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What is the Microsoft Garage?

Have you ever wondered where some of the ideas for Microsoft programs come from? You know, the apps that are on the cutting edge. There is good chance they started out in the Microsoft Garage.

What is the Microsoft Garage?

The Microsoft Garage is a platform for Microsoft employees to explore new technologies and get their ideas moving in the right direction. Some of the projects succeed and some fail. But one thing is for sure, they are some of the coolest apps around.

First thing you should know is all of the projects are called experiments and are run by one or more Microsoft employees in their spare time. Some are open to the general public and some are by invitation only.

You have to remember that these experiments are strictly just beta tests. Once an experiment is complete, you can no longer download it. But it is a great opportunity to give a developer or team of developers a helping hand with some valuable feedback.

Now the experiments in the Microsoft Garage are not strictly for Windows. There are projects for all different platforms: iOS, Android, Xbox and of course, Windows.

And what is really cool is that Microsoft has even built several facilities at some of their development centers around the world just for the Garage developer teams. Microsoft evens holds special events to help these developers explore new technologies.

Some of the active experiments in the Microsoft Garage include Mouse Without Borders, a Windows based program that allows you to control up to four (4) computers from one keyboard and mouse.

And there is Face Swap for Android and iOS devices that, as the name implies, allows you to take a photo of your face and apply it to another photo.

Also noteworthy is the What Dog experiment, that as the name implies, tells you what breed a dog is. Just take a picture of a dog and What Dog will identify the breed.

So, if you would like to help in the development of some really cool apps, take a look inside the Microsoft Garage. You might be surprised by what you find.

Microsoft Garage

How to handle a tech scam

It happens to all of us. You get a pop-up on your computer screen or a phone call telling you that your computer is infected. More than likely it is bogus. So here is how to handle a tech scam.

How to handle a tech scam

Tech scams have evolved over the years. They first started out as random phone calls, but have quickly progressed to using pop-ups in web browsers. And the one thing they all have in common is that they try to scare you.

Who hasn't gotten a phone call from someone saying they are from Microsoft or Windows Support. At one point in time, I was getting 2-3 per week. But they started to slow down when Microsoft started to prosecute companies for using their company name.

So, then they started to use ads on websites to scare you. Since the majority of ad networks do not actively monitor the ads that get displayed, sneaking in a malicious ad is not that hard.

Now I am talking about ads that open up a new browser tab or window that claims your computer is infected. Some of them will have an animated image that shows files being scanned or even play an audio file saying your computer is infected.

The bottom line is they want to gain access to your computer. If they can get remote access, they can literally hold it for ransom. The following is a true story.

A customer called one day telling that they had a pop-up appear telling them that their computer was infected. Believing that they were from Microsoft, they called the phone number and gave them access to their computer remotely.

During the remote session, the customer realized it was a scam, hung up the phone and disconnected from the Internet. They then called me. I showed up and started to clean up their computer.

But the first time I restarted their computer, it came up with a system lock. The tech scammers had put a lock on the computer in an attempt to get them to pay to unlock it.

Luckily, I was able to restore the registry from a couple of weeks earlier and got the computer unlocked. But it could have been a whole lot worse.

Now there is one important thing you need to remember, Microsoft will never contact you, either by phone or a pop-up web page.

How to handle a telephone tech scam

This is an easy one to spot. The name on the caller id will usually be something simple as Tech Support or something similar. I have even seen scammers use disposable cellular phones that just display a name, like Joe Blow.

Now the advice I always give for spam e-mail applies here, if you don't know the person, don't open the e-mail. Same thing holds true for phone calls. If you do not recognize the name displayed on the called id, don't answer it. If it is important, they will leave a message or call back.

If you do happen to answer the call, it is alright to just hang up. They cold called you, you don't have to waste any time talking with them. Now if I'm feeling like having some fun, I'll tell them things like "I don't have a computer", "I don't have Internet access" or my favorite "Which computer are you talking about?".

