Windows Archive

Windows 98 icons are great

Rather than some designer’s flashy vision of the future, Windows 98 icons made the operating system feel like a place to get real work done. They had hard edges, soft colors and easy-to-recognize symbols. It’s obvious that the icons were meticulously crafted. Each 256-color .ico file includes a pixel-perfect 16×16, 32×32 and 48×48 version that looks equally good on the taskbar and desktop. They are, indeed, quite good. Most platforms from that era had exquisite icon design – think Mac OS 9 or BeOS – and we really seem to have lost some of that usability. I feel like Haiku’s current icon set best captures that same aesthetic, but in a modern coat (and a unique, custom-designed vector icon format).

Microsoft to end Windows 10 Mobile updates and support in December

Microsoft is planning to end support for Windows 10 Mobile devices in December. While Microsoft revealed back in 2017 that the company was no longer developing new features or hardware for Windows 10 Mobile, security and software updates have continued. These security updates will now cease on December 10th 2019, and devices will be unsupported after this date. “Windows 10 Mobile, version 1709 (released October 2017) is the last release of Windows 10 Mobile and Microsoft will end support on December 10, 2019,” reads a Microsoft support note that was updated this week. Microsoft is now recommending that Windows 10 Mobile users move to iOS or Android devices. “With the Windows 10 Mobile OS end of support, we recommend that customers move to a supported Android or iOS device,” explains a FAQ on Windows 10 Mobile end of life. After Microsoft pulls support in December, device backups for settings and some apps will continue for three months until March 10th, 2020. Microsoft notes “some services including photo uploads and restoring a device from an existing device backup may continue to work for up to another 12 months from end of support.” It’s yet another one of those moments where Windows Phone dies a little more, and every time, it makes me sad. I was a first-day adopter of both Windows Phone 7.x and 8.x, and to this day I maintain it was the most pleasant to use modern mobile operating system. I’m still sad Microsoft was unable to attract the third party developers required to keep a smartphone platform afloat.

Microsoft decouples Cortana and Search in Windows 10’s taskbar

Microsoft has released a new Windows Insider preview build, and it contains a significant chance we’re all going to be happy about. Going forward, we’ll be decoupling Search and Cortana in the taskbar. This will enable each experience to innovate independently to best serve their target audiences and use cases. Some Insiders have had this update for a few weeks now, and we appreciate all the feedback we’ve received about it so far! For those new to this update, when it rolls out to you, you’ll find clicking the search box in the taskbar now launches our experience focused on giving you the best in house search experience and clicking the Cortana icon will launch you straight into our voice-first digital assistant experience. Cortana is useless, and any steps Microsoft takes to get it out of my way is welcome to me.

The first Windows 10 build for foldable devices appears

According to BuildFeed, which regularly posts about new builds of Windows 10, the first build of a new SKU for foldable devices has been compiled. It comes with the build string rs_shell_devices_foldables.190111-1800, and it’s from the 19H1 development branch. The build number is 18313.1004. The obvious conclusion to draw is that this is for Microsoft’s rumored Andromeda device. While the project was shelved back in July, it was originally for a foldable PC that could fit in your pocket. It’s likely now that it will be a larger device that’s slated for later on this year. Foldable devices are definitely coming this year, but I feel like it might take a while for both users and device and software makers to figure out where, exactly, the fit into our lives.

Windows 10 19H1: all the changes we know so far

Microsoft is now hard at work on the next feature update for Windows 10, codenamed 19H1 and scheduled for release this April. This update is expected to include yet more changes, new features, and further UI refinements and improvements. Development of this release is almost at the halfway mark, meaning it shouldn’t be long now before 19H1 is marked as “feature complete” internally and a focus on fixing bugs before release begins. This new release is still a few weeks off, but this article is a detailed overview of what’s coming. I personally see a lot of good things in here, but Microsoft’s recent release history when it comes to Windows updates hasn’t exactly been stellar, so the company certainly has something to prove here.

Windows 10 marketshare finally surpassing Windows 7

Windows 7, released in July of 2009, was a gigantic leap forward in the evolution of the desktop OS. Good enough, it turns out, that a huge number of people and organizations are still using it, despite it being nearly ten years since its release. Back in February, Statscounter proclaimed that according to its analytics, Windows 10 had finally overtaken 7 in marketshare. But these kinds of measurements are never exact. They’re based on counting users that connect to various constellations of sites and services, so there’s going to be some variation depending on who’s counting.

