Don’t want to move to 10 yet? Like Windows 8.x but want some of those cool features? Read on..

No doubt, you are aware that Windows 10 has been released and adoption is going at a NASCAR pace.  But, you’ve heard the privacy concerns surrounding the new operating system. While those concerns are unfounded, you may have reservations nonetheless.  And, you may think, Windows 8 is working well, why should upgrade and run the risk?

Well, there are lots of great reasons to upgrade, there’s really no hurry. You have a year to get the upgrade for free (after which, you will, presumably, have to purchase the upgrade.) SIDENOTE: if you do upgrade now, or a year from now, you are not going to have to continue to pay after that year, the copy is yours for the life of the machine you’ve put it on. Windows will not become a subscription service.

So, if you choose not to upgrade Windows 8, but want some of those cool Windows 10 features, don’t worry, you can get some of them and make Windows 8 work more like Windows 10.

First thing you will need to do, however, is go to Stardock. com and purchase the Start8 program and ModernMix.  They are cheap and you will be happy that you got them.

So, what are they?

ModernMix allows you to run the Windows Store applications in a window instead of full screen, a behavior that is common in Windows 10.  Your Modern apps (also known as Windows Store or Metro apps  because Microsoft would not make up their minds) will now have minimize, maximize and close buttons in addition to a title bar, just like in Windows 10.

Start8 adds back the traditional Start menu you loved in Windows 7 and below.  In addition, it lets you customize it to look like Windows 7 or incorporate tiles, like Windows 8.  Choosing the Windows 8 look will make it work more like Windows 10.

Start8 allow you to boot to the desktop, a feature included in Windows 8.1.  You can do so in the Settings for Start8.

In Windows 8.1, click the Desktop tile to enter the desktop if you are not already in the desktop. Right click the desktop and select properties. Click on Navigation then ‘Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in’. This is enabled by default if you use a non-touch device.

Windows 8.x hides many traditional desktop icons. You can restore them using the control panel. Right click on the desktop, select Personalize, Change Desktop icons, select the icons you want to show or hide and click Apply, then OK.

These are the ‘biggies’ to make Windows 8.x look and work more like Windows 10 without actually installing the new operating system.  There are other things you can do, but they, too, involve purchasing software.  Decor8 gives you many of the same customization features on the Start screen that Windows 10 has, including the ability to change the background.

Of course, the best way and cheapest for now is to just upgrade. But, until you do, you can do the above steps to get the next best experience. 

UPDATE:

So, after I posted this article, I was reminded of Classic Shell.  Classic Shell does exactly what its name implies: it restores Windows back to the way it was in Windows XP and 7.  It brings the OLD Start Menu back from XP, 2000/ME or 7.  It also makes Explorer work more like XP’s Explorer than 8 or 10.  So, this may be an excellent choice for someone who wants to really remain in past version of Windows and doesn’t want the more modern eye candy.  It does not really fit with the spirit of this post, however, it may appeal to you anyway.  It is freeware, but the author wouldn’t turn down a donation.  You can go here to check it out.

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Putting Windows 10 on my Toshiba Encore Mini

WP_20150802_20_59_36_ProI finally received the ‘Reserve Windows 10’ icon on my Toshiba Encore Mini last week, which I promptly went and ‘reserved’ my copy.  A day after general availability, I checked the icon and the resulting app that opened told me my Mini was compatible and there were no issues.  Of course, it only has 16GB of storage, of which 289 MB was available, I was a bit dubious.  So, upon finding out that one could download the Media Creation Tool, create an ISO file and install from that.

So, I proceeded to clear off some space so I could download the file-I did not know how much space I would need.  I got just over a gigabyte free and downloaded the tool.  Of course, it did not work. I tried to specify the SD card, which was 32GB and clear.  No go.

Persuing the ‘net for an ISO, which I thought Microsoft had on its site, but no longer do, I found an article on Softpedia that details how to download the ESD file and create an ISO from that. This ESD file is a compressed file image, very much like an ISO. We want an ISO because it can be mounted like a hard drive.

After getting the ISO and putting on the SD card, I mounted it as a drive on the Toshiba and began the installation process.  Unfortunately, I cannot say how long it took because I went to bed.  Upon checking it the next day, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had installed and the only things left were the usual user setup and download of the applications and remaining drivers.

