Category Archives: Windows 10

In keeping with its traditionally senseless naming conventions, Microsoft decides to skip Windows 9 and call its next O/S Windows 10.

More bungled Windows updates

If you’re on the Windows Insider program — the one that gets you early looks at where Windows 10 is heading — you may have noticed some unusual updates in the last day or so.

First, a new development version of Windows 10 was rolled out to some unlucky users. This version was not intended for users, even those on the Insider Preview program. Microsoft caught the error and stopped the update, but if your computer was affected, you may notice some new “issues that impact usability of your PC.” You can roll back to the previous release, or live with any new issues until the next release.

Second, a development version of the mobile variant of Windows 10 was pushed out, again unintentionally. If your mobile device received this unfortunate update, it’s probably no longer usable. Microsoft recommends using their Windows Device Recovery Tool to fix the problem.

Microsoft wants us all to trust them to install updates whenever they want, but mistakes like these are not helping.

Ars Technica has more.

Don’t use Edge to print or create PDF files

A bizarre bug in Microsoft’s Edge web browser is baffling users. Depending on the selected printer and other factors, attempting to print a PDF file, or use Edge’s ‘Print to PDF’ function, will cause random changes in the output. The changes are difficult to detect: we’re not talking about the usual kind of printer garbage. For example, users are reporting shifted cell numbers, added words and symbols, and substitution of words and characters.

If you’re printing invitations to a neighbourhood barbecue, this issue is unlikely to cause any serious problems, but what if you’re printing legal, medical, or architectural documents?

Microsoft hasn’t said much about this yet, but according to at least one bug report, they are at least aware of the problem. Which is good, because Microsoft just announced that Windows 10 is running on 500 million devices; Edge is the default browser on all those devices, and Print to PDF is the default printer on many.

My advice? If you use Windows 10, don’t use Edge at all if you can avoid it: try Firefox or Chrome. If you must use Edge, use a different PDF reader to view and print PDF files. Adobe’s Reader is free and actually works as expected.

Support for original Windows 10 release ending on May 9

When Windows 10 was first released in July 2015, the version number assigned to it was 1507. (In case you haven’t noticed, those four digit version numbers Microsoft is using correspond to the year and month of the release.)

In keeping with Microsoft’s new policies, support for Windows 10 version 1507 will end on May 9, 2017. That meas no more security updates, and an ever-increasing risk from security threats.

If you’re still running the initial release version of Windows 10, you might want to think about upgrading, or perhaps reverting to a less problematic O/S, like Windows 7 or Linux.

Strange times for Microsoft

Microsoft’s relentless push to get everyone using Windows 10 is creating problems for the software giant. At least one class action lawsuit is underway in Illinois, where annoyed users claim that Microsoft owes more than $5 million in damages related to Windows 10 upgrades, both wanted and unwanted.

Meanwhile, Windows is no longer the most popular way to access the Internet. As recently as 2012, up to 90% of all Internet access was via Windows, but that number has been dropping steadily in recent years, and it’s now at an all-time low. For the first time ever, another operating system is in first place: the mobile O/S Android. Microsoft has bet heavily on Windows 10 and its universal touch interface, alienating traditional desktop enthusiasts and power users in the process. But if consumers are increasingly choosing Android over Windows 10 for their mobile devices, where does that leave Windows?

Microsoft’s efforts to herd users towards their advertising platform Windows 10 includes discontinuing support for newer processors on older versions of Windows. While it’s clearly Microsoft’s prerogative to decide which hardware they support, there’s no obvious technical reason for this limitation. In light of Microsoft’s historical support for older systems, this is particularly annoying news for anyone expecting to be able to use Windows 7 or 8.1 with new hardware.

The April 12 publication of a set of exploits by hacking group The Shadow Brokers included several that were widely reported as unpatched zero-day Windows vulnerabilities. It turns out that most of those vulnerabilities were already fixed by March’s Patch Tuesday updates. While this is good news for Windows users, it raises questions about when and how Microsoft learned about the Shadow Brokers exploits, why there was no mention of the source in March’s patch release notes, and whether this has anything to do with the rescheduling of February’s Patch Tuesday updates. Update: TechDirt’s analysis.

Windows 10 telemetry details revealed by Microsoft

Microsoft has finally provided some details regarding Windows 10’s telemetry: the data Windows 10 collects and sends back to the Redmond mothership.

