Did you know that computers offer on-screen keyboards, similar to mobile devices? They are rarely useful, since the physical keyboard is far easier to type with. But you should know where to find the on-screen keyboard on your computer. You might someday find yourself in a jam, and suddenly need it!
How To Activate
Activating the on-screen keyboard is different for each type of computer.
Microsoft describes how to open the On-Screen Keyboard at this site. But there are others ways to bring it up. If you are at the Windows login screen, you can click the Ease of Access icon to the lower-right and then click On-Screen Keyboard. You may also press WIN + R and enter “osk” in the Open field.
Once this on-screen keyboard is open, you are welcome to click on any key you see, and get the same effect as if you touched the physical keyboard’s key.
The original intent behind the on-screen keyboard is to help offer a different way of typing, in case it makes the computer more usable and accessible. Let’s say you find yourself in an arm-cast — mouse-clicking might be preferable while you heal up. But consider the on-screen keyboard also as a tool for troubleshooting:
If your physical keyboard is typing erratically, or missing keystrokes, open the On-Screen Keyboard and test with it. The results might help you figure out if you have a defective physical keyboard or a systemwide problem.
What about when your wireless keyboard depletes its batteries? You’ll be hard-pressed to log in with your PIN or password, if you’re out of AAA’s. The on-screen keyboard will help you get back into your computer and you can go buy more batteries later.
Your on-screen keyboard may help you find a hard-to-find key that you want to press. It may even offer you keys that your keyboard lacks! Example: the Scroll Lock function on my laptop was disabled. I could not turn it back on, because I had no Scroll Lock key on my laptop. But I could press that key in the on-screen keyboard and fix my situation!
If you’re still using a Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer in 2023, then I expect you’re running into trouble. At this point, those systems are so far out of date that other software (browsers) are also falling behind. This leads to web browser problems and blocked program installations. If you insist on sticking with such an older computer, you’ve got to consider upgrading to Windows 10.
I’ve mentioned before about where to get your Windows 10 upgrade. But I glossed over a lot of the nuance and extra steps involved. For this post, I’m going to go into exhaustive detail about what’s involved & recommended for this procedure. By the end of this, I expect I can convince you of 1 of 3 things:
I can properly upgrade my Win7/8 computer to Windows 10 myself!
It is worth it to hire a professional to do this upgrade.
This is so much trouble that I’d rather buy a new computer…
Preparing for a Windows 10 Upgrade
There are various tasks to tackle before trying this upgrade.
First, backup your data. You can copy your files to an external hard drive, or use OneDrive/Google Drive/Dropbox. Whatever your preference, do it first. Upgrading an operating system is a major installation, and if bad luck strikes, you will be glad that you have your data sitting safely to the side on a storage device or parked online somewhere.
Next, you should make sure that your computer can handle Windows 10. Microsoft says that you need at least 2GB of RAM and at least a 20GB storage drive. I’m going to disagree with that a little. I personally think you need at least 4GB of RAM to Windows 10, and even that is stretching it. 8GB of RAM is best. Check your system RAM, and be warned that if you have less than 8GB of RAM, your computer may be slowed after this upgrade. And if you have less than 4GB of RAM in your PC, I recommend you stop and consider investing in a new computer.
Next it’s time to check your hard drive health. Windows 7 and 8 computers typically have classic hard disk drives in them, and in 2023, some are beginning to fail. You want to catch any signs of disk failures before you start an OS upgrade. I recommend you install CrystalDiskInfo and open it up on the subject computer. It will tell you if your computer’s C: Drive is rated Good (Blue), Caution(Yellow) or Bad(Red). If your C: Drive shows a Caution or Bad marker, I recommend you stop and consider investing in a new computer. That system may not survive the upgrade process.
