What’s This New “People” Icon in My Taskbar?

One of the easiest ways to determine if your Windows 10 machine has been updated to the “Fall Creators Update” is the appearance of a new icon to the immediate left of the notification area of the Windows taskbar. Hover your mouse pointer over it, and you’ll see it’s labeled “People”.

People Icon

It’s a new feature in Windows 10. My sense is it’s somewhat half-baked, and ultimately more annoying than useful.

But perhaps that’s just me.

Read moreWhat’s This New “People” Icon in My Taskbar?

Answering “How do you want to open this file?”

I got a file as an attachment to some email. I downloaded it, scanned it with my anti-virus, and then double clicked on it. Windows asked me “How do you want to open this file?” How should I know? Shouldn’t Windows know? What do I tell it?

In an ideal world, Windows would know. In an ideal world, it would simply open the file, or, if you needed to take additional steps, it would tell you what those steps would be.

I’m sure by now you realize we don’t live in an ideal world.

We need to learn a little about file types and file associations. Then we’ll know how to answer the question we’re being asked.

Read moreAnswering “How do you want to open this file?”

Why Does My Computer Say I Need to Be Administrator, When I Am?

My computer says that I need to be the administrator [to perform a task], but I already am! Any ideas as to what is happening?


You’re not the administrator. Not really.

Oh, sure, you may think you’re the administrator. Windows may have even lead you to believe you’re the administrator.

However, a security feature in Windows, on by default, means you’re not the administrator.

But you can be.

Read moreWhy Does My Computer Say I Need to Be Administrator, When I Am?

What Are Hiberfil.sys and Pagefile.sys, and How Do I Remove Them?

I recently noticed two huge files named hiberfil.sys and pagefile.sys taking up a bunch of space on my disk. I can’t delete ’em, or if I do they come back when I reboot. What are they and how do I get rid of them?

Hiberfil.sys and pagefile.sys are support files for two features in Windows. While you might be able to get rid of them, you might not actually want to.

Read moreWhat Are Hiberfil.sys and Pagefile.sys, and How Do I Remove Them?

When Is It Safe to Say “Yes” to User Account Control (UAC) Notifications?

I regularly get prompted to allow or dis-allow programs looking to access my computer. I have no idea how to know what is legit, illegitimate, or grey area (like manufacturer of my laptop collecting info on my computer use to try to sell me more stuff). Any ideas?

What you’re seeing is Windows’ “User Account Control”, or UAC. The basic premise is that before software does anything that could potentially install malicious software or otherwise harm your computer, the system asks you first.

The knee-jerk reaction is, “If you’re not sure, say no”. The problem is, there are most definitely times and situations where “Yes” is the correct answer.

There are some things you can keep in mind that will let you be a little more sure a little more often, and as a result, allow you to make a more informed decision.

Read moreWhen Is It Safe to Say “Yes” to User Account Control (UAC) Notifications?

The Four Characteristics of Computer Speed

The other day, I was at a friend’s home to diagnose a problem he was having with his Windows 10 computer.

It had become almost unbearably slow.

He’d called earlier, indicating the problem had begun after some kind of pop-up message to “call this number” that could not be dismissed, followed by mis-click of some sort on Microsoft Edge, at which point the disk light began flickering continuously and the system came to a crawl.

Fearing the worst, I advised him to turn off the machine until I could get there and see it in person.

Read moreThe Four Characteristics of Computer Speed

Reinstalling Windows 10 from Windows 10: “Reset This PC”

My machine wasn’t completely broken, but it wasn’t well. Months of turning things on and off, installing and uninstalling, and just generally “fiddling” while researching and documenting Ask Leo! articles left this particular Windows 10 installation a couple of features short of a full package.

This presented a great opportunity to experiment with the “nuclear option” built into Windows 10: “Reset This PC”.

Surprisingly, there’s now what I’ll call a “light” nuclear option, in addition to the traditional “delete everything and start over” approach.

Read moreReinstalling Windows 10 from Windows 10: “Reset This PC”

When I Use Start-Run, Why Does a Window Just Flash and Disappear?

When I try to use “Start” and then “Run” to run a command the DOS screen flashes momentarily then vanishes. Am I overlooking something obvious?

