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Microsoft names its next Windows 10 upgrade: ‘2004’

Microsoft this week tagged the next Windows 10 refresh with the four-digit label 2004, the designation meant to avoid confusion with a long-retired server OS if not an admission of the upgrade’s release timeline.

Windows 10 2004 – in Microsoft’s format, the numbers represent year (yy) and month (mm) of release – is still in testing but will be 2020’s first feature upgrade. Until the Nov. 26 issue of the latest beta build, Microsoft had been calling the upcoming upgrade 20H1, as in 2020’s first-half release. (It’s unclear why Microsoft continues to identify in-beta releases with yyH1 and yyH2 when it always switches to the yymm scheme later.)

“We have chosen to use 2004 as the version to eliminate confusion with any past product names (such as Windows Server 2003),” Brandon LeBlanc, a senior program manager on the Windows Insider team, wrote in a post to a company blog.

Windows Server 2003 debuted in April 2003 and was retired from support in July 2015. It was superseded by Windows Server 2008.

The naming of Windows 10 feature upgrades has been imprecise from almost the start. Windows 10 1607, for example, debuted Aug. 2, 2016, not in July. Windows 10 1703 and 1803 each shipped in April, while 1903 went live in May. None popped up in March. In other words, there is no guarantee that Windows 10 2004 will go final next April. (One thing Microsoft has yet to do: Ship a Windows 10 feature upgrade before its label indicated.)

While Microsoft answered one question about 2020 when it named the spring’s Windows 10 upgrade, it tabled another.

“We are looking to begin releasing new builds from our development branch,” said Microsoft’s LeBlanc, referring to previews of whatever is to follow 2004. “Now is the time to check your Windows Insider Settings and switch to the Slow ring if you wish to remain on 20H1.”

It is unknown exactly what Microsoft will soon begin beta testing. If the company follows the path of this year, it will skip 2020’s fall upgrade (20H2? 2009?) and, like 2019, seed Insider participants with very early versions of the 2021 spring upgrade (21H1? 2103?) That, in turn, would mean the fall “upgrade” would be nothing close to an upgrade, but instead a rehash of the spring’s refresh with a smidgen of new features.

Microsoft’s other road – not taken this year – would be to revert to the 2017-2018 cadence of two roughly equivalent-in-scope feature upgrades by beginning to test the fall refresh. (20H2? 2009? See why Microsoft’s use of code names is confusing?) The major-minor model of 2019, then, would be exposed as a one-off and 2020 would be a return to normalcy, at least as Microsoft’s constantly evolving servicing policies can be “normal.”

Computerworld has predicted that the major-minor scheme of 2019 will continue in 2020 but has acknowledged that the forecast is based on little more than common sense, backed by solid benefits to Microsoft’s important commercial customers.

Microsoft has declined to say which upgrade will enter testing in early 2020, saying only that the recently released Windows 10 1909 – a minor upgrade in all senses of the term – was a “pilot” that would be evaluated. Hints dropped during a Microsoft-hosted Nov. 21 webinar could be read multiple ways.

“We’ve got some really cool stuff coming. We’ve got some announcements in the upcoming months,” said one of the Insider team during the online presentation of two weeks ago. “We listen to feedback, too.”

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Running Win10 version 1803 or 1809? You have options. Here’s how to control your upgrade.

The older versions of Windows 10 are growing long in the tooth. Microsoft officially released its last cumulative update for Win10 version 1803 (Home or Pro editions) on Nov. 12. It’s scheduled to kill off Win10 version 1809 on May 12 of next year. If you currently run either 1803 or 1809 you should think hard about moving on to one of the next versions, either 1903 or 1909. The good news is that you can control your future version. 

If you leave your version migration up to Microsoft, you’ll get pushed, ready or not. Fortunately, there are relatively easy ways to take matters into your own hands — yes, even for Win10 Home customers.

Which version are you running?

Start by determining, for sure, which version of Win10 you’re running. Down in the search box, type About and click About your PC. Scroll down a bit and you should see a Windows specifications pane like the one in the screenshot.

1809 about Woody Leonhard/IDG

That will tell you, crucially, which version of Win10 you’re running right now, and which edition you’re using — Home, Pro, Education, Enterprise, Pro for Workstations, LTSC, or a handful of variants. In general, the instructions here for Pro also include Pro for Workstations, Education and Enterprise, providing you aren’t attached to a network with an update server. (If you are so encumbered — er, privileged — you have to talk to your network admin to get upgraded.)

Which version do you want?

Each of the three available versions has significant features — and they aren’t the ones you’ll read about in the documentation:

Version 1809 — By far the most stable version at this point. It’s been baking out in the wild for almost a year and, in spite of a horrendous rollout, has had few hiccups lately.

Version 1903 — Has been in final beta testing (er, release) for six months, and in Microsoft’s nebulous “ready for broad development” corral for two months. Each cumulative update still contains enormous numbers of small fixes, combined with a few epic, lingering bugs. That said, 1903 has the single most important feature improvement ever in Win10: The ability for everyone to Pause updates. That’s powerful incentive for all Win10 users, especially Home users, to move to 1903.

Version 1909 — The minimally invasive “service pack” version — has a few bugs of its own, mostly Explorer Search related, but it’s only been available for a few weeks. If you trust Microsoft’s patching ability, there’s no reason to delay moving to 1909. On the other hand, if you want to wait and see what happens, you’d be well advised to wait a couple of months or more.

If you’re on 1803, you want to move with some due haste to either 1809, 1903 or 1909. 

If you’re on 1809, you can wait and see whether Microsoft’s 1903 (and 1909) patches break more things before you’re forced to jump ship.

Most importantly, if you’re running Win10 Home — either 1803 or 1809 — you want to jump ahead to 1903 right away. All of the known and unknown problems with 1903 pale in comparison to the ability to pause updates. 

In the past, I and many other experienced Windows victims have recommended that Win10 Home users pay $100 or so to upgrade to Pro. With Home 1903 (and 1909) and the pause update feature, I no longer recommend upgrading to Pro — Home should be just fine for almost everybody. With Win10 1903 Home, you’re no longer a beta-testing guinea pig.

How to upgrade Win10 Pro

If you’re running Win10 Pro (Education, Enterprise, etc.) and you want to move on to a later version, here’s how to land where you want.

