Search Results : windows xp

This week Microsoft ceased to support Windows XP

In practical terms, this means that Microsoft have now issued the last security update that will address vulnerabilities in XP. To summarise the main problems this will cause:

  • Hackers, virus writers and so on may now concentrate their efforts on discovering vulnerabilities in Windows XP, knowing that Microsoft will not be trying to counteract their activities. This is likely to be worth their while as XP is still the second most popular operating system in the world (behind only Windows 7, and far in front of Windows 8, Vista, Mac OS, and all the Linux versions).
  • Manufacturers of both hardware and software that is currently compatible with Windows XP may not be so in the future as the manufacturers take their cue from Microsoft and stop putting effort into maintaining compatibility with an obsolete operating system (and who can blame them?).

So, do I have to stop using XP now?

There may be powerful reasons why you do not want to upgrade your computer at this time, so is it essential to deal with this at this moment?

XP with wingsThat is up to you. The consensus around the bits of the web that I’ve been dipping into seems to be that XP is not expected to become hugely dangerous immediately. Personally, I’m not going to take the risk. My experience of removing malware and viruses from clients’ computers tells me that most infestations can be tackled successfully using a combination of Malwarebytes, SpyBot, AdAware, and some careful googling. Having said that, though, I believe that it is a risk not worth taking. That risk will, of course, increase over time as more and more vulnerabilities are found – and not patched – in the ever-ageing operating system. My advice to my computer support clients is to replace an XP machine as soon as possible if it is exposed to the WWW.

Will XP stop working?

No. There’s nothing to stop you from continuing to use XP if you feel the risk is worth it.

Can it be made safe?

No, but there are things you can do to reduce the risks. These are:

  • Stop using Internet Explorer as your browser. The current versions of both Chrome and Firefox will run under Windows XP and they are both safer than Internet Explorer 9 (the latest version of IE that will run under XP).
  • Install one of the website scanners that warns you before you visit if a website is known to be dodgy (eg McAfee Site Advisor)
  • Install all of the recommended security updates that existed at 8th April. Microsoft have not announced that they are going to remove updates and patches from their website. You will still be able to install all of the currently available updates into the foreseeable future.
  • Make sure that you have antivirus software installed and that it is automatically updating its virus definition files (probably daily).
  • Check for software and driver updates of any software and hardware that is important to you on your XP machine. Manufacturers will undoubtedly stop providing drivers and updates that have been tested and confirmed to work with XP. Get the latest versions while you still can. It would also be a good idea to take backup copies of these if you can.

Can you still support me with my XP machine using Teamviewer?

TeamViewer logoI have spoken with Teamviewer and they couldn’t think of any risks in using the remote control software that might be caused by the demise of XP. Until and unless I learn different, I will continue to offer Teamviewer support to clients running XP.

Can you come and make my computer as secure as possible along the lines you have outlined?

I could (assuming you are in my normal geographical range), but it probably wouldn’t make economic sense. If it took me a couple of hours to do this work for you then that would cost you £130. Now I do realise, of course, that that is much less than it would cost you to get two hours of support from most IT support consultants (!), but it’s still money that you would probably be better off investing in a new computer. The only obvious exception that I can think of is if you have some old software that is essential to you but which hasn’t been developed to run on Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.

Windows XP TombstoneSo, you can reduce the risks, but they will still grow over time and one day you will probably have to bite the bullet and get a new computer. The good news is that the new one is probably going to cost you a lot less (in real terms) than the doddery old one that you are unwilling to replace at the moment.

PS: at the risk of putting a another big crimp in your day, if you are running any of the components of Microsoft Office 2003 (Outlook, Word, Excel. PowerPoint, OneNote) then you should also be aware that Microsoft ceased support for Office 2003 on April 8th as well as XP. Not as drastic as the XP problem, maybe, but still a security risk.

It’s 50 years (really!) since The Rolling Stones sang “Not Fade Away”

It could almost be an anthem for Windows XP.

Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP - screen capture from Microsoft

Click the image to find out for yourself

Is no-one listening to the warnings about the impending end of Microsoft support for XP? I’ve just been looking at some statistics of my website visitors and was astonished to find that the percentage of Windows XP users visiting my site in the last month (16.1%) is exactly the same as the figure for the last 12 months (16.1%).

