Category Archives: Insider stuff

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!


Escaping Excess Windows Audio Reverb

My first job out of college was in an archival sound studio at the Library of Congress. Believe it or not, they even send me to a summer audio engineering program.  (The Eastman School of Music, Summer, 1974.) In the nearly 4 years I worked there, I’d like to think I learned a little something about quality sound delivery. That’s why I’ve been chafing during recent attempts at escaping excess Windows Audio reverb. This morning, I finally fixed my problem on my production desktop.

Hows and Whys of Escaping Excess Windows Audio Reverb

First: a problem description. Any kind of music playback on my external speakers has sounded weird lately.  (When I play sounds in “the open air,” I use a set of Axiom Audio components. These inlude: L, R, and subwoofer speakers with external amplifier.)  Here’s my best problem description. On playback, music sounded like it was in a concrete stairwell or in a big tiled bathroom. From my years in the studio and subsequent experience, I knew it was a reverb problem.

First, I went poking around in the Realtek Audio Console app. It’s shown as the background for this story’s lead-in graphic. But none of the changes I made in the equalizer, or among its various settings options (Rock is show in the afore-mentioned screencap), made any difference.

Thus, I realized it had to be something in the old Control Panel Sound widget. It was. At one point or another I must have checked the box shown in the screencap foreground red-arrowed “Enable audio enhancements.” As soon as I unchecked that item, my excess reverb disappeared. Everything returned to normal and my various music sources sounded as much like their original recordings as my semi-pro sound chain (external amp and speakers) could deliver.

When in Doubt, Experiment…

I don’t think I would’ve been able to solve the issue if I hadn’t fooled around with the EQ presets in the Realtek Audio Console. As soon as it was obvious that this element in the audio software chain wasn’t responsible (I was sure I’d picked the “Club” or “Party” presets, both of which seem to boost reverb noticeably), I knew it had to be the Sound widget. And sure enough, whatever audio enhancement had kicked in when I checked that box made a BIG difference.

Fortunately, it was easily fixed and my tunes are now back to normal. Now the question becomes: what do I want to listen to today? As I finish out this post, I’m enjoying the alt-pop sounds of 90s British group “The SUNDAYS.” Good stuff (and it sounds like it oughter…).



No 22533 Dev Channel Flyouts Here … Unless You Push the Right Physical Button

The latest Dev Channel version of Windows 11 showed up on my test PCs yesterday. That means I was slow on the uptake: its announcement blog is dated January 12 (Tuesday). Be that as it may, that blog post claims that “new flyouts [for volume, brightness, and more] will appear when you press the volume or brightness keys on your laptop.” Alas, I see no 22533 Dev Channel flyouts here on either of my test machines. Instead, I see only the same old “flyout panel at right” shown below. The “new look” appears as the lead-in graphic for this story, courtesy of the afore-linked 22533 announcement.

No 22533 Dev Channel Flyouts Here.old-flyout

Alas, I’m still stuck on the old response to clicking the volume icon in taskbar.

If No 22533 Dev Channel Flyouts Here, Then What?

Wait and hope for this to show up on my machines, I guess. MS doesn’t specifically SAY this is a gradual rollout. But the absence of this feature on both PCs certainly suggests that’s the case. I have to laugh: once again I’m on the slow end of the rollout as a nifty new feature shows up. I guess I should be grateful MS shared an image of what I would be able to see, were I lucky enough to have this capability on my own test PCs. All and I can say is, sigh, and sigh again.

That’s the way things go sometimes, here in Windows-World. This is neither the first time I’ve been left out of a gradual rollout — if indeed that’s what it is. And I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last time, either. I’m curious to see what kind of response my experience will engender when I post this info to the WIMVP Teams channel. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, and there’ll be an easy fix. If so, count on me to report back. In the meantime, stay tuned!

The Fix Is In: Push the Physical Button, Doofus!

I heard back pretty much immediately from Brandon LeBlanc on the Insider Team. Seems this flyout REQUIRES a physical corresponding button (volume, brightness, etc) on the PC in use. And presto (pun intended), as soon as I did that, it worked. So much for my “hurt feelings” at not being included. I just had to push the right button and it worked right away. Go figure — and while you’re doing that, indulge in a chuckle at my expense. It was all there in black and white: I just misunderstood.


Substantial First 2022 Dev Channel Build 22526

I’d hoped that the initial Dev Channel build for Windows 11 would show up this week. I’m glad it  did, but it’s something of a doozy. When I say it’s a substantial first 2022 Dev Channel Build 22526 I means it’s big, and it takes a while to download and install. Let me explain…

What Substantial First 2022 Dev Channel Build 22526 Means

First off, I noticed that it took longer than usual to download and install 22526. That means around 15 minutes to download, and another half an hour to install. By contrast, the preceding 22523 Build downloaded in 5 minutes or less, and took about 15 minutes to install. I had the same experience on both test machines, and also had to wait through another 2 minutes or so for OOB experience during the first boot into the OS.

Running WizTree on my two Dev Channel PCs (a Lenovo X12 Hybrid, and aThinkpad X380 Yoga) I see that the size of the Windows folder is 3.2 GB larger for 22526 than Windows.old for 22523. This, too, is kind of unusual. Normally, size doesn’t vary more than 200 MB one way or the other between adjacent versions.

