Microsoft Windows

How to Check for Windows Updates

Annoying as they might be, it’s important to keep Windows updated…just ask the victims of the latest ransomware attack. If you haven’t used your PC for a while or you just want to make sure you’re updated with the latest software, it’s easy to manually check and make sure in Windows.

Press the Windows button or Search button, and type “check for updates” in the box. Then, hit Enter or click on the first result. This will take you to the dedicated Windows Update page in the Windows 10 Settings application (or, if you’re using Windows 7, the Control Panel).

The display will show you the last time Windows connected to a Microsoft server to check for the latest updates. Click the “Check…

What Is the Maximum Size a Windows Page File Can Be?

Whether it is just a matter of curiosity or a genuine need to know before adjusting the size of the file on your own computer, just how large can a Windows page file actually be? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

The Question

SuperUser reader Marina Dunst wants to know the maximum size that a Windows Page File can be:

I know that the recommended size for a Windows page file (C:\Pagefile.sys) is around 1.5 to 2 times the amount of RAM. Out of curiosity, what is the maximum size that a Windows Page File can be?

The Answer

How to Install Python on Windows

Python doesn’t come prepackaged with Windows, but that doesn’t mean Windows users won’t find the flexible programming language useful. It’s not quite a simple as installing the newest version however, so let’s make sure you get the right tools for the task at hand.

First released in 1991, Python is a popular high-level programming language used for general purpose programming. Thanks to a design philosophy that emphasizes readability it has long been a favorite of hobby coders and serious programmers alike. Not only is it an easy language (comparatively speaking, that is) to pick up but you’ll find thousands of projects online that require you have Python installed to use the program.

Which Version Do You Need?

Unfortunately, there was a significant update to Python several years ago that created a big split between Python versions. This can make things a bit confusing to newcomers, but don’t worry. We’ll walk you through installing both major versions

When you visit the Python for Windows download page, you’ll immediately see the division. Right at the top, square and center, the repository asks if you want the latest release of Python 2 or Python 3 (2.7.13 and 3.6.1, respectively, as of this tutorial).

Newer is better, right? Maybe so, maybe not. The version you want depends on your end goal. Let’s say, for example, that you read our article about expanding your Minecraft world with MCDungeon and are excited to add cool stuff to your worlds. That project is coded in Python and requires Python 2.7—you can’t run the MCDungeon project with Python 3.6. In fact, if you’re exploring hobby projects like MCDungeon, you’ll find that nearly all of them use 2.7. If your goal is to get some project that ends in a “.py” extension up and running, then there’s a very, very good chance you’ll need 2.7 for it.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to actually learn Python, we recommend installing both versions side by side (which you can do with zero risk and only a tiny bit of setup hassle). This lets you work with the newest version of the language, but also run older Python scripts (and test backwards compatibility for newer projects). Comparing the two versions is an article unto itself, though, so we’ll defer to the Python project wiki where you can read their well written overview of the differences.

You can download just Python 2 or Python 3 if you’re sure you only need a particular version. We’re going the distance today and will be installing both of them, so we recommend you download both versions and do the same. Under the main entry for both versions you’ll see an “x86-64” installer, as seen below.

This installer will install the appropriate 32-bit or 64-bit version on your computer automatically (here’s some further reading if you want to know more about the differences between the two).

How to Install Python 2

Installing Python 2 is a snap, and unlike in years past, the installer will even set the path variable for you (something we’ll be getting into a bit later). Run the installer, select “Install for all users,” and then click “Next.”

On the directory selection screen, leave the directory as “Python27” and click “Next.”

On the customization screen,…

What Does a Windows Folder Icon With Double Blue Arrows Mean?

For the most part, many of us are familiar with the various folder icons included with Windows over the years, but once in a while, a new one shows up. With that in mind, today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

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The Question

SuperUser reader K.A. wants to know what a Windows folder icon with double blue arrows means:

While browsing through my Windows directory, I found the Panther subdirectory, which had this folder icon:

Does anyone know what this signifies? I was able to open it normally, and it…

The Ransomware Attack Isn’t Over—Here’s How to Protect Yourself

If your computer’s running on Microsoft Windows, you need to take these steps—right away.

Here’s why: in case you haven’t heard, hackers exploited a vulnerability in older Microsoft Windows servers to execute a large-scale global cyberattack on Friday using ransomware — a malicious software that holds your computer hostage for ransom — and a hacking tool stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). The massive attack left victims locked out of their PCs with a promise of restored access if $300 was paid in digital currency Bitcoin—and a threat of destroyed files if the ransom is not met.

