Category: Windows (Page 1 of 5)

Defeat Windows 11 Advertisements

Microsoft doesn’t care about your ad blocker. They want advertising revenue and they can get it, by adding ads directly into Windows 11. It started off subtle, but it’s gotten downright obnoxious. If you want to put Microsoft in their place, here are a bunch of ways to defeat Windows 11 advertisements:

Pinned Apps

Defeat Windows 11 Advertisements

Windows 11 computers come with a ton of apps for you to try, and many are pinned on the Start Menu. You’ll see them as soon as you click the Start button. But many people don’t care a whit about Candy Crush, Spotify, ClipChamp…

If you see something there you don’t care about, just right-click it and choose Unpin from Start. Once unpinned, you can always find the app later, under All Apps. Alternatively, you may right-click any Pinned app and choose Uninstall to remove it completely.

Start Menu Recommendations

Microsoft may “recommend” new apps and games to you, on your Start Menu, below your Pinned items. Recommendations will appear next to your Recent Files and apps, below Pinned Apps. Essentially, these are ads mixed in with your personal data.

To turn these off, go to Start -> Settings- > Personalization -> Start. Find the category for “Show recommendations for tips, app promotions, and more” and turn it Off.

Lock Screen Ads

Is your Lock Screen all gobbed up with panels of ads, stock quotes, new items? Can’t appreciate the pretty background photo anymore? You can turn off most of that junk if you go to Start -> Settings- > Personalization -> Lock Screen.

Your Lock screen may be set to “Windows spotlight”, and if it is, find the setting for “Lock Screen Status” below it. If you change this drop-down menu to None, you have less junk on your Lock Screen.

But there will still be some baggage that comes along with Windows Spotlight. If you want to take further, switch the first option “Personalize your lock screen” from “Windows Spotlight” to “Picture” or “Slideshow”.

After that, look below for the setting for “Get fun facts, tips, tricks and more on your lock screen” and turn that Off!

Widget Ads

Windows 11 moved the Start button in from the left, to make room for “Widgets”. Those are just another way to grab your attention and push ads in front of you. I don’t know about your experience, but if I accidentally mouse-over the widgets in the lower-left corner, so much stuff pops up that half of my screen is gone!

You can turn off Widgets if you right-click the Taskbar and then click on Taskbar Settings. You’ll see an option for Widgets; turn that Off.

Notification Area Ads

That bell in the corner of Windows 11? Useful for popping notifications about email, virus concerns, reminders… Not useful for also including ads for whatever Microsoft is schilling at the moment. To defeat these:

Go to Start -> Settings- > System -> Notifications. Scroll down to the bottom and clock on “Additional Settings”. Uncheck all of the revealed boxes.

Search Ads

Microsoft will inject ads if you use their Search tool. That’s the search field or icon right next to your Start button. To quell these ads, go to Start -> Settings- > Privacy & Security -> Search Permissions. Towards the bottom is an option for “Show Search Highlights” that you should turn off. Feel free to review the other options in this panel and turn off any others you want.

Device Usage Ads

When you first setup your Windows 11, Microsoft may have casually asked you how you plan to use your computer (Gaming, School, Business, etc.). Well, that was another trick, they just wanted to know how to advertise to you. Go to Start -> Settings- > Personalization -> Device Usage and turn off all of that nonsense.

Settings Ads

All of these steps have been taking you through the Windows Settings area. Did you know that you might encounter ads even in Settings? We can turn those off, as well:

Go to Start -> Settings- > Privacy & Security -> General. Turn off “Show me suggested content in the Settings app”. Actually, consider turning off the other items in here! All of these options serve Microsoft’s ad-monster and not you.

Defeat Windows 11 Advertisements

Windows Upgrade Limitations in 2024

It may sound like a dry topic, but some of us really need to understand Windows upgrade limitations in 2024. Microsoft has created some pinch-points, and it affects people who own older computers. Let me break this up into two sections:

Windows 7/8 Can No Longer Be Upgraded to 10

For a long time, Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers could “get” Windows 10. The upgrade might take a long time, but Microsoft would easily detect your old license and morph into a Windows 10 llicense, for free.

Well, last fall, they finally and fully closed that opportunity. Now, if you try to update your Win7 to Win10, you might:

  • meet with failure
  • get a Win10 computer that is plagued with licensing and pirated-software alerts
  • be prompted to pay ($140) for a new license

I don’t like any of these possibilities. Do not attempt to upgrade your Win7/8 computer to Win10!

Your Windows 10 PC Might Not Be Eligible for Windows 11

Microsoft has made an app to tell you if your computer can upgrade to Windows 11, but that’s not really necessary. On a Win10 computer, just click Start -> Settings -> Update & Security. This panel, where you download regular Microsoft updates, will also tell you if this computer can run Windows 11 or not.

If this panel tells you that your computer is not allowed a Windows 11 upgrade, you’ll see this sort of verbiage:

Windows Upgrade Limitations in 2024

Some people are crafting ways around this block. If you go looking, there are steps to upgrade these computers to Windows 11, but I do not recommend them. There are unknown risks in forcing Windows 11 where it shouldn’t go. I wouldn’t accept those risks. I wouldn’t want you to, either.