A recent post on the Windows blog (Windows 10 privacy journey continues: more transparency and controls for you) highlights three changes related to Windows 10 privacy:

  1. With the April 11 Creators Update, Windows 10 itself will provide more useful and detailed information about privacy settings, both during initial setup and in the Settings app.
  2. The privacy statement for Windows 10 has been updated.
  3. Most importantly, you can now see exactly what data is being collected from your computer and sent to Microsoft.

Telemetry data revealed

The information Windows 10 collects at the Basic privacy/telemetry/diagnostic level is listed in great detail on a new page on the Technet site: Windows 10, version 1703 basic level Windows diagnostic events and fields. The information is moderately technical, and may not be of much use to regular users, but it’s worth skimming if you have any concerns about Windows 10 telemetry.

There’s a similar new Technet page that describes, in somewhat more general terms, the data collected at the Full privacy/telemetry/diagnostic level: Windows 10, version 1703 Diagnostic Data.

Now someone just needs to review all that information, looking for red flags. Any volunteers?

Ars Technica: Microsoft opens up on Windows telemetry, tells us most of what data it collects

The Verge: Microsoft finally reveals what data Windows 10 really collects

Windows 10 Creators Update

The next big update for Windows 10 was released on April 11, Patch Tuesday. Opinions differ as to the significance of the update: while Microsoft touts it as something amazing, others see it as something less than a major update.

Still, the new version contains incremental improvements, and a few changes that are likely to be useful. Interesting, but not particularly useful changes include Paint 3D, mixed reality support, and 4K gaming support. Visuals, Ink, Surface Dial, Bluetooth, notifications, background execution, Cortana, Skype, Windows Defender, Windows Store and app download all get modest improvements.

Enhancements to Desktop Bridge, which allows traditional desktop apps to be migrated to the new Windows UI, will make a lot of lives easier. The Windows Subsystem for Linux is also expanded with new functionality. The Edge browser gets some new features that are likely to be helpful for people who actually use Edge. A new Game Mode may make Windows 10 gaming slightly more palatable. Beam game streaming is now built into Windows 10. A new feature called Night Light allows Windows 10 to reduce blue light from a display at specific times.

Windows 10’s privacy settings are overhauled in the new version, including a new privacy dashboard, although the overall result seems to be less control rather than more. The window of time during which Windows 10 can update itself has been widened slightly, but there’s still no way to avoid Microsoft’s remote fiddling unless you’re using an Enterprise version.

All in all, there’s nothing particularly objectionable about this update, and there are enough improvements to make it worthwhile. Which is good, because you’ll get it whether you want it or not. Whenever Microsoft wants you to get it.

More information from Microsoft

Update 2017Apr28: Microsoft says the first phase of the Creators Update rollout is underway. In this phase, only computers with new hardware are being updated. The next phase won’t start until Microsoft is happy with phase one, so it’s difficult to predict when that will happen. Microsoft also recommends enabling ‘full’ telemetry/diagnostic/privacy settings to help diagnose any issues the update may encounter (they’re hoping you’ll forget to disable them as well). Apparently further rollout could be blocked indefinitely if serious issues are encountered at any phase. You can download the update from the Microsoft Download Center, but Microsoft cautions that doing so bypasses blocks and may be somewhat risky. Ars Technica has more.

Windows 10 cumulative updates hopelessly botched

Recently I noticed that my Windows 10 test PC wasn’t staying logged in. Every morning, despite not having logged out the day before, I was seeing the login screen. A bit of poking around in the Windows 10 settings showed that Windows was trying to install update KB4013429, rebooting to complete the install, failing to complete the install, and rolling back the changes. Rinse and repeat daily, since March 14.

Searching online, I immediately found other people experiencing this problem. No official solution from Microsoft, but plenty from other users, including what turned out to be the only thing that worked for many: a total reinstall of Windows 10.

One user pointed to an interesting tool, available in the TechNet Script Center, called Reset Windows Update Agent. (Note: this script was created and submitted by a non-Microsoft contributor, not by Microsoft.) Since I wasn’t getting anywhere looking for an official solution, I tried the tool’s main feature, which does indeed reset all things Windows Update. After rebooting, Windows successfully installed a few updates, then started to install ‘Cumulative Update for Windows 10 Version 1607 (KB4015438)’, which Microsoft issued on March 20 to address problems with KB4013429. But that update also failed to install, and now we’re back in our daily loop.

