If I told you that my entire computer screen just got taken over by a new app that I’d never installed or asked for — it just magically appeared on my desktop, my taskbar, and preempted my next website launch — you’d probably tell me to run a virus scanner and stay away from shady websites, no? But the insanely intrusive app I’m talking about isn’t a piece of ransomware. It’s Microsoft’s new Chromium Edge browser, which the company is now force-feeding users via an automatic update to Windows. People should run whatever the hell they damn well please, but the last few years it has become increasingly clear that Windows is deteriorating fast. Oddly enough, it’s not the operating system itself that’s deteriorating – in fact, Windows is probably in a better technical state than it’s ever been – but the policies and anti-user ‘features’ draped around it. If you read OSNews, you are most likely technically inclined. People who read OSNews don’t need Windows, and shouldn’t be running it. It’s actively hostile towards its users, and you deserve better.
Microsoft is removing the ability for business users to defer manually Windows 10 feature updates using Windows Update settings starting with the Windows 10 2004/May Update. Microsoft seemingly made this change public with a change in its Windows 10 2004 for IT Pros documentation on June 23. I’ve read the article three times and I still don’t quite understand what’s going on.
Twenty years ago, Microsoft released Windows 2000. A rock-solid, 32-bit business-oriented alternative to Windows 98 and Windows Millennium Edition, it paved the way for future consumer versions, including Windows 10. Here’s why we remember it so fondly. Windows 2000 was definitely an important release, and many people seem to have good memories of it. I personally never used it back when it was new, and I never liked Windows XP. The only Windows release I truly have fond memories of – other than 95 and 3.11, which I used as a kid and can be attributed to pure nostalgia – is Windows Server 2003. I used it as my regular desktop operating system, and it always felt more stable, safer, and faster than XP. Regardless, like Server 2003, Windows 2000 defaulted to the utilitarian beauty that is the Windows Classic theme, something Microsoft really ought to bring back to modern releases of Windows.
The Windows team is changing the way it labels and distributes its beta and preview releases. Later this month, the Fast ring will become the Dev Channel, the Slow ring will become the Beta Channel, and the Release Preview ring will become the Release Preview Channel. This brings Windows beta and preview releases in line with Office, the new Microsoft Edge, and the industry at large. Even if it were just a name change, this makes a lot more sense than the weird ring names they used up until now.
What I haven’t seen is side-by-side comparisons of specific pieces of the Windows GUI, and while that makes sense, since it’s a deeply tedious and largely pointless exercise, it’s still been on my mind because I keep running old versions of Windows and finding out that minor elements of the interface are different than I remember. As an example, Notepad prior to – I think – Windows 2000 will not save if you press Ctrl+S. Little things like that that are somehow fascinating to follow through the years. Recently I discovered there are subtle (but occasionally quite significant) differences between revisions of Windows Explorer (the actual file browser, not the entire shell) that I had never realized were there – Windows 3.0’s File Manager, for instance, is a completely different beast than 3.1’s. Anyway, I checked every major release and compiled screenshots of each, so you can check them out yourself. A fascinating trip down memory lane.
It is well known that Win9x variants prior to Windows 98 have a tendency to crash on fast CPUs. The definition of “fast” is of course fuzzy but the problems were known to occur on AMD K6-2 processors running at 350 MHz or faster as early as 1998. This led to some acrimony when Microsoft attempted to charge $35 for the fix. The crashes were intermittent on the 350 MHz parts but harder to avoid with faster clock speeds. The problem soon started affecting other CPUs with higher frequencies, but it didn’t affect Intel processors for a while. Were Intel CPUs somehow better? Not exactly, but there was a reason for that; more about it later. I have been long aware of this problem but never looked into the details. And when I did, at first I didn’t realize it. An acquaintance mentioned that Windows 3.11 for Workgroups no longer works in a VM. A good and interesting read.
Let us say you are an independent developer and it is time to publish your app to the world. To make it easier, you build an installer and start distributing it. A courageous early adopter downloads and runs it, only to be greeted by this strongly worded warning: Indeed, in today’s Windows environment, Microsoft actively blocks binaries from running; thanks to “SmartScreen”. This article details some of the problems with SmartSCreen, which in theory could be an important and useful technology.
