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ISSUE 17.21.0 • 2020-06-01

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The AskWoody PLUS Newsletter

In this issue

HARDWARE: Terabyte update: The hard-drive price advantage

BEST OF THE LOUNGE: Windows10: When all else fails

LANGALIST: ‘I hit my laptop ’cause I got angry’

PATCH WATCH: Windows 10 2004 has left the barn

BEST UTILITIES: Freeware Spotlight — Marxio Timer


HARDWARE

Terabyte update: The hard-drive price advantage

Will Fastie

By Will Fastie

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have rapidly become the drive of choice for all types of devices, with smartphones and tablets leading the way.

Today’s laptops commonly include an SSD, and an increasing number of desktop PCs are configured with a smallish boot SSD and a larger spinning-platter, hard-disk drive (HDD) for long-term data storage. Given the ongoing changes in storage technology and cost, there’s little doubt that solid-state memory will someday replace mechanical rotating disks.

The only question is … when?

Way back in 2007, I began watching the retail price of terabyte (TB) hard-disk drives. I wanted to know when buying one 1TB drive would be more cost-effective than purchasing two 500GB drives. At that time, 1TB drives and 500GB drives were fairly close on a cents-per-gigabyte basis.

But over the next two years, the cost of both drive sizes nose-dived by around a factor of five. For example, a USD $450 1TB drive dropped to just $90! The price of 500GB drives plummeted, too — down to around $60. It was an astounding change, though the cost-per-gigabyte advantage moved firmly to the bigger drives. Figure 1 shows the details.

Drive cost comparison chart
Figure 1. Between 2007 and 2009, the per-gigabyte cost of a hard drive plummeted.

Years later, SSDs took a similar plunge. In 2011, a 512GB flash memory–based drive was $720 — a costly investment at a time when you could pick up a 1TB HDD for just $140.

When I checked prices again in 2018, things had changed dramatically. At $175, an SSD was well within the average PC user’s price range. Two years later, the price of an SSD had dropped by more than half — to $70, just 14 cents a gigabyte. Nevertheless, at 5 cents/GB, HDDs still retain a significant, though diminishing, cost edge. (That stat doesn’t, however, take into consideration an SSD’s huge advantage in raw speed.) Figure 2 tells the tale.

HDD versus SSD costs
Figure 2. Inexpensive storage based on memory chips is a fairly recent phenomenon. Note that the high cost of 1TB hard drives in 2011 was the result of massive flooding in Thailand.

The listed SSD prices are for the common 2.5-inch drive form factor; the price of M.2/PCIe boards, used mostly in ultraportables, is higher. And the tiny SDHC memory cards are still a comparatively expensive, though extremely convenient, form of storage. DDR3 RAM, used for volatile system memory, is by far the most expensive form of electronic storage, due mostly to its speed. Hybrid drives were a compromise between speed and the high cost of flash memory — more on this technology in a minute.

What does all this mean?

Again, SSDs are still more expensive than HDDs, but they’re also much faster. In new PCs, they’re almost a requirement for good bootup and computing performance. But SSDs are also an attractive and cost-effective way to breathe new life into an older system. (Drive vendors are happy to facilitate that type of upgrade by throwing in free cloning software.)

That doesn’t mean the immediate end of the hard drive, especially when 2TB, 3TB, and larger HDDs are cheap — a 16TB unit is down to an astonishing 2.5 cents/GB. By comparison, a 4TB SSD will set you back around
16 cents/GB ($640). Moreover, the performance of an HDD is more than adequate for storing the 90 percent or so of rarely accessed data on a common PC.

Some basics on drive technology

Just when you think the standard 2.5-inch drive form factor can’t hold any more data, manufacturers somehow manage to deliver higher
capacities — while still keeping prices relatively low. Which means hard drives will likely hold a
size advantage over SSDs for many years to come. (Current flash-memory technology runs into heat and density challenges as capacity grows.)