Windows monthly security and quality updates overview

Today's global cybersecurity threats are both dynamic and sophisticated, and new vulnerabilities are discovered almost every day. We focus on protecting customers from these security threats by providing security updates on a timely basis and with high quality. We strive to help you keep your Windows devices, regardless of which version of Windows they are running, up to date with the latest monthly quality updates to help mitigate the evolving threat landscape.

That is why, today, as part of our series of blogs on the Windows approach to quality, I'll share an overview of how we deliver these critical updates on a massive scale as a key component of our ongoing Windows as a service effort.

After Microsoft's recent stumbles with Windows updates, the company has been putting out a number of blog posts about how it approaches updates. This particular blog post explains some of the inside baseball on the various categories updates get placed in, as well as the various tests the company runs to ensure updates are safe and reliable - exactly the area where Microsoft has been failing lately.

Windows Server 2019 includes OpenSSH

The OpenSSH client and server are now available as a supported Feature-on-Demand in Windows Server 2019 and Windows 10 1809! The Win32 port of OpenSSH was first included in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and Windows Server 1709 as a pre-release feature. In the Windows 10 1803 release, OpenSSH was released as a supported feature on-demand component, but there was not a supported release on Windows Server until now.

How a major bug in the October 2018 Update slipped past Microsoft

Last week, Microsoft began the relaunch of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update after pulling it more than a month ago due to a file deletion bug that somehow crept into the shipping build. While Microsoft has since gone into extensive detail as to how it's making sure something like this doesn't happen again, it's still unclear how such an issue made its way into the final release. So I did some digging.

Short version: Microsoft conflated two different bugs.

What is Windows Lite?

Microsoft is working on a new version of Windows that may not actually be Windows. It's currently called Lite, based on documentation found in the latest build, and I can confirm that this version of the OS is targeting Chromebooks. In fact, there are markings all over the latest release of the insider builds and SDK that help us understand where this OS is headed.

If you have heard this before, it should sound a lot like Windows 10 S and RT; Windows 10 Lite only runs PWAs and UWP apps and strips out everything else. This is finally a truly a lightweight version of Windows that isn’t only in the name. This is not a version of the OS that will run in the enterprise or even small business environments and I don’t think you will be able to ‘buy’ the OS either; OEM only may be the way forward.

And there's something a bit different about Lite that we haven't seen from every attempt at launching this type of software in the past: it may not be called Windows. With a new name and a different UI, uses WCOS, and is going to be Microsoft's next 'big bet' in the Windows space.

All I'll say is that you should keep an eye on Build 2019.

Microsoft to replace Edge with Chromium-powered browser

Well, I sure didn't expect this kind of news to land in the middle of the night.

Microsoft's Edge web browser has seen little success since its debut on Windows 10 back in 2015. Built from the ground up with a new rendering engine known as EdgeHTML, Microsoft Edge was designed to be fast, lightweight, and secure, but launched with a plethora of issues which resulted in users rejecting it early on. Edge has since struggled to gain any traction, thanks to its continued instability and lack of mindshare, from users and web developers.

Because of this, I'm told that Microsoft is throwing in the towel with EdgeHTML and is instead building a new web browser powered by Chromium, a rendering engine first popularized by Google's Chrome browser. Codenamed Anaheim, this new web browser for Windows 10 will replace Edge as the default browser on the platform. It's unknown at this time if Anaheim will use the Edge brand or a new brand, or if the user interface between Edge and Anaheim is different. One thing is for sure, however; EdgeHTML is dead.

I use Edge, but not necessarily because of the rendering engine - I use it because of its proper Windows UI and snappy overall performance. If Microsoft can maintain those strong points while switching to Chromium, that's a plus in my book. It does raise concerns about the further consolidation of the web on Chromium (or Blink, more accurately) and WebKit, but since nobody used or cared about Edge anyway, I doubt this news has any real impact on this specific issue.

Windows’ kernel once tried to deal with gamma rays

Another great little story from The Old New Thing.

