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.

N&I Rollout Hits Production PCs

It’s heeeeeeeere! The Dell Optiplex 7080, with its 10th-generation i7 CPU, popped up with News & Interests (N&I) in the notification area. This followed after updating to KB5001030. I’d read this was underway. But I now have personal, tangible evidence that the N&I rollout hits production PCs. Now the question becomes: how long will the rollout take to get to other, older PCs?

I See That N&I Rollout Hits Production PCs

You can see it, too, in the lead-in graphic for this story. It shows the Winver.exe  window just above the notification area, including the “weather bug” for N&I. So far, this is the only 19042 or 19043 PC (I have 5 of them altogether) on which N&I has made an appearance.

As you can read in this Windows Latest story, the rollout is underway. But I can tell you from personal observation that it’s hit fewer rather than more of its potential targets at the moment. Here’s how the afore-linked story explains things:

Unfortunately, the feature isn’t available yet for all users, according to several user reports. It looks like a wider rollout is not expected until the end of the month.

That story also concludes with the following statements:

News and Interests feed will be enabled automatically with a server-side update. More users are expected to receive the feature on May 11, while others will get it by the end of the month or in June.

I’m inclined to go along with this, though I do find myself wondering where and how they come up with this information. There hasn’t been much discussion about how rollouts work from MS itself, except to say that it starts out with a smaller population of PCs, and gradually extends its coverage to includes a larger population over time. Seems like the veracity of the timing will be demonstrated in the next 7 to 8 weeks. We’ll see!


In-Place Repair Upgrade Gotcha

If you’ve been following my recent adventures with Dev Channel feature upgrades and WU updates lately, you already know I’ve been struggling a bit. Yesterday, when the 21370 build emerged, it installed just fine on my 2018-vintage Lenovo X380 Yoga. Alas, it got stuck at 0% download on my 2012-vintage Lenovo X220 Tablet. I simply couldn’t get WU to download the file. So I built an ISO for 21371 from Then I installed it by mounting the ISO, and running setup.exe from its root directory. Only this morning did I notice an in-place repair upgrade gotcha bit me. You can see it in the lead-in graphic for this story.

What Is the In-Place Repair Upgrade Gotcha?

A common Windows 10 repair technique is to run setup.exe from the same version of Windows against itself. Hence the term: “in-place repair upgrade.” This is really running an upgrade from setup.exe inside the next version ISO, but works the same way.

The gotcha, as shown in the story’s lead-in graphic, is that the Feature Upgrade info is absent from Update History. You can plainly see at left that the X220 is running 21370.1. But there’s no record of that install in the Update History at the right. It shows the preceding build — 21364, dated 4/21/2021 — as the most recent Feature Upgrade.

A Return to Normal Behavior Beats the Gotcha

I’m guessing that because Windows Update did not handle that upgrade, it also didn’t record it in Update History, either. Stands to reason, I presume. This is a go-to strategy for me when I cannot use WU to perform a Feature Upgrade. So I’ll just have to learn to live with that missing history entry when I take that alternate route.

Now that I know it works this way, I can understand what’s going on. Hopefully, it will shed some light on an apparent anomaly to other Windows Insiders. I’ll also take this opportunity to make a request of the Insider Team: Please change Update History behavior to record ALL Feature Updates applied to a PC, whether manually or through WU. Sounds easy, but may be a huge PITA. We’ll see how they respond!


Update Download Stuck Forces Interesting Maneuvers

Here’s something I’ve not run into before. In trying to update my production PC to KB5001391 I found the download phase of the update stuck at 0% indefinitely. “No problem,” thought I, “I’ll download the .MSU file from the Microsoft Catalog.” Yeah, right!

Update Download Stuck Forces Interesting Maneuvers.stuck-at-zero
Update Download Stuck Forces Interesting Maneuvers.stuck-at-zero

I guess the Catalog is smart enough to avoid duplicate, parallel downloads. It wouldn’t let me download the MSU file to that PC. So I jumped on one of my test machines, and downloaded the file there. Then I copied it over the network, and installed it by double-clicking its MSU file. This took a while longer than I was expecting (around 5 minutes or so) but it did work.

