We’re once again approaching that time of the year when Microsoft releases a new feature update to Windows 10. In line with the version numbering scheme we’ve been seeing, this update is currently known as Windows 10 version 2004, or 20H1, because it’s being released in the first half of the year. While we did get a feature update in the second half of 2019, there was only a very small number of additions, and those additions were also minor in nature. It was more about refining the previous update than making significant leaps forward. Surprisingly, even though version 2004 is a more significant feature update, it’s one of the smaller ones, despite having a longer period of testing with Insiders than what we’ve seen before. With that being said, there are still a few changes and improvements to many parts of the experience, and if you want to know all about it, we’ve compiled this list for you. Let’s get started. There’s some nice additions in there, but nothing earth-shattering or game-changing. Windows 10 is five years old now, and it feels like the model of frequent feature updates (instead of monolithic Windows releases and the occasional service pack) just isn’t really moving the needle.
Did you ever load up your modern Windows 10 PC, ready to install your favourite application or game, only to be greeted by a dialog telling you it won’t run, and then you realise you’re trying to run a 16 bit application on your modern 64 bit Windows 10 installation? I swear to god, this happens to me all the time. Luckily, there’s a solution to this problem. In fact, there’s multiple solutions to this problem. Of course, you can always just fire up a virtual machine with 32 bit Windows, Windows 3.1, or OS/2 for massive style points, but that’s cumbersome and uncool (except for OS/2. OS/2 is always cool). There’s a better way. Enter winevdm by otya128, which is a combination of MAME’s i386 emulation and the 16 bit part of wine. It allows you to run 16 bit applications on modern 64 bit versions of Windows. Edward Mendelson created a handy installer with some additional useful tools to make the process even easier. As a sidenote, there’s also NTVDMx64, which is a version of Microsoft’s own NTVDM (Windows NT’s virtual DOS machine) adapted for 64 bit (Mendelson made a handy installer for this one, too). By its very nature, NTVDMx64 doesn’t run Windows 16 bit applications; only DOS ones. It is also important to note that NTVDMx64 is based on leaked Windows NT source code, so please be careful in which settings you use it. There’s no real reason I’m talking about this today, other than the fact I that I ran into this stuff a few days ago when watching a YouTube video about running the IBM WorkPlace Shell for Windows 3.x on Windows 10, and thought it was fascinating. It might prove useful for some of you working at companies still running old 16 bit stuff, or if you’re digging around in your old floppy collection.
The other day I set out to solve a seemingly simple problem: With a DOS extended application, lock down memory buffers using DPMI and use them for bus-mastering (BusLogic SCSI HBA, though the exact device model isn’t really relevant to the problem). Now, DPMI does not allow querying the physical address of a memory region, although it does have provisions for mapping a given physical memory area. But that doesn’t help here–mapping physical memory is useful for framebuffers where a device memory needs to be mapped so that an application can access it. In my case, I needed the opposite, allowing a bus-mastering device to use already-allocated system memory. I think I may have understood some of these words.
Live Tiles have been a signature feature of the Windows OS interface since the launch of Windows 8. But these colorful, info-packed squares appear to be on their way into the trash bin. This should’ve been obvious to anyone who’s been keeping an eye on Windows development. Live tiles were amazing on Windows Phone, but never really fit desktop computing. I’m glad they’re going away.
Quibble is the custom Windows bootloader – an open-source reimplementation of the files bootmgfw.efi and winload.efi, able to boot every version of Windows from XP to Windows 10 1909. Unlike the official bootloader, it is extensible, allowing you to boot from other filesystems than just NTFS. This is only a proof of concept at this stage – don’t use this for anything serious. Quibble can boot Windows from Btrfs, which is impressive enough in its own right.
