Microsoft will end support for Internet Explorer 11 (IE) on June 15, 2022, as announced in May 2021.

Starting with Windows 10 version 20H2, which Microsoft released in October 2020, if you attempt to use IE, Windows will prompt you to use the Microsoft Edge browser.  You must make an explicit choice to deny that to continue to use the Internet Explorer browser.

Note: If you want to know what version of Windows you have, type the word winver in the Windows Search box (next to the Start button in the lower left-hand corner). The resulting “About Windows” window contains the version and build information.

The critical point to all of this is that Microsoft will jettison some outdated, still risk-prone software in favor of its new Edge browser, built on the same base as Google’s Chrome.

What does that mean for you? If you have an Internet Explorer icon on your desktop, it is time to delete it. Similarly, if you use IE to browse the web, you should transfer your Favorites (bookmarked websites) and your saved user IDs and passwords over to Edge or Chrome.

While Microsoft will provide a hybrid form of IE under Edge’s covers, the rest of the world has moved on. According to W3Schools, the internet’s most extensive tutor of web-based material, Chrome held the lead in usage with a commanding 81% of the market. Edge came in second with 6.6%, and Firefox held on with 5.5%. I am, and probably always will be, a stalwart fan of Firefox (at least until Mozilla stops supporting it).

In the upcoming months, I am hopeful that companies whose websites contain code explicitly built for Internet Explorer will remove that code to strengthen the security of their website. However, if they don’t, your browser should automatically switch to IE mode in Edge. But I won’t be surprised if bad actors make multiple attempts to figure out how to take over those websites to try to introduce malware to the unsuspecting.

Thanks, and safe computing!

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft officially released Windows 11 on October 5, 2021. In a blog post, the lead project manager expects the operating system successor to nearly seven-year-old Windows 10 to be widely available by the middle of 2022. I’ll admit, the “geek” in me couldn’t resist the siren call of a shiny new object. So, I spent less than half an hour downloading the 5.1 gigabyte file and an equivalent amount of time creating a virtual machine environment (running under Hyper-V) on a test Windows Server.

The installation was speedy compared to previous versions of Windows, even though the source file was on a USB drive. The initial phase after installation, commonly referred to as the “out-of-box experience” (OOBE, pronounced “oo-bee”), was pleasant and easy. No muss and no fuss getting to the initial Windows 11 desktop.

Here is a brief overview of some of the new features in the latest iteration of the Windows operating system.

First and foremost is that the Windows Taskbar is now in the center of the screen. I’ll call this blatant effect mimicry (or stealing) of Apple’s Dock, found in all Mac devices since 2001. This change may not be creative, but it is certainly different. This is especially apparent when for more than two dozen years, ever since Windows 95, Windows users have been accustomed to moving their cursor to the lower, left-hand corner to access the Start menu. Now it is in the “home” position – meaning the left-most spot – on the Taskbar. Now when you click it, the Start menu opens in an entire window in the center of your screen instead of sliding up an extensive menu. According to Microsoft, this sleeker, more straightforward screen gives you a better overview of the available features and programs to make it easier to accomplish your work (or play). Over time, the apps you use most frequently will take their place in the Recommended section.

New to Windows 11 is the confluence of several individual components that Microsoft thought would be useful to consumers. This item is Widgets, which includes news headlines, weather, stock information, and sports. Each item displays current information based on your location. You can change the size of each widget and customize it by clicking the three-dot menu icon in the upper right corner. You can add more widgets based on your preferences to the display. The privacy implications of all the Widget telemetry exchanged between you and Microsoft is a discussion for another newsletter. Also, I don’t know the corporate equivalent of this feature, nor if Group Policy can eliminate it.

Another change is what Microsoft is calling Snap Layouts and Snap Groups. In Windows 7, you could snap one window on each side of the screen by clicking on the window’s Title bar and rapidly moving it to the right or left. Windows 10 maintains this capability, and Microsoft expanded the concept with the Task View (described in the August 2019 edition). The purpose of this new functionality is to let you design how many open windows you want at one time, what they should contain, and where you want them to be positioned. For instance, you might wish to have an Excel spreadsheet open on the right-hand side of the screen, and your email client and an internet browser open, stacked one above the other, on the left-hand side. You can then save this layout to a named group and call it up when you want all three apps to open at once. Windows 11 gives you the ability to resume where you were working when you click on the link to the layout.

