Do I need to remove my USB safely (and is life too short)?

I am always equally amused and annoyed by the dumb posts which are trying to be smart by telling me that “Life is too short to remove USB safely”. What’s even worse is that these are usually promoted by highly disorganized people (in my experience). So do you really need to remove USB safely or you can just disconnect it?

Now, as for the joke, it is mediocre at best – so please stop it! Here is my attempt to put a stop to both, the stupid joke, and the belief that you need to safely remove USB drive.

As many people do not know, Windows has a removal policy for USB disk drives and by default it is set on Quick Removal setting. Here is a screenshot of it:

USB Quick Removal
USB Quick Removal

As you can see from the screenshot, the default option is set to Quick Removal and as the description clearly says: Disables write caching on the device and in Windows, but you can disconnect the device safely without using Safely Remove Hardware notification icon.

So what does it mean?

When write-caching is disabled this means that any pending writes to disk drive will be executed immediately. This results in writes to a device being somewhat slower, but at least they are done immediately, when requested. Write-caching speeds up the process for fixed disk drives by queuing the writes for later (when there is more idle disk time available for the task), so the system can accept more writes and schedule pending writes if needed – which as a result speeds up the disk operation for the user, because he/she doesn’t need to wait as long before requesting another disk operation. Eventually, all the writes are executed – but this doesn’t have to be immediately. But this only is enabled by default for fixed drives like hard disks because it makes sense for them and USB (removable) drives usually have a default value set to Quick Removal.

So does that mean you can remove the USB without using the Safely Remove Hardware? Yes!

However, some small precautions should be noted – if you started copying files to a drive – it still needs some time to copy the files. Writes take time. So wait a few seconds until they are executed and the files are stored on USB drive. If USB drive has a LED light – you can see that the drive has finished writing when the LED is off or no longer blinking. If you are unsure, then use the “Safely Remove Hardware” – that will ensure that saving was done properly. If you only read some files from USB drive, then you probably don’t have to care about that.

So, why did Microsoft implement the Quick Removal for USB drives by default? Because life is too short? No, but because people usually don’t read manuals and they are aware that many of them are not using Windows as they should be using it, so they at least tried to make it easier for everyone.

How to remove “Get Windows 10″ update notification from system tray (KB3035583)?

If you are running Windows 7 or Windows 8 you may have seen the “Get Windows 10″ icon in the system tray.

If you are annoyed by it (like me), you can remove it easily. Here is how:

1) Press Windows logo key and start typing: Windows Update and press Enter key to open Windows Update window

2) Click on the small link Installed Updates (on the left side)

3) List of updates will open. Now, in the search bar (upper right) type in KB3035583 – that is the number of update responsible for displaying this icon.

4) Click Uninstall and restart your computer when it asks you.

After doing the above the update may reappear in the list of offered updates. If that happens, simply right click on the update and select Hide Update and it won’t be offered again.

Once again Microsoft is pushing sneaky updates described as “Important” and “Recommended Update”. While I welcome their move to offer Windows 10 for free to users, I still think the option to disable the tool or to uninstall it should also be offered, and not pushed to users.

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.