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  • What to tell friends who use Windows 7

    ISSUE 16.12.0 • 2019-04-01

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    The AskWoody Plus Newsletter

    In this issue


    WOODY’S WINDOWS WATCH

    What to tell friends who use Windows 7

    Woody Leonhard

    By Woody Leonhard

    Windows 7 is leaving Microsoft’s mortal plane next January.

    There’s no reason to fear its “official” demise — but every reason to understand what’s actually happening.

    In the past month or so, I’ve visited my doctor’s office, my dentist’s office, my accountant’s office, and my son’s classroom. I even caught up with one of my brothers. They all have one thing in common: they’re all still on Windows 7. And they have something else in common. Although they vaguely understand that Win7 is being retired soon, they really don’t understand what that means — or why they should care.

    In fact, in my experience with a great many Win7 users, very few understand the implications of the change — and even fewer understand their options. Here’s what every Win7 customer needs to know.

    There’s some good news and some bad news — and a whole lot of not-exactly-good news about Win7’s official end of life (EoL). Today, nearly half of all Windows machines still use this venerable OS. You probably know more than a few people who are still using it — and they need to know the truth about Win7’s EoL, even if they aren’t interested.

    Here are the facts, as best I can discern them.

    Do you have Win7?

    Sure, that’s a really basic question. But some of your friends might not know what version of Windows they’re using. There are fancy ways to tell, but the easiest is to just look at the lower-left corner of the screen. If it looks like the screenshot in Figure 1, they’re running Windows 7.

    Win7 start button
    Figure 1. If it has the classic Win7 start button, it’s Windows 7.

    On the other hand, if the Start button looks like a trapezoidal window–embedded megaphone with a search icon or a big, white Cortana bar to the right (see Figure 2), they’re using Windows 10 — and they can safely ignore the rest of this article. (A very tiny percentage of Windows users are on Win 8.1; you can identify those folks by the stylish but readily recognized tinfoil hat.)

    Windows 10 Start button
    Figure 2. The trapezoidal-window Start button and outsized search bar are telltales for Windows 10.

    What’s really happening in January?

    Windows 7 hits “end of service” or “end of extended support” on January 14, 2020. That sounds dire, but it actually has a fairly simple definition — Microsoft will send out its last Win7 security patch on January 14, which is that month’s normal Patch Tuesday. (In the normal scheme of things, you wouldn’t expect another Win7 security patch until Feb. 11 — the following Patch Tuesday.)

    There are some hems and haws that Microsoft might patch something really bad after the 14th. And big companies with deep pockets can pay for the privilege of receiving patches in the months that follow. But for all intents and purposes, your friends should plan on going without those important fixes after January. (Microsoft hasn’t added new features to Win7 for about a hundred years. Yes, Edge for Win7 is coming, but who really cares.)

    With all that said, assure your friends that their machines won’t stop working. Microsoft doesn’t have the power to suddenly turn Win7 systems off (at least, as far as we know). After January 14, all applications will continue to work as they always have — or at least for another year or so. (As with XP, Google and Mozilla will eventually drop Win7 support from their respective browsers. And anti-malware vendors will follow suit.)

    So Windows 7 won’t go out with a galactic bang — the real question is how much it’ll whimper.

    Microsoft’s going to nag you – again

    If you’ve been using Win7 for a few years, you probably recall the gut-wrenching disaster known as the “Get Windows 10” campaign (GWX, for short). While GWX was active, we saw increasingly aggressive admonitions to install the free upgrade to Win10 — culminating in Microsoft confusing the living nightlights out of everybody and pushing Win10 onto every machine it could get its hands on. GWX was a huge black spot on Microsoft’s reputation, and it still haunts many Win7 users to this day.

    Microsoft learned its lesson … I think. I don’t expect a GWX-style campaign this time around, one that virtually forces people onto Win10. Instead, Microsoft’s going to make people think that the sky is falling and graciously offer to save them.

    That’s the duty of the new Win7 patch, KB 4493132 (more info); Bleeping Computer’s Lawrence Abrams gives the technical details. When the patch installs, many (if not all) Win7 owners will see an admonishment — a nag screen — that looks like the one shown in Figure 3.