Step 1. Back up

There’s a chance that changing versions will completely hose your computer, or leave your machine tied up in automatically installed knots. Make a full system image backup before you venture down any path. 

I have long recommended both Macrium Reflect Free and EaseUS Todo Backup. Don’t rely on the built-in Windows backup, which dates back to Win7 days and is notoriously unreliable.

Step 2. Set feature update deferral

Upgrading Win10 Pro version 1903 to 1909 is quite straightforward; I have “Download and install now” recommendations in an earlier Computerworld post.

From Win10 Pro version 1803 or 1809, it’s relatively easy to adjust Windows Update to have it land on the version that you want. Using an administrative account, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. Then click Advanced Options at the bottom. See the screenshot.

1809 sac 240 Woody Leonhard/IDG

You’ll see the same screen regardless of whether you’re running Win10 1803 or 1809.

The mathematics is a bit hairy, but you want to set the feature update deferral days so Windows Update will land on your chosen version. 

If you’re running Win10 1803 and want to move to version 1809, choose Semi-Annual Channel and 240 days feature update deferral.

If you’re running Win10 1803 or 1809 and want to move to version 1903, choose Semi-Annual Channel and 180 days feature update deferral. You’ll end up with a version of Win10 Pro that has a “Download and install now” offer to upgrade to 1909.

If you’re running Win10 1803 or 1809 and want to move to version 1909, choose Semi-Annual Channel and 10 days feature update deferral. Or you can skip the middleman and upgrade online using the Windows Media Creation Tool. (Yes, the “Windows 10 November 2019 Update” is version 1909.)

“X” out of the Windows Update advanced options settings dialog.

Step 3. Wait

Don’t do anything else. In particular, don’t click “Check for updates.” Just use your PC as usual, possibly turning it off then on again to awake the upgrade genie. You may have to wait a day, but sooner or later you’ll get upgraded to the version you’ve chosen. 

There’s a tiny chance that your PC will be proactively blocked from upgrading, usually as a result of recently discovered hardware, driver and software incompatibilities. Those are usually listed on the Release Information Status page. At least in theory, you don’t have to sweat the details — Microsoft should hold off on the upgrade until your machine passes muster. 

How to upgrade Win10 Home

If you’re already on Win10 version 1903 Home, you’re in good shape. Simply avoid clicking on the 1909 Download and install now link (screenshot) and you’ll stay on 1903 until the end of time. Or until Microsoft changes its mind, anyway.

1803 download and install now 1 Woody Leonhard/IDG

For those of you on Win10 version 1803 or 1809 Home, there are some additional hoops. Note that I strongly recommend Win10 version 1809 Home folks upgrade to 1903, skipping 1809, specifically so you have access to the new Pause Update feature.

Here’s how to choose the version you’ll get.

Step 1. Back up

Just as in the Pro/Education editions, there’s a chance that changing versions will completely hose your computer, or leave your machine tied up in automatically installed knots. Make a full system image backup before you venture down any path. 

Once again I recommend either Macrium Reflect Free or EaseUS Todo Backup. Don’t rely on the built-in Windows backup, which dates back to Win7 days and is notoriously flaky.

Step 2. Let Windows Update run its course, if you can

If you’re already on Win10 1903 Home, you have full access to the Pause Updates feature. I talk about the proper settings every month on the day before Patch Tuesday. (November’s alert looks like this.) Follow those recommendations, and you’ll stay patched without getting thrown to the beta testing wolves. When you’re ready to move to Win10 1909 Home, you can click the link to Download and install now.

If you’re on Win10 1803 or 1809 Home and moving to Win10 1909 Home, you can simply remove any updating blocks you may have (such as setting your internet line to a metered connection) and let Windows Update run its course. Alternatively, you can use the Windows Media Creation Tool page and get upgraded directly.

Step 3. Install from a saved ISO, if necessary

The  other permutations aren’t so simple.

  • Moving from Win10 1803 Home to either 1809 Home or 1903 Home requires the use of an ISO file — an image of a Windows upgrade disk. 
  • Moving from Win10 1809 Home to 1903 Home also requires the use of an ISO file.

There are tricky ways to avoid using the ISOs — you can even manually block the 1909 upgrade — but for most people, the ISO approach is convoluted enough already.

Step 3a. Retrieve the correct ISO

If you’re moving from Win10 1803 Home to Win10 1809 Home, you need to get an ISO for Win10 version 1809. If you’re moving from either Win10 1803 or 1809 to Win10 1903 Home, you need an ISO for Win10 version 1903.

There’s a chance you already have an ISO in your hip pocket. Back in September, I recommended that you download and squirrel away a copy of Win10 version 1903 and in April I recommended that you store a clean copy of Win10 version 1809. Those will work.

If you don’t have a clean ISO to work from, there’s a phenomenal batch program from AveYo available on pastebin that lets you choose and download (from Microsoft!) the official older ISOs. Go to AveYo’s MediaCreationTool site on pastebin. On the upper right, click Download. With an administrator account, right-click on the downloaded MediaCreationTool.bat file and choose Run as administrator. You may need to click through “Windows protected your PC” screens (click More info, Run anyway) but in the end you’ll have a list of ISOs to choose from (screenshot).

media creation tool bat Woody Leonhard/IDG

Click on the version you want. Windows takes a while to download the package, but in the end, you’re tossed directly into the Win10 installer, as described in Step 3b.

Step 3b. Install Windows from the ISO

If you have an ISO file and want to use it to upgrade your Win10 Home version, using an administrator account, double-click on the ISO file, then right-click setup.exe and choose Run as administrator. The Win10 installer kicks in and will guide you through the process. You have the option to either install clean, or to keep your files and settings (“Choose what to keep”) and install the new version. 

Step 4. Reboot

Restart your machine if you haven’t been forced to do so already, and you’ll be running that new version.

You can double-check that the upgrade succeeded by typing About in the search box and looking for the version number.

Remember that you have 10 days (by default) to roll back to your previous version of Win10 — just click Start > Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Go back to the previous version of Windows 10.

It’s funny how something so simple — controlling your upgraded version — has turned into something so horrendously complex. 

If you have any suggestions for this procedure, or need help, skilled volunteers await on the AskWoody Lounge.

