The following are questions - and answers - relating to the Windows operating system that have been discussed at the Q&A sessions following our monthly meetings.
Meltdown and Spectre Vulnerabilities
by Chris Taylor and Alan German (24-Jan-2018)
Two CPU vulnerabilities - Meltdown and Spectre - have recently been identified that affect most modern computers. The exploits potentially allow access to the operating system’s kernel memory. An attacker can use such exploits to obtain such things as passwords, cryptographic keys, or any other personal data on your computer.
Intel, computer manufacturers, Microsoft, and other software developers are all rapidly producing patches for CPU microcode, operating systems, and browsers. Linux systems are also at risk from this hardware-related issue and similar solutions are available (e.g. see the Security Notice for Linux Mint). Make sure that your computer is up to date with all security measures, including your anti-virus software.
Steve Gibson (Gibson Research Corporation) has created a free tiny utility that can check for your machine's vulnerability to Meltdown and Spectre. Download the program from https://www.grc.com/inspectre.htm.
The program does not need to be installed. Simply, run inspectre.exe and the utility will instantly display the patch status of your machine with respect to both Meltdown and Spectre, and give an indication of how the CPU performance is being affected by the patch(es).
All you need is a desktop browser to access free versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and more... with
Office Online. Access Microsoft Office files from anywhere. Create documents and collaborate with other users with only your favourite desktop browser. Move seamlessly from Office Online to the full-featured desktop applications.
Computer won't wake up from sleep mode
Do you press a key on the keyboard or move the mouse only to find that your computer won't wake up from sleep mode? Check the power management settings for the two devices. Navigate to Control Panel - Hardware and Sound - Display Manager. Scroll down to Keyboard. Left-click on the chevron on the left side of the list of devices to display a list of the available keyboards. Double-click on the name of your keyboard. Navigate to Change settings - Power Management. Select the check box for: Allow this device to wake the computer. Follow the same procedure in Display Manager for Mice and other pointing devices.
Useful options for Google searches
When you obtain search results from Google, are many of the listings seriously out of date? You can easily refine the list of hits to only include results for the last year, or the last month, or even a custom period of time. Click on "Tools" and use the drop-down arrow on "Any Time" to select a time period of your choice.
A really simple way to access Google's search options, and to use multiple criteria for the same search, is to use the advanced search feature:
Prevent videos from running automatically on web pages
When you scroll down when reading certain web pages, do your speakers suddenly boom out a voice advertising some product (for which you have zero interest)? The problem is likely that a video has automatically started up in part of the page that you have just scrolled by!
Desktop icons disappearing and then re-appearing
Every time a member booted up his computer, all the icons on the desktop would briefly disappear and then get rebuilt. A suggestion to remedy this situation was to delete the icon cache file.
In Windows 7 through 10, this can be done as follows:
(1) In File Explorer, navigate to Folder Options, and turn on the options to View and Show Hidden and System Files
(2) In C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Local folder delete the hidden IconCache.db file
In Windows 10 you also have to:
(4) Go to C:\Users\%username%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Explorer
(There are a bunch of files like iconcache_32.db, iconcache_48.db,
iconcache_96.db, iconcache_256.db, iconcache_1024.db, iconcache_1280.db,
iconcache_1600.db, iconcache_1920.db, iconcache_2560.db, iconcache_exif.db,
iconcache_idx.db, iconcache_sr.db, iconcache_wide.dd,
(5) Delete these files
One time not to downgrade
by Chris Taylor (15-Apr-2017)
So you bought a shiny new computer running a 7th generation (Kaby Lake)
Intel Core-i processor or the latest Ryzen processor from AMD. And you
really don't like Windows 10. So you are thinking of installing Windows 7 or
Windows 8 on the machine instead.
Don't do it.
For quite a while Microsoft has been saying they will only support Windows
10 on the latest processors from Intel and AMD. I thought that meant that,
although older versions of Windows would likely work, if there were any
"issues", Microsoft would do nothing to fix them.
But it appears to go beyond that. Reports coming in from the web are that
Microsoft is actually blocking Windows updates on computers running Windows
7 and Windows 8 that have Intel Kaby Lake or AMD Ryzen processors.
