Category Archives: WED Blog

Wonky Word Launches Standard Windows 10 Repair Drill

It just happens from time to time. Windows 10 goes off the beam. Applications act weird, or OS interface elements disappear or stop working. Over the years I’ve learned this is Windows’ way of telling me that something is damaged, broken, or missing behind the scenes. This morning I had issues trying to edit a revised Word file that Val Potter at ComputerWorld had sent back to me for a typical second pass. In this case, wonky Word launches standard Windows 10 repair drill. Luckily for me, things went back to normal after step 1. That seldom happens!

Whaddya Mean? Wonky Word launches standard Windows 10 Repair Drill

I have a standard sequence of things that I do when MS Office elements get weird or go off on me. Here ’tis (check your wonky app between each step so you know when to quit):

    1. Run sfc /scannow in an administrative PowerShell session
    2. Run dism /online /cleanup-image /scanhealth;
      If it reports any problems, replace that last item with /restorehealth as your next command
    3. Run Programs and Features from Control Panel, select Microsoft Office from the list of programs, and select Repair from the available options. Try the Quick Repair first. If that doesn’t work run the Online Repair instead. (See screen cap below. The online option can take 10-15 minutes to complete, depending on Internet download speeds.)
    4. Use the Microsoft Support and Recovery Assistant to attempt Office repairs (link below)
    5. Get the MS Office Uninstall Support Tool to completely remove all traces of MS Office from your PC (link also below).

If things still aren’t working after Online Repair, you’ll want to download the Microsoft Support and Recovery Assistant. Try its MS Office repair facilities next. If that still doesn’t work, download the MS Office Uninstall Support Tool. Use it to completely uninstall Office from your PC. After that, of course, you’ll need to reinstall it all over again.

When All Else Fails, Uninstall/Reinstall Generally Works

As a last ditch attempt to get Office working, I’ve never had a complete uninstall/reinstall fail on a Windows PC. The only exception is when the OS itself was damaged or corrupted. If it worked for me then, it should work for you now, too. My fervent hope is that you don’t have to take things that far down the list!

Please note: steps 1 and 2 are generally the first two steps for any kind of repair attempts when Windows gets wonky. SFC stands for “System File Checker.” If it finds any damaged or missing system files it replaces them, as it did for me on my temporarily deranged PC. And again, that was enough to set things back to rights. When I checked Word and found it working again, I knew my drill sequence had ended.

If Word hadn’t been working again, I’d have gone onto the next step. Step 2 calls the Deployment Image Servicing and Management utility and checks the contents of the Windows component store (aka WinSxS) with scanhealth. If repairs are needed, restorehealth replaces questionable component store elements with known good working copies.

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Patch My PC Updater Is Worth Checking Out

Thanks to Tim Fisher at LifeWire, I’ve found a reasonable facsimile for the late lamented Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI). It’s called Patch My PC Updater and it does pretty much everything you’d want such a tool to do: scans your PC, inventories installed applications, identifies those that are out of date, and goes off on its own to update them for you. Like Secunia PSI, it’s also free. The lead-in graphic for this story shows all 9 out-of-date programs on a test PC. It also illustrates nicely why Patch My PC Updater is worth checking out.

Grab It to See If Patch My PC Updater Is Worth Checking Out

You’ll find a download link at https://patchmypc.com/home-updater. Commercial versions that plug into SCCM and InTune are also available for IT-level use. The program works from a USB drive — that is, the executable is portable and need not be installed on target PCs.

Before learning about Patch My PC Updater, I had been using a version of KC Software’s SuMO for application updates. But although that program is good at scanning PCs it is less than stellar at handling the update part. Its automation is negligible too. That’s because it requires users to follow update links and handle updates manually for at least some of the out-of-date programs it finds.

All in all, Patch My PC Updater is fast, accurate and covers nearly everything I’ve got installed. Hence, my recommendation that you check it out. If you don’t like it, you can return to Tim Fisher’s LifeWire story and check out 8 more other similar packages he recommends (it also mentions SuMO but puts it in last place).