Not really. It’s only obvious if you’ve been using PCs since before there was Windows, and before there was a GUI.

Start-Run is incredibly useful, but it’s not appropriate for everything. The good news is, there’s a simple trick that covers it: run a Windows Command Prompt, and type your command into that instead.

Read moreWhen I Use Start-Run, Why Does a Window Just Flash and Disappear?

Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

In a previous article, I showed you how to create a backup image using Windows 10’s built-in backup program. Along the way, we were prompted to create what’s called a “Recovery Drive” to be used in the event of a disaster from which you wish to recover.

A recovery drive is a USB flash drive from which you can boot your computer in order to restore a previously created image, as well as perform a number of other Windows recovery tasks.

You don’t have to be taking a backup image to create a recovery drive, and it’s actually convenient to have around; it can take the place of your original installation media should that not be available.

Read moreCreate a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

How Do I Create a Shortcut that Bypasses UAC to a Program Needing Administrative Access?

I have a program that writes some information to an area of Windows 7 that requires administrative rights. As such, every time I run it, I am pestered by UAC. I understand there is a workaround to this by creating an entry in the Windows Task Scheduler, setting it to run as Administrator, then creating a shortcut which will execute that task entry. This is a trusted program – I have absolutely no concerns that it is doing naughty things. Knowing that I can do a workaround and knowing how to do it are two different things. Any help would be appreciated.

I’ve experienced the same thing, and it can definitely be annoying.

I would prefer that software we run regularly not require administrative access every time. Unfortunately not all software is written that cleanly. In those cases a workaround might well be a pragmatic solution.

You are correct: the workaround uses the Task Scheduler in an interesting way.

Read moreHow Do I Create a Shortcut that Bypasses UAC to a Program Needing Administrative Access?

How Do I Upgrade Windows When I Can’t Actually “Upgrade”?

As we saw with the Windows 10 roll-out awhile back, sometimes you can upgrade an operating system, and sometimes you can’t. The Windows 10 “upgrade” actually works only for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. If you have any other edition of Windows, you could still install Windows 10 (assuming your hardware met its minimum requirements) – you just can’t do it as an upgrade to an existing installation.

As it turns out, what you do in that scenario is very, very similar to exactly what you do when you’re not “upgrading” at all.

It’s called a reformat and reinstall. I’ll walk you through it, noting how the new version of Windows might impact the steps along the way.

Read moreHow Do I Upgrade Windows When I Can’t Actually “Upgrade”?

Why is My Screensaver Asking for a Password, and How Do I Fix That?

I’ve been using a screen saver for years. I used to be able to just move my mouse and get back to my desktop. However, now when I move my mouse, it takes me back to the ‘Welcome Screen’ and I have to enter my password again. How do I undo that?

It’s easy to fix, but it’s also an important aspect of security.

First I’ll make an argument for not changing it.

Then I’ll show you how.

Read moreWhy is My Screensaver Asking for a Password, and How Do I Fix That?

Get Rid of Cortana Completely

I saw your article last week about turning off Cortana. That didn’t really turn it off, it just hid most all the controls. When you search it’s still using Cortana. I want Cortana GONE.

Personally, I’m happy just ignoring Cortana and not letting “her” bug me by hiding all those controls, as we did previously.

Apparently, that’s not enough for some.

OK, fine. We’ll break out a bigger hammer. Since it needs to work in all editions of Windows 10, that hammer turns out to be a registry setting.

Read moreGet Rid of Cortana Completely

Backup and Restore the Registry Using System Restore

The registry is a database of information Windows keeps for just about everything. Most of your settings, configuration, passwords and more are all kept in the system registry. Windows applications are also encouraged to keep their settings and configuration information there, too.

It’s a key component of Windows, and while it doesn’t happen often, sometimes changes made to the contents of the registry can cause problems, from misbehaving applications to systems that simply won’t boot.

Unfortunately, changing some settings in Windows, particularly in the Home edition, requires us to play with the registry manually, increasing the risk that something might go wrong.

The solution? Back it up first.

