Windows 10 will be free for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users

During the first year after the release of Windows 10 the upgrade will be free for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users. After first year, users will likely be charged for it.

The above news comes from Windows 10: The Next Chapter event.

That news is as much thrill and excitement you’re going to get from this unexciting and dull presentation. Let me summarize the whole event for you and save you over 2 hours of watching time:

  • First 20 minutes is just blah, blah, blah…
  • Windows 10 will be free during first year since its release for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users. That is good news actually, both for developers and for users. And especially for the developers.
  • Then the guy with Emo-hairstyle presented Windows 10 Cortana, a copy of Siri from Apple devices. Apparently, Microsoft is very excited about a feature nobody is going to use just like Siri.
  • Some devices will have free Word, Excel and other Office programs (devices where you cannot actually use it for anything meaningful, that is devices like smartphones or smaller tablets). Larger screen devices where you actually use those programs will have paid version.
  • Mail application still sucks, but now they added brand new features – swipe to the left to delete message, swipe to the right to flag them. I wonder where have I seen that already? Hmmm…
  • Internet Explorer is going to be somewhat better (hopefully it will still support third-party apps which use its rendering engine).
  • Xbox and PC games are gonna be faster, apparently due to DirectX 12 which is very fast, at least from the technical demo.
  • There was some large screen device for business customers I don’t really care about.
  • And finally, there was a new VR headset from Microsoft they have been developing for a couple of years (at least now it is apparent why they purchased Minecraft – to demo that device). They believe it is going to change everything. They call 3D graphics you see inside “holograms”. Not the holograms you would expect – a little Princess Leia projected into the air. What a waste of all those development years. Another VR headset ready for the trashcan.
  • Last 20 minutes is just a pitch about Microsoft being committed to their users, how inspired they are and you know… blah… blah.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Windows 10 is actually good and I like them. But the rest… not really.

How to clean up your Inbox

New email keeps on coming every day. You carefully read it, file it, archive it, move it to various folders, reply to it, but it just keeps on coming. Forgetting to file one email often means leaving it “for later” and that later never really comes. Time passes and you end up accumulating tons of messages in your Inbox. And you never seem to reach your “Inbox Zero” nirvana. Does this sound familiar?

“Inbox Zero” is actually a great idea but for many, it is hard to achieve, due to just one simple thing – lack of simple habit of cleaning up.

So here are 5 ideas how to clean up your email to eventually reach empty Inbox.

1) Each day, set aside a minute or two to clean up 5-10 emails which are not needed and can be deleted. The key here is to develop a habit. It does not take much time to clean up 5-10 emails. To file them to proper folders or to simply delete them. It may seem overwhelming to see tons of messages in the Inbox and quickly give up, but the fact is that the more you clean it up, the less there will be and with time, just as they accumulated, they will be cleaned up. If you don’t know where to start – start with the oldest ones. They are most likely best candidates to be deleted.

2) Speaking of delete – do not be afraid to use delete. It might seem a good idea to file everything, archive into special folders and so on, but some things are simply not worth keeping. Do not attempt to be perfect, as that will not get you nowhere. Do you file every conversation you had with every person (in real life that is)? Of course not. So why do it with email? Many messages are simply not worth keeping once they have been read.

3) Use the rule – if it is older than 2 years, it will likely never be read again and can be deleted.

4) If you replied to it and there is nothing there to keep, delete it immediately.

5) If you really have to keep some messages, then at least remove them from Inbox. Move them to “Archive” folder or something of that sort. Leaving Inbox empty will remove visual clutter and will give you some sense of accomplishment at the end of a day.

How to install Windows 10 without Microsoft Account

When you are prompted to sign in to your Microsoft Account do the following:

1) Click on the small link Create a new account

2) Just below the form for creating Microsoft Account there is again small link called Sign in without a Microsoft account. Click on this link as well.

3) And that’s it – Now you can create a regular local account!

Windows XP end of support – What happens after April 8th, 2014?

I though I’d take a few moments to write about this topic. As many of you know, April 8th, 2014 has been set as the date when Windows XP extended support will end. So what will happen to existing Windows XP installations as there are still at least 10% of Windows XP installations out there. It may not seem much but it is millions of users.

