some of the same.

Why has BlackBerry 10 failed? Reviews have been mixed, but it is as far as I can tell a decent mobile OS, and the underling QNX embedded operating system was a good choice given that the company decided against Android.

However today you need not just a nice mobile platform but an ecosystem of huge scale. BlackBerry 10 may objectively have be better initial effort at a new mobile platform than Windows Phone 7 was, in a parallel situation, but it is even later, and lacks the backing of a deep-pocketed company content to lose money for years in the hope of eventually establishing its viability. BlackBerry also lacks the wider ecosystem that surrounds the other three platforms.

While no doubt the strategy adopted by Heins could have been improved, it was more that the task was too great, than that the execution was poor.

Asus Transformer Book Trio combines Windows and Android – but what is it for?

Microsoft has one idea about how to combine desktop Windows with a tablet OS: mash them together into a single operating system and call it Windows 8.

Asus has another idea. Put Windows in the keyboard dock, Android in the tablet, and allow the tablet to be docket to form a Windows or Android laptop.

This is the Transformer Book Trio, just launched and on sale from 11 November 2013 at £899.99.


All my instincts say this a terrible idea. Let Windows be Windows and Android Android, do not try to combine them.

Trying the machine though I found it was good fun. Just press the little Android button and it switches.


and it becomes an Android laptop:


The dock mechanism is a bit ugly but looks robust:


There is the question still: what will you do with the keyboard when not in use? In a home context that is not a problem, but when on the road I find the most convenient place to keep a detachable keyboard is to attach it, making it more of a laptop than a tablet in practice.

Having two computers in one gives you a few options, which I did not have time to explore in detail. As I understand it, you can share storage in order to open a document prepared in Windows on Android, for example, and with two batteries there is scope for charging one from the other.

This is two separate computers though. It should really be called Duo, but Asus calls it Trio on the grounds that you can use it as a laptop or a desktop machine, with an external display.

The PC runs an Intel Core i5 4200U, and has 4GB RAM and 500GB hard drive. The display is 1920 x 1080 and supports capacitive 10-point multi-touch. Connectivity includes 802.11ac (dual-band) wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0, 2 USB 3.0 ports, Mini DisplayPort, and Micro-HDMI 1.4.

The tablet has an Intel Atom Z2560 with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage. Connectivity includes   802.11n (2.4GHz), Bluetooth 3.0, Micro-USB 2.0, microSD card slot.

Fun then; but what is the use case for this machine? This is where I am still having difficulty. It is somewhat expensive (though with a Core i5 performance is decent), and I have a hunch that users will end up sticking with one or the other OS most of the time – probably Windows given the price.

Oddly, it would make more sense to me to have a high-end Android device with the ability to run Windows when needed. This would address the case where a user wants to migrate to Android but occasionally needs a Windows app.

Brief hands on with new Asus Windows 8.1 T100 tablet – or should that be netbook?

Asus has launched two new tablets in the UK.

This one is the 10.1″ T100 has an Intel Atom “Bay Trail” Z3740 quad-core processor. The display is 1366 x 768 and supports capacitive multi-touch.


You press a release button under the display to detach it from the keyboard, whereupon it becomes a tablet. This approach, it is now generally agreed, is better than a screen which twists over, since it gives you a reasonably thin and lightweight (550g) tablet rather one that is bulky and odd to hold. However, there is still the question of what you are going to do with the keyboard once detached, and I have a suspicion that these machines are likely to be almost permanently attached to the keyboard making them similar to netbooks.


Microsoft’s Surface overcomes this to some extent, especially with the Touch keyboard cover that folds underneath and adds little weight or bulk.

On the other hand, the T100 strikes me as good value at £349.99 (which includes the keyboard dock), especially bearing in mind that Office Home and Student is bundled (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, but no Outlook).

The T100 comes with 2GB RAM and 32GB eMMC storage. Connectivity includes Bluetooth 4.0, Micro-USB, Micro-HDMI, MicroSD slot, and a USB 3.0 port in the docking keyboard.

I tried the T100 briefly. I was impressed with the performance; Word and Excel opened quickly and overall it feels quick and responsive. I did not like the keyboard much; it felt slightly spongy, but at this price a few weaknesses can be forgiven.

The tablet Windows key is not under the screen as with most Windows 8 tablets, but a button on the side. What looks like the Windows key in the above snap is inactive, and that logo will not show on the production units.

