Tag Archives: windows 10

Using Explorer as an alternate Start menu for Windows 10 to work around missing entries

There are a couple of issues with the Start menu in Microsoft’s just-released Windows 10. One is that some sort of bug means there may be missing entries. Second, the All Apps list is not great for navigation even when it is working. There are two many clicks: click Start, click All Apps, click a letter or start scrolling, maybe expand the folder you want, and you eventually get there.

I have upgraded my own desktop PC to Windows 10, which was running Windows 8.1 Enterprise. The good news is that the upgrade went smoothly, but unfortunately I have run into this bug and some applications are missing from the All Apps list.

I am reluctant to install a third-party Start menu like Start 10, though this is a good solution for many users, since I like to keep Windows as plain as possible as well as tracking changes Microsoft makes to the user interface. How than can I retain easy access to all my applications until this bug is fixed?

My first thought was to use the Windows libraries feature. Using this, you can combine the two main locations for Start menu entries into a single list in Explorer. These are the locations:

C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

The first location is for applications available to all users of your PC, while the second is per-user. I combined these in a new library which I called Store Complete and was initially pleased; all the shortcuts were there. Except they were not: I realised that my new Start folder did not include any Store apps, since the shortcuts for these are handled differently.

This led me to investigate Store app shortcuts, and I came across another approach. Make a new shortcut (no need for a library), and in the Target field type:

c:\windows\explorer.exe shell:AppsFolder

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I called the Shortcut Apps but you can call it what you like. This creates a folder with shortcuts to all your applications, both Store and desktop apps. The snag: they are all in a single list, whereas the Library approach preserves the hierarchy if an application has several subfolders of shortcuts (like some developer tools).

The Apps list on my PC has 836 items and it is complete. For example, I have the application Password Safe, which is not listed in All Apps, nor is Futuremark’s PC Mark which I have just installed:

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Actually PC Mark should be under F for Futuremark, but it is not there either:

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Nor are they found if I type Password Safe or PC Mark into Cortana/Search in the taskbar. But they are there in my Apps folder:

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Scrolling through this list is a little tedious, but it also has a search box which works. Not ideal, but a workable alternative.

Note: I tried pinning this folder to the Start panel but that does not work. However you can pin it to the taskbar for quick access.

Windows 10

The launch of Windows 10 today is a key moment for Microsoft and users of its platform. A few observations.

I like new Windows more than I had expected. I get on fine with Windows 8, though mostly on the desktop since that is where the applications are. Being able to run Store apps in a window makes a big difference though, and there is a real chance that this will kick-start Microsoft’s app platform at last. See my overview on The Register here.

Is Windows 10 ready, or rushed out too soon? The latter I fear. The desktop side is solid as far as I can tell, with the exception of the new Start menu – actually a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app – which is a bit broken. Since this is how users launch applications that is a serious problem. Still, it might work OK for you if you have fewer than 512 application shortcuts. I have also seen issues with search within the Start menu, either not finding apps, or in one case just hanging (reboot sorted it).

It really should not be difficult to have reliable search across a tiny database.

The Windows Store is another source of problems. I tried to install the latest Twitter app, and ended up with a “Restoring user data” message that would not go away. It is frustrating because you cannot simply cancel the process and try again. At this time my event viewer filled with DCOM activation errors, which may or may not be related, but did remind me how much intricate and ancient technology remains in Windows.

Microsoft also has this mad idea that all eligible users should be upgraded automatically using a Get Windows 10 (GWX) application installed via Windows Update. From what I have heard so far, failures are common. Users who suffer a long update process that ends with an error message and return to the previous version of Windows may never try again, or next time buy a Mac.

This is exactly what you would expect from an in-place upgrade. There are simply too many variations of hardware and software, too many things to go wrong, for this to work reliably across millions of users.

These things will distract attention from what matters more, which is Microsoft steering Windows towards becoming a modern, mobile-friendly operating system. There is also a lot of good work on the business side, in security and manageability. In six months time Windows 10 will be a delight.

The coverage of Windows 10 in the general media also interests me. Never mind Microsoft’s generally strong financials, the common view is that the company is failing because of its lack of success in mobile. That may prove true, but it is not true yet.

In this light, I am still puzzled by CEO Satya Nadella’s decision to dismantle the Nokia acquisition, at huge cost. At the Build conference in April, Microsoft seemed determined to make Windows Phone work, with the universal app platform, Android runtime layer, and Objective C compiler support. The Nokia team had the skills to design and build phones. Disposing of it seems short-sighted.

If the app platform in Windows 10 does succeed, users will want to run those apps on their smartphones too.

Installing Windows 10 on Surface 3 with Windows To Go

I am working on a review of Surface 3, Microsoft’s recently released Atom-based tablet, and wanted to try Windows 10 on the device. How to do this though without endangering the correct functioning of my loan unit?