What could be the reasons that there seem to be as many XP users as ever?

No-one is taking any notice

I’ve heard people compare this situation with the “millennium bug“. They’re saying that the world didn’t end then, so why should it end now? Well, that’s a bit like saying that Krakatoa’s last eruption didn’t finish us off, so why worry about Somerset turning into Waterworld?

I would argue that not only was the millennium bug a completely different situation, but it wasn’t even the non-event that people now choose to remember. I was designing database systems at the time and I remember having to come up with some pretty nifty formula changes to compensate for the fact that software date arithmetic at that time assumed that all dates were in the 20th century. Had we not been concerned about similar problems in the chips themselves, there would have been a lot of inconvenience that was avoided.

Aside from silly comparisons with the millenium bug, do you want to risk everything on your computer – and every other computer that is connected to your local network – just to keep an XP machine running a bit longer?

Windows XP logo as a gravestone against Windows XP desktop backgroundPeople have taken notice but think they are invulnerable

Yes, I think this could well be true of a lot of people. There are still people out there who won’t take antivirus software seriously, so why would they even bother to consider the possibilities of virus and malware writers exploiting an increasingly fragile XP? To those people I say “thank you for paying me to remove your viruses”, but please, instead, just accept the reality that you are safer using antivirus protection and you’ll be safer not using a Windows XP computer after March 2014.

My figures are not typical

Actually, they are. Figures published in Jan 2014 by Net Market Share, StatCounter, and W3Counter, show Windows XP share of the market as 22.3%, 13.8% and 13.8% respectively.

Most of those XP users are in the developing world

Surprisingly, I can’t find any figures that show operating system usage by country. Looking at my own visitors, I find that UK, North America, and the Rest of Europe make up 86% of my visitors, leaving 14% from the Rest of the World. Is that 14% the same people as the 16% still using XP? I doubt it, but I’d like to find out more. There’s no doubt that the use of XP is likely to be skewed towards countries and regions less wealthy than Europe and North America. One of the big criticisms aimed at Microsoft for ceasing support for XP is that it will hurt users badly in areas where they can’t afford to upgrade their operating system and/or computers. Whether that is fair criticism is another question.

Pile of junked computers

Coming to a council tip near you?

There are loads of XP machines about to be pensioned off

I have seen evidence of this among my own computer support clients. It seems that a fair number of computer users have several machines and one or two of the oldest are running XP. These will be rapidly taken out of commission if XP becomes dangerous to use after support ends.

So, I think I’ve now done my fair share in warning my computer support clients about the end of Microsoft’s support for XP. I’ll try not to bang on about it again – until and unless we have more real news, at any rate.

If you’ve missed the whole subject and want to catch up, here are links to my previous blogs on the subject:

Replace Windows XP
Microsoft Will Stop Supporting Windows XP in 2014

and last week’s blog might help you along the road towards replacing a Windows XP computer:

Buying a New Laptop – February 2014

That’s it. I’ll shut up now.

Windows XP will not be supported, or updated, or patched by Microsoft after April 2014

Windows XP Logo - crossed outI have argued before that it will not be a good idea to run Windows XP after Microsoft cease support for it in April 2014. The main argument is quite straightforward – from the point of view of people wanting to do you harm, there will probably be so many installations of XP running after that date that it will be worth spending time and effort exploiting vulnerabilities that they know Microsoft will not be fixing.

Here’s another argument – taken directly from an official Microsoft Security Blog:

Whenever Microsoft become aware that there is a vulnerability in one of their products, they always check all other SUPPORTED Microsoft products to see if the vulnerability also exists in those other products. If it does, then it fixes the potential problem in all places at once. The reason they do this so assiduously (and not just because it is good housekeeping) is that the bad guys analyse security updates to see if they can find what it is that the update fixes, and then see if other products are affected in the same way.

Since Microsoft release the update for all products at once, the bad guys can’t use the knowledge to exploit an “unfixed” program. However, after Microsoft stop updating Windows XP then the bad guys can use knowledge gleaned from analysing updates to Windows 7 (for instance) to discover an unfixed vulnerability in Windows XP.

