Open-Shell: Regain Your Start Menu in Windows and Much More

The Start menu in Windows 8 was its most strikingly different feature. While it was tamed down a little in Windows 10, it’s still quite startling if you’re upgrading from, say, Windows 7.

Unfortunately, that tiled Start screen leaves many with a very negative first impression — a first impression that goes on to color their entire Windows experience.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Open-Shell (formerly Classic Shell) is free software that gives you your favorite Start menu back, as well as restoring and adding functionality to Windows Explorer.

Read moreOpen-Shell: Regain Your Start Menu in Windows and Much More

Coping with Gray Text

I am desperate and angry over the “trend” in graying fonts for the specious reason that it is more readable than black on white. It isn’t. Sometimes it is impossible to fill out a form because the font is so unreadable. Rather than take your time reiterating my lament, may I ask whether there is any recourse. If I thought there was any chance of getting a response, I’d ask Bill Gates himself.

Well, to start with, Bill wouldn’t be any help at all. He’s not been involved in the day-to-day workings of Windows for many years. Besides, this isn’t a Windows problem, it’s a website-design problem.

And it is a problem. It’s one I hear frequently.

Unfortunately, the remedies are either extreme or non-existent.

Read moreCoping with Gray Text

How Can I Make the Text on My Screen Larger?

I am “old” <grin> … so I need to use a magnifying glass to read a lot of the screen words. I suppose that they are in a six or eight-point font. Can I make the screen text larger? Say to a 10- or 12-point font?

I know how you feel. My eyes aren’t all they used to be either.

The good news is, it’s actually easy to make the fonts bigger, though the setting is often well hidden.

The bad news is, it’s also easy to do the wrong thing and end up with something that seems better, but isn’t.

Read moreHow Can I Make the Text on My Screen Larger?

How Do I Move the Taskbar Back to the Bottom?

My taskbar’s on the right side of my screen. How do I move the taskbar back to the bottom where it belongs?

A lot of people don’t realize it, but the taskbar can be placed on any edge of your screen: left, right, top or bottom. In fact, if you have multiple monitors, it can be placed on any edge of any display.

Occasionally — usually through a mis-click or accidental mouse action — the taskbar can get moved to somewhere other than where we want it.

So, let’s move the taskbar back.

Read moreHow Do I Move the Taskbar Back to the Bottom?

How Do I Fix Jagged Fonts in Windows 10?

This is something that’s been bugging me for months. There are times when the fonts in Windows 10 just look … well, they look crummy, for lack of a better term. They’re jagged and ugly and not the smooth presentation we’ve come to expect on modern machines.

I did discover that it was useful to set my display to its recommended or native resolution. There were two problems with that: first, sometimes I need to run at a resolution other than the native one, and second, even when set properly, I’d still run into the issue.

And perhaps most frustrating of all: I knew it doesn’t have to be like this. I was missing something obvious.

Turns out that was exactly right, except maybe for the “obvious” part. There was a checkbox….

Read moreHow Do I Fix Jagged Fonts in Windows 10?

Can I Tell If Something’s Been Pasted Instead of Typed?

I want to know, if I have received a .rar file which contains many jpeg files and I have to type it in Notepad, but I am doing copy-paste from the image in the Microsoft notes and then copy from there and I paste it in the Notepad and I save the document as .txt, can that be detected?

I get this question, and variations on it, surprisingly often. I have theories about why, but nonetheless it’s a real question that apparently a lot of people have.

On one hand, the answer seems obvious. However, depending on the circumstances, there are possibilities we need to consider.

The devil, as they say, is in the copy/pasted details.

Read moreCan I Tell If Something’s Been Pasted Instead of Typed?

Why Did Deleting a Desktop Icon Delete the Program?

I have always understood that deleting an icon from your desktop does not remove the installed program. I did a little clean up and deleted the Windows Live Mail icon, cleaned out the trash can and noticed my error, went looking for my program, no such item on the list, any idea what could have gone astray?

