Storage Sense may not be as sensible as it sounds

Windows10 - another logoStorage Sense is the Windows 10 method of automatically freeing up space by emptying the recycle bin, deleting temporary files, deleting local copies of files held in the cloud, and – crucially – removing items from your Downloads folder.

When I am delivering basic Windows training to my IT clients, I usually mention that it is thought “best practice” not to leave important files solely in your Downloads folder. Instead, move (or copy) them to somewhere more appropriate. This doesn’t usually matter for programs that you have downloaded as the downloaded files are just installation files. Deleting the installation file won’t delete the program itself once it has been installed. It is a different matter, though, if you are downloading data files that you don’t subsequently copy or move somewhere else.

This is not very sound organisational practice as the files could be of very different types – email attachments of all types, all sorts of website downloads (programs, images, pdf files). Another reason for not leaving the only copy of data files in the Downloads folder is that you could accidentally delete them if you run the Windows “Disk Cleanup” utility. But at least in Disk Cleanup, there is an option to deselect the Downloads folder – and it stays deselected between sessions of Disk Cleanup.

There is a more dangerous utility in Windows called “Storage Sense”. Depending on how it is set (and I can’t remember whether the default is to run every day, week, month, or just when disk space is low), this will run periodically to delete a load of the clag that Windows computers accrue. Crucially, it will also (by default) delete items in your Downloads folder.

Storage Sense 01

Yes – it does say Storage Sense is off, but it will still run if disk space is low

Now, the dangerous aspect is this. There is a slider switch that suggests that you can turn Storage Sense off. You may think that turning it off would mean that you don’t have to worry about any of the settings within Storage Sense because it is, well, turned off. Not so. Storage Sense might run even if it is turned off. Yes, that’s right. If your disk space runs low (I think it is triggered when disk space falls below 10%) then Storage Sense will run whether it is switched on or off. And it applies the settings you might have thought were irrelevant because it was turned off – including emptying the contents of your Downloads folder and deleting local copies of files that are also held in the cloud in OneDrive (or Skydrive as it chooses to call it here).

Storage Sense 02

If you don’t want Storage Sense to delete your Downloads, select “Never”

“Oh well, that doesn’t bother me because I’ve got a new computer and it must have loads of space”, you might say. But if you’ve got a solid state drive of modest proportions (say, 256gb or less) and if Windows has just stolen over 20gb of your space to store your old version of Windows (which it does for 10 days after installing a major update to Windows), then it is quite possible to trigger Storage Sense unexpectedly on a relatively new machine.

What can you do about it?

  • Click on the Start Button
  • Type in “Storage Settings” (without the quotes)
  • Click on “open” when offered Storage Settings in the Start Menu
  • Click on “Change how we free up space automatically”
  • Change your options about what it touches and when
  • Choose whether to let Storage Sense run in circumstances other than low disk space by sliding the switch under “Storage Sense” on or off

For more information on how Storage Sense turns itself on and how it deals with locally stored OneDrive files see this Microsoft page (or, to put it another way, if you don’t believe me, check it out with Microsoft).

Creating a Windows 10 Recovery Drive could save you grief later on

Windows 10 Recovery DriveIf Windows 10 fails to load properly, there are options in what is known as the “recovery environment” for getting Windows to sort itself out. One of these options is to boot (start) your computer from a USB drive (or DVD) that has been specially prepared for your version of Windows. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to discuss in detail how you would use the recovery drive, but having one is the biggest part of the battle!

I would not want to suggest that such a “recovery drive” will get you out of trouble on every occasion, but if you are faced with a computer that will not start, a bit of earlier planning for such an eventuality could save you a lot of grief.

So why don’t I routinely create such a recovery drive when I help my IT support clients to set up a new computer? The answer to that is that it’s just a matter of costs and benefits. As I write this I am 45 minutes into creating such a recovery drive for one of my own (not very fast) machines and there’s no sign yet of how long it will take to finish. It just wouldn’t be worth what I would need to charge my clients when weighed against the chances of ever needing the drive.

So, how do you create a Windows USB Recovery Drive?