Updating Applications Goes Better with Expert Help

Whichever tool you choose to keep up with Windows applications, it’s useful to run one at least monthly. That way, you can be sure that you’re getting new features and functions as they get added. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll also be keeping up with security patches and fixes, if other sources of intelligence aren’t already tracking your software more closely for you.

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Dev Channel Doubles Releases 20277 and 21277

For the first time ever, MS dropped not one but two releases into the Dev Channel yesterday. By default WU offers Dev Channel Insiders Build 20277, which continues ongoing release from the Iron build familly (FE_RELEASE). Those who take the time to check optional updates will also find access to 21277 (RS_RELEASE) as well. Certainly, when Dev Channel doubles Releases 20277 and 21277, life is bound to get more interesting!

Here’s a repeat of the lead-in graphic. Alas, the page header output clips the most important info from the bottom there. Methinks that’s owing to header image handling in my site’s WordPress theme. I can’t figure out how to hack that quickly. Thus, here it is again with the important stuff showing at the very bottom:

Dev Channel Doubles Releases 20277 and 21277; image shows 21277 optional update offer.
Dev Channel Doubles Releases 20277 and 21277; image shows 21277 optional update offer.

When Dev Channel Doubles Releases 20277 and 21277, Which One?

This looks like a sneaky way to reintroduce two different levels of advance testing, with 20277 targeting closer-in features, and 21277 further out. Fortunately, I’ve got two test machines so my response in this case is “One of each.”

Unfortunately, my test PCs are configured to install automatically. By the time I was aware of the option, those PCs were already at the initial restart phase, having downloaded 20277, and gotten through the GUI install phase. That said, when I targeted 21277 on the Lenovo X220T and rebooted again, it happily started downloading that release despite having gotten halfway through the other install.

Working Through Doubled Installation

At present, both machines are working through their respective OS installs. So far, things are proceeding as normal. The X380 Yoga just finished with the post-GUI install for 20277. After a first login, it’s now working through the initial OOBE (“We getting a few things ready . . .”). The whole process took less than 5 minutes following the first reboot, and it’s now on the Windows 10 desktop.

Because the X220 Tablet is on Wi-Fi, it’s just about finished downloading the 21277 version, but still has the entire installation to work through. I don’t expect anything interesting or unusual to happen. I’m willing to let the process chunk through to completion and see how it turns out. If anything out of the ordinary pops up, I’ll write a follow-up note in this blog post. Furthermore, it should be interesting to see how the two releases compare and if there are any readily visible UI or observable behavior changes between them.

Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted

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Unresponsive Start Menu Gets Easy Fix

First, an admission: I’m a long time user of Stardock Software’s Start10 program. In fact, when I first started using this tool, it was called Start8, in keeping with the version of Windows then in vogue. I think my problem may be related to an unwanted interaction between Start10 and the default Windows 10 Start Menu. Nevertheless, I’m happy to report that an unresponsive Start Menu gets easy fix. Let me elaborate…

Unresponsive Start Menu Gets Easy Fix Explained

I don’t have this problem on unaltered Windows 10 installations where Start10 is absent. That’s what make me think it results from some kind of unwanted or unplanned interaction. I’ve checked the Start10 forums and can’t find any other reports of the same kind, but that’s neither here nor there.

On machines running Start10, when this happens I simply launch Task Manager. Then I right click the Windows Explorer entry beneath the Processes tab. When the resulting pop-up menu appears, one of its options reads “Restart.” When selected, this restarts the primary Explorer process. Among other things, it handles the task bar and the default Start Menu.

Following that restart operation, my access to the default Start Menu is restored. If I’m using Start10, why do I still need the default start menu? Simple: there are some programs and searches (such as using the string “reli” to launch the Reliability Monitor) that work in the default Start Menu but not in Start 10. Thus, I do have the occasional reason to dive into that default instead of sticking solely to Start10’s capabilities.