Why Update Download Stuck Forces Interesting Maneuvers

I can only speculate that WU informs the OS that it’s already downloading the requested KB item on that PC. Thus, clicking the download link from the catalog does nothing. That said, it worked as expected on a different PC, so I found a two-step workaround where a single step wouldn’t cut it. Please keep that in mind if you ever find yourself in this boat.

More Update Weirdness Follows

After the reboot to install KB5001391, I see it is installed in Update History. Nevertheless, Windows Update still shows me it’s available as an “Optional quality update…” (see screencap following).

Update Download Stuck Forces Interesting Maneuvers.2nd offer

Even though it’s already installed (and showing in Update History), I get another offer anyway. Sigh.

Of course, I am compelled to click the “Download and install” button to see what happens. When I do that, the Windows Update page comes back in about 30 seconds with nothing to download nor any status or error message to explain itself, either. I guess it figured out the update was already installed, and withdrew the offer. That’s a reasonably intelligent thing to do. Checking Reliability Monitor, I see no error reports about this there, either. So it looks like a clean save, so to speak. I’m glad!


Pondering Amazon Fire HD vs. iPad

Today’s disquisition is a bit off the beaten track and brings Windows 10 to bear only tangentially. My family is in the market for another tablet, primarily for reading and media consumption. I’ve already owned an iPad 2 (now retired) and currently own an iPad Air 2 (2014 vintage). You’d think I’d buy another iPad, right? But the model I want (iPad Air, 256 GB, cellular) costs a whopping US$879 at the Apple Store right now. And then, there’s a new generation of Fire HD tablets about to arrive, at less than half that cost. By the time I add in a cover and keyboard, it’s more like a 2.5:1 cost ratio. Frankly, that’s what has me pondering Amazon Fire HD vs. iPad.

Price Provokes Pondering Amazon Fire HD vs. iPad

On the plus side, the iPad offers more power, lighter weight, and higher screen readability. On the minus side, it ends up costing $700 more for more or less the same capability, most of the time. At 12 hours versus 10 hours of battery life, the Amazon Fire HD comes out ahead on untethered operation, too. Then too, the Fire HD Plus Pack costs under US$300. The device even accommodates a MicroSD card for added storage capability (which the iPad does not, though you can attach storage through its input port, using a special US$13 to 20 adapter).

What’s fascinating to me, though, is the front-and-center add-in on the Fire HD of a Microsoft 365 subscription. Though it means you can use the unit for web-based Office right away, I’m also convinced it will be usable as a Cloud PC client (as will the iPad also, no doubt) when that comes out later this year. Thus, either platform will serve as a “thin client” for my Windows 10 stuff sooner or later.

To me that raises the very real question of why I should spend 333% more to get an iPad? Shoot, it looks like Fire HD can do most of what I need for substantially less. For a lot of people, I’m thinking that’s exactly what Amazon wants. I may just try it, and see what happens!


1.3 Billion Active Devices Run Windows 10

Today, April 27, MS held its quarterly earnings call for Q3’FY2021. Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet reports that among the many items the company shared was a disclosure that 1.3 billion active devices run Windows 10. Yes, that’s “Billion,” with a B.  To the best of my knowledge that makes Windows 10 the most widely used PC software of any kind. Last year, MS trumpeted it out that Windows 10 had cracked the 1B mark in March. 13 months later, that number has grown 30%.

If 1.3 Billion Active Devices Run Windows 10, Then What?

MS is careful to identify active devices, because it can count how many copies of Windows 10 are checking in for updates and such. As somebody in a household with 3 people and 10 PCs (all running some version of Windows 10) I can understand why they use that terminology.

