Microsoft

Microsoft, Please Stop Breaking My PC With Windows 10’s Automatic Updates

Hey Microsoft, could you please stop breaking my PC? The latest WPD driver update released on March 8, 2017 is just the latest in a long string of bad updates. If Windows 10 is going to force these updates on my system, the least Microsoft could do is test them properly first.

Don’t get us wrong: automatic updates are very important for security reasons, and we believe they are a good thing. The problem is that Microsoft isn’t just releasing security updates. They’re making major changes to Windows, and not testing the updates properly. They need to do better.

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Microsoft Just Released a Bad Driver Update, and I Have to Fix It

The latest and most obnoxious update—at least for me, personally—was the “Microsoft – WPD – 2/22/2016 12:00:00 AM – 5.2.5326.4762” update released on March 8, 2017.

Microsoft removed this update from Windows Update, but not until after my and other PCs installed it. As a Microsoft representative explained in a discussion post on Microsoft’s community forums:

“An incorrect device driver was released for Windows 10, on March 8, 2017, that affected a small group of users with connected phones or portable devices. After installation, these devices are not detected properly by Windows 10”

That’s right: Microsoft released a bad driver update that broke the MTP drivers in Windows. MTP is used to access files on connected Android phones and tablets, media players, Windows phones, and some other types of portable devices.

This update seems broken for everyone, so how did it get onto Windows Update in the first place? Driver updates are supposed to be tested through the Windows Hardware Quality Labs before they’re allowed onto Windows Update. Apparently that isn’t happening properly.

Microsoft caught the problem, so that should be the end of the story, right? Nope. Microsoft isn’t going to release an automatic fix through Windows Update to correct the problem. It’s my job to fix what Microsoft broke on my PC, and it’s your job to fix it on your PC if Windows 10 automatically installed the same update for you.

As this is a driver update, there’s no way to “uninstall” it like you would a normal update. Instead, Microsoft recommends you use a system restore point, something that won’t be possible on many PCs, as Windows 10 seems to sometimes ship with System Restore disabled. If you can’t do that, Microsoft invites you to follow a 13-step process involving the Device Manager and several commands run in an Administrator Command Prompt window.

That’s absurd. Worse yet,…

How to Use All of Windows 10’s Backup and Recovery Tools

Windows 10 includes several different types of backup and recovery tools. And we’re going to take a look at all of them.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good computers. Fortunately, Windows includes a number of tools you can use to make sure your files are properly backed up and to recover your computer should you need to. On the backup side of things, File History is the primary backup tool in Windows 8 and 10. It offers not just full backups, but also a way to restore previous versions of files. Microsoft also includes the old Windows 7 Backup and Restore in both Windows 8 and 10 and it works the same way it always has, allowing you to perform selective or even full image-based backups. And while it’s not really a true backup solution, the inclusion of OneDrive does let you build a little redundancy into your file storage.

On the Recovery side of things, Windows offers a full recovery environment you can use for troubleshooting and recovery, as well as the ability to fully reset your PC to it’s default settings. Here’s how it all fits together.

Back Up and Protect Your Windows 10 PC the Easy Way

Windows 10 includes a number of backup and recovery tools for free, but the reality is that they aren’t anywhere near as good as commercial solutions. Carbonite automatically backs up all of your files, photos, and documents and stores them encrypted in the cloud.

Not only do you get cheap unlimited cloud backup, but you can also use Carbonite to backup your PC to a local hard drive. And you get versioning, deleted file protection, mobile apps so you can access your files from any device, and a whole lot more.

And for a limited time, How-To Geek readers get 2 free bonus months.

Built-In Backup Tools in Windows

You’ve heard the advice a million times, but it’s still surprising how many people don’t take the time to make sure their files are adequately backed up. We’ve covered all kinds of ways to make sure that your computer is backed up and we’ve even talked about what files you should be backing up. The good news is Windows itself provides some pretty solid tools to get the job done. Just remember, it’s not only about backing up to an external hard drive. You also should be creating offsite backups—or at the very least, storing a copy of your backups in a different location.