My old friend and former partner at Win10.Guru, Kari the Finn always said “If there’s a built-in tool or utility in the OS, there’s no reason to use a third-party tool.” Let’s just say that I’ve recently been reminded that he had good reasons to make that assertion. Even so, I remain a fan of third-party tools in general, and a fan of Start10 in particular. I’ve just had to learn to work around this particular issue. Cheers!

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Recent Laplink PCmover Experience

OK, then. Yesterday evening, after finishing work for the day, I used Laplink PC Mover professional to migrate the Windows 10 installation from the old Jetway mini-ITX PC to the new Dell Optiplex 7080 Micro I’ve been writing about so much lately. I’m pleased to say that, on this latest attempt, the program did what its makers claim it does with reasonably dispatch and facility. I had made an earlier attempt to use it about 10 days ago that failed. I now suspect it had something to do with a pending and incomplete update on the mini-ITX PC. Thus, I must rate my recent Laplink PCmover experience as “mostly positive.”

Preparing for Recent LapLink PCmover Experience

Before I got started on the transfer, I made sure both source and target PCs were completely updated. I also used Macrium Reflect to create an image backup of each PC, and made sure I had the Macrium Rescue Media at my disposal, in case I needed to roll back either or both machines. I also cleaned up the filesystems on both machines using Disk Cleanup, UnCleaner, and manual file deletions from the user account subfolders Documents and Downloads.  With all that behind me, I was ready to go.

Working Through Recent LapLink PCmover Experience

As is often the case, the prep work took longer than the transfer. With the source PC upstairs and the target PC in my office, connected via my wired in-home GbE, the whole transfer involved 2.3 GB of data across 48K-plus folders and just under 8K files. along with a merge from source to target registry of 82K-plus values just over 9 MB in size.

To my surprise, the whole process took just over 11 minutes, according to the program’s Summary.pdf report file. I’ve used Laplink’s PCmover before and I don’t ever remember things going that fast. Best guess: this machine has a relatively small number of applications installed and no huge file holdings under the various user account folders. Thus, it stands to reason that it wouldn’t take too long to migrate from one machine to the other. I was able to confirm that licensed applications from the source PC did work on the target after the process concluded, though I did have to provide (or re-activate) licenses before I could use those programs.

Benefits of LapLink PCmover Experience

I paid full retail for the software last December (I purchased it just over a year ago on December 6, 2019 and the price hasn’t budged since then). It cost me $42.45 ($39.99 MSRP plus $2.50 sales tax).

The obvious benefits of using PCmover are speed, ease of migration, and convenience. I’ve used this tool before, and I imagine I’ll use it again. I could have turned to the Microsoft User State Migration Tool (aka USMT) but here’s what its DOCs file says about that tool’s limitations:

USMT is intended for administrators who are performing large-scale automated deployments. If you are only migrating the user states of a few computers, you can use PCmover Express. PCmover Express is a tool created by Microsoft’s partner, Laplink.

I used the Pro rather than the Express version of PCmover. Express is free, but only for non-commercial use. Because I’m writing about it for publication I naturally chose the for-a-fee version. The Express version does most of what the Professional version did for me, but does not transfer applications, permit image based migration, or copy hard disk contents from source to target PC.

Where LapLink PCmover Experience Fell Short

I did have a little bit of cleanup to do after the migration process concluded. PCmover does not, as I discovered, move all browser settings and preferences from source to target PC. Thus, I had to go in and install some extensions, and change default home page settings in Chrome, Edge and Firefox. It did move favorites/bookmarks, though, as far as I could tell.

All in all, it was a positive experience and resulted in a running PC that worked properly with 99+% of user, account, preference, settings, and files from the old machine ready, available and working on the target PC. As far as I’m concerned the US$40-odd PCmover cost me was worth it, and produced the desired outcome. ‘Nuff said.