I have two things to say about 1.3 B active devices:

  1. That’s a lot of devices, and a pretty big installed based for MS to support and maintain.
  2. Statista puts the global number of Android users at 1.6 B as of 2019, and claims 3.5 B smartphone users as of 2020. I’m guessing there could be over 2 B Android users worldwide now with the number of android devices higher than that. There are about 3 Android users for every iOS user, so that total population is probably around 2.67 B.

The Windows 10 user/device population looks like a monster (and probably is). But it’s not as big a monster as smartphone OS population, which currently outnumbers it at least 2-to-1. That ratio is bound to keep expanding in the smartphone’s favor, because so many people in the third world are getting those devices (and may never, ever own a PC of any kind).

From Small Things, Big Things Can Come

From the perspective of the Microsoft Cloud, and  Cloud PC’s ability to use smartphones as “thin clients” for virtual PCs in the cloud, this all looks absolutely fascinating. It’s no wonder that MS is working to bring Azure everywhere, and ready to let smartphone users remote into more capable, data-enriched and powerful apps and services from “the small screen.”

This should make the next few years extremely interesting, especially as it regards the future evolution and expanded use of (remote) Windows. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you apprised of what’s going on…


Defender Update Download Circumvents Stuck 21364

It’s been a struggle to get the latest Dev Channel Insider Build updated lately. I’ve already described how KB 5001030 and KB5003397 aren’t working on my test machines. Lately, Defender has been stuck as well. That’s how I learned that a Defender update download circumvents stuck 21364.

Normally, you can simply open the Windows Security item in Settings → Windows Update. Next,  you can forcibly get Defender to update by clicking “Protection updates” under “Virus & threat protection updates.” Not this time! This mostly-infallible workaround throws an “update failed” error. It explains further it “can’t check for definition updates” (see lead-in graphic).

Shoot! I even tried the command line program MpCmdRun.exe. First, I cleared the Defender signatures (that worked). Then I tried to download a new set (that failed). This time, apparently update downloads are well and truly stuck. For the record neither the Update Troubleshooter, nor the TenForums WU Reset batch file worked, either.

Thus: Defender Update Download Circumvents Stuck 21364

Relief is available from the “Latest Security Intelligence…”  MS Security Intelligence web page for Defender. I provide its URL because it’s more informative than that title: If you scroll down this page, you’ll find a section entitled “Manually Download the Update.” Follow the link that matches your Windows 10 version and you’ll download a program named mpam-fe.exe.

If you run this program it will (a) update your Defender signatures, but (b) provide no interaction or feedback. That holds, even if you run the program as administrator. The only way to tell it worked is to check the timestamp for Last Update in Windows Security → Virus & threat protection under the “Virus & threat protection settings.” After you run this program, you’ll see a timestamp that reflects a the recent past. It’s too stealthy for my sensibilities, but it does work.

I’m OK without CUs and Such, But…

When update trouble rears its head on Insider Previews, I’ve learned to cope. I’ve also learned it’s essential to be patient when MS goes into “break-fix” mode. That is, when they acknowledge something is broken and promise to fix it “soon.” And to the Insider Team’s credit most such fixes come sooner rather than later.

But I can’t accept an inability to update Defender on my test machines, where’s its my only anti-malware defense. That’s why I’m glad I’ve now learned how to manually download and install signatures to keep safe, even when updates gets stuck, as they sometime do. So while they’re still stuck for 21364, I’ll use this web page to update daily just to be safe…

Note Added 6 Hours Later

Just for grins, I tried out the old Windows Update MiniTool (WUMT) on my stuck test machines. It was happy to download and install the Defender updates for me. But it did not “see” the two problem KBs until I resumed updates in WU. Acting on advice from the Insider Team that I should be able to install the .NET update, I tried that inside WUMT on my Lenovo X220 Tablet and X380 Yoga It reported it was downloading, then installing, for each of the two problem updates. But alas while KB5003397 succeeded on the X220 Tablet, it failed on the X380 Yoga. And KB5001030 worked on neither machine, even using WUMT. Go figure!