File History

File History was first introduced in Windows 8 and continues to be the primary built-in backup solution in Windows 10. File History doesn’t create a full backup of your entire PC. Rather, it focuses on making sure that your personal files are backed up. You set up File History to back up all your files to an external drive and then you really can just let it do its job. It not only regularly backs up files, it also retains previous versions of files that you can easily restore.

By default, File History backs up important folders in your user folder—stuff like Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos, and parts of the AppData folder. You can exclude folders you don’t want backed up and add folders from elsewhere on your PC that you do want backed up.

When you need to recover files, you can browse through the whole collection of backed up files and folders.

Or you can restore previous versions of files from right within File Explorer.

File History gives you a pretty reliable way to make sure your personal files are regularly backed up. Make sure you check out our full guide to using File History for instructions on setting it up and using it.

Backup and Restore (Windows 7)

Microsoft also kept the old Backup and Restore feature from Windows 7 around. It was available in Windows 8, removed in Windows 8.1, and is back in Windows 10. The Backup and Restore (Windows 7) tool allows you to restore any of your old Windows 7 backups onto your Windows 10 computer—likely why the tool is still around—but you can also use it to back up your Windows 10 PC in the exact same way you’d back up a Windows 7 PC.

Unlike the newer File History backup solution, you can use Backup and Restore to more easily create a backup of practically everything on your hard drive. However, it also does not feature File History’s ability to maintain older versions of your files.

You can find the tool by hitting Start, typing “backup,” and then selecting “Backup and Restore (Windows 7).”

Setting up the backup is pretty straightforward. You’ll choose an external drive (or network location), pick the folders you want to backup, and set a schedule. After that, everything’s automatic. Do be sure to check…

What’s the Difference Between Office 365 and Office 2016?

There are two ways you can buy Microsoft Office. You can buy the traditional Microsoft Office 2016 product, or get it as part of an Office 365 software subscription. Here’s the difference.

Office 2016 vs. Office 365

Here’s the main difference: Office 2016 is the the traditional Microsoft Office product, sold for a one-time, up-front fee. You pay once to buy a version of Office 2016 you can install on a single PC or Mac and use for as long as you like. There’s no expiration date.

Office 365, on the other hand, is the new way Microsoft wants you to buy Office. Rather than paying a hefty up-front price, you pay a monthly or yearly fee and get access to the latest version of Office for as long as you pay the fee. You also get additional OneDrive cloud storage and access to the Office apps for tablets. You can choose a subscription that allows you to install Office on up to five different computers, sharing it with your family, or just get Office for yourself.

Office 2016: A Traditional Software Product

Office 2016 is a traditional software product. Microsoft sells “Office Home & Student 2016” for home users, and there are a few more expensive versions that include additional applications more frequently used by business users.

After paying the up-front fee, you get an Office 2016 license. You don’t even get a physical disc with Office 2016. Instead, you either buy a physical “key card” with a download code on it, or you buy a digital download that’s emailed to you.

This Office package only includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. This package does not include Outlook, Publisher, and Access.

You can download and use Office 2016 for as long as you want. You own it. You’ll never have to pay anything else. However, when Microsoft releases a new version of Office, you’ll have to pay to buy the new version of Office, or be stuck with Office 2016 until you pay once again.

When buying Office 2016, you must choose between the “Office Home & Student 2016” product for Windows PCs and the “Office Home & Student 2016 for Mac” product for Macs (both of which cost $150). If you switch from a Mac to a Windows PC, or vice versa, you must buy Office again.

You can only install Office 2016 on a single PC or Mac at a time. You can deactivate it and move it to another PC, but you’ll need buy another license key if you want it installed on two computers at a time.

Office 365 Personal: An Office Subscription for One Person

Office 365 is Microsoft’s new method of selling and distributing Office. Office 365 Personal is the subscription plan designed for a single person who needs Office on a single computer. Office 365 gives you access to download and use the latest version of Office. Right now that’s Office 2016, but as soon as a new version comes out, you’ll be able to upgrade as part of your subscription without paying an additional fee.

You can either subscribe through your Microsoft account with a credit card or buy yearly Office 365 codes and add them to your account to redeem subscription time. Microsoft charges $70 per year or $7 per month for Office 365 Personal. Microsoft also offers a one-month free trial of Office 365 Personal, so you can try it before paying anything.