Other Miscellany

  • If you have a Windows 7 or Windows 8 machine, there is no way that it could ever be upgraded to Windows 11. Do not try it.
  • Remember that Windows 10 reaches its end of life on October 14, 2025. If you have an older, non-Win11 system, you should factor this in to all decisions regarding OS upgrades and tech purchases.
  • If your Windows 10 PC says that it is compatible with Windows 11, great! But no need to rush. You are perfectly safe in holding off on that free upgrade, up until 10/14/2025.
  • Windows 10 computers, that were previously upgraded from Win7/8, should now not be erased/formatted and put through a reinstallation of Windows 10. Because the Windows 10 activation servers have been turned off, an OS reinstallation on these machines might lead to license errors and a block to future updates.

I’ll Pass on Copilot

Copilot is Microsoft’s take on the AI craze. If you use a Windows computer, you’ve probably noticed that Copilot has silently added itself to your taskbar and/or web browser. But not everyone appreciates or cares for this AI tool. If you’re saying, “I’ll pass on Copilot,” here are some steps you can take to get it off your plate.

Quick and Easy Methods

If Copilot is on your Windows Taskbar, you can remove its icon:

  • Right-click your taskbar and left-click Taskbar Settings.
  • Look for Copilot (Preview) and click its toggle switch Off.

If Copilot is barging in on your Microsoft Edge browser:

  • With Edge open, click the 3-dots button to the upper-right, and then click Settings.
  • On the Settings list to the left, click Sidebar.
  • On the right, under App Specific Settings, click Copilot.
  • Click the toggles next to the Copilot options to turn each Off.

You may have to repeat these steps in the future, as Windows Updates may re-enable Copilot, without warning.

More Advanced Tactics

Copilot is treated as a component of Windows, and as such, cannot be removed. But it can be strictly disabled, using stronger methods.

The Group Policy Editor can be used to hamstring Copilot, but that is only available to those running Educational or Professional versions of Windows. Sorry, Home users!

Power users can modify the Windows Registry to disable Copilot. But I discourage this for all but the most tech-savvy. Registry changes are not for the faint of heart and are risky.

If you’re open to using 3rd-party software, I’ve tested DoNotSpy11 and found it to be straightforward and malware-free. This app allows people to disable Copilot and other intrusive features in Windows. If you’re the tinkerer-sort, check this freebie out!

Lastly, you can always switch to a non-Microsoft browser to sidestep Copilot and similar Microsoft distraction. Besides Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, there are many solid options out there, including the Brave Browser and the almost-ready-for-primetime DuckDuckGo Browser.

Avoid Using Registry Cleaners

avoid using registry cleaners

The Windows operating system has this central database that it uses constantly, while your computer is running. Better know as the Windows registry, it is essential for your PC’s operation. It’s hidden away where you won’t see it, and only advanced users ever meddle with it. And yet, some helpful apps offer to clean and maintain it. I need to warn you off of that sort of thing, right now. Please: Avoid using registry cleaners!

The Windows registry can take care of itself. Some cleaning software may purport to be able to improve your system performance, by tweaking your registry, but please be wary. Microsoft has long held the stance that you don’t need to “maintain” their registry. Running a registry cleaner can put your system at risk! Malwarebytes echoes this view, and also suggests that registry cleaners only appear to help, due to the placebo effect.

There are plenty of other warnings out there about the uselessness and dangers of registry cleaners, but let me be the latest: You can seriously harm your PC by using a registry cleaner. An explicit example: Joe Customer just called me about his computer that suddenly will not boot up. He presses the power button, the Windows Logo briefly appears, and then he gets a BlueScreen error. His system then restarts and loops back to the same message. As of now, he’s “dead in the water.” And the last thing he did, before this problem, was he ran his Registry Cleaner and then rebooted.

I can get him back on dry ground, with a System Restore, or a Windows Reset. With some luck, we won’t need a complete system wipe. But Joe is currently anguished and panicked, and very worried about his files. I don’t wish these kinds of feelings on anyone. Save yourself some stress and avoid using registry cleaners.

On-Screen Keyboards

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!

on-screen keyboards

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.

Apple calles this tool the Keyboard Viewer, and this site describes where to find it.

Chromebooks also offer an on-screen keyboard, check out this site for details.

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.

Possible Uses

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!

Upgrading to Windows 10

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:

  1. I can properly upgrade my Win7/8 computer to Windows 10 myself!
  2. It is worth it to hire a professional to do this upgrade.
  3. 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
  • Quicktime
  • Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Shockwave
  • Microsoft Silverlight
  • Dell Backup and Recovery
  • CCleaner
  • Roxio software

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:

Microsoft is not sure what happened?

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.


Final Commentary

Keep in mind that Windows 10 reaches the end of the line on October 14, 2025. While your Win10 system will still function after that date, there will be no more support or updates past that date. Come 2026, Windows 10 PCs may be in the same boat that Win7/8 PCs are right now. In short, this upgrade might buy you 2 years more time with your computer. A computer that started with Windows 7 or 8 will never be eligible for a Windows 11 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!

Where Did My Desktop Icons Go?

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.

where did my desktop icons go?
Word, Chrome, Quicken, all my PDFs and DOCs and whatnot, all gone — YIKES!

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.”
oh there they are, whew!

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!

Microsoft’s Over-Protective SmartScreen

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.

Microsoft's Over-Protective SmartScreen

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.

File Properties screen

Please be careful with this tip. Only use this tactic on files you are 100% sure to be safe.

Live Captions on Windows 11

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.

Updating Apps using WINGET

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.

Other Notes

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.

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