BUT…

You knew there was a but, right?

There was the issue of drive space, the primary drive was zero bytes free.  Damn.

WP_20150802_20_59_39_ProSo…I fire up Explorer and began to poke around.  I discover the Windows.OLD directory was there. SIX GIGS worth. Now, you cannot simply right click and delete. The Trusted Installer owns the Windows directory that is in .OLD and that’s where the space was used.  Since you do not have rights to this directory, you must give them to yourself.  You must have Administrator privileges. First thing to do is right click on the Windows directory (Make sure it is in the Windows.old directory) and select PROPERTIES. Click Security.  Click ADVANCED.  Click CHANGE OWNER. Click ADVANCED, then FIND NOW. Look for your user account name and select it. Click OK, OK. Click Apply. It should then make you the owner of the directory and sub directories.  It may take a few minutes. Once done, dismiss all of the dialog boxes. From Explorer, click DELETE in the ribbon or right click and delete.  IF that does not get all files and directories, you may have to repeat the process for those directories.  It took me about fourty five minutes to get them all.  For some reason, some sub directories and files also require you to take ownership even if you ‘own’ the others.

After all of this, I ended up with just over 4GB of space left, enough to install the OFFICE Mobile Suite, which is free for screens under 10.7 inches. I was also able to install a few games from the store and still had space free, around 3GB. 

I didn’t think I’d be able to upgrade this thing, in fact, Paul Thurrot claimed to have broken his out of frustration. 

The end result is a fairly responsive and, now, usable 7 inch tablet that is running Windows 10 pretty smoothly…in 1GB of RAM.  Oh, and Bluetooth appears to be working, something that was not happening with Windows 8.1.

Turns out that my piece of junk, cheapo tablet isn’t such a piece of junk after all.  And, Word works just fine. How about that?

Windows 10, fun things to know

With Windows 10 about to launch, I thought I would share some tips on using the ‘new’ operating system.   If you have used Windows 8/8.1, some of these will be familiar.

EDGE – Internet Explorer’s replacement browser

  • When you fire up EDGE, you will notice, right away, thisedgefave is not Internet Explorer.  It does what all browsers do, and that’s serve up the now standard fare of HTML/Javascript/CSS based pages.  It does so very quickly and much more standards based than Internet Explorer ever did.  However, upon upgrading to Windows 10, EDGE knows nothing about your favorites. As you would with another browser, you must import your favorites.  Do so by clicking the ‘Hub’ icon, it’s the three uneven lines on your EDGE window, in the upper right corner.  When the panel opens, click the Star icon (your favorites) and then select Import Favorites and then the browser you wish to import from. It will take a few seconds, depending on the number of links you have.  Your favorites are now imported.
  • One of the things about tabbed browsing is having a tab play audio when you don’t want it win10EdgeNiceor expect it. Finding that tab, especially if you have many open, isn’t always obvious. With Edge, in Windows 10, it is a bit more obvious. Refer to the photo, the opened tab has an audio indicator and a play button. These let you know which tab or tabs have media playing. You can switch to that tab and take care of the offending media.

  • In the current version, 10240, EDGE does not have the ability to display multi levels of forward or backward pages.  For example, in IE or Chrome, if you right click the back button, you will see 10 levels or so of history. Not so in EDGE.

START Menu

newstartThe Start Menu, which Microsoft decided to bring back from the dead, has been greatly enhanced. It is also customizable.

  • In Desktop mode, the Start menu takes up little space. It has, on the left side, that traditional style Start Menu listing of applications and functionality. On the right side, is what remains of the Windows 8/8.1 Start Page.  You can pin things to the Start Page and the live tiles will work, provided the tile belongs to Windows Store application.   The whole thing can be resized by grabbing the upper right corner of the menu and dragging it up and to the right.
  • In Desktop mode, you can make the Start Menu take up the entire screen, if you like that. To do so, go to Settings->Personalization->Start. Click ‘Use Full Screen’ and close the settings.  Click the Start Button and you should see a full screen Start Menu/Page.
  • Right clicking on a live tile will pop up a menu giving more control over them.  You can unpin the tile, resize it, turn it on or off, pin to the taskbar or uninstall the application.
  • You can make the taskbar, action center and start page transparent by opening Settings->Personalization->Colors. Turn on the transparency by clicking ‘Make Start, taskbar, and action center Transparent’ slider.