Microsoft released its first emulator for Windows 10X today, allowing developers to get a first look at the new operating system variant for dual-screen devices. Microsoft wants to give developers a head start on optimizing apps before devices launch later this year, so this basic emulator provides an early look at Windows 10X before it’s finalized. My first thoughts? Windows 10X feels like a slightly more modern version of Windows 10 that has been cleaned up for future devices. In Windows 10X, everything is new. There’s none of the old Win32 code and applications lying around, or fallbacks to old Win32 dialogs. Everything is a Modern application (or whatever they call it these days), including things like the file manager – the traditional Explorer is gone. While Windows 10X does support Win32 applications, they run in a container. As detailed in this video from Microsoft (select the video titled “How Windows 10X runs UWP and Win32 apps”), Windows 10X has three containers – Win32, MSIX, and Native. Win32 applications run inside a single Win32 container, capable of running pretty much anything “classic” you can throw at it, such as Win32, WinForms, Electron, and so on. MSIX containers are basically slightly more advanced classic applications, and these containers run inside the Win32 container as well. The Native container runs all the modern/UWP applications. The Win32 container is actually a lot more involved than you might think. As you can see in the below overview diagram from the video, the container contains a kernel, drivers, the needed files, a registry, and so on. It’s effectively an entire traditional Win32 Windows operating system running inside Windows 10X. Applications running inside the Win32 container are entirely isolated from the rest of the host Windows 10X operating system, and Windows 10X interacts with them through specialised, performance-optimised RDP clients – one for each Win32 application. This seems to finally be what many of us have always wanted out of a next-generation Windows release: move all the cruft and compatibility to a glorified virtual machine, so that the remainder of the operating system can be modernised and improved without having to take compatbility into account. For now, Windows 10X seems focused on dual screen devices, but a lot of people in the know seem to think this is the actual future of Windows. Time will tell if this is actually finally really the case, but this does look promising.
For the next couple (or maybe more) posts I’ll be explaining how WdFilter works. I’ve always been very interested on how AVs work (Nowadays I would say EDRs though) and their development at kernel level. And since, unfortunately I don’t have access to the source code of any, my only chance is to reverse them (or to write my own). And of course what a better product to check than the one written by the company who developed the OS. For those who don’t know, WdFilter is the main kernel component of Windows Defender. Roughly, this Driver works as a Minifilter from the load order group “FSFilter Anti-Virus”, this means that is attached to the File System stack (Actually, quite high – Big Altitude) and handles I/O operations in some Pre/Post callbacks. Not only that, this driver also implements other techniques to get information of what’s going on in the system. The goal of this series of post is to have a solid understanding on how this works under the hood. Not for the fain of heart.
Microsoft has now started to show text ad for its new Chromium-based Edge in the all apps list. The ad, which shows up under ‘Suggested’ listing for Start menu, recommends using the new version of Microsoft Edge. Surprisingly, the ad is targeting Firefox users. If you have Firefox as your default browser, you might see the advertisement or suggestion in the Start menu. Depending on whether you’re actively using Firefox or other browsers, the recommendation may or may not show up. “Still using Firefox? Microsoft Edge is here,” the ad label reads and it includes a link to download Chromium-based browser. Don’t use operating systems like Windows or iOS which are nothing but bait-and-switch vessels for ads.
Windows 10 may now be essential but users new and old have had a rough ride in recent weeks. And it has just gotten a lot worse after a new, high-profile Windows 10 failure has left more questions than answers and some seriously angry users. The drama began yesterday as Windows 10 users suddenly found that Search was broken with a black bar showing where search results should be, even for those who tried to perform a local search of their files. This is the future of proprietary operating systems like Windows, macOS and iOS as their parent companies move towards services and subscription models. More and more, they’ll use their operating systems to push their services and subscriptions, to the detriment of the user experience. It’s been happening in Windows 10 for a few years now, and iOS, too, is riddled with ads for Apple’s services. And so, we arrive at the point where local file search breaks down due to server issues. What a time to be alive.
Even though regular, free Windows 7 support has ended only a few days ago, Microsoft has already been forced to release a regular update to fix a bug. We reported earlier that Windows 7 users were complaining of their wallpaper being replaced by black screens when they install the important KB4534310 and KB4534314 updates for Windows 7. The wallpaper bug affected all the Windows 7 users who use stretch option while setting up wallpapers. Microsoft later confirmed that it was indeed a bug but said the company would fix it only for customers who purchased ESU, i.e. organizations. However, it looks like the company has gone back on its word and decided to release an update for everyone. The best laid plans.