And this risk is by no means just hypothetical. To quote the Microsoft blog referenced above:

How often could this scenario occur? Between July 2012 and July 2013 Windows XP was an affected product in 45 Microsoft security bulletins, of which 30 also affected Windows 7 and Windows 8.

In other words, it could happen two or three times a month. And the effect will be cumulative as older vulnerabilities won’t ever be fixed.

Windows XP TombstoneI’m tempted to apologise for bringing this subject up again. After all, it probably won’t affect most of the readers of this blog as most people will be using either Mac OSX or a more recent version of Windows. But what about that old computer you’ve got in the spare bedroom on the third floor? You know, the one you boot up just occasionally when you can’t be bothered walking all the way downstairs? What about the computer you passed down the line to a family member? Are they likely to be using it next year and beyond? For all the users out there who change their computers every 2-5 years there are also plenty who don’t, as they only use their computer for the internet and don’t need the fastest and newest.

No-one knows for sure just what will happen after April 2014. Maybe nothing at all will happen (remember the Millennium Bug that turned out to be more of a damp squib?) Personally, I’m not going to risk it (unless I choose to do it on purpose on a computer completely isolated from the network of my others). However, I can just hear plenty of people saying “I’ll carry on just the same and do something about it if I have to”. But by then your data may be well and truly messed up, corrupt, missing. “OK”, you say “I’ll throw a six and start again on a new computer”. Fair enough – but be prepared to discover there are all kinds of passwords, account details, purchase histories, old correspondence, and goodness knows what else that you may have lost if your old machine has become well and truly messed up.


Is it worth risking?

Windows Vista was released worldwide in January 2007. Lots of people still specified Windows XP on new machines after then. So let’s just estimate that any Windows XP machine is going to be no newer than, say, April 2008 (16 months after Vista was released). This means that by the time April 2014 comes around, any XP machine is likely to be six years old at the very least. Are you really going to risk all the potential problems just to prolong the life of a computer at least six years old? I don’t advise it.

PS: I do realise that many organisations were still deploying new XP installations well after the dates above, but my own IT support clients tend to be individual professionals or home users (or both). They are the readership I am addressing. Besides which, there’s an argument for saying that it’s even more important for organisations to move away from XP than individuals – even if those installations are newer.

The end of Windows XP. Should you panic? Can you ignore it? And what does “support”mean anyway?

Windows XP LogoWell, if you are not a user of XP, you can ignore the news. But if your system is in the 14% of all systems in the UK still using it (as at November 2012), then you’ll have to wake up to reality some time in the next few months.

“Mainstream Support” for Windows XP ended in 2009. Since that time, we have been in what Microsoft calls “Extended Support”. During this phase the only changes to XP are those called “security updates”. These are the changes needed to keep up with new security threats as they crop up when the villains out there find new ways to exploit weaknesses in Windows XP. At the beginning of April 2014 Microsoft will stop fighting new threats to XP. They will no longer update XP to ensure that it is safe to use. In computer jargon, Microsoft will cease to support XP. Source.

What does it mean to “support” something in computer terms?

If we just look at a manufacturer “supporting” its own product, then it means that it will continue to make necessary changes (to remove bugs, for instance) and that you should be able to get help from the manufacturer if that product has a problem. So, if MegaBrill Software announces that it is no longer supporting MegaBrill 2002 it means that you are on your own if you still use that version. It doesn’t mean that the program immediately stops working.

Windows XP FlagIf we look at how products interact, then “support” means that the software was specifically designed to work with whatever it claims to “support”. It also means that the program will be tweaked and updated to cater for the changes and updates to whatever it is supporting (Windows XP, in this case). So, if MegaBrill Software say that MegaBrill 2009 supports Windows XP then you can expect it to work on a system running Windows XP. It’s just possible that the two items would work together without official “support” but if anything goes wrong then there would be no help available from the manufacturer. It could also mean that the version of the program you have been using may work with something else now, but that a newer version won’t.

So, if you have been using Megabrill 2009 quite happily with Windows XP and you decide to upgrade it to the latest version – MegaBrill 2013 – you may find that it won’t run with your Windows XP. You might then find in Megabrill’s product information that MegaBrill 2013 only supports Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. This means that it probably won’t work with your XP. In the computer jargon, “MegaBrill 2013 does not support Windows XP”.