After the given date, Microsoft will stop publishing security updates for Windows XP which are distributed through the Windows Update system. This means, security patches for the discovered security issues with Windows won’t be published anymore. Of course, the Windows XP won’t stop working after April 8th, but your system could quickly become compromised by malware.

Here is a mechanism hackers will abuse – once a security issue is patched within Windows 7 or Windows 8 and published through Windows Update, hackers will check for these updates, reverse engineer them and check if some of the security issues are shared with Windows XP. If they discover they are, they will attempt to create a so called 0-day vulnerability and as there won’t be no more security updates the vulnerability will essentially stay there forever. As Microsoft publishes patches every Tuesday, this may happen sooner than you may expect. Microsoft will start showing warning dialog on March 8th notifying users of the end of support.

Some sites have reported that the support for anti-malware will be extended to 2015. One of the reasons I write this post is because this has been misinterpreted quite a bit that this means that the security updates will be published until 2015. This is not true – only the anti-malware warnings will be issued. In other words, you’ll be given new buckets but the holes that leak won’t be patched anymore. And the effectiveness of antivirus or antispyware software on compromised system is at best limited. So in the long run, the upgrade to more recent operating system will be required. Of course, having malware on your system means all kinds of security issues, issues like compromising your private data and its integrity.

Will it be possible to continue using Windows XP – it depends – if you don’t need to connect it to Internet or any other network, then you can probably continue to use it. If however you need to connect online (even if it is from time to time) it means the system may be compromised. The time required to be online doesn’t need to be long so even short connection can be enough. My best advice is forget about patches and quick fixes and – upgrade.

How to shutdown Windows 8.1

As the latest Windows 8.1 introduced a bit different Start menu some of the things that were obvious in the old Windows 7 start menu are no longer working. One of the particularly unintuitive things (at least to me) is how to shutdown a computer when working in desktop mode. You can use one of the following:

  • Right mouse click on the new Start menu button. This will reveal a popup menu which has a few different and useful items. One of them is Shut down or sign out
  • Second method involves using the keyboard – press Windows logo key + X. It opens the same popup menu as above.
  • The easiest way though is to simply press Power button on your computer. This shuts down as well. If you don’t like this though, you can reconfigure this key in the Control Panel (Hardware and Sound – Change what the power buttons do).

Windows 8.1 Preview – How to install without Microsoft account (skip Microsoft account)

Windows 8.1, also known as Windows Blue was released as Windows 8.1 Preview. If you wanted to try it out and install it like I did, you may have found that there is no option to skip connecting it to Microsoft account. In fact, FAQ on Microsoft page – http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/preview-faq says the following:

Warning – In order to use Windows 8.1 Preview you must sign in to your PC with a Microsoft account. The option to create a local account will be made available at the final release of Windows 8.1.

So according to this you can’t install it and bypass Microsoft account and additionally, there is no option to skip connecting it to Microsoft account and creating a local account instead. However, there is a way to do this.

Update: It seems that this “feature” has made it into the final version as well. But the following methods to avoid it still work:

Method 1:

1. Click on link Create a new account (near the bottom of screen, below the “Don’t have an account?” text)

2. When sign up form appears click on Sign in without a Microsoft account (also on the bottom).

Method 2:

1. Disconnect your Internet connection before installing Windows 8.1 (or after the first part of installation has finished). Windows detects at some point if there is an active Internet connection – if it isn’t available, it will skip the screen where Windows wants you to Connect this PC to your Microsoft account and offer you to create a local account instead. This is the simplest method of skipping this screen.

Method 3:

You can keep your Internet connection enabled. When a screen called Connect this PC to your Microsoft account appears it will ask you for Email Address and Password (for Outlook.com or similar Microsoft service). If you have one you may put it in or if you don’t have it (or use Gmail instead), you have an option to create one. I suppose you want neither otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this right?

1. If you don’t want to create Microsoft account enter some invalid email here for example:

  • Email Address: localhost@localhost.localhost
  • Password: whatever you like, doesn’t matter (I entered 12345678).