Thx, @PKCano, @abbodi86.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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What we know about the Win10 version 1909 upgrade — and what you can do about it

Win10 version 1909 is an odd beast. The first of its kind. Billed as a feature update (read: version change) disguised as a quality update (read: pedestrian cumulative update), the general rollout that began on Tuesday seems to be progressing well.

Mind you, I don’t recommend that you install 1909 just yet. Like any Windows update, it needs time to ferment before consuming. Version 1909 has a particularly paltry — almost non-existent — list of worthwhile new features.

Some of the rollout details have come into focus. 

Microsoft has long referred to an “enablement package” that turns a 1903 installation into a 1909 installation. In a nutshell, Win10 version 1903 already has all of the 1909 bits, waiting to be lit up like unplugged lights on a Christmas tree. The 1909 upgrade simply plugs in the lights. As Microsoft puts it on the Windows IT Pro Blog:

Windows 10, versions 1903 and 1909 share a common core operating system with an identical set of system files. As a result, the new features in Windows 10, version 1909 were included in the latest monthly quality update for Windows 10, version 1903 (released October 8, 2019), but are currently in a dormant/disabled state. These new features will remain dormant until they are turned on via an “enablement package,” a small, quick-to-install “master switch” that simply activates the Windows 10, version 1909 features.

Moving from 1903 to 1909

The path from Win10 version 1903 to 1909 goes through a very genteel gateway. If you’re running Win10 1903, you only get the 1909 lights turned on (at least at this point) if you explicitly click on the Download and install now prompt.

1903 after reboot installing 449 Microsoft

That prompt appears (Start > Settings > Update & Security) after you install this month’s Win10 1903 cumulative update, KB 4524570. As I explained earlier this month, you’re under no obligation to click the “Download and install now” link. 

The November cumulative update for 1903 gets applied in the usual way, which means you can defer it, pause it, or throttle it by using a metered connection — all standard tools of the trade for delaying Windows patches. 

(Note: For those still confused by the difference between “Pause” and “Defer” in Win10 1903 Pro, you aren’t alone. As @b states, the Windows updater respects both settings, so you won’t get updated until both the Pause and the Defer periods have elapsed.)

In addition, @abbodi86 confirms that the “Download and install now” link will only appear after a Win10 1903 Pro machine has gone beyond its “feature update deferral” setting. So for those using Win10 1903 Pro, you won’t even see the “Download and install now” link until the specified number of days have passed.

1903 update deferrals zero Microsoft

In addition, you won’t see the “Download and install now” link appear on machines that have been blocked because of identified incompatibilities with either hardware or software.

Admins will be happy to know that the “enablement package” is available in WSUS and SCCM, so it can be readily blocked and released using your usual methods.

As best I can tell, that’s the whole story for those already on Win10 1903. It’s a good story — an abrupt and most welcome departure from the push and shove reputation Win10 upgrades have so annoyingly earned.

Moving from 1809 to 1909

If you’re running Win10 version 1809, you’re subject to slightly different rules. Microsoft hasn’t published the rules, but this is the best we’ve been able to discern.

With both Win10 1809 Pro and Home, if you have the May 2019 cumulative update (KB 4497934) or a later cumulative update installed, you see an invitation to Download and install 1909 now, as shown in the earlier screenshot. There are three exceptions:

  • If your machine is being blocked because of a known hardware or software incompatibility. You won’t receive the Download and install now invitation until your computer passes muster.
  • With Win10 1809 Pro, the feature upgrade deferral days must have passed, starting on Nov. 12 — the day 1909 was released. Once you’re beyond the feature deferral days, you get the Download and install now invitation.
  • With either 1809 Pro or Home, if you click Check for updates, you’ll likely be upgraded to 1909. No invitation. Just a whoosh and a whimper. As a service, doncha know.

The 1909 upgrade bottom line

All of this represents a huge improvement over earlier Win10 upgrades. Night and day.

In short:

  • If you start from Win10 1903, you have complete control over when you’re upgraded to Win10 1909. Remarkably, that’s true for both Home and Pro (and Enterprise and Education) versions.
  • If you start from Win10 1809 Pro, the details are a bit more difficult but in the end you, too, have easy control over the upgrade.
  • If you start from Win10 1809 Home, life’s considerably trickier. You’re probably better off upgrading to 1903 — and avoid clicking “Check for updates.” You’ll still get pushed onto 1903 as soon as you remove your metered connection block, unless you specifically use PowerShell to thwart the upgrade. Again, @abbodi86 has instructions. But from Win10 1903 Home, it’s easy to take your upgrading destiny into your own hands.

Thx, @abbodi86, @b, @PKCano

Questions? Contrarian observations? Let us know on the AskWoody Lounge.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Google’s Chrome OS upgrade changes are a solid start

Well, I’ll be: Just over a month after we talked about how Google needed to rethink its Chrome OS upgrade standard, the company has quietly launched a new effort to improve the state of Chromebook software updates.

Now, don’t get too excited yet. This is a small start, to be sure — but it’s at least an acknowledgment that the Chrome OS upgrade situation could and should be better. And that’s a pretty significant step.

Before we get into what’s changing, let’s back up for a quick second to set the stage — because context really is everything in this situation. After all, Chrome OS upgrades are by and large commendable — particularly compared to how upgrades play out over on the Android side of the Google operating system fence. The reason’s simple: Given the close manner in which Google controls Chrome OS and the lack of flexibility it gives device-makers in modifying the software, the company’s able to provide a completely consistent experience from one Chromebook to the next. And as a result, Google itself is able to handle all Chrome OS software updates directly, which means every device gets ’em at more or less the same time — no matter who made the hardware.

Suffice it to say, that’s a pretty sharp contrast to the upgrade situation we see on Android, where device-makers are free to modify the operating system and consequently end up being responsible for processing and delivering updates for their own devices. If I had to sum up the effect that has on a typical Android device-owner in three words, I’d say: “It ain’t pretty.” Or maybe: “Yeah. Good luck.”

