Category Archives: Tips, Tricks and Tweaks

Want to know how to make the most out of your Windows 7 system?
Here we share the things we have learned for what to do (and what not to do) to make Windows 7 perform at its best.

Confusing Windows 11 Scissors and Trashcan

Sometimes, I have to laugh at myself. Yesterday, in cleaning out my Downloads folder on a Windows 11 test PC, I noticed that clicking the Scissors icon didn’t delete selected files. Duh! That’s the job of the Trashcan icon, as I figured out a little later using mouseover tactics. By confusing Windows 11 scissors and trashcan icons, I showed myself that minor mistakes can stymie routine file handling tasks. Sigh.

If Confusing Windows 11 Scissors and Trashcan, What Next?

Before I figured out my category/identification error, I found another quick workaround to delete files. By clicking “More options” at the bottom of the first right-click menu, another more familiar menu appears. It’s more or less the Windows 10 menu transplanted into Windows 11, like so:

Confusing Windows 11 Scissors and Trashcan.more-options

A second menu has the familiar text entry to make my choice more obvious: Delete appears three up from the bottom.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

As is nearly always the case in Windows (including 11), there’s more than one way to get things done. When one fails (or operator error leads to unwanted outcomes), another way can lead to success. My next step would be to turn to the command line, had this alternate path not led to the desired results. It’s always good to keep working at things until they get solved. That goes double when my silly mixup led to an initial lack of success.

As I learn new UIs and tools, this kind of thing happens from time to time. Call them Windows follies or funnies if you like. For me, it’s just another day, and another lesson learned, here in Windows-World!

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WhyNotWin11 Offers PC Health Check Alternative

Some Windows users are purists by deliberate choice. Given the option of a Microsoft and a third-party too, they’ll take the MS route every time. I am no such purist. I appreciate good tools, whether from Microsoft or another (reputable) source. Thus, I’d like to observe that the GitHub project WhyNotWin11 offers PC Health Check Alternative. Indeed MS has temporarily taken down its tool. PC Health Check is available only from 3rd-party sources, such as TechSpot right now. Thus, WhyNotWin11 has the current advantage.

Why Say WhyNot11 Offers PC Health Check Alternative?

Though PC Health Check has been out of circulation for a week or so, WhyNot11 got its most recent update on July 3. Visit its Latest Release page for a download (version number 2.3.0.5 as I write this). You can also update the previous version 2.3.03 by downloading the latest SupportedProcessorsIntel.txt file and copying it over the previous version in the %Appdata%\Local\WhyNotWin11 folder.

Note: on my PC, that’s
C:\Users\\AppData\Local\WhyNotWin11\SupportedProcessorsIntel.txt.

WhyNotWin11 Is More Informative, Too

This story’s lead-in graphic shows the information that the third-party tool displays about target PCs. It provides a complete overview of which requirements are met (green), which aren’t listed as compatible (amber), and which are missing or disabled (red). This is more helpful than the output from PC Health Check. See it output below:

PC Health Check only briefly explains part of what’s at issue, and tersely at that.

While the message above does explain the “the processor isn’t supported,” it also fails to note the absence (as I know it to be on this PC) of a Trusted Platform Module (2.0 or any other version). WhyNotWin11 notifies users about both conditions directly and obviously.

IMO, easy access and operation, and more information about the target PC all make WhyNotWin11 a superior choice over PC Health Check. At least, for the purpose of finding out why a machine will (or won’t) upgrade to Windows 11. PC Health Check does offer other capabilities that users may find helpful, including (questionable) info about backup and synchronization, Windows Update checks, storage capacity consumption and startup time. I’m not arguing against use of the tool, when it returns to circulation. I’m merely suggesting that for the purpose of evaluating PCs for Windows 11 upgrades, WhyNotWin11 does a better job at that specific task.

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Windows 11 Store Updates via Library

One minor befuddlement about the newly-refreshed update to the Microsoft Store has puzzled me. Since updating to Windows 11, and obtaining the latest Store version, I haven’t been able to find its Update mechanism. This morning, on a whim, I opened the Library left-column menu item. Voila! Now I know one obtains Windows 11 Store updates via Library buttons. You can see the previously-elusive “Get updates” button at the upper left of the lead-in graphic for this very story.