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PowerToys Preview v0.28.0 Gets Videoconference Mute

OK then.  Liam Tung reported at ZDnet last Wednesday that Clint Rutkas and his team were at “one week and holding” on PowerToys. And in fact, they’d been stuck there for three weeks and a little bit more. Then on Friday, Experimental release v0.28.0 made its debut. As the lead-in graphic shows, the Video Conference Mute feature is present and accounted for. Indeed, that proves that PowerToys Preview v0.28.0 gets videoconference mute features.

If PowerToys Preview v0.28.0 Gets Videoconference Mute, Then What?

This simply means the feature has some remaining kinks to be worked out. That said, it’s ready for more adventurous types willing to run an experimental release to give it a try. I just loaded it up on my Lenovo X380 Yoga test machine. The various keyboard shortcuts to mute camera (Win+Shift+O), microphone (Win+Shift+A) or both (Win+N) all work for me.

Given the number of videoconferences I attend weekly (3 or more) it’s pretty darn handy. I’m also going to recommend it to my almost-17-year-old son, who’s attending school online this semester. For him, each schoolday is a long succession of Zoom meetings, for 7 or 8 periods a day. I *know* he’s going to appreciate this capability even more than I do!

If you can tolerate running an experimental pre-release to gain access to this feature, grab it today. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait until it makes it into the regular distribution. If history is any guide, this will take anywhere from a week to a month. Stay tuned.

 

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Dell 7080 Micro RAM Puzzler Solved

When something appears to be good to be true, watch out! I keep poking around on my new Dell 7080 Micro and learned something interesting, but also mildly distressing, about the configuration I ordered. The essentials show up as the DRAM frequency in the lead-in graphic for this story. The rated speed for that module is 2933 MHz, the reported rate is 1463.2 (doubled = ~2926 MHz). Something is amiss, eh? A quick trip to the manual’s memory section means makes this Dell 7080 Micro RAM puzzler solved.

RTFM = Dell 7080 Micro RAM Puzzler Solved

When I did the math, I saw the reported memory clock rate was half the SODIMM module’s rated speed. Immediately I suspected something might be up with dual-channel vs. single-channel memory performance. Ack! I was right: the very first entry in the memory section of the 7080 Micro manual reads as follows:

Dell 7080 Micro RAM Puzzler Solved.manual-noteI’m now aware that doubling up on memory is the right way to go on this machine. Sigh.

Turns out that the clock rate information is what it should be, though. DDR memory like this fetches two chunks of data with each cycle cycle. Hence the term “double data rate,” or DDR.

Doubling Up Is Good, So That’s What I’m Doing

I just ordered a pair of 16 GB G.Skill RipJaws modules for the machine. They’re rated for DDR4 3200, which means they’ll loaf along at the 7080 Micro’s default clock rate of 2933 with ease. I’m guessing further that the winsat mem command will show an improvement from its current level of 15954 MB/sec (the P-5550 reports 32945 by comparison, and I’m expecting something more along those lines). We’ll see.

But wait! I still have Dell’s Review Unit of the 7080 Micro, so I just booted it up to run the winsat mem command there. It has two 16 GB memory modules. And sure enough, the results are significantly higher than those for the single module unit: 26323 MB/sec hits more than halfway between the single-module value of 15954 and the P-5550 value of 32945. That’s an improvement of just over 31 percent. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll see on my unit once it’s upgraded, too. (Same CPU, same motherboard, so why not?)

I’ll know for sure sometime later today, because Amazon says my order will arrive no later than 10 PM tonight. While I was at it, I also purchased a Samsung EVO 860 1 TB SATA SSD to park in the 7080 Micro’s currently vacant SATA slot. The RAM set me back about $115, and the drive $100, both of which I consider excellent prices.

Given that the 7080 Micro was already pretty fast, I’m guessing this will make it just a tad faster. I’ll report the results of my checks after upgrading the RAM and installing the new SSD later today. Stay tuned!

