Just a friendly reminder to Baltimore families and businesses:
The free upgrade to Windows 10 (with Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 eligible) ends July 29th. You can expect the licensing cost for Windows 10 Home to be $119.99 and the business oriented Pro version to cost $199.99.
Whether or not you should upgrade depends on a variety of things. Only machines running Windows 7 and later are eligible for the upgrade. Unless you’ve disabled Windows Update, you’ve likely received the nag window promoting the free upgrade to Windows 10. If you’ve seen this, you’re machine is eligible to run Windows 10. For the most part, you can expect Windows 10 to run well, possibly better than your current operating system. If you haven’t been notified of eligibility, your machine might still be capable of running Windows 10. Read More
We get this one a lot. Like, a lot a lot, and there’s no easy answer. Sure, Apple, Hewlett Packard, and Dell, to name a few, all make computers. They have processors, RAM, non-volatile storage (hard drives), a case, a keyboard… you know. Computer stuff. But the similarities end the moment we stop drawing broad comparisons about the underlying machine stuff. Windows PCs vary significantly by manufacturer; Apple computers vary less, but offer less choice.
Hey Baltimore, it’s time once again to talk tech – this time Poindexter has prepared 16 useful tips to help you get the most out of your shiny new holiday gadgets and gizmos. Presented in no particular order, we’ll bust some myths, encourage some good practices, and try to help make your tech purchase the best it can be.
Windows 10 has arrived and for most users it promises to be an exciting blend of familiar and modern. The Start menu makes a return – albeit with a fresh spot of paint, and we’re treated with a new action center, search menu, and oodles of other user friendly features. All for the low cost of free for licensed Windows 7 and 8.1 users. Windows 10 is an easy choice and we recommend upgrading.
Poindexter has rounded up what we think are the top-ten things to familiarize yourself with or use right now, with accompanying HD video to show the smooth animations and bright colors we love so much. Most of these are easy breezy, but we’ve included more advanced recommendations towards the end. Let’s get into it!
Change the Desktop and Lockscreen Wallpaper
No matter how nice the included wallpapers are, eventually you might get bored and want to freshen things up with a new wallpaper or lockscreen background. Or, if you’re like us, you do it right away a whole bunch of times. Thankfully, Microsoft made it easy to change both the desktop and the lock screen wallpaper directly from the settings page.
First, we need to get to the Settings and Personalization areas. We can do this a few different ways. You can access “Settings” by clicking on the Start menu and left-clicking on the Settings button. From Settings, just select “Personalization”.
You can also jump directly to Personalization by right-clicking unused space on your Desktop then selecting “Personalize” with the left mouse button, as shown in the video.
Once in the Personalization area, you’ll see a number of options in the left-hand pane; Background, Colors, Lock Screen, etc. Select Background to change the desktop wallpaper and Lockscreen to change the logon wallpaper.
Make the Start Menu, Taskbar, and Action Center Transparent
By default, Windows 10 will use opaque color for your Start menu, Action Center, and Taskbar. On older systems, this can help improve performance and battery life by reducing graphical strain. On systems with a a pinch more muscle, you can enable a fancier transparent mode, which looks a bit like the frosted glass effect Apple uses throughout their products. To enable transparency effects, let’s head back to the Personalization area where we changed our wallpaper. This time, instead of selecting Background, use your left mouse button to select Colors. On the right pane towards the bottom, there’s a switch labeled “Make Start, taskbar, and action center transparent”. Go ahead and left click that switch to turn it on. Your Windows 10 should now be immediately ultra chic.
There are a couple of other settings here that are worth trying. We recommend allowing Windows 10 to automatically pick an accent color and to show color on Start. These settings add a nice bit of unintrusive color to your workspace.
Open the Action Center Notification Panel
In Windows 10, Microsoft included a handy new notification panel, called Action Center, to help users keep track of new emails, birthdays, reminders, and other useful tidbits. It’s a great addition and one we strongly recommend digging into.