Push the Button, and Windows 11 Store Updates via Library

And indeed, pressing the “Get updates” button from the Library controls behaves pretty much the same way as in Windows 10. The button goes dim, the busy circle icon circulates for a while, and if any updates are pending a list appears and begins to take care of itself.

I wish I could show you a picture of that update process. But only one of my test machines needed an update. It was for the commercial version of Lenovo Vantage (the ThinkPad update utility). Thing is, it flew by so quickly I didn’t have time to grab a screencap. That said, it does show up in Reliability Monitor as an Informational event. So here’s a screencap that shows it installed at 9:02 AM on July 3.

Windows 11 Store Updates via Library.update-relimon

There it is: Non-highlighted (second) item with LenovoSettings in the name string.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

As the old saying goes, I KNEW it had to be in there somewhere. A little poking around and I did eventually find it. My only question now is why did Microsoft decide to call this the “Library?” My guess: because it points to the repository of apps on the host PC where the Microsoft Store is currently running. The Help button is surprisingly mum on Store UI details and related info, so I guess I did what we’re all supposed to do. I figured it out for myself. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, too…

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Identifying Windows 10 Mystery Startup Items

Here’s something new and helpful about working with Task Manager. Take a look at this story’s lead-in graphic. It shows you can right-click any column header in Task Manager’s Startup tab, to see a pick list of columns (checked items). Add the “Startup type” and “Command line” items, and learn more about the startup entries they describe. In fact, they helped me with identifying Windows 10 mystery startup items on my production PC.

Identifying Windows 10 Mystery Startup Items.program

When a generic “Program” entry showed up in Startup items, adding fields let me see where it was coming from.
[Click item for full-sized view: see top table entry.]

How-to: Identifying Windows 10 Mystery Startup Items

The “Startup type” tells you where the directive comes from. For “Program” it came from the Registry. Better still, Command line data tells you what Startup executes as Windows 10 gets up and running. The particular instruction is malformed and can’t work:

"C:\Program" Files\Teams Installer\Teams.exe --checkinstall --source=default

The closing double quote is misplaced (it should be at the end of the line). Also the directory path referenced in the command does not actually exist on the PC in which this Registry entry resides.

What did I do about this spurious startup item? I cheerfully disabled it. Indeed, that means there’s an orphaned key-value pair in my registry. I can live with that. I do intend to report it via the Feedback Hub, because it definitely includes a syntax error (the misplaced closing double quote). Otherwise, though, it’s no big deal and I’m satisfied to disable it.

[NOTE} Here’s a shout-out to WinHelpOnline, whose story What is “Program” in Task Manager Startup Tab helped me understand my mystery item. It’s worth reading in its entirety for those who want to learn further details about what’s going on, and how to remove related orphaned registry items.

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WinGet 1.0 Updates Most Win10 Applications

A production version of the Windows Package Manager “WinGet” made its debut on or about May 26.  You can grab it from GitHub as version v1.0.11451. It offers the remarkable ability to update any Windows 10 applications for which update packages are defined. Running the tool as a test of this capability, I was able to update 7 of 9 applications the tool flagged as outdated. The 8th item was Firefox, which didn’t get updated within WinGet, but was easily handle through its own update facility. The 9th item was the UWP app for Zoom, which I quickly updated from within its own GUI as well. Thus I confirmed for myself that WinGet 1.0 updates most Win10 applications, if not all of them.

What Does WinGet 1.0 Updates Most Win10 Applications Mean?

In the past, I’ve turned to 3rd party tools such as SuMO or PatchMyPC to keep my Windows PCs up-to-date. The most usable version of SuMO costs €20 and up. PatchMyPC is free but somewhat limited in the programs it can recognize and update. So far, WinGet finds — and updates — programs that not even SuMO recognizes (e.g. Strawberry Perl and SpaceDesk). And of course, it’s free for the download from Microsoft’s GitHub repository.