As you might have guessed, having all these apps open simultaneously (never mind saving their condition to restore them quickly) is going to require more memory than ever before. Most of you have been very comfortable working with 8 GB of RAM (memory). In some cases, I have given “power users” 16 GB of RAM. If you plan to use this feature extensively, I may have to double the amount of memory in your computer. Only time – and practical usage – will let me know if this will be a problem in search of a hardware solution.

The last element of this first peek at Windows 11 is Microsoft Teams integration. Teams is Microsoft’s equivalent of Zoom or WebEx. Working from home – or from anywhere, really – will continue to be part of our culture for the foreseeable future. Microsoft fully believes that a dispersed workforce is inevitable, so it placed this icon in a prominent position. After all, what could be easier than clicking on an icon to launch a discussion with co-workers or colleagues? I expect that as time goes by, probably with the first annual Feature Update, Microsoft will provide more integration with the corporate version of Microsoft 365 and Teams.

Over the next two years, I’ll be giving you more information about this new operating system. But, as I’m sure you realize, it is still Windows. Most of you use the operating system for probably opening a browser to get your mail and see what’s going on with your friends, family, and organizations on Facebook. All the bells and whistles don’t mean much to you – I get it. It’s just that Microsoft doesn’t feel the same way.

I received a phone call from a client who said that her laptop was running exceedingly slowly — even more so than usual. So I remoted in to take a quick look. I found a new icon on the taskbar that looked like a fat, folded Sunday newspaper. By way of definition, the taskbar contains the Start button, icons for pinned and running applications, and a system tray area that contains notification icons and a clock.

When I hovered my mouse over the icon, the tooltip said it was the Windows 10 News and Interests news feed. Once clicked, it opens a pane that displays various widgets that contain current news, weather, stock prices, and more based on your location. The initial download of all this “stuff” caused my client’s perception of slow response on her laptop.

I searched Google and after reading several articles, I learned how to eliminate this icon from appearing. Therefore, I am writing this article to teach you how to do the same thing when it “miraculously” appears on your computer.

But first, let’s be clear about one thing. Not one of you went and asked the folks at Redmond to install this. You didn’t explicitly agree to get the news, weather, and more on your desktop. And you certainly shouldn’t need to try — on your own — to figure out just how the heck to get rid of this intrusion. I don’t know what they were thinking. (Can you tell I’m annoyed by this nonsense?)

Here are the steps you can take to get rid of this and regain control of your taskbar:

  1. Right-click on any blank section of your taskbar. This will open the taskbar menu.
  2. Left-click the News and interests banner. This will open a fly-away menu.
  3. On the fly-away, left-click Turn off. This should disable this “feature.”

Now, I’ve read reports that the icon just shows up again after the computer is restarted. If you experience that, please let me know.

While you’re at it, if you see an icon that resembles a wristwatch, right-click that and select Hide. I don’t believe anyone needs the Meet Now function, a Skype quick meeting setup feature. If you still use Skype, you are usually talking to one person. When you need to engage with more people for discussions, you are most likely using Zoom (or Microsoft Teams).

In March 2019, Microsoft introduced the public preview of a new cloud-based form of the Windows Operating System. It is called Windows Virtual Desktop, or WVD. It is a desktop and application experience that runs in Microsoft’s Azure cloud. Now, after a full year of pandemic use, Microsoft has improved the overall aspects of building and maintaining the desktop for IT Solutions Providers. For those who use the desktop, that experience has been significantly overhauled as well. You wouldn’t know you are using a cloud-based virtual desktop if you didn’t click a unique icon to run it.

What does all this futuristic technology mean? Well, for one thing, by the end of this year, I hope to offer WVD as an alternative to full-fledged desktop solutions along with Azure as a server replacement. In a few years, the typical five-year desktop and seven-year sever hardware refresh may fall by the wayside for small businesses. That’s because it will no longer be about how much RAM or the version of the CPU in a physical computer. Instead, it will be about the number of IOPS (input-output operations per second) and the overall internet speed at your business location.

The primary advantage of WVD is that you can access your business desktop from any device with a web browser. The login process uses multi-factor authentication for security. You connect to your business’ Active Directory server, which contains your user profile information. You get access to the full range of Office applications via Microsoft 365 and standard desktop applications like Adobe Reader and even QuickBooks.

