All posts by Ed Tittel

Full-time freelance writer, researcher and occasional expert witness, I specialize in Windows operating systems, information security, markup languages, and Web development tools and environments. I blog for numerous Websites, still write (or revise) the occasional book, and write lots of articles, white papers, tech briefs, and so forth.

Build 25179 Gives Everybody Tabbed Explorer

It’s been a long time coming. The gradual release of tabs in File Explorer is now a Dev Channel feature. That’s right: Build 25179 gives everybody tabbed Explorer. I’ve had it come and go somewhat randomly over the whole summer. But now, it looks like it’s here to stay, as shown in the lead-in graphic above. Good-oh!

When Build 25179 Gives Everybody Tabbed Explorer …

… Then, everybody can make use of the feature. Personally I find it much easier to navigate around a bunch of tabs in a single Explorer window, than to jump across a bunch of disjoint Explorer windows. But that’s just me — others may feel differently.

That does explain, however, why I welcome the general release of this long-awaited Windows feature. For me, Explorer is one of the Windows applications I use most frequently. That means even a slight productivity improvement offers big dividends. And with dozens of daily uses (I almost always have one or more File Explorer windows open on my desktop) that’s a big win.

Two Explorer Windows Still Have Their Uses

When I have to compare or move files between directories, I can still make use of multiple Explorer windows at the same time. It’s a handy way to see what’s going on in two file system locations at once. Be that to move files from one location to another, or to compare files across those locations, it’s still a handy technique.

But when I want to scope out the contents of multiple file system locations, I think I prefer tabs for that purpose. As I said earlier, I’m convinced it’s easier to click tabs in a single window for that purpose. Jumping among multiple windows just isn’t as workable or attractive IMO.

You are, of course, free to form your own opinions and habits where File Explorer is concerned. But it’s always nice to have options, right?

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Signal Strength Impedes Swapped PC WiFi Access

OK, then. Yesterday, we spent a small fortune packing up and shipping out a tower PC and 27″ monitor to my son’s college address. In the aftermath, I moved the other B550 tower with Ryzen 5800X upstairs to his room. But alas, because I left the high-end, PCIe WiFi card in the shipped-out unit, I couldn’t get any of my plug-in (or built-in) WiFi devices to connect to the Spectrum router. Hence my claim that signal strength impedes swapped PC WiFi access.

Overcoming Signal Strength Impedes Swapped PC WiFi Access

There’s a whole litany of checks I ran through to see if I could get such WiFi devices as were at my disposal working. The PC could “see” the Spectrum router. Alas, it just couldn’t connect, not using any of the following:

  • A 5-year old Asus 802.11ac USB 3 (USB-AC 56) device with external antenna
  • A similar vintage NetGear 802.11 ac USB 3 (AC 600) device with no external antenna
  • The built-in M.2 slot with a non-Intel 802.11ax mini-card (but no external antenna)

I worked through all of the following checks, too, just to cover all the bases:

1. Reboot PC to reset startup network settings
2. Ran the network troubleshooter
3. Enable/disable device drivers in Device Manager
4. Reset Network Settings as per ElevenForum Reset Network Adapters in Windows 11 tutorial

No joy on any of these, though. Sigh.

An Alexandrine Solution?

Eventually, I installed a switch at the RJ-45 wall jack upstairs, then ran a long cable from that switch into my son’s bedroom to give him a direct, wired Internet connection. Of course, that worked right away once I’d gotten all the pieces and parts plugged in properly.

The story does have a happy ending, though. Check out the Fast.com speed test results I obtained after setting up the wired link into that PC. This is the fastest I’ve ever seen on my LAN.

I didn’t realize the Spectrum router could exceed 1 Gbps on its end. This PC has a 2.5 GbE interface, so it’s capable enough. But given a GbE LAN exceeding the speed limit makes me wonder…

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Samsung NVMe Drive Failing

In a recent story here, I mentioned a possible mismatch between some components. On the one hand: an old Samsung MZVPV512HDGL OEM NVMe drive. On the other hand: a brand-new PCIe x4 USB 3.2/Thunderbolt NVMe enclosure. Upon swapping in a newer ADATA drive my issues with the enclosure vanished. So I mounted the other drive in an older Sabrent NVMe enclosure. Now I’m getting indications of the Samsung NVMe drive failing. A strong indicator shows up as the lead-in graphic above.

What Says: Samsung NVMe Drive Failing?