  • Acquire a USB drive with at least 16gb capacity. Note that any previous content on the drive will be deleted when preparing the recovery drive
  • Insert the drive into an available USB slot and ignore any window that might pop up asking you what to do with the drive
  • Click on the Windows Start button and then on the Settings icon (the cogwheel)
  • In the search box at the top of the Settings screen, type “create” (without the quotes)
  • Click on the option “Create a recovery drive” that will now be offered
  • Click on “yes” when asked “Do you want to allow this app…”
  • Make sure that the box is ticked next to “Back up system files to the recovery drive” and then click “Next”
  • After what could be quite a wait, click on the correct drive for the installation and then click on “Next”
  • Click on “Create”

Choose Drive

If you have any other external drives connected, make sure you choose the right one

After encouraging you to create your own recovery drive, I’m now going to appear to completely undermine my own advice by saying that, according to everything I’ve read, you ought to be able to use a recovery drive created on a completely different computer as long as the versions of Windows are the same. So, you can’t mix Windows 10 Home with Windows 10 Pro, for instance, and you can’t mix the 32 bit version of Windows with the 64 bit version.

Windows 10 Recovery Drive

..and here’s one I prepared earlier

You would think, therefore, that it would be easy to do a quick google and find someone selling such recovery drives already prepared. For some reason, they don’t seem to be there – at least, not stated unequivocally that they are such devices, how they were prepared, and at a reasonable price. Whether this is a copyright issue or Google choosing not to list such items I do not know, but the upshot is the same in that I encourage you to create your own recovery drive using your own copy of Windows.

All it will cost is a 16gb USB drive (about a fiver from Amazon or a bit more from Ryman) and a bit of your time to prepare it.

Note that this blog post has been written assuming that the recovery media will be a USB drive. You could also use DVDs, but I suspect this would take longer.

Is your Windows 10 computer starting as quickly as it can?

TurbotortoiseThere is a feature in Windows 10 called “Fast Startup”. What this means is that parts of Windows itself and its connection to peripherals and their drivers are not all loaded again from scratch each time that you start your computer from a previous shutdown. Instead, when you issue the “shutdown” command your programs and data files are all closed in the normal way, but the state of Windows is saved in a “hibernation file”. When you subsequently start up your computer it is much quicker to reload the contents of the hibernation file than to re-open drivers, re-establish connections to peripherals etc.

RoadRunnerA complication to understanding this is that Windows 10 may also automatically re-open some programs that were still open at the time that the previous shutdown had been started. I’ve just shutdown and re-started my own computer and both Chrome and Outlook automatically re-opened (but not some other programs that had previously been open). This is not part of “fast startup”. Instead, it’s a different recent development in Windows (that I find irritating as it doesn’t re-open all programs. All or nothing would be much better).

Back to fast startup… re-opening a hibernation file is all very well but what if the reason you shut the machine down was because you wanted to reload a driver (say, because your printer was playing up). Choosing “shutdown” and subsequently re-starting the machine won’t solve the problem as the problem may be written into the hibernation file that is re-opened when you start again. In that case, instead of choosing to “shutdown” the computer and then switching it back on, choose to “restart” it. This will empty the contents of the memory and reload everything from scratch. Alternatively, depress the shift key while clicking on Shutdown. This will instruct Windows to ignore the hibernaton file when it reopens.

Fast startup is usually enabled by default, but there is a possibility that your computer is not taking advantage of it due to “hibernation” having been disabled.

To check if Fast Startup is available and enabled:

  • Click on the Start button
  • Type in “Power Options” (without the quotes)
  • Click on “Power Options” when it appears in the list to the left of the Start Menu window
  • Click on “Choose what the power buttons do”
  • Click on “Change settings that are currently unavailable”
  • Look at the section entitled “Shutdown settings”. If you do not see “Turn on fast startup (recommended)” then you need to enable hibernation (see below)
  • If you do see “Turn on fast startup (recommended)” then place or remove a tick in the box next to it to enable or disable it
  • Click on “Save Changes” and close the Power Options window

To enable Hibernation:

  • Right-click on the start button
  • Left-click on “Command Prompt (admin)”
  • Type in “powercfg /hibernate on” (without the quotes)
  • Hit the “enter” key
  • Type “exit” (without the quotes) and then the enter key
  • Go back to Power Options (see above) and place a tick in “Turn on fast startup (recommended)”
Turn on Fast Startup

If you don’t see “Turn on fast startup” in Shutdown Settings then you need to enable hibernation

This one’s a bit of a curate’s egg from Microsoft

Windows Restarting ScreenIn an update sometime during the last year, Microsoft introduced a “feature” whereby starting or restarting your computer causes some programs and apps that were open at the time of shutdown to automatically open again. This is new behaviour. We have always taken it for granted that Windows computers “start clean”.

