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With Patch Tuesday arriving tomorrow, get Windows Automatic Update under control

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.”

If you insist on sticking with Win10 1809 (thrice bitten, thrice shy, eh?), you can block updates by following the steps in last month’s Patch Tuesday warning.

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. 

1903 pause 7 days 4 Woody Leonhard/IDG

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.

We’re at MS-DEFCON 2 on AskWoody.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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What’s New in Chrome 77, Arriving September 10

Chrome 77's New Tab page with a pretty background image and browser theme.

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.

Customize option on Chrome's 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.

Background options for Chrome 77's new tab page.

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.

Choosing which shortcuts appear on Chrome's New Tab page.

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.

Picking a color and theme for the Chrome browser.

Hiding the EV Indicator

Comparing EV indicators in Chrome 76 and Chrome 77.

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

Chrome's 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 window above a Chrome OS taskbar.

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.





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What’s New in Windows 10’s 20H1 Update, Arriving Spring 2020

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.

This post is up-to-date with features included in Windows Insider builds up to build 18970, released on August 29.

A New Cortana Experience (With Typing)

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.

This will save time on updates afterward. Previously, the only way to do this was to either update Windows 10 before “resetting” your system or by creating new Windows 10 installation media.

Online File Search in File Explorer

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.

WSL 2 With a Linux Kernel

Linux's Tux mascot on Windows 10
Larry Ewing

The new Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is probably the most important feature in Windows 10 20H1. This is WSL version 2, and it’s even more powerful than the first version. WSL 2 uses a real Linux kernel to provide an even more powerful, more full-featured Linux environment on Windows 10.

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.

RELATED: Windows 10 Is Getting a Built-in Linux Kernel

Disk Type in the Task Manager

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

GPU temperature in Windows 10's Task Manager
Microsoft

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.

RELATED: How to Monitor GPU Usage in the Windows Task Manager

A New “Tablet Experience”

Windows 10's new Tablet Mode
Microsoft

Windows 10 has a classic desktop mode and a Windows 8-style Tablet Mode that even hides your taskbar icons by default. That’s not ideal for many people, so 20H1 is adding a new in-between “tablet experience.”

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.

RELATED: Windows 10’s Tablet Mode May Be Replaced With the Desktop

Notepad Updated Through the Store

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.

Notepad is still installed by default, so not much has changed there. Microsoft has been updating Notepad with new features like UNIX line ending support and integrated Bing search. Now, Microsoft wants to update Notepad even more often.

RELATED: Microsoft Will Update Notepad Through Windows 10’s Store

Windows Lets You “Make Your Device Passwordless”

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

Microsoft

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.

Better Control Over Restarting Apps at Sign-in

Windows 10 automatically reopens many applications, including Google Chrome, after you restart your PC. There’s now a new option that more easily lets you disable this.

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.

If you’re interested in this option, you might also want to adjust the size and color of your mouse cursor. Microsoft added this option back in Windows 10’s May 2019 Update.

Drag-and-Drop With Your Eyes

Eye Control interface in Windows 10
Microsoft

Windows 10 has an Eye Control feature that works with certain specific eye-tracking devices. It’s an accessibility feature that lets you control your PC just by moving your eyes around. In 20H1, eye tracking gets even more powerful. You can now perform a mouse drag-and-drop action just by moving your eyes around.

RELATED: Windows 10 20H1 Will Let You Drag and Drop With Your Eyes

Language Settings Improvements

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.

This update is packed with better support for non-English languages, too. The SwiftKey touch keyboard’s “typing intelligence” features now support 39 different languages. That means more helpful autocorrect and keyboard text predictions. The improved text prediction even works when you have text prediction enabled for hardware keyboards.

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.

Other Changes

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.

RELATED: What’s New in Windows 10’s 19H2 Update, Arriving Fall 2019





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What’s New in Windows 10’s 19H2 Update, Arriving Fall 2019

Windows 10's light desktop background

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.