You may encounter the same problem if you buy a new piece of equipment such as a printer. It may not support Windows XP. If you think about it, it makes sense. If the printer manufacturer is bringing out a new product in 2013, why spend time and money to make it work with an operating system (Windows XP) that is not going to be supported by Microsoft beyond Spring 2014?

More and more software and hardware will cease support for Windows XP as they release new versions of their products. Again, why would they spend time and money making sure that their software works with an operating system that it will become increasingly dangerous to use. So, an existing piece of software that you have that currently works with XP may become “unupdateable”. It will also mean, of course, that XP users will not be able to use brand new software as that new software will not have been written to be used with XP right from the start of that software’s life.

Windows XP StickerApart from software compatibility problems, Windows XP will become increasingly unsafe to use after April 2014 as the bad guys find new ways to exploit XP in order to mess up your system, extort money from you, steal data, and so forth. They may even increase their efforts to exploit XP and its users. For a while there will be a lot of opportunity for them as they know that their efforts to undermine XP will not be counteracted by Microsoft. Likewise, they will know that it may be worth spending some time and effort exploiting programs that stop supporting XP as they know that XP users will continue to use the vulnerable, unupdated versions of those programs.

There are going to be a lot of people affected by the withdrawal of support for Windows XP by Microsoft. In November 2012, Windows XP was still being used by over a quarter of all computers worldwide. Even in the UK, Windows XP is still the operating system on 14% of systems – more than the figure of 12% for Mac OSX (the operating system for Mac desktop and laptop computers). Source.

So, if you are still using windows XP, there’s no need to panic but it really would be a good idea to start thinking about replacing it. If you are still using XP then it’s almost certain that the hardware you are using it on should also be replaced. My guess would be that the hardware is at least five years old (as that was when Vista was released. So, even if you are a “light” home user who doesn’t need to be at the cutting edge of dekstop/laptop technology, I reckon you’ve had your money’s worth out of that computer and it’s time to move on. For what it’s worth, I advise my own computer clients that four years is long enough to expect a “business” computer to last and five years for a home user.

.. and how do you install it again?

Browser address barIf you can not view websites properly (eg items are missing or they overlap each other) then, with most browsers, it is fairly easy to uninstall  and then reinstall the browser. Just go to “Programs and Features” in the Control Panel, click on the relevant program and then on the “Uninstall” button above the list of programs. You can then download the browser again and reinstall it, just as you would with most programs.

This will work if it is Chrome, Firefox, or Opera that you are having problems with, but you can’t do this with Internet Explorer because it’s not a normal “standalone” program and does not appear in the list of programs in “Programs and Features”. Rather, it is an integral part of Windows. Nevertheless, you can uninstall and reinstall at least a part of it and this may solve problems you are having with it. You just need to follow a different procedure to carry this out.

Internet Explorer 11 logoBefore explaining how to do this, I would say, though, that any problems you are having in displaying websites using IE (as we techies call it), could be down to the specific website’s communication with IE, instead of with IE per se. Internet Explorer is now old technology and some website owners do not test their sites for compatibility with it. I have even come across some websites that prevent you from viewing the site if you are using Internet Explorer. So, I would definitely recommend trying to view the website with a different browser first, to see if this gets you where you want to be, rather than insisting on trying to get it working in IE. There is no reason why you can’t have several different browsers loaded on the same computer. They won’t get in each other’s way, they take up little space, and a second browser can often solve your problem when a website doesn’t display properly in your normal browser.

Windows 10 logoIf, however, you like IE and you are having problems with many websites (suggesting that it’s your installation of IE that is broken) and if you really do want to continue using it, then the following procedure might help. Note that, almost by definition, the procedures below will put IE back to its default state, so you will lose any add-ons and changes to the initial configuration (such as your home page and search engne).