What’s New in 22526?

According to yesterday’s Windows Insider blog post “Announcing Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 22526,” quite a bit is new. The dev team is “experimenting with showing ALT + TAB as windowed instead of full screen for some Insiders.” And whoop! I see that on the X12. Here’s what that looks like, courtesy of SnagIt 2022:

Instead of filling the whole display, ALT+TAB shows up in windowed mode as shown on PCs lucky enough to get this update in 22526.

This is the first time in my personal experience to get selected for a new feature when a limited rollout or A/B test is announced. I’m jazzed.

Other new items in 22526 include:

  • Support for wideband speed using Apple AirPods to improve voice call quality
  • Credential Guard now enabled by default on Domain-joined Windows 11 Enterprise (E3 and E5) licensed PCs
  • File Explorer will index more file locations to make native file search faster and more efficient

Don’t know where the size bump comes into play among all this stuff, but it’s definitely noticeable.

2022 Insider Previews Off to Interesting Start

I’m tickled to see new stuff showing up so soon. I’m even more tickled to be included in the select few who get to see new features under test. It should be interesting to see how things develop, as we work our way deeper into the New Year. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.


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.


MS Assistant Whacks Word Weirdnesses

These days, I make a sizable chunk of my living using Microsoft Word on huge documents with complex stylesheets. As anybody who does this kind of thing regularly knows, Word can get wonky. That is especially true when large drafts with “Track Changes” turned on must pass among multiple parties. That’s why I’m happy to report that one particular MS Assistant whacks Word weirdnesses. I’m talking about the Microsoft Support and Recovery Assistant (SaRA) shown in the lead-in graphic here (About, Download).

Because MS Assistant Whacks Word Weirdnesses, Use It!

In this latest case in point, I’d cut out a mid-sized section of a large (~200 pg) Word document to work on independently. But when I tried to interact with that document fragment, I started seeing a spray of different errors:

  • Document is too large to save; remove some text or graphics
  • Disk is full; save document to a different drive
  • Permissions error; unable to save document

Normally, when there’s something wrong with the document itself, the errors will remain the same. Also, Word itself is pretty good at repairing corrupted or damaged documents. Thus, this ever-changing panoply of errors got me thinking: “Hmmm. Looks like Word is going wonky.”

Enumerating Office Repairs

I remembered a story I wrote for ComputerWorld last August (4 Steps to Repair Microsoft Office). One of them involved the SaRA. Naturally, I ran the tool (thankfully, it always updates itself first if the version being run is not the most current one available). I had it perform its  Office repairs, then tried the previously problematic file fragment I’d been fighting with. Problem solved!

As mechanics sometimes say: “Get the right tool for the job.” In this case, I was glad that SaRA turned out to be that very tool. I was even gladder to get back to work on writing, and exit Word troubleshooting mode. Sigh.



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.


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!


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–


Is Windows 11 Production Ready?

At my house, the question that entitles this post is an interesting one. Let me repeat: Is Windows 11 Production Ready? Like most good questions, the answer starts with two familiar words “That depends…” What the answer depends on includes the following elements:

  • Background of the user (more Windows-savvy users will suffer less distress from an upgrade)
  • Daily computing requirements (Windows 11 still suffers from some minor, but real, performance gotchas that will bother some users more than others)
  • Target PCs (though you can install Windows 11 on hardware that fails to meet its requirements, that means future updates may not work on your hardware)

There’s a lot to consider about Windows 11 when pondering upgrades or larger-scale migrations. (I’ve also speculated about the numbers of upgrades so far–see this December 1 item: Windows 11 MarketShare Q421.)

“Is Windows 11 Production Ready” Holds Numerous Nuances

At my house, I’m already running Windows 11 on 6 PCs. Except for my production desktop (which doesn’t meet the hardware requirements), I run all of those PCs myself. I’ve been using Windows 11 since Day 1. I’ve made sure that the hardware requirements are met, and I’ve had a uniformly positive experience in running the new OS across all Insider Preview and Production versions.

I haven’t upgraded my wife’s daily driver (an 11th-Gen Dell Optiplex 7080 Micro) because she hates change. I will wait for Windows 11 to solidify and stabilize before I upgrade her to the new OS. Hopefully that will involve only minimal stress and strain for everyone involved.

I haven’t upgraded my son’s Ryzen 5800 B550 PC to Windows 11 yet, either. He’s a heavy gamer, and the new Ryzens remain subject to “interesting” issues with gaming use on Windows 11. Frankly, I’m waiting for prices on a 3070 or 3080 Nvidia GPU to become affordable before I get serious about upgrading his system to Windows 11.

I’ve got a new desktop to build with the same components as my son’s PC (but I’m not a gamer). Thus, as soon as I find the time to stand it up and get it running (early 2022 is as soon as that can happen) I’ll be pioneering Windows 11 on a Ryzen 5800 CPU and so forth. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted on how that all turns out.

Implications for Your PC Fleet

Most businesses wait at least a year after a new Windows version makes it debut before starting migration. Many wait 2 years or longer. There’s still plenty of time to wait and watch how things go for other users before taking the plunge yourself. Or, you  can do as I have, and upgrade the more forward-leaning and adventurous users, while planning for (and waiting) for the trailing edge to gain urgency and impetus.