The drop in hybrid-drive prices is an interesting trend. These devices add a small amount of solid-state memory into a conventional rotating-disk drive. The faster chip-based memory is used primarily as a cache for improving read/write performance. You’d think these more-complicated drives would command higher prices, but they now cost about the same as a standard HDD.

So shouldn’t that make hybrid drives more attractive than HDDs? I think not. At the lower end, consumers will opt to pay slightly more for an SSD in order to gain significantly better speed. At the higher end, enterprises use large RAID devices with build-in caching. These big-data environments are increasingly using hybrid systems — combinations of bare drives and SSD drives. So it’s likely that hybrid drives will eventually become obsolete. (I’ll stop tracking them in future reports.)

For years, digital storage has been defined as primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary storage is all-electronic and connected tightly to the system processor. We usually just call it RAM (random-access memory). Secondary storage is far slower than primary memory but has much greater capacity. Traditionally, it has been magnetic-based; it’s also non-volatile (unlike RAM), meaning it retains data when there’s no power. For over 50 years, this has been the venerable spinning-platter, hard-disk drive. Tertiary storage may be disconnected: magnetic-tape drives, removable drives, and network-attached storage.

I mention this only because the line between primary and secondary storage is becoming a bit blurred as we move from mechanical devices to solid-state systems. For that reason, I expanded my storage investigations to include RAM and flash memory devices such as the ubiquitous SD card (the preferred storage medium for cameras, and removable storage for some phones).

Figure 2 makes it clear that both RAM and SD cards are still more expensive than SSDs — and for good technology reasons. Due to their diminutive size, SD memory chips are, I suspect, more expensive to manufacture than the larger modules used in SSD drives. (The price for an SD card rises rapidly as capacity and speed go up.) SD-card costs are also propped up by intensive demand from the video-creation market — video files are huge and get bigger with every bump in resolution (e.g., HD to 4K).

Again, RAM’s high cost is due primarily to its speed requirements; it must be fast enough to support today’s powerful CPUs and I/O subsystems. While the cost per gigabyte for all other forms of memory is stated in cents, RAM’s is in dollars. That disparity is unlikely to follow the track of drives because of the rising and unending demand for system memory.

Predictions about the future of storage costs are difficult to make right now. The pandemic has had a much more severe impact on the global economy than did the flooding that hit Thailand in 2011. (That event destroyed nearly half the world’s HDD production, inflicting massive supply shortages and a near doubling in drive prices.)

The pandemic may have a political and economic fallout that impacts the drive channel from end to end: materials processing, manufacturing, supply-chain logistics, and end-user demand. But once we’re past this event, expect the downward price trends to resume — with, eventually, SSDs replacing HDDs in most consumer and small-business systems.

This article was adapted from “Terabyte Update,” an irregular feature on Will Fastie’s website.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Will Fastie is a Web developer specializing in self-service websites for small businesses. Trained in computer science at Johns Hopkins University, he has held positions as a transaction-processing-systems programmer, magazine editor, newsletter publisher, Wall Street analyst, and CTO.


Best of the Lounge

Windows10: When all else fails

You’ve
undoubtedly heard of those Win7 users who say they’ll never abandon their beloved OS for Windows10. But you’re a bit more open-minded. Having never tried Win10 yourself, you consider installing it on your current Win7 machine in a dual-boot configuration — just to try it. However, after considering the work involved, you opt instead for a new computer with Win10 preinstalled. No muss, no fuss.

Plus member Rhino went down this path — and regretted it. In a Lounge post, Rhino related various frustrations with the newer OS, starting with the basic interface.

So what can you do when, like Rhino, you get so angry, you consider using your new machine as a paperweight? You take a deep breath and apply lots of advice from fellow forum members. Linux, anyone?


Hardware

A loyal Samsung SSD user, Plus member deeppow became disillusioned with the brand after several drives failed prematurely. Deeppow turned to the forum for suggestions on better drives, but fellow Loungers reported only good experiences with Samsung devices. They offered alternative suggestions and observations — including the possibility that counterfeits or factory rejects had found their way to market.