To finish up preparing for the upgrade, I like to remove programs that are unnecessary, very out-of-date or known to interfere with the upgrade process. Go to the main program list by pressing Win+R and then type in appwiz.cpl . Once there, uninstall:
Any and all 3rd-party antivirus/firewall programs
Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Shockwave
Dell Backup and Recovery
And the last thing to smooth the way forward before the big install: ADWCleaner. Download and run that, allow it to remove/disable everything that it finds, and reboot the system after the scan. Now, we’re finally ready to begin the big Windows 10 installation!
Installing the Windows 10 Upgrade
The Windows 10 upgrade has always been free to download, to any computer that holds a valid license for Win7 or Win8. And the upgrade software figures out the licensing automagically for you.
Your Windows 10 download comes from this site. When you visit that link, click the Download Now button underneath “Create Windows 10 installation media”. You’ll receive a file called MediaCreationTool22H2.exe and that is what you’ll open to start the upgrade process.
Installing this OS upgrade is fairly easy. You have to Accept a license agreement or two. The Next and Yes buttons are fairly obvious. But you do have one important choice in this process that you wouldn’t want to make a mistake with. As things move along, Microsoft will ask you if you want to keep your apps and files or remove everything.
I recommend you choose “Keep My Apps and Files”. If you choose the other, everything will be erased and your Windows 10 PC will look and act as if it doesn’t know. You probably want to see your files and familiar settings to appear on the other side of this process.
After some wait, Windows 10 will be downloaded. Then there will be even more wait as it installs and reboots the machine. The process can take more than an hour, but it’s usually safe to walk away and come back later to check on it.
Dealing with Snags
Sometimes, the upgrade gets stuck. If you see the screen freeze or fail to progress for more than an hour, it’s time to forcibly reboot the PC. Press and hold the power button until the system shuts off. Let go and press the button again to power on. If the computer boots back up to your regular icons, you may choose to restart the Media Creation Tool file. Or you might decide to not push your luck. Repeated stuck OS installations might be a sign of bad things to come.
Other times, the upgrade simply fails to start. And you will get an error message that deserves a chuckle:
In this case, I am sure of what happened. The old Windows is missing some updates and security features. The upgrade cannot work without them. Good news is that you can quickly install them. If you meet with this message, first go to this Microsoft Update page, and download the KB3140245 that is appropriate for your system. For home computers, it’s probably the last one marked for x64-based systems. After that’s been installed, you should also run this EasyFix from Microsoft. It tweaks the registry a bit, and you should have more success when you restart the upgrade.
I do this all the time for my customers. If you’ve reviewed the process and discovered that it’s above your paygrade, you are more than welcome to call me and hire me to upgrade your computer to Windows 10. If this has convinced you to instead move on from your old PC, please feel free to tap me for new computer advice. And if this gives you the confidence to do it yourself, best of luck to you!
Previously, I have blogged about and discouraged the use of “snake oil software”. These programs promise to work miracles on your computer, but are generally about as useful as the Close Door button in an elevator. But Microsoft has surprised me. They’ve devised a helpful system cleanup tool, containing 0% Snake Oil! Check out Microsoft PC Manager.
This free utility lives in your taskbar. You can pop it open at any time. Its primary function is a small Boost button that quickly clears temporary files and resolves any memory leak (wasted RAM) issues.
You’ll also notice a variety of options for checking for viruses, disabling Startup apps and reviewing your security/updates. These are things you could always access through the Settings Panel or Task Manager. But here in Microsoft PC Manager, they are far easier to locate and understand.
If you try out the Microsoft PC Manager app, please keep your expectations modest. There is no silver bullet out there that resolves all computer slowness. (Give me a call for serious slowness issues!) But this app might make your computer-maintenance duties a little easier, and I can see that it puts very little burden on the computer’s resources.
I get this question all the time. It’s often accompanied with obvious exasperation or panic. “Where did my desktop icons go?” has an easy fix, and I’ll tell you about it now, so you won’t be too worried if it occurs on your PC.
There’s an option in Windows to hide all of the icons on the desktop (wallpaper). Sometimes, this option is activated unexpectedly, but if you see this behavior, please know that you haven’t lost anything!