To uninstall Internet Explorer under Windows 10:

  • Click on the “Start” button and then on the “Settings” cogwheel.
  • Click on “Apps”
  • Click on “Manage optional features”
  • Scroll down to “Internet Explorer 11”
  • Tap on it and then on “Uninstall”
  • Reboot the machine (or switch it off and back on again)

To reinstall Internet Explorer under Windows 10:

  • Click on the “Start” button and then on the “Settings” cogwheel.
  • Click on “Apps”
  • Click on “Manage optional features”
  • Click on “Add a Feature”
  • Scroll down to “Internet Explorer 11”
  • Tap on it and then on “Install”
  • Tap on the leftward arrow at the top of the screen and then wait until the progress bar indicates that the reinstallation has finished
  • Reboot the machine (or switch it off and back on again)

That’s it! You are now a techie!

PS – The World Wide Web is 30 years Old.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Click this link to read what Sir Tim Berners-Lee makes of its progress

Windows 10 probably won’t automatically start your latest Star Wars DVD (or any other video on DVD, for that matter)

It’s almost as if Microsoft doesn’t want you to play movies (or “films”, as we wrinklies still insist on calling them) on your Windows 10 computer. They have made two changes that could get in your way:

1) Microsoft no longer installs Windows Media Player as a functioning part of Windows
2) “Autoplay” no longer plays a movie file as soon as you insert a DVD into the drive (and what’s more, I, for one, couldn’t find any way of persuading it to do so)

Let’s take these separately:

1) Ensure you have a program that will play videos

Windows Media Player used to be the default program within Windows for playing videos. Nowadays, it is still included in Windows but disabled for some reason. Even if you enable it, however, you may not be able to get it to play your videos. For the curious, the way to enable Windows Media Player is to go to “Programs and Features” in the Control Panel, click on the option at the lefthand side to “Turn Windows Features on or off”, and put a tick in “Media Features”. Personally, I still couldn’t get it to play movies – just music files.

Enable Windows Media Player

To turn on WMP, navigate to “Programs and Features” in Control Panel, click on “Turn Windows…” and then put a tick next to “Media Features”.

So, instead of messing with Windows Media Player, I suggest you download and install the excellent – and free – VLC media player. Just click on the orange box entitled “Download VLC” from the link in the previous sentence. Then install the program in the normal way.

2) Forget about autoplaying a video

I could not get the “autoplay” settings in Windows 10 to offer me the option to autoplay CDs/DVDs using VLC or any other media player. Bizarrely, though, it did offer VLC as a default program for playing media on a “memory card”. Maybe I’m missing something obvious, here, but it’s not absolutely crucial as we can still get it to play the DVD without autoplay, using VLC as follows:

  • Open File Explorer (the yellow and blue icon on the taskbar)
  • Under the “computer” heading at the lefthand side, find the reference to the DVD drive (in my example shown below it describes it as the “DVD RW Drive”)
  • Right-click on this entry
  • Left-click on “Play with VLC media player”

Open a DVD With VLC

To start a DVD, right-click on the DVD drive and then left-click on “Play with VLC media player).

I’m not at all sure what’s going on here. Perhaps I should add that I no longer have any Windows 10 computers with inbuilt DVD drives, so all my testing has been done with external ones. Perhaps things are less clunky with inbuilt drives. Anyway, the bottom line is that it is still possible to play videos from DVDs on a Windows 10 computer, but not necessarily as easily and smoothly as you would probably have expected.

VLC icon of traffic conePS: if you wonder why VLC uses a traffic cone as its icon, have a look at this Wikipedia entry.

Microsoft Support for Windows 7 ends in January 2020

Windows7 - the end

If you have been receiving Windows 7 updates, you will probably have seen this announcement recently

It may seem like only five minutes since XP and then Vista were retired, but now it’s the turn of Windows 7. Let’s be clear that Windows 7 will not stop working in January, and start queueing up for its pension instead. What will happen is that Microsoft will no longer release new updates to Windows 7 after January 2020 – and that includes security updates.

When this situation arose with Windows XP, people such as me advised that you immediately stop using XP. To be more accurate, we said that it was no longer safe to connect XP machines to the internet. The perceived threat was that malware writers, and others who would now be called “bad actors”, would increase their efforts to find security holes in XP that they could exploit, knowing that Microsoft wouldn’t respond to try to counteract the threat. And what happened in practice? Nothing. For a long time it looked as if the perceived threat was exaggerated. The world didn’t come to a calamitous end. And then, on 12th May 2017, NHS computers (amongst others) started suffering an attack from the malware known as Wannacry.

