No, Disabling IPv6 Probably Won’t Speed Up Your Internet Connection

Windows, Linux, and other operating systems all have built-in support for IPv6, and it’s enabled by default. According to a myth going around, this IPv6 support is slowing down your connection and disabling it will speed things up.
This myth originally had a grain of truth to it — Firefox 3 handled IPv6 poorly on some computers, especially Linux systems. However, this myth isn’t true — and we even did a benchmark to test it out.

The Myth

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Windows, Linux, and other operating system all have integrated support for IPv6. IPv6 support is activated by default on all systems. However, most people’s connections still use the IPv4 protocol instead of the next-generation IPv6 protocol that solves so many problems with IPv4.
So, the myth goes, having IPv6 enabled slows down your Internet connection. When you connect to a website, your computer will search for the IPv6 address first before finding it’s not available and switching to IPv4. Disable IPv6 and your computer will look up IPv4 addresses immediately, eliminating those little delays.

Where the Myth Came From

Firefox 3 had a problem with IPv6. When IPv6 was enabled, Firefox attempted to resolve DNS addresses with IPv6 first before switching to IPv4. This could add a noticeable delay every time you navigated to a new domain in Firefox. This was a big problems on some Linux systems with Firefox 3 many years ago, so there are still tips going around for disabling IPv6 on Linux to speed up Firefox. Setting the “network.dns.disableIPv6” preference to True on Firefox’s about:config page will disable this IPv6 support, so you can disable it only for Firefox without disabling it system-wide.
Firefox 4 fixed this problem. Firefox will now only use IPv6 DNS lookups if IPv6 is actually functional on your connection. It’s smart enough to handle this on its own. This was just a bug in Firefox 3, and it’s been fixed.

It’s possible that, on networks with misconfigured IPv6 settings, computers might try to contact broken or nonexistent IPv6 DNS servers before falling back to IPv4. If you were on such a network, disabling IPv6 could help you — but it’s very unlikely you’re connected to a network or Internet service provider with such badly configured IPv6 settings at this point.

Problems With Disabling IPv6

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Disabling IPv6 can cause problems. If your Internet connection and router have already migrated to IPv6, you’ll lose the ability to use it properly. IPv6 may also be required for some home networking functions — for example, the easy-to-use Homegroup home networking feature introduced in Windows 7 requires IPv6 enabled on the computers on your home network to use it.
The entire world is moving towards IPv6, although it’s happening too slowly. IPv6 is necessary to replace IPv4 — we’re running out of IPv4 addresses and IPv6 is the solution.


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According to the myth, disabling IPv6 will speed up DNS requests by eliminating a delay that occurs when your computer checks for an IPv6 address before falling back to IPv4. To benchmark this, we benchmarked DNS requests.
First, we ran namebench with the default settings on a normally configured Windows 8.1 system. IPv6 is enabled on this system, as that’s the default, but the connection has no IPv6 capability. According to the myth, that IPv6 support is slowing us down.
With IPv6 enabled, the benchmark showed the average DNS request speed of the Google Public DNS server was 43.22 ms.

Next, we disabled IPv6 by heading to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\TCPIP6\Parameters in the registry editor, adding the DisabledComponents value, and setting it to ffffffff as Microsoft’s instructions for disabling IPv6 specify. We then restarted the computer and verified that IPv6 was disabled — no IPv6 interfaces appeared in ipconfig /all.
With IPv6 disabled, the benchmark showed the average speed of the Google Public DNS server was 43.97 ms. It may appear that DNS lookups were actually slower with IPv6 disabled, but this is well within the margin of error. There’s no noticeable slow-down with IPv6 enabled, just normal variations of speed going either way — in this case, it was actually a bit faster with IPv6 enabled.