The ideal answer seemed to be Windows To Go (WTG), which les you run Windows from a USB drive without touching what is already installed – well, apart from a setting in control panel that enables boot from Windows to Go.

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Luckily I have an approved Windows to Go USB drive, a 32GB Kingston DataTraveler Workspace. I downloaded the Windows 10 iso (64-bit, build 10074) and used the Control Panel applet on my Windows 8 desktop (which runs the Enterprise edition) to create a WTG installation.

(There are unofficial ways to get around both the requirement for Enterprise edition, and the need for an approved USB device, but I did not have to go there).

Next, I plugged the drive into the Surface 3 and restarted. Windows 10 came up immediately. An interesting feature was that I was prompted to sign into Office 365, rather than with a Microsoft account. It all seemed to work, though Device Manager showed many missing drivers.

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The wifi driver must have been one of them, since I had no network.

I had anticipated this problem by downloaded the surface 3 drivers from here. These were inaccessible though, since a WTG installation by default has no access to the hard drive on the host PC. I could not plug in a second USB device with the drivers on it either, since there is only one USB port on the Surface 3.

No matter, you can mount the local drives using the Windows Disk Management utility. I did that, and ran the Surface 3 Platform Installer which I had downloaded earlier. It seemed to install lots of drivers, and I was then prompted to restart.

Bad news. When trying to restart, boot failed with an “inaccessible boot device” error.

Fool that I am, I tried this operation again with a small variation. I rebuilt the WTG drive, and instead of mounting the drives on the host, I used it first on another PC, where the wifi worked straight away. I copied the Surface 3 files to the WTG drive C, then booted it on the Surface 3. Ran the Surface 3 Platform Installer, restarted, same problem “Inaccessible boot device”.

The third time, I did not run the Surface 3 Platform Installer. Instead, I installed the drivers one by one by right-clicking on the Unknown Devices in Device Manager and navigating to the Surface 3 drivers files I had downloaded using another PC. That looks better.

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I restarted, and everything still worked. I have wifi, Bluetooth, audio, cameras and everything. So something the Platform Installer tries to do breaks WTG on my device.

The next question is whether the system will update OK when set to Fast for the Windows 10 bleeding edge. So far though, so good.

Note: there is an issue with power management. If the Surface 3 sleeps, then it seems to wake up back in Windows 8 if you leave it long enough. Not too much harm done though; restart and you are back in Windows 10.

Note 2: new builds will not install on WTG, they complain about an unsupported UEFI layout

Windows 10 at Mobile World Congress 2015: a quick reflection

I attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week – with 93,000 attendees and 2,100 exhibitors according to the latest figures.

It was a big event for Microsoft’s new Windows. It started for me on the Saturday before, when Acer unveiled a low-end Windows Phone (write-up on the Reg). Next was Microsoft’s press conference; Stephen Elop was on stage, presenting two new mid-range Lumias as if nothing had changed since last year when he announced the now-defunct Nokia X:

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The Lumia 640 looks good value, especially in its XL guise: 5.7” 1280 x 720 display, 8GB storage plus microSD slot, 13MP camera, 4G LTE, quad-core 1.2GHz CPU, €189 ex VAT. The smaller Lumia 640 is now on presale at £169.99; we were told €139 ex VAT at MWC, so I guess the real price of the 640XL may be something like £230, though there will be deals.

These phones will ship with Windows Phone 8.1 but get Windows 10 when available.

The big Windows 10 event was elsewhere though, and not mentioned at the press conference. This was the developer event, where General Manager Todd Brix, Director of Program Management Kevin Gallo and others presented the developer story behind the new Universal App Platform (not the same as the old Universal App Platform, as I explain here).

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This was the real deal, with lots of code. There was even a hands-on session where we built our own Universal Apps in Visual Studio 2015. Note that the Visual Studio build we used featured an additional application type for Windows 10; this is not the same as a Store app in Windows 8, though both use the Windows Runtime.

As someone with hands-on experience of developing a Store app, I am optimistic that the new platform will achieve more success. It is a second attempt with a bit more maturity, and much greater effort to integrate with the Windows desktop, whereas the first iteration went out of its way not to integrate.

Much of the focus was on the Adaptive UX, creating layouts that resize intelligently on different devices. The cross-platform UI concept is controversial, with strong arguments that you only get an excellent UI if you design specifically for a device, rather than trying to make one that runs everywhere. The Universal App Platform is a bit different though, since it is all Windows Runtime. Microsoft’s pitch is that by writing to the UAP you can target desktop, Windows Phone, tablet and Xbox One, with a single code base; and without a cross-device UI this pitch would lose much of its force. Windows 7 legacy is a problem of course; but if we see Windows 10 adopted as rapidly as Windows 7 (following the Vista hiccup) this may not be a deal-breaker.