Like it or not, if you want to run Windows, and you have a computer with the
latest silicon, your only choice is to run Windows 10. This may only affect
a very few consumers, as they (you) are likely to buy the computer with
Windows 10 preinstalled and leave that version installed.
This may be a big problem with corporations. Typically, they want to
standardize on a single Windows platform. Many are still standardized on
Windows 7 and may be years away from a migration to Windows 10. They will
have to be careful not to buy new computers with Intel Kaby Lake or AMD
Ryzen processors until they are ready to use only Windows 10 on them. Can
you imagine being in the position of buying new computers and, rather than
future-proofing by buying the latest & greatest, having to choose to buy
computers with older processors?
Of course you do have other options if you have a computer with the latest
silicon and don't want to run Windows. I have not heard any reports of other
operating system manufacturers refusing to permit older, supported versions
on the latest processors.
Windows Update Stalled (Windows 10)
by Alan German (15-Apr-2017)
After updating Windows 10 to the Creators Update, the first set of regular updates under Windows Update stalled. In particular, KB4015583 stopped downloading when only 15% complete. Leaving the machine on overnight had no effect. After rebooting the machine, a second attempt to have Windows Update download the update stalled at 2%. This was not going well!
The fix was to manually download and install this update from the Microsoft Update Catalog web site
(http://www.catalog.update.microsoft.com). Choose the 32- or 64-bit version of the update that is appropriate for your machine and choose "Open With (Windows Update Standalone Installer)" to download and install the package directly.
In-Place Upgrade to Windows 10
by Alan German (09-Apr-2017)
The start menu disappeared on a friend's Windows 10 machine. In addition, it wasn't possible to enter anything in the search box. This made it somewhat difficult to do very much!
Some of the fixes suggested on the Internet, including booting into safe mode and then back to regular mode, or setting up a second administrator's account, failed miserably. Running the Windows 10 Start Menu Troubleshooter also had no effect.
The solution proved to be an "in-place upgrade". This effectively overwrites the installed version of Windows 10, but the trick is to do so while selecting "Keep personal files and apps".
There is an excellent tutorial on the Windows Ten Forums web site -
Windows 10: Repair Install Windows 10 with an In-place Upgrade - with detailed instructions on how to proceed.
My choice was to download the Media Creation Tool and create a bootable installation disk. I then ran setup.exe from this drive, making sure to select to download and install updates, and opting to retain the personal files and installed applications.
Five Scams That Won't Make You Laugh on April Fool's Day
Graham Cluley, writing in "The State of Security Newsletter" points out five common Internet scams that you should avoid:
- That email from your friend wasn't sent by your friend
- Is that link going where you think it's going?
- Is that an L or an I in that URL?
- Is that an attachment or a link?
- Bogus virus warnings
As Graham says: "April Fool's day is almost upon us. Take care on the big day, but more than that - keep your guard up every day of the year."
The strange case of the disappearing icons
A member reported that all of the icons on the desktop had disappeared. A couple of possible solutions were suggested.
Firstly, the laptop may have inadvertently been switched into tablet mode. This setting can be changed by navigating to Settings - System - Tablet mode. Another way to access this setting is to left-click on the task bar icon for the notification bar (in the bottom-right corner of the screen), expand the list of options if necessary, and select the "Tablet mode" option.
The second possibility was that desktop icons were hidden. To toggle this setting, right-click anywhere on the open desktop, select "View" and "Show desktop icons".
Keyboard shortcut for multi-language keyboards
For users who have keyboard setups for multiple languages, Alt-Shift can be used to toggle from one language to the next. For example, with English and French keyboards, Alt-Shift will toggle from English to French. A second application of Alt-Shift toggles back from French to English. With more than two languages, Alt-Shift cycles from one language to the next.
How do I burn an ISO file"?
At a recent Q&A session, Jeff Dubois discussed ISO files - what they are, how to download them from the Internet, and how to burn them to create bootable media. Jeff pointed out that an ISO file is a single file that is "a perfect representation of the entire contents of a CD, DVD or Blu-ray disk". Most operating systems (e.g. Linux distributions) and large applications (e.g. Microsoft Office) can be obtained by downloading an ISO file.