There’s a good chance you don’t actually need IPv6 on your network — unless you rely on Windows Homegroup or similar features — so it may not be particularly harmful to remove if if you know what you’re doing. However, you won’t see a speed improvement from clinging to IPv4 unless there are serious problems with your Internet service provider’s network or your home network.
Image Credit: thierry ehrmann on Flickr

No, Your iPhone Flashlight is NOT Spying On You

Recently an email has been making the rounds, scaring people like my mom by claiming that the flashlight app on their smartphone is stealing their information and sending it to China. This, of course, isn’t exactly true, and for the iPhone’s built-in flashlight, is patently false.
In case you don’t feel like scrolling down, you should note that despite the fact that the news report showed a lot of stock footage of iPhones and the iPhone flashlight, there is absolutely no reason to worry if you have an iPhone and you are using the built-in iPhone flashlight. It is not spying on you.


So What’s This About?

This whole thing started as many hysterical things do, when Fox News did a report and brought somebody on from a security company to talk about flashlight apps spying on their users. He starts by saying:

“I think this is bigger than Ebola right now, because 500 million people are infected and they don’t know it. But it’s not them, it’s their smartphones.”

Wow, that’s scary! You’d think Google and Apple would be on the case. And then he further says:

“The top 10 flashlight apps today that you can download from the Google Play store are all malware. They are malicious, they are spying, they are snooping, and they are stealing.”

He goes on to say that these apps are collecting your data and sending it to China and Russia, that you should reset your phone, and a lot of other scary things.

What’s Really Going On?

Last year, the maker of the most popular flashlight app in the Google Play (Android) store was caught stealing people’s geolocation data and selling it to advertisers, went under FTC investigation, and was forced to settle over the issue. It was definitely a dark day for privacy.
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Because of this mess, the security company in the news report took a look at the permissions for the top 10 flashlight apps and decided that because they require a lot of permissions, they all must be malware. Nowhere in their report did they actually illustrate or prove that these apps are malware or sending your data somewhere, but they did make a table of the permissions that each flashlight app required.
Three of the apps they listed in their report required way too many permissions, including access to your location, which is definitely sketchy. But at least four of the applications that they listed as malware only have permission to access your flashlight, vibration, and access to the Internet (probably to display ads), but can’t access location or SMS or anything else.
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The fact is that Android app permissions are a mess and you have very little control over what apps can do once you’ve agreed to install the application other than just trusting Google. Your best bet is to avoid installing apps that have permissions that look suspect, or only install apps from really reputable companies.
But that doesn’t mean that all flashlight apps are malware. So why the hyperbole?
At the end of the news segment the anchor asked what you should do about flashlight apps. The security company guy responded by saying:

Or look for a flashlight app that’s under a 100 kilobytes because the ones that spy on you, it tells you their file size, they’re 1.2 MB to 5 MB. Those are big files to just turn the light on and off. So if you find a really really tiny flashlight app, a privacy flashlight, you’ll be safe.

You can’t judge the security of an application by how big it is, and it is completely irresponsible for any security person to say that. In addition, some of the other flashlight apps are bigger because they include extra features, a nicer interface, or… advertisements. Those things all take up more space.
A Privacy Flashlight, You Say?
If you watched that news segment you might not have noticed when he said “a privacy flashlight,” but that’s the secret password to understanding what’s really going on here.
The security company in the news report has a free flashlight app in the Google Play store, and it’s called “Privacy Flashlight.” They also have Android security software that you can install. And, of course, you can pay for more features.
Oh, you aren’t surprised? I guess it’s pretty obvious what’s really going on.
There’s nothing wrong with their flashlight app, and we haven’t used their other security software. And there’s nothing wrong with bringing awareness to the problems with Android permissions — after all, we’ve done a lot of articles on the subject. But don’t scream malware without proof.
Note: since we haven’t yet done a full investigation testing every single flashlight app, we can’t be sure that none of these apps are stealing your data (and it looks like three of them are asking for too many permissions), but this seems like a scare tactic from a security company to get people to buy their security software.

