Category Archives: Software Reviews

We are constantly getting a wide variety of hardware and software to test and exercise under a range of conditions. As you might expect, some work better than others, some play nicely with others (or not), and a few are genuinely pleasant surprises. Here you’ll find a collection of reviews on a range of products. We’ll be updating this section frequently as we run across new stuff, so come back soon and often!

SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete

I’ve been mucking around with SSDs quite a bit lately. Yesterday, that had me rooting around for a utility I could use to tell me more about all of my many SSDs. When I found a utility named SSD-Z (think of Frank Delattre’s outstanding CPU-Z) I was sure I had struck gold. Alas, it’s not quite at the same level as Delattre’s tool, even though it is pretty interesting.

SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete.vertex4Why Say: SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete?

The tool did a great job of telling me more about my older SSDs, If you look at the preceding screenshot, it’s pretty effusive and complete about my nominal 250 GB OCZ-Vertex4 SSD. But if you look at the next screenshot, it’s mostly mum about my no-longer-new-but-still-capable Samsung 950. This runs on my daily driver and is now 6 years old, and still gets the job done.

SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete.sam950

Not much detail here.

What’s remarkable is how little information appears. There’s no data about flash technology, cells, controller, NAND or speed info. TRIM is supported, despite a counter-protestation. Sigh. I’m disappointed.

Upon further investigation, I see the developer hasn’t updated the tool since 2016 (not too much later than I bought the Samsung 950). I guess this is a tougher problem than one might think, at first. I’m sorry to say that SSD-Z doesn’t pass muster, though it does provide a good model of what might be possible, given enough SSD data from the community.

Vendor Tools Might Be More Informative

In looking at an Enterprise Storage Forum story from 2019, I see that vendor tools are most likely to provide details about controller, flash technologies, and so forth.  Samsung, Intel, OCZ, Crucial, and Kingston come in for specific mention. And indeed, Samsung Magician tells me more about all of my Samsung SSDs — even OEM models — than does SSD-Z. The same is true for other vendor-specific tools, when one has drives from those vendors to check into.

Gosh! I’d love to see SSD-Z deliver on its implicit promises. We could all use a utility like that, right? The TechPowerUp contributor behind this tantalizing item, Aezay, has not posted there since 2018. If he’s out there and paying attention, I’d be happy to co-drive a crowdfunding effort to do this tool right, and help the whole community. This leads me to echo the excellent Pink Floyd lyric: “Is there anybody out there?” And that’s the way things go sometimes, here in Windows-World.

Stay tuned: if anything interesting turns up, I’ll report back. Yowza!

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Voidtools Everything Finds Files Fast

I know plenty of purists who won’t use third-party Windows tools if a Microsoft-supplied tool or facility will do the job. I am not such a person, and I’m happy to use third-party tools that either do things that Microsoft doesn’t do, or do as well as they do. Because Voidtools Everything finds files fast, it’s part of my standard Windows 10 desktop runtime. Oh, and it’s free, imposes little overhead, and — in my experience — runs faster and works better than Microsoft search. I usually get what I’m after before I’ve finished typing my input string.

Because Voidtools Everything Finds Files Fast, Use It!

The Everything FAQ provides a peachy overview of the tool, and explains its speed, behavior and workings. That said, Everything is primarily a name search tool for files and folders. It provides only limited visibility into file contents (that’s a search tool of a different stripe). The developers say that Everything takes about 1 second to index a fresh Windows install (about 120K files) and a minute to index 1M files. It really is fast, based on personal experience. It can also access files on FAT volumes, network storage, and flash devices (but minor configuration wiggles in Tools → Options → Folders are required, shown below).

FAT-derived volumes (like those on SD cards and UFDs) don’t show up by default in Everything. But they are easy to add.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Working Search for Everything It’s Worth

OK, bad pun, I know. But you can use boolean operators and wildcards in Everything much like you do at the Windows command line. Everything also supports advanced search for more complex search strings that also include the program’s content search functions (warning: these are slow because Everything does not index content in advance). For me the Advanced Search window provides the complex functions I need. Check it out:

Advanced search offers a variety of pattern definition and matching functions. Works like a champ, too!

