Yes, it’s that time of year when I congratulate myself on completing another year of weekly blogs

4 years of blog posts

So what’s happened during that year?

November 2013a year of Windows 8.1

Hard to believe that it’s a whole year since Windows 8.1 was released. It’s still with us and I still maintain that it’s not as bad as a lot of people think.

Homer and Windows 8.1December 2013more on Windows 8.1

I said that I didn’t care about the tiled apps in windows 8 and none my clients’ needs have pushed me into spending much time on them in the year that has followed. A client recently asked me if it is a good idea to buy a Windows mobile phone and I had to reply that, even if he does like the tiled apps, he might be better off with an Android phone or an iPhone as the developers of “apps” don’t yet seem to think it’s essential for them to develop Windows versions.

Figures released in June by Statista show the number of apps on the major “platforms” as

  • Google Play (Android) – 1,300,000
  • iPhone – 1,200,000
  • Windows Mobile – 300,000

January 2014making your computer sleep-friendly

I am still a big fan of using f.lux to automatically reduce the blue light emitted from a computer screen in the evening. Whether or not it does actually help in getting to sleep, f.lux certainly makes a computer screen easier to look at in the evening with tired eyes.

Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP - screen capture from MicrosoftFebruary and April 2014Windows XP is still with us

There’s no sign of XP disappearing just yet. Some of my clients are still using it and I came across it in a local medical centre last week. We haven’t yet seen a massive attack on XP computers, but I still think it’s very likely to happen. If you are still using XP then I urge you to make sure you are taking regular backups of things you can’t afford to lose. See this link as well.


February 2014
PC World

in this blog I said that the service in PC World may be getting better. I was dis-abused of this notion last week when trying to buy a Microsft Surface Pro 3. For some odd reason, John Lewis aren’t stocking the model I want. My saga with PC World went as follows:

  • Oxford Street branch – hadn’t got the machine and they said their Tottenham Court Road branch hadn’t got it either
  • Tottenham Court Road – despite advice from Oxford Street, they did have it – but no matching keyboard/cover
  • Kensington High Street – they told me I needed to have it specially made to order as it isn’t a standard model (huh?)
  • Brixton – their website said they had it but they hadn’t
  • Old Kent Road – success!

Windows Desktop - Cluttered

This is getting silly

February 2014a cleaner desktop

My Windows desktop is still cleaner than it used to be. I now just periodically dump every icon I’ve not used recently into a folder of un-used icons that sits on the desktop. I don’t agonise over which ones to move: I just move nearly all of them. They’re easy enough to fetch back out of the folder, but I rarely need to. Very therapeutic having an uncluttered desktop.

March 2014Windows 8 File History

I still think this inbuilt backup routine is better than nothing, but I was disappointed to find that it can’t be used to automatically create backups to OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage service).

April 2014Faststone Image Viewer

I continue to recommend this to my Windows computer support clients and to install it for them. It may not be cutting edge software, but it makes photo viewing and editing a lot easier and more intuitive than Picasa. Get Faststone Image Viewer from here.

May 2014closing my LinkedIn account

I’m still thinking of closing this account. I am certainly not going to sign into any other account by using my Linked In credentials as I do not trust Linked In not to steal the data that would then be open to them.

Gmail LogoAugust 2014Gmail shortcuts

Do you use gmail’s webmail interface? Try using some shortcuts

September 2014the new “.london” domain

Maybe I got off the mark too soon when I changed from davidleonard.net to davidleonard.london . There are some places in cyberspace that refuse to accept that an email address ending in “.london” is genuine. It looks as if some web programmers need to re-visit the validation routines on their website forms. This is going to become a bigger problem for them as more and more domain suffixes are released. Did you know, for instance, that the following are all new domain suffixes – .mail, .club, .training, .marketing, .photography?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in profileOctober 2014the Microsoft Surface

As mentioned above, I’ve gone and got one (despite PC World’s best efforts to quash any impulse buying). Haven’t yet had time to install everything, but it’s definitely a very nice machine. I was right about the small screen, though. I don’t think I could use it for very long towards the end of the day if I hadn’t got a pair of glasses specifically optimised for reading at the distance of a computer screen.

October 2014 Windows 10 Technical Preview

If you’ve heard bad things about Windows 8 then you probably need to hold out for about 10 months before buying your next computer if you want to avoid Windows 8 altogether. It’s likely that 2-3 months before that you will be able to buy a Windows 8 machine with a voucher for a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it is released.

