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Q. Is a System Restore the same as a backup in Windows?
A. While System Restore and backups can both help get your computer back to normal if something goes wrong, the two are different things. (The common technical advice to “restore the system from a backup” can also lead to confusion.)
System Restore, which was introduced as a troubleshooting tool back in 2000 with the release of the Windows Millennium Edition (Window ME) operating system, allows users to create and save a “restore point,” or a snapshot of their Windows system files at a certain time. Later, if Windows begins to behave erratically because of a corrupted or damaged system file, you can use the restore point to go back to that moment in time when the computer was working properly.
The Windows System Restore software automatically creates restore points each week, and makes fresh ones before installing software (like a system update or drivers for new hardware). As a precaution, you can also create a restore point manually.
Credit The New York Times
In the current version of Windows 10, you can do so by telling the Cortana assistant, “Open System Restore,” or by entering “Create a restore point” in the Start Menu’s search box. (In earlier versions of Windows, go to the Start Menu to Control Panel, choose System and Security and then System. Click the System Protection link on the left side of the window.) Whichever way you arrive at the System Protection tab of the System Properties box, click the Create button at the bottom to name and save the new restore point.
While System Restore is helpful when the Windows system itself is crashing and burning, the utility backs up system files — and not the documents, photos, music, videos and other content you have added to the computer. To preserve copies of your files ahead of potential catastrophes like accidental deletions or dead hard drives, get an external drive to use with the backup software included with Windows (or to use with a third-party backup program), or find an online backup service you like.
“There’s no incentive for operating system companies to create planned obsolescence,” said Greg Raiz, a former program manager for Microsoft who worked on Windows XP. “It’s software, and software has various degrees of production bugs and unintended things that happen.”
Here’s what happens: When tech giants like Apple, Microsoft and Google introduce new hardware, they often release upgrades for their operating systems. For example, a few days before the iPhone 8 shipped in September, Apple released iOS 11 as a free software update for iPhones, including the four-year-old iPhone 5S.
The technical process of upgrading from an old operating system to a new one — migrating your files, apps and settings along the way — is extremely complicated. So when you install a brand-new operating system on an older device, problems may occur that make everything from opening the camera to browsing the web feel sluggish.
“It’s like changing the plumbing of the house without changing anything else,” said Scott Berkun, an author and a former manager for Microsoft who oversaw engineers that worked on Windows operating systems and web browsers.
The good news is that because tech companies are not intentionally neutering your devices, there are remedies for when you think your three-year-old iPhone or your seven-year-old Windows computer has become slow or short-lived. Here’s a guide to speeding up your troubled gadgets, based on interviews with information technology professionals and operating system experts.
Tech companies make it simple to upgrade to a new operating system by pressing an “update” button, which seamlessly migrates all your apps and data over. While that’s convenient, it isn’t the best way to ensure that things will continue running smoothly.
A better practice is backing up all your data and purging everything from the device before installing the new operating system. This “clean install” works more reliably because the engineers developing operating systems were able to test this condition more easily, Mr. Raiz said.
Let’s say, for example, you have an iPhone 6 with 100 apps installed, four email accounts and 2,000 photos. It is more likely that a quality-assurance engineer tested installing a new operating system on a blank iPhone 6, rather than an iPhone 6 with the same setup as yours.
So if you want to minimize the chances of something going awry, resist the easy update path and opt for a clean install. For smartphones, I recommend backing up your data to your computer. For computers, you could back up your data to an online service or a portable drive. After the operating system installation is complete, you can then safely restore your data and apps to the device from the backup.
Remove the ‘Cruft’
Sometimes you can do some light maintenance to speed up your device. Over the long term, an operating system accumulates system files, settings, logs and other data; I.T. experts call this “cruft.” This can bog down your device.
For computers, there are some apps for cleaning up your system. Mac users can download a free app called Onyx, and Windows users can run a cleanup utility included in the system. For iPhones and Android devices, you can open the settings app and select reset settings. (Just make sure you back up first in case there are important settings you may lose.)
Be Mindful of Your Storage
Here’s something many people don’t realize: Just because your iPhone or Samsung phone has 64 gigabytes of storage doesn’t mean you should fill it all the way up. The device will generally run faster if more of its storage is available.
That’s partly because your device needs space to move data around and download software updates. But it’s also related to how the storage technology works inside smartphones and modern laptops.
Smartphones and newer laptops rely on flash storage, which stores data in the cells of semiconductor chips. When data is stored on a flash drive, it is scattered across the drive. So when you are pulling data to open an app or a document, you are retrieving it from multiple parts of the drive. If lots of space is occupied, the data gets crowded and the device may feel sluggish.
“If you fill these things up, it doesn’t get to operate as well,” said Brian Denslow, a technician for TechCollective, an information technology consulting company in San Francisco. Mr. Denslow said a good rule of thumb is to buy more storage than you think you will use. If you think you are going to use 64 gigabytes on an iPad, for example, buy the 256-gigabyte model.
I also recommend freeing up a huge amount of space by managing your photo library in the cloud. You can upload all your albums to a service like Google Photos and periodically purge all the images from the device itself. I did this recently on my iPhone 7 that was nearly full and seemed to be slowing down; purging the photos freed up about 50 gigabytes of data, and the iPhone feels as good as new.
Invest in Your Infrastructure
Your device may seem slower for reasons unrelated to the device. Mr. Denslow, the technician, said many apps relied on an internet connection, so a shoddy Wi-Fi router might be the real bottleneck.
To get a nice boost, invest in a modern Wi-Fi system. I recommend products like Google WiFi and Eero, which are so-called mesh networking systems that help you seamlessly set up multiple Wi-Fi stations to get a strong signal throughout the home. They are pricey, but upgrading your infrastructure will do more than buying a new phone.