Keivan Beigi, the developer behind AppGet, a package manager for Windows, claims Microsoft copied his software. He was contacted by Microsoft as a possible hire, and flew in to Microsoft’s headquarters to talk about AppGet, and after suddenly being ghosted, Microsoft announced WinGet – what he claims is pretty much a direct copy. Realistically, no matter how hard I tried to promote AppGet, it would never grow at the rate a Microsoft solution would. I didn’t create AppGet to get rich or to become famous or get hired by Microsoft. I created AppGet because I thought us Windows users deserved a decent app management experience too. What bothers me is how the whole thing was handled. The slow and dreadful communication speed. The total radio silence at the end. But the part that hurts the most was the announcement. AppGet, which is objectively where most ideas for WinGet came from, was only mentioned as another package manager that just happened to exist; While other package managers that WinGet shares very little with were mentioned and explained much more deliberately. This is the kind of stuff big tech does, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
As the world and people’s routines change, it is important that we focus on meeting the over a billion people around the world relying on Windows where they are now. That next step comes today with the release of the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. The May 2020 Update comes with feature improvements that will help save you time and maybe even be a source of fun. The new update is available today for those who want to seek it. You can get the update in a few different ways, visit this blog post to learn more about how to get the May 2020 Update today. MSPowerUser has a detailed article of all the new features.
Some Task Manager lore: I’m the Microsoft (Redmond, ’93) developer that wrote TaskMgr at home in my den in about 1994 and then the NT silverback devs let me check it into the main tree even though I was a greenhorn at the time. So that meant I got to bring it into work and polish it up and make it an official part of Windows, where it remains to this day. So I got to define my own day job, actually, which was nice! I don’t know if it’s still like that, but great culture and people. This is all based on XP, as I left long ago, but it’s still the same core app underneath. What follows is an incredibly useful list of hidden features of the Windows Task Manager.
Microsoft surprised Windows users with a new package manager yesterday. It’s a command line tool that allows developers, power users, and really any Windows user to install their favorite apps from a simple command. If you’ve ever had to wipe a Windows machine clean or set up a new device, you’ll know the pain of having to reinstall apps, find download links, and get a PC ready again. Microsoft creating its own Windows Package Manager (winget) is significant, and the command line tool is already more useful than the Windows Store. You can navigate to a command prompt, type “winget install Steam,” and the latest version of Valve’s Steam app will be installed on your system. Steam doesn’t even exist in the Windows Store right now; there are many apps already available on winget like Zoom, WinRAR, and Logitech Harmony Remote that are also missing from the Store. Developers can choose to distribute their applications this way, and it seems Microsoft is managing a list of popular third party applications by itself. This is a great addition to Windows.
The lack of x64 emulation has been a major bottleneck for Windows on ARM devices since apps that are available only in 64-bit flavor cannot be run on these devices. Those apps include the likes of Adobe’s Premiere Pro. While some might argue that the current crop of ARM-based PC-centric chipsets may not be suited for such loads, we could see Qualcomm make bigger strides in terms of performance with its future chips that might be more potent for heavier workloads. According to our sources, Microsoft could be planning to add x64 emulation support to the platform with the Windows 10 21H1 update. If the company’s plans are still on track, it would not be surprising to see the company test out x64 emulation with Insiders sooner rather than later. This would make ARM-based Windows machines more useful, but as the linked article suggests, it would definitely need more powerful chips.
Microsoft has been working to bring win32 desktop apps and its Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps closer together in recent years. That work has an official name now: Project Reunion. It’s the latest twist in Microsoft’s promise of universal apps that run across multiple Windows 10 devices, and Microsoft is now referring to traditional desktop apps and UWP ones as simply “Windows apps.” “The idea behind Project Reunion is that it allows developers to build one Windows application and target all 1 billion Windows devices,” explains Rajesh Jha, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Experiences and Devices Group. “We’re bringing together the combined power of win32 and UWP so developers no longer have to choose because we’re unifying these existing APIs and in some way decoupling them from the OS.” Microsoft has tried to kill Win32 so many times, but it just refuses to die. The company seems to be throwing its hands in the air saying fine, if you nerds want Win32, you get Win32. I hope this will make it easier for older, more monolithic Win32 applications to be modernised.
Microsoft is promising to dramatically improve its Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) with GUI app support and GPU hardware acceleration. The software giant is adding a full Linux kernel to Windows 10 with WSL version 2 later this month, and it’s now planning to support Linux GUI apps that will run alongside regular Windows apps. This will be enabled without Windows users having to use X11 forwarding, and it’s mainly designed for developers to run Linux integrated development environments (IDE) alongside regular Windows apps. Microsoft is really trying very hard to bring as much of the Linux world to Windows, to the point where both seem to be almost merging into one. It’s a fascinating future for sure, but for me personally, it won’t draw me back to Windows from Linux. That being said, the technology behind all this is deeply fascinating and interesting – among other things, Microsoft is bringing Direct3D 12 to Linux, but only to WSL, and it’s closed source. I have no idea if this could be of any benefit to Wine/Proton, but if it will be, it could be huge.