The Built-in iPhone Flashlight is Not Stealing Your Data

As we mentioned above, the iPhone flashlight is NOT stealing your data, is not tracking you, and if you are an iPhone user, you should keep using it without worry.
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The fact is that the built-in iPhone flashlight is part of iOS… it’s part of your iPhone. It was created by Apple, and you have nothing to worry about.
If you are using a third-party flashlight application on your iPhone you still don’t have to worry, because iPhone has a much better permissions system that notifies you right away if an application is trying to access your location or push notifications to you, or any number of other things.

Yes, the NSA is probably watching you brush your teeth.

No, Closing Background Apps on Your iPhone or iPad Won’t Make It Faster

Despite what you may have heard, closing apps on your iPhone or iPad won’t speed it up. But iOS does allow apps to run in the background sometimes, and you can manage that in a different way.
This myth is actually harmful. Not only will it slow down your use of your device, but it could use more battery power in the long run. Just leave those recent apps alone!


The Myth

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The myth states that your iPhone or iPad is keeping recently accessed apps open and running in the background. To speed things up, you need to close these applications like you would on a computer. On earlier versions of iOS, this was accomplished by double-pressing the home button and tapping the X on recently accessed apps.
On current versions of iOS, this can be accomplished by double-pressing the home button and swiping recently used apps to the top of the screen, where they’re removed from the multitasking view. You can also swipe up with four fingers on an iPad to open the switcher.

This Can Fix Frozen Apps

Swiping an app up and off the multitasking screen quits the application and removes it from memory. This can actually be convenient. For example, if an app is in a weird frozen or buggy state, just pressing Home and then going back to the app again may not help. But visiting the multitasking screen, quitting it with an upward swipe, and then relaunching the app will force it to start from scratch.
This is how you can forcibly quit and restart an app on iOS, and it works if you ever need to do that.

You Don’t Want to Remove Apps From Memory

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However, this won’t actually speed up your device. The apps you see in your list of recent apps aren’t actually using processing power. They are consuming RAM, or working memory — but that’s a good thing.
As we’ve explained before, it’s good that your device’s RAM is full. There’s no downside to having your RAM filled up. iOS can and will remove an app from memory if you haven’t used it in a while and you need more memory for something else. It’s best to let iOS manage this on its own. There’s no reason you’d want to have completely empty memory, as that would just slow everything down.

These Apps Aren’t Running in the Background, Anyway

The reason for this misunderstanding is an incorrect understanding of how multitasking works on iOS. By default, apps automatically suspend when they go into the background. So, when you leave a game you’re playing by hitting the Home button, iOS keeps that game’s data in RAM so you can quickly go back to it. However, that game isn’t using CPU resources and draining the battery when you’re away from it. It’s not actually running in the background when you’re not using it.
When you use an application on your desktop PC — Windows, Mac, or Linux — or open a web page in your web browser, that code continues running in the background. You may want to close desktop programs and browser tabs you’re not using, but this doesn’t apply to iOS apps.

How to Actually Prevent Apps From Running in the Background

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Some apps do run in the background thanks to iOS’s recent improvements to multitasking, however. A feature called “background app refresh” allows apps to check for updates — for example, new emails in an email app — in the background. To prevent an app from running in the background in this way, you don’t need to use the multitasking view. Instead, just disable background refresh for such apps.
To do this, open the Settings screen, tap General, and tap Background App Refresh. Disable background refresh for an app and it won’t have permission to run in the background. You can also check just how much battery power those apps are using.

Other cases of apps running in the background are more obvious. For example, if you’re streaming music from the Spotify or Rdio app and leave the app, the music will continue to stream and play. If you don’t want the app running in the background, you can stop the music playback.