So what’s the problem with Chrome OS upgrades, then, if not the speed and reliability with which they’re delivered? Well, the issue is actually three-fold:

  1. Every Chromebook comes with a built-in end-of-life date — a date at which it’ll no longer receive software updates — but that information is absurdly out of the way and difficult to find. It’s listed only inside an obscure Google help document, which no normal person would ever even know exists, let alone think to seek out and consider prior to buying a new device.
  2. That end-of-life timing is wildly inconsistent. It’s based on when a Chrome OS device using any given processor first appeared on the platform, which makes it about as clear as mud to the typical laptop buyer. It also means an $800 device released today might receive less than five years of software support while a low-end laptop released tomorrow might get six and a half. From the perspective of actual human beings who pay for and rely on these products, it’s pretty forkin’ screwy.
  3. The standard maximum amount of time any Chrome OS device receives software updates is six and a half years, which really isn’t much when you consider that lots of high-end Chromebooks now cost anywhere from several hundred bucks to well over a grand — and that similarly priced Windows systems remain reasonably updated for considerably longer.

So that’s the foundation. As for what Google’s doing to address it, well, there are a few things — and the company assures me we’ll see more in the months ahead.

For now, first and foremost, Google is extending the end-of-support dates for a bunch of existing Chromebooks. That aforementioned Google help document has been updated to reflect the changes, though there’s no easy way to see which devices have had their life spans increased and which have stayed the same.

If you compare the current page to the Internet Archive version of it from a couple weeks ago, though, you’ll see that quite a few Chrome OS products did indeed receive extensions. The extensions are by no means universal, and some are more generous than others, but a fair number of extra months have been tacked on across the board.

Honestly, it all seems a bit random from the outside. Some scattered examples:

  • The expiration date for the Acer Chromebook we talked about last time — the Chromebook 715, which just came out in October and sells for as high as $780 — has not been changed. That system is still set to receive its last update in June 2024, less than five years after its launch.
  • Acer’s Chromebook 11 C740, however, got a full year of added support, moving from June 2020 to June 2021 for its final update.
  • Two other Chromebook 11 models, the CB3-131 and C735, got extended by about eight months — from January 2021 to September of that same year.
  • The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 got a seven-month stay of execution, moving from November 2023 for its end-of-support mark to June 2024.
  • The Acer Chromebook R13 got nearly three years of added support, moving from September 2021 all the way to June 2024.
  • Asus’s latest Chromebook Flip, the C434 model, was extended a full two years — going from June 2024 all the way to June 2026.
  • The oldest Flips in the list, the C100PA and C101PA models, weren’t changed; they’re sticking with their original July 2020 and August 2023 dates, respectively.
  • The Chromebook Flip C302 got a seven-month extension and went from November 2022 to June 2023 for its last-update date.
  • Dell’s Chromebook 11 3120 got a bump of just over a year, going from June 2020 to September 2021.
  • The Dell Chromebook 11 3180 got a single-month extension, oddly enough, moving from May 2022 to June 2022.
  • Google’s own second-gen Chromebook Pixel (the 2015 model) received a full year extension, with its date shifting from June 2020 to June 2021.
  • Google’s Pixel Slate got an extra two years, going from June 2024 to June 2026.
  • The Google Pixelbook didn’t get an extension. As of now, at least, it still has the same June 2024 date it’s had all along.
  • Samsung’s Chromebook 3 got a full year of added support, with a change from June 2021 to June 2022.
  • Samsung’s Chromebook Pro got an extra seven months, shifting from November 2022 to June 2023.

So, yeah: The results are kind of all over the place. But there’s no question a lot of extensions are being granted. If you have (or your company uses) a model that isn’t among those listed above, the best thing to do is simply to look at this page to find it and see what its current expiration date is — and then, if you’re curious if and how the date evolved, to look back at this archived version of the page to compare.

That’s part one. Second, beyond these one-off changes for existing devices, Google tells me it’ll be extending the periods of active support for future devices, with the goal of bumping up the support time for new processors on the platform by 15 to 30 percent compared to the current standard. That’d come out to roughly an extra year to two years from when a processor first appears in a Chromebook — so instead of that maximum support window being six and a half years, in other words, it could be more like seven and a half to eight. The idea, it seems, is to evaluate each new device on a case-by-case basis instead of sticking blindly to a static standard. That makes a lot of sense.

And finally, Google’s planning to make each device’s end-of-support date more accessible by adding that info into the Chrome OS settings. That’d mean you could go into your Chromebook’s settings and find the date of its final software update right then and there.

This is all positive progress, without a doubt. But it doesn’t completely address the issue.

For regular folks buying Chrome OS devices, the end-of-life date is still too far out of sight and out of mind. That information is critical to understanding how long your Chromebook will remain viable and what sort of value you’re getting out of the purchase. I mean, come on: A $800 Chromebook that’ll remain viable for eight years is a dramatically different purchase than a $800 Chromebook that’ll become inadvisable to use just four and a half years down the road.

It shouldn’t be up to the person buying the product to somehow know that such a factor exists and then to dig up the details (whether in that out-of-the-way help document or in the system settings you’ll see only after you own a device). As I said when we last discussed this, the date should be clearly placarded on a computer’s packaging and made easy to find and understand: “This computer will receive operating system and security updates through June of 2024. Visit google.com/chromebook/expiration to learn more about why that matters.” This isn’t a scavenger hunt, for cryin’ out loud. It shouldn’t feel like one.

The case-by-case evaluation and extension of a Chromebook’s end-of-support date is clearly a good thing, meanwhile, though I’m not entirely convinced it’s as much of a positive change or as consistent of one as what’s needed. That brand new $780 Acer Chromebook that’s still sitting at less than five years of remaining support is the perfect example of why I remain skeptical. (And that’s a great example, too, by the way, of the type of device someone could very easily buy without any awareness of its unusually short life span. Placard it.)

All in all, though, you know what? This is definitely a step in the right direction. Any progress is good progress, and it’s easy to frame this as a win — which it is! I’d just suggest waiting to celebrate until we see how things progress in the months ahead and we actually know for sure how the final result ends up looking.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Upgrade Your Microsoft Office Skills With 62 Hours of Training for $29.99

If you work behind a desk, Microsoft software is almost certainly part of your workflow. By getting to know Office a little better, you can get things done faster and impress recruiters. The Complete Microsoft Office Training Bundle helps you learn all the major apps, with eight video courses and over 62 hours of content. You can currently get lifetime access to the training for just $29.99 at MakeUseOf Deals — and use coupon code 40LEARN40 for 40% off.