Thus far, at least 200,000 computers have been infected in more than 150 countries, leaving everything from businesses and governments to academic institutions, hospitals and ordinary people affected.

How it works

The malware, which “spreads like a worm,” is transmitted through a phishing email containing a compressed, encrypted file. Since the file is encrypted, security systems do not identify the ransomware, called Wanna Decryptor, until after it is downloaded. Wanna Decryptor, a next-gen version of the WannaCry ransomware, gains access to a given device once the malware-filled file is downloaded: it then encrypts data, locks down the system and demands ransom.

Ransomware does not typically work this quickly. But thanks to a stolen NSA cyber-weapon called EternalBlue, which was made public last month by a hacking group known as the “Shadow Brokers,” the malware spread rapidly by exploiting a security flaw in Microsoft Windows servers.

What users need to do

Simply put: make sure your Microsoft Windows server is up to date. Microsoft issued a patch in mid-March to fix the hole in Windows 7 and other supported versions of Windows: Vista, Server 2008, Server 2008 R2, 8.1, Server 2012, RT 8.1, 10, Server 2012 R2, and Server 2016. But those who did not apply the software update were—and still are—left exposed to the hack.

In light of the attack, Microsoft rolled out patches to protect older versions of Windows that “no longer receive mainstream support” from the company like Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003. Those…

In Ransomware Attack, Where Does Microsoft’s Responsibility Lie?

SEATTLE — When malicious software first became a serious problem on the internet about 15 years ago, most people agreed that the biggest villain, after the authors of the damaging code, was Microsoft.

As a new cyberattack continues to sweep across the globe, the company is once again at the center of the debate over who is to blame for a vicious strain of malware demanding ransom from victims in exchange for the unlocking of their digital files.

This time, though, Microsoft believes others should share responsibility for the attack, an assault that targeted flaws in the Windows operating system.

On Sunday, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, wrote a blog post describing the company’s efforts to stop the ransomware’s spread, including an unusual step it took to release a security update for versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports. Mr. Smith wrote, “As a technology company, we at Microsoft have the first responsibility to address these issues.”

He went on, though, to emphasize that the attack had demonstrated the “degree to which cybersecurity has become a shared responsibility between tech companies and customers,” the latter of whom must update their systems if they want to be protected. He also pointed his finger at intelligence services, since the latest vulnerability appeared to have been leaked from the National Security Agency.

On Monday, a Microsoft spokesman declined to comment beyond Mr. Smith’s post.

To prepare for fallout with customers, Judson Althoff, a Microsoft executive vice president, sent an email to the company’s field sales team on Sunday encouraging them to be supportive of businesses targeted by the attack, or even those who were simply aware of it.

“Our key direction to you is to remember that we are in this with our customers — we are trusted advisers, counselors, and suppliers to them,” he wrote. “More than technical guidance, I want you to make sure you are spending the time needed to understand the concerns they have and that they know we…

Microsoft says WannaCry ransomware attack is a wake-up call for governments

A programmer shows a sample of a ransomware cyberattack on a laptop in Taipei on May 13.
A programmer shows a sample of a ransomware cyberattack on a laptop in Taipei on May 13.

A global ransomware attack hit thousands of Windows-based computers late last week, locking users’ files and demanding Bitcoin payment to unlock them.

The attack, called WannaCry (or WannaCrypt), is a lesson to both the IT industry and consumers, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith argued in a blog post Sunday. But most of all, it is a wake-up call for governments, whose stockpiling of software vulnerabilities can be as dangerous as getting their missiles stolen.

According to Smith, all Windows computers that are fully updated are safe from the attack, and Microsoft has been “working around the clock since Friday to help all our customers who have been affected by this incident.”

And while the attack shows how important it is for users and companies to keep their computers updated — as well as tech companies such as Microsoft to promptly release security updates and make sure their…

If You Still Use Windows XP, Prepare For the Worst

Microsoft

As a vicious new strain of ransomware swept the UK’s National Health Service yesterday, shutting off services at hospitals and clinics throughout the region, experts cautioned that the best protection was to download a patch Microsoft had issued in March. The only problem? A reported 90 percent of NHS systems run Windows XP, an operating system Microsoft first introduced in 2001, and hasn’t supported since 2014.

NHS has disputed the 90 percent figure—though not that a significant portion of its systems run Windows XP—and was only one example of the tens of thousands of impacted computers across nearly 100 countries yesterday. But its meltdown illustrates the deeper problems inherent in Windows XP’s prevalence three years after its official demise.

