Category Archives: Cool Tools

Playing Windows Sandbox Games

Yesterday, I found myself needing to visit some “geographically suspect” websites. Let’s just say they’re in a country much in the recent news. For added, protection I wanted to use the Windows Sandbox, a runtime environment that creates a temporary VM based on your current running image. Once you close it, all traces of its presence disappear. That’s a good thing, when you want no uninvited leftovers later on. Thus, I found myself playing Windows Sandbox games yesterday for the first time on Windows 11.

Steps in Playing Windows Sandbox Games

When I typed Sandbox into one of my Windows test PCs, nothing happened. Indeed, it’s been long enough since I set up Sandbox on Windows 10 I’d forgotten some specific preliminaries are needed:

1. Because Windows Sandbox is a kind of virtual machine (VM), virtualization must be enabled.
2. If you don’t seek to launch Sandbox inside  another VM, you don’t need to worry about nested virtualization. Otherwise, a PowerShell command is needed (see this How-to-Geek article for the specifics).
3. Finally, you have to open “Turn Windows features on or off” and then specifically enable “Windows Sandbox (checkbox checked).

The lead-in graphic shows the bottom portion of the scrolling list inside the “Windows Features” applet in Control Panel. You can get there many ways. I typed “Windows Features” into the Start menu search box and it came right up. The same approach in Settings search works, too.

After the Checkbox, Windows Takes Over

When you click OK after checking the Windows Sandbox checkbox, the Windows installer takes over. It grabs and installs the necessary files to add Sandbox to the target system. At the end of its labors it will tell you “Windows needs to reboot your PC to finish installing the requested changes” (see below). Click the “Restart now” button at lower right.

Playing Windows Sandbox Games.restart-to-run

Once it’s done, click Restart now to complete the install.

After the PC comes back to the desktop, Sandbox will be ready to use. It certainly did the trick for the various websites I wanted to visit both safely and securely. Here’s a snapshot of the resulting sandbox desktop.

I use PatchMyPC to install Chrome and other tools for a more familiar, usable Sandbox. [Click image for full-size view.]


Windows 11 Widgets Need Improved Stability

OK, then. I just happened to check Reliability Monitor (ReliMon) on one of my Windows 11 test PCs. I’d been using it as the platform to put Widgets through their paces late last week. If you look to the right-hand of the reliability graph, you’ll see it craters as I do so. In fact, between June 22 and 27 CoreWidgetProvider accounts for 9 of 11 MoAppCrash errors inside the Dev Home app over that 6-day period. Hence my assertion: Windows 11 Widgets Need Improved Stability.

Why Say: Windows 11 Widgets Need Improved Stability?

Simply put: that’s a LOT of crashing just for using Widgets through Dev Home. For the record MoAppCrash is shorthand for Mobile Application Crash, and goes to the coreclr.dll element in that app. Methinks MS Needs to check this out and figure out how to boost its uptime or resilience. AFAICT this comes from pinning Widgets to the Dev Home dashboard and letting them run. That should be a pretty non-controversial action, right?

That said, the full name of Dev Home right now is indeed “Dev Home (Preview).” That means it’s not fully cooked yet. So you knew there had to be something about it that might not be ready for prime time. What do you bet this is part of that in some way?

What to Do? What to Do?

I’ll be reporting this to Feedback Hub. If you see it on your PCs you should do likewise,  or upvote my item. If MS really wants to supplant Vista Gadgets with Widgets, looks like they’ve got some work to do!



WinGet Chrome Update Follies Continue

There are many occasions when I run WinGet and it tells me Chrome needs an update. Sometimes, WinGet handles that update; other times it does not. I just pushed my luck, and got more information about why that happens. It’s shown in the lead-in graphic, and indicates a change in the “install technology” is involved. In such a start-stop fashion, my WinGet Chrome update follies continue…

Yes/No: WinGet Chrome Update Follies Continue

WinGet is inherently conservative by design. If the developers change something about the installer WinGet calls to handle updates, it won’t force that update. As you can see in the lead-in graphic, when I explicitly tell WinGet to update Chrome (e.g. winget upgrade references the package name) it gives me an informative error message instead:

A newer version was found, but the install technology is different from the current version installed. Please uninstall the package and install the newer version.