The inability to perform write tests using HD Tune is a pretty big tell. Interestingly, though: chkdsk and CrystalDiskInfo both report the drive as healthy. My best guess is that write failures are occurring, and that HD Tune won’t “write past” such things, while the other tools rely on SMART data and surface analysis and aren’t seeing active errors.

My plan is to retire the drive as soon as the replacement part shows up. That’s been en route via Amazon for too long now, so I just cancelled that order and placed a new one. Hopefully it will be here tomorrow, including a 1TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus with internal read/write speeds of up to 6+/4+ Gbps. Of course, that’s not gonna happen in a USB 3.2/Thunderbolt enclosure. But I am darn curious to see how fast the bus can go when the drive is fast enough to get out of the way.

Stay Tuned: More to Come!

According to what I read online, I may be able to get read/write speeds in excess of 2 Gbps via Thunderbolt 3 from the NVMe enclosure. So far, the best I’ve seen from my older Sabrent (USB 3.2 only) enclosures is on the order of 1.1 Gbps. So it should be pretty easy to tell if the new drive/enclosure speeds things up.

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Flaky Video Driver Forces Fix Revisits

My production desktop’s dual monitor setup gets a little wonky from time to time. For some odd reason, the right-hand (primary) monitor will start blinking on and off. It’s annoying, but not overwhelming. When it happens, an apparently flaky video driver forces fix revisits. Basically, I keep trying stuff until something works. By no coincidence, that’s a decent operational definition for troubleshooting.

Items Checked When Flaky Video Driver Forces Fix Revisits

It usually goes something like this:

1. Use the Winkey-Ctrl-Shift-B key combo to reset the graphics driver. It does work, sometimes…
2. Check GeForce Experience to see if a newer driver is available; if so, install it.
3. If using the Nvidia gaming driver, switch to Studio driver, or vice-versa.
4. Uninstall, then reinstall the Nvidia driver. I also recommend using the freeware DDU tool to remove all traces of the old before installing the new.
5. Visit the Nvidia Driver Downloads page, and start trying older drivers, going back one version at a time… The recent entries in that list for my GeForce RTX 3070 Ti appear as the lead-in graphic for this story.

Today’s Fix Occurred Mid-way in Sequence

I got to Step 4 today before the blinking stopped. That’s a bit further than I usually have to go, but that’s Windows for you. I’m just glad I can concentrate on what’s showing on both displays, rather than how one or the other is (mis)behaving.

Some Windows errors or gotchas can be set aside and ignored for a while. Others — especially when they interfere with normal system operation — demand immediate attention. While today’s gotcha was one of the latter, it was familiar. Thus, I knew what to do, and how to do it, with minimum need for diagnosis and root cause analysis.

I just marched through the foregoing list and found my solution in under 10 minutes. I can only wish that all problems were so easily fixed. And that’s the way things are unfolding today, here in Windows World. Stay tuned: there’ll be more!

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Build 25174 May Drop Insider MSA

Here’s a nifty little gotcha. After upgrading my two Dev Channel test PCs earlier this week, I noticed something missing. As you can see in the lead-in graphic for this story, despite Insider membership in good standing beforehand, things were different afterward. Hence my warning: Build 25174 may drop Insider MSA info, as shown in the graphic. Both of test machines were likewise affected.

If Build 25174 May Drop Insider MSA, Then What?

If you click on the “Please link…” entry shown in the graphic, it will automatically open the “Sign-in” page that lets you choose the MSA (Microsoft Account) you wish to associate with the Insider build on the target PC. I simply picked the one I had already associated with the PCs before applying the upgrade. It took all of 15 seconds to fix.

So why am I telling you this? I can’t extrapolate from 2 machines to the entire Dev Channel population. But I can guess that if both my machines were so affected, other Insiders running Dev Channel builds may find the same thing when they check their Insider status after the upgrade.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? This reminds me of other oddities I’ve seen post-upgrade for earlier versions of Windows 10 and 11. For a long time, in fact, I had to check “Private” vs “Public” network status after such upgrades, and routinely reset them to my desired states. This strikes me as just another case in point.

Nothing in the 25174 announcement…

I just checked the 25174 announcement, and it makes no mention of this particular gotcha. I’m reporting this to feedback hub as I write this item and I see no similar reports amidst that collection. Perhaps this is idiosyncratic and only applies to my PCs. But I bet it’s not, so check yours, too, please. Cheers!

