Dev Channel Build 22538 Gets Interesting

The old Chinese curse goes “May you live in interesting times.” Sounds innocuous, until you understand that what a reader of history might find interesting after the fact, someone who lived through such experiences might find disturbing or harrowing. In that sense then, I proclaim that Dev Channel Build 22538 gets interesting. Exactly what does this mean?

When Dev Channel Build 22538 Gets Interesting, Look Out!

I downloaded and installed this latest Build on my two test PCs yesterday, and finished up this morning. Everything went well, and finished in a reasonable amount of time. (That means under 30 min for both the X12 Hybrid [11th gen Intel i5/16GB RAM/512GB SSD)]and the X380 Yoga [8th gen Intel i7/16 GB RAM/1TB SSD].)

Things only got interesting when I started running the new OS version. If you shift the Start menu left (Start → Personalization → Taskbar → Taskbar behaviors → Taskbar alignment: Left), the Widget icon turns into a weather icon instead. Some users report getting a “weather bug” and temperature value. Others — including me — get only the weather bug. See the lead-in graphic for an illustration, as central Texas faces possible “wintry mix” today.

I was also in for a surprise the first time I remoted into the X12, using Remote Desktop Connection (.exe) . The Taskbar included only two icons. When I tried to run Task Manager to restart Explorer.exe (which usually fixes such behaviors) nothing was accessible. So I ended the remote session, logged into the X12 locally, and then tried again. Everything worked on a second attempt, thank goodness. Indeed, that was interesting!

Curiosity Prompts X380 Yoga Check

Curiosity led me to do likewise on the X380 Yoga. But it showed no such anomalies. Instead a flag from Windows Security informed me that memory integrity checks (Core isolation) were turned off. I had to restart to set things right, but that seemed to work OK, too. The flag was absent after the restart, and Windows Security offered a clean bill of health.

All I can say about the 22538 Build and Dev Channel builds for Windows 11 in general, is that they work surprisingly well. They’re supposed to have rough edges and not-fully-fleshed-out features and functions. I seldom find interesting things to report when I install and run them. It’s fun when things get interesting — at least, on test PCs where I don’t have to rely on them to get my job done.

Stay tuned: I’ll continue to report items of interest as I encounter them.

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Chronic COM Surrogate Windows 10 Failures

OK, then. I was poking around on my Windows 10 production desktop yesterday. Inside Reliability Monitor, I counted up 7 of 10 recent Application Failures from a single cause. It’s shown in the error detail window that serves as the lead-in graphic for this story. All 7 are more or less the same, where I see chronic COM Surrogate Windows 10 failures at work.

With Chronic COM Surrogate Windows 10 Failures, What to Do?

Look it up on the Internet, of course. Using “COM Surrogate stopped working dllhost.exe” as my search string, I found plenty of data to read and digest. As it turns out, this is a pretty common gotcha.

The COM Surrogate is a host process executable named dllhost.exe (as the error info also indicates). It runs as Explorer or other filesystem-related code works it way through file and folder navigation. The process also handles thumbnails (and viewing same) in Explorer and other similar interfaces.

Most of the renditions I perused, pointed to 4 potential causes:

1. a GPU driver problem
2. interference from Data Execution Prevention (DEP) causing a crash
3. munged DLL file connection (e.g. dllhost.exe)
4. corrupt DLL file

Fixes Follow Causes, Right?

Fixes relate directly to causes. For the first cause, replacing the graphics driver with a known good working version is the trick. This may mean rolling back, to reverse a recent problematic upgrade. Or, it might mean rolling forward, if a new version is available (especially one that mentions fixing thumbnail access issues).

For the second cause, creating an exception for dhllhost.exe in the DEP pane in System Properties, Performance options does the trick. Here’s a partial snapshot of what’s involved (for 32-bit Windows 10, navigate to System32; for 64-bit, navigate to SysWOW64 instead):

Chronic COM Surrogate Windows 10 Failures.DEP-exception

This basically instructs DEP to ignore access to dllhost.exe

For the third cause, re-registering the DLL should ensure that dllhost.exe is properly plumbed into the Windows Registry (for more info, please see this MS Support page). This requires entering a pair of commands in an administrative Command Prompt or PowerShell session:

regsvr32 vbscript.dll
regsvr32 jscript.dll

This should handle anything related to DLL registration.