It’s the end of an era. Today’s date, January 14, has been on the books for years now, and it’s the day that support ends for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. More specifically, extended support is ending for Windows 7 Service Pack 1, and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 and 2. There are, of course, workarounds. Microsoft is offering Extended Security Updates (ESUs) for those willing to pay up, and it’s only available for Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise. The price is going to be per-machine, and it will double every year. In other words, if you’ve got a business with multiple Windows 7 PCs, it’s going to be costly to keep them on the legacy OS. ESUs will be available for three years. You can get ESUs through volume licensing or through Microsoft 365. Windows 7 is 11 years old by now, and moving the operating system strictly to paid maintenance seems acceptable – you can’t expect operating systems to be maintained forever. This means that unless they’re planning on being irresponsible, Windows 7 users will have to start moving to Windows 10. They might want to download one of the many debloat programs, followed by a a tool that gives them strict control over Windows 10’s leaky privacy settings. Or, you know, move to something else entirely.
To date, Microsoft hasn’t said anything publicly about what’s going to happen to any of its digital app stores. But privately, officials across various teams at the company have been trying to come up with a concerted strategy, I’ve heard. That strategy does not call for Microsoft to drop the Web version of the Microsoft Store. I’m not sure what will happen to the Microsoft Store client that’s built into Windows 10 right now; my contacts say its future is “uncertain” at this point. To say the Microsoft Store has been a failure might be a bit too harsh – it has allowed Microsoft itself to update some core Windows applications easier than ever before – but a raging success it is not. Windows developers don’t really care, and users keep installing applications the way they’re used to, so it only makes sense for Microsoft to reevaluate its strategy with regard to the various versions of its application store. I’m not sad about it.
Now, Walking Cat has uncovered a change in the latest Fast Ring build that indicates a shift in the way new features are delivered to the users. Microsoft recently published a new app on the Microsoft Store called the “Windows Feature Experience Pack”. The app looks like a dummy at the moment but it does coincide with a small change made to the About section of the Settings app. The About section now shows Windows Feature Experience Pack under Windows Specifications. The version number is entirely different from the OS Build number which currently is 19536.1000. According to Walking Cat, this indicates a shift in the way shell features are delivered to the users. It looks like Microsoft might deliver shell experiences separately in the future. This is one of the unicorns Microsoft seems to have been chasing for a very, very lone time. The ability to more easily update core parts of the operating system without interrupting users, and outside of large operating system updates, has been improving with every single major release – from XP to today – but Microsoft is still a long way off. In fairness to Microsoft, Apple is still tying things like Safari to operating system updates in both iOS and macOS, and Google is also slowly but surely untangling Android to bypass OEMs and carriers to deliver updates faster. This is an industry-wide trend.
Microsoft Edge (Chromium) has been updated with a new flag called ‘Web Apps Identity Proxy’ to enable deeper integration between PWAs and Windows shell. When this flag is enabled on Windows 10 20H1 machines, web apps will be treated as native apps and there are many advantages. For example, web apps would appear independently in Windows 10’s Task Manager, it will allow web apps to display notification badges, and it will also let you uninstall the apps from the Start menu or settings. PWAs are a major boon for smaller and alternative platforms too, since it gives comparatively easy access to popular applications like Twitter, WhatsApp, and others.
Sean Gallagher: In a post yesterday to the Microsoft Tech Community blog, Microsoft Windows Core Networking team members Tommy Jensen, Ivan Pashov, and Gabriel Montenegro announced that Microsoft is planning to adopt support for encrypted Domain Name System queries in order to “close one of the last remaining plain-text domain name transmissions in common web traffic.” That support will first take the form of integration with DNS over HTTPS (DoH), a standard proposed by the Internet Engineering Task Force and supported by Mozilla, Google, and Cloudflare, among others. “As a platform, Windows Core Networking seeks to enable users to use whatever protocols they need, so we’re open to having other options such as DNS over TLS (DoT) in the future,” wrote Jensen, Pashov, and Montenegro. “For now, we’re prioritizing DoH support as the most likely to provide immediate value to everyone. For example, DoH allows us to reuse our existing HTTPS infrastructure.” But Microsoft is being careful about how it deploys this compatibility given the current political fight over DoH being waged by Internet service providers concerned that they’ll lose a lucrative source of customer behavior data. This clearly isn’t the sexiest of subjects, but there’s an important tug of war happening here between ISPs and privacy advocates.