There are a couple of ways to open Action Center. First, move your mouse towards the bottom-right of the screen until you see the clock. Just next to he clock should be a word bubble in the shape of a square. Click on that with the left mouse button and the Action Center will slide out from the right. An even easier way to open it is by simultaneously pressing the Windows Key and the letter A (Windows Key+ A).
Remove and Uninstall Apps
Windows 10 comes preloaded with a number of apps, including some you might want to eventually remove. Whether it’s an app you installed yourself or something preloaded, nixing pinned apps from your Start menu or uninstalling them completely is very simple. To remove an app from the Start menu, simply left-click the Start menu button to open it, right-click on the tile you wish to remove, and select “Unpin from Start” with the left mouse button.
To completely uninstall an app or program from Windows 10, move your mouse to the right of the screen and open the Notification panel again. From there, select All Settings, then go ahead and select System after the window opens up. On the left pane you’ll see oodles of options. As you guessed, we want Apps and Features. Select this and give Windows a little time to calculate program sizes. Once it’s done, you’ll see a list of all the apps installed on your computer. To uninstall an app, simple left-click the one you want to remove then click the Uninstall button. Windows will remove it from the computer and it will vanish from the list.
Hide the Taskview and Cortana Searchbar
On first boot, you might notice the Taskbar looking a little busier than in Windows 7 or 8.1. That’s because of two awesome features exclusive to Windows 10. To the right of the Start menu now sits Cortana’s search bar – “Ask me anything” – and the new Taskview button. If you need to free up space in the taskbar or just have no need for either of these buttons, they can both be removed by accessing the taskbar’s properties menu.
Using your mouse, move down to the taskbar at the bottom of your screen. With the right button, click on a spot of unused space to bring up the context menu. From within this menu, uncheck “Show taskview” to hide the Taskview button and click it again to restore it. Likewise, hovering over the “Cortana” submenu will bring up a couple of options. For Cortana, you can remove just the search bar, leaving only Cortana’s icon in its place, or remove both, eliminating her and the search bar completely. You can always undo these changes by just returning to the taskbar’s properties menu.
Use Taskview to Create Virtual Desktops
If your screen is too small for the number of windows you juggle, Windows 10 makes it easy to flip between virtual desktops, instead of being limited to just one. The desktop is your workspace and power users often find it useful to have multiple desktops for extra space or just to reduce clutter. Perhaps you want a desktop dedicated just to work, another for play, Or one might be for your internet browsers, another for Word documents, and still another for three simultaneous Solitaire games. Whatever, we won’t judge. Solitaire is especially fun when it’s three people playing together.
Jumping between windows and virtual desktops is easy if you know how. Assuming you haven’t removed the Taskview button as shown above, you can just click on that with your left mouse button to bring up the Taskview space. As you can see, this organizes all of your open windows into a neat grid making them easy to access no matter how many are open. Alternatively, you can press the Windows key and Tab (Windows Key+TAB) to bring up the Taskview. OSX users will noticed how much this looks like Apple’s Mission Control, including one useful feature shown at the bottom: Virtual Desktops. You can create a new workspace by clicking the “+ New desktop” option on the right, and flip back and forth between them by returning to Taskview and selecting it from the row of shown Desktops.
Stop Internet Sharing Windows Updates
Windows 10 comes equipped with the ability to share your computer’s downloaded Windows updates to other computers on your home network or via the internet. To prevent accidentally authorized internet use, some users prefer to limit this sharing feature to only home PC’s and some just just turn it off completely. Poindexter recommends setting this to Local Network only so that your family’s computers can get updated quickly, even if Microsoft’s servers are under heavy load. For those with data caps, this can also reduce your overhead by requiring only one device download the update.
To adjust these settings, let’s head back to the “Settings” area by left clicking the Start menu and selecting Settings. In the Settings windows, left click on Update & Security. Make sure that Windows Update is selected on the left. In the Windows Update box, click on “Advanced Options” (it won’t be a button, just clickable text). From here, click “Choose how updates are delivered”. If you wish to disable the feature entirely, toggle the On switch to Off. If you wish to limit update sharing to only local PC on your home network, leave it on, but click the radio button next to “PCs on my local network”. When finished, you’re free to close the window. Your settings are saved automatically.