I can see two major problems with this behaviour:

  • The very reason that the reboot was initiated might have been to clear everything out of memory, particularly when something has gone wrong and you want to start again with a clean sheet. A misbehaving program could misbehave again if automatically reopened
  • Since not all programs/apps are restarted upon re-boot, you have to engage brain and look to see if what you want next has, in fact, reopened. To my mind, it’s easier to just assume that you will have to re-open all required programs after a reboot.

Windows10 - close with Alt F4

Closing or restarting with Alt F4 will ensure all programs are closed first.

I can’t find a direct quote, but, apparently, Microsoft’s advice to obviate these problems is to make sure that you manually close each program in turn before restarting. So, this curate’s egg is also something of a tail wagging the dog. Being forced to perform extra tasks just because of the introduction of a dubious new “feature” is ridiculous. I often think that the people who design this stuff forget that most of the people who use it are doing so because it’s a useful tool. We don’t want to be dictated to by it and it should be as simple as possible to use.

If you find that this “feature” is annoying you, there is a slightly quicker way of having a clean start without having to manually go through each program, laboriously closing everything before a reboot.

  • Go to the desktop, clicking on a blank part to ensure that it has the focus. The quickest way to get to the desktop is to minimise all open windows by hitting the windows key plus the letter “m”
  • Press the Alt key plus the F4 key to bring up the “Shut Down Windows” box
  • Select your option from the dropdown menu

Shutting down by this method will ensure that all open programs are closed first.

Close button

Creating your own “close” button can ensure that all programs are closed before closing Windows

An alternative to this is to create your own “shutdown” button as detailed in my blog post “A small victory – two clicks saved“. Shutting down in this way will also give you a “clean start” on re-boot.

Note that nothing here affects the automatic starting of items listed in your “start menu”. They will still be opened on re-boot, irrespective of which method you use to close the machine. For detailed information on how to open specific programs on every startup (irrespective of whether they had been open at the time of the previous shutdown), see my blog post “Windows 10 – Start Programs at Startup

.. and how do you install it again?

Browser address barIf you can not view websites properly (eg items are missing or they overlap each other) then, with most browsers, it is fairly easy to uninstall  and then reinstall the browser. Just go to “Programs and Features” in the Control Panel, click on the relevant program and then on the “Uninstall” button above the list of programs. You can then download the browser again and reinstall it, just as you would with most programs.

This will work if it is Chrome, Firefox, or Opera that you are having problems with, but you can’t do this with Internet Explorer because it’s not a normal “standalone” program and does not appear in the list of programs in “Programs and Features”. Rather, it is an integral part of Windows. Nevertheless, you can uninstall and reinstall at least a part of it and this may solve problems you are having with it. You just need to follow a different procedure to carry this out.

Internet Explorer 11 logoBefore explaining how to do this, I would say, though, that any problems you are having in displaying websites using IE (as we techies call it), could be down to the specific website’s communication with IE, instead of with IE per se. Internet Explorer is now old technology and some website owners do not test their sites for compatibility with it. I have even come across some websites that prevent you from viewing the site if you are using Internet Explorer. So, I would definitely recommend trying to view the website with a different browser first, to see if this gets you where you want to be, rather than insisting on trying to get it working in IE. There is no reason why you can’t have several different browsers loaded on the same computer. They won’t get in each other’s way, they take up little space, and a second browser can often solve your problem when a website doesn’t display properly in your normal browser.

Windows 10 logoIf, however, you like IE and you are having problems with many websites (suggesting that it’s your installation of IE that is broken) and if you really do want to continue using it, then the following procedure might help. Note that, almost by definition, the procedures below will put IE back to its default state, so you will lose any add-ons and changes to the initial configuration (such as your home page and search engne).