2. Windows will now check this account and conclude that there was a problem with logging into this account (as it obviously doesn’t exist).

3. On the side a text will appear – “The email address or password is incorrect. If you don’t remember your password, create a local account now and set up your Microsoft account later.”

4. Click on create a local account now part of the text and you’re now creating a local account.

It is likely that Microsoft did this on purpose to test the resistance against mandatory cloud services. As this is a beta version and not the one which will sell, it certainly looked like a perfect opportunity to do this test. If they really wanted, they could easily disable logging in with local account but instead they advertised it like “it can’t be done” even though they left a small gap to squeeze through.

It is also possible that they wanted to use this beta to increase a number of accounts for their Outlook.com service (once people sign up, some of them are likely to continue using it).

As for the first impressions here is something you might also be interested in:

  • Start button is a fake – instead of start menu it opens start screen. It is back but that’s not really it. There is an option though to show only applications – it is called Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start (right click Taskbar, then select Properties and finally click Navigation tab).
  • To boot directly to desktop right click Taskbar, then select Properties and finally click Navigation tab. The checkbox option is called Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in.

Everyone will have to become an entrepreneur

I have some good and some bad news. Bad news first – job security is gone today’s world. Take a look at the amount of protests around the world where the usual story is something like “I’ve worked for this company for 30 years, but now I have no future because they fired me!”. The good news is – once you get past that you will quickly discover you will have more control over your life if you choose to accept that becoming an entrepreneur is the road you should take.

It wasn’t comfortable for me to become an entrepreneur – it was a hard and long process. The idea of having a job security (whatever that means) haunted me for a long time. I had millions of fears – from increased taxing to idea of having employes which would take a part of my hard earned cash. Everything seemed intimidating, from accounting to other smaller responsibilities. Fear was the big factor blocking me to take action.

But you know what, after a good decade of actually being an entrepreneur I can safely say it was one of the most gratifying decisions I’ve made and I wouldn’t go back for any price. Once you just choose to ignore the fear of the unknown and step into it, after a while all the intimidating things quickly become a routine and as such they no longer present a threat. It’s all in your head right? It takes a while to adjust to it, but after that it becomes so much easier. The feeling of having more control over your life is also really rewarding.

If you have a fear blocking you – remember this – the easiest way to get past fear is to simply do whatever you fear from. Just take the step. Plunge into it. You will learn things along the way, but do make the first step.

If you are not an entrepreneur yet, take a look at this picture and take a while to think about it.

I surely agree with it – what about your opinion?

This interesting infographic shows how the world, once again is changing.
This interesting infographic shows how the world, once again is changing.

Windows 8.1 may again have Start button and boot to desktop

According to some sources there may be hope for Windows 8 – in its latest edition currently known as Windows 8.1 (build 9364) it may be possible that Microsoft will return Start button and boot to desktop based on customer dissatisfaction. This wouldn’t be the first time they did that – as you may remember UAC (User Account Control) that was introduced in Windows Vista, initially was very annoying and only later given some common sense with the introduction of Windows 7. Microsoft seems to have a pattern of alternating good and bad versions of Windows. That’s why I personally don’t rush to every new version that has just been released.

As identified by source above, twinui.dll file holds a line of code with option called “CanSupressStartScreen” which may do just that – boot directly to desktop without showing the start screen. This and bringing back Start menu have been two of the most requested features by users of Windows 8.

If this happens, it may show that keyboard and mouse still have some advantage over the trendy touch-screen devices. As sales of Windows 8 are not gaining as much users as Microsoft would hope for and additionally some users decided to move on to MacOS or Linux, this may be a wise move on their side to bring back proven elements of the user-interface.

Slow or inaccessible network on Windows 7 or Windows Vista – these tips may help

If you had an issue with yellow exclamation point showing over the network icon in Windows 7 (or Windows Vista) this may be caused by certain network related technologies which this operating system enables automatically. Sometimes, they can cause issues so you may need to disable them manually.

This problem may manifest after putting a lot of load under network (like for example – downloading or uploading a lot of files at the same time). Then you may experience network slowdowns or complete inaccessibility and a yellow exclamation point could appear over the network icon indicating a problem.