How to Restore Windows 10 to Scratch
If your installation of Windows 10 is getting a little long in the tooth, riddled with horrible malware, or saddled down with manufacturer’s bloated software, you can do a clean install of Windows 10 in just a few clicks.
Once again, we’re going into the Settings menu. With the left mouse button, click on the Start menu button, and left click on Settings. Now head back to Update & Security, and select Recovery on the left. The option we want is Reset This PC, so click the button labeled “Get started”.
(You can also jump right into the Recovery area using Cortana by searching “Advanced Start” and selecting the result she brings you. Welcome to the future!)
This brings up a new window with two options. You can either Keep my files, which causes Windows 10 to refresh all of its system files and remove programs, but preserve all of your personal files, or you can wipe everything out entirely and have Windows 10 reinstall itself from its recovery partition on a clean slate, files erased. The choice is yours, but be prepared for trouble by always having a backup ready in case of disaster.
Confirm Direct X 12 Activated
Windows 10 includes a nice bit of fresh technology geared towards gamers. Direct X is the software responsible for graphics in Windows and the Xbox game system and Direct X 12 is the newest version only available to Windows 10 users. Although it should be automatically available to everyone who has installed Windows 10, we’ve run into some users who report having to install it manually.
To make sure you’re computer is on the cutting edge of Direct X tech, we need to load up the Direct X configuration panel. First, using the keyboard, press the Windows key and “R” at the same time to bring up the Run window. In this window, type in “dxdiag.exe” without quotes and press Return or left click the Okay button. This will bring up the Direct X config screen. After a few moments, it should provide a quick summary of your computer, including its hardware and Direct X software version listed at the bottom.
You can also load this area by searching dxdiag.exe using Cortana.
Enable Godmode, the Hidden Control Panel
This is a fun one intended for advanced users who like a lot of control without the inconvenience of multiple windows. If done correctly, you’ll have a new icon on your desktop that opens up a powerful, new configuration panel, replete with exciting administrative tools for pretty much everything. With Godmode you can add and remove devices, adjust Cleartype, tweak File Explorer settings, Personalization options, and hundreds more. It’s a treasure trove of buttons and switches and stuff to break.
To enable Godmode, you need only create a new folder, then name it the following:
In fact, it doesn’t have to be named Godmode at all. To change the name, just replace the word “Godmode” with whatever you’d prefer, but be sure to leave that last period in place. We recommend
If done correctly, the new folder icon will be replaced by a generic Control Panel icon, and opening it will transport you to a world of options and settings. Be careful in here, there’s are a few powerful settings that if set incorrectly can disrupt performance or stability. Other settings are easy as pie, like quickly adjusting your user accounts or wallpaper.
Yes, probably. So long as your computer was built in the last decade.
You’ll need a little more space than previous versions of Windows, but that shouldn’t be a problem. The installation package for Windows 10 is as lean as its predecessor, Windows 8, both weighing in at around 3 GB. This is three times larger than Windows XP (about 600 MB) but on par with Windows Vista and Windows 7 (3 GB). Since the average hard drive is 600 GB, 3-4 GB is negligible. Once everything unpacks, however, you’ll need 16 GB for the 32 bit version and 20 GB total for the 64 bit OS. In our experience, this is also in keeping with previous versions of Windows, once the updates and service packs settle in. And, again, a teensy chunk of excessively massive hard drives. Those with smaller solid state drives won’t need to commit more space than they already have, so long as you aren’t dual booting another OS.
The processor requirements are only slightly more demanding than Windows Vista, which needed an 800 MHz or higher chip, versus Windows 10’s 1 GHz requirement. Considering that 1 GHz single core chips arrived fourteen years ago, it’s safe to say most consumers interested in upgrading will have no issues there. The processor is responsible for executing instructions and is basically the computer’s brain. If you skimp here and run Windows 10 at its minimum, be prepared for frustrating sluggishness, crashes, and lengthy periods of system lock. Thankfully, most computers built after 2005 are swift, multi-core processors, that can take a beating.