For the fourth cause, MS recommends first running

dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth

Follow that up with sfc /scannow until it comes back with “Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations.”

My Chosen Fix: DEP Exception

Because thumbnails are working OK on my system, I decided that causes 1, 3 and 4 were unlikely. So I implemented a DEP exception, as shown in the preceding screencap. So far, it’s working: no COM surrogate errors since that change. I’ll keep an eye on it, and amend this story if that changes. Stay tuned!

Note: this same approach also works on Windows 11, should the COM surrogate cause problems a PC running that OS instead. Cheers!

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Version 1.1 Brings Start11 Way Up

When Windows 8 arrived in 2012 — a decade ago, now — I was nonplussed and flabbergasted. The new menus completely threw me for a loop. I had trouble finding my own desktop and its assets. Then I discovered Stardock’s Start8, which let me use everything I knew about Windows 7 to interact with Windows 8. It was a lifesaver. By the time Windows 10 came along, I naturally gravitated to Start10 out of habit, if for no other reason. With Windows 11, early versions of — you guessed it — Start11 had me wondering why I bothered with the program. Even for a mere US$5 ($4 to upgrade) it didn’t seem to add much to the native experience. But version 1.1 brings Start11 way up in terms of functionality, and provides one-click access to otherwise more complex native operations. Let me explain…

If Version 1.1 Brings Start11 Way Up, What Do You Get?

Take a look at the lead-in screencap. IT shows the right-click taskbar pop-up (lower right) along with the Start11 settings pane that makes it happen. The key item is “Replace taskbar right click menu with Windows 10 style one.” That change confers the following options:

  • Configure Start11…: provides instant access to the Start11 app (previous versions needed a launch from the Start menu)
  • Cascade windows/Show windows stacked/Show windows side by side: manage on-desk arrangement of open Windows
  • Show the desktop: hide all open Windows
  • Task Manager: one-click access to the Task Manager
  • Taskbar settings: one-click access to Taskbar settings

For me the biggies are easier access to Start11 controls and familiar access to Task Manager. Does this mean I’m turning into a hide-bound dinosaur, set in my ways? Probably. I had been using CTRL-ALT-ESC to fire off Taskbar before and this is less work.

Other taskbar tweaks are nice, too. They include changing its size and position (but top or bottom alignment only, no right or left side).

Worth the Price of Admission?

Sure, Start11 is cheap. But I’ve learned a lot since Windows 8 hit the streets a decade ago and more. I’m not uncomfortable in the native Windows 10 Start menu , and ditto for Windows 11. I’ve got several test machines running 11 with no “menu support” of any kind and am just as productive there as on an assisted alternative desktop.

I’ll probably buy a license for Start11 when I upgrade my wife’s 11th-gen Dell Micro 7080 later this year. She will be able to keep working as she always has, with little difference between how her system now works on Windows 10 and how it will work post-upgrade. But outside those who resist, or don’t like, change, I don’t see Start11 as a must-have piece of software any longer.

Does that mean Microsoft has gotten better at building base level OS navigation? Or does it mean that I’ve simply absorbed the start menu ethos within Windows 10 and 11? A little of both, I suspect.

Bottom line: If you’re already using Start 11, the 1.1 upgrade really makes the program shine (and more usable and capable). If that means you, grab the upgrade today!

 

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2022 Gets First Windows 10 WUCU Woohoo

I can’t help it. I have to have fun with my headlines occasionally. In this case, WUCU refers to a Cumulative Update (CU) delivered via Windows Update (WU). Hence my proclamation, as 2022 gets first Windows 10 WUCU. The woohoo part is just for grins. I was busy enough with writing and phone calls yesterday that I didn’t notice the download and install part. But when I logged in this morning, I saw a notification that led me to the “Restart required” message in WU. It’s present on all the “regular PCs” in my fleet (those not running an Insider Preview).

When 2022 Gets First Windows 10 WUCU, Then What?

Why, restart all those machines, of course. I just checked the Windows 11 PCs, and they don’t seem to be queued up for Patch Tuesday action. I wonder if this is just a one-off, or if the update cadence for the newest desktop OS might be changing. I guess I’ll have to keep an eye on things, to see what happens.

