Microsoft appears to have once again attempted to sneak telemetry components. The company released security updates for all supported operating systems on the July 2019 Patch Day. However, this month’s cumulative updates, which were supposed to contain only security-related components, contain an unexpected compatibility/telemetry component. The suspicious components were hidden in plain sight. Incidentally, this is the second time Microsoft has attempted to insert telemetry components. However, during the first attempt the Windows OS maker had openly mentioned the inclusion of the telemetry components, whereas this time, the company didn’t offer any indication. This methodology appears to an attempt to garner more accurate data about usage and installation patterns of the Windows operating system as Microsoft will soon phase out Windows 7. People sticking with Windows 7 are a potential gold mine for Microsoft, so from the company’s perspective, it makes perfect sense to try and collect as much data about Windows 7 users as possible. Such data will help them determine what the best approach would be to get these users to upgrade. If such telemetry collection is opt-in, then I see no problem with it. Sneaking it in as part of a security update, however, is downright scummy.
Microsoft is planning to make Windows 10 PCs work without passwords. While the company has been working on removing passwords from Windows 10 and its Microsoft Accounts for a number of months now, the next major update to Windows 10 next year will go one step further. You’ll soon be able to enable a passwordless sign-in for Microsoft accounts on a Windows 10 device. This means PCs will use Windows Hello face authentication, fingerprints, or a PIN code. The password option will simply disappear from the login screen, if you decide to opt in to this new “make your device passwordless” feature. I’m totally on board with this – I love the depth sensor-based Windows Hello on my Dell XPS 13 – but a big problem is that it’s so difficult to get Windows Hello facial recognition on a regular desktop. Only very few cameras actually have the required sensors – not even Microsoft’s own webcams support Windows Hello – making it hard to opt into this passwordless future. Any company that can make an affordable Windows Hello sensor that’s small and easy to attach to a display gets my money.
That reminded me of something. When I was young, if I remember correctly, Windows 95 (if not 98) had this weird behavior that when installing programs, wiggling the mouse cursor make the progress faster. What caused this? I googled for it, I couldn’t find anything related. I had no idea this was a thing, and the explanation for it… Makes sense, strangely enough.
The next feature update for Windows 10 (known in the Windows Insider Program as 19H2) will be a scoped set of features for select performance improvements, enterprise features and quality enhancements. To deliver these updates in a less disruptive fashion, we will deliver this feature update in a new way, using servicing technology (like the monthly update process) for customers running the May 2019 Update who choose to update to the new release. In other words, anyone running the May 2019 Update and updating to the new release will have a far faster update experience because the update will install like a monthly update. This service pack-like release is scheduled for September. I do have to say though that I am starting to miss the forest through the trees when it comes to Windows and its updates. I understand why things have to be so complicated – Windows is used in many different environments, and each environment requires unique updating rules – but it hasn’t exactly made things easier to grasp for consumers.
Martin Brinkmann at ghacks.net: We noticed back in October 2018 that Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system was not creating Registry backups anymore. The scheduled task to create the backups was still running and the run result indicated that the operation completed successfully, but Registry backups were not created anymore. It turns out that this is a feature, not a bug, as Microsoft has posted a support document explaining the new behaviour and the reasoning behind it. Starting in Windows 10, version 1803, Windows no longer automatically backs up the system registry to the RegBack folder. If you browse to to the \Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder in Windows Explorer, you will still see each registry hive, but each file is 0kb in size. This change is by design, and is intended to help reduce the overall disk footprint size of Windows. To recover a system with a corrupt registry hive, Microsoft recommends that you use a system restore point. This might come as a surprise to some, hence it seems prudent to highlight this change. In the support article, Microsoft lists methods to reenable registry backups.
When you right-click on an empty space in an Explorer folder and select the New menu item, you always start with Folder and Shortcut, but the rest seems to be a jumbled list of file types. I’ve always wondered about this, and now I know. I’m not entirely sure if I’m better off for it.
The Windows Terminal is the new, powerful, open source terminal application that was announced at Build 2019. Its main features include multiple tabs, Unicode and UTF-8 character support, a GPU accelerated text rendering engine, and custom themes, styles, and configurations. It’s now available in the Microsoft Store, and while I’m not a huge command line user in Windows, it does feel like a night and day upgrade from cmd.exe. By default, it supports both cmd and PowerShell.