OTOH, if I fire up Chrome, then click on Help → About, it’s happy to update itself at my behest. See?

WinGet Chrome Update Follies Continue.internal-update

The internal update facility in Chrome doesn’t care about “install technology.” It just runs.

The advice in the WinGet message thus really targets using WinGet to perform the upgrade. Indeed if you run this sequence of commands:

WinGet uninstall Google.Chrome

WinGet install Google.Chrome

then Winget will achieve the desired result of updating Chrome. In the past, I’ve speculated that if Chrome is running, the update might not happen. Now that I see this error message, this looks like a much more likely explanation.

But wait…!

I tried this on another test PC just now, and on that machine the Chrome update proceeded without any issue. Go figure!

Maybe it is a case of whether or not a Chrome process is running. On the other test PC it had just been rebooted, so no such potential complications were present. It’s always something, right?


Moment 3 Dev VMs Now Available

OK, then. I read a June 25 story on Neowin with great interest. It’s entitled “Microsoft releases free Windows 11 virtual machines with the Moment 3 update .” If you visit the MS webpage that the story covers, you’ll find VMs to download for VMWare, Hyper-V (Gen2), VirtualBox and Parallels. Inside each VM is a running instance of Windows 11 Enterprise, Visual Studio 2022 Community edition, WSL for Linux 2 (Ubuntu), Windows Terminal, with developer mode turned on. Hence my title here: “Moment 3 Dev VMs Now Available.”

Moment 3 Dev VMs Now Available:
20+ GB Download

Because Hyper-V is my virtualization tool of choice, that’s the version I downloaded to try out on a test PC. That download is about 21GB in size, and took me a good 4 minutes to download over a fairly fast connection.

Once you get over that hump, you’ll find a .vhdx file inside the ZIP folder that’s  a hefty 40+GB in size. UnZip same, and you’ll be able to open that VM inside Hyper-V. I’d recommend doing so from an NVMe SSD, which for many users will mean their system drive. Thus, make sure you’ve got the room!

I’d also recommend deleting the ZIP file once you’ve extracted its contents just to save some space. If you have the expanded file, you don’t need to keep the ZIPped version around. On an 8th gen 4-core i7 CPU (8650U @ 1.9 GHz) laptop, it took just under 5 minutes to unZIP the VM (4:55).

Moment 3 Dev VMs Now Available.unzip

This hefty ZIP file takes a while to unpack…4:55 on my test PC.

Once you’ve got the .vhdx file unzipped, you simply need to create a new VM inside Hyper-V (Gen 2, 4096 MB RAM, default switch). You can then double click the VM inside Hyper-V to launch, and you’ll get a complete Windows 11 instance with all the aforementioned goodies up and running. It took about 4 minutes on my Yoga X380 ThinkPad test PC to get to the desktop shown in lead-in graphic.

Other than the time it takes to download, install and start up, the process is dead easy. Try it for yourself and you’ll see. The only downside is that this is an eval copy of Windows that ages out on September 23, 2023. Thus, it won’t last very long!


Teams App vs. Application Update Conundrum

I’m chuckling as I report this. Right now many people — including me — run both the app and the application version of Microsoft Teams on their Windows 10 and/or 11 PCs. I’ve been sussing out another update mystery in keeping Teams current, and have finally figured it out . . . I think. It seems there’s an easily overlooked Teams app vs application update conundrum in play. The Microsoft Store keeps the app version current on its own; regular applications often require human intervention for updates.  And to make things more interesting, this is apparently a case where WinGet isn’t always equipped with pointers to the latest, greatest update packages. Sigh.