The official account of the MWC event is in Gallo’s blog post which went out on the same day. There was much more detail at the event, but Microsoft is holding this back, perhaps for its Build conference at the end of April. So in this case you had to be there.

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Aside: if you look at the publicity Microsoft got from MWC, you will note that it is mostly based on the press conference and the launch of two mid-range Lumias, hardly ground-breaking. The fact that a ton of new stuff got presented at the developer event got far less attention, though of course sharp eyes like those of Mary Jo Foley was onto it. I have a bias towards developer content; but even so, it strikes me that a session of new content that is critical to the future of Windows counts for more than a couple of new Lumias. This demonstrates the extent to which the big vendors control the news that is written about them – most of the time.

Windows 10 and HoloLens: quick thoughts and questions following the January reveal

Microsoft is revealing its Windows 10 plans in stages, presumably in part to build up expectation and get feedback, and in part because some pieces are ready to show before others.

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Today in Redmond Microsoft shared a number of new features. In quick summary:

Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for all Windows 7 and 8.x users, at least for the first year.

Comment: this is necessary since the refusal of Microsoft’s user base to upgrade from Windows 7 is a strategic roadblock. For example, Windows 7 users cannot use Store apps, reducing the market for those apps. It is more important to persuade users to upgrade than to get upgrade revenue. Windows 10, of course, will have to be compelling as well as free for this initiative to work, as well as providing a smooth upgrade process (never a trivial task).

Windows to evolve to become a service Executive VP Terry Myerson says this in this post:

Once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current for the supported lifetime of the device – at no additional charge. With Windows 10, the experience will evolve and get even better over time. We’ll deliver new features when they’re ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service – in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet.

And just like any Internet service, the idea of asking “What version are you on?” will cease to make sense – which is great news for our Windows developers.

Comment: What does this mean exactly, beyond what we already have via Windows Update? What does Myerson mean by “the supported lifetime of the device”? What are the implications for the typical three-year Windows release cycle? I hope to discover more detail soon, though when I enquired whether there will be, for example, a “Windows 11” I was told, “We aren’t commenting beyond what’s stated in post that you reference.”

Project Spartan (a code name) is a new browser developed as a universal app – this means an app built for the Windows Runtime (“Metro”) environment, though in Windows 10 these also run in a window on the desktop, blurring the sharp distinction you see in Windows 8. Project Spartan features, according to Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore, a new rendering engine along with features includes the ability to annotate web pages with keyboard or touch/stylus, and the ability to save pages for reading offline. There will also be “enterprise mode compatibility for existing web apps”, which means that old IE will live on.

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Comment: Creating a new browser is a bold step though it may be as much for marketing reasons as anything else, since IE has a tarnished reputation. The advantages of the new rendering engine, and the way compatibility will be handled, are not yet clear. Another point of interest is compatibility issues caused not only by the new engine, but also by running in sandboxed universal app environment. Looking forward to more detail on this.

Windows 10 across PC, tablet and mobile: the OS will have the same name on all three, universal apps (like a new mobile Office) will run on all three, and there are new efforts to synchronize content. For example, notifications will sync across phone and PC/Tablet.

Comment: Sounds good, but there are a few downsides. One is that Windows Phone is tied to the same release cycle as full Windows, which is rather slow. Currently Windows Phone is falling back as it waits for Windows 10 in respect of both operating system upgrade and also the universal app version of Office – which is already available for iOS and Android. CEO Satya Nadella said today that there will be new “flagship” Windows phone devices, which is good news for what is currently a neglected platform, but it will be hard for the platform to thrive if it is constantly waiting for the next big Windows update. Update: if “Windows as a service” means no more monolithic upgrades but constant incremental improvement, perhaps this will not be the case. Watch this space.

Cortana coming to Windows PC and tablet: we saw Microsoft’s digital assistant, powered by Bing search, demonstrated on full Windows.

Comment: Cortana is impressive and fun, but I am not sure how much the feature enhances the platform. On the phone I do not use it much; the problem is that speaking to your phone “what meetings to I have today” and getting a spoken response is a great demo, but in practice it is easier to glance at the calendar, especially as voice control only works in quiet scenarios. The other aspect of Cortana is the personalisation it brings to things like web search or reminders; more data about our preferences and activities can bring some magic. This is Google Now territory, and while Microsoft’s approach to privacy may be preferable, Google will be hard to match in respect of the amount of data it can draw upon.

DirectX 12: Microsoft showed a demo of its latest DirectX graphics API, claiming up to 50% better performance and up to 50% less power consumption.

Comment: this is solid good news. If games run best on Windows 10 a significant enthusiast community will want to upgrade right away. Further, DirectX is not just for games.