21364 Update Woes Continue

OK, then: i’ve recently reported a documented issue with KB5001030. It’s a CU Preview for .NET 3.5 and 4.8 and has been documented in the 21364 release announcement as a “known issue.” But now, a new cumulative update KB5003397 — a so-called “do-nothing update” which “does not include anything new and is designed to test our servicing pipeline” is out. However, my 21364 update woes continue because now I can’t install either one of these new updates. Sigh.

Nothing happens, in fact, when I try to update my Lenovo X220 Tablet. As the lead-in graphic above shows, it hangs while downloading at 0% completion. Running the update troubleshooter or even the TenForums Update Reset Batch Script doesn’t help either. Thus I say: my Dev Channel machines are stuck, going nowhere fast!

What Does 21364 Update Woes Continue Mean?

It means I can’t update either of my Dev Channel Insider Preview test machines successfully right now. I also think it means that I’m waiting on the next Feature Upgrade (a new version, in other words) to get things moving again. It’s a little hard to tell.

My gut feeling is the update pipeline is currently blocked for Dev Channel images (on my two test machines, at least). Usually, when things go sideways with Insider Preview updates I can figure out some way to get around the roadblock, though.

Later on today, or perhaps tomorrow, I’ll visit and see if they’ve got a 21364 image that can slipstream in those two troublesome updates. If so, I’ll build an ISO and use it to perform an in-place repair upgrade as a workaround. Right now, I’m increasingly convinced it might be my only way around this roadblock.

Stay tuned! I’ll report back and let you know if that works. It’s possible that working offline on the image might get around whatever is interfering online (it often does). We’ll see…


RTFM Illuminates 21364 Install Error

If you’re going to walk the Windows Insider path, it really, really, really helps to read Build announcement blog posts. These pop up like clockwork on the Windows Blogs. Thus it was for Build 21364, the latest Dev Channel Insider Build released April 21. Although my problem didn’t make the first cut of that blog post, the Insider Team quickly added a note about it when reports started flooding in. It shows up as the lead-in graphic above, in fact. And indeed it shows that RTFM Illuminates 21364 Install Error by taking responsibility for install issues with KB5001030, and promising a forthcoming fix.

After I got through the upgrade install, a notice to install KB5001030 Cumulative Update Preview for .NET Framework 3.5 and 4.8 appeared on my two Dev Channel PCs. On one of them, it sailed through to completion (the Lenovo X220 Tablet, vintage 2012). On the other (the Lenovo X380 Yoga vintage 2018) it failed repeatedly. Here’s what WU says about this on the X380:

RTFM Illuminates 21364 Install Error.WUerror

Even after a complete WU reset, the error persists. That’s when I re-checked the announcement post…

How RTFM Illuminates 21364 Install Error

You’ve already seen what I found in the blog post when I went back to check again. This terminated my WU troubleshooting immediately. Thanks to this text “We are working on a fix for a future build.” I knew this was not something I could fix on my own.

I must say the Insider Team is doing a bang-up job lately in acknowledging and responding to issues as they break. In that same vein, the issue I reported here in my Tuesday item about “News & Interests Follies” has already been fixed. Both of my Dev Channel test machines now have a working News & Interests item that behaves as it should. Still waiting on same on my Beta and Release Preview channel test machines, though…

In closing, I will say I’ve learned through experience to read announcement blogs for new Insider releases carefully. This is the first time that a return to said announcement has conferred additional illumination. But it’s emphatically not the first time such an announcement has informed me of pending issues, so I can steer clear or work around them. Good stuff!


CloudPC Inching Toward Completion

The unstoppable and always well-informed MJF (Mary Jo Foley) has struck gold once again. In an April 20 ZDNet story (on whose lede my own title plays) she provides a much-appreciated CloudPC update. Indeed it seems that with CloudPC inching toward completion, even I can get a rejection attempting to login to the service (code-named Deschutes). Said rejection appears as the lead-in graphic for this story.