One more thing: Because the Teams application runs as part of the Office (365 or 2019 or later “dated versions”) running update in Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and so on also takes care of the Teams application update. Good to know!

Solving the Teams App vs. Application Update Conundrum

I started twigging to my issue when I saw two entries for Microsoft Teams in my update scanner SUMo. Winget told me one of those instances was an application (ID: Microsoft.Teams; version was most current, but I was still running The other one was an app (ID: MicrosoftTeams_8wekyb3d8bbwe; version 23134.300.2089.5908; the _*weky… string in the ID is what tells you it’s an app, BTW).

That led to my “Aha!” moment. Microsoft Store keeps apps up to date pretty darn well without requiring human intervention. Regular applications, not so much. So I had to fire up the application, log in, navigate into Settings, and tell it to “Check for updates.” That did the trick, after which Teams was finally up-to-date. Amusingly it’s now running version — a higher version number than the SUMo recommendation that twigged me to this interesting issue in the first place. Go figure!

Keeping Windows apps and applications up-to-date is always interesting. In cases like this one, in fact, it may even be a little too interesting. But it’s always fun to figure things out.


WizTree v4.14 Mystery Finally Resolved

I must say I’m relieved. I keep in touch with Kyle Katarn. He’s the principal developer of Software Update Monitor (aka SUMo) and a bunch of other interesting software. Lately, SUMo’s been reporting there’s an update available for WizTree. But I’ve neither been able to find it, nor has the most recent available download resolved the discrepancy, either. Sigh. But this morning, the WizTree v4.14 mystery finally resolved itself. Indeed, its download page finally refers to — and makes available — the very version that SUMo recommends. See it in the lead-in graphic above.

Download Means WizTree v4.14 Mystery Finally Resolved

Even though it’s dated June 6 in that screencap, I swear by all that’s holy it’s only showed up on the download page recently. Somehow, Kyle’s data analysis tools figured out what was coming long before it actually appeared. This happens sometimes, when you use update tools that scan the web to figure out that new versions of existing apps may be available.

I’ve noticed, and reported, at least ten times a week lately that SUMo occasionally recommends things before they’re ready for consumption. And sometimes, it even recommends beta or preview versions of software instead of production ones. From messaging with Kyle I understand that’s because his tools pay close attention to version numbers. Apparently, that means the occasional false positive that selects an item based on version number even when that version isn’t yet ready for widespread distribution and use.

To his great credit, Kyle asked me to report these things to him as and when I find them. I do, and he almost always fixes them the same day (often within an hour or two). Indeed, I’m pretty impressed with his responsiveness and can-do attitude,

Enough! Or too much?

That balancing act actually comes from William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell (1793). It’s as true today as it was then. And it describes the kind of dancing on a knife’s edge that tracking updates demands. One must be just aggressive enough to catch everything, everywhere, all the time. But one can’t be so aggressive as to recommend updates that aren’t yet generally available, or that shouldn’t be put forward. That means recognizing and steering clear of previews, alpha and beta test versions, and so forth, even though they almost always bear higher version numbers.

Things can get tricky from time to time, tracking and managing updates here in Windows-World. Yet somehow, we manage to carry on. Whether or not we also keep calm at the same time tends to vary…



File Explorer Restart Fixes Start Menu

I don’t know what I — or Windows itself — did. But I do know for sure that when I logged into my production PC this morning, Start Menu search was broken. I could type anything I wanted into the search bar. But each search came up empty. I could still navigate to apps alphabetically, so I knew something odd or interesting was up. Fortunately, among its many other good qualities, a File Explorer restart fixes Start Menu, too.

How File Explorer Restart Fixes Start Menu

The lead-in graphic shows how it’s done. Fire up Task Manager (I like to use the CTRL-Shift-Esc shortcut, but you can right-click on the Taskbar to get at it through a pop-up menu, too). Find Windows Explorer (I still think of it by its older name as in the title for this blog post), right-click, and select “Restart” from the pop-up menu.