Note Added 2 Days Later

Amazon didn’t deliver the goods until today. Took me all of 5 minutes to unbutton the 7080 Micro case. Only tool needed was a Phillips Head screwdriver. The SATA drive mounted into its sleeve with no tools, but I had to undo the thumbscrew on the outside of the case and remove the fan assembly (3-spring-tensioned PH screws) to replace the old memory module with 2 new ones.

Now for the good news: new test results are astounding. When I just ran the winsat mem command on the 7080 Micro I purchased, the results came back at 34430. That number seems to fall in a range from 34430 to 34450 on multiple iterations.

Guess what? This 7080 Micro’s RAM speed is slightly FASTER (just over 4%) than the Precision Workstation 5550. Woo hoo! Turned out to be a good investment. In fact, the new memory numbers are just over twice as fast for dual-channel RAM as they were for single channel. By doubling up, I got a great performance boost.

The moral of the story is: if you buy a Dell Micro 7080 make sure to populate both SO-DIMM slots, so you can get the best performance out of however much RAM you give it to work with. It makes a BIG difference.

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Hard Disks Remain Useful PC Storage Devices

Hmmm. I just read a disturbing story over at Gizmodo. Something of a rant from Sam Rutherford, it explains “Why I’m Finally Getting Rid of All My HDDs Forever.” I’ve been following his work for some time, and he usually has intelligent and useful things to say. This time, though, I’m opposed to his position. In fact, I still firmly believe that hard disks remain useful PC storage devices. Quick count: I have at least 10 of them here in my office, at capacities ranging from 1 TB to 8 TB.

Why Say: Hard Disks Remain Useful PC Storage Devices?

If I understand his complaint, Mr. Rutherford is giving up on HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) because several of them gave up on him recently. One failure cost him 2 TB of data, some of it precious. I say: Boo hoo!

The lead-in graphic for this story comes from my production PC running a freeware program named CrystalDiskInfo. (Note: grab the Standard Edition: the others have ads and bundleware). Notice the top of that display lists Windows drives C:, J:, K:, G:, D:, I:, F:, and H:. In fact, all of them show blue dots and the word “Good” as well. These elements provide rude measures of disk health for both HDDs and SSDs. Of the 8 drives shown, 3 are SSDs, 4 are HDDs, and 1 is a so-called hybrid HDD; all are healthy.

Mr. Rutherford could have used this tool. Or used others like it, of which there are many (see these Carl Chao and WindowsReport survey pieces, for example). Then, he would have known his problem HDDs were headed for trouble before they failed. Plus, he himself admits he erred in not backing up the drive whose failure caused data loss. I check all my drives monthly (both SSDs and HDDs) looking for signs of impending trouble, as part of routine maintenance.

Backup, Backup and More Backup

SSDs are not mechanical devices, so they don’t suffer mechanical failures. Over the 10 years or so I’ve owned SSDs (perhaps a couple of dozen by now) not one has ever failed on me. Over the 36 years I’ve owned HDDs, I’ve had half-a-dozen fail out of the hundreds I’ve used. But it’s inevitable that I will suffer an SSD failure sometime, even though I’ve yet to experience one personally. Why? Because all devices fail, given enough time and use.

Personally, I think HDDs still have a place in my storage hierarchy. I just bought 2 8 TB drives earlier this year, for about $165 each. That’s way cheaper storage than even the cheapest of SSDs on today’s market, and much more capacity in a single device than I’d want to purchase in solid state form. (Note: a 7.68 TB Samsung 870 QVO SSD costs $750 at Newegg right now. Thus it aims at those with more money than sense, or those with cash-generating workflows that can actually cover such costs.)

The real secret to protecting data is multiple backups. I bought those 8 TB drives to back up all my other drives, so they’re my second local line of defense. I also pay for 5 TB of online storage at OneDrive and DropBox and have two extra copies of production OSes, key files and archives in the cloud as well. I backup my production PCs daily, my test PCs weekly, and key bits and pieces to the cloud weekly as well). Basta!