Task Manager

taskmanThe ALT-Tab task switching, though looking different, still works the same. Microsoft has taken that notion, added in a bit of the Vista style task switching and went full screen with tiled representations of the running applications. You can select an application to switch to OR…and you LInux people will deride this as old, send an application to a new desktop. Yes, Windows 10 now has multiple desktops.  You can activate this feature by clicking on the desktop icon next to the Cortana icon on the task bar.

 

So, there you have a few nice features of Windows 10.  Check back for more.

Windows update, activation and 10: two major problems and a happy ending

As part of his graduation, we gave my oldest son a gaming computer. It’s nothing too fancy, a middle of the road gaming rig so he can play League of Legends with as little ‘lag’ as possible. The machine we got him, a CyberPower PC special from Best Buy, is no slouch: quad core, 3.7ghz processor, AMD/ATI R 6700 graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 2.2TB HDD.  Oh, it runs Windows 8.1.

Now, the computer came with a lesser graphics card, my son inherited the R 6700 (I think that’s the number) card and, ever since we put it in, it has caused several blue screens.  In all of the time I’ve run 8 or 8.1, I think I’ve had two such issues. Well, with the last blue screen, came an activation issue.

Windows did not think it was activated. 

Great.

So, I proceed to activate.  No go.  After several attempts, I discover the key is now invalid.  What?

A call to Microsoft resulted in finger pointing to CyberPower PC. The key is an OEM key and Microsoft refuses to help on them.  So, I call the OEM. As it was on a Saturday, they had limited hours and I had both limited patience and battery on my phone.  After 45 minutes on hold, my phone was losing juice and I lost patience. 

Remembering that I had a clean, legal copy of WIndows 8 PRO-with an unused key-I thought, well, I’ll just install 8, upgrade to 8.1 and put him on the Windows 10 track.  Simple.

It started out great, Windows 8 took 20 to 30 to install.  Upon the desktop setup, I proceed to the Windows Store to grab 8.1. No go. Have to update first.  How stupid is this? So, I goto Windows Update.  Boy, my friend Sam was right, this damn thing is broken. Sorry Sam. Over 150 updates awaited.  So, I told my son to keep an eye on it and my wife and I went out.

At some point, it appears the computer went to sleep.  DURING UPDATING.  My son lets me know.  Well, the interrupted update BROKE the update process!

Nothing I did fixed it.  It’s 11pm now and I’ve wasted the day-save the two hours I was with my wife-on this bloody computer. Not happy.

So, I recalled that one can go to Windows 10 directly from 7, 8 or 8.1. So, I went ahead and upgraded to the most current build of Windows 10.  The upgraded took about 45 minutes, but it worked like a charm.  We had to install Direct 3d/dx 9, but League of Legends worked and did not need to be reinstalled – which, itself, takes hours and hours and hours.

So far, with one exception, 10 has worked very well.  It did blue screen, but the error was really odd and had to do with sound. This computer has some odd hardware, so I am thinking it is a driver issue and I plan to check them all for compatibility.

This whole process was just a joke.  Windows Activation is the most assinine thing yet.  There is just no reason for Microsoft to continue with that mess. It does not stop those who want to steal it and just causes major headaches for those of who play by the rules.  And Windows Update? Holy hell.  What a major blemish that has become.

Microsoft, I implore you, do the right thing and ditch activation. Fix the update process.  And hire people who can CLEARLY speak the same bloody language as those who call your centers.

That is all.

Toshiba Encore Mini: a Seven Inch Tablet For $99

WP_20150216_18_06_53_ProIn 2014, one of the things that Microsoft did, to push Windows 8 and Windows 8 devices, was to offer up a ‘zero dollar’ (i.e. NOT FREE) version of Windows for devices that are under eight inches.  This move did more than just give manufacturers a ‘zero cost’ version of Windows, it opened the flood gate on small Windows devices.  Now, this is a FULL version of Windows, no strings attached. Well, ok, you have BING as your default search provider, but, you can change it if you wish.