    The good news: Checking the box marked “Do not remind me again” should prevent the screen from reappearing. The not-so-good news: Microsoft’s idea of “prepare for what’s next” might not reflect what you want to do.

    Win7 EoL nag screen
    Figure 3. All Win7 users should soon see this nag screen. Turn future nags off by clicking the marked box.

    We’ll have ongoing coverage of the Win7 EoL nag screen and its behavior — good or bad — on the AskWoody Lounge. The Lounge discussion is already up to its second version, and the nag screen hasn’t even shown up yet.

    What do Win7 users need to do right now?

    Nothing!

    Remember that these changes won’t happen until next January. There’s no reason to immediately run out and buy a new computer or get a free upgrade to Win10 on an existing computer via an arcane and legally dubious trick. Win7 users have at least six to eight months to carefully consider the changes that are coming and decide how best to deal with them.

    Here are a few things to consider:

    Again, there’s no reason to immediately shed Windows 7 like a worn-out suit. Most of the important apps — Firefox, Chrome, Intuit, Photoshop, Dropbox, VLC, Plex, and many more — will continue to work safely on Win7 for some years to come.

    Microsoft might or might not continue to release Security Essentials updates for the OS. But if the company does drop antivirus protection, there are plenty of reliable and free alternatives.

    Just keep in mind that, after January, Microsoft is under no obligation to fix newly revealed security holes in Win7. That said, after XP reached its EoL, Microsoft released patches for several major problems that came barreling down the chute. What is it the financial reports say? “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” In other words, your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps we’ll know more as January approaches.

    While staying with some form of Windows is one option, another is to switch to a completely different OS. In my opinion, most Windows users would be better off with a Chromebook (more info). These machines are more reliable, virtually impervious to infection, and cost less than PCs. Yes, Chromebooks won’t run certain apps that a small percentage of Windows customers need for personal use. But in most cases, you can get equivalent or good-enough programs — free — that run on a Chromebook.

    Another option: Almost all infections these days come through a browser or by clicking an email attachment. Avoiding both on Win7 machines will make them much more secure. A smartphone or tablet is a good choice for online tasks.

    Microsoft has every reason to cow Win7 users into either buying Windows 10 or purchasing a new PC with Win10 installed. But what’s good for Microsoft isn’t necessarily good for Win7 users. Keep in mind the many options.

    That said, upgrading to Win10 can be a workable choice, even on older systems. One of my Win10 beta-test machines is an eight-year-old Sandy Bridge PC, and it’s running just fine. It’s a bit slow, mind you, but nothing to complain about.

    If nothing else, Win7’s impending EoL should put users on notice: It’s really important to start making regular and full backups. You can never have too many. I use EaseUS Todo Backup, but there are many alternatives — even Win7’s built-in backup system.

    What to tell your friends

    Microsoft has various reasons for moving folks off Windows 7. To be sure, the cost and difficulty of keeping the OS safe is one factor. (There are only so many ways to patch an old OS.) But remind your friends that those nag screens are just reminders — they have no effect on the performance or longevity of Win7 systems. But you will be skating on thinner ice.

    Be mindful that the end of security updates has consequences, but it’s not the end of the Windows 7 world. There are many tools at our disposal.

    And take solace in knowing that many fellow Win7 users will continue to rely on the OS long after January. If you stick with Win7 for another year or two, you’ll be on the tail end of the Windows deployment curve, but that beats the bleached bones out of being on the bleeding edge.

    Just remember: We’ll be there to help.

    Seven Semper Fi.

    Questions? Comments? Thinly veiled prognostications of impending doom? Join us on the AskWoody Lounge. Bring your sense of humor.

    Eponymous factotum Woody Leonhard writes lots of books about Windows and Office, creates the Woody on Windows columns for Computerworld, and raises copious red flags in sporadic AskWoody Plus Alerts.


    WACKY NEWS

    Clippy
    Microsoft Bans April Fools’ Day pranks

    As reported in Fortune and other deep sources, Microsoft will flog any employee caught playing an April Fools’ prank.