With Windows 7’s end of life looming on January 14, 2020, Microsoft clearly wants to avoid a repeat of last year’s buggy October 2018 Update.

Other Voice Assistants on the Lock Screen

Alexa saying "I'm ready" on Windows 10

In current versions of Windows 10, Cortana can run on the lock screen. But Microsoft seems to be giving up on Cortana as a consumer product. It’s fitting, then, that Cortana is making way for other voice assistants. A change will allow other voice assistants—like Amazon Alexa—to run on Windows 10’s lock screen.

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.”

RELATED: Alexa Could Come to Windows 10’s Lock Screen

Calendar Event Creation From the Taskbar

Adding a calendar event from Windows 10's taskbar calendar panel
Microsoft

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

Notification demonstration graphics on Windows 10
Microsoft

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.

Performance Improvements

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.

Enterprise Changes

Microsoft promised some enterprise improvements, too, but we haven’t seen many yet. Here’s the full list of improvements, courtesy of several Microsoft blog posts:

  • 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

The new Windows Terminal with a space-themed background
Microsoft

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.

Stay Tuned For Windows 10 20H1

Linux's Tux mascot on Windows 10
Larry Ewing

This seems like a short list of features for an update that’s only a few months from release—and that’s the point. We’ll likely see a few smaller changes, but you’ll have to stay tuned for Windows 10 20H1 in the first half of 2020 for larger changes. That update will feature the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL 2) with a Linux kernel and an accessibility feature that lets you drag and drop with your eyes, for example.

RELATED: Windows 10 Is Getting a Built-in Linux Kernel

 





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What’s New in Chrome 76, Arriving July 30th

Close up of the Google Chrome logo.

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

"Plugin blocked" message in Google Chrome.

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.

Automatic Dark Mode is Coming to Websites

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

Chrome extension activity log history tab

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

Google Chrome Omnibox, showing Progressive Web App install button.
Google

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

Installing Linux dialog for Chromebooks.

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.

RELATED: Linux Apps Are Now Available in Chrome OS Stable, But What Does That Mean?

Notifications Are Easier to Clear on Chrome OS

Clear All button for notifications on Chrome OS

If you hate clearing notifications in Chrome OS, you aren’t alone. The more notifications you have, the harder it is to get to the Clear All button, which Google tucked at the bottom of the list.

The latest update solves that in the best way possible, moving the Clear All button to the top. No more scrolling forever; just click and move on.


As usual, Chrome 76 also has a lot of changes for web developers, including improvements to the Web Payments API. Some web features have been removed or deprecated, and the developer tools have some new functionality.





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With Patch Tuesday arriving tomorrow, make sure you temporarily block Windows Update

It’s patch protection time again.

Sometimes when Windows patches arrive, they need to be installed immediately. We saw that happen in May with the BlueKeep patches. But in most cases, you stand a greater chance of getting hurt by a bad patch (which are legion) than by getting zapped by a just-patched security hole.

That’s an unpopular opinion, but one that’s served me well for more than a decade. There’s a detailed manifesto in The case against knee-jerk installation of Windows patches

If you want to get the latest patches as soon as they’re out, you needn’t do a thing. Microsoft has undoubtedly rigged your machine already so it’ll install the patches the minute they come rolling out the Automatic Update chute. All I ask is that you tell us of any problems you encounter on AskWoody.com.

If you’d rather minimize the drama — and don’t mind keeping an eye out for problems like the one we had in May — temporarily turning off Automatic Update can protect you from the slings and arrows of outrageous bad patches.

Blocking Automatic Update on Win7 and 8.1

If you haven’t recently patched Windows XP, Vista, Win7, Server 2003, 2008 or 2008 R2 systems, drop everything and get patched now. Once you’ve installed the BlueKeep patches, come back here and turn Automatic Update off. (No need to bother with XP and Vista; they aren’t getting automatically updated anyway.)