As the term indicates, this basically kills the runtime environment for Windows/File Explorer, which includes the Start Menu, the taskbar, and other stuff, as well as any and all open Explorer windows. All this gets restarted afresh. And when that happens, the new and pristine runtime usually works as it should.

Case in point this morning: my broken Start Menu search function started working again. I cheerfully confess I simply wanted to play Solitaire. But typing “Sol” into the search box did nothing for me. The fix took less than 10 seconds to complete, though. And when it was done it was back to “Windows business as usual.”

Good! That’s just what I wanted… Keep this in your hat: it’s sure to come in handy someday here in Windows-World.


Windows 11 Restore Point Pros&Cons

I’ve got to admit it: I’m of two minds about restore points in modern Windows versions — especially Windows 11. I found myself chewing over Windows 11 restore point pros&cons this morning, as I used WizTree to check my boot/system drive on some test PCs. Let me explain…

Exploring Windows 11 Restore Point Pros&Cons

Let’s start with a basic definition courtesy of Gavin Wright/TechTarget:

A system restore point is a backup copy of important Windows operating system (OS) files and settings that can be used to recover the system to an earlier point of time in the event of system failure or instability. It is a part of Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10, 11 and Windows Server. They are created automatically or manually. System restore points only affect OS and application files, but not user data.

I confess: up through and including versions of Windows 8, I used to use Restore Points a LOT. But since the introduction of Windows 10 in 2014/2015 — quite some time now — I’ve been using daily or weekly image backups on my production and test PCs almost exclusively. These protect user preferences, settings, and data as well as the “important OS files” mentioned in the preceding definition. For me, it’s also faster and easier to restore an image backup than it is to do likewise with a restore point (and with less certain results). FWIW, I still use Macrium Reflect Free as my primary backup and restore tool. (I use the paid-for version on production PCs.)

Restore Point Pros

If, as shown in the lead-in graphic, you have restore points turned on, Windows will make them for you automatically or manually. They’re created automatically when you apply Windows updates. Likewise, many application installers are built to make a restore point early on in their operation, so they can roll back to a point in time prior to their actions in case something goes wrong. Also, you can create a manual store point by clicking the “Create” button shown at the lower right in the lead-in graphic. If you do choose to use restore points, I also recommend grabbing and trying out Nic Bedford’s System Restore Explorer as well. IMO, it’s easier to use and more comprehensive than the built-in Windows facility.

Restore points are easy, somewhat automated and cover many OS or runtime issues. This makes them easy and convenient to use, especially for less savvy and sophisticated Windows users. In a nutshell, those are the pros for restore points.

Restore Point Cons

In using WizTree to explore a couple of my test machines this morning, I was reminded of one of the cons for restore points — namely, they can soak up a fair amount of disk space. When I use the “Delete all restore points…” option on one of my Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga PCs this morning, here’s what WizTree showed as deleted immediately afterward:

Windows 11 Restore Point Pros Cons.WizTree

All in all I recovered almost 6 GB of disk space by deleting all restore points.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

The impact of restore points can be up to the size limit you set aside for such use. As shown in the lead-in graphic, that’s 19.05 GB for my “other” X380 Yoga test PC. If you’re making image backups and restore points, it’s a good idea to allocate no more than 1% or 10GB (whichever is less) for such use.

Besides space issues, I’ve observed that restore points don’t protect you from unwanted registry changes (including preferences, settings, use of tweak tools and so forth). Nor do they restore user or application data files and such, either. In general, I favor image files because they include absolutely everything that might get changed — or go wrong.

That said, if you use an image restore, you will lose any new files or changes you’ve made since the time at which that image was captured. Thus, it may be necessary for you to run a “mini-backup” to save that stuff to a flash drive or other external media before restoring the most recent image so you lose less (or nothing). Because Reflect lets me mount an image as a virtual drive, I often make another image of my broken system just in case I need something from that set-up after I revert to my most recent saved image.

What’s Your Preference?