If you look at the lead-in graphic for this story, you’ll see the command syntax to ask WinGet to list programs for which it knows upgrades are available. That syntax is simple:

WinGet upgrade

does the trick. If you want to actually run those upgrades, you need only add --all to the preceding command to fire it off (note the double dashes that precede the word all). You can see the tool at work in this oversized screencap:

WinGet 1.0 Updates Most Win10 Applications.upgrade-all

WinGet skipped Firefox and Zoom (a UWP app) and owing to my mistake hung up on updating the final item: spacedesk Windows DRIVER.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

The tool hung while trying to update SpaceDesk. This was probably a self-inflicted wound, though, because an earlier Macrium Reflect update did leave a reboot pending to complete its own installation. I had to kill the PowerShell process tree to terminate that apparently never-ending update, thanks to my oversight.

After Restart, All’s Well That Ends Well

And sure enough, after a restart, another round of WinGet upgrade -all took care of the SpaceDesk item. It ran through to completion (and even reset the graphic driver automatically to “make room” for itself). This capability is worth getting to know. I predict some admins will find it eminently capable of keeping up with (most) upgrades on Windows 10 PCs, especially reference image machines for deployment use. Check it out!

What Did WinGet Miss?

To give the Devil his due, I just ran SuMO to see what WinGet’s update check missed. Here’s a list of what it didn’t find (and for which apps, therefore, update packages are presumably needed):
1. CPU-Z
2. SuMO itself
3. Snagit
It just goes to show that none of these tools is absolutely complete, though some are more complete than others. I still like what WinGet does and how it works just fine!

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Power Options VM Surprise

It’s been a painful last few days here in Windows World. I’ve been working on a loaner, locked-down machine in connection with a code analysis project. Because that code is protected and valuable intellectual property (IP), I’m able to access its GitHub repository only through a VM running on a hardened and isolated system. Essentially, I have to access the VM through a browser tab set up inside a VPN-accessible secure store. It hasn’t been going too well, either: each time I tried to use the VM and left the machine alone for a while, it would drop its connection. And then, to make things worse, I couldn’t get back in without asking an IT admin to reset the server side of the remote access environment. That’s where  an unwanted and unexepected Power Options VM surprise came into play.

What Is a Power Options VM Surprise?

If you look at the lead-in graphic, you’ll see that one change I make on my Windows PCs post-upgrade or install is to change the sleep interval to “Never.” The default is 30 minutes. Accessing the VM used a commercial VPN into a host server. Then, a remote access client (first RDP, then VNC) connected to the VM itself. For a long time, the firm’s IT guy kept fiddling with RDP settings and such. Eventually he switched to VNC for remote access, thinking it might be an RDP protocol issue at work (or not).

But the disconnect issues kept popping up, where the VM connection would drop when the machine was idle for 30 minutes or more. This finally caused him to investigate the Power Options, where it was immediately obvious the default “sleep after 30 minutes” was the culprit. Resetting the value to my usual preference — that is “Never” — has since fixed things, hopefully for good.

Troubleshooting 101: Don’t Overlook the Obvious

As an outsider with only a regular user account, it wasn’t up to me to mess with default settings on the locked-down machine furnished to me for this project. Ditto for default settings for the VM I was accessing to get into the target code base. But gosh: I have to believe we were looking for complex solutions to a seemingly complex problem. Instead, we should have been looking for simple solutions for a straightforward default settings check.

The moral of this story is not lost on me. I hope it will likewise inspire you to make a checklist when working with VMs, and to put “check default settings” (especially in Power Options) right near the head of that list. Sleep may “knit up the raveled sleeve of care,” as the Immortal Bard put it. But sleep causes all kinds of interesting problems for Windows PC — and now I know, for Windows VMs, too. Funny thing, I’ve learned to make this tweak because I use RDP extensively here at Chez Tittel to get from my production desktop to the 10-plus other PCs usually running around here. I shoulda known…

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Blinking Monitor Gets Easy Fix

When it comes to Windows, it’s always something. When I logged in this morning, it was my number two (right-hand) monitor, blinking on and off at about 3 second intervals. From long experience, I know the most likely cause for such misbehavior is the graphics driver. Thus, I immediately fire up the GeForce Experience app, see a new driver is available, download and install same. And that, dear Readers, is how my blinking monitor gets easy fix. If only all of my problems were so easily solved!

