December was a remarkable patching month. For those of you who use Windows Update, there were few surprises. (Manual updaters had it rough, though.) If you’ve been following along, you’ve already installed the December updates. Great. It’s time to get ready for January by temporarily turning off Windows Automatic Update.
If you’re a member of the “Get patched as soon as they roll out” team (a shrinking cohort, from my observation, anyway), my hat’s off to you. We need all the cannon fodder we can get. Be sure to keep us updated on AskWoody.
But if you figure there’s more danger from Pavlovian patching practices than from malware immediately following a Patch Tuesday, there are reasonably easy alternatives. Wait while we all watch the unpaid beta-testers take one for the Gipper.
Blocking automatic update on Win7 and 8.1
If you’re using Windows 7 or 8.1, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the “Turn automatic updating on or off” link. Click the “Change Settings” link on the left. Verify that you have Important Updates set to “Never check for updates (not recommended)” and click OK.
Yes, this month’s Patch Tuesday brings the last free security patches for Win7. No, you shouldn’t let them install by themselves. We’ll have a lot of coverage of Win7 weaning worries in the coming weeks.
Blocking automatic update on Win10 1803 or 1809
Not sure which version of Win10 you’re running? Down in the Search box, near the Start button, type About, then click About your PC. The version number appears on the right under Windows specifications.
If you’re using Win10 1803 or 1809, I strongly urge you to move on to Win10 version 1903. Microsoft released it (to some consternation) in May of last year. It had a shaky start before plunging into a four-patch debacle in September/October, but now appears to be relatively stable. There are detailed step-by-step instructions for moving to Win10 1903 in “Why — and how — I’m moving Win10 production machines to version 1903.”
There’s a better way with Win10 versions 1903 or 1909
In version 1903 or 1909 (either Home, Pro, Education or Enterprise, unless you’re attached up an update server), using an administrator account, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. At the top, click the Pause updates for 7 days button.
That button changes so it says, “Pause updates for 7 more days.” Click it two more times, for a total of 21 paused days. That defers all updates on your machines until 21 days after you click the button. Once set, you can’t extend the deferral any longer unless you install all the outstanding cumulative updates to that point.
Historically, 21 days has sufficed to avoid the worst problems, although the aforementioned Keystone Kops IE 0day patch bugs persisted for more than three weeks.
If there are any immediate widespread problems protected by this month’s Patch Tuesday — a rare occurrence, but it does happen — we’ll let you know here, and at AskWoody.com, in very short order.
Chrome 77 hits the stable channel on September 10, bringing easy customization to Chrome. Forget downloading themes: You can apply your favorite colors to Chrome’s browser toolbars with a few clicks from the New Tab page.
Background and Theme Controls on the New Tab Page
Older versions of Chrome let you customize your New Tab page, but Chrome 77 provides even more options. To find these options, click “Customize” at the bottom right corner of your New Tab page.
The Background section lets you select a nice background image or upload your own. There’s a new “Refresh daily” option that will automatically change your New Tab page background every day.
The Shortcuts section lets you choose which icons are displayed on the New Tab page: The ones you select or your most visited websites. You can also toggle “Hide shortcuts” to see no website shortcuts on this page at all.
The Color and theme section lets you create a custom browser theme. Choose a combination of two colors here or use the color picker to select your own. They’ll be used for both the New Tab page background and the Chrome browser toolbar itself. Previously, this required installing a theme from the Chrome Web Store.
Hiding the EV Indicator
The “Extended Validation” (EV) indicator is moving in Chrome. Currently, some websites have special Extended Validation certificates that Chrome and other browsers display differently. For example, when you go to paypal.com, you’ll see a “PayPal, Inc.” text by the lock to the left of the site’s address in Chrome’s Omnibox.
In Chrome 77, these extra text is going away, and you’ll just see a lock icon. You can still see the company name the certificate was issued to, but you have to click the lock icon first.