Read moreBackup and Restore the Registry Using System Restore

Four Options for XP Die-hards

For PCs I still use XP. This is for several reasons (real or imagined) — I hate going to W10 and don’t plan to do so ever if I can. I hate the “upgraded” versions of Microsoft Office. They are ever more clumsy and harder to use. And — worst of all, they are not backward and forward compatible. I’m retired, but in my prior life I was involved with computers used in military air defense systems. If we had delivered software to the military with the software problems that Microsoft delivers to the public I think I would have been fired prior to the first delivery.

I am at a loss for what to do for my next upgrade. Shall I go to W7, suffer with W10, evolve to Linux, retire and let my brain rot — or what? I do not have an answer and soon I will have too many XP issues to progress further. (I spend a couple of hours a day investing in the market.)

Do you have any thoughts on this? I am not necessarily looking for a public answer, but your thinking would be valuable to me.

I have thoughts a’plenty.

You’re not alone in your situation. There are plenty of XP die-hards who are reluctant (to put it politely) to use anything else.

What’s right for you, however, still comes back to you, and what you’re willing to endure.

That being said, I’ll rule out brain-rot right from the start. This is a wonderful opportunity for just the opposite, in my opinion.

Read moreFour Options for XP Die-hards

How Do I Disable Cortana?

Cortana. Don’t use it. Don’t want it. Want her (it?) to go away.

There are registry hacks around that will actually disable Cortana. However, I don’t think they’re generally necessary for the average user who just wants Cortana hidden.

Instead, there are a few settings that will get 99% of the job done. It’s just not obvious where they are.

Read moreHow Do I Disable Cortana?

How Do I Move My OneDrive Folder?

When you set up OneDrive, it places the local machine copy of your files in a subfolder of your user folder. For example, on my machine, that would be:


Personally, I don’t like that. I prefer to have cloud storage folders like OneDrive at the top, or “root”, of my C: drive. Perhaps more practically, however, many people like to place these folders on another drive completely.

Let’s move the OneDrive folder.

Read moreHow Do I Move My OneDrive Folder?

How Can a PIN Be As Secure as a Password?

I get that the whole sign in-with-a-PIN thing in Windows 10 is convenient, but how can my 4 digit PIN possibly be as secure as my Microsoft account sign in password?

It can be as secure – perhaps even more secure – because it’s actually used in a slightly different way.

You can also choose to increase its security by using some of the same techniques we use for passwords in general.

Read moreHow Can a PIN Be As Secure as a Password?

Turn Off Fast Startup in Windows 10

“Fast Startup” was added in Windows 8. It’s on by default and applies when you boot or reboot your machine. I view it as a kind of hybrid that lands somewhere between a normal cold boot, in which everything is loaded afresh, and hibernation, in which the previous state of the machine is rapidly re-loaded from a disk image.

As I understand it, fast startup attempts to reuse some of the previous state of the machine’s last use so as not to have to reload everything from scratch. In “hibernate”, currently running programs and the users’ logged state is preserved, however when you shut down programs are closed and the user is logged out. However fast start can still reload much of the rest of the operating system more quickly from files saved during the shutdown.

The theory is that it saves time, and most of the time, it does.

It’s also something worth turning off when diagnosing boot problems, because it can occasionally have other impacts.

Read moreTurn Off Fast Startup in Windows 10

What is Event Viewer, and Why Does It Have So Many Errors?

In an ideal world, you’d never care about Event Viewer.

In an ideal world, software and hardware would always work, always meet expectations, and there’d never be a need to try to figure out why things are happening the way they are. In even a slightly less ideal world, we’d be able to rely on Event Viewer for clear and consistent information about what your system and all the applications running on it are experiencing.

Sadly, we do not live in an ideal world, or even a world only slightly less than ideal. While Event Viewer can be a source of excellent clues into system failures and behavior, it can also be a frustrating, incomprehensible mess.

And scammers are leveraging that confusing mess to their advantage.

Read moreWhat is Event Viewer, and Why Does It Have So Many Errors?

How Do I Downgrade from Windows 8 or 10 to Windows 7?

I have a laptop with Windows 10 and I want to downgrade it to Windows 7 but unfortunately, to go about this seems very confusing. Can you assist me or provide me with the steps to go about doing the downgrade? In addition, can you let me know if there are any setbacks that I’ll face if in fact I do perform this downgrade successfully?