At one point, the following code was added to the part of the kernel that brings the system out of a low-power state:

        ;
        ; Invalidate the processor cache so that any stray gamma
        ; rays (I'm serious) that may have flipped cache bits
        ; while in S1 will be ignored.
        ;
        ; Honestly.  The processor manufacturer asked for this.
        ; I'm serious.
        ;
         invd

I'm not sure what the thinking here is. I mean, if the cache might have been zapped by a stray gamma ray, then couldn't RAM have been zapped by a stray gamma ray, too? Or is processor cache more susceptible to gamma rays than RAM? The person who wrote the comment seems to share my incredulity.

The invd was commented out a few weeks later, but the comment block remains in Windows' kernel code to this day. Amazing.

Windows 10 to get white theme

Microsoft released the latest Windows 10 insider build for next year's April Windows 10 update, and it contained a welcome susprise.

Ever since we introduced the ability to choose between light and dark in Windows 10, we've heard feedback asking for a truer separation between the two options. When you select Light under Settings > Personalization > Colors, the expectation is that the system color would be lighter too. And it didn’t do that before - the taskbar and many other things stayed dark. Now, if you choose Light under Settings > Personalization > Colors, all system UI will now be light. This includes the taskbar, Start menu, Action Center, touch keyboard, and more.

This looks really, really nice. There's a few other changes in this build as well, but do note we're very early in the development process, so these builds are not for the faint of heart.

Microsoft re-releases Windows 10 October 2018 update

Microsoft has finally re-released the October 2018 Update for Windows 10, after pulling it about a month ago because a serious bug deleted a small number of users' files. Alongside the re-release, the company published a blog post detailing the testing process for Windows 10. This paragraph stood out to me:

Critical to any discussion of Windows quality is the sheer scale of the Windows ecosystem, where tens of thousands of hardware and software partners extend the value of Windows as they bring their innovation to hundreds of millions of customers. With Windows 10 alone we work to deliver quality to over 700 million monthly active Windows 10 devices, over 35 million application titles with greater than 175 million application versions, and 16 million unique hardware/driver combinations. In addition, the ecosystem delivers new drivers, firmware, application updates and/or non-security updates daily. Simply put, we have a very large and dynamic ecosystem that requires constant attention and care during every single update. That all this scale and complexity can "just work" is key to Microsoft's mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

With the virtually unlimited number of hardware and software permutations Windows runs on, it's actually nothing short of a miracle that updates go out to most users every month. Sure there is the occasional problem - like what happened a month ago - but Windows' update proces is an engineering marvel, and while blind Microsoft and Windows hate often blinds people to the things Microsoft does well, the fact remains that there is no other operating system in the world that even comes close to Windows when it comes to releasing updates for such a wide variety of possible hardware and software permutations.

I mean, Apple has had to pull a watchOS update only recently because it bricked Apple Watches - and how many Apple Watch models are there, total? Ten?

Windows has more than enough issues, but its update process is not one of them.

I returned to Windows 10 Mobile in 2018

The mobile platform I chose was put to bed last year, with no new hardware or software features planned. As such, when Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Windows 10, Joe Belfiore, confirmed that Windows 10 Mobile was no longer of "focus" to Microsoft, I threw in the towel. I've used both iOS and Android devices since then, and I can't say I've found my new home yet. Nothing I've used has been a full-time replacement for my Windows phones.

So, after over a year of hunting for my next true mobile companion, I've temporarily given up the search to go back "home". I jokingly called this Windows 10 Mobile's last voyage, but in a funny way, it's true. Outside of security updates, Windows 10 Mobile is no longer being maintained, meaning there are some issues that are starting to arise.

Windows Phone 7/8 was the only modern smartphone operating systems I've truly ever liked. The design, the applications, the fluidity - it felt like it was designed for me. I found it a joy to use, but it quickly became apparent that few developers were building applications for the platform, and the general public was never interested. This article is interesting, as it shows that using Windows 10 Mobile is like today.

I feel like I should snap up an HP Elite x3 for my collection of devices running dead platforms.

What’s new for WSL in the Windows 10 October 2018 Update

On October 2, 2018, Microsoft announced that the availability of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update. This post will cover what you can expect to see in WSL for the October 2018 Update, Windows 10 version 1809, and from recent Windows Insiders builds. You can find additional information on our detailed release notes.

Mind you, as you can see in the previous news item, 1809 was pulled and hasn't been rereleased yet. I'm not entirely sure why this blog post detailing these changes is still up without acknowledging that.