One of the primary tasks Microsoft had to face at the start of the pandemic was to provide a “near-desktop” experience for millions of people suddenly working from home. They implemented new technology to enable fast access to user profiles via a recently purchased company called FSLogix. At sign-in, a user profile container is dynamically attached to the computing environment. The user profile is immediately available and appears on the system exactly like a typical native user profile. (In English: your desktop, files, and favorites are all there, just the way you expect.)

The one drawback to deploying all this cloud-based functionality is, the smaller the business, the higher the monthly cost per person. That’s because to use WVD, you need an Azure server — and that cost is the same whether you have two people in your office or ten. However, the monthly cost for a two-person office could be $200 per person, while at a ten-person office, that cost could go down to $50 per person. Note these figures are examples, and actual prices require careful calculation.

There is a vast educational factor involved in implementing this new technology stack. Previously, I would go to the Dell web site, configure a server with minimal specifications and have it shipped to my office for about $1,000. I would then use my Windows Server licenses (courtesy of my Microsoft partnership) to load up a base system. I’d create virtual versions of the servers and desktops to develop various end-user scenarios, implement the appropriate security settings, and thoroughly learn how things worked before deploying any of them at any client site.

Microsoft will let me do something similar with Azure and WVD. Still, it requires using their facilities to spin up the environment, build the desktops, create the simulated users, and test how everything hangs together. I am already in contact with a leading vendor that is willing to assist building the requisite cloud structures in this new format and help me price and deploy environments to clients. I would much rather work with a Sherpa to climb a mountain like this than do it on my own.

Over time, I envision many small business owners who want to keep their staff working from home will switch to using WVD to provide Windows desktops in those remote locations.

The “black screen” problem in Windows 10 shows how nothing sometimes matters quite a lot. Seeing nothing except a black screen where the desktop and its icons usually appear is disconcerting because you don’t know what the computer is — or isn’t — doing.

I am an experienced Windows user, and when I encounter a black screen, I know at least two things immediately. First, just like you, I know that something is wrong with my computer. And second, because nothing is visible, I can assume something is not quite right with the graphics interface and the operating system.

As a start, that may be enough, but what most of you want is to get your desktop back. In this article, I’ll guide you through the methods I’ve found to fix this annoying problem.

Occasionally, you’ll start Windows and end up with what’s called a “black screen with a cursor.” Just as it sounds, this means the display is entirely black, except that the mouse cursor appears on that black background. The cursor might track your mouse’s movement even though it’s moving over a completely black screen.

In my personal experience, the black screen with a cursor occurs far more frequently than a black screen by itself (no cursor). The presence of a cursor that responds to your mouse’s movement is a good sign — even in the midst of a bad situation. It indicates that Windows is still working (partially) behind the scenes, and that the mouse driver can still track the cursor position on the screen. This means there’s an excellent chance that the desktop can be restored to regular operation using a few well-known key combinations.

Two keyboard combinations can (usually) restore normal operations

Both combinations involve pressing multiple keys simultaneously. This means using one finger to press the first key and holding it down, using a second finger to press the second key and doing likewise, then more of the same for a third key — and one of these two combinations requires adding a fourth and final key as well.

Attempt 1: Restart the graphics driver

This four-key combination tells Windows 10 to stop, then restart any graphics drivers that happen to be running. For your first attempt, do this: Windows key + Ctrl + Shift + B. I usually do the first three keys with my left hand, then press the letter B with my right index finger.

If you see the rapid flashing of the disk activity light, that’s a good sign. Sometimes the screen will return to regular operation a few seconds later, showing that the driver has reloaded and is now running successfully. Sometimes, nothing else will happen after the disk activity light stops flashing, so it is on to the second attempt.

Attempt 2: The three-fingered salute

This is a familiar key combo to anyone who has used Windows for a long time: Ctrl + Alt + Delete.

Even when the first attempt gets the graphics driver going, it still won’t light up the screen. And sometimes, when that’s the case, this key sequence will repaint the screen to show you the secure log-in options. If that screen does appear, click “Cancel,” and your desktop should reappear.

Attempt 3: Forced restart

If the cursor is absent, these key combos often won’t help (and sometimes they don’t help even when the cursor is present). In those cases, there’s only one thing to do next: forcibly turn off your computer. This means holding down the power button – for at least the count of 10 – until the device completely shuts down.

After a moment, press the power button again to turn on your computer. It should typically start with no black screen. If the screen remains black after you’ve gone through these steps, you need to call me!