Browsers

Plus member Casey H uses the KeePass password manager when investigating Web browsers such as MS Edge and Firefox. The app had always reliably selected the default browser — until Casey switched to the latest version of Edge. From that point on, KeePass was stuck on Firefox, even though it’s not the default browser. Uninstalling Firefox found the problem: Casey had added KeeForm to enhance filling out browser-based forms. But plug-ins don’t always work as advertised.


Windows 7

Lounger WSMartinM‘s Dell laptop had been humming along quite well for years. But more recently, applications had been taking up to several minutes to launch — if they loaded at all. Fortunately, the apps otherwise ran normally. Posing the problem to the forum started a hunt for a cause and a solution. Turns out the culprit was a rogue program called Wondershare, which WSMartinM didn’t know was on the laptop. The machine is running nicely now, but the search for other “unknown” apps continues.


Office

Plus member lysdexic has an Office 2016 perpetual license but wonders whether Office 365 could be a better choice. Forum members chime in with some pros and cons, along with some MS Office alternatives.


Email

Plus member kempware was looking for the technical differences between POP3 and IMAP protocols, as they related to Outlook. But the answer was not as complicated as kempware imagined. AskWoody members responded with a wealth of information on the two email protocols.


Windows 10

Questions about excessive processor loads can quickly send you down the rabbit hole. Plus member Thomas wondered whether other Loungers had experienced this issue, and he posted a link to a Softpedia News article on the topic. Member den4 put up a red flare and received suggested solutions from others.


If you’re not already a Lounge member, use the quick registration form to sign up for free.


LANGALIST

‘I hit my laptop ’cause I got angry’

Fred Langa

By Fred Langa

Here’s how to check your PC’s health after it’s suffered a physical impact — for any reason!

Windows 10 has four built-in tools you can use to find and fix some impact-related drive errors. But you may need to employ several unfamiliar and even obscure options to use them to best effect.

Laptop takes a beating; will it keep on ticking?

The note from “K.A.” was confessional — and a bit anguished.

  • “Today, I hit my laptop because I got angry and I’m stupid! The screen glitched, and the system rebooted. It went back to work just fine, but I’m paranoid. Did I cause damage? It’s an old Acer.”

With one exception, any major damage would probably show up immediately. So if your machine is currently running as before — if it boots normally and without errors; if the screen looks OK, edge to edge and top to bottom; if all the keys are working normally; if all fans are spinning freely; if you hear no unusual noises; and so forth — then its major hardware systems probably went unscathed.

However, that “one exception” is the hard drive. Because it’s an older PC, I’m assuming it has a mechanical, spinning-platter HDD and not a solid-state (no moving parts) drive.

When your PC “glitched,” it either suffered a momentary loss of electrical power, perhaps because an internal connector flexed due to the blow, or the impact caused the HDD to suffer a physical/mechanical problem.

Either event — electrical or mechanical — could result in hard-drive damage; an electrical glitch could cause erroneous, incomplete, or misplaced data to be written on any kind of drive, whether HDD or SSD. On an HDD, a mechanical head crash (Wikipedia info) can literally scrape data-carrying oxide off the surface of a drive’s platter. That will not only destroy any data stored there, it will probably permanently damage that portion of the drive.

Any drive corruption might not show up right away; the problem won’t be apparent until your PC tries to make use of the data that are lost or mangled.

But if there is hidden damage, you can usually find it with the following Windows diagnostic tests, arranged here in order of complexity.

If your PC passes all four tests, you can be confident that the impact caused no significant damage to your drive or its files.

TEST ONE: Perform a quick check via Win10’s built-in Device performance & health applet. In the Windows search box, enter Windows Security and then select it from the search results. Next, select Device performance & health (see Figure 1) to view a summary report of your PC’s current health.

Device performance & health
Figure 1: Click Device performance & health to access your PC’s current health report.