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.

Blocking Automatic Update on Win10 Pro 1803 or 1809

If you’re using Win10 Pro version 1803 or 1809 I recommend an update blocking  technique that Microsoft recommends for “Broad Release” in its obscure Build deployment rings for Windows 10 updates — which is intended for admins, but applies to you, too. (Thx, @zero2dash.)

Step 1. Using an administrative account, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. 

Step 2. On the left, choose Windows Update. On the right, click the link for Advanced options. If you’re using Win10 version 1803 or 1809, you see the settings in the screenshot. 

1809 feature update 240 days Woody Leonhard/IDG

Step 3. The first box — “Semi-Annual Channel” — is no longer recognized by Microsoft. It has changed the terminology and hasn’t changed Windows to match the latest diktat. In our newly redefined update world, choosing “Semi-Annual Channel” adds 60 days to the “feature update” setting discussed in the next step. I recommend that you nod, wink and, in the first box, choose Semi-Annual Channel.

Step 4. To further delay new versions until they’ve been minimally tested, set the “feature update” deferral setting to 240 days or more. That tells the Windows Updater (unless Microsoft makes another “mistake,” as it has numerous times in the past) that it should wait until 300 days after a new version is released (60 days for Semi-Annual Channel + 240 days deferral) before upgrading and reinstalling Windows on your machine.

Win10 version 1809 was nominally released on Nov. 11, 2018. Add 300 days and you get Sept. 7, 2019. So if you’re running 1803 Advanced options on Semi-Annual Channel, and you set the “feature update” deferral to 240 days, you won’t be forcibly upgraded to 1809 until Sep. 7, at the earliest.

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, Microsoft is actively pushing Win10 1803 machines onto 1903. Many of us would like to give 1903 more time to age before making the leap. We still don’t know how hard Microsoft is going to push — if it’s going to offer the 1903 upgrade sweetly with a “Download and install now” option, or if it’s just going to shove 1803 customers under the 1903 bus. If you’d like to block 1903 for the foreseeable future, follow the instructions in How to block the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, version 1903, from installing.

Step 5. To delay cumulative updates, set the “quality update” deferral to 15 days or so. (“Quality update” = cumulative update = bug fix.) In my experience, Microsoft usually yanks bad Win10 cumulative updates within a couple of weeks of their initial release. By setting this to 10 or 15 or 20 days, Win10 will update itself after the major screams of pain have subsided and (with some luck) the bad cumulative updates have been pulled or re-issued. Notably, in February 2019, it took Microsoft 18 days to fix its first-Tuesday bugs.

Step 6. Just “X” out of the settings pane. You don’t need to explicitly save anything.

Step 7. Don’t click Check for updates. Ever.

If there are any real howlers — months where the cumulative updates were irretrievably bad, and never got any better, as they were in July of last year — we’ll let you know, loud and clear. 

Tired old approach for Win10 Home 1803 and 1809

If you have Win10 Home, version 1803 or 1809, your only reasonable option (other than installing a third-party patch blocker) is to set your internet connection to “metered.” Metered connections are an update-blocking kludge that seems to work to fend off cumulative updates, but as best I can tell still doesn’t have Microsoft’s official endorsement as a cumulative update prophylactic.

To set your Ethernet connection as metered: Click Start > Settings > Network & Internet. On the left, choose Ethernet. On the right, click on your Ethernet connection. Then move the slider for Metered connection to On.

To set your Wi-Fi connection as metered: Click Start > Settings > Network & Internet. On the left, choose Wi-Fi. On the right, click on your Wi-Fi connection. Move the slider for Metered connection to On.

If you set your internet connection to metered, you need to watch closely as the month unfolds, and judge when it’s safe to let the demons in the door. At that point, turn “metered” off, and just let your machine update itself. Don’t click Check for updates.