To create a live-CD/DVD of a Linux distro, the trick is not to simply copy the ISO file to a physical CD or DVD since this would not create a bootable disk. Rather, one has to use burning software to burn a disk image to the optical disk. In Windows 10, this is achieved very simply by right-clicking on the ISO file and selecting "Burn disc image". The resulting disk can then be used to boot the computer and either run Linux as a live session or install the operating system from the CD or DVD to the computer's hard drive.
Note that double-clicking on an ISO file (or using right-click - Mount) results in the contents of the ISO file being displayed in File Explorer. Here you can see the individual components of the operating system or application that are contained within the single ISO file.
Download Jeff's PowerPoint presentation on ISO files (947 KB PDF)
Tweaking File Explorer
by Alan German
In Windows 10, the default setting for File Explorer is "Quick View" which provides an ever-changing list of recently-used files and folders. An alternative is to set the viewing mode to "My PC" (View - Options - Change folder and search options - Open File Explorer to - This PC) which displays a list of standard folders (e.g. Documents, Pictures, etc.) and all of the available drives. If neither of these views suits your particular needs, you can customize File Explorer to open a specific drive and/or folder.
Navigate to C:\Windows\explorer.exe. Right-click on the file name and select "Send to Desktop" to create a desktop icon. Now, right-click on this icon, select "Properties", and change "Set Target to:" to something like "C:\Windows\EXPLORER.EXE /n, /e, E:\alan" (Replace "E:\alan" with the drive and/or folder name that you wish to use on your computer. For example, I simply use "E:" to display the contents of my data drive (partition).)
Now, right-click on the File Explorer icon (the small yellow folder) on the task bar and select "Unpin from taskbar". To replace this item with the customized version of File Explorer, simply right-click on the desktop icon you just produced and select "Pin to taskbar". You can now delete the desktop icon since your customized version of File Explorer is readily available by means of a single click on the task bar icon.
A secondary advantage to the customized icon is that, when it is used to launch File Explorer, a second icon is displayed on the task bar. The original icon can now be used to launch a second instance of File Explorer so providing two windows that can be used as a source of files and a target folder respectively for drag-and-drop operations to copy or move files between folders.
Note that, when tweaking File Explorer was described at a recent Q&A session, there were two further suggestions:
Phil Dawes suggested a method for creating a shortcut to any specific folder. Run File Explorer, right-click on any desired folder, select "Create shortcut", then drag the shortcut onto the desktop. Double-clicking on this icon launches File Explorer and displays the contents of the specified folder.
Norm Dafoe provided another tip to launch a second File Explorer window. Once, File Explorer is running, simply press Ctrl-N. This launches a second instance of the customized version of File Explorer.
Updates refusing to install on Windows 7?
by Chris Taylor
I have a machine running Windows 7 and recently, when attempting to install
an update though Windows Update, I received the message, "Error 80240016,
Windows update is currently installing other updates. Please try again
later". I had gotten this error message before and solved it by restarting
Windows. But not this time.
A quick search at Google identified a solution that worked. It
turns out that if Microsoft Security Essentials is running a scan, this can
prevent updates from being installed! And, I guess, this produces a completely
inaccurate error message in Windows Update!
I checked and, although Microsoft Security Essentials was not running a
scan, it was warning me that a scan had not been run in a while and my
computer might be at risk. I let it run a quick scan, then tried Windows Update again and, this time, it happily installed the pending update.
Getting Cortana to work
by Chris Taylor
When Windows 10 was first released, Cortana (the digital assistant akin to
Google Now or Apple Siri) was not able to work if your settings were set to
Canada. When the November Update came out, it was reported that Cortana
would work for Canadian English, so I decided to give it a whirl.
I clicked in the search box on the Taskbar, then the gear icon, and then
turned on Cortana. It started the configuration process and got to a screen
where it said "Before I can help, you'll need to go to Settings and change
your speech language to one I speak." I clicked the "Settings" button at the
bottom and it took me to Settings | Time & Language | Speech. There, "Speech
language" was set to "English (United States)". When I clicked the
drop-down, there was no other option (I was hoping for "English (Canada)".)