Microsoft’s Xbox One almost invisible at Gadget Show Live

I looked in on London’s Gadget Show Live this morning. It was the usual frustrating experience: the things that were interesting were surrounded by hordes of visitors so you could barely get a look.


Here is what I found curious. Microsoft is the lead sponsor, but the Xbox One was shown only on a tiny stand near the back of the hall. Here it is – all of it.


By contrast, Sony had a huge stand for PlayStation 4. Apologies; my snap does not show the scale well.


That said, Microsoft had its own massive stand, but for Windows, with a strong push for Surface tablets and a reasonable presence for Windows Phone.

However, if you look at the demographic of the show, with lots of kids even on a Friday, it is better suited to gaming consoles than to relatively expensive tablets – though to be fair, the Windows tablets seemed to be attracting a fair amount of attention.

I had a chat with a guy from Sonos at its stand. Will Sonos support high resolution formats (better then CD quality)? This is almost a trick question as I’m not sure you can hear the difference; but there is nevertheless strong demand for it in the slightly crazy world of high-end audio. Apparently there are ways to do it now, but the Sonos engineers are working at bringing full support into the range.

Sonos has apps for iOS and Android; what if I have a Windows Phone? No support yet but again I got the impression that this is being looked at. There is a public API so third-party support is also possible. They appear also to be considering a Windows 8 store app though nothing is confirmed.

Panasonic had a rather lovely 4K display running full resolution video – only £5,499 – as well as a 3D display which looked great though it requires glasses. Don’t bother with 4K unless you have a 42″ or bigger screen, I was told by a Panasonic guy.


I also watched a bit of Gadget Show Live in the Super Theatre. Sorry, but I thought it was dreadful. Little innovation on show, slightly risqué humour despite the presence of many kids in the audience – “I’ve got a new girlfriend, you should see her Nokias” said a robot comedian, for example. I may be in a minority as the show overall seemed to go down OK.

Talking of the robot comedian, it was controlled by a Windows 8 tablet strapped to its back. After three or four jokes something went wrong and it had to be controlled manually, reducing the robot to little more than a fancy powered loudspeaker. Never mind.

High end home entertainment with a Cornflake flavour

Tucked away on a side street off London’s Tottenham Court Road is The Cornflake Shop, which appeared back in the Eighties to sell high-end audio equipment with a more considered service than was available from the multitude of hi-fi shops which, at the time, thronged the main road.

Since that time the audio industry has changed and many dealers have struggled or closed. Hi-fi today, for most people, means an iPhone dock or a set of powered speakers. Despite those challenges, on a recent visit to London I was interested to see that the Cornflake Shop lives on; in fact, they have just opened a new showroom called the Art of Technology, Realised and whose window declares “The Smart App-artment”.


I could not resist a visit. Inside it has a striking animated graphic projected on the wall and framed artefacts – a typewriter, an old tape recorder.


I chatted with them about the state of the audio industry and was told that the their business had transitioned to something more like automating the home, but still with a strong element of home entertainment; they aim to have every installation include a fine music system. However they will still sell you just a CD player or a pair of loudspeakers if you ask, and now intend to renew their focus on high-end audio alongside the other things they do.

Go downstairs and a series of subterranean showrooms demonstrate various home environments.


The back room, if that is the right word, is amazing; racks of networking gear, home entertainment controllers, music and video servers. They use Sonos for multi-room audio and Kaleidoscope, which lets you legally rip Blu-Ray to a server, for video.


Would someone really have something like this in their home, I asked? Oh yes was the answer.

Then it was time to listen to some music. These striking Martin Logan loudspeakers from the Reserve ESL series combine electrostatic drivers for the mid-range and treble with a conventional sub-woofer.


Spot the valve amplifier. What on earth are valves doing in an ultra-modern home entertainment setup? The answer is simply that they like the sound. There is an element of retro here.


We played a couple of tracks, selected from an iPad app, and a music video, for which a large screen slid elegantly into view. It sounded good but I did not stay long enough to be able to comment in detail.

The Cornflake Shop always had its own individualistic and slightly quirky approach and it is great to see that this continues. You will get something stylish for your money that will deliver high quality home entertainment. But how much back-end kit do you need in the modern home? If you are looking for the minimum amount of wires and the smallest amount of equipment, this might not be the place for you.