Complete Office Training

Most of us know how to do the basics in Excel, Word and PowerPoint. But these apps are packed with powerful features that you may never discover without some guidance.

This bundle helps you unearth these advanced tools, with 594 video tutorials. The training starts from scratch, showing you how to create workbooks and design simple slideshows. You then learn how to use functions in Excel, utilize animations in PowerPoint, and format your Word documents.

Alongside the video tutorials, the training offers plenty of downloadable exercises and tests. When you complete each course, you also get a certificate to add to your résumé.

Eight Courses for $29.99

This training is worth $249 in total, but you can grab the bundle now for just $29.99 with lifetime access included.

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Should You Upgrade? 8 Reasons

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS “Bionic Beaver” is the current Long Term Support release of Ubuntu. This makes it the number one choice for anyone considering Ubuntu. Still need convincing? Here’s why you should upgrade to or install Ubuntu 18.04 LTS on your Linux PC or laptop.

Ubuntu 19.10 vs 18.04: What You Need to Know

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (codenamed “Bionic Beaver”) was released in April 2018. As with all Ubuntu releases, the date of release (year and month) is related in the version number.

This is an important version of Linux OS. Every two years a Long Term Support (LTS) release is issued, with five years of support from Canonical. This means you can use Ubuntu 18.04 LTS with support until 2023.

At the time of writing, Ubuntu 19.10 is set for release. However, like other non-LTS releases, Ubuntu 19.10 does not have the same level of support as Ubuntu 18.04. Updates will stop after two years, rather than the five on offer from an LTS.

Keeping this in mind, if you’re wondering if you should upgrade from Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, the answer is “soon”. Support for that LTS release will end in 2021.

In many ways, Ubuntu 18.04 is the core version of the operating system, while Ubuntu 18.10, 19.04, 19.10, and other non-LTS releases can be treated as a mix of interim update and advanced beta.

Want to know more? Here are eight reasons why you should be using Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.

1. Security Enhancements

Primarily, you should upgrade your current Ubuntu version regularly in order to benefit from the latest security patches. These might be for the operating system, drivers, or even (in the case of the Meltdown and Spectre bugs

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) the underlying hardware.

It’s worth pointing out here that this is true of all operating systems, whether Linux-based, Windows, or macOS. Regular updates will improve your computer’s security. This is why Windows XP users are regularly encouraged to upgrade or switch to Linux

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However, there is a potential security concern that you should be aware of. With Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, Canonical intends to collect data from your computer. But there is nothing personally identifiable in this data.

Instead, it is to establish your computer’s hardware components, what version of Ubuntu you’re running, your location (based on your choice when setting up Ubuntu) and a few other things.

This marks a change from Canonical’s previous attitude to this sort of data collection but is understandable given how flakey figures are for Linux usage around the world. Crucially, this data collection can be opted out of; if you’re upgrading from a previous version of Ubuntu, meanwhile, you can also opt in.

2. GNOME Arrives on the LTS Release

Ubuntu GNOME LTS desktop
Perhaps the biggest news of the LTS release is GNOME 3.28. Since GNOME replaced Unity in Ubuntu 17.10 (although Unity isn’t quite dead

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) GNOME has been the default desktop environment (pictured above on Artful Aardvark).

Of course, you don’t have to go with GNOME. Other Ubuntu desktop environments are available, such as MATE

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GNOME on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS marks the first appearance of the new Unity-esque customized GNOME 3.0 desktop on a long-term support release. And it’s a great reason to upgrade Ubuntu to version 18.04.

3. Ubuntu 18.04’s Brand New Icon Set

Ubuntu GNOME icon set

Despite hopes to the contrary (and a dedicated community project), Ubuntu 18.04 does not boast a fresh new look. However, while the Ambiance theme is hanging around (despite looking a bit tired), some new icons are included in Ubuntu.

Open source icon project Suru has been incorporated into Ubuntu 18.04. These icons were originally seen in the abandoned Ubuntu Touch mobile operating system (now under the control of UBPorts.com).

As noted on the Suru web page (where you can take a look at what’s to come), “Original mobile application icons have been repurposed to theme their GNOME counterparts. Folder and file type icons have been added, based on an unreleased Suru concept. Plus a complete symbolic icon set has been created, with many icons based on the original Suru system icons.”

4. Color Emojis

Ubuntu GNOME smileys and emojis
Sick of Ubuntu leaving you with embarrassing black and white emojis? Upgrading to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS delivers full color emojis to your Ubuntu desktop by default.

You’re stoked, right? I can tell.

The emojis you’ll find in Ubuntu 18.04 LTS are the same open source emojis as found on Android.

5. Ubuntu 18.04 Uses the 4.15 Linux Kernel

Sitting at the heart of every Linux-based operating system is the kernel. This is basically the component of the operating system that talks to the hardware.

As we move away from the release date of Ubuntu 18.04, the v4.15 kernel becomes outdated. To keep things up to date, you might consider updating the Ubuntu Linux kernel

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6. Community-Sourced Default Features and Apps

Take the time on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS to review the collection of community sourced features and apps. Announced in April 2017, the call for suggestions has had tremendous results. Look out for improved NVIDIA GPU and touchpad gesture support, as well as BlueZ implementation for improved Bluetooth functionality.

But it doesn’t end there. The Ubuntu community also suggested new apps to be bundled with the operating system. Consequently, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS includes choices such as Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, Kdenlive, and GNOME Calendar.

These tools will not be available in the operating system by default, however. Rather, you’ll have the option to install them as you install Ubuntu.

7. Xorg Display Server Returns to Ubuntu 18.04

Ubuntu GNOME login
Prior to 18.04 LTS, Ubuntu had a tough time, losing both Unity and the mobile variant, Ubuntu Touch. One of the biggest sticking points was the switch to the Wayland display server in Ubuntu 17.10.

While it continues to be earmarked as the display server of the future, the lack of app support for Wayland resulted in users switching back to Xorg.

As a result, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS comes with Xorg restored as the default display server. However, it’s simple enough to switch back to Wayland, via a cog icon on the login screen.

8. Long Term Support Means Ubuntu 18.04 Is Reliable

With new versions of Ubuntu released every six months, it’s important to have a stable option. Long Term Support releases only come around every two years, but they’re vital for many.