I knew from reading, that the speech language and region had to match. Under
Settings | Time & Language | Region & language, "Country or region" was set
to "Canada". So I had a mismatch where the country was set to "Canada", but
the speech language was set to "English (United States)". I didn't see any
way to add a speech language of "English (Canada)"
A bit of searching found where this elusive, obvious-once-known (right,
Chris, you keep telling yourself that...), option is; Settings | Time &
Language |Region & Language | Languages, click once on "English (Canada)
which opens a panel underneath. Click the "Options" button. The resulting
dialog box will have an option to download the speech pack.
Once that is done, Cortana will work. Note that the configuration wizard for Cortana will also insist you turn on
location services and log into a Microsoft Account (if you are using a local
account to log into Windows.
Now I just have to figure out if I actually want to use Cortana!
Using Tabs in File Explorer
If you like the ability to use multiple tabs in programs like Firefox and Notepad++, you may appreciate having the same functionality in File Explorer. This is easily achieved by downloading a free utility named Clover 3 from: http://ejie.me/.
This software acts as an automatic extension to File Explorer. Once you install the software, a new "half-tab" will appear any time that you run File Explorer. Simply click on the new tab to launch a second view of your file system. If you wish, you can drag the new tab to an open spot on the desktop and create a second instance of File Explorer in a separate window. (See also: tips_tricks_traps_05.pdf)
An alternative to using Clover, that allows running a second instance of File Explorer in a separate window, is to hold the Shift key down when
clicking on the File Explorer icon in the task bar a second time.
Dubious practices for Windows 10 upgrades
With the availability of the free upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft insists that that "...we want to help people upgrade to the best version of Windows". Chris Taylor, OPCUG's President, agrees with the sentiment, considering that Windows 10 is the best version of Windows that Microsoft has ever made. However, he has strong views on the tactics that Microsoft has used over the past few months to get users to upgrade, even to the point of considering some of the "options" as trickery! Read Chris's thoughts on the process, and his tips on how to avoid the upgrade if you really want to stick with an earlier version of the OS. Download his article" "Microsoft tricking people to upgrade to Windows 10"
Some backup programs are better - or more flexible - than others!
A recent question at a Q&A session involved a backup drive that was full, with the backup software telling the user to delete all the backup files and start over. The problem was that the software had made a baseline backup followed by a series of incremental backups. Once the disk was full, everything had to be deleted in order to make space for a new set of backups.
Now, while this would indeed allow a new backup to be made, it would also eliminate the ability of the user to recover specific files from past backups. Our solution was simply to switch to a more flexible backup program.
Read the full text article as published in our newsletter:
Managing Backups; Ottawa PC News; p.4; June, 2016
Windows 10 Help and Guidance
While the Internet is a rich source of information, if you are looking
for specific help in tweaking Windows 10, you are likely to find a huge number of
sites featuring only a limited set of tips.
However, Laptop Mag has put together a very large collection of tips and tricks for
Windows 10 titled "How to Use Windows 10" and grouped into sections;
- Windows 10 Basics
- Customize Windows 10
- Fix Annoyances and Problems
- Cortana Tips
- Edge Browser Tips
- Performance and Productivity
- Security and Networking
- Storage and Backup
Visit the site at: http://www.laptopmag.com/articles/how-to-use-windows-10
If you know of other sites with a very comprehensive set of help for Windows,
let us know
and we will add links to the Windows section of the Q&A page here on The PUB.
Windows 10: Increase the limit of items on jump lists
Windows 10 jump lists are great. These lists pop up when you right-click on
an icon for a program or the button of a program on the taskbar. They allow
you to easily access recently used documents used by the application in
question. And if you frequently need to access certain items, you can pin
them to the jump list where they will always be available
Unfortunately, Windows 10 limits the number of such items to 11. However,
with some light registry hacking, you can increase this number.
Click the Search box on Windows taskbar and type in "regedit" (without the
quotes) and when it shows in the results pane hit Enter.
Click on "Advanced" to see the values associated with the key in the right
pane. Look for a value name called "JumpListItems_Maximum". If it doesn't
exist, create it by clicking Edit | New | DWORD and name it
"JumpListItems_Maximum" (again, without the quotes).