Closer investigation shows that KB 5009566 hit Windows 11 machines yesterday (January 11) as well. It’s labeled as a Quality Update in Update History, not a CU. So it looks like the cadence continues as always, but that the labels attached to the Patch Tuesday update can be either QU or CU depending on their contents and recent prior preview update activity. Good to know!

Here’s what that looks like on my production-level Lenovo X1 Extreme (8th-gen Intel CPU, vintage 2018).

The update for Windows 11 also arrived on January 11, but it’s a QU not a CU. Go figure!

It seems that Windows 11 is finally starting to diverge from Windows 10. I think we may see some exciting new developments and capabilities in the run-up to this fall’s upcoming equivalent to a feature update. Should be interesting. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.

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Zoom Mystery Gets Interesting Resolution

For the past month or so, I’ve been unable to run Zoom on my primary desktop PC. That’s actually OK, because it doesn’t have a video camera, so it’s been no major gotcha to switch over to the laptop I keep at the left-hand side of my desk. There, a camera is built-in and it works fine with my Jabra 75 USB plug-in headset. Today, determined to find a solution, I stumbled across a revelation in the Zoom Community forums. There, my Zoom mystery gets interesting resolution: because the PowerToys “Video Conference Mute” is enabled by default, it crashes Zoom. Turn that feature off. Presto! No more crashing.

Flailing About Leads to Zoom Mystery Gets Interesting Resolution

At the same time, I’ve also had to switch from my Jabra 75 headset to the older Logitech H750e headset on the production PC. Though the sound widget in Control Panel shows sound input/output, it’s not audible on the headset itself. That’s working properly now, too.

If it hadn’t been for some inspired Google search, I’d never have found this by myself. Turns out it’s a “known thing” in GitHub (where PowerToys development is run). There a bug report about this there. It’s entitled “Zoom continuously crashes with Video Conference Mute enabled.”

I’m very glad this finally popped up on my radar. I’m even gladder there’s an easy fix. Shoot! I’m just glad to see the Zoom dashboard popping up and working on my production desktop PC. This fix was a long time coming, but I’m glad to see it finally in place. Sigh.

 

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Beta Channel Gets Redesigned NotePad

Woo hoo! FINALLY, MS announces it “begins rolling” something out and I get a copy.  As the Windows 11 Beta Channel gets redesigned NotePad, it shows up in my MS Store updates this morning. The app itself appears in the lead-in graphic. Just below, see the tweet to @WindowsInsider that announced this “all Windows Insiders” release.

Beta Channel Gets Redesigned NotePad (Tweet)
Beta Channel Gets Redesigned NotePad (Tweet)

If Beta Channel Gets Redesigned NotePad, Then What?

The new version of Notepad shows up in the Start menu as an app. This is different from the notepad.exe version that’s still available in %Windir%\System32 by default. You can see the difference in the title bar for the app in the lead-in graphic: it includes the word PREVIEW in all caps. Of course, this version supports the “dark theme,” whose enabled setting also appears in that same screencap as well.

Because I’ve so often been on the outside looking in when MS announces an app or feature in rollout mode, it’s wildly exciting to get in on this first thing. Of course, Brandon LeBlanc’s tweet does say that this rollout includes “all Windows Insiders in the Beta Channel.” So I expected to see it, and indeed, it showed up.

Does that make me any kind of special? Nah, but it’s still exciting anyway. That said, except for the dark theme, and a reworked and more visually effective font manager, I don’t see any differences between the exe and app versions of Notepad just yet. But they’re bound to appear, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll just revel in the chance to play with my new toy along with everybody else, thanks. Cheers! The concluding screencap shows how the app version of Notepad appears in the Start menu, just for grins…

Beta Channel Gets Redesigned NotePad.start-info

The new app version labels itself as such in the Windows 11 Start menu, as you can see.

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Windows 11 Hints Third-Party Widgets

I confess: I’ve been a fan of Windows gadgets ever since they were introduced in Windows Vista 15 or so years ago (January 30, 2007). I still use them today in Windows 10 and 11, thanks to Helmut Buhler’s excellent 8GadgetPack. Recently, I read intimations that MS would open its Windows 11 Widgets to third parties. I was both intrigued and a little apprehensive to learn that Windows 11 hints third-party widgets. A portion of my Widgets from the Dev Channel build (22523.1000) serves as the lead-in graphic above.