That’s it, then. On to year five…

I’ve had a first squint at the next version of Windows

Windows 10 Start Button

It’s back! The Start button in Windows 10

The next version of Windows will be with us in 2015 and it’s called Windows 10. A release date is expected to be announced in April for some time “later in the year”.

What happened to Windows 9? I’ve read two different explanations:

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said of Windows 9 “It came and went”. This suggests they might have started down a development path that they abandoned.
  • Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the (Microsoft) Operating Systems group, said “Because we’re not building an incremental product, the new name will be Windows 10”.

Thinking about it, though, these two statements aren’t mutually exclusive. Anyway, Myerson’s point is that Windows 10 will be significantly different from previous versions in that the same operating system will work on smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even other devices that are part of the “Internet of Things”. Or, more cynically, they are trying to big up the “newness” by skipping from 8 straight to 10.


What is “The Internet of Things”

Windows 10 Start Menu

The Windows 10 Start Menu

According to Wikipedia, “The Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing internet infrastructure”.

An example would be a smart cooker that can be remotely controlled from a smartphone (to switch on the oven as you leave work, for instance). In other words, devices, appliances and gadgets that have embedded chips to control or monitor them can be connected wirelessly to a router (just as tablets and smartphones are already) and then controlled via another device that connects to the same network. Other examples are medical appliances (such as heart monitors) that can be remotely interrogated.

Perhaps we should forget about this potential aspect of the new Windows for now and think about how Windows 10 will function in its main guise – that of a desktop/laptop operating system. The most astounding thing that I’ve discovered so far is the simple fact that Microsoft have finally listened to what their users want and given up trying to impose the “metro” or “tiled” interface on us as a replacement for the good old Start Menu. Yes – they’ve brought back the the Start Menu!

They’ve not given up on the tiles, though. You can access them from the Start Menu (see illustration). Perhaps I should have said before this point that the version of Windows 10 that is currently available is a “technical preview”. The final thing may look very different. This technical preview isn’t even a “beta release” (ie a version that’s almost finished, but which will almost certainly be “de-bugged” by end users putting it through its paces in a real-world environment). Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine them swallowing their pride and bringing back the Start Menu for a “technical preview” and then dumping it again before the final release.

If you’re feeling nerdy, brave, or just bored, you can download this technical preview from Microsoft. The download is in an “iso” format for burning to a DVD that then becomes the source media for the installation. I wouldn’t recommend installing it on your “real” system. I’ve put it on a spare laptop. The installation was quick and painless. Certainly the easiest installation of a new Windows operating system that I’ve every come across.

Logo Under Construction

There doesn’t seem to be a Windows 10 logo yet

A lot of my own computer support clients found that accessing the “charms” bar in Windows 8 is confusing and a bit tedious. This is achieved by scrolling off a right-hand corner of the screen. It’s very easy to do this when actually trying to close a window (top right) or when trying to access the tiny rectangle of taskbar to the right of the date that, when clicked on, immediately displays the desktop. For the technical preview of Windows 10, at least, this behaviour has been removed. But is it any better to have to learn that depressing the Windows key and tapping on the letter “c” brings up the “charms” bar (as it does in Windows 8).

As well as bringing back the “proper” Start button and menu, a right-click on the Start button brings up a list of options just as it does in Windows 8.1. Between left and right clicks on the Start buttons a whole wealth of options can be easily accessed. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure these left and right menus will be user-configurable.

Windows 10 will also include the possibility of having multiple desktops so that similar tasks can be grouped in different desktops. It doesn’t seem to be working very well in my own installation (and is probably a “work in progress”). If you’d like to learn more about this, have a look at winsupersite.com.

After playing with Windows 10 for a couple of hours, I have to say that I like it. For some reason, it makes a big psychological difference that the “proper desktop” is, once again, the “default” place to be in Windows. Having to see – and then switch from – the tiled interface in Windows 8 really did feel as if Microsoft were trying to herd us in a direction that they wanted us to go, and in which we didn’t want to go! I think it’s even possible that I may now play with some of tiled apps. Previously, I’d just clicked the desktop and refused to get involved with the tiled apps. Now that they are accessed from WITHIN the “proper” interface, I feel much happier.

All in all, I’m rather optimistic about how Windows 10 will perform when it’s finished and released next year.

If you’d like some more detail about the expected features of Windows 10 have a look at Techradar.