On your Windows PCs, you can do as you like with backups and restores (including restore points). I don’t use them anymore because they don’t bail me out of all the trouble I often get myself into. If your usage patterns are less experimental or extreme, restore points may indeed meet all your needs. Even so, I’d still recommend periodic image backups just in case they don’t work to get you of some of the jams you may occasionally get into. But again: that’s up to you!


Chasing Canary Focus Sessions

I have to laugh — or, at least, chuckle. After reading about a new Focus sessions widget at MSPowerUser I went chasing after same. I should have known it might not be as available as one might hope. It’s on gradual release. Indeed, it shows up only in one of two of its possible haunts. After chasing Canary Focus sessions for a while, let me explain how I figured this out.

Chasing Canary Focus Sessions
May Yield Mixed Results

The first key to focus sessions is an update to the Clock app. It needs to get to version 11.2305.6.0 (or higher). That should come easily, courtesy of a quick hop into the Microsoft Store’s Library tab, where clicking the “Get updates” button should true up a Canary PC or VM. Indeed, as you can see in the app window from Clock that appears at the head of this blog post, “Focus sessions” is the first element in its left-hand menu (also expanded to fill the right-hand pane as shown).

But a pane in a Windows 11 app is not a widget. So I went to both places where one might expect to find such a thing with mixed results:

1. To the Dev Home (Preview) app, where one can click the “+Add widget” button on its Dashboard pane to pin another widget thereto. But alas, the list of available widgets does not include “Focus session” amidst its still-limited set of offerings.

2. To the news/weather bug on the Canary task bar, where clicking on same opens a larger panel that includes this entry:

Chasing Canary Focus Sessions.add-button

After clicking “Add them now” I *DO* see “Focus session” as an available item. Clicking same produces the Focus session widget at the top of the expanded news/weather bug window. Goody!

Chasing Canary Focus Sessions.focus widget

What Did I Just Learn?

Only some widgets make it onto the Dev Home (Preview) dashboard. Many more are available through the expanded news/weather bug pane. For the time being, it looks like the Focus session widget is one of the latter, but not one of the former. That’s one specific lesson learned.

The bigger implication is that not all new widgets that MS announces will pop up in both places. Only some will make it into the Dev Home dashboard, while all should indeed appear through the expanded news/weather bug. Consider yourself so informed.


Tracking Minor Updates Poses Diminishing Returns

Here’s a question whose best practices answer may save admins time and effort. While indeed many developers now push regular updates for their software, not all are equally urgent. Why? Because whereas some updates add valuable new functionality or plug serious security gaps, others may not introduce much of note. That’s why, IMO, tracking minor updates poses diminishing returns against the time and effort required to find, download, and install them.

A case in point appears in the lead-in graphic. Antibody’s WizTree is a tree graph oriented disk space layout visualization and management tool. You’ll notice that winget doesn’t track release numbers past the first sub version level (e.g. 4.14 is what its “show” sub-command displays, and what its “list” sub-command finds on the target PC).

Why Say: Tracking Minor Updates Poses Diminishing Returns?

Simply put, if winget doesn’t track it and package labels don’t include it, not even the developer thinks it’s noteworthy. I’ve had other development teams confirm this approach to me. Thus, for example, when I contacted IObit to ask about minor revisions to their Driver Booster tool (example version number they’ve told me that they don’t advise users to update unless something new or security-related is changed in a new version. If so, their policy is to increment version numbers more significantly, and to use the tool’s auto-update function to recommend and flog the update process forward.

Long story short: if the developer doesn’t recommend installing every minor update that comes along, I can’t do otherwise. For one thing: life’s too short to keep up with absolutely everything. For another, working toward scheduled update windows for most corporate software means choosing only “worthwhile updates” for inclusion. This reduces the amount of change — and its attendant risk — during such windows, and keeps the time and effort required to survive them as manageable as possible.

The old saw: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” somehow seems apt. Don’t let OCD tendencies to keep up with all change put you in a bind. Relax, and watch the blinking lights instead…