    No, not really. The employee will lose their free morning espresso for a week.

    No, that’s not it. I guess you just have to read the Fortune story.


    Windows 10 1903 just around the corner

    Susan BradleyBy Susan Bradley

    For those of us in the northern hemisphere, spring blooms might remind us that April has arrived. And April means that the next major Windows 10 feature release should soon be appearing, too.

    Since some of us are just getting last fall’s Win10 1809, it’s high time we all ensure that our update-deferral settings are in place so that our machines move to Version 1903 only when we’re ready for it — and only after we’ve run a full-system backup.

    Taking control as updates pile up

    Yes, Microsoft is doing a better job of tracking third-party compatibility problems, but it’s still far from perfect. Case in point: My portable system that has Apple’s iCloud installed just received Version 1809 within the past month. And I know of others whose PCs have been upgraded to the “Fall Release” just recently. In fact, Microsoft just declared Version 1809 “ready for business” (Semi-Annual Channel), as noted in a recent IT Pro Blog

    Compatibility issues related to recent updates are still causing headaches for some. In a March 22 AskWoody post, Woody reported problems with older versions of Dell’s Encryption Console after installing March cumulative updates. According to Dell, you must update to Console Version 10.2.1 or later — or uninstall the March Windows updates.

    There are various other hiccups with the March fixes, though I don’t consider any of them to be true showstoppers. I’ve not run into any errors on my home or office machines. We’re still tracking the following side effects, noted in KB 4489899 for Win10 1809. And at this time, Windows 10 1809 has still not received its normal follow-up update to fix the issues listed below.

    • Authentication issues with Internet Explorer 11
    • If a computer has multiple audio devices, audio could stop unexpectedly
    • MSXML6 causes applications to stop responding
    • When using IE, there could be problems with sites that need trusted zones

    On my Win10 1809 laptop, the only side effect I was likely to see was the audio-driver bug. But it never showed up.

    Sorting out cumulative and optional Win10 updates

    On March 12 — Patch Tuesday — Microsoft released the expected round of cumulative updates. A week later (March 19), it released more updates with optional fixes and enhancements — although fixes for the issues listed above aren’t included. And, again, we’re still waiting for the optional update for Version 1809.

    March optional Windows 10 updates include:

    If you’re still on Win10 1709, here’s a reminder that it’ll reach its end of service on April 9, 2019. That includes devices running Home, Pro, Pro for Workstations, and IoT Core editions. You’ll need to be on 1803 or later to receive updates after April.

    More important are the March cumulative updates, listed below.

    By now you should have installed the usual Flash Player update (Adobe bulletin). Microsoft released it as KB 4489907.

    - What to do: Again, none of March’s unresolved bugs is critical. Install March’s Win10 cumulative updates (listed above), but don’t click the “Check for updates” — you’ll inadvertently receive the optional preview updates. (It’s safer to set update deferrals for at least 10 days.) Install the optional updates only if you need one or more of the fixes that are included.

    Windows 8.1/Server 2012 R2

    The preview update for Win8.1, KB 4489893, released March 19, suffers from the same side effects as its Windows 10 brethren. Again, they’re not showstoppers, but it’s best to simply skip preview rollups in general:

    The key March Win8.1 updates include:

    • 4487000 – Update rollup (A series)
    • 4489883 – Security-only update (B series)
    • 4489873 – Internet Explorer 11 (install with the security-only patch)
    • 4489907 – Adobe Flash Player

    - What to do: Feel free to install the above updates, but skip preview rollup KB 4489893.

    Windows 7

    As mentioned on AskWoody and previous Patch Watch columns, there’s an important servicing-stack update, KB 4490628, that needs to be installed all by itself. And you definitely do want to install it. Without it, you’ll stop getting updates this coming June. Look for a special article on what’s needed to keep older Windows versions updated.

    Win7’s important March updates include:

    • 4489878 – Update rollup (A series)
    • 4489885 – Security-only (B series)
    • 4489873 – Internet Explorer 11 (install with the security-only patch)

    On the other hand, there are a couple of updates to skip, starting with KB 4489892, the preview of next month’s April updates. You really want to take a pass on KB 4493132, which is the infamous nag about Win7’s upcoming end of life (January 2020).