The Office 365 package includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. However,…

Xbox One to Offer ‘Netflix for Games’

In a move that might remind gamers of Sony’s Playstation Now online subscription service, Microsoft has announced that Xbox One users will soon be able to browse and borrow from a library of more than 100 games, Engadget reports. It’s called the Xbox Game Pass, and it promises to kill more of your time than ever before.

The Pass works like this: Owners of the Xbox One console pay $10 a month to access a rotating catalog of back titles from the Xbox 360 and…

What’s New in Windows 10’s Creators Update, Arriving Spring 2017

The Windows 10 Creators Update—also known as Redstone 2—is due to hit PCs in April, 2017. Like other updates to Windows 10, it’s free, and includes a host of new features.

We originally wrote this article after Microsoft’s big October 26, 2016 event. We’ve updated it with features that have appeared as of Windows Insider Preview build 15031, released in February.

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3D for Everyone

Microsoft is making a big bet on 3D creativity with the Creators update. This is the company that bought Minecraft, after all.

A new Paint 3D application included with Windows 10 allows you to work with and create 3D models. You can scan an object with a smartphone using the “Windows Capture 3D Experience” and then insert it into a Paint 3D scene and modify it. Microsoft showed this off using a Windows Phone, but said it envisioned this being possible on any device—in other words, iPhone and Android users should be able to do this, too.

The Microsoft Edge browser now supports 3D content. It can be used to upload and download 3D models—including models exported from Minecraft and SketchUp—from Remix3D, a community website created by Microsoft. Windows can then print any type of 3D model to a 3D printer, which means Minecraft players can bring their creations into the real world.

Windows now comes with a “View 3D Preview” app that allows everyone to open 3D models, view, rotate around, and zoom in. Currently, it supports .fbx and .3mf file types.

Microsoft PowerPoint gains 3D models and cinematic 3D animations for transitions like Morph, so those 3D models can be incorporated into presentations. Microsoft will be adding more 3D features to Office applications like Word and Excel over the next year.

Mainstream Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Headsets

Mixed Reality—which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Holographic computing according to Microsoft—is another big focus of Microsoft’s. This works hand in hand with the 3D support. Microsoft’s own HoloLens headset, for example, is a mixed reality headset. It allows you to see through the headset to the real world, and digital images are superimposed on that image of the real world.

With HoloLens, you’ll be able to download a 3D model from Edge or create one in Paint 3D and virtually place it somewhere in the real world.

You’ll be able to create a custom space in virtual reality and decorate it with your own furniture and apps, like you would another room. Apps can be placed on shelves. There’s also a new application called HoloTour, which lets you explore locations around the world using a virtual reality or augmented reality headset.

Microsoft Edge is gaining support for WebVR, a standard that will allow websites to deliver virtual reality experiences, just like desktop applications. WebVR was originally developed by Mozilla and Google is also working on WebVR support for Chrome.

Most excitingly, though: Microsoft is partnering with Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo to create mainstream mixed reality headsets. They’ll work without any additional tracking hardware that needs to be placed in the room. “Zero need for a separate room. Zero need for a complicated setup”, as Microsoft put it. These headsets will include cameras so they’re capable of mixed reality—think Pokémon Go, but in a headset. Best of all, headset prices will start at $299, so they’ll be much more affordable than Microsoft’s own $3000 HoloLens hardware. They’re also much cheaper than the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual reality headsets, which start at $599 and $799, respectively.

These headsets won’t need a very expensive PC, either. The minimum specifications are much lower than what an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive requires. These headsets will even work with Intel integrated graphics, as long as you have the Kaby Lake series of Intel graphics or newer. Here are the minimum specs Microsoft announced:

  • CPU: Intel Mobile Core i5 (e.g. 7200U) Dual-Core with Hyperthreading equivalent
  • GPU: Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 620 (GT2) equivalent or greater DX12 API Capable GPU
  • RAM: 8GB+ Dual Channel required for integrated graphics
  • HDMI: HDMI 1.4 with 2880 x 1440 @ 60 Hz
    HDMI 2.0 or DP 1.3+ with 2880 x 1440 @ 90 Hz
  • Storage: 100GB+ SSD (Preferred) / HDD
  • Bluetooth: 4.0 and above for accessories.