You cannot ignore Windows Libraries if you wish to use File History

“File Explorer” is the file manager application in Windows that lets you see what files and folders you have on your computer and where they are. You can then move, copy, delete, open programs, open data files, and so on from within a File Explorer window. Note that this is the same function that was previously called “Windows Explorer”.

With the advent of Windows 7 a new concept was introduced into File Explorer. This was the concept of “Libraries”. They appear in the navigation pane at the lefthand side of a File Explorer window. I confess that I’ve often avoided defining “libraries” when introducing my computer support clients to File Explorer as they can be very confusing until you realise what they are. I would probably still be avoiding the issue except that the concept of Libraries is central to how Windows 8’s backup feature works (as mentioned in my blog on Windows 8 File History).

So, what are Microsoft’s Libraries?
Maybe my mind is a bit too literal (pedantic even?), but when I think of a “library” I think of a physical collection of “things” such as books, magazines, CDs etc. The main point about a library (to this pedant, anyway) is that all of these things comprising the library are all to be found in one place. A library is a physical thing that actually includes its contents!

Windows Libraries

These are the default libraries in Windows 7 and 8

Not so with Microsoft’s Libraries. In fact, it’s just the very opposite. A library in Windows 8 is not a “place” or a “thing” at all. It would be more accurately described as a “list” containing items that probably have something in common (eg all of a family’s photos, all documents relating to clients, all items to be backed up). The whole point of the Microsoft Library concept is that the constituent parts are NOT in the same place. They could be scattered all around the computer or, indeed, all around the local network, and a library can even include items that are in The Cloud.

So, for instance, you could have a library that contains all of your folders that relate to your clients. You might have spreadsheets relating to clients and word processing documents relating to clients but these could easily be in different parts of your drive (if you tend to keep all your spreadsheets together and all your word processing documents together). It would be quite simple and sensible to create a “Clients” library and to include client spreadsheets and client word processing documents in that library.

A proper library - this is the new one in Clapham

A proper library – this is the new one in Clapham

The whole point of Microsoft libraries is that they do NOT involve moving the files themselves into the library. You can see (and access) all the files that are in a library by opening up that library, but the files themselves are still actually stored in the same folders as they were and are still accessible via those folders as well as via the library.

Now, you might think I’m making a bit of a meal of explaining a very simple concept. If so, I apologise, but my experience is that for every person that grasps the concept easily, there are many more that can’t get their heads around it.

To my mind, the whole thing would have been a lot simpler to understand if Microsoft had just been a little bit more prosaic and literal in their nomenclature. Why didn’t they just call them “lists” instead of “libraries”? Everyone knows what a list is.

Windows Libraries - one is user-defined

A user-defined library (“Items Backed Up”) has been added here. Note that folders can be included in more than one library (the folder “Documents” appears in two libraries here)

Perhaps a better analogy is offered by iTunes and iPhoto. In these programs you can create “playlists” and “albums” (respectively) that just consist of the tracks and images that you place in them. Putting an item into a playlist or album does not move it physically around the hard drive. It just adds it to a list. And that’s all a Microsoft Library does.

As I’ve already said, I’ve tended to avoid trying to get that across to people just learning about files and folders and so on, but you will find Windows 8 File History very limiting if you don’t get to grips with it as it deals in libraries as its “unit” of stuff to back up. It is libraries that it backs up, and any files and folders that have not been added to a library will not be backed up. Also, any libraries that you have created (over and above the pre-existing default libraries) will not be backed up unless you add them to File History’s schedule.

Macs have long had a backup system (called “Time Machine”) that the user simply “sets and forgets”

I’ve often wondered why Microsoft can’t do something similar as the whole area of backups is one that a huge number of users find too complicated, too confusing and too tedious to engage with. All the advice I ever give about the importance of backups is probably ignored at least half of the time because it’s just too complicated a subject. Beyond Microsoft’s offerings, I’ve also been looking elsewhere for years for a simple, trustworthy backup system that manages to square the circle of combining simplicity with flexibility. I have yet to find such an animal but it seems that Microsoft may now provide an adequate solution built into Windows 8.

It is called “File History” and is available from the Control Panel.

File History Main Menu

The main menu is reasonably straightforward

It provides flexibility and ease of setting up by assuming that you will wish to back up all data found in your libraries plus the contents of your desktop, contacts, and favorites. If you always save your data in the recommended locations (eg in “My Documents” or “My Pictures”) then your data will be backed up without any further ado. If you keep data in folders that are not contained in libraries then you can add those folders to existing libraries or create a new library where you can place all of the extra folders that you wish to back up.