Xbox One integration: Microsoft showed how Xbox Live team or competitive games can work across Xbox One and PC, and how games can be streamed from XboxOne so that the console becomes a kind of games server for your Windows 10 tablets and PCs. Xbox One will also run universal apps.

Comment: Better integration between Windows devices and Xbox is long overdue and can help to promote both. Xbox One though has a bit of a Windows 7 problem of its own, with Xbox 360 remaining popular simply because of the huge numbers of games that have not been ported. If only Microsoft could introduce backwards compatibility …

Surface Hub: this is a giant 84”, 4K display wall-hanging PC which you can use as an interactive whiteboard for meetings and so on. It seems to be the next innovation from the Perceptive Pixel folk who also developed the table-top Surface device.

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Comment: Looks cool, but it will be expensive. May help to encourage businesses to keep faith with the Windows client.

Microsoft HoloLens: this was the big reveal, a secret project that, we were told, has been developed in the basement of the Microsoft Visitor Center on its Redmond campus.

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HoloLens is a headset which enables 3D augmented reality: projected images are seen like holographic images in the space around you, and you can interact by gesture detected by cameras and motion sensors in the headset. Look carefully at the following image:

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In this example, the demonstrator is assembling a quad copter using a palette of 3D components in Holo Studio, an application which uses the technology. However, note that you only see the quad copter through the HoloLens headset, the image from which in this case is merged with a view of the demonstrator herself using a custom camera:

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If you had been in the room, you would see the quad copter only on the screen, not in the room itself. Therefore I suspect this is more accurately described as augmented reality than holography, though the scene does look holographic if you are wearing the headset.

In a final flourish, Microsoft a 3D printed version of the quad copter which duly flew up and down; I am sure the motor and so on was NOT 3D printed, but it made a lovely demo.

Apparently NASA loves the technology and will be using it with Mars Rover in July in a project called OnSight – read the NASA release.

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Bringing it down to earth, Microsoft also stated that all universal apps will have access to the HoloLens APIs.

Comment: This looks amazing and must have potential for all sorts of scenarios: architects, planners, marketing, games and more. The tough question I suppose is how much it has to do with Windows 10 as experienced by most users.

In closing

Microsoft surprised us today and deserves kudos for that. Nobody can accuse the company of lack of innovation; then again, Windows 8 and the original Surface were innovative too, and proved to be a disaster. I do not think Windows 10 will be a disaster; we have already seen in the preview how it is an easier transition for Windows 7 users.

A key thing to note from a developer and technical perspective is that universal apps are right at the centre of the Windows 10 story. That is a good thing in many respects, since we get Store deployment, sandbox security, and a degree of compatibility across phone, PC, tablet and Xbox One. But is the Store app / Universal app platform mature enough to deliver a good experience for both developers and users, bearing in mind that in Windows 8.x it is really not good enough?

Look to Microsoft Build at the end of April, which Myerson said is the culmination of the Windows 10 reveal, to answer that question.

Microsoft kills best Windows OneDrive feature in new Windows 10 preview

In Windows 8.1, Microsoft integrated its OneDrive cloud storage with the Windows file system, so you see your OneDrive files in Windows Explorer.

There was a twist though: in Explorer you see all your OneDrive files, but they are not actually downloaded to your PC unless you specifically configure a file or folder for “offline” use, or open a file in which case it downloads on demand.

The strength of this feature is that you have seamless access to what might be multiple Gigabytes of cloud files, without actually trying (and failing) to sync them to your nice, fast, but relatively small SSD, such as on a Surface tablet.

In the latest preview of Windows 10, Microsoft has killed the feature, supposedly on the basis that users did not understand it, says Gabe Aul:

In Windows 8.1, we use placeholders on your PC to represent files you have stored in OneDrive. People had to learn the difference between what files were “available online” (placeholders) versus what was “available offline” and physically on your PC. We heard a lot of feedback around this behavior. For example, people would expect that any files they see in File Explorer would be available offline by default. Then they would hop onto a flight (or go someplace without connectivity) and try to access a file they thought was on their PC and it wasn’t available because it was just a placeholder. It didn’t feel like sync was as reliable as it needed to be. For Windows 10, having OneDrive provide fast and reliable sync of your files is important. Starting with this build, OneDrive will use selective sync. This means you choose what you want synced to your PC and it will be. What you see is really there and you don’t need to worry about downloading it. You can choose to have all of your OneDrive files synced to your PC, or just the ones you select.

Many users did understand the feature though, and for them it is a disaster. No longer can you see all your OneDrive files in Windows Explorer, or search your cloud storage using the tools built into Windows.

This is just a preview though, and Microsoft may restore the feature, or add an advanced option for users who want it, if it gets feedback – as it is already doing?

The questions though: is there really time to revert the change, and is Aul telling the full story about why it was removed?