To uninstall Internet Explorer under Windows 10:

  • Click on the “Start” button and then on the “Settings” cogwheel.
  • Click on “Apps”
  • Click on “Manage optional features”
  • Scroll down to “Internet Explorer 11”
  • Tap on it and then on “Uninstall”
  • Reboot the machine (or switch it off and back on again)

To reinstall Internet Explorer under Windows 10:

  • Click on the “Start” button and then on the “Settings” cogwheel.
  • Click on “Apps”
  • Click on “Manage optional features”
  • Click on “Add a Feature”
  • Scroll down to “Internet Explorer 11”
  • Tap on it and then on “Install”
  • Tap on the leftward arrow at the top of the screen and then wait until the progress bar indicates that the reinstallation has finished
  • Reboot the machine (or switch it off and back on again)

That’s it! You are now a techie!

PS – The World Wide Web is 30 years Old.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Click this link to read what Sir Tim Berners-Lee makes of its progress

Working on Updates

The last thing you need when working to a deadline

Yes, you CAN stop Windows 10 from updating – but don’t do it lightly

You may want to stop Windows 10 from updating at an awkward moment (such as while you are in the middle of a project that must be completed against the clock), but be aware of two important things:

  • All other Windows updates will also be stopped – such as new file definitions for Windows Defender and updates to Microsoft Office. Update processes to programs other than those from Microsoft are not affected.
  • Window Update may just (magically) turn itself back on again some time in the future, despite your having turned it off (as detailed below).

So, how do we turn Windows Update off?

This is a two-step process:

  • Turn the Update Service off
  • Stop it from turning itself back on (hopefully)

This is achieved as follows:

  • Right-click on the “Start” button and left-click on either Windows PowerShell (Admin) or Command Prompt (Admin)
  • Type the following command, followed by the “Enter” key:
  • sc.exe config wuauserv start= disabled
  • Be careful to include the spaces in the above command – particularly the one after “start=”
Turning off Windows 10 Update Service

How to turn off Windows 10 Update Service

The above command stops Windows from starting the Update Service, but it will probably already be running (for this session), so we now need to stop it by typing in the following command, followed by “Enter”:

  • sc.exe stop wuauserv
  • Type “exit” (without the quotes) and the Enter key to close PowerShell or the Command Prompt

You can check that the Update Service will not now interrupt you by checking for updates. If the Update Service is turned off, then you should get an error message:

  • Click on the Start button
  • Start typing “Windows Update Settings” (without the quotes) and click on “Windows Update”
  • Click on “Check for updates”
  • You should now see “Error encountered”

Windows 10 Updates Turned Off

If Update is disabled, this is what you will see if you check for updates


To turn the Windows Update Service back on:

  • Right-click on the “Start” button and left-click on either Windows PowerShell (Admin) or Command Prompt (Admin)
  • Type the following commands, following each by “Enter”:
  • sc.exe config wuauserv start= auto
  • sc.exe start wuauserv
  • Again, be careful about the spaces
  • Type “exit” (without the quotes) and the Enter key to close PowerShell or the Command Prompt

If you now open up “Windows Update Settings” and check for updates, you should see it perform the check in the normal way:

  • Click on the Start button
  • Start typing “Windows Update Settings” (without the quotes) and click on “Windows Update”
  • Click on “Check for updates”

I can think of a few of my IT Support clients who will seize on this and think that it is an answer to a prayer, but I recommend using it very sparingly. Remember that it will prevent ALL updates from Microsoft – and that includes bug fixes and security patches. Sooner or later, I think you would encounter more problems by having the Windows Update Service permanently disabled than having it permanently enabled. Neverthless, I think that being able to turn it off for specific purposes is legitimate and useful.

Although it’s not obvious how to do it, there is a way to pin documents to the Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 - yet another logoIf you have documents that you need to access often – such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint files, or pdf files – you may want to access them directly from a “tile” on the Start Menu. Yes, I know that a shortcut can be added to the desktop, but the problem with desktop shortcuts is that Windows has an irritating habit of “re-organizing” them such that you can’t find anything quickly.