The contents of the report will vary from PC to PC and from moment to moment, depending on Windows version, hardware configuration and state, system permissions, and so on. If Windows is aware of major problems with the system, you’ll see alerts; you can take whatever steps are required to remedy the trouble.

TEST TWO: Use Win10’s built-in SMART status tool. The Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.; info) technology is built into most modern drives. And Windows 10 can read that information and give you an instant, though exceptionally cryptic, report.

For a quick SMART status, open an admin-level command window, type the following command, and then press Enter.

wmic diskdrive get status

Windows will query each drive in your system and post an OK for each healthy drive.

If Windows reports anything other than OK for a particular drive, then the drive probably experienced a severe head crash and your data are likely at risk. Immediately back up everything you can from the damaged drive — and plan on getting a replacement ASAP.

TEST THREE: Perform a detailed file-health check with sector repair and data recovery. Although SMART can tell you whether a drive is physically okay, it can’t determine whether the contents of files are in good order — uncorrupted, unscrambled, and logically intact. So after a suspected head crash, it’s a good idea to let specialized software look over the entire drive for corrupted data and other damage, such as “bad sectors” where data can’t be stored reliably.

You’re probably familiar with the simpler functions of Windows’ built-in chkdsk (check disk) tool, and you may even have used the common chkdsk /f command to have Windows examine a drive’s file structure and fix any logical or “soft” errors. (Mnemonic: The /f stands for fix.)

But a suspected head crash calls for the more thorough chkdsk /r option, which will also attempt to recover data in any damaged sectors. (Mnemonic: The /r stands for recover.)

Although this is a heavier-duty form of chkdsk, it’s still easy to launch — just open an admin-level command window and enter the following:

chkdsk /r

If you’ve previously run the /f switch with chkdsk, expect the /r test to take longer — sometimes much longer — to run. That’s because it’s being more thorough, not necessarily because it’s finding more problems.

When chkdsk /r produces a clean bill of health for your drives, move on to the last test.

TEST FOUR. Check the integrity and validity of your operating system files via DISM and SFC. The first three tests looked at general drive health and the overall logical condition of the files it contains. The last step is to verify that your PC’s core operating system files are not just generally and logically intact, but that they’re 100 percent correct — an exact, bit-for-bit match with what’s supposed to be installed on your system.

Normally, you’d use the System File Checker (SFC) to verify that Windows’ core files were correct. But a suspected head crash calls for a different approach because SFC and its reference data are local (i.e., on your PC) and could themselves have been damaged during a crash. You can’t trust a repair if you can’t trust the repair tool!

So, we’ll start with Windows’ Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) tool to verify that your PC’s internal reference files (stored in the local system WIM file; Wikipedia info) are still completely correct. DISM will check these files against “gold standard” master files maintained on Microsoft’s servers.

Although the process sounds complex, triggering it is easy. Open an admin-level command window and enter the following command:

dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth

Launched this way, DISM is extremely thorough — and slow. Microsoft warns that several minutes may pass before the command appears to be doing anything at all, and the full run might take 30 minutes or so to complete.

When DISM finishes, you should see a message stating “The operation completed successfully” (see Figure 2). On the other hand, if DISM reports errors, follow the on-screen instructions — and/or use the exact phrasing of the error message to search online (Google, Bing, etc.) for known solutions.

DISM
Figure 2. DISM can ensure that Windows’ internal reference files are bit-for-bit accurate.

Once DISM finishes successfully, you can then run System File Checker (SFC). Still inside the same admin-level command window where you ran DISM, type in the following command:

sfc /scannow

SFC will then use the freshly validated and updated reference files to check — and, if necessary, correct — any problematic, live, OS-level files it finds. (See Figure 3.)

SFC
Figure 3. SFC completes the system-file-checking process.

If SFC reports uncorrectable errors, follow the on-screen instructions and/or use the exact phrasing of the error message to search online for solutions. Or, consider a system Reset, which should clear up all SFC-type errors. (For information on Windows’ built-in Reset options, see “Removing bloatware and OEM mods from new machines,” AskWoody Plus issue 2019-12-09.)