Driver Update Means Blinking Monitor
Gets Easy Fix

Graphics drivers are notoriously finicky beasts. They can cause all kinds of interesting problems, especially when new drivers cause hijinks on older graphics cards (or circuitry). My production desktop incorporates a GeForce GTX 1070, which is now about 5 years old. Because of the scarcity of newer generation (2xxx and 3xxx) GPUs right now — coin miners are snatching them up in droves — this model is still in extremely wide use. Hence, I’m inclined to trust new drivers. That’s because Nvidia would aggravate a sizable population if they let a substandard GTX 1070 driver out the door.

Luckily for me, my inclinations proved justified. After installing v466.47,  I see no further blinking from the right-hand monitor (#2 in the lead-in graphic). It’s nice when the most obvious fix turns out to be the only one that’s required. Again, I know from experience that troubleshooting issues further would get more interesting and probably end up costing money.

My next move would have been to swap the DisplayPort cables that tie monitors 1 and 2 to the GeForce card. If the blinking had switched positions, that would indicate a cable replacement. If not, card troubleshooting would begin in earnest. And with GPUs so expensive and hard to find right now, that could have been a real problem.

Sometimes, here in Windows-World, you get away with an occasionally easy fix for your problems. Today, I’m celebrating my simple and painless escape!

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Macrium Reflect 8 Drops Commercial-only Versions

As I was perusing my usual Windows 10 news sources yesterday, I noticed that version 8 of the excellent Macrium Reflect backup tool made its debut. My excitement deflated quickly, as I figured out that Macrium Reflect 8 drops commercial-only versions.

Fortunately, I have a 4-license package of Macrium Reflect Home. This I upgraded to version 8 for a “mere” US$75.72 (US$69 plus tax). This got me to v8 on those PCs that run a commercial version. That means my production desktop, my road/travelling PC, and my wife’s and son’s PCs. But what about Macrium 8 Free?

Macrium Reflect 8 Drops Commercial-only Versions.later

This terse statement about MR V8 Free popped up on TenForums yesterday (Thanks, Kari!).

Macrium Reflect 8 Drops Commercial-only Versions: Free Comes Later

A mainstay in the Windows 10 toolbox is the no-cost version of Macrium Reflect (MR). Known as Reflect Free it offers about 85% of the functionality of the commercial version. I’ve used it for 6-plus years on my test PCs and have yet to find a situation the free version couldn’t handle, backup and restore wise. I bought a 4-license pack to do my bit to support a company whose products I like and endorse.

Word on the street is that the v8 Free version is coming, but won’t be out until the end of the summer (see preceding graphic). That item was dated May 20. Doing that calendar math puts the date on or around August 18. For the time being, users have no choice but to wait for the v8 version of Macrium Reflect Free to makes its appearance.

What’s New in Reflect Home v8?

The software’s maker — Paramount Software UK Ltd — has helpfully put together such a list in handy graphic form. I copy it here verbatim from their “Reflect 8” web page:

Macrium Reflect 8 Drops Commercial-only Versions.what's-new

Some of these features won’t be included in the Free version when it appears, but many/most of them will.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Of these features, intra daily backups (repeated, frequent copies of specific data files) are quite interesting plus well-informed and -intentioned. I need to spend some time with the new version to really understand what it can do. Alas, that must wait for the press of paying work to abate a bit (I’m kinda busy these days, which has its good and bad points).

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NirSoft Adds Winning ManageWirelessNetworks Tool

Anybody who’s been reading my stuff for a while knows I like the work of Israeli developer Nir Sofer. His company, NirSoft adds winning ManageWirelessNetworks tool to its lineup.  If you take a look at the lead-in graphic above, you can see some of my traveling history enshrined in the profile names in the left-hand column. There, you’ll see names for hotels, law firms, and more amidst that list.