Well, there is a way to create Start Menu tiles of documents. It involves three steps:

  • Create a desktop shortcut to the document
  • Add that shortcut to the folder that contains the Start Menu items
  • Create a Start Menu tile from the new entry in the Start Menu list of “All Apps”

To create a desktop shortcut to the document:

  • Open File Explorer and find the document
  • Right-click on the document
  • Left-click on “Send to”
  • Left-click on “Desktop (create shortcut)”

File Explorer Address Bar

To add that shortcut to the folder that contains the Start Menu items:

  • Open a “File Explorer” window
  • Type the text on the next line into the address bar in the File Explorer window, and hit the Enter key:

    %AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

    If you want the shortcut to appear on the Start Menu of all other users on this computer as well as your own then, instead of the line above, type the line below into the File Explorer window, and hit the Enter key:

    %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

  • Drag the File Explorer window around the desktop until you can see the shortcut to the document that you created in the first step
  • Drag the shortcut from the desktop into the File Explorer window you opened above

Start Menu Display Options

To create a Start Menu tile from the new entry in the Start Menu list of “All Apps”

  • Open the Start Menu
  • Select the “All Apps” view on the Start Menu (see illustration)
  • Find the entry for the new item, right-click on it, and left-click on “Pin to Start”
  • Display the tiles by clicking on the “Pinned Tiles” icon (see illustration)

That’s it. You now have a “tile” of your document on the Start Menu. It’s very much faster to open a document this way than to open its associated program and then open the document from within the program.Unlike desktop icons, this tile will stay in the same place.

I haven’t found a way of changing the image of the tile to use, for instance, a jpg. The image that the live tile adopts is the icon of the desktop shortcut from which it was created. Normally, this will be the default icon associated with the file type, but you can change the icon of desktop shortcuts as follows:

  • Right-click on the shortcut
  • Left-click on the “Shortcut” tab
  • Left-click on “Change Icon”

Live Tiles of Documents

Live tiles of a pdf file, a spreadsheet file (with changed icon), and an Access database

Also, you can change the wording on the Start Menu tile by renaming the desktop shortcut before dragging it into the “Start Menu\Programs” folder. Rename the desktop shortcut by right-clicking on it and left-clicking on “Rename”. You can rename the shortcut to anything you like (removing the word “shortcut” and the “.pdf”, for instance).

Windows 10 now has enhanced touchpad capabilities built into it

Windows 10 logo and pointing fingerIf you regularly use the touchpad of your laptop rather than a mouse, then you will undoubtedly know that some things are a bit awkward. Take scrolling down a webpage quickly, for instance. This involves:

1) Moving the cursor (using the touchpad) up to the scrolling “slider”
2) Clicking on the lefthand side of the touchpad and then simultaneously dragging a finger from the top towards the bottom of the touchpad.

And, yes, it’s as awkward to carry out that procedure as it is to explain it. Maybe that’s why I see many of my IT Support clients scrolling down a web page by moving the cursor to the “up” or “down” controls at the top and bottom of scrolling bars and then just depressing on one of these controls until the scrolling has (eventually) taken the view to the right place (yawn).

2-fingered touchpad gesturePrior to Windows 10, there was no universal way of doing any better than this. It’s true that different touchpads had different techniques for streamlining actions such as this, but the controls were buried quite deep in the Windows Control Panel (usually as sub-options of the Mouse Configuration) and the controls varied between touchpads. This made it messy to get to grips with and everything could change if you got your hands on a different machine. I, for one, never bothered learning the gestures as I would undoubtedly get confused when moving between different machines. I also judged that most of my IT Support clients would likewise prefer to keep things simple.

With Windows 10, we now have common touchpad gestures built into the operating system itself that should work on any Windows 10 laptop. So, I think it’s far more likely than before that a small time investment will be repaid in increased productivity. I think this is is especially true as we use smartphones and tablets more and more, so we are becoming much more familiar with the idea of “multi touch gestures”.

So, to whet your appetite, here’s just three of the multi-touch gestures built into Windows 10 that I think are definitely worth learning:

Vertical scrolling – move two fingers simultaneously up and down the touchpad from anywhere within the window you wish to scroll.

Right-click – tap with two fingers simultaneously to produce the mouse equivalent of right-clicking (ie invoking a “context menu”).

Pinch to zoom (eg in web browsers – this won’t work in most other programs).