I considered contacting Microsoft about this, but then I remembered my previous encounters with Microsoft support, shuddered, and thought better of it. After all, Microsoft already knows my PC is having trouble installing this update, because of all the telemetry in Windows 10, right? If anything, they should be contacting me with a solution. Yeah, right. Like that would ever happen.

I really don’t want Microsoft to be in a position to make my life miserable, especially now that they can do that remotely, without my explicit consent, and usually without my knowledge. At a time when Microsoft should be showing us just how much they’ve learned about managing Windows updates, they seem to be getting worse.

I sympathize with anyone who tries to do anything productive with Windows 10. I only use it for testing and media playback, but even so, this is the end of the line for my relationship with Windows 10. I’ll be installing Linux Mint MATE next.

Update 2017Apr30: I decided to call Microsoft after all. I figured it was only fair to give them one last chance. The call was relatively painless; I was only on hold for a few minutes. The tier one support person I spoke with identified himself as such and was happy to escalate my problem to the next support tier once it became clear he couldn’t help. We arranged a callback from tier two support, which happened yesterday. Both support people I spoke with started by asking if they could start a remote session to the affected computer, which I declined in both cases. I understand being able to control a computer remotely makes support much easier, but I’m just not comfortable with the idea. The tier two guy confirmed that Microsoft knows about this problem and is working on it. He also confirmed that lots of people are reporting the same problem. Unfortunately, the only fix he could provide was to hide the troublesome update, so that it stops trying to install every day. The ability to hide updates exists in the classic Windows Update, but that feature was removed from Windows 10, so a special download was required. The Microsoft support article “How to temporarily prevent a driver update from reinstalling in Windows 10” includes a link to a tool called the Show or hide updates troubleshooter package. I downloaded and ran the tool, and it listed a few pending updates, including the most recent failing cumulative update. I hid that update, and so far so good: the computer no longer tries to install the update daily. According to the tier two support guy, when Microsoft finds a fix, they’ll include it with a subsequent cumulative update, and all will be well with the world. But in the meantime, my Windows 10 PC isn’t getting security updates. So it’s not much of a solution. Linux, here we come.

They’re here: ads in Windows 10

We called it. Microsoft denied it. Now the reality of advertising in Windows has arrived. We’re not talking about the tiny, easily-ignored ads commonly seen in Skype, either. The ads that just started appearing in Windows 10 are hard to miss, and they’re in Windows Explorer, arguably the core user interface of the system.

Of course Microsoft is calling these ads ‘tips’ and insists that they just provide helpful information to Windows 10 users. Okay, let’s take a look at what users are seeing:

You be the judge: is this an advertisement?

You may disagree, but in my opinion, that’s an ad. It might as well say “Your Advertisement Here” or “Advertise In This Space”. At this stage, I’m sure we’ll only see ads from Microsoft in Explorer, but once the anger subsides, it’s difficult to imagine Microsoft won’t start selling that space – and others like it – to the highest bidder.

That’s right, Windows 10 really is an advertising platform, just as we’ve been saying all along. It explains why Microsoft was so happy to give away the O/S to anyone who upgraded from an earlier version, why they pushed so hard and literally tricked people to upgrade from earlier versions, why they included so much user activity tracking in Windows 10, and why they retrofitted that tracking into earlier versions when people failed to upgrade in sufficient numbers.

Clearly, the underlying reason for Microsoft’s advertising-in-Windows strategy is simply the enormous amount of money being made by Google from advertising.

Linux is looking a lot better now, isn’t it?

Analysis from The Verge and Ars Technica.

Update 2017Mar17: Tom Warren over at The Verge reacts to the new ads in Windows 10. He describes it as an ‘infestation’, and I agree with his assessment.

Microsoft announces amazing new Windows 10 feature

There’s a surprisingly lengthy post on the Windows Experience blog, co-written by two senior Microsoft managers: Michael Fortin (CVP of Windows and Devices Group Core Quality) and John Cable (Director of Program Management, Windows Servicing and Delivery).

Okay, what’s so important that these two folks decided to write about it? Just this: after the upcoming Windows 10 “Creators Update”, Windows 10 will be slightly less likely to do things at inconvenient times.

I don’t know about you, but allowing users to have control over when updates are installed, and when their computer reboots, seems like a pretty basic feature. And in fact that kind of control has existed in Windows for years. Until Windows 10. But instead of fixing the problem and apologizing for it, we get senior Microsoft managers talking about this bug fix as if it was the most amazing new feature ever.