Whether you’re a student, business, or gamer, an LTS release of Ubuntu brings with it a degree of stability. You can count on this version of Ubuntu in a way that isn’t possible with interim releases. As a result, LTS versions are more popular, and you’ll find plenty of support for the OS online.

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS offers the reliability you’re looking for in an operating system. That’s worth a lot—yet this operating system is completely free.

Great Reasons to Upgrade Ubuntu Today

So, Ubuntu 18.04 LTS is coming, and you have plenty of reasons to upgrade. To recap:

  1. Security enhancements
  2. GNOME on LTS
  3. Brand new icons
  4. Color emojis
  5. New Linux kernel
  6. Community-sourced features
  7. Xorg display server
  8. Ubuntu 18.04 LTS is reliable

Want a better understanding of how this all fits in with Ubuntu? Check our Ubuntu startup guide

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. And if you’re ready, it may be now time to upgrade to Ubuntu 19.04

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It’s Time to Upgrade – LifeSavvy

an older router that no longer receives security updates
Casezy Idea/Shutterstock

For most people, their wireless router is just some dusty box they never think about unless it’s not working. But old routers aren’t just slower; they’re often insecure. Here’s how to fix that.

It might not be the most glamorous gadget in your home, but the firmware on your wireless router is a critical part of your home network and the security of your devices and data. It’s one thing when your game console is so old it doesn’t get updates anymore, or your old first-gen Kindle is effectively in the hardware retirement home. It’s another thing when the device in question helps protect the whole network.

If anything in your home needs consistent security updates, it’s your router: the gateway to your entire home network and everything inside.

Over at our sister-site How-To Geek, they’ve taken a look at the phenomenon of routers ending up in the wasteland where their manufacturers stop releasing major (or even critical) security updates. Pop in here to read more about it and how to check if your router is still supported.

If you find you’re in the market for a new router (and there’s a good chance you are), check out Review Geek’s top picks for best mesh Wi-Fi routers. For most people, a good mesh Wi-Fi router is the best option. Our favorite for simplicity, Google Wi-Fi, features automatically updating firmware, so should a major security vulnerability come along your wireless router will just update automatically in the middle of the night.

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Beat Instagram Bullies, Speed Up Your Router, Upgrade Your Smartphone

Christian Cawley and Megan Ellis bring you this week’s collection of techy tips and tricks for technophobes. This week: Instagram’s restrict feature, router speed tips, how to upgrade your smartphone, the vital new Google password check feature, how to add podcasts to Spotify playlists, and find your favorite old cartoons online.

We’ll also show you how to measure distance and area on Google Maps and Google Earth.

Really Useful Podcast Season 4 Episode 6 Shownotes

This week:

Help us reach more people by subscribing, reviewing, and even sharing the Really Useful Podcast. You’ll find us on these services:

If you enjoyed this show, check back in a week for a new Really Useful Podcast!

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It’s time to rethink the Chrome OS upgrade standard

I’ve never been one to shy away from calling out mobile tech injustices — especially when it comes to the realm of operating system upgrades. Well, gang, here we go again.

Now, hang on: This isn’t another impassioned rant about Android upgrades. Nope; this time, we need to talk about Google’s other mobile-tech platform — the one that’s usually the subject of thickly ladled upgrade praise. Yes, oh yes, it’s time to talk about the typically commendable Chrome OS.

First, some context: Chrome OS and Android may be increasingly alike on the outside, but when it comes to operating system upgrades, they couldn’t be more different. With Android, y’see, device-makers are free to modify the OS in any way they see fit — and it’s that very freedom that then results in those same companies being responsible for processing and sending out upgrades for their own devices instead of Google handling it for everyone.

With Chrome OS, on the other hand, Google maintains tight control of the software. The operating system is more or less always the same, no matter what type of device you’re using or which company made it. Because of that, Google’s able to manage OS upgrades directly for all devices and send them out itself. And suffice it to say, the difference that makes from our perspective — that of the multi-limbed mammals who purchase and rely on said devices — is dramatic.

You know the deal, right? On Android, if you aren’t using one of Google’s own Pixel phones, you’ve got virtually no guarantee of if or when any given upgrade will reach you. The wait often ends up being six months to a year, sometimes more, with virtually no communication along the way — and things are even less dependable if you’re using (GASP!) last year’s phone model. Sometimes, a phone-maker will leave you hanging for ages and then just decide not to bother giving you an upgrade at all, despite your phone still being in the standard two-year window for support. It’s all quite lovely, to say the least.

On Chrome OS, no matter what kind of Chromebook you’re carrying, you consistently get every single upgrade — be it a major version bump or a minor patch — within a matter of days of its release. You don’t even think about it, in fact; the software just shows up without issue or interruption, often without even alerting you to its presence.

That setup has served Chrome OS well and helped it avoid one of the biggest pitfalls of its phone-based software sibling. Particularly for business folk, there’s something to be said for knowing you can pick any Chromebook you like and then use it without having to worry about whether it’ll always have the most up-to-date, secure, and effective software available. But now, eight years into Chromebooks’ existence, the way we’re using these devices has evolved. And it’s high time for Google to evolve its stance on software upgrades accordingly.

Allow me to explain.

The Chrome OS upgrade equation

Despite the reliability and consistency with which they’re delivered, operating system upgrades on Chrome OS have one significant and largely invisible limitation — and that’s their expiration date.

It’s a little-known and curiously (or maybe not-so-curiously) underpublicized fact: Every Chromebook, whether it costs $150 or $1,500, comes with an expiration date attached — a point at which it’ll no longer receive software updates and thus won’t be advisable to use. The lack of software updates on Chrome OS is arguably even more concerning than a lack of ongoing support on a more traditional computing platform, too — as it’s not only the OS itself that isn’t being kept up to date with important security and performance fixes; it’s also the browser.

I mean, think about it: On a Chromebook, the browser — y’know, Chrome — is a core part of the actual operating system. And that means all the critical updates rolled out to it come packaged as part of an operating system update. That’s a very different scenario than what you see on Windows, Mac, or Linux, where the browser is a standalone app that’s updated independent of the operating system and regardless of how up to date or outdated the computer’s software may be.