When SFC reports “Verification 100% complete,” enter Exit. You’re done and can now use the machine with a reasonable level of confidence that the physical impact did no lasting damage to the hardware or your files.

Additional resources for verifying overall system health
  • “Windows 10: Built-in tools for Hard Disk Health check” – Microsoft TechNet
  • “Track your device and performance health in Windows Security” – MS Support
  • “Using System File Checker in Windows 10” – MS Support
  • “Chkdsk” – MS Docs
  • “Repair a Windows Image” (i.e., a WIM file) – MS Docs
  • “DISM – Deployment Image Servicing and Management” – MS Docs
  • “Running DISM.exe /Online /Cleanup-image /Restorehealth” – Microsoft Community
  • “Fix Windows Update errors by using the DISM or System Update Readiness tool” – MS Support
Send your questions and topic suggestions to Fred at fred@askwoody.com. Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Fred Langa has been writing about tech — and, specifically, about personal computing — for as long as there have been PCs. And he is one of the founding members of the original Windows Secrets newsletter. Check out Langa.com for all of Fred’s current projects.


PATCH WATCH

Windows 10 2004 has left the barn

Susan BradleyBy Susan Bradley

Microsoft’s latest “feature” update is being offered up. Here’s my immediate recommendation: Don’t install it!

No newly released version of Windows has ever been problem-free, and Win10 2004 (aka May release) is no exception. For example, there are already reports of driver issues. As always, we need to give Microsoft time to iron out the wrinkles.

Along with many others, I suspect, I will have a hard time getting used to the “2004” tag. This is a case where Win10’s unconventional YYMM naming formula just seems odd — and old. But that’s the least of its problems.

The Windows release health dashboard lists a growing number of issues with the new OS. One especially shameful glitch impacts Microsoft’s own Surface devices. There’s absolutely no excuse for problems with the company’s own hardware! There are also reports of incompatibilities with NVIDIA video cards and other drivers. (If there’s going to be a driver issue with a new operating system, it’s almost always related to video.)

Bottom line: In reality, Windows 10 2004 is now in public beta testing. Install it only if you’ve finished the necessary pre-flight prep: you’ve created a full image backup of your current system. You should also have visited the PC vendor’s site and ensured you’re up to date on any BIOS patches and video-card drivers.

Is it safe to patch home PCs?

Anyone reading the recent tech headlines might feel like shutting off their computer and chalking up the 2020 patching year as thus far a failure. For example, Forbes’s Gordon Kelly
cited a litany of issues with KB 4556799, May’s cumulative update for Win10 Versions 1909 and 1903. As recently as May 26, he stated that the update “continues to cause chaos” — and that the patch should be uninstalled.

With all due respect, I don’t agree. In truth, the vast majority of home systems update without significant problems. And I’ve not seen a single issue with this patch on any of my Surface devices that have an LTE modem — nor any problems with my laptops, my desktops, my dad’s desktop, my sister’s desktop, or the computers at my office. And I’ve not seen reports of massive numbers of dead computers on patching venues such as the www.patchmanagement.org listserv. So I feel confident telling Windows users that uninstalling the update is unnecessary — and possibly unwise.

As for the reported blue screens of death on HPs, the company released an update for its Software Component 4.1.4.3079 to fix a conflict with Windows Defender. (If you have HP machines, I recommend installing the HP support assistant, which will monitor when you are missing recommended drivers and updates.)

That’s not to say KB 4556799 is problem-free. But as with many patching flaws these days, the issues tend to strike a relatively small number of systems — especially those with somewhat unusual configurations: overclocking, game hacks, and other specialized software that’s not found on the average machine.

Safe patching: The key to avoiding updating problems comes down to a few simple rules, starting with recent and full backups. Also, always defer new updates for at least two weeks.

If your PC has a serious problem after an update, use this trick to boot into a recovery mode. (It should work on most systems.)