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Exploring Windows 11 Widgets

I just installed Build 25174 on both of my Dev Channel test machines. Upon reading that MS has included a new “Game Pass” widget with this release I decided to spend some time exploring Windows 11 widgets. I found what was promised, and spent some time. But I came away unready to surrender my beloved 8GadgetPack. Let me explain…

What Exploring Windows 11 Widgets Tells Me…

The lead-in graphic for this story shows the top part of “Add Widgets.”  In Windows 11, launch Widgets by clicking the weather bug, or the Winkey+W key combo.  The “Add Widgets” item appears under “Widget settings,” where I did indeed find Game Pass as shown in the screencap.

Here’s a list of currently-available widgets in two-column format:

* Family Safety        * Weather
* Watchlist            * Outlook Calendar
* To Do                * Photos
* Tips                 * Sports
* Traffic              * Entertainment
* Gaming               * Game Pass

Without exception, all of these items are news, event, or game oriented. That’s fine, but it doesn’t do for me what gadgets do. Sure, widgets can help you keep up with what’s going on in the world. But the gadgets I use tell me important stuff about my PC: I rely on CPU meter to see what my CPU is doing, Network Meter to see what’s up with the network, and so forth. The Control System gadget lets me restart or shut down any PC, including inside an RDP session (very handy).

Opening Up Widgets?

MS has promised for some time now it will open widgets up to third-party developers. Search on “3rd party windows widgets” to read numerous May 24, 2022, stories on this topic. But so far, none of this stuff has seen the light of day. I’m incredibly curious to see what fruit will spring from this vine. But until I see stuff that does what my gadgets already do, I will continue using 8GadgetPack and its great collection of useful, compact, always-visible desktop items.

Needless to say, I’m bursting with curiosity to see what outside developers will offer Windows 11 by way of widgets. I’m hopeful that it might include monitoring and management stuff like that included in the Gadgets collection. Stay tuned: I’ll let you know what’s included when these things start to appear. Should be interesting…

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Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure Raises Odd Issues

This is the part of playing with Windows that I love best. I’m researching different speeds for backup drives, ranging from a USB-C HDD drive caddy into the SSD realm. My objective is to see how fast an external USB-C drive can go, and to see if Thunderbolt support makes any difference.  I added a cheapo (US$29) NVMe enclosure to my line-up. But alas, that Thunderbolt 3 SSD enclosure raises odd issues. Let me explain…

Why Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure Raises Odd Issues

As far as I can tell, I went too far back in time with the first M.2 NVMe I tried out in the cheapo new NVMe enclosure. My initial attempt featured a 2016 vintage OEM Samsung MZVPV512HDGL SSD. It kept blowing up during write testing in CrystalDiskMark, and it wouldn’t make a Macrium Reflect backup.

So I cannibalized a newer ADATA XPG 256GB SSD (vintage 2020) from my Sabrent-enclosed Ventoy drive and tried that instead. It worked just fine, and got aggregate read/write speeds from Reflect of 5.7/3.0 Gbps when backing up my Lenovo X12 Hybrid Tablet. It includes a USB 3.2 version of USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 support. Total backup time on that system was 6:16 with 76.5 GB on the C: drive and under 1.5 GB on the other partitions. Figure 78 GB overall, that produces a physical time (no compression) of roughly 200 Mbps of ongoing read/write activity. By comparison an mSATA drive (vintage 2013) takes just under16 (15:56) minutes to complete the same backup. That’s more than 60% faster!

It’s All About the Speed

My best guess is that the older drive wasn’t sufficiently compatible with the PCIe x3/x4 requirements inside the NVMe enclosure. Once I switched over to something newer (and definitely PCIe x3 compliant), everything worked fine. I’ve got a brand-new PCIe x4 SSD coming today or tomorrow, and am hopeful the faster media will also produce faster transfer rates for backup, too. We’ll see!

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Buying Windows 11 Direct Online

OK, then: it’s finally happened. MS now makes downloadable Windows 11 available through its online store. The lead-in graphic pertains to Windows 11 Home, but there’s another, similar page for Windows 11 Pro. Prices are US$139 and US$199 respectively, which makes buying Windows 11 direct online an interesting proposition.

Why Is Buying Windows 11 Direct Online “Interesting?”

The prices for Home (US$139) and Pro (US$199) very much represent MSRP numbers. That is: they set the upper bound on what you must pay to acquire a legit Windows 11 license of either type. A quick search on “Windows 11 pro key purchase” or “Windows 11 home key purchase” shows plenty of etailers offering substantial discounts on those numbers. Some of them are so cheap, in fact, that I have trouble contemplating them as absolutely legit.