But – and it’s a very very big “but” – there are folders that could contain absolutely crucial data that would not be included in the backup unless you knew about them and dug deep to find them and add them to the backup schedule (by adding them to a library). The most obvious of these that comes to mind is the “pst” file if you use Outlook. Why on earth do Microsoft hide this most important of data files in a folder that is not only kept apart from other data files, folders, and libraries, but which is also hidden by default? The “pst” file contains all of your email messages, calendar, contacts, and task lists. As far as my own business is concerned, my Outlook PST file is the most important file I have (together with my Clients database). The same applies to other “email clients” from Microsoft. Outlook Express and Microsoft Mail also set up your data files, by default, in a hidden place that’s really tricky to find unless you know what you are doing.

Select a drive for File History

External drives, USB flash drives and network drives can be used for backups

File History is quite flexible in letting you choose where your backup is going to be made. You can not create the backup on your main “c:” drive (as a hard drive failure could lose you your backup as well as your normal files) but you can use USB flash drives, external hard drives, and even network drives. You could also back up onto a different partition of your main drive, but that’s risky, of course, in the event of a total hard drive failure. If the backup location isn’t available when the backup is made then the program caches the backup on the hard drive ready for when the backup drive is available. Personally, I don’t like this as it could lull you into a false sense of security about the state of your backups. I’d rather be told if a backup is not possible because the backup location is not available.

You can choose how long you wish to keep your backups (weeks, months, forever while there’s still disc space) but I need to do more digging to see if backups are automatically removed when they get to a certain age (very very bad) or removed when they reach a certain age provided that there are newer versions available (much better).

You can choose how often backups are taken, ranging from every 10 minutes to once a day. The backups then take place quietly in the background, without (apparently) causing any noticeable effect on the performance of your computer for whatever else you are doing.

Exclude from File History options

Folders and libraries can be excluded from backups as well as being added to them

From what I’ve found out so far, there are other weaknesses in File History. For instance, if you change the name of a file then that name change is not applied to backups: it’s as if you’ve created a new file. For now, though, I’m so pleased that Microsoft have, at last, built some kind of simple data backup system into Windows that I would encourage you to use it if you are not doing any other kind of backup. I could probably help you to set it up by remote control (using Teamviewer), but remember that it is only available in Windows 8 – not in either Vista or Windows 7.

File History Restore Menu

Restoring files just requires “stepping forward or backward” through time and then “drilling down” to select the files(s)

If you don’t take backups then it probably means that you’ve never had a serious data loss yet. And that’s the key word – YET. I’ve seen a few heart-breaking data losses over the years, but I know that it’s difficult for the average user to get their head around the subject. Looked at from that perspective, I think File History in Windows 8 is certainly better than nothing.

I’m going to be testing it in the coming weeks and months by running it side by side with my normal backup routines. I’ll come back to the subject if I find any fatal flaws or useful tweaks.

Figure 1

Figure 1

At the end of last week’s blog about Windows 8.1, I pointed out the option to go straight to the desktop when opening Windows. If you’ve been to that dialog box you will have seen that it also offers the option to tick a box to display the desktop background image as a background image on the Start Screen. This does make the switch between desktop and Start Screen less jarring. See Figure 1 for the full dialog box.

You will also see another option in this dialog box that suggests that Microsoft have been listening to feedback from users. A lot of us found it a real nuisance that navigating to the top righthand corner of a screen in order to close a program would often bring up the list of so-called “charms” because we’d moved the mouse past the corner of the screen. This unwanted result can now be prevented by unticking the box next to “When I point to the top-right corner, show the charms”. There is a similar option to stop the intrusion of the last “app” used when sliding off the top lefthand corner of the screen.

How do I get the upgrade to 8.1 if I declined it when the offer popped up on my screen?

The upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 takes place from the Windows Store. It is not just a link in any old Microsoft web page. This means that even if you normally sign into Windows 8 with a “local account”, you will need to sign into your Microsoft account to get at the upgrade (see this recent blog re signing in to Windows 8 ). So, if you are one of those people who found it a pain creating a Microsoft account when installing Windows 8, and didn’t think you would ever need it, here’s an example of an occasion when you will need to have its details handy.

I suppose it’s just possible that I had a senior moment during the upgrade process and that something happened (or didn’t happen) that left me needing to sign in to my Microsoft account to open Windows 8.1 when the upgrade had taken place. The cynic in me says that Microsoft have nudged me in the direction they want me to go. The pessimist in me says that I’m probably losing the plot and took a wrong option somewhere during the upgrade process. The realist in me reminds me that it doesn’t matter as it’s possible to switch back to using a local account as detailed in this recent blog.