So, is it safe or unsafe to continue to use Windows 7? Should you upgrade your existing hardware to Windows 10? Should you buy new hardware?

Carry on and hope for the best

Windows 7Support for Windows XP finished on 8th April 2014. It took three years for “Wannacry” to wreak havoc (although there were, of course, other viruses and threats in the meantime). One option now would be to continue to run your current Windows 7 system in order to get some more value from it. If you choose this route then the most important (if obvious) advice is to be very rigorous in taking backups and – essentially – ensure that your backups are not permanently connected to your system. Ransomware like Wannacry can access all connected local drives. I would also advise not sharing files with other users (such as via email attachments or shared Dropbox folders, for instance). Continuing to run Windows 7 is a risky strategy, and the risk will probably increase as time goes on. It is also absolutely essential to have continually-updated antivirus protection. By the way, never install a second antivirus program in the (intuitive) belief that what one will miss the other will catch. They could fall out with each other and either slow your system down or cause freezes.

Upgrade an existing system to Windows 10

You can almost certainly upgrade your existing hardware. Follow this link to see Microsoft’s official minimum hardware requirements for Wndows 10. If you want to go down that route, the official price of Windows 10 Home is £119.99. There are also plenty of online sites offering to sell it for much less. Some sites even say that it is still possible to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. I don’t know if these options are genuine, legal, or viable. Caveat emptor.

There is, in theory at least, an option to update your existing system to Windows 10 without needing to re-install your other programs or data. However, I would most definitely recommend backing up your data first (that’s your own stuff such as documents, pictures, pdf files etc). You might also find that some programs that worked under Windows 7 either need updating, re-installing, or won’t work at all under Windows 10.

Upgrade existing hardware and install Windows 10 at the same time

You might consider, for instance, changing an old hard drive for a (much faster) solid state drive, and then installing Windows 10 on this new SSD. You would then need to reinstall your programs and data. If you have a desktop computer with a spare drive bay, you could install your old drive (with data) into this bay. You probably don’t have this option with a laptop. Your programs would still need to be re-installed onto the solid state drive. While you’ve got the thing in bits, it would also be a good idea to see if the system could benefit from increased memory (RAM).

Replace the hardware

This might seem the obvious and easiest solution (if the most expensive). You would. of course, have to install your programs and data onto the new machine.

How much does it all cost?

You could currently buy a Samsung 1tb (1 terabyte) SSD from Amazon for £120. I recommend not getting a SSD of less than 500gb capacity (500gb is half a terabyte). The price of RAM depends on what type it is, how much you buy, and whether you need to discard your existing RAM to make way for the new. Think in terms of £30-£80 to increase from 4gb to 8gb (16gb is better!). Windows 10 Home, as noted above, costs £119.99.

Windows 10 logoIf you are doing it yourself there probably aren’t any other costs (although it’s just possible that a very old printer won’t play nicely with Windows 10). If you live in London and ask me to help out, then my rates are explained here. To be honest, it’s unlikely that it would be cost effective to ask me to help upgrade an existing machine. By the time you’ve added anything from 2-6 hours of my time to the outlay on any hardware plus the software, you would probably have been better off investing in a new machine with Windows 10 already installed. I would, of course, be happy to help you set up a new machine, including data transfer etc. That usually takes 2-4 hours.

So, there you have it. People complain about built-in obsolescence, being forced to upgrade, etc. The fact is that this is still a relatively fast moving technology. We must expect products (including software) to have a relatively short lifecycle in such an environment. And, to add a bit of perspective to this, Windows 7 was released on 22nd July 2009. It’s been going for 10 years. Is that really such a short product lifecycle? I think not.

Storage Sense may not be as sensible as it sounds

Windows10 - another logoStorage Sense is the Windows 10 method of automatically freeing up space by emptying the recycle bin, deleting temporary files, deleting local copies of files held in the cloud, and – crucially – removing items from your Downloads folder.

When I am delivering basic Windows training to my IT clients, I usually mention that it is thought “best practice” not to leave important files solely in your Downloads folder. Instead, move (or copy) them to somewhere more appropriate. This doesn’t usually matter for programs that you have downloaded as the downloaded files are just installation files. Deleting the installation file won’t delete the program itself once it has been installed. It is a different matter, though, if you are downloading data files that you don’t subsequently copy or move somewhere else.