As Google’s Devon O’Brien explains, “the Chrome Security UX team has determined that the EV UI does not protect users as intended.” People don’t seem to notice this feature or make decisions differently if it’s present. It can even present confusing and misleading company names. Apple already made this change to Safari back in June 2018.
A New Welcome Screen
If you’re installing Chrome on a new system or just creating a new user account in Chrome, you’ll see a new welcome screen inviting you to “make Chrome your own” when you first open the browser. This merely replaces the New Tab page the first time you open Chrome, so you can ignore it if you like. You can even access it at any time—just plug chrome://welcome/ into Chrome’s Omnibox.
Go through the wizard and Chrome will invite you to pin shortcuts to your New Tab page, select a background for it, and set Chrome as your default browser.
Contact Picker for Websites
Google is always adding new web features to Chrome. These aren’t for you to use—they’re for web developers making websites. You’ll never notice many of these features until they pop up on web pages. They make the web faster, more powerful, and more secure.
The new Contact Picker API is an example of a feature that makes the web more powerful. It will let a website ask for your contacts, and Chrome will let you select contacts from your device’s address book to give to the site. It’s currently available in an “origin trial,” which means only a handful of approved websites can test it.
This sounds like it’s just for phones, but it could be used on the desktop, too. For example, the contact picker could pull contacts from Windows 10’s People app or even your Google Contacts.
It’s even more private than giving an Android or iPhone app access to your contacts. Chrome sees all your contacts and gives you a list of them, but only the contacts you choose are handed over to the website. The website can’t see all your contacts.
Google Assistant on More Chromebooks
Google Assistant looks set to come to more Chromebooks. Google Assistant first arrived on Chrome OS with the release of the Pixelbook two years ago. Google has been testing enabling the Assistant on additional Chromebooks. In fact, there’s a hidden flag that will enable an experimental Google Assistant feature on all Chromebooks in Chrome 76.
With Chrome 77, this flag is now turned on by default. Google Assistant should work on many more Chromebooks. However, as 9to5Google points out, this flag doesn’t actually seem to enable Google Assistant on every Chromebook out there just yet.
Either way, Google Assistant will arrive enabled by default on many more Chrome OS devices with Chrome OS 77.
The Technical Stuff
Much of Google’s work on every Chrome update is invisible. It just makes Chrome and the web you use better.
For example, Google has a new “Enter Key Hint” attribute built into Chrome. This lets a website customize which action appears on a touch keyboard’s Enter key when a user is interacting with the keyboard. For example, if you’re typing a message, you might see a “send” key. If you’re performing a search online, you might see a “search” key.
All the technical details about Chrome 77—down to how PaymentRequest behaves differently for web developers, Google limiting Chrome’s referrer headers to a maximum of 4 KB in size, and more—are available on Google’s Chromium blog.
Chrome will automatically install the update when it’s available and prompt you to restart your browser. To speed things up, you can manually check for an update by clicking menu > Help > About Google Chrome.
Microsoft is already working on Windows 10’s 20H1 update. Expected sometime around April 2020, this will likely be Windows 10 version 2003. It’s much bigger than the upcoming 19H2 update but still feels like a collection of useful improvements.
Microsoft is advertising a “new Cortana experience” with a “brand-new chat-based UI.” You can now type queries to Cortana rather than say them out loud. The history of your conversation with Cortana will appear as if it was a chat window, so you can see the results of recent queries just by opening Cortana from the taskbar.
Beyond the new design, Microsoft says it has “updated Cortana with new speech and language models” as well as “significantly improved performance” of the voice assistant. It supports both Windows 10’s light and dark themes, too.
Cloud Download for Reinstalling Windows
Windows 10 has a new “Cloud Download” option you can use when resetting your PC to a default Windows system. When you head to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery and choose to reset your PC and remove everything, you can now tell Windows to use “Cloud Download.” Rather than reinstalling Windows 10 from the files on your local system, Windows will download the most up-to-date version of Windows 10 and install it on your system.
File Explorer has a new search experience. When you type in the search box, you’ll see a dropdown menu with a list of suggested files. It will also search for files in your OneDrive account online—not just files on your local PC.