Direct X is software designed by Microsoft to handle multimedia and graphical tasks for Windows devices (including the Direct XBox). Windows 10 requires a graphics card supporting Direct X 9 or later. Again, no culling there, since Direct X 9 arrived way back in 2002, with most hardware vendors adding compatibility shortly thereafter. Most contemporary devices now support Direct X 11 and Windows 10 will be the first OS to introduce the bleeding-edge Direct X 12. Direct X is a free and typically automatic download from Microsoft, so you’re likely already using the most recent version that your hardware will support.
Predictably, RAM (random access memory) requirements are low, needing only 1 GB for 32 bit and 2 GB for 64 bit versions. This is equal to Windows 7 and 8, but higher than Windows Vista. RAM is the active workspace of the computer, a bit like its short term memory. If your RAM is hovering around the minimum requirement, Windows 10 will run, but the experience will be stunted and choppy. Luckily, RAM is low cost and among the easiest bits of hardware to upgrade. We recommend not running Windows 10 with anything less than 4 GB of RAM. Anything higher than 8 GB won’t result in any noticeable performance gain for most users, but going below 2 will bring the system to its knees if you want to run modern application and websites.
Lastly, there’s a minimum screen resolution requirement of 1024×600, which is most common on older netbooks and some tablets. Resolution measures the width and height of a computer’s display in pixels. The higher the number, the more pixels are packed into that space. Most flat-screen monitors display at 1024×768, 1440×900, 1280×720 (HD), or 1920×1080 (HD), so this requirement pushes out most olde timey cathode-ray tube displays. Again, if you’ve even heard of Windows 10, if you made it to this website, you probably aren’t using an unsupported monitor.
Windows XP was retired April of 2014, forcing computer users to upgrade to Windows Vista or later, in order to receive Microsoft’s security patches and feature packs. If you upgraded to a later OS, but are using the same hardware, you can probably run Windows 10. In my experience, most users either purchased a new computer or upgraded to Windows 7. In either case, Windows 10 will run just fine. Upgrade and enjoy!
Let me be upfront: I’m very excited about Windows 10. As a desktop user, I was never attracted to Windows 8 or 8.1. Each was better suited for tablets and touch-screen enabled laptops, even after improvements were added to make 8.1 easier for mouse and keyboard users. Microsoft bet hard on the tablet and touchscreen revolution and, in so doing, cut me out of the bleeding edge. So I waited for the Windows 8 rebound, which turned out to be Windows 10 (not 9).
Thankfully, there’s a galaxy of devices and software for power users to obsess over. With my attention turned away from Windows, I focused on Android, iOS, and OSX: my highly customizable, super awesome Android handset, the HTC M8, and my less customizable, but rock solid iPad Air 2 and Macbook Pro (mid 2012 model). Each device offers its own approach to mobile and usability, and each had some feature or another that I hoped to see in Windows 10. This is especially true for OSX Yosemite.
With access to the Windows Insider program, I was fortunate enough to sample some of the new features Microsoft hoped to add to Windows 10. Many of them resembled, if not outright copied, OSX Yosemite.
Yosemite makes it a breeze to add various internet accounts and integrate them into common programs.
The top-level notification center makes staying current on notices and communications effortless.
Mission Control allows for easy window management.
Spotlight allows the user to search for pretty much anything, and includes a number of useful tricks.
Let’s not forget that frosted glass effect. So chic.
Windows 10 does all of this and I love it.
Let’s get into it.
… went smoothly for a trial run. I missed the limited time frame available to Windows Insiders to upgrade through Windows Update. Instead, I snagged an ISO of version 10240, dropped that onto a bootable USB drive, and was on my way. For testing purposes, I’m using Windows 10 Pro, but the features available only to Pro users won’t be discussed here and can be safely ignored. Core Windows 10 is identical in both Pro and Home bundles.