The Windows desktop can be a convenient place to keep frequently-used icons.

However, those icons can reference things in either of two very different ways, and understanding the difference is critical when you’re about to delete one.

Read moreWhy Did Deleting a Desktop Icon Delete the Program?

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?

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

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 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

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 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?

What do I do when Windows Explorer crashes?

Windows Explorer keeps crashing on me. Sometimes, all that I need to do is open a folder in it, and *poof* – it’s toast. Why? And what do I do? And to be clear, I’m talking about Windows Explorer crashing – not Internet Explorer.

Windows Explorer (also known as File Explorer in Windows 8 and later) is a very special program. In many ways, it “is Windows”, in that Windows Explorer is actually the program that’s responsible for displaying the task bar, the Start menu, the task-switcher, and a fair amount more.

Oh, and it’s also the program that you can use to browse around your hard disk to look at files and folders.

It’s definitely completely unrelated to Internet Explorer, but there is one characteristic that they share that can cause the kinds of problems you’re seeing.

They can both be extended.

Read moreWhat do I do when Windows Explorer crashes?

How can I prevent someone from installing random stuff?


My nonagenarian father loves his Windows 7, 64-bit computer. As he slows down and finds it harder to get out and about, his PC and its connectivity are  his portal to the larger world. The problem is that he’s tempted by every pop-up and/or free application he encounters especially for those that promise to speed up his machine, repair his registry, electrify your internet connection and dramatically improve your system’s performance, so not only is his hard drive full of crapware, but I worry about the security threats that his curiosity invites on to his machine.

I visit him frequently and we spend a lot of time cleaning out these programs. But sure enough, he’s reinstalled the same programs between visits. I’ve lectured him but these explanations have about as much impact on him as his lectures did on me 50-odd years ago. Now, I suppose I could lock down user account control so that he couldn’t install anything, but I think that would be an unacceptable affront to his explorations and his dignity. So, do you have any potential solutions? Ideally, I’d like to remotely manage his system so that he can explore the net and software and I can learn of and correct his frequent misadventures.

I love hearing about people in your father’s situation who have discovered the ways that the internet and technology can open their world. That he’s in his nineties is just awesome.

That being said, I can certainly understand that a little restraint on his part might be appreciated. Let’s talk about some ideas.

Read moreHow can I prevent someone from installing random stuff?

Why are applications and operating systems hiding so much these days?

What’s with hiding things in today’s world? Chrome, now Firefox, IE, and almost all of Windows 8! Talk about wanting to see everything – we’re going backwards. It took me a long time to figure out how to do a simple restart in Windows 8 and I consider myself at an advanced level of computer knowledge.

Windows 8 really brought this home for many people, but it’s true for most applications, web services, and other operating systems as well.

I won’t say that they always get it right, but I understand why they’re doing it.

Read moreWhy are applications and operating systems hiding so much these days?

How do I change the Start sequence?

How do I change the sequence of loading items shown in MSConfig in Windows XP or Windows 7? And how do I do that in Windows 8? I couldn’t’ even find MSConfig. Perhaps many people would prefer to have their anti-malware software loaded first?

You don’t want to play around with changing the start sequence. It’s more complex than most people realize. Sometimes, it’s even error prone.

Let’s talk about why.

Read moreHow do I change the Start sequence?

Is There a Way to Get a Notification Sound when Startup is Finished?

I receive the Windows startup sound and I ignore it because I’m doing other things. And then a little while after that, I see that it’s ready to go because it has now loaded the different startup pieces of software. Is there any way in which a sound can be inserted that tells me the system is ready to go?

This actually would be kind of handy.

I’m very much in the same situation that you are. My machine automatically reboots overnight so that when I login in the morning, it takes a few seconds to reload all of the startup software and just do a couple of things. It would be nice to know when it’s done.

