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Posted on by Arnon Erba in Op-Ed

Zoom’s meteoric rise to the top of the video conferencing market makes sense when you consider that their platform is, in fact, fairly good. So far, Zoom has managed to avoid many of the pain points that plague other video conferencing solutions:

  • No account is required to join a call, and calls can be joined from any platform (even from Android, iOS, and Linux).
  • Call quality is excellent, even on slow Internet connections.
  • The platform can be used for free by anyone and it’s easy to create an account.
  • Zoom is a standalone product with a singular focus rather than an add-on feature like Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts.

Additionally, Zoom’s user experience is good, especially when it comes to joining a meeting. It’s hard to simplify that process much further than “here, click this link”. Overall, Zoom is easy enough to use, and it manages to keep its myriad of advanced features from getting in the way of hosting simple meetings.

UX Versus UI

With that said, Zoom is still far from perfect. While Zoom’s user experience (UX) is relatively frictionless, I’m still surprised by inconsistencies that exist in its user interface (UI). In my opinion, Zoom struggles with two main UI issues: consistency and clarity.

Consistency

For one, the website shares none of the design cues of the desktop and mobile apps. Buttons don’t even share the same names: the blue “Host a Meeting” link on the website competes with a large orange “New Meeting” button in the app. The meanings of both buttons are clear upon inspection, but this means that users have to become familiar with two separate interfaces before feeling comfortable using Zoom.

Some website features don’t appear in the app, and vice versa. For example, the “Previous Meetings” tab on the website doesn’t map back to anything in the “Meetings” section of the app. Similarly, the links in the navigation bar at the top of the app (Home/Chat/Meetings/Contacts) don’t match anything on the website.

Most frustratingly, the “Schedule a Meeting” interface on the website is substantially different from the one in the app. While the website prompts you to choose a start time and duration (and only allows you to adjust those times in half hour increments), the app asks for a start time and end time. The form options themselves are labeled differently: the start time is listed as “When” on the website and as “Date” in the app. At the bottom of the form, the advanced meeting options aren’t even presented in a consistent order between the two interfaces.

Finally, weird things occasionally happen while using Zoom. For example, when I went to unmute someone in a recent meeting, the participant list started arbitrarily reordering itself every few seconds. This made it almost impossible to choose the right person, as someone else would jump under my mouse cursor before I clicked. I’m still not sure if this was an intended feature, but it doesn’t make sense that it would be.

Clarity

On the clarity side, some of the buttons in the app aren’t immediately recognizable as buttons. The Join Audio/Share Screen/Invite Others trio is the most notable example of this issue:

I’ve been using Zoom for a while now, and every time I launch a meeting I have to remind myself that those three pieces of clip art are actually clickable. Additionally, since the introductory screen vanishes once other participants join, these buttons can’t be relied upon throughout the duration of a meeting.

Conclusion

Zoom’s UI does get one thing right: every button is clearly labeled with a description of what it does. While this may not be the most aesthetically pleasing choice, it makes it easy for untrained users to get started with Zoom. For that reason alone, I appreciate Zoom’s simple and unglamorous UI, but it’s still important that it isn’t so simplistic and inconsistent that it detracts from the user experience.

Further Reading

Posted on by Arnon Erba in News

Update 2/12/2020: Microsoft has reversed their decision to automatically install the Microsoft Search in Bing extension. The extension will still be made available but will not be automatically deployed with Office 365 ProPlus. The original post continues below:

Starting next month, Microsoft plans to use Office 365 ProPlus to push a browser extension for Google Chrome that will change users’ default search engines to Bing. Version 2002 of Office 365 ProPlus will forcibly install the Microsoft Search in Bing extension for all Chrome users who do not already use Bing as their default search engine.

Understandably, many system administrators are frustrated with the announcement, as unwanted browser extensions that change end-user settings are usually considered malware and are blocked accordingly. In fact, Microsoft’s own security tools already block dozens of programs that exhibit similar behavior.

On GitHub, users are responding to the change by opening issues in the OfficeDocs-DeployOffice repository. So far, it does not appear that Microsoft has responded to this influx of unsolicited feedback outside of publishing a blog post extolling the virtues of Bing.

Who Is Affected?

At this point, only businesses that have deployed Office 365 ProPlus are affected. Depending on the organization’s Office 365 license, ProPlus is the version of Office delivered to end-users when they install Office from the office.com portal. According to Microsoft, not all Office 365 plans include the ProPlus version of Office:

This extension is included only with Office 365 ProPlus. It isn’t included with Office 365 Business, which is the version of Office that comes with certain business plans, such as the Microsoft 365 Business plan and the Office 365 Business Premium plan.