Nobody wants to see a black screen on Windows 10

If you ever encounter this disturbing situation, you now have a pretty good idea of how to fix it yourself. In most cases, reloading the graphics driver or restarting the computer will do the trick. In other cases, there’s no choice except to let me know so that I can work through some of the more advanced troubleshooting sequences.

In mid-January 2020, Microsoft issued advisory ADV200001 warning of a vulnerability in the scripting engine of Internet Explorer.  Yes, I know, that’s gibberish to most of you.  It means that there could have been an attempt to execute code in attack mode via that browser.   How?  You could have received an email with a link that explicitly opened Internet Explorer (even if it wasn’t your default browser) and been sent to a malicious web site specifically designed by bad guys.   If exploited successfully, the attacker could have gained access rights to your computer.  As Microsoft put it at the time: “An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights.”

That’s very bad (I’d segue into the Ghostbusters “don’t cross the streams” theme about the definition of the word “bad,” but I’m sure you get the idea).

At the time, Microsoft did not have an immediate fix.  As of February’s “patch Tuesday,” they announced one with the heading “Security Advisory CVE-2020-0674.”  Microsoft will be patching desktop operating systems from Windows 7 clear through the latest version of Windows 10, plus a slew of server operating systems.

The Network Operations Center will be testing this set of updates for the next seven days.  If the patches pass those tests, then the updates will be available for all of you by the end of next week.  In the interim, I have only one thing to say:  DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER, USE ANOTHER BROWSER!  There are several to choose from, for example, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera (which I didn’t recall as being around, but it still exists) or Brave (which I’m sure you’ve never heard of), heck there are probably some of you who use Edge in Windows 10 (heaven help you).  If you’re not sure what browser is your default, write to me and I’ll let you know.

But let’s get down to the meat of this:  If Microsoft announced the problem on January 17 and only released the solution on February 11, the bad guys had a considerable amount of time to take advantage of the vulnerability, and yet the world didn’t come to a screeching halt.  But I don’t – for one minute – want to suggest that you not patch a known vulnerability.  What I recommend, instead, is a moderate amount of common sense.  And the best way to implement that would be to stop using the problem-plagued browser, even after your computer receives the patches.

Bottom line:  this exploit is explicitly for IE – so to avoid any possible unpleasantness, don’t use it.  Simple really.

Thanks and safe computing!

There is a feature of Windows 10 that some people might find useful. It is called Task View, and it has the ability to create multiple desktops.

To activate Task View, click its icon — a large rectangle with two smaller rectangles flanking it — in the Windows Taskbar just to the right of the Search box. When you do, Task View (and its associated feature Timeline) opens.

At the very top of the screen you’ll see a “New desktop” button, and beneath that, thumbnails of all of your currently running applications arrayed against the desktop so you can quickly see what you’ve got running. You can click any thumbnail to switch to that application or press the Esc key to leave Task View and return to where you were.

Beneath that you’ll see Timeline, with thumbnails of documents you’ve worked on over the last thirty days. For all businesses and most home users, I have disabled this feature to afford you more privacy. Microsoft tracks this information, and I do not feel comfortable providing them with more telemetry than necessary. However, if you think this could be useful, let me know and I can tell you how to reactivate it.

Now, if you were used to using the Alt-Tab key combination to cycle through open applications in Windows 7, you can still do that as well, but Task View adds a couple of extra twists. If you hover your mouse over any thumbnail, a small X appears in its upper-right corner. You can click the X to close that application.

Task View also lets you create multiple virtual desktops, each with different Windows applications running on them. To create a new desktop, open Task View and click “New desktop” at the upper left of the screen. You can run a different set of Windows applications inside the new desktop. For instance, you could dedicate one desktop to your Microsoft Office applications, like Word, Outlook, and Excel, and another desktop to handle your various browser applications, and another for your accounting software.

To switch among these virtual desktops, click the Task View icon and click the desktop to which you want to switch. You can keep creating new desktops this way and switch among them.

Let me know your reactions to using this new Windows 10 feature by posting a Comment.

I used to consult for Fortune 100 companies, and it never ceased to amaze me how management could make some of the moves it did. Sometimes plans that were identified as “not well thought out” (i.e., half-baked) saw the light of day — and projects failed. So when Microsoft announced it was changing the way in which Windows 10 semi-annual updates were going to be released, it got my attention.