Overall, apps running in the background aren’t something you need to worry about so much on iOS. If you want to save battery life and prevent apps from running in the background, the place to do it is in the Background App Refresh screen.
Believe it or not, removing apps from memory using the multitasking interface could actually lead to less battery life in the long run. When you re-open such an app, your phone will have to read its data into RAM from your device’s storage and re-launch the app. This takes longer and uses more power than if you had just let the app suspend peacefully in the background.
Image Credit: Karlis Dambrans on Flickr

No, iCloud Isn’t Backing Them All Up: How to Manage Photos on Your iPhone or iPad

Are the photos you take with your iPhone or iPad backed up in case you lose your device? If you’re just relying on iCloud to manage your important memories, your photos may not be backed up at all.
Apple’s iCloud has a photo-syncing feature in the form of “Photo Stream,” but Photo Stream doesn’t actually perform any long-term backups of your photos.

iCloud’s Photo Backup Limitations

Assuming you’ve set up iCloud on your iPhone or iPad, your device is using a feature called “Photo Stream” to automatically upload the photos you take to your iCloud storage and sync them across your devices. Unfortunately, there are some big limitations here.

  • 1000 Photos: Photo Stream only backs up the latest 1000 photos. Do you have 1500 photos in your Camera Roll folder on your phone? If so, only the latest 1000 photos are stored in your iCloud account online. If you don’t have those photos backed up elsewhere, you’ll lose them when you lose your phone. If you have 1000 photos and take one more, the oldest photo will be removed from your iCloud Photo Stream.
  • 30 Days: Apple also states that photos in your Photo Stream will be automatically deleted after 30 days “to give your devices plenty of time to connect and download them.” Some people report photos aren’t deleted after 30 days, but it’s clear you shouldn’t rely on iCloud for more than 30 days of storage.
  • iCloud Storage Limits: Apple only gives you 5 GB of iCloud storage space for free, and this is shared between backups, documents, and all other iCloud data. This 5 GB can fill up pretty quickly. If your iCloud storage is full and you haven’t purchased any more storage more from Apple, your photos aren’t being backed up.
  • Videos Aren’t Included: Photo Stream doesn’t include videos, so any videos you take aren’t automatically backed up.

It’s clear that iCloud’s Photo Stream isn’t designed as a long-term way to store your photos, just a convenient way to access recent photos on all your devices before you back them up for real.


iCloud’s Photo Stream is Designed for Desktop Backups

If you have a Mac, you can launch iPhoto and enable the Automatic Import option under Photo Stream in its preferences pane. Assuming your Mac is on and connected to the Internet, iPhoto will automatically download photos from your photo stream and make local backups of them on your hard drive. You’ll then have to back up your photos manually so you don’t lose them if your Mac’s hard drive ever fails.
If you have a Windows PC, you can install the iCloud Control Panel, which will create a Photo Stream folder on your PC. Your photos will be automatically downloaded to this folder and stored in it. You’ll want to back up your photos so you don’t lose them if your PC’s hard drive ever fails.

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Photo Stream is clearly designed to be used along with a desktop application. Photo Stream temporarily backs up your photos to iCloud so iPhoto or iCloud Control Panel can download them to your Mac or PC and make a local backup before they’re deleted. You could also use iTunes to sync your photos from your device to your PC or Mac, but we don’t really recommend it — you should never have to use iTunes.

How to Actually Back Up All Your Photos Online

So Photo Stream is actually pretty inconvenient — or, at least, it’s just a way to temporarily sync photos between your devices without storing them long-term. But what if you actually want to automatically back up your photos online without them being deleted automatically?
The solution here is a third-party app that does this for you, offering the automatic photo uploads with long-term storage. There are several good services with apps in the App Store:

  • Dropbox: Dropbox’s Camera Upload feature allows you to automatically upload the photos — and videos — you take to your Dropbox account. They’ll be easily accessible anywhere there’s a Dropbox app and you can get much more free Dropbox storage than you can iCloud storage. Dropbox will never automatically delete your old photos.
  • Google+: Google+ offers photo and video backups with its Auto Upload feature, too. Photos will be stored in your Google+ Photos — formerly Picasa Web Albums — and will be marked as private by default so no one else can view them. Full-size photos will count against your free 15 GB of Google account storage space, but you can also choose to upload an unlimited amount of photos at a smaller resolution.
  • Flickr: The Flickr app is no longer a mess. Flickr offers an Auto Upload feature for uploading full-size photos you take and free Flickr accounts offer a massive 1 TB of storage for you to store your photos. The massive amount of free storage alone makes Flickr worth a look.