    - What to do: After installing the March A or B series updates, be sure to follow up with KB 4490628.

    Windows Server 2012

    March introduced IE 10 authentication problems for Win Server 2012, and it’s not been fixed. Fortunately, it’s not a widespread problem — it crops up only with Remote Desktop Server.

    On March 19, Microsoft released monthly preview update KB 4489920. Skip it.

    The March Server 2012 updates that can be installed are:

    • 4489891 – Update rollup (A series)
    • 4489884 – Security-only (B series; also install IE update below)
    • 4489873 – Internet Explorer 10

    - What to do: Pass on preview update KB 4489920, but install all others.

    Office

    After several months of hiccups with installing Japanese era–bug fixes, we might finally get a quiet month for Office. (Japan gets a new emperor on May 1, ushering in a new era.)

    You might recall that we had just one security update for Office in March. KB 4462226 fixed a remote-code-execution vulnerability in Office 2010.

    The following Office feature enhancements/fixes came out on March 5:

    Office 2016

    • 4032231 – Office; Japanese era
    • 4461439 – Office; shapes in a chart
    • 4462118 – Office; Japanese era
    • 4462190 – Skype for Business 2016; various fixes
    • 4462191 – PowerPoint; various fixes
    • 4462192 – Access; chart-related crashes
    • 4462193 – Word; various fixes
    • 4462194 – Office Language Interface Pack
    • 4462195 – Office; Japanese era
    • 4462196 – Outlook; Japanese era
    • 4462198 – Project; various fixes
    • 4462212 – Excel; PivotTable fixes
    • 4462214 – Access; block Visual Basic files from Internet

    Office 2013

    Office 2010

    (Note: The first three should all be installed together.)

    - What to do: I’ve seen no reports of issues with these updates. Feel free to install them at your leisure.

    Questions or comments? Feedback is also always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

    In real life, Susan Bradley is a Microsoft Security MVP and IT wrangler at a California accounting firm, where she manages a fleet of servers, virtual machines, workstations, iPhones, and other digital devices. She also does forensic investigations of computer systems for the firm.


    NETWORKING

    Fixing Wi-Fi problems with a mesh network

    Lincoln SpectorBy Lincoln Spector

    Does your router’s Wi-Fi signal seep into every corner of your house? And even if it does, do you get a sufficiently powerful signal everywhere?

    If the answer to either question is no, you might consider adding a mesh network. These systems are somewhat like Wi-Fi extenders, but they’re generally easier to set up and manage. In a small home, a conventional router should be enough. But in a larger house, a mesh network will give you much better overall coverage and fewer hassles.

    Mesh networks for the home market typically include a central router and one or more “satellite” devices placed in strategic locations. All components will work as a single network, creating a minimum of fiddling.

    Recently, I spent a few weeks testing two mesh-network models: Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi HD and Belkin’s Linksys Velop. Both can be purchased with either one or two satellites. Spoiler alert: They both work very well, but they come with different strengths; the AmpliFi is far simpler to set up, but the Velop is generally more powerful.

    If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with a Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) gigabit connection (as I do), you’ll really want a mesh network. When near my mesh router (in my office), I recorded Wi-Fi speeds of over 400Mbps. But even with slower broadband connections, a mesh network will assure that your home network is never the bottleneck.

    The house that swallowed Wi-Fi

    I’ve always had problems getting solid Wi-Fi into every corner of my home — and no, I don’t live in a mansion. Because I test technology for a living, it seemed reasonable to run broadband into my office, where I really need the fastest Internet connections. But my office is a small room in a semi-basement at the back of the house. The laundry room — packed with the metal-encased washing machine and dryer — sits between my office and the rest of the house. You need a powerful Wi-Fi signal to get through all that.

    I’ve tried various solutions over the years. Then, back in 2013, I found an answer — though it was an expensive and kludgy one. I paid an electrical company to run Ethernet underneath my house, from my office in back to the TV room in the front. (That was the expensive part.) I then bought a second router, connected it to the new Ethernet cable, and, with some fiddling, turned the router into a switch. It was not in any way an easy job. (That was the kludge.)