After bringing Objective-C to the Amiga, why not to some older Windows versions as well? Yesterday, I got the idea to port ObjFW to Windows NT 4.0. Considering the lowest supported Windows version so far was Windows XP, this seemed like it would not be too much work. However, the biggest problem was getting a toolchain that still supports Windows NT 4.0! After the compiler no longer created binaries that had missing symbols on Windows NT 4.0 and a few minor changes later, all tests were running successfully. Later that evening, I wanted to take things further and thought: If we have Windows NT 4.0 now, why not Windows 98 SE as well? So now it was time to port everything else to the A APIs and voilà, all tests are running successfully.
Microsoft is beginning what will be a very long and drawn-out process of no longer supporting 32-bit versions of Windows 10. Beginning with Windows 10 version 2004, which is already available to OEMs and developers, the company is no longer offering a 32-bit version of the OS to OEMs for new PCs. The change is indicated on the Minimum Hardware Requirements documentation. Hardly surprising. We’re well past the point where new machines need 32bit Windows.
Microsoft is confirming today that it’s planning to refocus Windows 10X on single-screen devices. “The world is a very different place than it was last October when we shared our vision for a new category of dual-screen Windows devices,” explains Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Windows and devices chief. “With Windows 10X, we designed for flexibility, and that flexibility has enabled us to pivot our focus toward single-screen Windows 10X devices that leverage the power of the cloud to help our customers work, learn and play in new ways.” Microsoft isn’t saying exactly when single-screen devices like laptops will support Windows 10X, nor when dual-screen devices will launch with the OS. However, Windows 10X will launch on single-screen devices first. “We will continue to look for the right moment, in conjunction with our OEM partners, to bring dual-screen devices to market,” says Panay. If there’s one person that can pull off moving Windows forward, it’s Panay. I feel like this move points towards Windows 10X becoming the default version of Windows people will get when they buy a new PC – a Windows 11, if you will. It will have a new UI, and run Win32 applications inside containers. I’m interested to see if they can finally pull it off.
Microsoft is working on a tool that will let you replace the Windows Run feature on Windows 10. The Spotlight-like launcher for Windows 10 will be released later this year, as part of the company’s effort to customize Win+R and give users numerous features but keep the handling as easy as possible at the same time. Microsoft’s Spotlight-like launcher for Windows 10 is said to be part of PowerToys upcoming update. According to Microsoft, PowerToys Run is designed to replace Win + R shortcut. I use Ulauncher on my computers, and I can’t imagine using them without it. It’s about time a similar feature came from Microsoft, but the fact it’s a separate PowerToy thing and not a default on Windows means it’ll remain a niche thing. This should be standard out of the box.
Windows is getting support for browsing Linux file systems! Except, not really, since it only applies to WSL. We’ve had the ability to access your Linux files since Windows 1903, but now you can easily get to them from your left-hand navigation pane in File Explorer. Selecting the Linux icon will show you a view of all your distros, and selecting those will place you in the Linux root file system for that distro. As far as I can tell, this only applies to distributions installed through Windows Subsystems for Linux, not to actual distributions installed elsewhere on your computer (on other hard drives or partitions). Cool new feature, I guess, but properly sanctioned Windows support for Ext4 and other Linux-focused file systems would be so much more helpful.
In Windows 10 version 2004, we are introducing the concept of Hosted Apps to the Windows App Model. Hosted apps are registered as independent apps on Windows, but require a host process in order to run. An example would be a script file which requires its host (eg: Powershell or Python) to be installed. By itself, it is just a file and does not have any way to appear as an app to Windows. With the Hosted App Model, an app can declare itself as a host, and then packages can declare a dependency upon that host and are known as hosted apps. When the hosted app is launched, the host executable is then launched with the identity of the hosted app package instead of its own identity. This allows the host to be able to access the contents of the hosted app package and when calling APIs it does so with the hosted app identity. This seems like something that could be useful for progressive web apps, and maybe even Electron apps by making them use Edge Chromium’s rendering engine instead of having every Electron application use its own copy of Chromium, which could benefit performance and battery life.