Downgrading is a pretty simple process. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

I am going to start by trying to talk you out of doing it at all. In my mind, there is rarely a reason to downgrade from Windows 10 or 8.1 to Windows 7. But knowing that sometimes there are reasons, I will tell you how.

Read moreHow Do I Downgrade from Windows 8 or 10 to Windows 7?

Are Automatic Updates a Good Thing?

What are your thoughts on automatic updates? Windows updates, but also automatic updates for my spyware and antivirus programs. I have several and I have automatic updates turned on on all. Could this lead to problems by leaving my computer open to the net?

This one’s easy: I love automatic updates.

Let me explain why, and how to make sure your automatic updates are safe and doing what you think they are.

I’ll also explore one area where things have gotten worse instead of better over the years.

Read moreAre Automatic Updates a Good Thing?

How to Manage Taskbar Space

Machines keep getting more and more powerful. As a result, we tend to have lots of things running at the same time. Combine that with Windows itself running lots of things on startup, and that taskbar at the bottom of your screen may be getting pretty crowded.

There’s hope. The taskbar is a surprisingly flexible application. We’ll look at some ways to manage taskbar space and get you a little more room, perhaps even making the taskbar a little more useful as we do so.

Read moreHow to Manage Taskbar Space

What Is the System File Checker, and How Do I Run It?

In order to prevent malware from replacing critical system components with compromised copies, Windows works very hard to maintain the integrity of the system files on your machine. If you try to replace one of the “protected” files, you may get a message that the operating system has put the old approved version back. That’s “Windows File Protection”, now called “Windows Resource Protection”.

Unfortunately, there are occasional ways around system file protection. Sometimes it’s as simple as a hard disk error causing a system file to be damaged and become corrupt.

As a result, automated checking is nice, but sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands.

Enter the SFC, the System File Checker.

Read moreWhat Is the System File Checker, and How Do I Run It?

What Is a “Microsoft Account”?

Windows 10 wants me to use a “Microsoft account”. I’ve had a Hotmail account for years, is that the same? Different? Do I need to create yet another account to keep track of?

Many people are confused by the concept of a “Microsoft account”. Microsoft introduced it around the time of Windows 8; with the arrival of Windows 10, they’re pushing the concept even harder.

I’ve long held that Microsoft just doesn’t do product names well, but in this case, they had no choice. They needed a term for a more general concept.

Your Hotmail account already is a Microsoft account – as are many, many other accounts. That’s where people are getting confused.

Read moreWhat Is a “Microsoft Account”?

How Do I Recover from a Crash During an Uninstall?


Running Windows 7 Ultimate, I was trying to uninstall my Microsoft Office Professional 2010 when the PC shut down due to low power. When I later charged it and powered it on I realised the following:

  1. The add/remove software window was just showing a few of my softwares that are installed on the PC.
  2. Most of the software on the pc were no longer responding, showing a message like this, “This action is only valid for products that are currently installed”.

I have tried running safe mode with networking, tried running system repairs but the problem still persists. Please help!

I’m not sure I can. A crash during an uninstall like this is pretty serious.

I do want to give you a couple of straws to grasp at, but perhaps more importantly, I want to discuss why this might have happened, and what you need to do to prevent it from ever happening again.

Read moreHow Do I Recover from a Crash During an Uninstall?

How Do I Keep Windows Update from Rebooting While I Use My Computer?


I knew Windows 10 had gotten more aggressive about updates but today it took over and restarted in the middle of a live presentation!

It suddenly announced ‘I’m restarting at 12PM save your work.’ I went into settings and couldn’t uncheck the time and set a new one. It didn’t do a countdown, it didn’t let me postpone the update, so live, in front of hundreds of people at my author event my computer restarted. Ugh!

It was a long one, too. I was ‘dark’ more than ten minutes during my presentation.

Is there at least a way to set hours Windows cannot restart? I’ll do a registry hack, write VB code, whatever it takes.

Actually, Windows 10 now includes an option to set exactly what you’re looking for: the hours during which it should not reboot.

There are some restrictions, of course, but as long as your presentation happens during those hours, you should have what you need.

Read moreHow Do I Keep Windows Update from Rebooting While I Use My Computer?

What’s the Difference Between an App and Application?

Yes, there’s a difference.

In one of the more frustrating recent turns of terminology, the term “app”, which one might think is shorthand for “application”, now more commonly refers to something quite specific and quite different.