Right-click anywhere on the wallpaper.
Hover your cursor over “View.”
Left-click “Show Desktop Icons.”
I do not know how this happens to PCs. It could be a fluke from a Windows Update, or a housecat/toddler/gremlin fiddling with the mouse. But now that you know about it, you’ll be ready if it ever happens to you!
Windows computers have a lot of built-in protections, to help fend off viruses and malware and more. One of these protective components is called SmartScreen. Microsoft SmartScreen is always watching for malware and phishing attempts, and may pop up at any time, to ask if you really want to run that file. Or it may simply prevent you from opening something. Sometimes, SmartScreen is over-protective like that.
In general, I recommend that people abide by this sort of message. SmartScreen is there for the health of your computer, and if it is blocking something you’ve just downloaded, there may be a good reason for that. Better safe than sorry. But once in a while, SmartScreen will clamp down on a file that you know darn well is perfectly safe. In that case, you can ask SmartScreen to ease up, for just that one file.
To disable SmartScreen for a particular file, first open a File Explorer window. Using File Explorer, locate that file. Right-click your file and then left-click Properties. At the bottom of the Properties window, check the box next to Unblock, and then click OK.
Please be careful with this tip. Only use this tactic on files you are 100% sure to be safe.
Windows 11 now has a built-in ability to display Live Captions for any audio you are playing. Whether it’s a YouTube video or Facebook Reel or Skype meeting, Win11 can show you captions for whatever speech is coming onto your computer. This can be extremely helpful for those who are hard of hearing, and also useful when you cannot use your computer’s audio.
Setting Up Captions for the First Time
Click the Start Button and open Settings. Go to Accessibility, then click Captions.
Across from Live captions, turn it On and then click the Download button to add this feature into Windows.
After the download completes, your computer will always be ready to offer you Captions.
How to Turn On Captions
You can always retrace your steps as above to turn on the Captions, but there are other, easier ways:
Press Control + Win + L on your keyboard
Go to Start -> All Apps -> Accessibility -> Live captions
ProTip: Right-click Live captions on your Start menu to be able to Pin it to the Start menu or Taskbar!
Using Live Captions
Windows 11’s captions are pretty straightforward, but notice the cogwheel icon to the right after you turn them on. You can click that cogwheel to customize the look and placement of the captions. There’s also an option in there to include the audio that your microphone captures, if you want the captions to include what you are saying (on a video call, for example).
Microsoft’s Live Captions are only available on the latest version of Windows 11. If you cannot find them on your Win11 machine, make sure to run Windows Updates until your system installs Version 22H2.
Right now, Microsoft Designer is in preview mode and you can only get in by invite. But I put my email on the waitlist and was allowed in after only a few days.
Microsoft is also baking in their AI technology, so that you can start a design with a sentence-prompt. MS Designer lets you start by typing “I want a birthday invitation for my daughter who loves ponies” or “Make me a poster that shares my guest wifi password” and MS Designer will churn out some starting points. And if you don’t care for all that AI stuff, just click Start from a Blank Canvas.
Microsoft has made some changes to the amount of free storage you get with their email and other cloud services. If you are a paid member of Microsoft 365, you probably don’t have to worry about any of this. But free users are in a different boat. The new storage limits on Outlook.com email addresses are likely to cause confusion and total email blockage!
There’s a lot of confusion about it all, because Microsoft has created a very complicated problem here. I hope I can explain it a little better than they do:
The Basic Quotas
Free users of Microsoft storage get 5GB of storage space for their files. This is where your OneDrive files go, if you use that.
Free users of Microsoft email get 15GB of storage space for their emails, contacts and calendar entries.
Microsoft free services work great, until you exceed a storage quota. Once you exceed a quota, the service stops working until you resolve the overage.