How Windows 11 Hints Third-Party Widgets

As explained in this WindowsLatest story dated January 3, widgets are a little less all-encompassing than gadgets. As Mayank Parmar avers “Windows 11 [widgets] cannot be pinned to the desktop and they appear within the widgets board only.” That said, the same source reports they’ve “seen…documents” that indicate “third-party widgets will be included in Windows 11 version 22H2.”

Because I still use gadgets daily, this information is interesting. Given the right third-party support, it could even be exciting. As you can see to the left, I use gadgets for various purposes, even on Windows 11. For one, they help me keep an eye on system and network activities. For another, they provide an alternative way to shutdown, restart, and so on. And finally, the analog clock on my desktop is easier for me to see and read than the default numeric clock in the taskbar.

If I could get the same functionality from widgets, that would be good. But I also hope MS will provide ways to lock certain widgets on constant display, too. To me, the real benefit of gadgets is that, once parked, they remain visible all the time. For monitoring, time, and system controls this is essential. Note also: the “Control System” gadget (2nd from top) even works in RDP sessions, which normally don’t let you restart or shut down a remotely-connected PC or VM. Very helpful!

I believe opening widgets to third parties in Windows 11 could spur all kinds of interesting functionality and capability. I like the idea of getting such things from the store. But I also hope MS will support locking select widgets on permanent view. Otherwise, I’ll keep using gadgets, too.

We’ll know more as MS releases information to developers to open up widgets to third parties. In the meantime, I’ve got my fingers crossed that somebody will read — and heed — my plea for locked or permanent widgets. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted as this situation unfolds.

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2021 Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

As I reported in my previous post, our family took a Texas-to-Florida road trip from December 18 through 30. It occurs to me readers might be interested in what came along for that ride, technology-wise. Thus, I’ll inventory our 2021 road trip technology bag contents, to show what the Tittel family used to stay in touch while traveling. I’ll also explain — briefly — how we used all that stuff.

Enumerating Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

To begin, I’ll simply list what we carried with us on the road by category and kind:

1. Laptops (2): Lenovo X1 Extreme (8th Gen i7, 32 GB RAM, 1.5 TB NVMe SSDs: 1 + 0.5 TB); Lenovo Yoga 7 14ITL5 (11th Gen i5, 16 GB RAM. 0.5 TB SSD), each with its own power brick and power cord.

2. iPad Air 2: 128GB storage, Wi-Fi + LTE

3. External battery packs: an older freebie (WIMVP 2018) 4,000 mAh, plus a newer RAVPower 26,800 mAh

4. Cable bag with 2xUSB/LIghtning cables for iDevices, 2xUSB A/USB-C cables, 2xUSB A/mini-USB cables for battery chargers, 2x iClever USB-A chargers with dual 2.4A charging ports

The cable bag was a convenience, a $17 ProCase Travel Gadget Organizer bag I purchased in 2020, and it appears as the lead-in graphic for this story. In fact, it proved its worth every day on the road. This organizer made it easy to store (and find) chargers and cables when and as they were needed in the 6 hotels we patronized on our trip.

Typical In-Hotel Usage Scenarios

The iClever chargers were vital for keeping our smartphones and iPad charged. We used them every day, without fail, along with the appropriate cables. The battery packs came in handiest on the long driving days (2 each way) to and from Florida. That’s because time in the car routinely outlasted battery life on at least 3 of those 4 days.

In the hotel room, I used the iPad for recreational reading and map checking. We also used the two laptops, both of which run the production version of Windows 11 (Build 22000.376). My wife and I shared the X1 Extreme. Indeed, I actually had to do about 6-7 hours of legal work on the trip as various questions and document drafts required my input.

My son took over the Yoga 7 as his exclusive PC, and reported that it met his needs for streaming video, email, light gaming, and managing his social contacts quite nicely. He also used it to work on a short 2-minute film he’s planning to shoot this weekend as part of his college application process (he wants to major in film).