And then there’s Win10 version 1903

If you’re running Win10 version 1903, you’re entering uncharted water. We’ve heard lots of promises about the new updating regimen, but haven’t been through enough update cycles to know exactly what’s going to happen. The recent announcement that Win10 1909 will act like a cumulative update, but rate as a version change/Service Pack in some undefined sense just adds to the confusion.

If you’re using Win10 1903 Home, we still don’t have enough experience — or reliable documentation — to say for sure, but it seems to be a good idea to both set your connection to metered (as discussed in the preceding section) and to click Pause updates twice on the Windows Update page — for a total of 14 paused days. Historically, that’s been sufficient to avoid the worst problems.

If you’re using Win10 1903 Pro, and you haven’t yet set feature update or cumulative update deferrals, the instructions for setting them are the same as those for setting Win10 1803 or 1809 deferrals, as explained earlier. On the other hand, if you have set deferrals for either, the “Choose when updates are installed” deferral piece of the Advanced Options pane disappears

If you can see “Choose when updates are installed,” I suggest you defer feature updates by 365 days, although with Win10 “19H2” still a great unknown, it’s hard to guess how this setting will come into play. I also suggest you defer quality updates (cumulative updates) by 15 days. You won’t be able to see those settings once they’ve been changed unless you dive into the registry, but it looks like they “stick” even if you can’t see them.

Maybe Microsoft will get its patching act together before 1909 becomes a reality. Or maybe not. I think it’s great that we’re finally getting some relief from the insane two-versions-a-year pace. But has anybody thought through how this is, you know, actually going to work?

We’re at MS-DEFCON 2 on AskWoody.



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What’s New in Chrome 74, Arriving April 23

Google Chrome

The stable version of Chrome 74 is set to land on April 23rd. It will include a dark mode on Windows, Incognito detection blocking, support for media keys in PiP, various Chrome OS improvements, and a lot more.

It’s worth noting that while these are all planned features in Chrome 74, there’s always the chance they don’t end up making it into the final release and get pushed to 75 (or beyond). Still, we do expect to see at least most of this stuff in 74, even if still behind a flag.

Dark Mode for Windows

Google Chrome Dark Mode on Windows

Chrome 73 was a huge release and included a dark mode for Mac. With Chrome 74, it will officially be available for Windows. What’s even cooler is that Chrome will follow system settings—if you have dark mode enabled in Windows, Chrome will respect that. The same goes for light mode.

RELATED: What’s New in Chrome 73, Arriving March 12

Incognito Detection Blocking

Some websites use a trick to detect when a user is viewing using Incognito Mode for improved tracking and advertising. Starting in Chrome 74, it will be impossible for sites to detect Incognito Mode, so you can truly browse in peace. It’s also worth noting that this feature may not be available in the main system settings initially, but it should be available behind a flag. It will likely move beyond the flag and be available to everyone in Chrome 75.

Media Key Support for PiP Video

In Chrome 70, Google enabled support for PiP (Picture-in-Picture) video, allowing users to pop videos out of their tab and float on top of other things. In Chrome 74, these PiP windows will be getting additional functionality with support for keyboard media player controls.

The word on the street is that PiP windows should also be getting a mute button at some point, though it’s unclear whether that will be in Chrome 74 or beyond.

Motion Reduction

Some users experience motion sickness with Chrome’s animation features when using parallax scrolling or zooming. In Chrome 74, there will be an option to disable these features. It sounds like websites will have to respect this setting, however, so it may not work across all sites on the web.

Lots of Chrome OS Goodies: Linux Container Backup Support, USB Access, and More

Chrome flags

While the above-listed items are probably the most significant things for the browser itself, there are a lot of things happening for Chrome OS, especially where Linux apps are concerned.

Linux Container Backups

A new back up and restore feature for Linux containers will make its way into Chrome OS 74, allowing users to, well, back up and restore their full Linux container—including all files and installed applications—easily.