Word of caution
Although these tips may help, you should exercise them with caution and only apply them if you are sure what you are doing, because you will be modifying some low-level network settings. You should modify settings if you actually experience a problem with your network. If you want to return to original settings, this is possible too and it is described below.

Running an elevated command prompt

In order to execute these commands you need to open an elevated command prompt:

  1. Click on Windows orb (or press Windows key) to open Start menu
  2. Into the Search programs and files type cmd (or command prompt)
  3. Right mouse click command prompt icon and select Run as administrator – this will run command prompt in elevated mode
Running elevated command prompt on Windows 7
Running elevated command prompt on Windows 7

Viewing current network settings

In order to know the default values of the settings you are about to modify you need to view them. Type the following into command prompt and press Enter key to execute command:

This will show you all the settings as they are currently configured so you may return them to original values if something doesn’t work properly. I suggest you remember or write these down.

TIP 1 – TCP Chimney Offload

TCP Chimney Offload option releases some of the workload from your CPU to the network card, whenever possible. If the network card supports this and it works correctly, then it should be enabled. But if it doesn’t work well, you may want to disable this by entering the following command:

In case you encounter difficulties you can return this to default value which you can view using the netsh interface tcp show global command from before. So if it was set to automatic you may return it to original value by entering the following into the command prompt:

The same goes for all of the following options.

TIP 2 – TCP Auto Tuning

Windows can automatically optimize your network for best performance, but sometimes they may also optimize it incorrectly, causing problems. Disabling this optimization may help – type into command prompt:

As before you can return to default value by looking at it first using the command netsh interface tcp show global and typing the displayed value back into the above command.

TIP 3 – ECN Capability

ECN or Explicit Congestion Notification improves network optimization when a lot of data is being transferred back and forth. But it is not compatible with some routers so you may need to disable it. To do so type:

If you have a router that can support this, then you may also try to enable this option to see if there are some improvements.

TIP 4 – Receive Side Scaling

Receive Side Scaling or RSS speeds up things by utilizing your dual or quad core CPU cores. Once again, it may cause issues under certain occasions. To disable it type:

Quick guide to upgrading your PC to Ivy Bridge

As I’ve spent much time researching current trends in PC industry and decided to upgrade (it was 4 years since my last upgrade), I thought of sharing the information I found to help you upgrade, as well as to save you a great deal of time with a quick and summarized guide, rather than long text nobody likes to read. This guide is likely to stay up-to-date until 2014 due to Intel design model and my philosophy to upgrade only after Tick (die shrink) phase. I’ve tried to make the information as accurate as possible. The time is precious, so let’s go.

The goal of my upgrade was to get as close as possible to the following configuration (considering it is a desktop machine):

  • Quick
  • Silent
  • Good value for the money (best buy)
  • Power efficient as much as possible (green)
  • As cool as possible
  • Used primarily for work (stable) and occasional gaming (fast)
  • Long lasting (to avoid spending much time and money on next upgrade)

Main processor (CPU)

Given the choice between Intel and AMD, Intel is definitely leading the game at the moment – it uses 22 nm technology based on tri-gate (so called 3D) transistors. Intel also manufactures processors based on Tick-Tock model to make the process cheaper and safer. Each Tick represents die shrink (CPU becomes smaller, more power efficient, cooler) and each Tock modifies CPU microarchitecture. Changing microarchitecture involves engineers redesigning the CPU circuits so in my opinion it is not a good time to upgrade (people introduce bugs in the microarchitecture which is fixed in subsequent versions of the CPU – these versions are called CPU stepping level). So I believe that it is safer to upgrade when microarchitecture reaches Tick stage (CPU shrinking) as no major changes to the CPU design is applied and bugs from previous versions are fixed. If you want to be completely on the safe side, do not upgrade until at least 6 months have passed since a new CPU has been introduced on the market and initial issues have been fixed.

As you may have guessed, Ivy Bridge is at a Tick stage.