When Windows 10 was released in July 2015, Microsoft said that it was working towards the concept of “Software as a Service.” It established a strategy of twice-a-year Feature Updates; one in the spring and one in the fall, which were tagged “yymm” (e.g., 1809 or 1903). Each Feature Update had an 18-month lifespan before support would no longer be available, and the computer would be forced to jump to the then current version. For the first couple of iterations, that worked (sort of).

Apparently, it took some time before Microsoft realized that it couldn’t maintain the drumbeat of an update feature every six months. Instead, they are going to implement one Feature Update a year, and another form of update — what used to be called a “service pack.” This is still two major updates a year, but they have not indicated if they plan to change the 18-month support restriction.

I realize that this will be revealed in time, but right now, before the end of July’s Microsoft worldwide partner conference, things are still very much up in the air. Every IT support organization that has tuned the Windows Update settings to protect computers from unexpected updates is going to have to find out what the new settings are and reconfigure them. Every IT support organization is also going to have to figure out how to go from one Feature Update to another without adversely affecting the computer. And everyone is going to have to decide if they want to remain on a merry-go-round where the conductor keeps changing the speed of the carousel.

This month Microsoft will start to gently remind Windows 7 users that it is time to consider switching to Windows 10. According a blog post by Matt Barlow, a Microsoft marketing executive:

“Beginning next month, if you are a Windows 7 customer, you can expect to see a notification appear on your Windows 7 PC. This is a courtesy reminder that you can expect to see a handful of times in 2019. By starting the reminders now, our hope is that you have time to plan and prepare for this transition. These notifications are designed to help provide information only and if you would prefer not to receive them again, you’ll be able to select an option for “do not notify me again,” and we will not send you any further reminders.”

The good news: You will be nagged, but you will be able to turn off the alert. The bad news: I suspect that by November or December, that will no longer be the case. After January 14, 2020, I am certain that if you continue to use Windows 7, you will receive a larger banner regarding the end of support. What that means is your computer, along with Office 2010, will no longer receive any updates, including security updates — and this could expose your computer to potential security threats.

I have written several times that I aim to replace all older computers between now and the end of the year. Anyone who has a newer computer (say, three years old or less) that is running Windows 7 can simply upgrade “in place.” Starting in June, I plan to contact you to schedule this. It entails backing-up your files, downloading Windows 10, and installing the new operating system without replacing your computer. The whole process takes a little over four hours and can be done via remote session.

Thanks and safe computing!

After years of creating almost a dozen versions of Internet Explorer, in 2015, Microsoft introduced a new browser called Edge. This was released concurrently with Windows 10. The following year Microsoft announced that there would be no further development (meaning enhancements) to Internet Explorer (IE); only security updates would be issued.

At the start of 2019, according to Net Applications, a company that measures browser usage around the world, almost no one uses the Edge browser (4%) and use of IE has plummeted to 11%. It comes as a stark reminder to realize that only five years ago, IE had almost 85% of the market share.

You are probably asking, “What does this have to do with me?”

I’m getting there, I promise.

As many web developers have discovered, it is increasingly hard to code a web site to support a browser that doesn’t know about the latest features and techniques for displaying web pages. So a number of sites have simply said they are no longer going to run on IE. If you want to view or use their web sites, you’ll have to use another browser. I found this out with one client when she couldn’t get to her AOL mail using IE!

All Windows 10 computers come with the Edge browser by default. But also contained in the operating system is the code to run IE 11. It has been my standard operating practice to remove the Edge icon from the taskbar and replace it with the one for IE. But if Microsoft is not going to issue anything other than security updates, and more web sites decide not to code for IE, I am making a mistake in providing it for you.

So I took a closer look at the Net Applications statistics. To my amazement, my personal favorite browser, Mozilla Firefox has a 10% share – even lower than IE! And to my surprise, Google Chrome has a 64% share. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I need to update my standard deployment task for new computers.

Going forward, I will install Google Chrome on all Windows 10 computers, and set that to be your default browser. I will port over your bookmarks (favorites) and saved information so that you can continue to use this browser instead of Internet Explorer.

I will caution you that that Chrome is slightly different than IE. To help make this transition a little easier, if you want to start using it now, I will offer to install it on your current Windows 7 computer. That way you can compare and contrast how your favorite web sites appear with both browsers, and take at least a few months to wean yourselves away from IE.

PS — After I wrote this article, Microsoft announced that they will be using the Google Chrome framework for future versions of the Edge browser. Notwithstanding that development (which won’t be released until later in 2019), I’m still going to install Chrome.