I understand that there are good reasons to force updates and restarts, the main one being that otherwise many people allow their computers to get out of date, and vulnerable. But seriously, wouldn’t it have made more sense for automatic updates and restarts to be the default behaviour, and allow for this behaviour to be overridden, when Windows 10 was released?

The Verge’s take on this. And Ars Technica’s.

Update 2017Mar22: A new ‘tip’ from Microsoft shows Windows 10 users how to change ‘Active Hours’, during which Microsoft hopefully won’t remotely restart their computer. Of course, the maximum duration for active hours is still only twelve hours. On a related note, I was wondering why my Windows 10 test PC always seemed to be logged out lately, and discovered that it’s been trying to install one particular update every night for a couple of weeks. Windows reboots to complete the install, but the installation fails, and the cycle repeats. This is exactly the kind of thing that bothers me about letting Microsoft screw around with my computer without my knowledge.

Windows 10 privacy improvements, sort of

The good news is that Microsoft is improving the state of privacy in Windows 10, albeit slowly, and grudgingly. The bad news is that the improvements are unlikely to satisfy anyone genuinely concerned about what Windows 10 is really doing.

New: Privacy Dashboard

A few days ago, Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group, announced a new web-based Privacy Dashboard, accessible via your Microsoft account. If you don’t have a Microsoft account, you’re out of luck. I’m still using my Microsoft account to log into my test system, because otherwise I’d have to buy a Windows 10 license. You probably already have a Microsoft account even if you don’t use Windows 10, as they are used for XBox Live, Skype, and other Microsoft services as well.

Poking around in the Privacy Dashboard, the Browsing History section is empty for me, presumably because I don’t use Cortana or Edge. The Search History section is also empty for me, because I don’t use Bing search. But if you use Cortana, Edge and Bing, you’d be able to see all that history here, and be able to remove it as well.

The Location section shows where you’ve been when you logged in on Windows 8.1 and 10 computers. Again, you can clear any or all of this. The section for Cortana’s database shows everything Cortana knows about you, based on your interactions. This is where things get interesting for me, because I only used Cortana for a couple of days when I first installed Windows 10. Cortana knows how often I eat at restaurants, and how far I go to get there. It knows my main mode of transportation. It knows what kind of news interests me. It’s not much, but it’s enough to be kind of creepy.

The Privacy Dashboard is a step in the right direction, and it’s very useful for anyone interested in seeing exactly what information Microsoft has collected. It also allows you to clear much of that information. But what if you want to prevent Microsoft from gathering this information in the first place?

Privacy improvements in Windows 10

Also revealed in Myerson’s post are upcoming changes to the privacy settings in Windows 10. The initial privacy setup has changed, and now provides a bit more information about the various privacy levels and settings. Microsoft is “simplifying Diagnostic data levels and further reducing the data collected at the Basic level.” But in fact there will be fewer privacy levels to choose from, and there’s still no real explanation of exactly what data is sent. And of course the most useful ‘Security’ level (which disables almost all telemetry) is only available to Enterprise users. Us regular folks can only throttle data collection down to the ‘Basic’ level.

According to Microsoft, the Basic level “includes data that is vital to the operation of Windows. We use this data to help keep Windows and apps secure, up-to-date, and running properly when you let Microsoft know the capabilities of your device, what is installed, and whether Windows is operating correctly. This option also includes basic error reporting back to Microsoft.” This sounds reasonable, but it’s lacking in detail and — for many users — still sounds like an intrusion.

Luckily, there are alternatives. I recently discovered a Powershell script called Reclaim Windows 10 that can disable all of the telemetry settings in Windows 10. I’ve yet to test the script, but it looks promising.

Advertisements in Windows 10?

Microsoft still insists this isn’t about advertising: “We want you to be informed about and in control of your data, which is why we’re working hard on these settings and controls. And regardless of your data collection choices, we will not use the contents of your email, chat, files, or pictures to target ads to you.” I’d like to believe that, but it seems unlikely. Microsoft is clearly taking aim at Google’s huge lead in online advertising, and the idea of having a captive audience for advertising (in the form of millions of Windows users) is obviously just too tempting to resist.

Microsoft continues to push Windows 10, now at the expense of Windows 7, which it now says “does not meet the requirements of modern systems, nor the security requirements of IT departments.”

Update 2017Jan18: Techdirt weighs in.