For those who don’t know, Windows Core OS is supposed to be a new version of Windows that can adapt more easily to any kind of screen, thanks in part to a new infrastructure for the Shell, which separates it from the system itself. This means that Microsoft can create different Windows experiences for different form factors such as Lenovo’s foldable ThinkPad, while using the same core components as a base. Yesterday, Microsoft released Windows 10 build 18917 to the Fast Ring, and while it included some welcome improvements, perhaps the most interesting change went unnoticed. Twitter user Albacore has discovered that with this build, the company has started implementing some work towards the separation of the Shell from the rest of Windows. There’s now a Shell Update Agent, which is meant to be able to update the Shell on demand. Windows and a possible new shell are like multiplying by 0.5 – you never get quite to zero. There’s been so many rumours and leaks for so long now, one has to wonder if it will ever actually happen.
Microsoft had a dream with Windows 8 that involved universal Windows apps that would span across phones, tablets, PCs, and even Xbox consoles. The plan was that app developers could write a single app for all of these devices, and it would magically span across them all. This dream really started to fall apart after Windows Phone failed, but it’s well and truly over now. Microsoft has spent years pushing developers to create special apps for the company’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP), and today, it’s putting the final nail in the UWP coffin. Microsoft is finally allowing game developers to bring full native Win32 games to the Microsoft Store, meaning the many games that developers publish on popular stores like Steam don’t have to be rebuilt for UWP. The concept of UWP was sound, but on Windows it had to compete with Win32, and on mobile, Windows Phone was an abject failure. There just wasn’t any developer uptake.
More or less anyone using modern PCs has to wonder: why does Windows use backslash as a path separator when the rest of the world uses forward slash? The clear intermediate answer is “because DOS and OS/2 used backslash”. Both Windows 9x and NT were directly or indirectly derived from DOS and OS/2, and certainly inherited much of the DOS cultural landscape. That, of course, is not much of an answer. The obvious next question is, why did DOS use backslash as a path separator? When DOS 2.0 added support for hierarchical directory structure, it was more than a little influenced by UNIX (or perhaps more specifically XENIX), and using the forward slash as a path separator would have been the logical choice. That’s what everyone can agree on. Beyond that, things get a bit muddled. A fascinating bit of sleuthing, and the author comes to an interesting theory. What’s fascinating to me is that I don’t even consciously realise the MS-DOS is the odd one out here – I just adapt to it without even thinking about it.
Today we’re unveiling the newest architecture for the Windows Subsystem for Linux: WSL 2! Changes in this new architecture will allow for: dramatic file system performance increases, and full system call compatibility, meaning you can run more Linux apps in WSL 2 such as Docker. This is a massive new release of WSL, and for the first time for consumer-facing Windows, Microsoft will be shipping a full Linux kernel with its operating system. Beginning with Windows Insiders builds this Summer, we will include an in-house custom-built Linux kernel to underpin the newest version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). This marks the first time that the Linux kernel will be included as a component in Windows. This is an exciting day for all of us on the Linux team at Microsoft and we are thrilled to be able to tell you a little bit about it. All changes will go upstream, and the kernel itself will be updated through Windows Update. Of course, this Linux kernel, which contains patches to optimise it for WSL 2, will be fully GPL compliant, so anyone will be able to build to their own custom kernel using these patches.
At its Build 2019 developers conference today, Microsoft announced a slew of offerings for Windows developers, including Windows Terminal, Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) 2, XAML Islands, React Native for Windows, and MSIX Core. Windows Terminal, available in preview now, is a new application for command-line users that promises a user interface with “graphics-processing-unit-accelerated text rendering.” The application features tabs; tear-away windows; shortcuts; and full Unicode support, including East Asian fonts, emojis, ligatures, theming, and extensions. Windows Terminal is meant for users of PowerShell, Cmd, WSL, and other command-line applications. Windows Terminal seems to address quite a few shortcomings of Windows when it comes to its terminal – or lack thereof – and is certainly going to make a lot of developers and administrators quire, quite happy.
Previously, 32-bit Windows had a minimum storage requirement of 16GB, and 64-bit Windows needed 20GB. Both of these were extremely tight, leaving little breathing room for actual software, but technically this was enough space for everything to work. That minimum has now been bumped up: it’s 32GB for both 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows. Part of this growth may be due to a new behavior that Microsoft is introducing with version 1903. To ensure that future updates install without difficulty, 7GB of disk space are permanently reserved for the install process. While this will avoid out-of-disk errors when updating, it represents a substantial reduction in usable space on these low-storage systems. It’s remarkable just how much space a default Windows installation takes up – and it’s even worse just how hard it has become on Windows to even properly find out where all that space is going as your machine starts to rack up the months or even years of use. While other modern operating systems such as Linux or macOS may not be as bad as Windows, they, too are starting to treat disk space like a commodity, and they, too, can be difficult to manage.