The install process was effortless and took about thirty minutes to install to my Samsung 850 Pro SSD. The computer rebooted twice, and I was eventually greeted with the account login or creation process familiar to Windows 8 and 8.1 users. I ended up having to reset my unused Microsoft account password, but was able to do that form the install screen (once I cleared through two-factor authentication). With the initial setup done, I waited another ten minutes for Windows to get my apps in order and install some updates before arriving at my new login screen.
I eagerly mashed in my new PIN code and voila! The Windows 10 desktop with its fancy pants laser smoke logo wallpaper. So pretty. So new.
The Start Menu
At first glance, it’s obviously Windows, which users dissatisfied with Windows 8.1 will appreciate. Windows 10 follows the new “flat” design aesthetic of OSX and Android/ Chrome. No skeuomorphism or 3d embellishments. Like OSX, Windows 10 uses plenty of transparency effects, some of which aren’t turned on by default, but it’s my opinion they should be turned on right away. If you want glass effects on the Start menu, taskbar, and action center, just use the search bar to lookup “make search” and the setting should pop up.
So long as tablet mode is off, Windows 10 will use a trimmed down Start menu that looks like Windows 7 blended with Windows 8. It’s about the size of classic Start styles, but includes the useful Live Tiles from Windows 8, and easy app access of Windows 7 and earlier. Adding, removing, and moving around tiles is easier and more customizable than in Windows 8.1. Tiles no longer forcibly snap themselves to a tight grid and can be positioned more freely.
On first boot, the task bar will be a little fuller than before, with Cortana’s search bar, the new task view button, and built in apps like Skype, which load automatically at boot. Each of these elements can be toggled in the task bar’s properties to your liking.
Let’s talk about Cortana. When Apple released Siri for the iPhone, I used it everyday for simple tasks, like web lookups and reminders. After I jumped to Android, Google Now served me just as well for more services, and got to be eerily predictive. Digital assistants are future tech that I can’t live without.
A first for Windows, the personal digital assistant Cortana will be available by voice command or simply clicking the bottom left search bar.
Windows 10 finally – finally – brings a voice activated digital assistant to Windows. I don’t understand why it took so long. Google Now integration in Windows is ineffectually weak and Siri isn’t available outside of iOS. Since nearly all laptops come with integrated microphones and beefy batteries, it makes little sense for them to lack this presumptuously useful feature. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe people don’t want to talk to their computer or voice control isn’t that much faster than a mouse and keyboard for most tasks. Surely some think-tank somewhere has data on desktop based digital assistants that swayed Microsoft away from them. I can only guess.
I admit, it does feel a little strange at first. Like Siri and Google Now, Cortana will encourage you to train her on your voice, reducing the chance of accidental triggers and other shenanigans. The training had me recite a few questions, unlike Google Now’s training which only has the user say “OK Google” a handful of times. Afterwards, Cortana was able to pick up my “Hey Cortana” reliably enough when using my desktop mic, but less capably then a well trained Android device responding to “Ok Google”. Switching over to a headset mic or re positioning my conference microphone will help.
So far Cortana doesn’t feel as predictive as Google Now, but that’s certainly due to her having less information about my habits and interests. Google knows a tremendous amount about me, since I use and have granted access to so many of its services. Cortana relies on Bing and Office 365, which I don’t use at all. It is possible to have Cortana schedule to a calender of your choice, but that’s the only concession I’ve found.
For now, and likely forever, there is no way to integrate Google’s notes, email, maps, and other services. Maybe Microsoft will be more flexible with time or perhaps there’s some hard limitation in the API that limits Cortana to only Microsoft services, much like Apple’s Siri. Only time will tell if Cortana is a genuinely useful bit of future-tech or a flimsy selling point that just looks cool.
There’s a lot more to dissect in Windows 10, but I love what I’ve seen so far. Windows 10 does much of what I want, brings things I didn’t expect to the table, and has given my desktop PC a fresh coat of virtual paint. If you’re a Windows 7 or Windows 8 user, I strongly encourage you to use Microsoft’s generous free upgrade on July 29th. It’s too good to pass up.