Here is a list of CPUs available at the moment that use Ivy Bridge architecture for you to choose from:

List of Ivy Bridge processors

My choice was based on above criteria – a good balance between speed and price. So my choice was Intel Core i5-3470S – a power saving CPU ranging from 2.9 GHz to 3.6 GHz (based on CPU load), with integrated CPU graphics ranging from 650 MHz to 1100 MHz (once again based on load), 6 MB cache (the more the better) and 65W Thermal Design Power (the less the better). My additional goal was also to make it more compatible with “Hackintosh” system as Apple prefers Intel CPUs (if I need to build a Hackintosh) and with better support for virtual machine environment (VMWare, VirtualBox etc.) where once again Intel is a better choice than AMD.

Like I wrote above, the goal was not to get overclocked system but a stable and power saving one, while maintaining the highest speed as possible. Given the criteria, Intel Core i5-3470S is what I label the current “Best Buy”.

Motherboard for Ivy Bridge CPU

Ivy Bridge CPUs use LGA 1155 socket (also called Socket H2) so the motherboard must have this socket. Good thing is that Intel decided not to change socket design this time like they usually do so LGA 1155 can support Intel Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge microprocessors. To take advantage of the integrated CPU graphics it also must have a DVI (or HDMI or Display Port) connector on board. Number of USB connectors should be as high as possible, especially the USB 3 ones as most hardware today uses USB to connect to a machine. Here are also the rest of criteria I used when choosing the motherboard:

  • Power saving features
  • Supporting as many USB 3 and SATA 3 connectors
  • Supporting 4-pin PWM controlled fans (for silent fan operation when not under load)
  • Having high quality built-in sound
  • Having gigabit network connector
  • Eventual support for LucidLogix Virtu MVP (software to virtualize graphics card function and take advantage of discrete GPU (dedicated graphics card) and processor GPU working together)

Having a choice of many chipsets designed for the Ivy Bridge I needed some list of specifications for these chipsets. This list can be found here:

List of Panther Point chipsets associated with Ivy Bridge

Z77 is the most high-end chipset for Socket 1155 processors and offers the most features. Considering the price of the motherboards using it, it is not much more expensive than the other ones using chipsets with less features so I decided to go with that one. So I label Z77 as the current “Best Buy” chipset.

Chipset Comparison
Z77 Z75 H77 Z68 P67 H67
CPU Support Ivy Bridge LGA-1155 Ivy Bridge LGA-1155 Ivy Bridge LGA-1155 Sandy/Ivy Bridge LGA-1155 Sandy/Ivy Bridge LGA-1155 Sandy/Ivy Bridge LGA-1155
CPU Overclocking Yes Yes No Yes Yes No
CPU PCIe 3.0 Config 1 x16 or 2 x8 or 1 x8 + 2 x4 1 x16 or 2 x8 1 x16 1 x16 or 2 x8 or 1 x8 + 2 x4 1 x16 or 2 x8 1 x16
CPU Graphics Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Intel SRT (SSD caching) Yes No Yes Yes No No
RAID Support Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
USB 2.0 Ports (3.0) 14 (4) 14 (4) 14 (4) 14 14 14
SATA Total (Max number of 6 Gbps ports) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2) 6 (2)
PCIe Lanes 8 (5GT/s) 8 (5GT/s) 8 (5GT/s) 8 (5GT/s) 8 (5GT/s) 8 (5GT/s)

This well-done article lists 32 Intel Z77 motherboards tested with Ivy Bridge processors for you to consider:

32 Intel Z77 motherboards tested with Ivy Bridge processors

From the above article I went with Gigabyte GA-Z77MX-D3H motherboard. There was also a choice of Gigabyte GA-Z77-D3H which does have certain advantages, but due to much noise on stability of this board on various Internet forums, I decided to avoid it. Gigabyte GA-Z77MX-D3H doesn’t have PCI connectors (the old, white ones, 32-bit) and Intel Smart Response support but that is OK as I will go with dedicated SSD drive. So my choice of “Best Buy” motherboard is Gigabyte GA-Z77MX-D3H for system with the specifications on the top.