RELATED: How to Set Up and Use Linux Apps on Chromebooks

Audio Support for Linux Apps

Up to this point, Linux apps haven’t supported audio playback. Starting in Chrome OS 74, that should change. This means that Linux music and video players will work a lot better moving forward. You know, if that’s something you’ve been waiting for.

GPU Acceleration for Linux Apps

Similar to audio support for Linux apps, Chrome OS 74 should also bring GPU acceleration—at least to some baseboards. It looks like the initial rollout may be limited to specific Chromeboxes, but this should pave the way for support to roll out to all Chrome OS devices with Linux support soon after.

USB Device Access in Linux Apps

If you’ve been longing for the days when you could debug your Android phone using the Linux terminal on your Chromebook (my God, what a sentence), the time is nigh. Starting in 74, apps running in Linux containers will be able to access USB-connected devices. This feature is currently behind a flag in Chrome 74 Beta ( chrome://flags/#crostini-usb-support ), which is likely also going to be the case in the Stable release.

Linux Apps Search and Installation

If you haven’t already gathered, there’s a lot of focus on Linux apps in Chrome OS 74. Another new feature will help users find and install new Linux apps directly from the launcher. It will show currently-install applications, as well as previously-installed applications, and possibly (hopefully?) new applications available for installation. This will also make installing new Linux apps super easy. That’s cool.

This is currently found behind a flag in Chrome OS 74 Beta ( chrome://flags/#crostini-app-search ) and will likely remain there in the stable release.

RELATED: How to Set Up and Use Linux Apps on Chromebooks

A Fix for Hangouts Jankiness

There’s a bug that causes Hangouts video chat to present some lag and generally poor performance on Chrome OS. As first reported by About Chromebooks, this will likely be fixed in 74. Good.

A Look Ahead: Chrome 75 and Beyond

Compared to previous releases, Chrome 74 is light on features. It feels like a stopgap release to pave the way for the bigger things to come—of which there are a lot. Here’s a look at what to expect from Chrome 75 and beyond.

  • Tab sending: You’ll be able to send tabs directly from one device to another. So if you’re reading on your phone and want to take over on your PC, this will let you do that. I can’t wait.
  • Drive-by-download blocking: This will prevent automatic downloads generated from within ad frames. You know, a safety thing.
  • Focus Mode: This removes the Omnibox, bookmarks bar, and all other potentially distracting elements from tabs and pops them out into standalone windows—for focus.
  • A separate menu for extensions: This would move extensions out of the main menu for a cleaner experience. Techdows has more info on this.
  • Automatic image descriptions: A new accessibility setting will allow Chrome to determine image descriptions for the vision impaired automatically.
  • Smoother scrolling: This one is courtesy of Microsoft and originally comes from Edge. Thanks, Microsoft!
  • Motion and light sensor blocking: You’ll be able to disallow websites from accessing motion or light sensors on your devices.
  • A new setup screen: The first run experience gets a makeover in 75.
  • Reader mode: I would say this one of the most requested features for Chrome, and it looks like it’s finally coming in 75.

Chrome OS will also get a bunch of new features looking forward, mostly dealing with Linux apps:

  • Linux container resizing: Give your Linux installation more drive space.
  • Install PWSs from the Omnibox: This will make it a snap to add Progressive Web Apps to your Chromebook.
  • USB access and search results for Linux apps: We mentioned above that these would likely show up as flags in Chrome OS 74, but they should be officially supported in Stable 75.
  • Daily chained monitors: You can currently connect multiple monitors to a Chrome OS device with a proper dock, but soon daisy-chained monitors will be supported. That should make for a more streamlined setup.
  • Android VPN support in Linux apps: Android VPN apps currently work on Android and Chrome apps, but soon they’ll also support Linux apps.

There are undoubtedly more features in the works for Chrome 74 (and beyond)—this is just a look at some of the most important things that should show up. You can take a closer look at all the little details on the Chrome Status page.





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