Even big etailers such as Newegg, Best Buy, CDW and so forth, offer discounted versions of these OSes. Admittedly some of those are for OEM use. Those are supposedly good only for a one-PC install on a machine for resale to a third party, but I’m not aware of MS enforcing that restriction on users purchasing such a license for appropriate use on any PC they own.

Why Buy From MS, Then?

Convenience, guaranteed legitimacy, and automatic licensing are probably the main reasons why some buyers will turn to MS for these license/download combinations. Those who know how to shop around can do better, to be sure. But those factors can be compelling for those leery of stepping afoul of scams and disallowed uses of seemingly legit license keys.

I’m more than just a little curious to see what kind of buying volumes emerge from this MS offer. Likewise, I’m hopeful MS may actually tell us something about ensuing activity. They don’t always share such data, though. Even official Windows user numbers come only sparsely — the last such “report” covered Windows 10 By The Numbers. It dates back before the pandemic.

 

 

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Weird Full-Screen RDP Effect

I still use Windows 10 on my production desktop, but I run half-a-dozen instances of Windows 11 right now. Lately, I’ve noticed that with screen size expanded to fit the left-hand monitor — but not maximized — I get a weird full-screen RDP effect. I lose the start menu at the bottom of the screen. As I said: weird!

What Is the Weird Full-Screen RDP Effect?

The lead-in graphic for this story shows what I’m talking about from the Start Menu perspective. Up top, we see a Windows 10 Start Menu that surprisingly shows up at the bottom of a “full-screen” Windows 11 RDP window. When I hit the maximize  button at upper right, the lower (and normal) Windows 11 start menu appears. (Note: I selected “left” alignment in the Task Manager options to make it show up there for purposes of comparison and contrast).

Needless to say, when I don’t notice this and click on the full-screen Windows 10 menu, it doesn’t do anything to the Windows 11 RDP window above. This is disconcerting, to say the least. At worst, I start thinking I’ve got problems and start unnecessary troubleshooting actions. Sigh.

Why/How Did This Weirdness Present?

For some reason, this happened to me the last time I updated the Nvidia driver on my production PC. It’s now running version 516.93, installed last week. After the install completed, all the open windows moved to the right-hand (primary) monitor. That’s normal. But what’s different is that maximized RDP windows changed “auto-magically” to full-screen (but not maximized) layouts. That led me to the source of confusion when I dragged those full-screen windows to the secondary (left-hand) monitor.

Again: Weird! But by looking very closely at what I was seeing, I eventually figured out what was going on. Now I make sure to click the maximize button when using RDP. That way, I see the maximized RDP session controls at the top of the screen (see below) and know that the start menu at bottom is the start menu I want to work within that window.

Weird Full-Screen RDP Effect.controls

And that, dear readers, is how things sometimes go in Windows-world. As JRRT put it “All that glitters is not gold; not all those who wander are lost.” I wandered a bit, but ultimately figured out what was weird and why.

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Build 25169 Gains Spotlight Background

Windows Spotlight is a gorgeous collection of nearly 2K images that MS brings to OS users. It appears by default in the hidden local app data folder associated with your login account (see below for a full path spec). Thus, it’s always available to those who know where to find it. But, starting right now, Dev Channel Build 25169 gains Spotlight background option in Settings → Personalization → Themes. It also shows up at the top of the Personalization pane, as shown in the lead-in graphic above. It’s boxed in red at the upper right corner of the six theme tabs showing there. Its mouseover text reads “Windows Spotlight, rotating background images.”

When Build 25169 Gains Spotlight Background Variety Folllows

The range and coverage of the Spotlight collection includes reams of nature photography, plus all kinds of other arresting images of great visual interest. Thus, the collection is worth exploring just to see and appreciate what’s there.

Find it at the following path specification (broken across multiple lines for readability: if you cut’n’paste to navigate there, you may need to paste it back together first):

C:\Users\<Account-name>\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.ContentDeliveryManager_cw5n1h2txyewy\LocalState\Assets

Please note: you’ll need to replace the place holder in the preceding string shown as <Account-name>. Use the label associated with your current logged-in account. In my case that’s “etitt” (a truncation of “etittel”). YMMV.

I Win at the Gradual Rollout Game, for Once!

Though the 25169 announcement is mum on this topic, 3rd-party reports on the Spotlight background option indicate that it’s another gradual rollout from MS. That means some Dev Channel users will see it on their desktops, while others won’t. To my astonishment and delight it showed up on my Dev Channel test PCs.

For once, I seem to have been included in the first wave of lucky participants. Good-oh!

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