    That setup delivered decent Wi-Fi throughout the house, but I didn’t really have one Wi-Fi network — I had two networks with the same name and password. If I carried a smartphone, tablet, or laptop from one end of the house to the other, the device would generally stay locked onto the now distant router or switch — or at least try to. To fix the problem, you had to turn off the device’s Wi-Fi and turn it back on again.

    A mesh network doesn’t have that problem. Although there’s the single router plus one or more satellite antennas around the house, it’s all one network.

    Mesh network pros and cons

    When purchasing a mesh network, your first question is likely to be “How many satellites will I need to go along with the router?” Simply put, the more satellites you use, the more powerful the network — but also the bigger bite to your credit card.

    For instance, the AmpliFi HD router and one satellite will set you back U.S. $269 ($150 for the router and $119 for the satellite). Or buy the router and two satellites as a $340 package.

    The more powerful Linksys Velop costs even more: $350 for a router and one satellite, or $450 for the router and two satellites. (Those are vendor prices; you can probably find discounts elsewhere.)

    In my modest home, I found only slight performance differences between using one or two satellites. I suspect that once a decent signal escaped my office, it was probably smooth sailing through the rest of the house. But as the saying goes: Your mileage may differ.

    More important than the number of satellites is where they’re located. Try placing one halfway between the router and the room with the worst Wi-Fi signal. Figure 1 shows Linksys-recommended locations. Run Speedtest.net in a browser or install Speedtest on your phone to measure Internet-connection speeds at different parts of the house.

    Linksys diagram
    Figure 1. Linksys’s diagram for properly placing mesh-network satellites. Source: Linksys

    Keep in mind that the speed you got today might not be the speed you get tomorrow. All sorts of things can slow down a Wi-Fi signal. Once during my testing, a connection produced just 45Mbps; but when I tried it again, it was 255Mbps. That’s only the most extreme example.

    Also note that satellites only help boost the network’s power. Even with two well-placed satellites, the Wi-Fi signal will still get weaker the farther you go from the router — although at a slower rate.

    Here are the highlights of the two models I tested.

    AmpliFi HD: As easy as it comes

    The AmpliFi router (Figure 2) is a cube so simple and white you might think it was made by Apple. (In fact, it reminded me of an old Simpsons satire I found on YouTube.)

    By default, the cube’s bottom glows, which struck me as both annoying and a waste of electricity. Fortunately, you can lower the brightness or turn it off entirely.

    AmpliFi router
    Figure 2. The AmpliFi’s router pointlessly glows. Luckily, you can turn it off.

    The back of the router has one Ethernet port to connect to your modem, four other Ethernet ports for wired-network devices, and a single USB port (see Figure 3). There’s also a USB-C port, but that’s only for powering the router.

    AmpliFi ports
    Figure 3. The AmpliFi router includes a typical set of ports.

    This is unquestionably the easiest router I’ve ever set up. You can use the AmpliFi Android or iOS configuration apps, but — because this is mostly a Windows newsletter — I tried the setup process on my computer. The cube’s front screen showed me a number, which I duly entered on a given website. I was then given just two fields to fill out: “NAME YOUR WIRELESS NETWORK” and “CREATE YOUR WIRELESS PASSWORD.” With that, my network was up.

    Killing off that annoying glow wasn’t quite as easy — I had to use the phone app. (But I can’t say it was difficult, either.)

    AmpliFi calls its satellites MeshPoints (see Figure 4), and setting them up is literally plug-in-and-go easy. The device is basically an antenna that plugs into a conventional three-prong AC outlet. Plug it in, wait a minute or two for the five lights to go steady white, and your Wi-Fi network is now larger and more powerful.

    The AmpliFi MeshPoint
    Figure 4. The AmpliFi MeshPoint plugs into any convenient AC outlet.

    With the router and the two MeshPoints set up, I got impressive performance throughout the house — though not as quick as with the Linksys.

    Linksys Velop: True power

    With a Linksys Velop network, there’s no physical difference between a router and a satellite. Linksys calls them nodes (see Figure 5), and you define one of the nodes as the “router” during setup.