Stowing the Gear

All of this stuff fit well into a standard “schoolbook” back pack we keep around for travel. Its large internal pouch easily accommo-dated both laptops inside a padded  sub-area with Velcro closure. The iPad, cable bag and battery packs went into the forward section of that same internal pouch. And finally, both laptop bricks lived in a half-height zippered pouch at the very front of the backpack.

We maintained this organization for the whole trip because it made unpacking and packing easy. Ditto for ensuring that everything was present and loaded during pre-departure checks.

The Bottom Line

As I look over my Amazon Order history, I see we spent under US$300 for the bag and its contents, not including laptops and iPad. All together, cables accounted for under $50, the chargers for about the same amount, and the bags the same again. The RAVPower charger was the big-ticket item, at about US$120. But it can recharge all three of our smartphones and the iPad, or extend battery life for either laptop by 2-4 hours. Well worth the cost, methinks. All this gear helped us stay informed and in touch — and organized — on the road. Good stuff!

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Happy 2022 After Road Trip Return

At about 11:50 PM last night, I woke my dozing wife so we could hoist a glass to the incoming year at the stroke of midnight. Here at Chez Tittel, we’re all still recovering from our major Florida road trip, from which we rolled in at 7:30-ish on the  night of December 30. Hence, my well-intentioned wishes to readers for a happy 2022 after road trip return. Auld Ang Syne, and all that…

With Happy 2022 After Road Trip Return, Then What?

In what is becoming a family vacation pattern, we covered lots of ground and saw some super sights on a 13-day trip. We started out from Round Rock, Texas, and bookended the trip with a stay at Crestview, FL, across I-10 from the huge naval air station nominally at Pensacola for the first and last nights away from home. Day 2 was our longest drive, from Crestview to Key West, where we stayed until Day 4.

Here’s how the remaining vacation part of our trip played out:
* Miami Beach at the superb beachside hotel, The Palms (Days 4-7)
* West Palm Beach at the West Palm Hilton (Days 7-9)
* Orlando at the Hyatt Regency next to the Convention Center (Days 9-12)

Day 12 also saw us to Crestview (an easy 6-hour jaunt). Day 13 was a booger, with 13 hours in the car on the way home. To my surprise, we sailed over the I-10 Mississippi bridge in Baton Rouge. Then, we got stuck in a 90-minute traffic jam on the eastbound approach into Houston. (From Baytown to I-610 north, for those who know that part of the world.)

Trip Highlights: Part 1

While none of us is eager to return to Key West (Day 2 of the trip was a grueling 14-hour driving day), we did like the place. Though it’s not in downtown, the Margaritaville Beach House/resort proved to be a well-appointed hotel, albeit with leisurely service and an island state of mind. We had an amazing farewell dinner at the A&B Lobster House on the docks the night before our departure (Day 3). The Boss and The Boy tucked into butter-poached lobsters as big as your head, while I made do with a Oscar-style chunk of grouper.

The drive to The Palms in Miami Beach took less than 2.5 hours. The GPS ran us up Route 1, which I let stand so the family could get a good taste of Miami on our way. Ordinarily, I’d have over-ridden the route and gone up the Florida Turnpike. It was a slow but interesting drive to help see the southern approach to downtown.

In Miami Beach (MB), everybody agreed it was the best vacation spot on our itinerary. We had an amazing Cuban meal at Havana 1957 on Lincoln Street. We got to try a killer Cubano, great ropa vieja and terrific tostones. We also walked 6-8 miles a day during the whole stay, because MB is so walk-friendly. The car stayed in the hotel garage for our entire stay. We took a tour of Miami  by bus, and the bay between Miami and the barrier island by boat. Great fun!

Trip Highlights: Part 2

Our next stop was a sentimental destination. My mom lived in Palm Beach Gardens (PBG) from 1991 until 2006, and West Palm is the nearest tourist spot in that vicinity. We drove by her old house a couple of times, but also saw the grand mansions on Palm Beach island, and explored A1A all the way up to Jupiter beach. That included a stroll through the amazing John D. MacArthur Beach State Park on the barrier island to the east of Palm Beach Gardens. It also featured a great Christmas dinner with my Aunt Millie, her daughter, and three of her grand-kids at her PBG condo. Good times!