Tiled Apps

There are many changes, additions, and enhancements to the “tiled apps” available from the Start Screen. I’m not sure whether I ought to apologise for not being able to give you an enthusiastic, in-depth analysis of these changes. The truth is, I just don’t care very much about this side of Windows 8 computing. If I want to do “fun things” I’ll pick up my iPad.

Homer and Windows 8.1Of course, if my computer support clients want to know more about these “apps” then I will pay them more attention. As I recently said, though, I’ve only ever had one client even mention Microsoft’s Surface computer to me (where these “apps” presumably shine), and I can only think of one client in the last year (since Windows 8 was released) who has shown any real enthusiasm for the Start Screen and its “tiled apps”. Maybe you all love them but don’t want to risk incurring my disdain by saying so. I doubt that, somehow, so I’m going to continue not paying them much attention. If you’d like a more enthusiastic view of this aspect of Windows 8.1, then try this blog.

There are also changes to how things are displayed in “File Explorer” (or “Windows Explorer” as it was called prior to Windows 8). We used to look for “My Computer” as the option to prowl around the contents of the computer. This became less patronising in Windows 7 by just calling it “Computer”. In Windows 8.1 it has become “This PC”.

Summary

8.1 Install Screen

ZZzz………zz…….zz…….

I must stress that this is the first time I’ve upgraded Windows 8 to 8.1 so the experience may not be typical. Yours may be different. If it’s possible to conclude anything from a single instance, I would say that the upgrade process is slow but that 8.1 seems to have user advantages over Windows 8. Whether you actually need to perform the upgrade is another matter, but I’d say that the security argument probably wins the day. I can’t yet say whether it was Windows 8.1 that broke my Outlook calendars, but I’m glad I took a copy of my Outlook “pst” file just before the upgrade.

And now, after one more week’s experience of 8.1, I’m happy to report that everything seems to be back to its previous speed. Not only that, but my calendar synch is working again – with no intervention from me. Nothing else has happened that shouldn’t have, and I’m a happy bunny who is glad to have Windows 8.1 instead of 8.

Last month, I mentioned that the latest release of Windows 8 (Windows 8.1) appeared to cause problems sometimes

– see this previous blog post on Windows 8.1

Not having heard any more discouraging tales, I bit the bullet earlier this week and started the download. If you have been receiving nags from Microsoft that 8.1 is available now and that they recommend that you go for it, then be warned – it’s a big download and then it takes forever to install. I didn’t time it as I wasn’t expecting time to be an issue, but I think it must have been about three hours in all. Admittedly, it doesn’t need much intervention, so you don’t have to attend to it all the time, but don’t start the process when you’ll need the computer in a few minutes.

Should you bother upgrading to 8.1?

The rather modest new Start button

The rather modest new Start button

It does seem to me that there are improvements as to how you move around and find things. What may be more important is that the security is better than in Windows 8. I don’t pretend to be a computer security expert and I certainly don’t have the inclination to research just what security improvements have taken place in Windows 8.1. It’s enough for me to follow the common sense notion that it’s worth keeping vulnerable software up to date (eg browsers, emails programs, operating systems) wherever possible and wherever there is no reason not to. Yes, it is a bit of a hassle being without your computer for hours and having to keep checking on it to see if it’s finished the update or is waiting for some input from you.

Windows needs to be secure. We don't want to let just anyone in.

Windows needs to be secure. We don’t want to let just anyone in.

As I’ve said before, though, there are some things about computers that we just have to accept as being part of the nature of the beast. Computers and the internet give us instant access to information and people all around the world. That’s absolutely marvellous and would have been almost inconceivable longer ago than just one generation. The flipside of that same coin is that all the scumbags, ne’er-do-wells, hucksters, cheats, and slimeballs also have the same access and also see huge opportunities in all this global access and global connection.

We can’t have one without the other. Therefore, we just have to accept that security is important and that we really should take reasonable steps to keep it current. In my opinion, running the latest version of the operating system, and keeping it updated as much as possible, is a large part of the task of “taking reasonable steps”. So, as long as Windows 8.1 isn’t going to break anything or cause any other major problems, I’d recommend going for it.

What did I find on updating to 8.1?