You can still access the more powerful, classic search experience by pressing Enter. This will allow you to search non-indexed locations, for example.
Bandwidth Limits for Windows Update
The Settings app now gives you more control over how much bandwidth is used for downloading Windows updates. In current versions of Windows, you can set a bandwidth limit as a percentage of your bandwidth. Windows 10 20H1 will let you set a precise “Absolute bandwidth” limit in Mbps for more accurate throttling of downloaded updates. This option was previously available in Group Policy but is now available to everyone in Settings.
To find the update bandwidth limiting options on any version of Windows 10, head to Settings > Update & Security > Delivery Optimization > Advanced options.
Microsoft will build its own Linux kernel and ship it with WSL 2, and that Linux kernel will be updated through Windows Update. You can also build your own Linux kernel and make Windows 10 use it. You don’t have to think about any of this, though—WSL 2 has the same user experience as WSL 1 and will “just work” without any extra configuration.
WSL 2 promises “dramatic file system performance increases” and “full system call compatibility.” That compatibility means support for technologies like Docker that wouldn’t run on the original WSL 1.
Windows 10’s Task Manager now displays your disk type—SSD or HDD. This makes it easier to see what hardware is in your computer, and it can help you tell which disk is which if you have multiple disks in your system.
This information is displayed on the Performance tab. Open the Task Manager (Ctrl+Shift+Esc) and click “More Details” to find it.
GPU Temperature in the Task Manager
That’s not the only new feature the Task Manager is getting. The Task Manager’s performance tab will also display your GPU temperature, too. Assuming you have a graphics card with a new enough driver—it must support the WDDM 2.4 driver model—you’ll find this information on your GPU’s status page under the Performance tab, too. This also only works with dedicated graphics cards, not integrated or onboard GPUs.
This is just the latest GPU-monitoring feature in the Task Manager. Previous updates added features like per-process GPU usage, overall GPU usage display, graphics driver version information, graphics memory usage, and hardware details.
When you’re using a 2-in-1 PC with a touch screen, and you have no keyboard or mouse connected, it can make the traditional desktop interface a bit easier to use. For example, the taskbar icons will be further apart, File Explorer will be optimized for touch, and you can use windows on your desktop.
Microsoft says this isn’t a replacement for Tablet Mode, but convertible PCs will no longer automatically enter Tablet Mode when you remove the keyboard or flip them around. Instead, they’ll enter this new touch-optimized experience. Microsoft is backing off on Tablet Mode on 2-in-1 devices and making the classic Windows desktop easier to use on a touch screen.
In a surprising change, Microsoft has moved Notepad to the Store. It will now be automatically updated through the Store, allowing Microsoft to update Notepad more frequently than once every six months. You can uninstall Notepad, too.
Microsoft new lets you “Make your device passwordless” with a new option on the Settings > Accounts > Sign-in page. It sounds awesome and futuristic, but really it’s just a new setting that requires everyone on your PC sign in with a PIN or another Windows Hello sign-in method like face or fingerprint unlock.
Renaming Virtual Desktops
Windows 10’s virtual desktops, available in the Task View interface that appears when you press Windows+Tab on your keyboard or click the Task View icon on the taskbar, are getting more configurable.
Rather than being stuck with the default names of “Desktop 1,” “Desktop 2,” and so on, you can now rename them. Microsoft says you can simply click the name of each virtual desktop at the top of the Task View interface, but this didn’t work for us yet. Maybe it’s still in development.
As Microsoft points out, you can even use emojis in the names. Just press Windows+. (period) to open the emoji picker and enter an emoji. This emoji panel works in nearly any text field in Windows 10.
Improved Network Status Information
The network status page at Settings > Network & Internet > Status has been redesigned. It now shows all the network interfaces you have available at the top of the page. For example, both Wi-Fi and Ethernet will be shown here if you have a PC with both.
Microsoft says this new interface will “provide more information at a glance about your device’s connectivity, combining several pages to give you one clear view of how you are connected to the internet.”