Experts rightly that the best protection against the so-called WannaCry ransomware was to patch everything, as soon as possible. But for Windows XP and other expired operating systems, the patches weren’t there in the first place. With very few exceptions—including an emergency patch after the first wave of WannaCry infections—Microsoft no longer provides any security report for the OS. A computer running XP today is a castle with no moat, portcullis raised, doors flung open, greeting the ravaging hoards with wine spritzers and jam.

And it’s only going to get worse.

Expiration Date

Hackers have targeted XP for years. Its lack of defenses and persistent popularity make it a popular target. And it really does have a foothold; according to analytics company StatCounter, 5.26 percent of Windows PCs run XP still, while a similar analysis from Net Applications puts the total at just over 7 percent of all personal computers. No matter whose numbers you use, that amounts to tens of millions of devices, and that’s before you count the absurd percentage of ATMs and other non-traditional systems stuck in the past.

The natural question, given the absurd level of risk that comes with running Windows XP in 2017, is why on earth would anyone stick with it, much less millions of people and companies with so much to lose.

The problem stems in part from Windows XP’s initial popularity. “It was one…

Microsoft’s WannaCrypt ransomware update takes unusual step of protecting Windows XP users

Still stubbornly running an ancient version of Windows, despite the security threats? You’re in luck, this time.

The ransomware attack known as WannaCrypt that sent organizations and individual users around the world scrambling for security cover has been addressed by Microsoft, the company behind the most widely used operating system on the planet, with a new software update. And, to the relief of many holding onto old versions of Windows, the update plays nice with some old school systems, too.

Late Friday, the company posted an official notice on its site regarding the update as well as general guidance regarding the WannaCrypt attack. The update covers users on Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003 (the attack didn’t target Windows 10, according to Microsoft). Additionally, Microsoft advises users to “use vigilance when opening documents from untrusted or unknown sources.”

The patch goes all the…

How to Seamlessly Run Windows Programs on Your Mac with Parallels

Sometimes, Mac users need to run Windows software. Maybe there’s a program you need for work that doesn’t offer a Mac version, or maybe you occasionally need to test websites in Internet Explorer. Whatever you need Windows for, Parallels is the best tool for the job.

Why Use Parallels Instead of Boot Camp or VirtualBox?

Sure, you could set up your Mac to run Windows with Boot Camp, but that means restarting your computer every time you need to use Windows. Parallels runs Windows within macOS, using what’s called a Virtual Machine. This allows you to quickly switch between the Mac and Windows desktops. You can even combine the two desktops, if you want, and run Windows software right on your Mac desktop from your Mac’s dock.

Virtual machines are complicated, but Parallels makes it reasonably simple to set one up and use it. There are other virtual machine options available to Mac users, including the open source Virtualbox, but Parallels is different in that it’s designed exclusively with Mac users in mind. Parallels costs more (since VirtualBox is free and Parallels is not), but there are hundreds of little design touches that help make running Windows within macOS as painless as possible, and that make setting everything up quick and easy. it’s well worth the cost.

How Much Does Parallels Cost?

Browsing the Parallels website, it can be a little tricky to find out what the product actually costs. So here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Purchasing the latest home version of Parallels Desktop costs $80 as of this writing. This lets you run Parallels on a single Mac.
  • Upgrading from one version of Parallels to another generally costs $50, and will probably be necessary every couple of years if you keep installing the latest versions of macOS.
  • A $70 annual subscription gives you access to all updates “for free,” according to the Parallels website.

If you just want to try out Parallels and see if it works for you, you can: there’s a 14 day trial of the software, which you can access without providing a credit card number. There’s also Parallels Desktop Lite, which is free on the Mac App Store and lets you create both Linux and macOS virtual machines. Parallels Desktop Lite can only run Windows virtual machines if you pay for a subscription, however.

One more note: purchasing Parallels does not give you a Windows license, or a Windows product key. If you have a Windows installation CD or USB key handy with a valid license you can use that, otherwise you will need to purchase Windows 10 from Microsoft to create a Windows 10 virtual machine.

We’ll point out that you don’t technically need a product key to install and use Windows 10—Microsoft basically gave up enforcing their license requirements with Windows 10, and you can download Windows 10 right from Microsoft at no cost (you’ll probably want it in the form of an ISO file). Legally speaking, however, you still need a product key to use Windows, even in a virtual machine.

How to Install Windows in Parallels

Got everything you need? Good. The new virtual machine wizard, which launches the first time you open Parallels, makes the process simple.

Assuming you already have a Windows CD or ISO,…