If, like me, you have lots of storage and millions of files at your fingertips (right now, Everything says it’s indexed 1.4+M objects for me), Everything is handy and useful. If you try it out, you’ll probably end up keeping it around and using it regularly. I use it dozens of times a day, every day myself.

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TreeSize Offers Valuable System Volume Information Insight

The JAM Software program TreeSize is a great visualization tool for examining (and pruning) Windows disks. For those disinclined to buy a full-blown copy, the TreeSize Free version (shown in this story’s screencaps) will suffice. These days, in fact, I recommend TreeSize over the older Open Source WinDirStat project. Both provide colorful, easy-to-read tree map diagrams for disk space consumption. But WinDirStat hasn’t been updated since 2016, and JAM is keeping up with TreeSize in all of its current manifestations. Certainly, there’s no disputing that TreeSize offers valuable System Volume Information Insight.

And, in fact, WinDirStat doesn’t shed much light on the contents of the System Volume Information (SVI) folder found in every NTFS volume. TreeSize, OTOH, tells you quite a bit about where the space in that folder is going and can help guide at least one easy clean-up maneuver.

In the paragraphs that follow, I’m going to follow up on my January 13  “restore point failure” story. In this story, I’ll show both before and after screenshots (in reverse order).  The lead-in graphic for this story shows what a pared-down 2.2 GB SVI folder looks like. It’s the “after” shot, taken after I turned off restore points on my production PC and instructed the System Protection control panel widget to delete all existing restore points. Why keep them if you don’t plan to use them ever again? Gone!

The next screenshot shows the “before” state for that folder. Note its size is 13.8 GB and the primary items shown are all restore points ranging from 3.1 to 2.5 GB in size. Deleting them reduced the size of this folder by 11.6 GB — a pretty substantial disk space reclamation.

TreeSize Offers Valuable System Volume Information Insight.before-restore-point-delete

Pretty much all you can see in this before SVI shot is a handful of BIG restore point files.
[Click image for full-sized view]

How TreeSize Offers Valuable System Volume Information Insight

Simply put, TreeSize makes file and folder information available for the contents of the SVI folder. Digging into the “after” display, one can mouseover any item therein. This provokes an information display a couple of seconds later. This appears as a pop-up windows that provides information including Name, Full Path, Size, Allocated, % of Parent allocated, Files (count), Last modification timestamp, Last accessed timestamp, and more. This information is quite informative and can be helpful.

In looking at the “after” shot at the head of this story, you can see that SVI includes folders for a variety of MS apps, Office.OneNote, Windows Photos, Skype, Office.Sway, and a whole bunch more. I’ve never seen this level of detail for SVI before. You can even zoom in on individual items to see what’s inside them, if you like.

IMO, TreeSize Free is a great tool for all kinds of uses. In this case, I’m glad that it confirms significant space savings thanks to turning off restore points and deleting existing saved restore points. Good stuff!

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Web-only Project Monarch May Replace Outlook.exe

Here’s an interesting item that makes me squirm just a little. Zac Bowden at Windows Central reports on an upcoming initiative at MS code-named Monarch. As he explains it, this will be a web-based app modeled on the current Outlook Web App (aka OWA). Where the squirming comes in is that this single new app targets all platforms. If I understand what’s going on, that means the web-only project Monarch may replace Outlook.exe. As a long, long-time Outlook.exe user who’s flirted with OWA from time to time, this prospect is scary.

If Web-only Project Monarch May Replace Outlook.exe, Then What?

Let me explain the source of my terror upon this news. Indeed, Bowden reports this changeover is planned for 2022, with plenty of time for improved understanding and more info to come. But I run my professional life around Outlook. My Archive. pst file goes back to the mid-1990s and is over 13GB in size. I use Outlook search to keep up with current and ongoing work. It also helps me research past activities, expenditures, and communications as I need them.

What happens when the .exe file gives way to a browser-based app? Can it still access and maintain my local PST snapshots and archives? This is the real cause of my most immediate concerns, because I depend on my “email trail” to make sense of my professional (and to a large extent, personal) activities.