  • Press and release the power button to turn your computer on.
  • When the Windows logo first appears, press the power button again and hold it until the machine powers off.
  • Repeat the first two steps until Windows displays “Preparing Automatic Repair.” It could take up to four cycles, and Windows might prompt you for an account and a password.
  • When the Automatic Repair window appears, click Advanced options, then Troubleshoot, and then Advanced options again. From here you can choose System restore, System image recovery, or Startup repair.

Bottom line: Protecting your PC from problematic updates is no different from fending off other threats and failures. Always have a current and thorough system backup! Remember, if you do run into patching issues or questions, reach out to me in the AskWoody Lounge, using the link at the bottom of Patch Watch. That way, I can pass along the information to Microsoft.

Of interest to server admins: The most unusual issue I’m currently tracking in the April/May updates is with Group Policy printer drivers. It started with April’s KB 4549951 and continues with May’s KB 4556799 as well. The problem arises when a printer is pushed out via a group policy setting. After this patch is installed, the printer fails to print, and you receive an error message.

In the Windows event logs, the error message indicates “Installing printer driver HP LaserJet M3035 MFP PCL6 Class Driver failed, error code 0x0, HRESULT 0x80070490.” The official workaround is to Install the HP Universal PCl6 Driver. Again, this fault was not fixed in the May patch. But don’t uninstall the update — just choose a different printer driver, such as a generic PCL6 driver.

May’s list of Windows 7 vulnerabilities

Win7 users who are not taking advantage of the Extended Security Updates program need to keep in mind that they face an ever-growing list of vulnerabilities. The most recent threats are posted on our online Master Patch List. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but if you must use Win7 — especially in a business setting — grab an ESU subscription (more info). Or at the very least, use the 0patch service.

May patching summary

Windows 10 users: If you didn’t download and tuck away Version 1909‘s ISO in a safe place, be aware that the Win10 media download tool is now set to Version 2004. It’s way too early to upgrade to the new release, except for testing. Microsoft is being surprisingly transparent about showcasing the expanding list of known issues and peculiarities — especially with drivers. It suggests that the company simply hasn’t sufficiently tested the latest Windows.

- What to do: Install May’s patches for Windows 10 1909 and earlier versions. There are updates for Win10 2004, but I think they should be deferred for a while longer. As always, you can find a rundown of present and past updates on our online Master Patch List.

Windows 10

Servicing-stack updates

  • 4557968 for Versions 2004 (beta; on MSDN at this time)

Cumulative updates

  • 4556803 for Versions 2004 (beta; on MSDN at this time)
  • 4556799 for Version 1903 and 1909
  • 4551853 for Version 1809 and Server 2019
  • 4556807 for Version 1803 (Enterprise and Education editions only)
  • 4556812 for Version 1709 (Enterprise and Education editions only)
  • 4556804 for Version 1703 (Long-Term Servicing Channels)
  • 4556813 for Version 1607 (Long-Term Servicing Channels) and Server 2016

.NET Framework for Windows 10

  • 4552925 for Versions 2004 (beta; on MSDN at this time)
  • 4552931 for Versions 1903 and 1909
  • 4552930 for Version 1809 and Server 2019
  • 4556441 for Version 1809 and Server 2019
  • 4552929 for Version 1803 (Enterprise and Education editions only)
  • 4552928 for Version 1709 (Enterprise and Education editions only)
  • 4552927 for Version 1703 (Long-Term Servicing Channels)
  • 4552926 for Version 1607 (Long-Term Servicing Channels) and Server 2016
Windows 8.1/Server 2012 R2
  • 4556846 – Monthly rollup
  • 4556853 – Security-only
  • 4556798 – Internet Explorer 11 (install with the security-only update)
  • 4556401 – Monthly .NET rollup
  • 4556405 – Monthly .NET security-only
Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 SP1

ESU reminder: You need to have April’s servicing-stack update KB 4550738 installed before adding May’s fixes. (You can download it from its Microsoft Update Catalog page.) If you’re on the back side of May’s updates, be sure to have servicing-stack update KB 4555449 in place in order to receive June fixes. (It should show up after installing the May updates.)