But if you really want to know if they are bogus, do a search on Google for their phone number. Make sure to use the complete 10-digit phone number (1??????????).

The phone number for a legitimate company will always appear right on top of the search results. You would be amazed at some of the results I have gotten.

How to handle a web-based tech scam

As I talked about earlier, web-based tech scams usually come from third party ads that are displayed on trusted websites. The ads bring up another browser tab or window. And sometimes they will open a browser in what is called kiosk mode (full screen with no toolbars / title bar and no way of closing them).

Now you can close a browser in kiosk mode by using the keyboard combination Alt + F4 (closes the active window). Or you can close a browser by using Ctrl + Alt + Delete and selecting Task Manager. Once Task Manager appears, right-click on the browser name (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) and select End task.

Of course, if all else fails, you can always just turn your computer off. Wait about 15 seconds or so before you start it back up. Once it is booted back up, open the same browser that you had the tech scam appear in.

You should get a warning about how it did not close properly and it should ask if you want to open the previously opened tabs. Ignore the warning, do not open any of the previous tabs and you should be good to go. You can always run a scan with your anti-virus software just to make sure everything is good.

I get asked quite often why the installed anti-virus program did not stop the web-based tech scam. It is because the scam was not a virus, just a malicious ad.

The bottom line

I can never say this enough, never give a scammer remote access to your computer! As long as they cannot get inside your computer, they cannot do any harm.

So, what can you? For phone tech scams: Use your caller id to screen incoming phone calls. If you do not recognize the name, let it go to voice mail.

For web-based tech scams: Install an ad blocker in your browser. Adblock Plus is probably to most popular ad blocker. If you encounter a browser page or pop-up that tells you your computer has been compromised, close the browser using one of the methods listed above. And never call the phone number shown on the page.

And if you feel like taking it a little further, you can always report the scammers to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). The FTC has a fairly simple on-line complaint form. Just make sure you have the company name they used and the phone number they called you with or displayed on your screen.

Federal Trade Commission

FTC Consumer Information on Phone Scams

Overlooked features inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Microsoft recently released the Fall Creators Update for Windows 10. As usual, Microsoft has added some pretty cool features in this version of Windows 10. Let's take a look at some of the new overlooked features included in the Window 10 Fall Creators Update.

Overlooked features inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

There are a couple of new features that have gotten all sorts of publicity, the support of virtual reality headsets and mixed reality. But there are a few new features that have gotten passed over.

Make a movie using the Photos app

Creating a video using the Windows 10 Photo app
Creating a video using the Windows 10 Photo app

This feature is reminiscent of the old Windows Movie Maker program. You just select some pictures and videos, set up the different parameters and then export your video out.

A one of the coolest features in that you can add either predefined generic music or use your own. Another is the predefined themes that you can apply to your video. Here is a list of some of the other options.

  • Changing the order of the photos
  • Changing the duration a photo is shown
  • Various predefined photo filters
  • Adding text to a photo
  • Predefined motion styles

Easily insert an emoji

The emoji panel inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update
The emoji panel inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Do you like to use emojis? Well inserting them just got a whole lot easier. With the release of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, you can now insert an emoji with just a couple of keystrokes.

All you have to do is open a program that supports using emojis, like webmail in a browser or e-mail client (Outlook, Windows 10 Mail) You can even insert an emoji into a Microsoft Word document.

To bring up the emoji panel just press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + Period (.) or Semicolon (;) and left-click on the emoji you want to insert. If you want to insert multiple emojis, then you will have to repeat the keystroke combination for each emoji.

There appears to be over 1200 emojis to choose from. And if you left-click on the search magnifying glass and type the first few characters of the emoji name your looking for, the panel will display all the emojis that match.

And some of them you can even change the skin tone. To see this is action, search for Santa and use the skin tone box in the upper right-hand corner to change his skin tone.

Quick and easy dictation

The dictation box inside of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Now let's look at one of the cooler features inside the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, the on-the-fly dictation. If you have a microphone it's a pretty cool little program.