“Instead of spending $1,000 on a phone every year, spend $500 on networking,” Mr. Denslow said. “It’s not sexy, but it provides more benefits over a long period of time.”
At the end of the day, there are many reasons your device may feel slow. New operating systems carry more powerful features that were designed to work better on new devices. In addition, developers of third-party apps typically prioritize making software for newer handsets, and sometimes they even discontinue support for old gadgets. If there are important tasks that your older device cannot do proficiently, consider an upgrade.
Mr. Raiz, the former Microsoft program manager, said he had recently encountered problems after updating his iPhone 6S to iOS 11. Some functions, like the ability to search for an app, no longer worked. Resetting the device’s settings fixed the problem, but he said he would most likely buy a new iPhone soon anyway to keep up with the latest technologies.
“There’s only so much you can do if your device is multiple release cycles behind,” he said.
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The fallout may also end up being broader. WikiLeaks, which released documents covering 2013 to 2016, has said its initial publication was just the first installment in a bigger cache of secret C.I.A. material.
So even if you aren’t worried about what WikiLeaks revealed about the C.I.A. right now for yourself, here are some tips for protecting your cellphones, televisions and internet routers.
What you can do if you’re on Android
Hundreds of millions of Android users still use devices based on older versions of the Google-made mobile operating system. The WikiLeaks document collection, which includes 7,818 web pages and 943 attachments, showed that the Android devices targeted by the hacking programs were mostly running a version of Android 4.0.
Runa Sandvik, The New York Times’s director of information security in the newsroom, and Nicole Perlroth, who writes about cybersecurity and privacy, answered reader questions about cybersecurity.
Today, about 30 percent of Android users, or at least 420 million people, are on a variant of Android 4.0, according to Google. The company said it was investigating reports of the security issues described in the WikiLeaks documents.
With the limited information we have now, the best thing people can do is to stop procrastinating on updating their software.
“The one thing that people can and should be doing is keeping their apps and phones as up-to-date as possible,” said Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit.
For owners of older devices, getting the latest software updates may not be easy. Many older Android handsets, like the Samsung Galaxy S3, are unable to download the latest version of the Android software. If you are in that boat, it’s a good time to purchase a new smartphone — such as the Google Pixel — which is running the latest Android software.
Other than ensuring that you have the latest operating system, Google recommends that Android users protect their devices with lock screens and PIN codes, and to enable a setting called Verify Apps, which scans apps downloaded from outside of Google’s app store for malware.
What you can do on an iPhone
Many iPhone owners are far more up-to-date with their mobile software than Android device owners. So only a minority of iPhone users have devices with the versions of the Apple iOS operating system that the WikiLeaks documents mention.
Specifically, the WikiLeaks documents referred to exploits working on versions of iOS up to 8.2. About 79 percent of Apple users are running iOS 10, the latest version of the system, and only 5 percent are running a version older than iOS 9, according to Apple.
In raw numbers, with more than one billion iOS devices sold worldwide, that amounts to at least 50 million people running the outdated software.
For those worried about their iPhone security, the advice is generally the same here as for Android owners: iPhone and iPad users should make sure to be running the latest operating system, iOS 10. Apple said on Tuesday that many of the security issues described in the WikiLeaks documents had already been patched in the latest version of its software and that it was working to address remaining vulnerabilities.
Not all Apple devices can get the latest operating system. Apple’s iOS 10 is compatible with iPhones as far back as the iPhone 5 released in 2012, and with iPads as old as the iPad Air and iPad Mini 2 released in 2013. If you are using anything older than those, it’s a good time to buy a new device for the stronger security.
What you can do with your Samsung TV
With Samsung televisions, the situation is less clear. The documents mentioned programs attacking smart TVs in Samsung’s F8000 series, which include microphones for voice controls. Samsung said it was looking into the WikiLeaks reports, and noted that software updates with the latest security enhancements are automatically downloaded on its televisions. The company did not immediately comment on whether any vulnerabilities had been patched.
The documents published by WikiLeaks disclosed that a tool called Weeping Angel puts the target TV in a “fake off” mode. Then, with the owner believing the TV is turned off, the set secretly records conversations in the room and sends them over the internet to a C.I.A. server computer.
Smart TVs are part of a proliferating category of “internet of things” devices that have raised security concerns because many of the companies that make them do not have strong backgrounds in information security. In a recent column I wrote about defending a smart home from cyberattacks, experts recommended strengthening Wi-Fi settings and regularly auditing smart home devices for software updates, among other tips.
That advice might not be sufficient for addressing privacy concerns around Samsung’s smart TVs, because the Weeping Angel hack continues to control the television even when it appears to be turned off.
Craig Spiezle, executive director of the Online Trust Alliance, a nonprofit privacy group, said the WikiLeaks revelations could spur action that he sees as lacking from makers of connected devices.
“I see this as a wake-up call for the industry to build better security and for consumers of these devices to rethink what they have and, in some cases, disconnect their connectivity,” Mr. Spiezle said.
What to do with your router
The WikiLeaks documents also described methods of injecting malware into routers offered by Asian manufacturers like Huawei, ZTE and Mercury.
In general, it is wise for everyone to regularly check routers for so-called firmware updates to make sure they get the latest security enhancements.
Depending on which router you own, downloading the latest firmware update isn’t very intuitive because it usually requires logging into the router. More modern routers like Eero and Google Wifi include mobile apps that help you download the latest updates automatically, so consider one of those if you are worried.
What to do with your computer
The WikiLeaks documents mentioned attacks on Linux, Windows and Apple computers. Personal computers have always been the most vulnerable devices we own, so this tip is fairly obvious: Make sure to install the latest operating system updates and use antivirus software. And as always, stay on guard for suspicious websites that may be serving malware.