If NirSoft Adds Winning ManageWirelessNetworks Tool, Use It!

Many — nay, most — of the names in that list I will never need or use again.  If you choose “Run as Administrator…” when you launch this tool, you can select obsolete or unneeded profiles in the UI. (Ctrl-click works to select multiple individual items; Shift-click works for ranges.) If you then click the red X in the icon bar above, they’ll all be deleted.

Here’s what my current list of active, valid Profile Names looks like after pruning, in fact:

NirSoft Adds Winning ManageWirelessNetworks Tool.cleaned

After clean-up, the item count in the list drops from 26 to 6. Easily done, too!

Sure, you can remove stale entries for Wi-Fi networks at the command line. I wrote a post about this for the TechTarget incarnation of this blog back in 2017 “Clean Up Old Wireless Profiles in Windows 10.” But the NirSoft tool beats that method cold: it’s visual, lets you handle all stale entries in one go, and works like a champ. I’d long wondered why the NirSoft collection didn’t have such a tool already. Well now it does: and I’m glad!

As the old advertisement said: “Try it, you’ll like it!” I did, and I do. You can do likewise.

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NirSoft BlueScreenView Worth Learning

Israeli developer Nir Sofer is the person behind the outstanding Windows utility site nirsoft.net. I’ll be describing his blue screen viewing tool in today’s item. And when I explain what makes NirSoft BlueScreenView worth learning, I mean it is something handy to have around for both Windows professionals and enthusiasts.

Why say this? Because, sooner or later, nearly every Windows PC experiences a crash. In older Windows versions, such a screen was invariably blue. That earned it the initialism BSOD, for “Blue Screen of Death.” In Windows 10, such screens sometimes come up in green instead and may be called GSODs for that reason. For a fascinating historical look at BSODs from the past, check out Mark Russinovich’s evil little BlueScreen Screen Saver. It not only simulates BSODs, it also simulates the data acquisition and reboot phases that follow immediately thereafter.  Says Russinovich “…its accuracy will fool even advanced NT developers” (it does not, however, look like a real Windows 10 BSOD or GSOD). Like I said: it’s evil.

Why Is NirSoft BlueScreenView Worth Learning?

Simply put, this nice little tool reads the dump files that Windows collects as it recovers from a serious error. It provides immediate insight into what blew up, and what other OS and application modules were involved.

You can provoke BSOD with an input string to an administrative command prompt, if you like. WARNING! This will immediately crash the PC into which it is entered. Close all apps, and save your work beforehand, to avoid unpleasant surprises.

That command string is:

taskkill /im svchost.exe /f

Svchost.exe is a critical Windows 10 process. It acts as a shell for loading services based around dynamic load library (DLL) files. Because DLLs are often shared, multiple processes will call on a single svchost.exe instance to access its DLL. By running this command you’re killing all svchost instances immediately. This renders Windows unable to run, so it crashes instead.

The flag in the resulting BSOD reads “CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED.” That brief phrase tells you that, except as a sure-fire way of provoking a BSOD, this is an extremely bad idea. But it’s a useful technique to cause a bluescreen, to show what NirSoft BlueScreenView can do.

NirSoft BlueScreenView Worth Learning.bsd-windows

Dump files in top pane, Dump trace in lower pane. This one shows the CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED error from the lead-in graphic.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Working Through BlueScreenView Output

As you examine the image above, you’ll see a dump file that starts with a date string (051021) and ends with the tell-tale file extension “.dmp”. It shows a time stamp, the bug check string, and a bug check code, followed by up to 4 parameters. It also shows which driver caused the crash: in this case, we killed the driver for the operating sytem kernel itself! (That’s noskrnl.exe plus a hex offset, as shown in column 9.)

Generally when I’m using this tool, I look first at Column 9 (caused by driver). That’s because the transitory blue screen window provides most of the preceding data. I usually care most about the bug check string and code because they make dandy lookup strings for guidance online. Column 9 points to the actual cause, and can be extremely informative.

Spend a little time with this tool, and use it to practice reading dump files. Trust me: it’ll come in handy someday. ‘Nuff said

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