Windows will also display your data usage for each interface right on this page, so you don’t have to go elsewhere in Settings to see how much data you’re using.
To find this option, head to Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options. Under Restart apps, toggle “Automatically save my restartable apps when I sign out and restart them after I sign in” if you’d like to turn this off.
Previously, this option was somewhat hidden and merged with the “Use my sign-in info to automatically finish my device” option, which read “Use my sign-in info to automatically finish setting up my device and reopen my apps after an update or restart.” These are now two separate options.
A Header in Windows 10’s Settings App
Microsoft has been experimenting with a banner in the Settings application for a while, and it’s back in 20H1 Insider builds. The new banner appears at the top of the home screen in the Settings window, showing your picture, name, and a link to manage your Microsoft account online. It offers quick links to your OneDrive and Windows Update settings and information about their status.
Thankfully, Microsoft hasn’t included advertising for Microsoft Rewards (formerly Bing Rewards) here this time.
Text Cursor Indicator
You can now adjust the size and color of Windows 10’s text cursor indicator—that little line that appears to show you where you’re typing in an application.
To find this option, head to Settings > Ease of Access > Text Cursor. Enable the new “Text Cursor Indicator,” choose a size, and pick a color that’s easy for you to see. You can select any custom color you want.
Windows 10’s Language settings page at Settings > Time & Language > Language has been reorganized to be easier to use and understand. For example, it now shows you the default selected languages for Windows, apps and websites, your keyboard, speech, and regional settings right at the top of the screen.
Dictation also gets better. Microsoft now supports more languages when using dictation—to use it, press Windows+H while typing in any text field.
Microsoft has done a lot of work on the East Asian Microsoft Input Method Editors (IMEs). There’s a new Japanese IME and improvements to the Chinese and Korean IMEs.
As usual, Windows 10’s 20H1 update is packed with smaller tweaks and bug fixes. Here are a few:
Mouse Cursor Speed in Settings: Windows 10 now lets you set your mouse cursor speed from within the Settings app at Settings > Devices > Mouse. Previously, this option was only available in the Control Panel.
Better Account Picture Settings: Windows 10 now makes it easier to set your account picture in Windows and across various Microsoft services. Head to Settings > Accounts > Your Info to set an account picture. When you set a picture here, Windows will now quickly update it both on your local Windows computer and across various Microsoft services—assuming you’re signed into Windows 10 with a Microsoft account.
Optional Features Gets Better: The Optional Features page under Settings > Apps & Features > Optional Features is getting a better interface. You can now select and install multiple features at once, search available features, and sort them in different ways. You can see the date each feature was installed and view the status of feature installation at the top of this page.
Wi-Fi Warning Redesign: Microsoft also says it’s changing how open Wi-Fi networks appear in the Wi-Fi list. Windows 10 will no longer display an “Other people might be able to see info you send over this network” warning message before connecting to an open Wi-FI network, which Microsoft says is confusing. Instead, there’s a new icon for secured Wi-Fi networks to more clearly emphasize you should connect to those.
Windows Search Speedup: Windows search will get faster on developer PCs by default, too. The Windows search indexer will now “exclude common developer folders, such as .git, .hg, .svn, .Nuget, and more by default.” Performance will improve while compiling and synchronizing code.
Accessibility Improvements: Microsoft has also updated the accessibility features with more new options and improvements. For example, there’s a new command in Narrator to give a web page summary (Narrator+S).
Install MSIX Files Without Sideloading: System administrators will find that installing an MSIX file no longer requires enabling Sideloading in Settings or via Group Policy. Previously, installing these required enabling sideloading—just like on Android. Now, as long as the MSIX file is signed, a Windows 10 system can install it like any other application. Enterprises can still disable this type of sideloading via policy settings, but that’s no longer the default mode.
With so many months left to go, more features will certainly appear in future Windows Insider previews. We’ll update this article as they do.
Windows 10’s 19H2 update will arrive in the second half of 2019, perhaps in September or October. Also known as Windows 10 version 1909, this will be the smallest, quickest Windows 10 Update yet. It’s practically just a service pack.