Edit the value by double-clicking on it. Change the "Base" to "Decimal" and in the "Value
Data" box, enter the new number you want for the maximum number of items on jump lists.
Click on OK and close regedit. You may have to log off and back on again but, otherwise, that's it!
Ejecting USB drives in Windows 10
Rather than just yanking out a USB-based storage device (flash drive or
external hard drive) it is always advisable to use the tray icon with the
tooltip "Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media". This ensures all files are
closed and you won't lose data.
However, sometimes Windows 10 will report "Windows is unable to stop the
device..." and will admonish you not to remove the device while it is still
in use. This can happen when some unknown process has files open and, sometimes,
even when you swear you have no files open on the drive! The following procedure
will still allow you remove the device.
Open File Explorer and find your USB device. One way is to click on "This
PC" in the left panel, and then find the device in the "Devices and drives"
section on the right. Right-click on the device and choose "Eject" from the
pop-up menu. If there are actually no open files (i.e. the tray icon was
lying to you), you will get the standard "Safe To Remove Hardware" message.
If there are, in fact, open files, Windows will tell you that and give you
the options to "Cancel", "Try Again" and "Continue". If you click the
"Continue" button, Windows will unceremoniously close the files (which could
cause data loss depending on the current state of things) - and then give you
the "Safe To Remove Hardware" message.
How to spot a social media scam a mile away
In a three-part series of blog postings, Reason Core Security has some advice on how to spot... and avoid... scams on social media before they can compromise the security of your computer or your personal identity info.
Turn off automatic updates in Windows 10
By default, Windows 10 will download and install updates automatically. Sometimes this might prove inconvenient, especially if Windows Update cause the the computer to reboot. There are a few things that the user can do to take more control over the update process, but there are also some downsides to doing so. This issue is outlined in a presentation given at a recent Q&A session. See: tips_tricks_traps_04.pdf (1.4 MB PDF file).
Update (August, 2016):
With installation of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (Redstone), the
options to control a reboot have been almost eliminated, the only
remaining choice is to select "active hours" (1 to 12 hours max.)
Check disk free space
A recently-purchased external 2 TB USB drive was found to have only 300 GB of free space when Macrium Reflect Free Edition aborted a backup process. Two suggestions were made for checking the space available on the disk. Firstly, in Windows Explorer, select the USB drive, right-click, and select Properties. A pie chart will show both the amount of disk space used and the amount of free space. A utility like WinDirStat or TreeSize Free can then be used to identify what is actually using all the space on the disk. For example, see:
Sizing up the hard drive
Backup, backup... backup!
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself against computer failure is to maintain a current backup of your operating system, applications (programs), and - especially - your data files. While you can always reload Windows and reinstall your programs (using the original CD's or DVD's), material that you have created such as word processing files and digital photographs isn't available from any other source - unless you have all such files stored on a backup! But, don't worry, we have you covered. Chris Taylor, OPCUG's President, has summarized his views on four disk imaging programs that will help keep your computer system safe. Read his article, "Finding a Backup Program" on pp. 6-7 in the
February, 2016 issue of Ottawa PC News (397 KB PDF).
An easy way to empty the Recycle Bin in Windows 10
Open the Recycle Bin and click on Manage. Now, click on the inconspicuous chevron in the top-right corner of the Recycle Bin window. This is a toggle that allows you to expand or minimize the ribbon. If you expand the ribbon, Windows will remember your preference. So, next time you want to empty the trash, double click on the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop, and simply click on Empty Recycle Bin in the ribbon.
With Windows 10, Microsoft is making it easier for people to provide feedback. In the Search the web and Windows section of the task bar, type in windows feedback. In the results pane, you will see Windows Feedback – Trusted Windows Store app. To give feedback, click the Add new feedback button. Enter details of your suggestion or problem - then wait to see if Microsoft does anything about it! For more information, see: Ottawa PC News; p.1; January 2016 (652 KB PDF)
Update (August, 2016):
With installation of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (Redstone),
Windows Feedback has been replaced by the "Feedback Hub" app.