An independent developer has managed to hack a Calculator to run Windows 10 operating system, but it’s not a basic or scientific calculator that we normally use. According to the photos, the device is actually the HP’s Prime Graphing Calculator which comes with a touch screen interface, and good industrial design. The photos shared by the developer Ben shows off Windows 10 IoT (Internet of Things) edition running on the HP Prime Graphing Calculator. Perhaps not the most useful hack in the world, but still very cool.
With Microsoft’s launch of the Surface Pro X last week, questions were once again raised about the apps that can run on it. The answer is that like any Windows 10 on ARM PC, it can run native ARM (ARM and ARM64) apps, and it can run emulated 32-bit Intel (x86) apps. This leaves out 64-bit Intel (AMD64, or x64) apps, so if you want an app that’s only available in an x64 flavor, such as Adobe Premiere Pro or Photoshop Elements, you can’t use it. That’s going to change though. Speaking with several sources, I can confirm that Microsoft is indeed working on bringing x64 app emulation to Windows on ARM. When that will happen is a bit more unclear, but it seems like it could be in Windows 10 21H1, which would mean that the general public will have access to it in the first half of 2021, and Windows Insiders will be able to test it out next year. Developing tools and technologies like this always carries an inherent risk – if it’s slow and cumbersome, people will complain and won’t want to use your operating system. If it’s fast and seamless, however, developers have little to no incentive to develop native ARM64 applications for Windows on ARM. That’s a fine line to tread, and definitely something Microsoft will have issues with. On a related note, the ARM64 version of Microsoft’s new Edge browser has been released.
Microsoft is planning to remove WEP encryption from Windows 10. Since the 1903 release, a warning message has appeared when connecting to Wi-Fi networks secured with WEP or TKIP (which are not as secure as those using WPA2 or WPA3). In a future release, any connection to a Wi-Fi network using these old ciphers will be disallowed. Wi-Fi routers should be updated to use AES ciphers, available with WPA2 or WPA3. WEP is very old – it entered the scene in 1997 – and was cracked in 2001. It’s incredibly easy to crack, so it only makes sense to remove this outdated feature from Windows.
Gates said that he has no “doubt the antitrust lawsuit was bad for Microsoft” as the company would have otherwise focused more on developing the mobile operating system. The lawsuit ended up distracting him away from Windows Mobile and he ultimately “screwed that up“. He also said that Microsoft was “three months too late on a release” that would have been used by Motorola on a smartphone. While he did not provide the specifics, it is possible that Gates is referring to the iconic Motorola Droid which launched with Android and made consumers in the US notice the OS thanks to the heavy marketing push from Verizon and Motorola. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is actually quite close to reality. Had Verizon and an – at the time – influential phone makers like Motorola with its Droid phone and all the marketing blitz that accompanied it opted for a Microsoft product, I wouldn’t be so sure Android would’ve gotten the head start that it did.
Microsoft has mostly kept details of Windows 10X – a version of Windows 10 that has been tailored to dual-screen devices – under wraps. Now, a major leak has given us deep insight into the design and goals behind the development of Windows 10X. Am I crazy for being interested in Windows 10X not for foldable devices or laptops, but for my desktop machines? If this information is accurate, it looks like Windows 10X will be a much more straightforward, simpler version of Windows that doesn’t come with 30 years of baggage and technical debt. Assuming the container technology used to run classic Win32 applications – on which many people depend – doesn’t incur too much of a performance and compatibility penalty, and assuming Microsoft will actually make Windows 10X available for desktops, I’ll be excited to try it out.