Use any of these services and you’ll get an online, automatic photo backup solution you can rely on. You’ll get a good chunk of free space, your photos will never be automatically deleted, and you can easily access them from any device. You won’t have to worry about storing local copies of your photos and backing them up manually.

Apple should fix this mess and offer a better solution for long-term photo backup, especially considering the limitations aren’t immediately obvious to users. Until they do, third-party apps are ready to step in and take their place.
You can also automatically back up your photos to the web on Android with Google+’s Auto Upload or Dropbox’s Camera Upload.
Image Credit: Simon Yeo on Flickr

No, Windows 10 Won’t Require a Subscription: Here’s How Microsoft Plans on Making Money Instead

Microsoft’s Windows 10 message hasn’t always been clear. They’ve declared the Windows 10 upgrade will be free for the first year and that going forward they’ll be pushing “Windows 10 as a service.
Some rumors going around say Windows 10 will require a paid subscription or a fee in the future if you want to continue using it or receiving updates. But Microsoft has said that won’t happen.


Yes, Windows 10 is Really Free For Most Computers, No Subscription Required

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Windows 10 is available for free to most computers out there. Assuming your computer runs either Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1, you’ll see a “Get Windows 10” pop-up as long as you have Windows Update enabled. This allows you to reserve that free upgrade.
Even if you’re using Windows 7 without Service Pack 1 or the original version of Windows 8, you can upgrade to the latest versions of Windows 7 or 8 for free and then get your Windows 10 upgrade.
Microsoft has previously said this Windows 10 upgrade will be “free for the first year.” This means that this free offer lasts a year — from July 29, 2015 to July 29, 2016. You have a year to get your free upgrade. If you don’t upgrade by July 29, 2016 and try to upgrade on July 30, Microsoft won’t give you Windows 10 for free.
If you do upgrade within the first year, you get Windows 10 for free, permanently. You don’t have to pay anything. Even after it’s been a year, your Windows 10 installation will continue working and receiving updates as normal. You won’t have to pay for some sort of Windows 10 subscription or fee to continue using it, and you’ll even get any new features Microsft adds.

Boxed Windows 10 Copies and New Computers Are The Same

Free upgrade aside, this works the same across all Windows 10 licenses. If you buy a boxed copy of Windows 10 — for example, if you’re building your own PC and need a Windows license — it’ll cost $119 up-front and won’t ever require a subscription or another payment. If you buy a new computer that comes with Windows 10, it won’t ever require a subscription or fee either.
Businesses may continue paying for volume licensing subscriptions, which is the only type of Windows subscription that really exists. This is only relevant for businesses doing large deployments of Windows systems.

Then What Exactly is “Windows 10 as a Service”?

If Windows 10 is completely free, then what is all this talk about Windows being a “service” going forward?
Well, to hear MIcrosoft tell it, they’re changing the way they develop and deliver Windows. This is tied together with Windows 10 being “the last version of Windows,” as some are saying.
Windows 10 will be updated and developed on an ongoing basis going foward. Microsoft won’t work for three years on a Windows 11 with new features and attempt to sell you an upgrade. Instead, they’ll continue adding features and improvements to Windows 10 itself on an ongoing basis. You won’t have to pay for these features. Windows 10 will just receive regular updates with the features that would otherwise have been held onto for Windows 11.
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In this way, Windows 10 becomes more like Google Chrome — something that’s continually updated in the background. That’s why you can’t disable Windows Update on Windows 10 Home, and you can only delay updates on Windows 10 Professional. Microsoft wants to get all modern Windows computers on the same version of Windows and keep them updated, creating a single platform for developers to target and a single platform they have to support with security updates.

Windows 10 is more like the operating systems on a Macbook, Chromebook, iPhone or iPad. You don’t have to worry about paying to upgrade to the next version of the operating system — you just get those improvements for free.