So Far, There’s Not Enough Detail Available…

Here’s what Bowden says about MS’s plans for Monarch:

Microsoft wants to replace the existing desktop clients with one app built with web technologies. The project will deliver Outlook as a single product, with the same user experience and codebase whether that be on Windows or Mac. It’ll also have a much smaller footprint and be accessible to all users whether they’re free Outlook consumers or commercial business customers.

I’m told the app will feature native OS integrations with support for things like offline storage, share targets, notifications, and more. I understand that it’s one of Microsoft’s goals to make the new Monarch client feel as native to the OS as possible while remaining universal across platforms by basing the app on the Outlook website.

This all sounds well and good, from the perspective of reading and writing, and sending and receiving email. But from the perspective of building and maintaining a long-term business history around an email trail, it makes me wonder. Too bad, I guess, that for two-plus decades that’s been a primary strategy of mine with a huge lode of data to back it up. Looks like I may need to start rethinking that strategy, and look for ways to keep mining that data — outside Outlook, if necessary. Sigh.

Stay tuned. You can bet I’ll be following this with more than usual interest, because it has huge implications for how I work and ply my trade as a freelance writer, consultant and occasional expert witness.

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Top 3 2020 Windows 10 Utilities

Over the past year, I’ve worked with numerous Windows 10 tools and utilities. IMHO, my top 3 2020 Windows 10 utilities have to be:

This doesn’t mean the tools were first introduced in 2020: PatchMy PC has been around for some time, in fact. But all 3 were new to me in 2020. They also quickly became incredible favorites used frequently. Let me briefly introduce them in upcoming sections, with links to longer explanations and information.

Top 3 2020 Windows 10 Utilities #1: Ventoy

Ventoy is sheer genius. It partitions any USB drive into a 32 MB FAT EFI partition named VTOYEFI, and the rest of the drive into an exFAT partition named Ventoy. There’s enough smarts in the EFI partition to let a PC boot. It then mounts any ISO in the Ventoy partition from a pick list. Finally, it passes boot control to that mounted ISO image.

This means you can use a USB drive to store all your ISOs  for Windows 10, repair,  and so on. That includes low-level operational images such as MemTest86 for extended RAM testing. I currently have a nominal 256 GB (238 GB actual) NVMe SSD mounted in a Sabrent NVMe enclosure for my Ventoy drive. Any time I grab a new Windows 10 ISO that’s where it goes. It’s a blast.

Read more about it through this Google search, which provides links to all the great Ventoy coverage at Win10.Guru.

Top 3 2020 Windows 10 Utilities #2: PatchMyPC

For many years I was a big fan of Secunia’s excellent Personal Software Inspector (PSI) and Corporate Software Inspector (CSI) tools. When Secunia got acquired a few years back, it didn’t take long for PSI to fall by the wayside and become obsolete. I like KC Software’s Software Update Monitor, aka SUMo, but its free version is painful to use and its for-a-fee version doesn’t handle automatic updates as well as it could. PatchMyPC doesn’t recognize as much software as SUMo, but it’s free. Plus,  it updates everything it finds automatically and with minimal muss and fuss. There’s an enterprise version, too, that works with SCCM and InTune. Definitely worth getting to know (or at least playing with).

I blogged about PatchMyPC here at EdTittel.com in a piece entitled “Patch My PC Updater is worth checking out” on December 14, 2020.

Top 3 2020 Windows 10 Utilities #3: PowerToys

The original PowerToys utilities go back to the Windows 95 days. The current GitHub version is a major reboot in the form of an Open Source project under Clint Rutkas’ able leadership. Instead of operating as a bunch of independent tools under a general PowerToys label, the latest version (v0.29.0 as I write this) brings all of these tools together under a single umbrella for download, install and update purposes. All kinds of cool stuff going on here, and worth using.

I wrote a PowerToys Intro for ComputerWorld on October 9, 2020, and have written lots of other stuff on this tool here and at Win10.Guru in the past year.

Any or all of these tools will make a great addition to your Windows 10 toolbox, if you’re not using them already. Happy New Year, too!