This is not very sound organisational practice as the files could be of very different types – email attachments of all types, all sorts of website downloads (programs, images, pdf files). Another reason for not leaving the only copy of data files in the Downloads folder is that you could accidentally delete them if you run the Windows “Disk Cleanup” utility. But at least in Disk Cleanup, there is an option to deselect the Downloads folder – and it stays deselected between sessions of Disk Cleanup.

There is a more dangerous utility in Windows called “Storage Sense”. Depending on how it is set (and I can’t remember whether the default is to run every day, week, month, or just when disk space is low), this will run periodically to delete a load of the clag that Windows computers accrue. Crucially, it will also (by default) delete items in your Downloads folder.

Storage Sense 01

Yes – it does say Storage Sense is off, but it will still run if disk space is low

Now, the dangerous aspect is this. There is a slider switch that suggests that you can turn Storage Sense off. You may think that turning it off would mean that you don’t have to worry about any of the settings within Storage Sense because it is, well, turned off. Not so. Storage Sense might run even if it is turned off. Yes, that’s right. If your disk space runs low (I think it is triggered when disk space falls below 10%) then Storage Sense will run whether it is switched on or off. And it applies the settings you might have thought were irrelevant because it was turned off – including emptying the contents of your Downloads folder and deleting local copies of files that are also held in the cloud in OneDrive (or Skydrive as it chooses to call it here).

Storage Sense 02

If you don’t want Storage Sense to delete your Downloads, select “Never”

“Oh well, that doesn’t bother me because I’ve got a new computer and it must have loads of space”, you might say. But if you’ve got a solid state drive of modest proportions (say, 256gb or less) and if Windows has just stolen over 20gb of your space to store your old version of Windows (which it does for 10 days after installing a major update to Windows), then it is quite possible to trigger Storage Sense unexpectedly on a relatively new machine.

What can you do about it?

  • Click on the Start Button
  • Type in “Storage Settings” (without the quotes)
  • Click on “open” when offered Storage Settings in the Start Menu
  • Click on “Change how we free up space automatically”
  • Change your options about what it touches and when
  • Choose whether to let Storage Sense run in circumstances other than low disk space by sliding the switch under “Storage Sense” on or off

For more information on how Storage Sense turns itself on and how it deals with locally stored OneDrive files see this Microsoft page (or, to put it another way, if you don’t believe me, check it out with Microsoft).

You might think that the Windows Control Panel has disappeared – it hasn’t

Control Panel iconThe Control Panel is a set of “utilities” (or “applets”) that have formed part of Windows since Windows 2 in 1987. The Control Panel allows changes to be made to how Windows looks and works (see the illustration at the end of this post for a list of the options in it).

So if, for instance, you want to install a new printer or change the resolution of your computer display, then the Control Panel has, for many years, been the place to go.

Control Panel - Windows 7

The Control Panel is always available from the righthand column in Windows 7

Beginning with Windows 8, however, we have had a competing set of “utilities” in Windows called “Settings”. Over time, more and more items have been added to Settings and a lot of people (myself included) have assumed that Settings would replace Control Panel entirely. And yet, here we are, almost seven years since Windows 8 was introduced and we still have both Settings and Control Panel. What is even more confusing is that there are places in Control Panel where you are suddenly moved to a “Settings” screen and vice versa. Try going to “User accounts” in Control Panel and then clicking on “Make changes to my account in PC Settings”. That’s right, you will suddenly be dropped into “Settings”.

In Windows 10, Settings is easy to find. Just click on the Start button (bottom lefthand corner of the screen) and click on the cogwheel that is just above the power button. In Windows 7, Control Panel is equally easy to find – just click on Start and Control Panel is listed as an option in the second column from the left.

Control Panel - access from Windows 10 Start Menu

Start typing “control panel” at the Start Menu to see options and access the Control Panel

So, where is Control Panel in Windows 10?

If you’ve never looked for it before, the chances are that you would look in the alphabetical list of programs visible after clicking on “Start”. Nope. It’s not there. For a while, it was accessible in Window 10 by right-clicking on the Start button. There is still a list of options that pop up when you do that (a hotch potch of items, actually), but Control Panel has mysteriously disappeared.

