Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Windows 10 Includes a Linux-Style Package Manager Named “OneGet”

Forget the Windows Store. Microsoft is working on a Linux-style package management framework for Windows, and it’s included with Windows 10. It’s being tested with Chocolatey’s existing packages, and allows you to easily install desktop applications and other software.
This is huge news. If you’ve ever used Linux, you’ve probably wanted a package management system for the Windows desktop ever since. Now it’s finally arriving!

OneGet, a Package Management Framework for Windows

This package manager is called OneGet, and is shipping as part of PowerShell. In a blog post titled “My little secret : Windows PowerShell OneGet” over at Technet, Microsoft’s Garret Serack explains:
“OneGet is a unified interface to package management systems and aims to make Software Discovery, Installation and Inventory (SDII) work via a common set of cmdlets (and eventually a set of APIs). Regardless of the installation technology underneath, users can use these common cmdlets to install/uninstall packages, add/remove/query package repositories, and query a system for the software installed. Included in this CTP is a prototype implementation of a Chocolatey-compatible package manager that can install existing Chocolatey packages.”
As OneGet is part of the latest version of PowerShell, it’s included by default in the Windwos 10 Technical Preview. It’s also available as part of the Windows Management Framework 5.0 Preview for Windows 8.1.
Just look at the image at the top of this article to see how it will all work. Yes, you can install VLC or another piece of Windows software that easily! After you run the command, OneGet will locate the package in your configured package sources, download it to your computer, and install it — all automatically. And there should be graphical user interfaces for this, too, so it’ll just take a few clicks.

How OneGet Works

Let’s dig in a bit deeper. Here’s how Microsoft describes OneGet:
“OneGet is a new way to discover and install software packages from around the web. With OneGet, you can:
  • Manage a list of software repositories in which packages can be searched, acquired, and installed
  • Search and filter your repositories to find the packages you need
  • Seamlessly install and uninstall packages from one or more repositories with a single PowerShell command”
The Get-PackageSource cmdlet lets you view a list of installed package sources, or repositories. OneGet now includes two Microsoft-provided sources. Chocolatey was previously the default package source during development and can easily be added.
Anyone can create and operate a repository of packages. Microsoft could potentially create their own one-stop-shop for Windows desktop programs. A company could manage its own repository with the programs they use so they can be easily installed and managed. A software developer could set up a repository containing only the software they create so their users can easily install and update it. You can add more repositories with the Add-PackageSource cmdlet or remove them with Remove-PackageSource.
The Find-Package cmdlet lets you search the package sources you’ve configured for available packages. Find software to install without searching the web!
The Install-Package cmdlet then lets you install a package of your choice, just by specifying its name. The package is automatically downloaded and installed from the software repository of your choice without any searching for .exe files, downloading them, and clicking through wizards that try to install junk on your computer. Better yet, you can specify multiple package names here — imagine installing the fifty Windows programs you use with a single command and leaving your computer to get a coffee while doing so.
The Get-Package cmdlet then lets you see what packages you have installed. Packages can later be uninstalled with Uninstall-Package. There’s currently no Update-Package command that will automatically install the latest versions of these software package from the available repositories, something that will be sorely needed — hopefully it’s on its way.

What’s a Package Manager? And What’s Chocolatey?

If you’ve gotten this far, you should understand the basics of what a package manager is. Basically, it’s a software tool that makes installation, updating, and locating of software to install much easier. Package managers are used on Linux, and they let you install packages from trusted software repositories in just a few clicks or keystrokes. The package manager can automatically update your packages whenever updated versions are added to the repositories, so every program doesn’t need its own built-in updater. It’s easy to use, and also very easy to automate.
Chocolatey is a package manager that brings this style of easy software installation to Windows. Currently, it primarily uses text commands so it hasn’t found much of a home beyond geeks — but geeks love it! Chocolatey allows you to install Windows software like Firefox, VLC, and 7-Zip with just a few keystrokes instead of the usual downloading and clicking process, just like you’d install software on Linux. Chocolatey is currently running a Kickstarter, seeking money to “take Chocolatey to the next level.” They’re also working on a graphical user interface for their package manager so average Windows users can more easily use it. With the package manager framework in Windows 10, Chocolatey can easily piggy-back off whatever work Microsoft is doing — work that seems originally inspired by Chocolatey. Rather than being a bolted-on package management system, Chocolatey will work hand-in-hand with the package management framework included with Windows.