Here’s where Microsoft has made things confusing: your email attachments now count against both quotas. Depending on the size of your total saved attachments, you can be under quota in Outlook.com, but over your quota for Microsoft (cloud) storage. I’ll paint a hypothetical for you:
Let’s say that I’ve been saving years of emails in my Outlook.com address, and those messages total 10GB in size. That’s fine! That’s well under the 15GB Outlook.com quota. But due to the new rule, those 10GB of messages have close to 10GB of attachments, and those count against the other quota. When Microsoft notices that my email attachments are exceeding my 5GB Microsoft storage quota, they shut down my email, until I fix it.
When this email stoppage occurs, you will see it when you visit your email on the web, at Outlook.com. You may not get this stoppage alert in other email clients (Thunderbird, Outlook, Apple Mail, etc.)! So if your Outlook.com address is malfunctioning, visit the Microsoft email website to see if you get an explanation there.
Resolving an Email Stoppage
If your Outlook.com email has stoppage due to this quota issue, you’ll see a message about it at the top, as you log into the email website. But go further to see a proper breakdown and explanation of the quotas for your account:
Once logged in at Outlook.com, click the settings Cogwheel to the upper-right.
Go down the list and click View All Outlook Settings.
On the left, click General, and then click Storage in the second column.
You’ll see something like this:
If the Total used figure is over 5GB, you have a problem to address. You can either a) start deleting emails, or b) pay Microsoft for more storage.
If you’re of a mind to delete things, click the link for Outlook (Attachments) next to Free Up Space. That should take you back to your inbox, but sorted such that the largest email with attached files are at the top. Trash as much as you can stand, and then refresh the page to recheck your quota.
Your PC should update the Windows OS automatically. Same goes for your Microsoft Office software and browsers. But there’s a whole bunch of other programs on your system that may not update without deliberate action on your part.
It’s often not strictly necessary to chase down these updates. But if you’re a stickler for updating everything under the sun, Microsoft has a tool for you, using the WINGET command. This is available under Windows 10 & 11. It’s not a very pretty process, but if you’re comfy typing a line of code, it can save you a lot of time and clicks.
Updating through WINGET
First, open a Command Prompt or Powershell window. There’s a variety of ways to do this:
Press Win+R and type cmd or powershell and press Enter.
Click Start and scroll through All Apps, looking for “Windows Powershell”.
Use the Search function on your Start menu or taskbar to look for command or powershell.
Next, you’ll type in the following:
winget upgrade –all
Note: after the word ‘upgrade’, there is a space and two dashes. On some screens, these punctuations may be hard to see.
At this point, Windows will identify and attempt to update a variety of programs on your system, ranging from lesser known Microsoft components, to things you do recognize, like GIMP and Thunderbird and Epic Games. Be prepared for many popups, asking for permission to run and make changes to your computer. Click Yes to each update that you want to allow onto your system.
If you aren’t intimidated by code, check out the other abilities of this WINGET function at this Microsoft page. There’s a lot more you can do with this one function.
Sometimes, WINGET cannot update everything on your system. Please don’t be concerned if this happens. If a particular update refuses to complete through WINGET, you may have to deliberately chase it down on the manufacturer’s website. As this tool is developed further, we can expect it to become more polished and reliable.
In any case, this is far better than using any of those “freeware” software updaters that are out there. I generally recommend against those, as they can slow down your system or turn out not to be free.
This tip is just clever enough to amuse me, and I hope some of you can appreciate it. On Windows computers, you can make a folder that is nearly invisible. The folder is still locatable, highlightable and clickable, but if you make it on the Desktop, it’s very well camouflaged.
First, you would:
Right-click your Desktop, click New, then click Folder.
Name the folder by holding down the Alt key while you type 255.
Press Enter, and you should see a yellow folder with no name.
Right-click that folder and click Properties.
Go to the Customize tab and click Change Icon….
Scroll through the icon choices until you find a blank space. Click to select that “blank” and click OK.
Click OK to the Properties screen and see your finished product:
You are welcome to try this in other locations (Documents, Pictures, etc.), but the camouflage effect seems most effective on the Desktop wallpaper.