What that means, then, is that operating system updates on Chrome OS are especially significant — more so than on any other type of computer. And yet, Chromebooks tend to have the shortest shelf life of any computer out there when it comes to ongoing software support.

And here’s what’s especially crazy: It’s damn-near impossible for any normal person to know how long a Chromebook will continue to receive software updates — because (a) that information isn’t listed in any even remotely prominent place, (b) it’s not based on when the Chromebook itself went on sale but rather on when the processor inside the system first appeared on the platform, and (c) the only place such info is listed is in an obscure help document no typical user would ever encounter (or even realize exists).

The way it works is this: Google promises to provide software updates to a Chromebook for six and a half years from the time the first Chrome OS device using its same chipset debuted. That means a brand new, high-end device like Acer’s Chromebook 715 — which launched this month and sells for as high as $780 — is actually already down to four years and eight months of software support remaining if you buy it right now. Despite the fact that the device is brand new and a premium product, in other words, it’s effectively already more than lost a quarter of its life in terms of the platform’s maximum support window. Delightful, no?

It ultimately becomes up to you to be aware of all of this and then to perform some smart math to figure out a Chromebook’s actual annual cost of ownership, based on its expiration date for support — and then to compare that to other options and figure out if it makes sense for you. But it shouldn’t be so difficult. And the time for which a Chromebook remains supported and advisable to use shouldn’t be so inconsistent — or so short.

The past and the future

Now, for a quick rewind: When Chrome OS first came out, the platform was focused exclusively on low-cost, almost made-to-be-disposable computers. Back then, Chrome OS was designed to be a dead-simple operating system that revolved almost entirely around the cloud and basic web services.

Suffice it to say, things have changed considerably since that time. Chromebooks these days are versatile, viable devices that run a variety of different apps — including desktop-caliber Linux apps and platform-expanding Android apps — and run the gamut from budget-level systems to high-end, luxury-level machines.

When you’re paying $500 or sometimes even well over a thousand dollars for a computer, you shouldn’t be worrying about whether it’ll be abandoned and made inadvisable to use in a mere four to five — or even six and a half — years. You shouldn’t be faced with an outdated, insecure system that’s otherwise still perfectly operational and valid. And you shouldn’t have to act like a modern-day Indiana Jones just to figure all this out.

It’s time for Google to rethink the Chrome OS upgrade standard and figure out a better answer. First, manufacturers shouldn’t treat a device’s effective expiration date like a buried treasure that the buyer is responsible for digging up. That information should be clearly placarded on a computer’s packaging and made easy to find and understand. Imagine a prominently placed label on every Chromebook box: “This computer will receive operating system and security updates through June of 2024. Visit google.com/chromebook/expiration to learn more about why that matters.” Sensible, wouldn’t ya say?

Second, Chromebooks should receive a consistent period of support based on when the devices themselves are released — not a wildly fluctuating period based on an internal factor that’s both bewildering and irrelevant to the end user. From the perspective of a purchaser, it’s crazy that Acer’s otherwise exceptional system should come with an advisable lifespan that’s 16 months shorter than other devices despite the product being priced on the upper end of the Chrome OS spectrum. It’s not fair to the person purchasing the system, and it’s not fair to Acer, for that matter, either. And while Google has quietly extended the life of some systems in recent months, what we need is a reliable and consistent standard — not an occasional and unpredictable exception.

And third, that period of support shouldn’t even be limited to six and a half years as a platform-wide maximum — not when you can buy a similarly priced or even cheaper Windows system and have it remain reasonably updated for exponentially longer.

There’s an argument to be made that the Chrome OS model isn’t like Windows — that the level of services and security provided, the inclusion of native access to the full Play Store of apps, and all of the platform’s other distinguishing features put it on a different plateau — and that you’re paying a certain premium for that experience and everything it entails.

And you know what? To a certain extent, that’s not an entirely unreasonable position to take. But even if Chrome OS and Windows aren’t equals, that doesn’t mean it’s justifiable for an $800 system to have only a four-year shelf life if you buy it next summer.

The time is now

There has to be a better way — whether it’s determining a device’s software support window based on its own launch date and pricing tier, with consistently longer shelf lives for higher-end systems, or finding a way to provide at least the minimum performance and security updates to a device even after its window for full support has expired. These solutions certainly wouldn’t be simple, from a technical perspective, and plenty of moving pieces are involved — but if anyone has the power and authority to make it happen, it’s Google. And if the company wants Chrome OS to thrive and be taken seriously as an all-purpose platform for productivity, it’s a challenge it needs to consider.

Think we’re being naively optimistic in calling for such a change? Well, consider this: Five years ago, in 2014, I wrote a column called “It’s time to rethink the Android upgrade standard” (see the inspiration for this story’s title?). At the time, all Android phones followed an 18-month standard for operating system support, which was just plain silly when two years had become the accepted norm for phone contracts and typical periods of ownership in that era.

Within a matter of days, one Android device-maker — HTC (which was, uh, in a somewhat different position then from where it stands now) — announced it would support all of its flagship products for a full two years from that point forward. Soon after, Google adopted the same stance, and it quickly became a platform-wide standard.

Two years ago, meanwhile, I wrote a column suggesting Google’s own Pixel phone should come with an elevated three-year window of operating system support — that, given Google’s unique position and business model as an Android device-maker and the company’s desire to show off the unique value and benefit of a holistic phone model, a higher standard not only for update timeliness but also for update longevity would support its narrative and demonstrate its commitment to long-term customer satisfaction over short-term sales.

And what happened with the following year’s phone launch? Yup, you guessed it — an increase to three full years of timely software support for Pixel phones (one that was recently extended even to that first-gen Pixel model, which received Android 10 within hours of its release last month). That move provided the Pixel with an unmatched level of value for anyone who takes the time to think it through.

Now, I’m not trying to claim credit for those changes. The world does revolve around me (obviously), but still: I’m but one voice in a sea of many.

The point, though, is that sometimes, companies actually do listen. Sometimes, change genuinely is possible. And sometimes, it just takes a certain level of demand to catch the right ear and encourage an improvement that might bring broad benefit to both a company and its customers and maybe was being chewed over on some level, anyway.

Chrome OS has come a shockingly long way over the past eight years. Now let’s see the policies around it catch up with that progress and create a more sensible and enticing proposition for the people who are embracing it, particularly at the higher price levels.