It’s impossible to say exactly how far Microsoft will go here. One thing’s for sure: For Windows system administrators and geeks, installing software and automating software deployments is about to get a lot easier. This is currently a geek tool, as it’s only available via PowerShell commands. But, as Microsoft says, this will eventually be exposed as a set of APIs.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How to Check Your Motherboard Model Number on Your Windows PC

Whether you need to update drivers, want to check hardware compatibility, or you’re just curious, it’s way easier to check your motherboard model number with these simple tricks than it is to crack open your computer case to check the board itself. Read on as we show you how to check your motherboard model number from the comfort of your keyboard.

Why Do I Want To Do This?

There are a variety of situations where knowing your motherboard’s model number is important: upgrading your drivers, buying new hardware (you’ll need the proper expansion slots for card-based upgrades and the right memory DIMMS for memory upgrades, etc.), and checking the capabilities of your board if you’re considering upgrading the entire thing.
If you kept the paperwork that came with your computer (or the individual components if you built it yourself) you can often times reference that. Even then, it’s best to check to make sure the documentation is correct. Rather than open the case and search for the model number, it’s easy to use tools within Windows to check things out.

Checking Your Model Number via CMD.exe

If you’re comfortable using the command line, you can easily check a variety of motherboard and hardware stats using the handy Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line (WMIC) a command-line interface for Microsoft’s powerful WMI tool.
With the WMIC we can entry the query baseboard to check motherboard stats and then additional specific query modifiers like get Manufacturer, Model, Name, PartNumber, slotlayout, serialnumber, poweredon to get more detailed information about the motherboard. Let’s check our motherboard’s manufacturer, model number, and serial number using WMIC.
Open up the command prompt in Windows via either the run dialog (WIN+R) or via the search in the start menu; enter cmd.exe into either, no need to run it as an administrator. Enter the following text at the command line.
wmic baseboard get product,Manufacturer,version,serialnumber
This will return the following data.
The above information checks out for our system: the manufacturer is MSI, the board is the Z87-G45 (MS-7821), and while the WMIC tool attempted to check the serial number apparently, alas, MSI left that particular bit unfilled for whatever reason. None the less, the WMIC tool functioned just as it should, and without opening the case or using any third party tools we have the basic information we’re looking for.

Checking Your Model Number via Speccy

If you’d prefer a GUI-based way to check your motherboard’s model number (as well as a method that yields more information at a glance than the WMIC tool), the free tool Speccy by Piriform (the folks that brought us CCleaner) is a handy app to have around.
Grab a free download here and then fire it up.
Not only will it tell your model number, as seen above, but if you click on the Motherboard entry in the left hand navigation column, you can check even more information about the motherboard like the chipset and voltage settings.

Have a pressing tech question, hardware releated or otherwise? Shoot us an email at and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Create Encrypted Zip or 7z Archives on Any Operating System

Protected Folder.
Zip files can be password-protected, but the standard Zip encryption scheme is extremely weak. If your operating system has a built-in way to encrypt zip files, you probably shouldn’t use it.
To gain the actual benefits of encryption, you should use AES-256 encryption. 7z archives support this natively, but you can also encrypt Zip files with AES-256 encryption.