Windows 10 now includes a new “Mixed Reality” icon on the main page of the Settings app to manage settings for virtual reality and augmented reality devices, too.

Night Light

Windows 10 now has a “Night Light” feature, which was known as “Blue Light” in earlier builds of the Creators Update.

Night Light works similarly to the venerable f.lux utility. It makes color temperatures warmer at night so it’s easier on your eyes and easier to get to sleep right after using the computer, in theory. Many operating systems have been adding this feature lately, like iOS with Night Shift.

Visit Settings > System > Display > Night Light Settings to enable Night Light mode and configure your desired color temperature. You can set Windows to automatically enable Night Light mode at sunset and enable it at sunrise, too.

Game Mode and Game Settings

Windows 10 is gaining a “Game Mode” that claims to improve the performance of games using both Microsoft’s new UWP (Windows Store) application platform and older Win32 (desktop) application platform.

To enable Game Mode, open the Game Bar by pressing Windows+G while in a game. Click the settings icon on the Game Bar and check the “Use Game Mode for this game” option.

Game Mode functions by prioritizing the game you’re playing, giving it more system resources and giving other applications on your PC less resources. Your game will be given more CPU cores and background processes will be given fewer, according to MSPowerUser. This will work better for new UWP (Windows Store) applications, but Microsoft says it will still do something for traditional Win32 (Windows desktop) games. We’re skeptical of Game Mode and its benefits when it comes to traditional Windows desktop games, but we’ll surely see some interesting benchmarks after the Creators Update is officially released.

These features are now much more accessible, too. Gaming related settings are now available at Settings > Gaming. You no longer have to open the Xbox app and sign in with a Microsoft account to disable the Game Bar or Game DVR features.

Game Broadcasting for Windows 10 and Xbox One

Microsoft’s Game DVR feature, which already can record a video of your gameplay in the background and upload it to social services, is gaining a “Broadcast” button. It’ll be able to stream your gameplay to Xbox Live in real time, and your Xbox Live friends will receive a notification that you’re broadcasting. This will be built into both the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. It’s powered by Beam, a service Microsoft purchased in August.

However, this feature can only stream to Microsoft’s own Xbox Live service. It’ll likely be popular on the Xbox One, but alternatives like Twitch and YouTube are very popular on PC, and Microsoft’s built-in feature doesn’t support them.

Other PC Gaming Improvements

Augmented reality and broadcasting aren’t the only gaming improvements arriving with Windows 10.

Microsoft is partnering with Dolby to bring Doly Atmos positional sound to PC and Xbox One. You don’t even need hardware that supports Atmos—Windows 10 will allow you to create virtual Dolby Atmos positional sound with “virtually any pair of headphones”. Microsoft’s blog post uses Overwatch as an example, promising a tactical advantage when you can more easily hear where other characters are in the game world.

Games you download from the Windows Store now contain bundled display drivers, ensuring people who choose to buy games from the Store will always have the minimum required driver for the game to perform well.

The Game Bar supports many more full-screen games, including Fallout 4, Dark Souls 3, Overwatch, Starcraft II, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Terraria.

The Xbox app is gaining support for custom tournaments. Create a tournament and your friends can join it, playing on either Xbox One or Windows 10 PC if an Xbox Live-enabled game runs on both platforms.

Other features include Windows Display Driver Model 2.2 (WDDM 2.2), which is reportedly tailored for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality scenarios. Windows 10’s Creators Update will also feature high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut support for PC games and media.

Many of these details were announced at a PC Gaming WinHEC session.

Microsoft Edge Improvements

Edge now offers a tab preview bar that shows you a visual preview of every tab you have open. Click the little down arrow icon to the right of your tabs to view it. It looks a little similar to the tab bar in Windows 8’s “Modern” version of Internet Explorer. Another new tab management feature allows you to “set tabs aside” for later and view tabs you’ve set aside and even “Share” them to other apps on your PC. Two new buttons for this are located at the left side of the tab bar.

Microsoft Edge has always been a multi-process web browser, but Microsoft redesigned its architecture. Long story short, Edge should be more stable, more responsive to input, and more resistant to slow or frozen web pages.