Free For “The Supported Lifetime of Your Device”

Microsoft doesn’t say that your PC will continue getting free updates forever. Instead, they say that those feature updates and security updates will continue “for the supported lifetime of your device.”
Microsoft hasn’t actually explained what this phrase means, but it has a bit of an obvious explanation to it. Windows can’t continue to support old hardware forever — Windows 10 won’t run on PCs from 20 years ago. Whatever version of Windows exists twenty years from now probably won’t support today’s Windows 10 PCs. Microsoft gets to draw the line of when they want to stop supporting old hardware with future updates.

So How Does Microsoft Plan on Making Money?

Microsoft still plans on charging for Windows licenses. When you buy a new PC, the manufacturer will still have to pay MIcrosoft for that license. If you build your own PC, you’ll need to pay $119 for a Windows license. Businesses will still need to pay for volume licenses — Enterprise versions of Windows 7 and 8.1 don’t get the free upgrade offer.
Yes, Microsoft is losing upgrade revenue — people won’t pay to upgrade Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs to Windows 10. But very few people actually go out and buy a boxed copy of Windows to upgrade those old computers, anyway.
Windows 10 includes many of Microsoft’s applications and services. Windows 10 itself isn’t a service, but it does encourage you to pay for other things, including:

  • Windows Store Apps: Windows 10 includes the Windows Store, which sells a variety of apps. Windows 10 will expand the Windows Store to include desktop apps and allow developers to easily port iPad apps and Android apps to Windows. Even new “universal apps” now run in windows on the desktop and are more appealing than they were on Windows 8.
  • In-App Purchases: Apps from the store can include microtransactions, also known as in-app purchases. Candy Crush Saga will even be automatically installed on Windows 10. Every time a Windows user pays for a Candy Crush microtransaction, Microsoft will get a cut.
  • Digital Music and Videos: The Windows Store also allows you to purchase digital copies of songs, movies, and TV shows — just like iTunes. Microsoft makes some money if you buy media through their store.

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  • OneDrive Storage: OneDrive is integrated into File Explorer out of the box, and Microsoft sells more OneDrive space for a monthly fee. It’s like Dropbox, Google Drive, and other similar services — but integrated directly into Windows.
  • Xbox Music Streaming: Microsoft sells an “Xbox music pass” that allows you to listen to all the music you want for a monthly fee — it’s sort of like Spotify, Apple Music, Rdio, or Google Play Music. Despite the name, this works in the Music app on Windows 10 as well as other devices, from Android to iPhone. You don’t need an Xbox.
  • MIcrosoft Office: Windows 10 will have a shortcut to quickly get the desktop version of Microsoft Office, and Microsoft sells an Office 365 subscription as well as boxed copies of this.
  • Skype: Windows 10 will include a shortcut to quickly get the desktop version of Skype, and Microsoft will sell you Skype minutes so you can call landline phones and cell phones from your PC.

Microsoft will probably add other services over time, too. Reports suggest “Microsoft Wi-Fi” will be an expanded and rebranded version of Skype Wi-Fi, allowing you to get online at Wi-Fi hotspots around the world with a simple payment system. The free upgrade allows Microsoft to get these services in front of many, many more Windows users all at once.

Microsoft also benefits from pulling you into their Windows ecosystem. If you like Windows 10, you might get a Windows phone to run those same “universal apps” or even just choose Microsoft’s apps on your iPhone or Android phone. You might buy a Windows tablet or PC instead of a Mac, iPad, Android tablet, or Chromebook. You might choose an Xbox One over a PlayStation 4. If you don’t like your current Windows 8.1 system so much, MIcrosoft is betting you’ll like Windows 10 more and that will make you happy and more likely to continue purchasing Microsoft products in the future.
Of course, Microsoft could change tactics in the future, releasing Windows 11 in five years and declaring that older devices are no longer within their “supported lifetime.” But this is clearly Microsoft’s plan right now — you shouldn’t worry about having to spend money for an existing Windows 10 install in the future. It’s free.