OK, I'm a little skeptical when it comes to doing voice recognition to text. I have had programs that said that they would translate from voice to text but none of them really worked well, but this one works pretty good.

I found the dictation program inside of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will work with any program that the basically types text, like Notepad or WordPad. Sure, it has its little quirks, it doesn't capture all of the words properly.

But about 95% of which you speak does get translated to decent human legible text. And if you hate to type, the dictation app could really help.

You can bring up the dictation app two (2) different ways:

  • Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + H on a physical keyboard
  • or
  • Select the microphone icon on the touch keyboard

Controlled folder access inside of Windows Defender

The controlled folder option inside of Windows Defender
The controlled folder option inside of Windows Defender

One of the most anticipated new features of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is the controlled folder access inside of Windows Defender. With all of the file encrypting malware outbreaks, this is a great new feature. But it does have its pros and cons.

In essence, Windows Defender blocks access to your special folders (desktop, documents, favorites, pictures, music and videos) from programs that it does not recognize (non-Microsoft). You can also add any other folder you would like to protect too. But you will have to turn this option on, as it is disabled by default.

Now this can also be an issue with non-Microsoft programs accessing files in the protected folders. Case in point, I recently updated a client's computer to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and QuickBooks couldn't get to the documents folder. But it was easily fixed by adding QuickBooks to the allowed programs list inside of Windows Defender.

Even though you can have Windows Defender working side-by-side with your existing anti-virus software doing periodic scans, the controlled folders option only works when Windows Defender is the only anti-virus program installed.

Understanding Windows 10 updates

In previous versions of Windows, we had service packs and critical / non-critical updates. But Microsoft changed all of that with Windows 10. To better understand Windows 10 updates, we need to take a closer look.

Understanding Windows 10 updates

With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft changed the concept of the Windows operating system. Microsoft calls it Windows as a Service. Basically, it is a new way to keep Windows 10 up to date.

Now the terminology Microsoft uses can be a little confusing. But when you break it down, it is quite simple. Let's start with the big picture, then work our way into the details.

Now Microsoft has created two (2) different categories for updates: Feature and Quality. Now this is where things get a little confusing. When Windows 10 downloads updates, it refers to them by Version (Feature) and Build (Quality)

In fact, everyone refers to Windows 10 by the Version and Build numbers. To better understand the difference between Feature (Version) and Quality (Build) updates, let's take a look at the About Windows program.

For this we will need to use the Run dialog box. I like to press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R to bring up the Run dialog box, but there are five (5) ways that you can do it. Here is a list of all of them.

The Run dialog box with the About Windows program name typed in
The Run dialog box with the About Windows program name typed in.

Once you have the Run dialog box up, just type in winver and click on OK. The following dialog box will appear. The Version number and the Build number are located on the same line.

The About Windows screen in Windows 10
The About Windows screen in Windows 10

Now let's take a look at the Windows 10 update history page.
The Windows 10 update history page
Here you will see Windows 10 updates broken down into Version (Feature) and Build (Quality). Now let's take a look and the difference between them.

Feature (Version) updates

Microsoft is planning on releasing Feature (Version) updates twice a year. They will include all of the Quality (Build) updates that were released for the previous version (up to the release date of the new version).

And Feature (Version) updates will include any new programs and / or features the have been tested out first by Microsoft employees and then the Windows Insider Program.

Programs and features can also be removed from Feature (Version) updates. So, if you are missing a Windows program after you apply a Feature (Version) update to Windows 10 you will know why.

What also can be removed is support for older hardware. Microsoft has already started to do this with some discontinued Atom processor based systems. So, if your computer doesn't run right after a Feature (Version) update, this could be the reason why.

Now the names of Feature (Version) updates will vary. We have had Feature updates named Anniversary (Version 1607), Creators (Version 1703) and Fall Creators (Version 1709).