Come on, Google. You can do this. It’s time.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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13+ things to try first when you upgrade to iPadOS

iPadOS and iOS 13.1 arrive today. When you upgrade your tablet (and phone) to the latest versions of the operating system, here are some of the best new features you’ll want to try. (The focus here is on iPadOS.)

First visit a website…

Visit a website in Safari. You may not notice much, but you will be accessing the full Desktop site, just like when using Safari on a Mac.

Now, open SlideOver

Try this: Open an app in SlideOver. Then open another. Keep doing it.

Now you can swipe between all those apps you have opened in SlideOver – just tap and hold the black bar at the bottom of the SlideOver window, raise it slightly with a gentle rightward movement. You will see a new mini App Switcher window open that lets you explore up to five apps currently open in SlideOver.

Why is this good? Imagine you are working on a project and need to bring in different assets from different apps. This feature makes that pretty easy.

You can use an external drive

iPadOS lets you use an external drive with your iPad. That’s great for handling images stored on any external drive and is surely one of the most requested features from pro users attempting to use their tablets to get work done.

Now, you can. The feature works with USB drives, SD drives and SMB file servers. And it’s simple – though you may need to invest in a USB-C to USB-A dongle (or SD dongle). Using it is as simple as:

  1. Connect the external storage device.
  2. Open the Files app.
  3. Look at the Locations menu and tap the volume to see what’s inside.
  4. That’s it. You can now drag-&-drop files between the storage device and your iPad. You can even compress and decompress files.
  5. You’ll even see SMB-based servers on your network.

You can (kinda) use a mouse

You can use a mouse with your iPad, though its implementation is mainly as an Accessibility feature. Access this as follows:

  • Open Settings>Accessibility>Touch.
  • Now tap Assistive Touch and turn this feature on (toggle to green).
  • While still in Assistive Touch settings, choose Devices in the Pointer Devices screen.
  • Now find (or pair) your mouse. You can use a standard USB mouse so long as you have an adapter.

Once the novelty wears off you’ll find this severely limited – it’s basically the equivalent of using a finger, and you can’t use it for tasks such as highlighting text. It’s just nice to know it’s around.

More fun with Files

You’ll find a new Column View in Files , which makes it easier to explore nested filing systems. Once you have found a file you want to use, tap and hold its icon to find the new QuickActions view. This lets you Copy, Duplicate, Move, Delete, get file info, look at, tag, rename, Share AND compress your file. (Yes, compression is built-in).

One more neat Files tip:

If you are on a network and have a shared network drive you can quickly connect to it by pressing the ellipsis (…) icon at the top right of the Browse column.

Scan a document

Did you know you could do this from within Files?

  • Open Files
  • Tap the ellipsis (…) icon.
  • Look – you can Scan Documents here.

Who knew?

Play with Split View

Apple has made some big improvements in Split View. Not only can you open three completely different windows (two in Split View and one in Slide Over). It’s easy to use: Open an app, slide up the Dock, drag-&-drop an app icon to the right or left of the iPad, open it in Split view. Then you can slide up a third app in SlideOver. You can even use this to open three different Safari windows.

Drag an active window up slightly and you’ll get to the App Switcher window – now, with a brand-new twist: You can now see your Split View window, as well as your apps.

Write something swipey

iPads running iPadOS can run QuickPath, which lets you swipe your finger between letters to write words. Machine learning figures out the word you are writing and places it in your copy.

It’s very accurate, but if you are running an iPad you need to get to the floating keyboard to access it: just swipe your thumb and index finger together on the keyboard to get the small mini floating keyboard.

Once you are in that keyboard, you can use QuickType.

Use Apple Pencil on websites

Here’s something else you might want to try:

  • Open a Safari window.
  • Take your Apple Pencil.
  • Swipe up from the left or right of any screen.

Your iPad will automatically take a screenshot of the page. You get to choose to take the entire screen or the full document page. Now you can annotate the image, and explore all the new annotation controls as you do.

You may want to install new fonts

Using your iPad for design? Then you’ll want to install some new fonts.

Unfortunately, it’s a little complicated:

  • You can find new fonts at the App Store (just search for “fonts”). When you find one you like, you just download it like any other app, open it, name it and install a configuration profile.
  • Now you must open Settings>General>Profile, tap the collection and then choose Install.
  • And then (I told you it was complicated) you open Settings>General>Keyboards>Add New Keyboard… and choose Fonts.

(I am a little concerned that the implementation means font publishers can track you when you install a font.)

You really should try Voice Control

You haven’t lived until you’ve controlled your iPad with your voice. (That’s not strictly true, but it’s still cool).

Voice Control is an Accessibility Setting on your iPad. Enable it by toggling it to on  (green). You can then try a series of voice commands, open apps, or search for items. It takes getting used to, but try this to get some sense of what it can do:

  • “Open Photos”: Your photos library will open in the last window it was in.
  • “Show Grid”: A grid will appear. Say the number that’s above an item on the display you want to use.
  • A second grid will appear, repeat the process until the grid size shrinks and it is clear what you have selected.
  • “Double Tap”: The selected album, folder or image will open up, or a command (including Edit commands) will be initiated.
  • When you’re done, say “Go Home” to return to the Home screen.

This feature is life-transforming for so many people, and fun, too.

Use it with a Mac (but not yet)

One of the best new features is Sidecar, which lets you use your iPad as a secondary display for your Mac – and as a graphics tablet using Apple Pencil.

Once macOS Catalina and iPadOS are installed, the easiest way to activate Sidecar is through the AirPlay icon – your iPad should show up as an option there. You can also access the mode using the green traffic light button at the top left of an application window.

You can use an Apple Pencil on your iPad to mark up images for your Mac, and type on the iPad (attached) keyboard if you wish. You’ll also see a new Touch Bar on the iPad for any Mac applications that support it.

You need iPadOS to run this mode, but you also need to upgrade your Mac to run macOS Catalina, which won’t be available until “October.” I look forward to it.

One more thing…

Apple has also changed some of the keyboard controls for iPadOS. You can get a complete list of these here

And don’t forget to try Apple Arcade. You get a free month. I’m spending mine in Oceanhorn 2

Also read:

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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