A “Less Disruptive Update” With Fewer Changes
Microsoft’s John Cable explains that this update “will be a scoped set of features for select performance improvements, enterprise features, and quality enhancements.” In other words, expect a select set of bug fixes, performance tweaks, and a handful of business features.
If you’re sick of big Windows 10 updates every six months, 19H2 is the update for you! Installing 19H2 will be more like installing a standard cumulative update like the updates that arrive on Patch Tuesday. It should be a small download with a fast installation process—no long reboot and purging of old Windows installations necessary.
Computers with the May 2019 Update (also known as 19H1) installed will get a small patch via Windows Update and quickly update themselves to 19H2. This will likely arrive sometime in September or October 2019.
This is a small feature that should work automatically once Amazon has added it to Alexa. You can talk to your voice assistant, and it can hear you even while you’re on the lock screen, providing an answer.
Or, as Microsoft puts it, this is “A change to enable third-party digital assistants to voice activate above the Lock screen.”
If you use Windows 10’s calendar application, it just got better. If you don’t, it’s easier to start. You can now create calendar events directly from the taskbar. Just click the time on the taskbar to open the calendar view. From here, you can now click a date and start typing in a text box to create a new calendar event. You can specify a name, time, and location from here.
Before this update, the calendar “flyout” on the taskbar displayed calendar events—but you had to create those events in the Calendar app. Any events you add here will still appear in Windows 10’s Calendar app, too.
Notification Management Improvements
Microsoft spent some time on notifications in this update. When configuring notifications for an application, there are now images that show exactly what “notification banners” and “notifications in action center” are.
Windows 10 will now let you disable the sounds that play when a notification appears. This setting is available on the Settings > System > Notifications & Actions pane. Previously, you could disable notification sounds—but you had to disable them separately for each app that shows notifications.
The Settings > System > Notifications & Actions pane will now default to sorting applications by most recently shown notification rather than name. This will help you find the applications sending the most notifications and configure them.
You can now configure notifications directly from the notification, too. Both banner notifications and Action Center notifications have options to configure or turn off notifications—right in the notification. The Action Center pane now also has a “Manage Notifications” button that appears at the top of the Action Center, offering easy access to the Notifications & Actions pane for configuring your notifications.
This update brings a few performance improvements. Some systems will see battery life improvements, better scheduling of CPU resources, and lower-latency digital inking.
Microsoft says it’s “made general battery life and power efficiency improvements for PCs with certain processors.” That’s vague, but some PCs should see longer battery life.
This update features some improvements to scheduling on computers with multi-core CPUs, too. As Microsoft puts it: “A CPU may have multiple “favored” cores (logical processors of the highest available scheduling class). To provide better performance and reliability, we have implemented a rotation policy that distributes work more fairly among these favored cores.”
Finally, computers with digital inking features will see lower latency for more responsive drawing. Windows 10 will now let manufacturers “reduce the inking latency based on the hardware capabilities of their devices.” Before this update, Windows 10 systems with inking hardware were “stuck with latency selected on typical hardware configuration by the OS.” That sounds pretty crazy—Microsoft should have made this update years ago.
Microsoft promised some enterprise improvements, too, but we haven’t seen many yet. Here’s the full list of improvements, courtesy of several Microsoft blogposts:
Windows containers require matched host and container version. This restricts customers and limits Windows containers from supporting mixed-version container pod scenarios This update includes 5 fixes to address this and allow the host to run down-level containers on up-level for process (Argon) isolation.
Key-rolling or Key-rotation feature enables secure rolling of Recovery passwords on MDM managed AAD devices upon on demand request from Microsoft Intune/MDM tools or upon every time recovery password is used to unlock the BitLocker protected drive. This feature will help prevent accidental recovery password disclosure as part of manual BitLocker drive unlock by users.
We have added additional debugging capabilities for newer Intel processors. This is only relevant for hardware manufacturers.