The adoption of the app/application difference in Windows started in Windows 8, and is carried forward in Windows 10 with a vengeance. It’s driving people who are trying to explain things – you know, people like me – absolutely nuts.

And, particularly when it comes to Windows 10, the distinction turns out to matter.

Read moreWhat’s the Difference Between an App and Application?

I Got Burned by Windows Update. Should I Just Avoid It?

Here’s a conglomeration of a variety of questions and problem reports I’ve received over the years:

I recently took an update via Windows Update, and after doing so, my machine wouldn’t even boot. It took a technician hours to get it working again. That’s not something I can afford to have happen again. I’m avoiding Windows Update from here on out.

Microsoft releases an update, folks see the update arrive automatically via the Windows Update process, and just as automatically, something fails. For a small percentage of computer users, Windows Update has a reputation for occasionally causing previously working features and functionality to fail. In the worse case, a bad update can even cause a machine to fail to boot.

I absolutely sympathize if that makes you very skittish about using Windows Update, or relying on Microsoft for help, ever again.

And yet…

Read moreI Got Burned by Windows Update. Should I Just Avoid It?

How do I Make Sure that Windows is Up-To-Date?

How do I make sure Windows is up-to-date? And … should I?

The last question is easy to answer: yes. Yes, you absolutely should keep Windows as up-to-date as possible.

The good news is that in most recent versions of Windows, you need do nothing. Windows will update itself regularly.

The not-so-good-news? In Windows 10, it’ll do so whether you want it to, or not.

Let’s look at how we got here, what “here” really looks like, what control you do or do not have, and what I believe you should do.

Read moreHow do I Make Sure that Windows is Up-To-Date?

How Do I Fix Windows Update?

I returned from vacation and found that Windows Update would not download any of my 90 updates (even though it sat for many hours saying “downloading” nothing was coming). I eventually used Windows Readiness program and was able the to get 15 or so downloaded and installed but trying the next group again it is not downloading anything. There is no error message, just no action at all.

While it works well most of the time, problems with Windows Update can be very, very frustrating. There’s often no specific fix for whatever specific situation you’re faced with, other than to “keep trying” or “let it run”…

… neither of which helps in many cases.

Fortunately, Microsoft has outlined what I’ll call the nuclear option: resetting Windows Update completely. Regardless of the problem you’re faced with, if it involves Windows Update, I suggest you give this a try.

Read moreHow Do I Fix Windows Update?

How Do I Tell Which Program Is Using So Much Memory?

Occasionally, Windows will report that it is running low on, or completely out of, memory. When that happens, programs may start to misbehave, fail, or crash completely.

Of course, one of those failing programs could be Windows itself.

Recent versions of Windows have made it a little easier to determine which programs might be consuming more memory than is warranted, leading to the dreaded “out of memory”.

Read moreHow Do I Tell Which Program Is Using So Much Memory?

Where Can I Download Windows?

I’ve lost my Windows 7 installation disk, but I possess the product key. What should I do if I want to reinstall Windows on my computer? Can I download Windows somewhere?

First: take a full system-image backup as soon as possible, and use that as a fallback. You can always restore to that image in lieu of a reinstall, and you’ll be back to where you were at the time the backup was taken.

You could also get in touch with the vendor who sold you the computer. They provided you with a copy once; perhaps they’ll be willing to get you a replacement copy.

You could, I suppose, go buy a new copy. Most people aren’t interested in doing that, because they don’t want to pay for something they feel they’ve already purchased.

That’s when most people resort to finding a place from which to download Windows. Depending on the version of Windows and where you find it, it might even be legal.

Or it might not.

Read moreWhere Can I Download Windows?

Block Windows 10 With GWX Control Panel

Many people are annoyed with Microsoft’s aggressive promotion of Windows 10. Not only is the “update now” utility being installed as an “important” update, all signs are that things are going to get worse. Microsoft appears to be downloading Windows 10 on the assumption that you want it.

That’s a bad assumption, very bad.

Through a variety of means – an application installed automatically, Windows Update performing those updates automatically, Windows 10 being downloaded automatically, the installation process being initiated automatically – Microsoft has been virtually ramming Windows 10 down your throat, whether you want it or not.