We also ate twice at a favorite Jewish Deli with many south and central Florida locations: TooJays. We liked it so much, we had our last meal at its Orlando location on our way to Crestview. All I can say is: Best. Matzo Ball Soup. Ever. I mean it! Good shepard’s pie, great pastrami and corned beef, wonderful baked goods, too.

Otherwise, we decided we prefer south to central Florida. On a next trip, we agreed to drop Orlando and Key West. Instead we’ll concentrate on Miami Beach and Palm Beach. Those thinking about a Florida visit of their own should consider doing the same. Cheers!

Back to Business on January 3

I’ll be resuming my normal blogging on Monday, with the real start of the working year for 2022. My first screed will enumerate the contents of the “technology bag” from our trip. I’ll explain what I took with us, how it worked for us, and provide purchase pointers for those likewise disposed. Stay tuned!

Note Added 2 Hrs Later (January 1)

As I re-read this travelogue, it occurs to me that I’m grateful to my readers and those who’ve hired me to work for them. That includes Microsoft (the WIMVP program), Fish & Richardson plus numerous other law firms, Actual Tech Media, ComputerWorld, TechTarget, and the For Dummies… Custom Publications group, among others.

In fact, 2021 turned out to be a much better year than I expected. I have those parties to thank for what success I’ve enjoyed in this current COVID related world of work. I wish everyone only the best for 2022. I hope the New Year is safe, prosperous and, above all, interesting and educational for all of us. Cheers (and thanks) again! =Ed=

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Windows 11 Year-end Ruminations

OK, then. I was MIA on the blog yesterday and the day before. I’m also getting ready to take a much-needed break for the rest of the year. For my final post for 2021, I want to share my Windows 11 year-end ruminations and observations. The new OS made its preview debut on June 24 (Dev Channel) and its public debut on October 4 of this year. There’s been lots of activity, things to learn and understand, and various issues to deal with along the way. Let me share some highlights…

Where My Windows 11 Year-end Ruminations Lead

Since day 1 (June 24) I’ve been mostly pleased and impressed with Windows 11. I like its snazzed-up UI, especially the rounded corners and the snappy iconography it uses. It came as much less of a shock to me than did Windows 8 (or 10, for that matter) because it still remains familiar and comfortable to me despite wearing a new set of clothes and offering some new capabilities.

A few glitches aside — such as the AMD and disk drive performance gotchas that have emerged over the past 6 months — Windows 11 has been an entirely positive user and admin experience for me. All of the image manipulation and management, installation and configuration tricks I’ve learned for Windows 10 over the last 7 years have worked for me on Windows 11 so far. That means my comfort level with the new OS is both welcome and quite high.

I understand the ongoing flap about the Windows 11 hardware requirements. I’m rather more amused than pissed off that my still-capable but now 5-year-old i7-6700 desktop doesn’t make the Windows 11 grade. It’s a relief that I currently own only two systems that don’t meet those requirements (the other one is my 2014 vintage Surface Pro 3). I’m going to keep the Surface running until Windows 10 reaches EOL so I can experience what happens as the preceding desktop generation winds down.

I was also impressed and surprised by the out-of-box experience on the Lenovo 11th-gen Yoga 7 14″ thin&light laptop the company sent me for review. The set-up and configuration is fluid and easy, and the OS has worked flawlessly since that unit showed here in October. It is my first exposure to a system with Windows 11 pre-installed and I must say it’s been everything I hoped it would be.

Where Will 2022 Take Windows 11?

We should see the first “big rev” in the fall — if not sooner than that according to the rumor mill. I’m expecting to see more elements fall out of Control Panel and into Settings. I’m expecting more old and familiar “stock apps” (think Notepad, File Explorer, Task Manager, and so forth) get a new look and feel. Some will no doubt experience feature set changes as well (out with the old and in with the new). The turnover of old and new features is a theme I think we’ll see continuing on for many years to come. When it happens I expect to enjoy learning what’s up and then sharing what I learn. Please stay tuned, and take that ride with me.

Let me also wish my readers a safe, prosperous and enjoyable end-of-year holiday season. Look for my daily blogs to resume on Monday, January 3. Happy trails until then!

Yours truly,
–Ed Tittel–

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