Firefox Is Next

According to Microsoft, a similar extension for Firefox is also on the way:

Support for the Firefox web browser is planned for a later date. We will keep you informed about support for Firefox through the Microsoft 365 Admin Center and this article.

Removing The Extension

By making the extension an opt-out feature, Microsoft is putting the onus on system administrators to deploy a method for blocking its installation. While there are official ways to prevent the extension from being installed, there is no easy Microsoft-supported method for removing the extension once it has already been deployed. Instead, Microsoft recommends running the following command as an administrator on each affected machine using a script:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft\DefaultPackPC\MainBootStrap.exe uninstallAll

It should also be possible to blacklist the extension with the 3rd party Group Policy templates for Chrome and Firefox provided by Google and Mozilla.

Unfortunately, Group Policy and other enterprise management tools do not always apply to BYOD devices, leaving users who install Office on their personal machines with little recourse except to notice and remove the extension on their own if they find it undesirable.

Sources

Posted on by Arnon Erba in News

Update 1/16/20: According to Namecheap, the issues with DNSSEC have been resolved as of 2:00am EST (11:00 PM PST).

Have a domain registered at Namecheap with DNSSEC turned on? Now might be a good time to check if it still resolves.

Since at least 11:21pm Eastern Standard Time (8:21pm Pacific Standard Time) today, DNSSEC for domain names on Basic/PremiumDNS has been broken. So far, the issue appears to be caused by an expired signing key, but according to the latest status update “there is no current timeline for resolution of this issue”. This happens to be a fairly serious issue as DNSSEC validation for affected domain names will fail and cause websites and services to become inaccessible to some users.

The full text of the status update is copied below. This post will be updated if the status of the incident changes.

We are currently experiencing temporary technical issues with DNSSEC for domain names on Basic/PremiumDNS. If your domain name has DNSSEC option enabled, it may cause DNS performance issues. Unfortunately, there is no current timeline for resolution of this issue. We will keep you updated on the progress. Meanwhile, please contact our Support Team for assistance and more details. Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience. Thank you for your continued support and patience.

Oh well, maybe no one is using DNSSEC anyway.

Posted on by Arnon Erba in News

It’s time: extended support for Windows 7 ends today. Originally released on October 22, 2009 and superseded by Windows 10 almost five years ago, Windows 7 carved out a huge market share for itself in enterprise and home environments alike. In fact, it took Windows 10 until the end of 2018 to finally break Windows 7’s dominant hold on the desktop OS market.

However, it’s time to move on. Windows 10 is a better, faster, and more secure OS that is — and has been for a while — the natural choice for modern environments and modern hardware. Even so, upgrading software and replacing legacy devices in huge organizations is difficult, and Windows 7 is sure to stick around as long as Microsoft offers the paid Extended Security Updates program to companies still trying to migrate. Just like with Windows XP, Windows 7’s story doesn’t end here.

Posted on by Arnon Erba in How-To Guides

Ubuntu has been using update-motd as a MOTD (Message of the Day) generator for several years. Some of the default messages — such as the number of available security patches — can be helpful, but not everyone likes being greeted by a barrage of text every time they log in to their server. In this article, we’ll explore how to adjust, disable, or replace the dynamic MOTD in Ubuntu.

Before You Begin

If you’d rather work with update-motd than turn it off, detailed documentation for changing its output is available in the man page for update-motd. Essentially, the dynamic MOTD is generated by a collection of executable scripts found in the /etc/update-motd.d/ directory. These scripts can be updated, removed, or reordered, and new scripts can be added.

Disabling the Dynamic MOTD

While Ubuntu does not provide a straightforward way to remove update-motd, it’s possible to disable it by adjusting a few PAM options. Two lines, found in both /etc/pam.d/login and /etc/pam.d/sshd, cause update-motd to run on login:

session optional pam_motd.so motd=/run/motd.dynamic
session optional pam_motd.so noupdate

Commenting out these lines in both files will prevent the pam_motd.so module from being loaded and will disable the dynamic MOTD.

Bonus Section: Enabling a Static MOTD

If you still want a message printed to the console on login, you can fall back to a static MOTD. Per the man page for sshd_config, OpenSSH can easily be configured to display a static MOTD:

PrintMotd
Specifies whether sshd should print /etc/motd when a user logs in interactively. (On some systems it is also printed by the shell, /etc/profile, or equivalent.) The default is “yes”.

Ubuntu disables this option by default and incorporates /etc/motd into its dynamic generator, but we can re-enable the option to make /etc/motd work again. Add or uncomment the following line in /etc/ssh/sshd_config and restart the OpenSSH daemon to have OpenSSH print /etc/motd on login:

PrintMotd yes

Sources