The first thing I noticed when it had finished was that everything seemed so s—–l—–o—–w—-. Booting up, opening everyday programs such as Firefox and Outlook – it was all a pain. And then my Outlook broke. The calendar synch with Gmail (and thence to Macs and iPads, but that’s another story) stopped working and even send/receive wouldn’t work. Falling back on the timeless advice of both Douglas Adams and Corporal Jones (“Don’t Panic”), I just re-booted the machine two or three times. It definitely started getting back to normal as far as the speed was concerned. Outlook send/receive eventually came back (phheww) but the calendar synch is still broken. Maybe it’s a coincidence. I haven’t investigated yet.

So, what’s new?

Figure 1. Right-clicking on the new Start button brings up a useful menu.

Figure 1. Right-clicking on the new Start button brings up a useful menu.

Well, as promised, they’ve brought back a Start button. All it seems to do at first, though, is toggle between either the last start screen app used and the start screen itself, or between the desktop and the start screen (depending upon whether or not you’ve just been using a start screen app). As far as I can see, it’s exactly the same as the Windows key has always behaved in Windows 8. That doesn’t make it any less confusing: just no more useful. Anyway, I think the usefulness of the Start button is apparent when you right-click on it. This brings up the menu as displayed in figure 1. As you can see, a lot of these options have been brought back from the “old” start button menu – including the options to switch off. I won’t go through all these options now, except to point out that they’ve also included some of the more useful options that have always been present, but buried deep in the Control Panel – such as Power Options, Event Viewer, and System. To my mind, this Start Menu is a useful improvement.

Booting into the desktop instead of the Start Screen

If you don’t use the “Start Screen”, with all its bells and whistles and animations and stuff, and just want to go straight to the familiar territory of the desktop whenever you boot up, this is now possible with a little tweak:

  • Right-click on any empty part of the desktop taskbar (the line at the bottom of the screen that includes icons for open and “pinned” applications etc)
  • Left-click on “Properties”
  • Left-click on the “Navigation” tab
  • Tick the box next to “When I sign in… go to the desktop instead of Start” (see figure 2)
Figure 2. Tick the box to avoid the Start Screen when you boot up in future.

Figure 2. Tick the box to avoid the Start Screen when you boot up in future.

Maybe I’ve whetted your appetite – in which case, look out for the second part of this review of Windows 8.1 next week.

“How on earth do you switch Windows 8 off?”

Last week’s blog looked at how the new “Start Screen” in Windows 8 replaces the old “Start Menu”. The old Start Menu was one of the main ways of launching programs and searches. It was also the way to access the button to close the computer. This week’s blog looks at how we close the machine now that we no longer have the old Start Menu with its shutdown button.

Windows 8 LogoFrom my experience with many computer clients over the years, I would say that the vast majority of my clients do want to close their computers at the end of the day. I get the distinct feeling that a lot of users experience a scintilla of relief when the screen goes black and the fan shuts down. For a lot of people, I think that closing a computer down is a bit of a ritual. It’s a marking of the end of a period of fighting with an alien force: a sign that it’s time to return to the “real” world (or maybe they are just pleased that it’s a sign that I will soon be leaving them).

Well, like it or not, the old shutdown button has gone. Microsoft don’t want us to switch the computer off. Windows 8 has been designed so that the Sleep mode is very efficient: there just isn’t any need to power the machine down when you are not using it. Putting it to sleep reduces the power requirement to a very low level and waking up from sleep is almost instantaneous.

Windows 8 Charms Bar

Windows 8 Charms Bar on an otherwise empty desktop

If you really do want to switch it off, the easiest built-in way to do it is from the Charms Bar (yes – that is really what it is called – see illustration).

To access the Charms Bar:

  • Touchscreen – swipe inwards from the right edge of the screen
  • Mouse – point at the top or bottom corner of the screen at the right edge
  • Keyboard – depress the Windows key and, while it is down, type the letter “c”

Then

  • Click on the “Settings” cog wheel
  • Click on the “Power” icon
  • Click the desired shutdown action

Windows Shutdown IconIf you find that rigmarole a bit of a pain, then here is a method for creating a desktop shortcut that immediately closes the machine. This is not a complete replacement for the old method as it doesn’t offer options for re-starting etc., but if you just want to make sure your computer is switched off before getting back to the real world, then this is how to create the shortcut:

  • Go to an empty part of the desktop (ie a part where there are no icons) and right-click your mouse
  • Look down the menu that pops up and left-click on the option labelled “new”
  • Left-click on the option marked “shortcut”
  • In the space below the text “Type the location of the item” enter the following text:
    C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe /s /t 0
  • Click “Next”
  • Enter a name (eg “quick shutdown”)
  • Click “Finish”