Next time, I’ll go over the Task View feature, Microsoft’s take on OSX’s Mission Control, but with fancy virtual desktop integration. I’ll also go over some of the new featured laden apps, like the totally useful screen capping Xbox app, and the totally not Internet Explorer replacement, Edge. We might even find some time to compare and contrast these features against Windows 10 main competitor, OSX Yosemite.
Windows 10 is nearly here and Poindexter couldn’t be more excited. It’s a strange, uncanny feeling. I haven’t felt this way since Windows Vista promised to bring (allegedly) awesome desktop widgets and transparency effects to the previously cartoony simplicity of Windows XP. Vista brought significant under the hood changes, too, but… widgets! By this time, I had used Windows XP to the fullest; tweaked it for optimal performance, changed every aspect of its appearance, and mastered its keyboard shortcuts. After a few years, XP lost its novelty, and started to show its age and inadequacy. Vista promised to reinvigorate Windows’ appeal with new technologies, faster load times, and those neato widgets. After launch, however, Vista proved an ungainly beast that ran poorly on modern hardware, lacked essential support for common hardware, and didn’t offers users truly valuable improvements. Oh, and those widgets were a massive security hazard. In reaction, manufacturers hoping to boost struggling PC sales escaped to the safety of Windows XP , while other OEMs struggled onwards, bolstered by improving driver support, service packs, and the bail out of Windows 7.
And here we are, still using Windows 7, the world’s inveterate operating system. I’m no Windows 8 apologist, but I maintain that some of its tools are smart and polished. I do not think Windows 8 was innovative. Overall, It felt like an amateurish effort to tie together multiple kinds of devices, tablets and laptops, into one ungainly platform. The hybrid duplicity that resulted – two control panels, two Internet Explorers, two fundamentally different operating systems shmooshed together – is, in my experience, the main gripe among users. The new full screen Start menu is a giant visual leap over the smaller, less intrusive Start menu of Windows 95 onward. For me, full screen Start is jarring, but hardly a deal breaker. The new menu, plus Windows 8’s incredibly convenient omni-search, deserves the entire screen, but only if you take some time to customize it. Start screen gets me to where I need to go quickly and offers useful information on the fly. Although Microsoft had to abandon desktop widgets in Vista for security reasons, they make a kind-of return here, and provide the user with weather, news, and other neatly animated updates at a glance. The big changes are the best. The small compromises, however, left Windows 8 feeling unfinished, rushed, and clumsy.
There is no Windows 9. By numbering their next installment Windows 10, Microsoft is indicating a large departure from Windows 8. Smart move, and seemingly justified. In some ways, Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been, but Microsoft had to take a beating – and a new CEO- to realize it. Windows 8 was meant to force a common experience for tablet, PC, and laptop users, making everything uniformly “the Windows experience”. But scaling a desktop environment down to tablet size and forcing a tablet interface up to desktop PC standards was an aesthetic and functional disaster. The then new Surface tablet (and the now retired Surface RT) was still finding its footing; manufacturers invested in touch screens (gimmicky), aggressively marketed all-in-one computers (costly, immobile laptops); and market share was lost to Apple, who sold technologically inferior products that offered a superior user experience. The stage is set. Manufacturers and users alike are clamoring for an operating system that is easier to sell and use.
Windows XP was retired officially April of 2014, forcing users worldwide to upgrade to Windows Vista or later. For those who upgraded to Windows 7 or 8, Windows 10 will be made available for free. This accounts for 75% of all computer users. That’s a lot. And likewise, a lot is riding on Windows 10 and how smoothly it’s released to the masses. If Microsoft can bring us their vision for Windows 8 without any awkward compromises, Windows 10 could be the answer to a market fragmented across devices. A truly uniform experience for users and developers alike. Or it could be disastrous. Poindexter is excited.
Anticipating its July 29th release date, Microsoft announced that the latest version of Windows 10, build 10240, is complete and will be released to manufacturers soon.
Stay tuned for more updates on Windows 10 and what steps you can take to upgrade safely. If you’re interested in what Windows 10 can do for you or your business, give Poindexter a call for your always free consultation. With Poindexter’s help, Windows 10 is a risk free step in the right direction.