  • 4556836 – Monthly rollup
  • 4556843 – Security-only
  • 4555449 – Servicing-stack update
  • 4556798 – Internet Explorer 11 (install with the security-only update)
  • 4556399 – Monthly .NET rollup
  • 4556403 – Monthly .NET security-only
Server 2012
  • 4556840 – Monthly rollup
  • 4556852 – Security-only
  • 4556798 – Internet Explorer 11 (install with the security-only patch)
  • 4556400 – Monthly .NET rollup
  • 4556404 – Monthly .NET security-only
Windows Server 2008 SP2
  • 4550737 – April servicing-stack update; must be installed first
  • 4556860 – Monthly rollup
  • 4556854 – Security-only
  • 4555448 – May servicing-stack update
  • 4556798 – Internet Explorer 11 (install with the security-only patch)
  • 4556402 – Monthly rollup for .NET
  • 4556406 – Security-only for .NET
Office security and non-security updates

May’s Office security updates impact only Excel!

Office 2016

Office 2013 SP1

Office 2010 SP2

The following Office non-security
enhancements can be installed at this time.

Office 2016

  • 4484325 – Office; graphics copy/paste issues
  • 4484327 – Office; third-party apps hang when Word running
  • 4484328 – Office; blank authentication prompt
  • 4484337 – PowerPoint; DisablePasswordUI registry key doesn’t work with PowerPoint
  • 4484339 – Office; adds InterlockedIncrement or InterlockedDecrement method
  • 4484341 – Word; Last Modified property improperly updated
  • 4484343 – Outlook; various fixes
  • 4484345 – Project; task’s time-phased baseline work values incorrectly blocked

Office 2013 and Office 2010

  • There are no non-security updates for Office 2013 or 2010

These days, more than ever, stay safe out there.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is 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.


Best Utilities

Freeware Spotlight — Marxio Timer

Deanna McElveenBy Deanna McElveen

Like a fine, vintage wine, some aging but venerable software still works nicely — even on an operating system that wasn’t even imagined back when the app was created.

Marek Mantaj first published the free Marxio Timer way back in 2009, and it’s still an exceptionally useful utility for controlling when and how your computer shuts down, sleeps, and so much more.

(Note: Mantaj’s original website is no longer his own. The domain was purchased by some questionable company or individual, so do not click on any external links in the program, such as those under “Help.”

Marxio Timer is not portable, but the install is quick and harmless. Once launched, you’re presented with the main window and a pretty overwhelming amount of choices, as shown in Figure 1.

Main MArxio Timer window
Figure 1. The main Marxio Timer screen offers a broad selection of options.

Setting up the task

All those choices might seem a bit daunting at first, but the program is actually quite simple to use. Fundamentally, you’re just defining a task and setting a time for it to automatically kick off. Let’s start with the Execute Action section first. Your choices are the following:

Turn off computer: Yep, that’s pretty self-explanatory. But you might want to check the “Graceful system shutdown” box (Figure 2) before proceeding. This option will halt an action if unsaved files are left open in programs such as Word or Excel.

Turn off computer
Figure 2. Clicking Graceful system shutdown provides an added level of safety.

Logout: This simply closes your Windows user account. Be sure to check “Graceful logout” if you want to avoid losing an unsaved document (Figure 3).

Logout
Figure 3. Use this option to sign out of your current Windows account.

Restart computer: You guessed it! Now, did you remember to check “Graceful restart?” (Figure 4)

Restart option
Figure 4. The “Graceful …” is here, too.

As Figure 5 shows, you can also select Suspend, Hibernate,  or Lock computer.

Suspend, Hibernate, and Lock options
Figure 5. More options for putting your PC into an inactive mode.