You can change the icon of the new shortcut as follows:

  • right-click on the new shortcut
  • Left-click on the “properties” option
  • If necessary, click on the “shortcut” tab at the top of the window
  • Left-click on the “change icon” button
  • A warning message will pop up that there are no other icons available in that file. Just click on “OK” and a whole bunch of different icons from different places will be offered. Just click on one to highlight it
  • Click on the “OK” buttons until all windows are closed


Voila
– you have your own “shutdown” shortcut. You can drag it onto the taskbar so that it is always available while you are in “desktop mode”.

Sleepin LaptopAfter a few week of using Windows 8, I have to say that I think too much fuss is being made of the demise of the Start button. It’s probably true, though, that the main reason I don’t miss it very much is that I never turn my computer off. It goes to sleep at night (just like I do), and wakes up really quickly in the morning by opening the lid (just like I don’t).

You may be thinking of buying a new PC and be wondering how you will get on with Windows 8

Windows 95 Start Button

Window 95 Start Button

In particular, you may have heard that Microsoft have done a strange thing by removing the “Start” button. This has been a part of Windows since the introduction of Windows 95 (was that really 18 years ago?) I remember the first time I encountered Windows 95 and my irritation at not being able to find any way of closing it nicely. Surely I can not be the only person who found it completely ridiculous that the option to “close” would be found within a button marked “start”! Anyway, we all got used to the Start button and a lot of users are rather upset that it’s gone.

It appears that people are missing two main things:

  • The ability to launch programs and system items from the Start menu
  • The ability to switch off the computer from the Start menu

So let’s deal with the first of these:

After a couple of weeks of “real” use of Windows 8, I find the tiled “Start Screen” irritating and pointless. If I want “apps” I’ll reach for my beautiful, light, well-behaved iPad Mini or maybe even my iPhone. So, the first thing I always do when I start Windows 8 is to click on the “Desktop” tile and get back to familiar territory.

If, however, I think of the Start Screen as being a replacement and evolution of the Start Menu (instead of a “re-imagining of Windows ” as Microsoft would like us to think), then things get better. Remember, for instance, the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7? Well, just click on the Windows key to go to the Start Screen and you can just type in the first few characters of any installed program to launch it. Once you get used to it, this is far quicker than searching through the old “desktop” for a particular icon. It works just like the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7. The key is to think of the “Start Screen” as being a replacement for the “Start Menu”. Just get used to accessing it with the Windows key instead of clicking on a Start button.

To illustrate, I am writing this blog in OneNote. If I now wish to launch, for instance, Adobe Acrobat (assuming that there’s no shortcut pinned to the taskbar) then I just hit the Windows key, type “acr” and the Enter key. That’s just five keystrokes. Let’s try another one. I can launch Opera by hitting the Windows key followed by “op” and the Enter key. Just four keystrokes. No Start button needed and no hunting through an insane confusion of desktop icons.

What about system utilities? No problem: the good old Control Panel is accessible by just typing the Windows key, “co”, and Enter.

Windows 8 Start Screen Icon

Start Screen Tile

There is an alternative way to access the Start Screen and that is to aim your mouse cursor at the bottom lefthand corner of the screen and click when a little “Start Screen Tile” appears. Don’t make the mistake of trying to move your cursor over the top of the tile before clicking as that will just make the tile disappear. Very annoying. So, just head for the corner of the screen and click as soon as the tile appears.

Directing search results to installed apps

When you start typing anything from the Start Screen you will see that the Windows search options that pop up are far more sophisticated than I suggest here. You can type your search term and then choose to narrow your results to “Apps”, “Settings” or “Files”. There are also a host of other places whither you can direct your search. For instance, I typed “cla” into the search box and then clicked on an app I have installed called “London Tube Map”. My search was then directed specifically to that app and the results returned were Clapham Common, Clapham North, etc. Clicking on one of these then displayed the tube map with the chosen station bleeping away at me. This was just for the purpose of illustration, of course. I’m afraid my mind really has decided that “apps” are for an iPad or Android tablet, and that “applications” are “proper” programs for a laptop or desktop.