Among the devices introduced was the Toshiba Encore Mini Tablet. This is an Intel Atom powered, seven inch tablet. It has 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (of which about 10GB is available), WIFI, SD Micro Card slot, USB connector and stereo sound.  It runs Windows 8.1 with Bing and costs $99.WP_20150214_22_48_42_Pro 1

If you shop, you can get it for about eighty-eight dollars.

The device is comparable, in size, to the iPad Mini, though not as pretty.  It is functional, but will not garner any design awards.  It is fairly generic. My unit has a bumpy, white hard plastic back with a black bezel.  The seven inch screen is not the best I’ve ever seen, but far from the worse (no, that award goes to the Pandigital White seven inch tablet from a few years ago.)

Unboxing the unit was quick, there’s not much there: the Tablet, two booklets, an addendum, the USB cable and…that’s it. NO POWER ADAPTOR was included. I suppose they cost too much.  The manual suggests PLUGGING IT IN TO YOUR COMPUTER to charge it.  Or, use the Toshiba branded wall wart, that you have to purchase separately. In reality, pretty much any USB charger will work.  My unit was DOA, so I had to wait to charge it. 

WP_20150216_18_07_50_ProOnce charged, it took a few minutes to set it up. I entered my Microsoft credentials and everything was setup for me: my mail, favorites, even recent browsing history.  OneNote synced fairly quickly as well. I specifically told it NOT to sync my apps as I don’t have that much storage and did not want ‘muddy’ it up. 

While the device comes with Office 365 Personal, I already have a subscription, so I have not set it up. 

Overall, the performance is about on par with my Asus Tablet.  For some things, it seems a bit faster and for others, much slower. Graphics performance is abysmal, but I won’t be playing games on this thing. Well, not anything demanding, anyway.  Audio is MUCH better than on my Asus-I can actually hear it. What a concept.

One thing I have noticed is that the Windows Desktop (aside from being an antique) just is not suitable for this size.  I think Microsoft made the right choice for Windows 10 by doing away with the desktop for devices of this size or smaller.  It simply does not scale properly. Icons and links are way too small, I found myself tapping on one thing, or, so I thought, and something else WP_20150216_18_07_12_Prohappens. At 1280 by 600, on a seven inch screen, it is just too small for Windows desktop.

WiFi performance was good, but I found that it, frequently, drops the WiFi connection.  I am guessing it is a driver issue.

Battery life is also not that great. iPad Mini gets about nine hours whereas this thing get, maybe, seven hours. It also charges very slowly. That initial charge took nearly eight hours. It has taken about six hours to fully charge since then. Now, to be fair, that first charge was from the computer, which charges my phone slowly as well. The second and subsequent charges have been on my Nikon Lumia battery charger. Your mileage may vary.

The camera? It’s horrible. Nothing more to be said.

Overall, this is a good buy if you need a tablet to take with you on daily trips, but don’t need it a full day.  It is great for short Internet bursts or checking and answering email. If you have a portable Bluetooth keyboard, it may be good for Word on the go.  It is great for OneNote as well. But, it isn’t so great for many things you’d use a laptop or larger tablet to do.  If you need to do more than this, save your money and buy a bigger tablet.  If, however, you want a device a little bigger than your phone, but not a full sized tablet, then this may be for you,  Go to Best Buy and try it first.

Windows 10, the consumer rules

Win10_Windows_ProductFamily_WebMicrosoft unveiled a near complete Windows 10 platform at an event they hosted this past week (Jan 21, 2015.)  During the keynotes, several key features were shown off, which are sure to make just about everyone happy about the new addition to the Windows family.  Among the features highlighted were:

  • Continuum, the ability to rather seamlessly transition from desktop mode to tablet and back again, depending on whether or not you have your tablet docked or not.
  • Cortana, the Windows Phone assistant now comes to the desktop and tablet experiences as well.
  • Universal apps, which have been talked about for a long time, are a reality. These apps will work on phone, tablet or PC and the experience will be very similar across devices.
  • Spartan, the ‘new’ browser based on the old browser’s Javascript and rendering engines.
  • Clean and consistent user interface spans all types of devices, from phone to XBOX One.

Windows 10: The Next Chapter press event (day 2 of 2)Windows 10 not only gives desktop features to mobile devices, but some of those features are headed to PC land (and some to XBOX as well) including the notification area. On phone, you swipe down from the top edge of the screen. On PC, it will be near the tray. Either way, you will see the same things. And, perhaps the biggest feature of all, Cortana, the Siri like assistant, comes to the desktop.