In 2017, Microsoft officials provided a preview of two new features coming to Windows 10: Timeline and Sets. Timeline made it into Windows 10 as part of the April 2018 Update, but Sets didn’t. And it’s looking like it never will be included in Windows 10. My sources say Microsoft dropped plans for Sets, a Windows-management feature, which would have allowed users to group app data, websites and other information in tabs, months ago. Although Microsoft did test Sets last year with some of its Windows Insider testers, the feature generally wasn’t well received or understood. For apps like Office to work well with Sets, the Office engineering team was going to have to do a lot of extra work. Too bad, because this really looked like a useful feature to easily group related windows into single objects.
Last year, Microsoft announced when it would be killing app updates and distribution in the Windows Store for Windows Phone 8.x and Windows 8.x. At the time, the blog post stated that Windows Phone 8.x devices would stop receiving app updates after July 1, 2019, while Windows 8.x devices would get app updates through July 1, 2023. However, it seems as though plans have changed a little bit, as the blog post has quietly been updated earlier this month. As spotted by Nawzil on Twitter, Microsoft has changed the wording in the post to state that Windows 8 devices will stop getting updates for their apps at the same time as Windows Phone 8.x, that is, July 1 of this year. Windows 8.1 devices will continue to receive updates through the previously announced date in 2023. Not entirely surprising, and this will affect pretty much nobody since Windows 8.1 is a free update.
From a Microsoft support document (as discovered by Neowin): Windows defines two main policies, Quick removal and Better performance, that control how the system interacts with external storage devices such as USB thumb drives or Thunderbolt-enabled external drives. Beginning in Windows 10 version 1809, the default policy is Quick removal. In earlier versions of Windows the default policy was Better performance. What this means is that starting with Windows 10 version 1809, you no longer need to use the Safely Remove Hardware process when removing a USB drive, because there’s no longer any write operation caching going on. You can still change this policy if you want to.
Today, Microsoft announced that it’s releasing the May 2019 Update to the Release Preview ring, and it’s available now. In order to sign up, you’ll need to go to the Windows Insider Program tab, click ‘Get started’, and choose the option for ‘Just fixes, apps, and drivers’. After your PC reboots, you’ll need to check for updates, as it’s only being offered to ‘seekers’ right now. The build that you’ll get is build 18362.30, and that’s the release candidate for the Windows 10 May 2019 Update. It’s possible that there will be cumulative updates between now and when it’s released next month, but the major build number should stay at 18362, unless there are some real dealbreakers that are found. I tried to install this latest update, but I was confronted by a most unhelpful dialog. After working so much on my Linux laptop lately, where there’s almost always an easy way to figure out why something’s going wrong and fix it, it starts dawning on you just how incredibly infuriating it is when you run into such unhelpful, user-hostile dialogs.
Microsoft is planning to start rolling out its Windows 10 May 2019 Update next week to testers before it’s more broadly available in late May. The new update is the next major version of Windows 10, codenamed “19H1,” and it’s a relatively light update in terms of features. Microsoft’s big visual change is a new light theme for Windows 10, alongside Kaomoji support, a Windows sandbox feature, and the separation of Cortana and Windows search. As Ars Technica further details, Microsoft is giving users a lot more control over Windows feature updates, and with this one, you can opt to skip the feature update while still receiving security updates.
If your computer runs into Windows problems and automatic recovery attempts are unsuccessful, Windows 10 will now automatically remove the botched updates. In a new support document, Microsoft has now detailed an interesting functionality where Windows 10 will automatically remove the installed updates to fix the startup issues and other bugs preventing PC from booting. Neat.
Blizzard added DirectX 12 support for their award-winning World of Warcraft game on Windows 10 in late 2018. This release received a warm welcome from gamers: thanks to DirectX 12 features such as multi-threading, WoW gamers experienced substantial framerate improvement. After seeing such performance wins for their gamers running DirectX 12 on Windows 10, Blizzard wanted to bring wins to their gamers who remain on Windows 7, where DirectX 12 was not available. At Microsoft, we make every effort to respond to customer feedback, so when we received this feedback from Blizzard and other developers, we decided to act on it. Microsoft is pleased to announce that we have ported the user mode D3D12 runtime to Windows 7. This unblocks developers who want to take full advantage of the latest improvements in D3D12 while still supporting customers on older operating systems. Let that sink in: Microsoft backported Direct X 12 to Windows just for World of Warcraft. I guess World of Warcraft is just as important as SimCity.