Microsoft’s silence on the Windows 10 1809 delay is deafening

Microsoft skipped over Release Preview with Windows 10 version 1809, and four days later, the update was pulled from Windows Update. This was mainly due to some users' files being deleted upon upgrading. Moreover, it turned out that the issue had been reported to the Feedback Hub, but it hadn't been upvoted enough times for anyone to notice.

The company published a blog post a few days after that, explaining the issue and saying that you'll now be able to indicate severity of a bug in a Feedback Hub report. There was a slight apology, and a sign that Microsoft will do at least the bare minimum to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

Microsoft hasn't said a word about it since.

Not a good few weeks for Windows Update and related services.

Some Windows 10 Pro licenses are mistakenly deactivated

Some Windows 10 users are having problems with their Pro licenses today, as users on the company's Community Forums and Reddit are reporting that their Windows 10 Pro systems are saying they are not activated, and telling users to install Windows 10 Home instead. Most of the reports appear to be coming from users who obtained the Windows 10 license thanks to the free upgrade path Microsoft offered back in 2015, suggesting that the issue is somehow related to it.

According to some of the reports, while the system says that users have a Windows 10 Home license, the Microsoft Store link in the settings page blocks them from attempting to buy a Pro license.

This happened to my workstation today, and it was a bit of a frightening moment - I earn my living using this machine, so seeing the big "Windows not activated" watermark certainly made me feel quite uncomfortable. Luckily, a reboot fixed it, but it does highlight just how problematic Microsoft's activation systems can be. I begrudgingly understand that Microsoft needs some way of determining the legitimacy of Windows installations and that it needs to deter piracy, but major bugs like this really shouldn't happen, ever.

Update: as it turns out, the reboot didn't fix my issue at all. After running for a little while, my machine again reverted to a deactivated state. This means a watermark on the desktop interfering with things like video games, and all personalization options - colours, backgrounds, etc. - are disabled. It also seems this issue is quite widespread.

Microsoft has not provided any official statement (!), and all we have to go on is an unofficial statement on its support forums that reads:

Microsoft has just released an Emerging issue announcement about current activation issue related to Pro edition recently. This happens in Japan, Korea, American and many other countries.I am very sorry to inform you that there is a temporary issue with Microsoft's activation server at the moment and some customers might experience this issue where Windows is displayed as not activated.

Our engineers are working tirelessly to resolve this issue and it is expected to be corrected within one to two business days.

This is clearly unacceptable. Users' machines currently have functionality disabled, and a big watermark is interfering with everything you do on your computer. Microsoft is basically saying "yeah just deal with that for a few days", which is entirely, utterly, and completely unacceptable.

Sadly, there's absolutely nothing users can do about this. As always, software is special and not held to the same standards as other products, so nothing will come of this - no fines, no government investigations, no lawsuits, nothing. If this happened to a car or even a goddamn toaster, recalls would be all over the news and heads would roll. Not with software, though - because software is special, and releasing garbage software under pressure from managers is entirely normal and acceptable, and repercussions and consequences are words entirely alien to consumer software companies.

Sadly, it is what it is.

Update II: the issue is now truly fixed. Affected users can go to Settings > Update & Security > Activation and click on the troubleshooter.

How to manage Windows 10 updates

How can I stop Windows 10 updates? Whether it’s preventing Windows 10 from kicking off a critical update during a presentation, or deferring Microsoft’s Windows 10 feature update because of worries about data loss, it’s a question we’ve all asked. You shouldn’t block all Windows 10 updates. But you can manage them.

Unpopular opinion incoming that will trigger a lot of people: if a Windows Update reboot ruins your live presentation or prevents you from studying, it's your own damn fault. Windows doesn't just update out of the blue - it downloads and installs whatever it can in the background, and it takes a long, long time before it just goes into rebooting your device to complete the installation process. Windows gives warnings and plenty of time for you to manually reboot your device, and if it's a device that's running all the time - like desktops often do - it will just reboot automatically overnight.

Computers require maintenance, and modern computers actually require very little of it, with updating their software being one of the very few things users still have to do. Nobody bats an eye at cleaning their kitchen and its appliances or sticking to their car's maintenance schedule, but suddenly, when it comes to computers, nobody seems to be willing to accept the same responsibility.

If you have an important presentation tomorrow, just check Windows Update to make sure everything's up to date. Not doing so and having your presentation ruined by a reboot? Shouldn't have ignored the warnings for weeks.