There were also two huge announcements made, that really kind of overshadow all of the other stuff:  Windows as a service and Windows 10 upgrades will be free to Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 users, for the first year the product is available.  Yes, that gives you a year to get off your seat and upgrade those Windows 7 computers.  For free.

Windows as a service is currently aimed at the business area, but it could to consumer land at some point. The Windows as a service plan is very much like Office 365 and, in fact, includes Office 365 for business.  Pricing was not announced, but it is speculated to be around $12 per user per month.

Perhaps an overlooked aspect of the announcements Win10_Xbox_Devices_Webwas the XBOX One.  Windows 10 will be coming to that platform as well. And it will require a new interface…the XBOX controller.  Game streaming from XBOX One to any Windows 10 device will be baked in. You will be able to start a game on your console, continue on your tablet or desktop and finish back on your console.  The XBOX app for Windows will also be included and will be very similar to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One apps that are out today.

Microsoft will be releasing two huge Windows 10 computers, a 55 inch and an 84 inch device that is ‘tuned’ for conferencing and aimed at business (which means they will be expensive.) They will be from the Perceptive Pixel company that Microsoft purchased a while back. Called Surface Hub, you can see them in action here.

Oh, and there was one more thing…

Win10_HoloLens_LivingRoom_WebHOLOLENS. HoloLens is an augmented reality headset in the form of glasses. Among the things it can do…use your eye as a mouse.  This device is very intriguing and nothing I write here will convey that, so…I will point you to Youtube and to Engadget, where they had some hands on with the device and a nice write up too boot.

 

OFFICE

Win10_Windows_Mail_PrintA new version of Office was briefly shown. Office for Windows 10 is a touch enabled version of the productivity suite.  It will be available for all Windows devices (not sure about XBOX) and will be consistent across them.  Outlook on Mobile will use the Word engine so you will be able to, finally, create really nice email messages on your phone.  The suite will be available for free on all device that are under 8 inches.  Pricing for the other devices was not revealed.

If  you want to play around with the new bits, you can enter the preview program and download Windows 10 for your computer today.  The mobile version is coming out in February of 2015.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 is here!

startpageMicrosoft released Windows 8.1 Update 1 today.  The update, which, for me, was like finding a needle in a haystack, will be a mandatory update-which is why it is going through Windows Update versus the store like 8.1 did.  I did not want to wait, so I went to the normal Windows update method, but did not find it. I went to the charms bar, selected SETTINGS, then CHANGE PC SETTINGS, then UPDATE AND RECOVERY then windows update.  I clicked the ‘check now’ option and did, in fact, find many updates. None of them were the ‘Update 1’.  So, I remembered that, sometimes, you have to go to the ‘old’ desktop version of Windows update.  Open up Control Panel, select System and Security then Windows Update.  There it was.  I let it update. It took about 20 minutes. Once that was done, it was like a new computer again.startpagemenu

There are a lot of little things that, collectively, add up to a mostly pleasant experience for the mouse/keyboard user. I have not yet tried it on my tablet, but I suspect I’ll not see much of a difference.

For most users, the changes are subtle and welcome. For example, on the Start Page, there is now a power button and a search icon.  Right clicking tiles gets you a context menu and the app list now highlights new applications.

startpagetaskbarstartpagelivetilesModern apps (Windows store apps, metro, whatever you want to call them) now show up on the task bar when in the desktop AND the task bar shows up on the Start Page. startpagetaskbarAt least, it does sometimes.  I’m not sure if it is a bug or not, but I get the task bar on my Start Page when I move the mouse down to the bottom of the screen and hover. BUT…it doesn’t always work, so, I’m not sure if it is a feature or not.

Modern apps now have a title bar with minimize and close buttons. Fortunately, the title bar hides startpageapptitlebarafter a couple of seconds. to get it back, move the mouse up to the top of the screen.

So far, my only real complaint: it defaulted to booting to the desktop instead of the Start Page.  Don’t want the desktop to be default.

There are other changes as well and more changes are coming (like a new, enhanced Start Menu.) This is the Windows that Microsoft should have released as version 8 and then, over time, deprecate the crap, like the task bar.  For now, though, I wonder if this might be too little, too late. We’ll see.