The fact that it’s a good operating system is being lost in the negative reaction to confiscating people’s ability to choose.

GWX Control Panel can block Windows 10 and give the choice back to you.

Read moreBlock Windows 10 With GWX Control Panel

How do I fix the recycle bin?

My Recycle Bin is full of items like “HTML” and “gif” and I cannot empty it even though I once gave it 12 hours to populate the list and do so. It happened when I attempted to delete unnecessary photos and apparently went overboard. Right clicking won’t work. I can delete one at a time but there are 6,864 of them. I have searched the internet and the list of your subjects to no avail. I believe the only way to fix the Recycle Bin is to to remove the Bin entirely and rebuild it in the Registry.

The good news is that the registry is not involved.

More good news is that we can easily delete the entire Recycle Bin. In fact, it’s probably faster to delete the Recycle Bin than it is to empty it, when it’s that full.

The bad news is that if you want to recover anything currently in the Recycle Bin, you’ll need to do that manually, one at a time, before you start.

Read moreHow do I fix the recycle bin?

How can I tell if my computer can run Windows 10?

Can my computer run Windows 10?

That’s actually a very good question. It’d be great to know if your computer can run Windows 10 before installing, right?

What’s frustrating is that even when the answer appears to be “yes”, it may still be “no” – which means at best, all I can say is … “maybe”.

Microsoft provides criteria to determine whether or not your computer can run Windows 10. The problem is that several months after its release, it’s clear that that those criteria aren’t enough. Even after supposedly meeting the requirements for Windows 10, some upgraded machines still run into trouble.

I’ll review the issues I’ve heard about, and make some recommendations as to what you should do.

Read moreHow can I tell if my computer can run Windows 10?

How Do I Set a Custom Icon for a Desktop URL Shortcut?

I recently purchased a new PC. I would like to make a custom icon to Google that shows the Google square as red, white, and green, as opposed to the IE world. It’s the same with files; it shows just an open manilla folder on the desktop, which I would like to change. Any info on this would be appreciated.

It’s not that difficult to provide a custom icon for a shortcut at all. In fact, there are a couple of approaches.

I’ll show you both.

Read moreHow Do I Set a Custom Icon for a Desktop URL Shortcut?

I got a blue screen error, what should I do?

I was surfing the net with Google Chrome. No other applications open (Norton was running in the background). All of a sudden I got a blue screen with a frowny face and the message: “Your PC ran into a problem and needs to restart. We’re just collecting some error info, and then we’ll restart for you. If you’d like to know more, you can search online later for this error: MEMORY_MANAGEMENT.”

The computer shut down and then restarted and I re logged in and everything seems to be fine. I’m not sure how to interpret the error message and am not sure where the “collected data” went. Would like your advice on what to do next – do I pursue the MEMORY_MANAGEMENT topic or ignore the event or something else?

In short: back up regularly (you’re doing that already, right? 🙂 ), and carry on like nothing happened.

Until, or unless, it starts happening more often. Then things get complicated.

Read moreI got a blue screen error, what should I do?

How Do I View Hidden Files and Folders?

I have my old Outlook .pst file on a flash drive, but I cannot get it to my hard drive. The location of the newly created Outlook .pst file is in the location – c:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook – but when I try to step into that location, there is no “AppData” folder. What am I missing?

Windows is trying to be helpful by protecting you from yourself.

Or perhaps it’s trying not to confuse you with too much data.

Or maybe it’s trying to protect itself from you.

Whatever … Windows is hiding that folder.

You and I, we know what we’re doing, so we’ll tell it to stop.

Read moreHow Do I View Hidden Files and Folders?

Why is Windows 10 being downloaded to my machine? And how do I stop it?

Microsoft made a liar out of me.

I’d confidently asserted that unless you asked for Windows 10 – either by direct download or by accepting the “reservation” they offered before launch – Windows 10 would not be downloaded to your machine. I figured people who claimed otherwise had obviously forgotten that they’d somehow asked for it. That reservation thing was pretty confusing, after all.

I was wrong.

As reported by The Inquirer, and several other news outlets, Windows 10 may be downloaded to your machine whether you want it or not.

Read moreWhy is Windows 10 being downloaded to my machine? And how do I stop it?