Memory

This was a relatively easy. Currently, the best price-to-performance ratio is on the DDR3 1600 MHz side so this is my “Best Buy” choice. Some may argue that faster memory is required for this system. However, real-world performance (and not synthetic tests) don’t make a case for anything faster than 1600 MHz. For example – WinRAR performance saves you 2 seconds from 47 second operation. Gaming performance increases maybe 1 FPS. Hardly a case for faster memory considering the extra price you pay for it. You can better spend your money by buying more memory rather than faster memory. You can see some real-world tests on following URL:

Ivy Bridge Memory Scaling

The size of the memory is another thing. Currently, Windows 7 is comfortable with 2 GB. It works very well with 4 GB. As memory price is not a big issue you can double that to 8 GB. There are very few applications that can make use of that much memory. You can go with 16 GB but I don’t believe that is necessary. If needed, it can be upgraded at later time.

So my choice is Corsair DDR3 1600MHz 8GB (2x4GB kit), XMS3. Make sure you get them in 2x kits because that way it can use dual-channel bandwidth and gain some additional speed.

Solid State Drive

One of the components that will increase your productivity the most is the Solid State Drive (SSD). Once you install one into your system and see the file operation speed increase, a normal 7200 RPM hard drive will really seem sluggish. This is probably the best upgrade you can get for your machine no matter what you will use it for. Traditionally, SSD drives have been quite expensive but I believe this is no longer the case. If you are not satisfied with their capacity then you can still use 2 drives – one for the operating system (SSD) and another for your data (traditional drive, for your work files, multimedia, games etc.).

Real world performance gives you 10-15 seconds Windows 7 boot compared to regular 1-2 minute. Even on SATA 2 system.

Some real world tests are here:

Real-World Performance – Windows And Mac Boot Times

The choice here is yours but I recommend you get a model not based on asynchronous NAND memory. These models are cheaper, but not much from their faster synchronous NAND brothers. My “Best Buy” choice – OCZ Vertex 4, 128 GB. This particular model comes (in fact whole Vertex 4 series) with the Indilix Everest 2 controller with practically no performance penalty whether you use it with compressible or non-compressible data and excellent performance with random write access. However, even if you get a cheap asynchronous memory based model it will still be considerably faster than a regular 7200 RPM hard disk.

My recommendation for the other drive (storage one) is a power-saving “green” model. 2 TB Western Digital WD Green would do nice for this purpose. Note that it spins at 5400 RPM so it is slower than non-green versions of their drives but that also means more power efficient, more silent etc.

UPDATE: Since the time of writing this post I’ve discovered that WD Green can have issues with excessive head-parking. This feature is called IntelliPark and it is designed to save power, but the way it is implemented could easily be called a design flaw – it parks head every 8 seconds by default. This could possibly lead to premature disk failure and can also have effect on disk performance under certain operating systems. WD has a tool called WDIDLE3 which you can use to disable IntelliPark but I didn’t want to bother. Instead, I would recommend Toshiba DT01ACA200 which spins at 7200 RPM and although it draws a bit more power (less than 1 W) it is also quite a bit faster. Additional problem with WD is that there are at least two versions of their 2 TB “Green” disks (WD20EZRX) – one with 3×667 GB platters and another with 2×1 TB platters and it seems that the one with 2×1 TB platters is better choice. However, there is no certain way to tell which version is it except putting it on scale and measuring its weight – definitely not a choice if you’re ordering it online. You can find more information regarding this on HDD Platter Capacity Database blog. As I couldn’t find neither of these problems with Toshiba drives (they all seem to use 1 TB platters and there is no excessive head parking) I would recommend Toshiba DT01ACA200 instead. Note that you will need more recent operating system with both of these drives as they use Advanced Format – Windows XP does not support it but Windows 7 and later do (the consequence is that the disk will run slower on Windows XP). There is a cure for that as well, at least for WD disks – it’s called WD Align Tool.

Conclusion

This is where this guide ends. I haven’t mentioned graphics card upgrades simply because I didn’t do any at the moment. So this has been left out of this guide (may be added at later time). I also didn’t go into details with power supply, keyboard and other minor components as it is a bit outside of the scope of this guide so you should choose those which you like the most. I hope this guide saved you some time – feel free to make a comment.