    Linksys nodes
    Figure 5. A Linksys Velop node can be either a router or a satellite.

    A node is about seven inches tall, and its ports are on the bottom. That makes plugging in cables a bit of a hassle. Each node has two Ethernet ports and an AC connector (see Figure 6). To turn a node into a router, you connect your modem to either port on the node — all other nodes become “satellites.”


    Figure 6. Velop nodes have just two Ethernet ports, and they’re not especially easy to access.

    With Velop, configuring the network involves a lot more than just plugging things in. The Setup Guide lists three simple steps — with the last one instructing you to follow the instructions on your Velop Android or iOS app. In reality, you must go through step after step after step. I’ve had more difficult router setups, but not recently.

    Turning other nodes into satellites requires even more steps on your phone.

    Once I got past setup, the Velop proved noticeably more powerful than the AmpliFi HD. In the TV room — the location with the weakest Wi-Fi signal — I recorded download speeds of up to 255Mbps. AmpliFi, by comparison, never got above 87Mbps. But those blazing AmpliFi numbers were rare, and Linksys’s slowest download speed in the TV room — 33Mbps — was close to AmpliFi’s 27Mbps. Figure 7 shows a summary of test speeds around my house.

    Test results
    Figure 7. Overall, Linksys Velop produced far better network speeds throughout my house than did AmpliFi HD.

    Put simply, Velop won’t always outperform AmpliFi HD, but on average it’s significantly faster.

    Choosing between the two products, you might also want to think about where you’ll want wired Ethernet — if you use it at all. With the AmpliFi HD, you’ll have four extra Ethernet ports, but they’ll all be in the same room — on the router. With Linksys Velop, you’ll have one or two spare Ethernet ports in every room that has a node.

    Covering your house: If you live in a typical New York City apartment, you probably don’t need a mesh network. But if you have a moderate-to-large home, it’s an effective and often easy — though not inexpensive — way to enhance your domestic network.

    Questions or comments? Feedback is also always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

    Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains the blog, Bayflicks.net. His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.


    WINDOWS 10

    Revealing File Explorer’s hidden treasures

    Michael LaskyBy Michael Lasky

    As every Windows user knows, File Explorer is the workhorse utility for managing files and folders — whether they’re stored locally, on external drives, or in the cloud.

    But sometimes we forget the many ways we can manage File Explorer itself, making it an even more useful tool. Here’s a reminder of some simple ways to bend Windows 10’s file manager to our will.

    File Explorer’s basic file/folder interface hasn’t significantly changed since the halcyon days of Windows XP — though there has been a steady series of enhancements along the way. The app formerly known as Windows Explorer acquired Libraries in Win7 — a feature that initially earned a lukewarm reception. (Many of us still haven’t tapped the power of Windows libraries.) The Ribbon was added with Win8 — much to the annoyance of many longtime Windows users. And there have been numerous other, less visible, improvements.

    But the basic Explorer window still sports essentially the same layout. The Details view, for example, shows the same default column descriptors: Name, Date modified, Size, and Type (Document, PDF, File folder, and so forth), as shown in Figure 1. (Note: The Ribbon is an overlay; when enabled, it covers the column titles. To show/hide it, click one of the toolbar tabs.)

    File Explorer default columns
    Figure 1. File Explorer’s default column types provide basic information.

    Want more info about your files? Right-click any of those column titles, and you now have access to hundreds of other column types, thus providing a customizable power-keg (pun intended) of app-specific details. And that’s just one of various ways you can tailor File Explorer to your needs. Here are some more.

    Filter and customize file properties

    We all know that clicking a column title will reverse the sort order, be it alphabetical or numeric. But clicking the down arrow immediately to the right of the title pops up a list of simple filtering tools. You can, for example, quickly set a date range for filtering the Date modified column. In the Type column, the drop-down box lets you filter by file extension — e.g., JPEGs and Word documents.