Edge will now prefer HTML5 content when available as well, blocking Flash by default. You’ll be able to choose whether you want Flash to load or not. Avoiding Flash will improve battery life, security, and browsing performance. This decision follows similar announcements from Google, Mozilla, and Apple.

Microsoft also added web payments support that uses the “Payment Request API”, which is designed to make online payments faster by more easily providing the credit card details and shipping address stored in Microsoft Wallet. You won’t be able to use this feature until websites add support for it.

Edge has received a lot of little improvements, too. Edge’s taskbar icon now offers jump list support, so you can right-click or swipe up on the Edge icon on the taskbar to get quick access to tasks like opening a new browser window. Edge can now read EPUB format eBooks right in the web browser, too. Click an EPUB file and it will be displayed in Edge, just like how PDF files are currently displayed in Edge today. Edge now allows you to export your favorites to an HTML file and allows you to import data from other browsers on your PC.

The file download experience has improved to match what was possible in Internet Explorer. When downloading a file, you can choose to “Run” a download without first saving it or use a “Save As” button to choose exactly where you want to download the file.

Internally, Edge now supports Brotli compression. It promises better compression ratios and decompression speeds, which means websites that take advantage of this feature can load faster. This compression scheme is also supported in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, so it’s a cross-browser solution that should make the web better for everyone.

New Cortana Features

Microsoft’s virtual assistant knows some new voice commands in the Creator’s Update. Cortana can now turn off your computer, restart your PC, lock your screen, or put it to sleep with just a voice command. It can also raise or lower your system volume. Cortana now supports voice playback controls for the iHeartRadio and TuneIn apps. You can also ask Cortana what song is playing, and it will tell you.

App developers can add Cortana commands to their applications—for example, you can use Cortana voice commands to play movies in Netflix. If you type an installed app’s name into Cortana—like “Netflix”—you’ll see a list of suggested commands. Here’s a list of apps that offer Cortana voice commands.

Cortana is gaining a new full-screen mode, too. When your PC is unlocked and idle, you can say “Hey Cortana” and Cortana will appear in a full-screen interface, allowing you to read the screen from across the room. To try this, enable “Hey Cortana”, don’t use your PC’s mouse or keyboard for at least teen seconds, and then say “Hey Cortana”.

Reminders in Cortana have gotten more flexible. You can set reminders to recur “every month” or “every year” if you want a reminder about something that happens once a month or once a year.

Cortana is now integrated into the “Windows Out-Of-Box-Experience”, the setup wizard you see when setting up a new PC. You can go through this experience just by talking to Cortana.

Microsoft is also working on a new Cortana feature that will prompt you to synchronize apps between your devices. When you switch computers, Cortana will display links in the Action Center to direct you to websites you had open in Microsoft Edge and cloud-based documents you had open. For example, Cortana would prompt you to open a PowerPoint presentation you have saved in SharePoint or OneDrive if you switch PCs while working on a presentation. It’s similar in concept to Apple’s Continuity feature, which works between iOS and macOS.

Developers at Microsoft are quietly working on new Cortana features that haven’t been officially announced, too. Cortana appears to be gaining a new “Universal Clipboard” that allows you to synchronize your clipboard between devices running Cortana. It appears you’ll be able to use the “Copy To” voice command to copy content from one device’s clipboard to another.

Notification sync also looks set for a big improvement. Not only will Cortana be able to show notifications from your phone on your desktop PC, but it will be able to go the other way. Cortana will be able to push notifications from your desktop PC to a smartphone with the Cortana app, so you can get your PC’s notifications on your phone.

There’s also a feature that appears to allow unlocking your PC with a phone. Perhaps you’ll be able to use a phone running the Cortana app along with Windows Hello to unlock your PC.

More Control Over Windows Update

Windows Update will see some huge changes, with Microsoft adding options many Windows users have been begging for.

You can now pause updates for up to 35 days. You’ll find this option at Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options > Pause Updates. This setting is only available on the Professional, Enterprise, and Education editions of Windows 10—not Windows 10 Home.

You can also choose to avoid driver updates when updating Windows, preventing Windows Update…