With CloudPC Inching Toward Completion, What’s Next?

MJF’s speculation that CloudPC is already in test seems proven by my failed attempt to login to (shown above). She makes a pretty good case that MS will open those floodgates this summer (June or July). I concur with her idea that MS would want subscriptions ready for sale in time for its July Inspire partner conference.

Otherwise, the elements of Cloud PC have stayed in line with earlier information:

  • It’s an Azure powered service through which users can access a remote Windows desktop to run Office and more, using their own devices as thin clients
  • Cloud PC works as a “managed Office 365 experience at a flat per-user price” (it’s a fee-based subscription service, rather than a pay-as-you-go Azure consumption thing)
  • MSPowerUser reports it will come in three flavors (Lite, Standard, and Advanced, each with specific RAM, virtual CPU and SSD storage endowments)
  • MSPowerUser also reports that any Cloud PC, once configured, will also be accessible using the Remote Desktop app (UWP version; support ID bfaed054-6efa-4b63-8f9a-5b80f868631a) on Windows 10, macOS, iOS and Android device

Only Time Will Tell…

If the foregoing rumors, timeframes and speculations bear any relationship to reality. MS still isn’t saying much directly, as is typical for as-yet-unreleased products. But with June/July now only 6-10 weeks away, we’ll know soon enough if any of these notions are valid. Stay tuned: as always, I’ll keep you posted.

Fascinating stuff, though: can’t wait to try it out. I hope subscriptions are available in small numbers at a not-too-big cost. If so, I’ll be singing up, just to learn and experiment.


News & Information Insider Follies Continue

OK, then. It was supposed to be easy. For both Beta Channnel (Build 19043.962) and Release Preview (19042.962) recent CUs are supposed to include News & Interests, too. (See the lead-in graphic for the release announcement blog post.) As I reported here last Friday, all Dev Channel Insiders who installed Build 21359 were finally on equal footing for this nifty notification bar widget. But alas, it seems that News & Information Insider follies continue. In other words, I updated to these latest versions but see no sign of N&I on either Taskbar. Sigh.

To What End Do News & Information Insider Follies Continue?

No good end, I suppose. But it’s not like I haven’t seen this before. And it’s not just me, either: I see other Insiders reporting similar experiences in the WIMVP  Yammer forums and on Feedback Hub. Obviously, there’s something interesting going on here. I’m not sure if it’s pervasive or spotty, but at least it’s widespread enough that others have noticed the same thing I did.

Gosh, though: I’m a little disappointed. I’d been getting ready to start messing with the manage interests controls in Edge. The My Interests page, Discover Interests settings govern what shows up in the supporting News & Interests detail. I’d hoped to do some tweaking on my Beta Channel and Release Preview test machines.

Hoping for Response or Help Soon!

Given that the Insider Team is already aware of this issue, I’m guessing it will be addressed soon. Whether it’s in a forthcoming CU or quality update sometime remains TBD.

All I can say at this point is that N&I has proved a great deal more interesting to install and use than I’d expected it to be. I’m wondering if its Edge tie-in isn’t somehow connected to its MIA status. When I saw I needed to update Edge to Version 90.0.818.42 this morning, I was half-way convinced this would make N&I visible. But alas, the pessimistic half of that sentiment proved true.

Stay tuned! I’ll update this post when a fix, or some other official response, appears. And today, that’s how things go in Windows World.

Note Added April 21 (1 Day After Original Post)

In response to my inquiry to the Insider Team, I got a tweet back that reads “It’s slowly rolling out for those builds. Appreciate your patience. :)” Now we know that it should show up on all 19042 and 19043 (Release Preview and Beta Channel builds, respectively) sometime soon, but not just yet. Better to know, than to wonder fruitlessly!

My Insider contact clarified further that “rolling out” means a gradual, incremental release, not an all-at-once available-to-everybody release. Helps to understand the terminology, right? Now I know, and hopefully you do too (if you didn’t know already).