I will no doubt find the three and four fingered gestures very useful as well, but it takes a bit of determination to keep checking what does what and then remembering to use the options. To see the entire range of configuration items for the touchpad and all the gestures available:

  • Click on the “Start” button
  • Type the word “touchpad” (without the quotes)
  • Click on any of the options that are listed

Touchpad - 4-finger gestures

There are several gestures available that involve three or four fingers

You can easily scroll up and down between the options to see all configuration items for the touchpad (including the ability to turn it off completely or turn down its sensitivity if your cursor jumps around when you are typing). Features can be turned on or off by clicking on the tick (or empty box) that precedes the item.

Although we can configure gestures to some extent, it would be nice if we could define our own. For instance, I would like to be able to minimise the current window with a simple touchpad gesture. Maybe such an option will appear as if by magic in one of the forthcoming (and interminable) Windows updates.

Is Windows 10 making it hard for you to change your default browser?

Your “browser” is the program you use to connect to websites and receive their contents. The most popular browsers are Internet Eplorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Edge. Click this link for my blog posts that have previously covered browsers – browsers mentioned in David Leonard blog posts.

A “default” program is the program that will be opened to handle a particular kind of file if the program is not specified in a particular instance. So, for instance, if I double-click on a spreadsheet file then Windows knows that my default program for handling spreadsheet files is Microsoft Excel. Therefore, it opens the Excel program and then opens my spreadsheet inside that program. Likewise, if you click on a link to a website in an email, then your default browser will open to display that website.

Now, it’s well known that Microsoft have been chucking their weight around with Windows 10. One respect in which this has been happening is with the setting of default programs. The different browsers mentioned above were created by different organisations:

  • Internet Explorer – Microsoft
  • Edge – Microsoft
  • Chrome – Google
  • Safari – Apple
  • Firefox – Mozilla

You and I might think it perfectly reasonable that if we wish to nominate, say, Chrome, as our default browser, then Windows should allow that to happen and that MICROSOFT SHOULD RESPECT THAT DECISION.

But, no, Windows 10 will quite often switch default programs back to defaults that suit Microsoft’s agenda better than our own wishes (ie by reverting defaults to their own programs). This can happen with lots of type of programs (which program should handle your images, which your music, which your pdf files and so on). But let’s use the internet browser as an example.

Setting Default Programs - 1

Figure 1) Click on “Start” button and then just start typing

The nomal way to set your preferences for default programs is as follows:

  • Click on the “Start” button
  • Start typing the word “default” (without the quotes)
  • When “Default Programs” appears above where you are typing, left-click on it
  • In the window that pops up, look down the list until you reach “Web browser”
  • The program listed under “Web browser” is the current default, so, if it’s not the program you want as your default then click on it

What is supposed to happen next is that Window should list all the programs that are currently installed on the computer that could become your default. You should simply have to click on your preference and then close the window.

Setting Default Programs - 2

Figure 2) Click on the current default. You should then see a list of other potential defaults (as above)

However, several of my own IT Support clients have told me that if they try this they are offered just one browser – Windows Edge! Ho hum, what is going on here? I don’t know. No doubt Microsoft would tell us it’s just a glitch. Strange, though, that it’s always Edge (Microsoft’s own latest browser) that’s offered if there’s only one.

Setting Default Programs - 3

Figure 3) Click here if the only potential default previously offered was Edge

The solution that seems always to work (as far as I know) is to look a bit further down the screen to the link entitled “Choose default apps by file type”. If you click on this, a new windows opens that lists all the different file types down the left hand side (they all begin with a dot). Scroll down the list until you find the file type “.htm”. Click on the name of the browser that is listed to the right of this file type and – with a bit of luck and a following wind – all of your installed browsers should appear. Simply click on the desired one. Then move down a row until you are on the file type “.html” and do the same again. Then close the poup window.

Setting Default Programs - 4

Figure 4) Find the appropriate file type and then click on the current default. You will then be able to choose a different default.

One of the most likely times for Windows to reset default programs is after installation of a Windows Update. It’s really annoying that you should have to do it, but the above processes should let you put things back the way you want them.

By the way, the Chrome browser will often suggest to you that you click on a button in the browser to set Chrome as your default browser in Windows 10. This seems to not work – at least not always.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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