    Swinging back to those additional column heads, right-clicking any title pops up a short list of column categories or types. Clicking More at the bottom of the list brings up the Details dialog box with a menu of around 300 descriptors. To add new columns in File Explorer, simply put a check mark next to those you want displayed — and leave unchecked those you don’t (see Figure 2).

    Manage column types
    Figure 2. File Explorer makes it easy to select the information it displays about files.

    Obviously, most of these column types are application-specific. For example, if you have music files, you might want to add columns for Length or [track] # (see Figure 3). Likewise, if it’s a folder of screenshots or photos, consider adding Dimensions.

    Adding a Length column
    Figure 3. Make File Explorer more useful by adding length and track number for music files.

    Obviously, neither Length nor Dimension is of any use for a folder of Word and PDF documents. But column types can give you worthwhile information when matched with a folder containing the appropriate type of file — provided that information is contained in a file’s metadata. Just because you add Video Compression to a folder of videos doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily see that information.

    Again, you can use the column-management boxes to uncheck columns you don’t need. There’s no point in having the Type column in a folder full of JPEGs. But you can also use the Details box to change the order of columns — or re-order them by simply dragging and dropping them around the title bar.

    You most likely know how to resize column widths by grabbing a column’s right edge. But you also have two options in the first column-management box: Size column to fit or Size all columns to fit. That’s standard Windows: multiple ways to solve the same problem.

    Modifying an individual file’s metadata

    Information about a particular file is contained in its metadata — common stats such as date created, author, permissions, etc. plus information you might not know is kept. There may be times when you want to change, add, or remove elements of the metadata. Some of this information is locked; some isn’t — such as adding additional authors or editing a file’s read/write security settings. You can even clear most of the embedded metadata — removing, for example, personal information before sharing a file.

    Customizing a file’s metadata starts by right-clicking a file’s name in File Explorer and selecting Properties from the drop-down menu. The Properties dialog box sports anywhere from four to six tabs, based on file type, but for this discussion, we’re looking at the Security and Details tabs. Figure 4 shows the former.

    Security properties tab
    Figure 4. If you’re sharing a file, you might want to prevent others from changing it.

    Note that managing file permissions is another whole article in itself. A WikiHow article gives the basics, but — in short — to limit access to a file, you can click Edit in the Security box and then select Add. Enter a new group called something generic such as “Users” to the list, and Windows will automatically limit the group to read-only rights. You can then click the Permissions boxes to give them more or fewer rights.

    The Details tab provides more customization, though with some limitations. Moving your cursor down the Value column will give you a quick view of what can and can’t be changed. Editable fields will display a box where you can add, change, or remove metadata.

    For example, in Figure 5, Joe Schmoe contributed to the target document, though well after it was created by Michael Lasky. Via the Values column, I easily added his name to the Authors field — and I removed mine.

    Edit metadata
    Figure 5. It’s easy to change the metadata in any editable field. Here, I changed the name in Authors.

    Digging out the details

    As mentioned earlier, there are metadata fields you can’t change in Details. For example, you can’t edit Date Created or Date Modified — even if your lawyer thinks it might help to change that data before trial. However, there are perfectly legit reasons to change a file’s create/modify dates, and some third-party utilities will let you do so.

    On the other hand, there are no restrictions on adding Tags, which are basically notes or subject categories that can group similarly themed documents. The primary reason to use Tags is to produce faster searches. (Reportedly, there are some instances where File Explorer doesn’t allow tagging files with AVI, BMP, MPG, or PNG extensions.)

    Finally, File Explorer offers a more-powerful method for eliminating most — or partially removing some — of a file’s metadata. At the bottom of the Details box, click the Remove properties and personal information link. The Remove Properties dialog box will appear and offer two choices.

    The first is the nuclear option: File Explorer makes a copy of the file and clears all properties that can be removed. The second option lets you selectively remove properties from the original file. Note that the second choice doesn’t always work — you might get an exception error, probably due to some type of hidden permissions violation.

    If you’ve been using Windows for a long time, you might have forgotten more than you now remember. Take some time to refresh your working knowledge of Windows’ less-obvious tools.

    Questions or comments? Feedback is also always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

    Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California. He has over 20 years of computer-magazine experience, most recently as senior editor at PC World.


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