Windows Key

Windows key – aka “winkey”

Maybe I can be lured away in time by Microsoft’s attempts to get us to view both “desktop” and “smartphone/tablet” app(lication)s on one device, but I must agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion so far – Windows 8 is a bit clunky as a result of merging a desktop operating system with a mobile/tablet one. For the time being at least, I am choosing to view Windows 8 as being “desktop based” and the new “tiled apps” as a bit of nonsense. And I’m not going to be seduced by Microsoft’s (presumably intentional) use of the word “apps” to include both proper “applications” and mobile “apps”.

But, to return to the main topic of the missing Start button, I found that as soon as I started to think of the Start Screen as a very big replacement for the Start menu (instead of being the main way to use my computer) then I started to progress in using Windows 8. I’m still “desktop focused” and I’ve quickly learned to access the Start Screen with the Windows key (aka “winkey”) instead of aiming for a missing Start button.

Next week I’ll look at the other main gripe about the lack of a Start button in Windows 8 – and that is the lack of a “shutdown” button within it. And just in case I can’t convince you that you don’t need it, I’ll show you how to create a shortcut for your desktop that will let you shut the computer down with a single click.

Have you noticed the “casual dishonesty” by commercial enterprises on their websites?

Cartoon robber stealing away from laptopWe all know – I hope – that there are some out-and-out villains trying to deceive us online, but many otherwise highly-regarded organisations also appear to be “ethically challenged” online.

You can sign out if you are not you

Take Amazon, for example. If you want to sign out of your Amazon account you need to click on the link at the top of any Amazon page that says “Hello, David, your account” (assuming, of course, that, like me, you are called David). The option that allows you to sign out is at the bottom of the menu that pops up. But it doesn’t say “sign out”, it says “Not David? Sign out”.

Amazon Sign Out Option

The Amazon sign-out. The only way to sign out is to pretend not to be David

The way that I read this is that this option is only for use by someone other than me. Is there any other interpretation that can be put on this? Hence, if I’m a bit overwhelmed by all this stuff I might not want to use this option to sign myself out and might look in vain for an alternative way of doing it. No doubt Amazon would say that they give an option to sign out. My guess is that their weasely wording just nudges the “sign out” rate down a smidgeon, so they can gather even more information from people who have failed to find the non-existent unambiguous sign-out option.

Go, Don’t Go

Green Button

Is this the nice, friendly, button …

A favourite trick is to style the button they want you to click as a green one, and the one they don’t want you to click on as a red one. This looks incredibly crass once you’ve spotted it, but I suppose that the whole point is that you don’t spot it: you only apply a part of your attention to what you are doing and the green button looks safe and suggests “go ahead, this is the safe way forward”. So, the green button is likely to represent “upgrade to the paid version” and the red button means “stick with the free version”.

Red Button

… or is this the one you were looking for?

You wanted to continue with the free version, but before you know it you’ve clicked on the green button and you’re on your way to paying for it.

The Microsoft Upgrade Assistant

I was thrown off balance last week by what semed like similar behaviour by Microsoft. They very helpfully provide a Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant so that you can check to see what problems (or “issues” as everyone calls them these days) you might encounter if you upgrade your existing operating system to Windows 8.

The Upgrade Assistant analyses your current setup and then gives you a report. This divides the results into two sections. The first section is headed “For you to review” and the second section is headed “Compatible”. Included in the first section of my report was an entry with a yellow icon of a “warning triangle” and the text “paid update available”. Given that other items in that section had red crosses and text such as “go to the app website for help”, I think I can forgive myself for believing that Microsoft were telling me that I had to pay for a newer version of the (Microsoft!) product flagged with the yellow warning triangle.

I actually ran the Upgrade Assistant twice on different days. Perhaps I was hoping for a second opinion. Not surprisingly, it gave the same result on both occasions. I decided to bite the bullet as it’s time I got to grips properly with Windows 8 and the only way to do that is to use it for real on my main computer.

Guess what? The “flagged” item runs perfectly happily with Windows 8 (as does almost everything else). No paid update needed. For a few minutes I felt a bit of a ‘nana for letting myself be misled like this. Then I remembered that Microsoft – like all the other major web presences who are trying to lead us by the nose down paths that they choose – are paying lots of intelligent people to tweak web pages to the nth degree so as to get the very best response rates. Why would those people care too much about pushing the boundaries of ethical standards? They’re not standing in front of the end user, looking them in the eye and telling a barefaced lie. No, they’re sitting in front of their computers, tweaking their web designs so as to squeeze out the very last fraction of a percentage point of “response rate” or whatever it is they’re seeking to maximise. Or am I just being too cynical – again?

© 2011-2015 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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