Recent Improvements Haven’t Required an Update
Microsoft has made some improvements to Windows 10 that haven’t been part of huge updates. For example, if you have an Android phone and a Windows 10 PC, you can now use the Your Phone app to mirror your Android notifications to your PC. This feature began “rolling out broadly” in early July.
An early preview of the new Windows Terminal app featuring tabs, customizable background images, and other new features is available from the Store, too. It works on the current Windows 10 May 2019 Update (also called 19H1), so you don’t need a big operating system update to try it out.
Chrome 76 hits the stable channel on July 30. This latest release brings some serious changes to the web. Flash is now disabled by default, and websites won’t be able to detect whether you’re using incognito mode.
Flash Is Disabled by Default
Google Chrome now blocks Adobe Flash by default on all websites. You can re-enable Flash, but you can only use Flash in click-to-play mode. You’ll also see a warning that Chrome won’t support the Flash Player after December 2020.
Adobe will also stop supporting Flash starting in 2021, so it’s a sensible move for Google. Until then, you can still use Flash—but Google is making it extra annoying to encourage websites to upgrade and move away from Flash.
Websites Can’t Detect Incognito Mode
Sites could detect you’re in incognito mode by making a FIleSystem API request, which is disabled in incognito mode. Some websites use this trick to block visitors who are in incognito mode, as incognito mode is a common way of bypassing paywalls on the web. But Google is closing this loophole.
For example, some news sites like The New York Times limit the number of articles you read and block you from reading in incognito mode to prevent you from getting around that. Websites will no longer be able to detect and block incognito mode specifically.
Google says it’s fine with websites offering a limited number of articles, but recommends they require readers to log in. Blocking incognito mode is off the table, and Google won’t let it happen.
Some researchers have already found a way around the block, so the game of cat and mouse is well underway. But Google will keep on stamping out loopholes.
Chrome Incognito mode has been detectable for years, due to the FileSystem API implementation. As of Chrome 76, this is fixed. Apologies to the “detect private mode” scripts out there. 💐 pic.twitter.com/3LWFXQyy7w
Starting with Chrome 76, websites can detect whether you’ve chosen dark mode on your operating system. If you’ve enabled dark mode, the site can automatically enable a dark mode theme for you. Web developers can take advantage of this with the “prefers-color-scheme” media query in CSS.
Websites will have to enable this feature, but many sites that have offered dark themes—including YouTube and Twitter—could plug into this feature and automatically enable them for you rather than requiring you hit a switch.
Websites Can’t Hijack Your Escape Key
Let’s face it; you’ve never had a reason to use the Escape Key while interacting with a website. And realistically you never will. If anything, you may use the Escape Key to stop a site loading. The Escape key will also let you close full-screen videos and dialog boxes.
Unfortunately, some malicious websites hijacked the Escape key to force popups in Chrome, preventing it from working in the normal way. That won’t work anymore. The Escape button belongs to the browser.
Chrome Will Let You Spy on Your Extensions
Google is cracking down on browser extensions and requiring them to request only as much data as they need to function. Some extensions track your browsing habits without adequately warning you. Thanks to a new logging page, you’ll be able to see what an extension is doing on your system. Knowledge is power.
For now, this feature is hidden behind a command-line switch. Once enabled the --enable-extension-activity-logging flag, you can select any extension on the Extensions settings page, click on details and then View Activity log to see what an extension is doing.
Progressive Web Apps Are Easier to Install
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are essentially websites turned into a local app for you to use. If a site supports PWAs, they may be able to bypass creating a dedicated mobile app, saving on time and effort for development.
Until now, installing a PWA has been too difficult. Starting in Chrome 76, if a site supports PWAs, you’ll see an install button at the right side of the Omnibox.
Chromebooks Get GPU Acceleration for Linux Apps
A little under a year ago, Google brought Linux apps to Chromebooks. Those Linux applications didn’t have access to GPU acceleration, which meant graphically intensive apps like games didn’t run smoothly. Now Chrome 76 aims to solve that with GPU acceleration.
This could mean Steam for Linux would perform well on an Intel Chromebook, unlocking a whole world of PC games.