Display text and Play sound: These are two of my favorite options because they’re a super-easy way for reminding myself of things I need to do. Set a timer to remind yourself to get out of your chair? Call into that Zoom meeting? (Figure 6)

Play sound and Display text options
Figure 6. Use Display text and Play sound for quick reminders.

Run program: You have to know when to stop working. Those diamonds aren’t gonna mine themselves! (Figure 7)

Run program
Figure 7. Setting up an appointment for a game of Minecraft

End program: Select an app from a list of running programs and then decide when it will be automatically closed. (Figure 8)

End program
Figure 8. Of course, you might need Marxio Timer to make yourself quit an activity.

Mouse click: This option is a bit esoteric. Do you need your mouse to click a location on the screen at, say, 3 a.m.? You can do that. You have the choice of either specific screen coordinates or the location of the mouse at the time of the triggered click. Use your imagination on this one. (Figure 9)

Mouse click
Figure 9. The Mouse click option lets you activate a task unattended.

Simulate keypress: The counterpart to Mouse click, this option automatically enters a keystroke at a set time. (Figure 10)

Simulate keypress
Figure 10. In Simulate keypress, the More keys button displays a list of special keys.

Make screenshot: So what’s my teenager or employee doing at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m. on this computer? Hmmm? (Figure 11)

Make screenshot option
Figure 11. The Make screenshot option will capture the current desktop at a set time and save it to the location of your choice.

Stopwatch: Need to time your call to Aunt Sue? This option lets you put up a running clock on the desktop (Figures 12 and 13) or hide it on the taskbar. You can even set a password to prevent others from pausing or closing the timer.

Stopwatch
Figure 12. The Stopwatch option lets you set a start count, but sadly there’s no countdown timer.

Stopwatch on desktop
Figure 13. Clicking the Break button closes the stopwatch and returns you to the main Marxio Timer screen.

Disable screensaver: Use this option when you have some activity running continuously on the desktop and the Windows screensaver keeps kicking in. (Figure 14)

Disable screensaver
Figure 14. The Disable screensaver option is a bit odd. It has a set duration — unless you disable it. (Figure 14)

Setting up the activation time

After selecting a task, you next choose when it will be triggered. Options include Selected hour, After time elapsed, After idle time, and others, depending on the task. (See Figures 15 through 19.) Stopwatch and Disable screensaver do not let you set “When.”

Selected hour
Figure 15. The Selected hour option lets you set a time for activating a task.

After time elapsed
Figure 16. After time elapsed is a sort of specialized countdown timer.

After idle time
Figure 17. After idle time lets you trigger a task after a specified length of user inactivity.

Cpu usage
Figure 18. Cpu usage can be useful for triggering an audible or visual alert.

When program x ends
Figure 19. When program x ends … includes a dropdown list of active programs and files. This is another option you might apply for popping up alerts when a program finishes a task.

Custom settings

For each of the above options, there’s an Additional settings section where you can select whether the task timer is displayed on the desktop or on the taskbar, or is hidden. (Figure 20)

Diplay options
Figure 20. The Additional settings box lets you determine where an active task timer resides.

Using the Saved schemas section, you can also save a defined configuration and then reuse it later or apply it on another computer. (Figure 21)

Schema
Figure 21. If you want to reuse a custom task, save it as a Schema.

Finally, check out the Options menu located in the top-right corner of the main Marxio Timer window. There, you can set the default language and various other global settings.

Reminder: Do not click any of the options under the Help menu. They’ll take you to totally unrelated websites.

Too bad Marxio Timer is no longer being developed; it’s still an excellent piece of freeware. You can pick up a copy at our OlderGeeks.com site. My brain is abuzz with the possibilities; I hope yours is too. Use the Lounge link below to post your suggestions!

Happy computing!

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Deanna and Randy McElveen are celebrating over 20 years in the computer business, ten years running OlderGeeks.com, and more than 26 years of putting up with each other. Their computer store is in a small town in the Missouri Ozarks. Believing that happy customers are always the best advertisement, they hope to do it for another 20 years.


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