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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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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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{WED} Check Out MS News Bar Beta

MS has released a new news app through the Microsoft Store. Those interested in a new look for the MS newsfeed will want to check out MS News Bar Beta release. It strikes me as an improvement over the default MSN news pages that come up in Edge. There’s also considerably more control over how (and where) this News Bar appears on your desktop, too. And it can be dismissed instantly with a click on its minimization control when you want to get it out of the way. My opinion: the News Bar is worth downloading and playing around with. It’s a useful tool during this current news-hungry pandemic WFH situation we now live in. Here’s a look at its Appearance pane, from the app’s Settings controls:

Check Out MS News Bar Beta.appearance

The News Bar’s Settings are simple and straightforward. Took me a couple of minutes to work through them, and decide what I liked.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Download from Store to Check Out MS News Bar Beta

The app is readily available as a free download from the Microsoft Store. Or visit the Store, and search on “News Bar Beta.” It will pop right up. The download is just over 75 MB in size, and takes only a short while to download and install. As the preceding screen cap illlustrates, its controls are both simple and intuitive. After messing about a little while, I chose to position the News Bar at the top of my Primary (#1) Display in Image format. Here’s what a snippet of that looks like, from the left-hand-side of the screen. (It’s about 1/3 of the total display width, but I didn’t want to shrink the thumbnails down TOO much for reproduction here):

Check Out MS News Bar Beta.images

You can switch between text and images views for newsfeed stories to see a representative photo (image) or a brief description (text).
[Click image for full-sized view.]

[Note:] Thanks to Nayan at WinCentral for bringing this new (beta) app to my attention in his post “Microsoft bringing ‘Windows News Bar’ to Windows 10 as the on-desktop news source.”

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{WED} Freezing Visual Basic Signals Impending EOL

Surprise! An interesting item showed up on the Microsoft Devblogs on March 11 (Wednesday). Innocuously enough, it’s entitled “Visual Basic support planned for .NET 5.0.” To begin, the story explains that Visual Basic will get a bunch of capabilities to support .NET 5/.NET Core. Next, it proffers a list of new application types, and benefits of long-term stability. Then comes an interesting paragraph. Its import is that MS freezing Visual Basic signals impending EOL (End-of-life) for this language. Here’s what I’m talking about. (I added the bold emphasis):

Going forward, we do not plan to evolve Visual Basic as a language. This supports language stability and maintains compatibility between the .NET Core and .NET Framework versions of Visual Basic. Future features of .NET Core that require language changes may not be supported in Visual Basic. Due to differences in the platform, there will be some differences between Visual Basic on .NET Framework and .NET Core.

Freezing Visual Basic Signals Impending EOL.oldlogo

Here’s what the Visual Basic (aka VB) logo looked like back in the day. Microsoft Basic first appeared as Altair Basic in 1975!
[Click image for full-sized view.]

What Freezing Visual Basic Signals Impending EOL Really Means

Once upon a time, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to jump into computing. He and a Seattle friend, Paul Allen, founded Microsoft on April 4, 1975. Their very first product was a BASIC interpreter for Altair 8800 microcomputer. Later its name became Microsoft Basic. Later still, that changed to Visual Basic. And now, the end of its continued growth and support is in sight.

Gosh! Talk about the end of an era. In fact, it’s more like the the end of one universe, and the beginning of another. Honestly, I see it as a telling sign — amidst a raft of other, similar but lesser signs. Thus, there’s no doubt that Microsoft has reinvented itself completely. Azure and the cloud really do rule this roost, and that’s where Microsoft now lives. The rest of us are just catching up.

Personally, my first encounter with Basic came as a CompSci grad student at UT Austin in 1979. Many years later, I helped teach 5th and 6th graders Microsoft Small Basic at Cactus Ranch Elementary. This happened in 2015 and 2016 through their programming club. (In fact, my son was a participant, and I wanted to help out.) To me, it’s ironic that the URL for Small Basic is https://smallbasic-publicwebsite.azurewebsites.net/. The new already encapsulates the old. Soon, the new will leave the old behind completely. All I can say is: Wow!

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