Unfortunately, the concept of startup in Windows is incredibly complex.

Read moreIs There a Way to Get a Notification Sound when Startup is Finished?

What’s the Difference Between Typing and Copy/paste?

Is there a difference between typing and copy/paste? I’ve got the same data in Notepad. Now, I’m typing the data into a form or I’m pasting that same data into the form. What’s the difference between the two processes? Is it possible to know that I was not using the keyboard by typing, but I was just pasting the data? Or is there any software that can prove the difference between the two processes?

The difference between typing and copying/pasting depends on the program that you’re using.

In an ideal world, the program would not know whether characters were typed in or pasted from the clipboard. Most programs really have no need to know or care about the difference. In fact, many applications are simply not involved in the process whatsoever.

Many, but not all.

Read moreWhat’s the Difference Between Typing and Copy/paste?

I Can’t See the Top of a Window, so I Can’t Minimize, Maximize, or Close. What Can I Do?

Every once in a while for a variety of reasons, it’s possible for a window to get positioned such that its title bar – the bar across the top of the window with the program name as well as the Minimize, Maximize, and Restore buttons – is off the screen, becoming both impossible to see and impossible to click on using the mouse.

Almost as common are windows that are completely off screen – perhaps due to unplugging a second monitor before moving all windows back to the remaining screen.

If you’re used to using the controls on a window’s title bar to move, manipulate, or otherwise deal with the application, you’re kind of out of luck.

At least if you’re using a mouse.

It might be time to break out the keyboard interface.

Read moreI Can’t See the Top of a Window, so I Can’t Minimize, Maximize, or Close. What Can I Do?

How Do I Gain Access to Files Windows Says I Don’t Have Permission to Access?


In one of your articles on recovering files after a hard disk crash you stated: “Another alternative is to take the old drive and place it into an external USB enclosure, …”

I’ve done that – even though all my old files are on the HD, I can’t access them due to Windows file permissions. Is there a simplistic command I can execute to change all file permissions on the ext hard drive so I can finally access them? Thanks in advance for your time and response.

Yes, there are a couple of approaches. I’ll touch briefly on the Windows GUI approach, but then I’ll show you how I really do it, using the Windows Command Prompt.

In recent versions Windows  has apparently tightened some of the file-level security so that frequently when sharing hard drives and removable media across machines this scenario comes up more often than just when recovering files from a damaged hard drive.

Read moreHow Do I Gain Access to Files Windows Says I Don’t Have Permission to Access?

Why Does the Space Used by Files on My Hard Drive Show Different Numbers Depending on How I Look?


In explorer, under the properties of the “C” drive, the space USED is 70 gb. All folders are shown, and by selecting all the files and folders on the drive contents and properties, I get 31gb used. I can not find the other files

It’s worse than you think. Just with a little poking around I was able to generate several different numbers for the “spaced used” on my hard drive.

I’ll admit, it’s frustrating. Fortunately it’s not something we need look at very often, but you’d think the line between what’s used and what’s not used would be clear. Actually it is, but there are different ways of looking at “what’s used” that don’t tell the whole story.

Read moreWhy Does the Space Used by Files on My Hard Drive Show Different Numbers Depending on How I Look?

Safely Remove Hardware: Where Did the Icon Go? How Do I Safely Remove Hardware Without It?


I have several USB devices, and I’m used to using the “safely remove hardware” icon in the taskbar before I unplug any of them. All of a sudden that icon has disappeared, and I see no way to “safely remove hardware”. What do I do? Can I just unplug the device I want to remove anyway? Or do I need to reboot every time this happens?

This happens to me all the time. The remove hardware icon in the taskbar’s notification area disappears occasionally for reasons unknown. I’ve never actually had a problem just unplugging the device anyway, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable doing so.

So, I stumbled onto a fairly reasonable workaround.

Read moreSafely Remove Hardware: Where Did the Icon Go? How Do I Safely Remove Hardware Without It?