There are actually lots of ways that do still work in giving access to it, but there’s no need to learn more than one or two.

From the Start Menu, Control Panel is actually a sub-option within “Windows Settings” and can be accessed that way.

Possibly more easily, it can be accessed by starting to type “Control Panel” (without the quotes) in the search bar of the Start Menu. After typing just a few characters, it will appear just above where you are typing. Note that, once it has appeared like this, you can click on “pin to Start Menu”. Thereafter, there will always be a “tile” on the Start Menu that will take you to it immediately. Likewise, you could pin it to the task bar or you could “open file location” and copy a shortcut to it onto your desktop.

If you are of a mind to do a bit of exploring in Windows to see what options are available that you’ve never known about, then it might be better to have a poke around “Settings” than “Control Panel” (since my guess is that Settings is going to be around for a lot longer). If you are looking for something specific and can’t find it in Settings, then have a look for it in Control Panel.

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool old codger like me (who still regrets the passing of DOS) then the starting place for tweaking Windows will always be Control Panel (well, it will be for as long as I can still find it, anyway).

Control Panel

To see all Control Panel items, select “small icons” or “large icons” in the dropdown next to “View by” (top right)

You may be an update “seeker” without knowing it!

Microsoft logoMicrosoft release monthly Windows updates on the second Tuesday of every month. For this reason, this day has become known as “Patch Tuesday” (“patches” being chunks of programs written to correct previous problems). They may also release important security updates during the month, but we don’t expect any other updates. Also, unless we have signed up for the “Windows Insider Program”, we do not expect to be served updates that are not completely tested and released for use by everyone.

In Windows 10, you can find out whether your machine is up to date as follows:

  • Click on the Start button
  • Start typing the word “update” (without the quotes)
  • Click on “check for updates” when this option is offered

You may well be reassured if you then see the message “You’re up to date” (see figure 1). But notice in Figure 1 that, despite telling you that you are up to date, you are invited to “check for updates”. For many months I have been very puzzled by the fact that nearly every time I click to “check for updates” they seem to find something new, even though I’ve just been reassured that I’m “up to date”.

Figure 1. Clicking on “Check for updates” could bring you updates not yet in the monthly roundup

Well, I’ve now found out how these seeming contradictions are reconciled. The complete, bundled-up, update that is released on Patch Tuesday is known by Microsoft as the “B” update as it occurs in the second week of the month. It now transpires that they also have “C” and “D” updates that are released in the third and fourth weeks of the month. These are not sent out to users as a matter of course, but if you click on the “check for updates” then you will be given any available “C” and “D” updates. 

One blog that I saw that discusses this is a bit over-dramatic in that it refers to these updates as “beta” versions. A “beta” version of a program is one that is probably nearly ready for final release, but one in which some problems may still be found. Microsoft has made a clarification in their blog post describing the update process that “”C” and “D” monthly releases are validated, production-quality optional releases”. In other words, these are definitely not “beta” releases. They are , in fact, updates that will be included in the following month’s Patch Tuesday “B” update.

Nevertheless, it’s a bit strong of Microsoft to refer to people who click on the “check for updates” button as “seekers”. There’s almost a suggestion that such people are stepping outside of what is “safe” and “normal” and, therefore, potentially responsible if something goes wrong. Maybe this is a pointless semantic consideration, but I can’t help feeling that Microsoft is, at best, being a bit disingenuous.

Microsoft's Michael Fortin

Microsoft’s Michael Fortin

Anyway, the real importance concerns what we should do with this new information from Microsoft. If I am checking “Updates” because a machine has a problem that I’m trying to resolve, then I will continue to click the “check for updates” button as it’s just possible that a “C” or “D” update will solve the problem. What I will no longer do is click on it “just to make sure the computer is up to date”. 

The complete blog post from Microsoft’s  Michael Fortin, Corporate Vice President, Windows, is available here, but I warn you that you’ll need to navigate through sentences such as :
“The scale and diversity of the Windows ecosystem requires us to take a data-driven approach to quality and to leverage automation for testing, validation and distribution”.
If you say so.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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