Zip 2.0 Legacy Encryption vs. AES Encryption

There are actually two types of Zip file encryption. The older Zip 2.0 encryption is extremely insecure, while the newer AES encryption is fairly secure.
Unfortunately, many pieces of software — particularly operating systems with built-in support for Zip files — don’t support the newer AES encryption standard. This means that using the Zip password-protection features found in Windows XP, current versions of Mac OS X, and even typical Linux desktops won’t give you securely encrypted Zip files. Even some third-party utilities are reluctant to switch to AES for their Zip encryption as it means those AES-encrypted zip files will then be incompatible with the built-in Zip features in Windows, Mac OS X, and other software.
It’s still possible to get AES encryption with Zip files — but such files will require third-party software to view, anyway. You may just want to use a different archive format, such as 7z. The 7z archive format requires strong AES-256 encryption. Whenever you create a password-protected 7z file, you know that it’s securely encrypted. Really, 7z is great — it came out on top in our file-compression benchmarks. It’s generally on the top of other file compression benchmarks we’ve seen, too.

Windows – 7-Zip

Windows offers a built-in way to create Zip files. Windows XP even offered a way to password-protect and encrypt these Zip files. However, Windows XP used the extremely insecure “standard” zip file encryption algorithm. Even if you’re still using Windows XP, you shouldn’t use this feature. Later versions of Windows dropped the password-protection option entirely.
Nearly every popular encryption utility offers this features. We like 7-Zip, which is completely free and open-source, so it won’t try to nag you for any money.
With 7-Zip installed, you can select some files in a File Explorer or Windows Explorer window, right-click them, and select 7-Zip > Add to archive. Be sure to select the “Add to archive” option, as it gives you the ability to set a password. If you don’t see the menu option here, you can also open the 7-Zip application directly and use it to create an archive.
7-Zip will create a 7z archive by default, but you can also choose Zip. If you do opt to go with Zip, be sure to select the AES-256 encryption method instead of the weaker ZipCrypto method. Enter your password into the provided boxes and click OK to create your encrypted archive file.

Mac – Keka

Mac OS X also provides an easy way to create Zip files from a Finder window, but there’s no way to encrypt a zip file with the graphical user interface. The zip command included with Mac OS X does offer a way to encrypt zip files without using any third-party software. However, like the password-protection feature built into Windows XP, it uses the old and insecure standard zip encryption scheme. If you really wanted, you could use the “zip -e” command in a Terminal on a Mac. However, we strongly recommend against this.
As on Windows, you’ll once again need a third-party file compression app for secure compression. Keka seems to be one of the most well-loved file compression and decompression apps for Mac, and we can recommend it. However, even Keka doesn’t use AES for encrypting Zip files by default. You can get the currently-in-beta version of Keka and enable a hidden option to do this, or just use the standard version of Keka and create encrypted 7z files instead.
Launch Keka, select 7z, and enter a password for your archive. (If you select Zip, be sure you have the correct version of Keka and that you’ve enabled the hidden option above to get the secure encryption.)
Drag and drop one or more files you want to compress onto the Keka window and they’ll be compressed into a 7z file encrypted with the password you provided. You’ll need the password to access the file’s contents in the future.

Linux – File Roller with p7zip-full

The standard Archive Manager (File Roller) application included with Ubuntu and other GNOME-based desktop environments does have an option to create password-protected zip files. However, the underlying zip command used still uses the old, weak encryption instead of strong AES encryption. Thankfully, File Roller can be used to create encrypted 7z archives.
To enable this option, you’ll first need to install the p7zip-full package. (On some Linux distributions, it may just be called p7zip instead.) For example, on Ubuntu, you can either open the Ubuntu Software Center, search for p7zip-full and install it, or open a Terminal window and run the sudo apt-get install p7zip-full command.
Once you have, you can create encrypted 7z files directly from the File Roller window. Select some files in a file manager window, right-click them, and select Compress — or open the Archive Manager application directly and use it to create a new archive.
In the Compress window, be sure to select the 7z archive format. Click the Other Options header and provide a password. The password will be used to unlock your archive later.

There are many different software programs for creating password-protected archives, but — whatever you use — be sure it’s using secure encryption. The problem with Zip encryption isn’t purely theoretical. The web is full of tools that can “recover” a password-protected zip file that was created using the old encryption scheme. “Recover” is a less-scary word for breaking and removing the encryption.