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Interesting Single-Builder SSD Benefits

Just read an absolutely fascinating story at Tom’s Hardware by Sean Webster. Entitled Not-So-Solid State: SSD Makers Swap Parts Without Telling Us, it’s worth a read. The main point it makes is that many builders of SSDs — most notably Adata and its XPG brand — build SSDs using parts from multiple makers. Their products do change over time because of availability of component parts such as controllers and flash memory chips. In the case the story lays out, a highly recommended drive suffered performance losses owing to replacement of better faster parts with newer slower ones. This leads me to understand there can be interesting single-builder SSD benefits .

Where Interesting Single-Builder SSD Benefits Come From

Samsung, chief among SSD makers, builds all of the parts that go onto its SSDs. Thus, it controls the mix of elements on those devices completely. When constituent parts change, the company always changes its model numbers so that buyers know there’s “something different” on board. Tom’s points to practices from WD, Kingston, Crucial and other makers to indicate that the majority do indeed change model numbers as constituent parts change, too. Thus, the most interesting single-builder SSD benefits clearly come from end-to-end supply chain control. Third-party builders don’t have that luxury, because they buy parts from multiple suppliers.

Where does all this leave me? In fact, I bought an Adata/XPG SSD for my Ventoy “Big Drive.” It’s a 256 GB SX8200 Pro model, the very item that Tom’s Hardware finds fault with in the afore-linked story. Good thing I only use this device for storing and occasionally loading Windows ISOs. It’s new enough that I’m sure it’s subject to the flaws that Tom’s uncovered. If I were using it as a boot or internal SSD I’d be irate. As it is, running it over USB 3.1 means I’d never come close to the theoretical maximum read/write rates anyway.

The Moral of the Story

Ironically, this XPG device is one of two non-Samsung NVMe devices I currently own. The other such device is a Toshiba that came pre-installed in a cheap-o purchase of a year-old Lenovo X380 Yoga laptop. I wasn’t expecting top-of-the-line components because I paid under 50% of the unit’s original MSRP. But from now on, I’m sticking with Samsung NVMe drives, so I can avoid performance dings from covert or undisclosed parts changes in the SSDs I buy and use.

Who knew this kind of thing might happen? I certainly didn’t and I’m grateful to Tom’s for calling it to the world’s attention. It will certainly guide my future NVMe SSD buying habits…

 

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Beta Channel Gets New Feature Experience Pack 120.2212.1070.0

All righty then. MS is changing up the way it introduces new OS features without an out-and-out feature upgrade. At least, that’s how I interpret Bradon LeBlanc’s November 30 post to Windows Insider. Fortunately, Mary Jo Foley at ZDnet provides additional illumination, too. Her same-day story explains “the Feature Experience Pack is a collection of features that can be updated independently of the Windows 10 operating system.” Insiders running Build 19042.662 are eligible. Alas, not all PCs will be offered the relevant KB4578968 update. Even though Beta Channel gets new Feature Experience Pack 120.2212.1070.0, not everybody will see it.

Solution for Beta Channel Gets New Feature Experience Pack 120.2212.1070.0

I firmly believing that where there’s a will, there’s a way. In fact, I found a link to a CAB file to apply KB4578969. It shows up as Post#15 in a TenForums thread entitled KB4592784 Windows Feature Experience Pack 120.2212.1070.0 (20H2). I got the offer on my Surface Pro 3 Beta Channel/Release Preview Channel PC, but not on my Lenovo X380 Yoga. But by downloading the afore-linked CAB file and using DISM (details follow), I did get it installed on the latter PC.

That command is:

DISM /online /add-package /packagepath:<CABpath>

It worked on my X380 Yoga. Thus, it should also work on your qualifying test PCs. Just be sure to shift right click on the CAB file, and use the “Copy as Path” option from the resulting pop-up menu. Then, you too can paste it into a PowerShell or Command Prompt windows (admin level, of course).

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