The Version naming is kind of like a date stamp, as it is made up from the month and year it was released. The first two (2) digits are the year and the last two (2) digits are the month.

Now there is reason why you need to be able to identify the Windows 10 version you have. Microsoft is only supporting the three (3) most current versions. If you do not keep up on Feature (Versions) updates, you will stop getting Quality (Builds) updates.

Quality (Build) Updates

So, in previous Windows versions you would get the twice monthly updates: the second Tuesday of the month would be critical updates and the fourth Tuesday of the month would be non-critical.

Now Quality (Build) updates can be a mixture of security and non-security fixes. And the Quality (Build) updates are cumulative, so each one contains all of the previous Quality (Build) updates for that version of Windows 10.

For example, let's say you install Quality (Build) update #1 and miss Quality (Build) update #2, Quality (Build) update #3 has everything from #1 and #2 included. No more having to do multiple updates when you install / reinstall Windows.

With Windows 10, Quality (Build) updates usually are released on the second Tuesday of the month, to coincide with security updates for previous Windows versions. If Microsoft is going to release a security update, they release it for all supported versions of Windows. Not just Windows 10.

Microsoft also releases Quality (Build) updates periodically too. But for now, you can always count on Quality (Build) updates on the second Tuesday of the month.

Things to remember about Windows 10 Updates

  • If you miss an Quality (Build) update, don't worry. The next one will bring you up to date.
  • Don't forget to install Feature (Version) updates when they come available. You never want to get more than two (2) Feature (Version) updates behind. That way you will always get the latest security and non-security fixes for Windows 10.

Understanding long folder and file names in Windows

Did you know that there is a limit to how long a file name can be? Did you know that the folder name is also include in that limit? And what about the path? Let's take a look at long folder and file names in Windows.

Understanding long folder and file names in Windows

I recently recovered files from several Windows based computers for a client. He asked that I put them onto an external drive for storage. But I ran into a problem, file names that were too long.

Now allot of people think that the maximum length for the name of a File in Windows is 255 characters. But that is not really correct. Technically, Folders are also a File but with a special attribute designating it as a Folder.

And Folder and Sub-Folder names are also included in the full File name. So, the actual File name also includes the Folder and Sub-Folder name(s) as well. They all factor into the 255 character limit.

So, when you put all of the names of the Folder, Sub-Folder(s) and File together, it is called a Path. A Path is a string of Folder, Sub-Folder and/or File names, backslashes and sometimes a volume name (drive letter).

The Path to a Folder or File on your computer will contain a drive letter (C:\, D:\, etc.) at the beginning. A Path to a network Folder or File will contain just two (2) backslashes (\\) at the beginning. And a Path can be up to 260 characters in length.

For example, let's say you have a file named 'My Text File.txt' in a Sub-Folder of your Documents Folder called 'Simply Text Files'. The complete Path for it would be:

C:\Users\username\Documents\Simply Text Files\My Text File.txt

The name of the File itself is only 16 characters, but with the name of the Folder and Sub-Folders included, it is 59 characters. And the complete Path is 62 characters. And yes, spaces do count as characters.

So, getting a long File name error does not necessarily mean the actual name of the File is too long, it just means the length of the names of the Folder, Sub-Folder(s) and File altogether are too long. The simplest solution is to shrink the Folder or Sub-Folder(s) name(s) and leave the actual File name alone.

Now in my case, I was dealing with a couple thousand File names that were too long. And I could not identify where all of the Files were located. So, I went looking online for a program that could help me with this issue.

What I found was a cool little program called TLPD (Too Long Path Detector).
Too Long Path Detector folder selection screen
It showed me where all of the long file names were. And lucky for me, they were grouped together in Folders and Sub-Folders with fairly long names.

So, using the output from TLPD,
Too Long Path Detector text file output
I started shortening the Folder and Sub-Folder names. I kept running TLPD until I had all of the Paths down to under 225 characters. It was then I was able to copy all of the Files to an external drive for storage.

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