25 Windows 10 problems – and how to fix them

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25 Windows 10 problems – and how to fix them

Stop tearing your hair out and follow our tips for upgrading, configuring, securing and using Windows 10.

Windows 10 has been hailed by many as a vast improvement over the previous generation, marrying the best features of ‘classic’ Windows with the best bits of Windows 8.

However, no software is exempt from glitches, bugs and other assorted compatibility issues – least of all Windows 10. While it’s not as bug-riddled as previous Windows versions, there are nonetheless a series of common problems that have been persistently identified by users.

Here’s a list of some of Windows 10’s recurring issues as well as tips on how to fix them, starting with problems with upgrading to and updating Windows 10, then issues related to start-up and configuration, security and using the operating system.

I can't upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8

If you’re trying to upgrade to Windows 10 but your PC is stubbornly clinging to Windows 7 or Windows 8, here are a few things you can try:

  • Open Control Panel, run Windows Update and ensure that the PC is fully up to date. If updates fail, download and run the Windows Update Troubleshooter.
  • Use the Media Creation Tool. Click Download tool now, save the tool and run it on the PC you want to upgrade. If this didn't work for you back when Windows 10 launched, try it again now – the tool has been improved.

  • Make sure that hardware Disable Execution Prevention (DEP) is switched on in the BIOS, referring to your motherboard manual for help if you need it. If you still have problems, use the Start Menu to search for 'performance', run Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows, click the Data Execution Prevention tab and turn DEP on for all programs and services, then reboot and try again.

I can't upgrade to the latest Windows 10 version

Windows 10 has received a number of major updates, but some computers fail to install them automatically. From the Start Menu, type 'winver' and hit Enter. If you don’t have the latest build number listed by Microsoft (such as 15063.483), you may want to update to the latest version.

You can try troubleshooting Windows Update (see below), but in our experience, it's best to use the Media Creation Tool. Download it and use it to upgrade the PC. Note that you'll see a 'Ready to install' screen that, worryingly, doesn't mention anything about an update: this is correct, just check that the installer is about to install the correct Windows 10 version (Home or Pro) and that it's set to keep personal file and apps, then click Install – your data, apps and (almost) all of your settings will remain untouched.

I have a lot less free storage than before

You might not know, but after installing Windows 10 the old version of the OS is hanging around in the background taking up useful space. Surprised? When you upgraded, your old version of Windows doesn't disappear. It's still in the back of the system and goes by the name ‘windows.old’ and takes up valuable disk space.

You may be asking as to why this happened and the answer is that Microsoft isn't quite as controlling as some other big tech companies. Instead of forcing users to update their hardware and never look back, Microsoft keeps a hold of the important files that made up your previous OS in the C:/ drive. This is in case you don't like the new Windows 10 and decide to change back to the previous operating system that you might be more used to.

If you like the new OS and want to delete the old one for good, then click on the Windows Start button and type "cleanup" to automatically search the system. A Disk Cleanup app should appear before you in the search criteria field. Click on it to open the application. 

A drive selection box should appear. Simply select the drive your OS is installed on. The default drive should appear first which is usually the C:/ drive. If you're confident that this is the main drive where your OS is installed, hit OK. Windows should scan your system for a while and then a box will pop up.

Now, two things could happen at this point. You could be presented with a list of files to delete right away, one of which is “Previous Windows Installation(s)”, or if that option is not visible, you will need to select the “Clean up system files” option on the bottom left.

Windows will do some more calculations and give you another a very similar looking box, this time with the option to delete “previous windows installation(s)”. You might have to scroll down to find it, but it should be taking up a sizeable bit of drive space, in our case, almost 5GB. Tick this option and click OK. In the separate message box that appears asking if you’re certain you want to send this, click Delete Files, and you’re done.

Why is system Restore is disabled?

For some reason, System Restore isn't always enabled by default in Windows 10; we wouldn't hesitate to turn it on.

Search for “Create a restore point” in the Start Menu and select it in the results, then highlight the system drive, click the Configure button and select Turn on system protection. Use the slider to set an appropriate amount of maximum disk space – about 5GB ought to be enough.

Note that, annoyingly, some Windows 10 updates turns this off again – you'll need to turn it back on.

Why is Windows Update not working?

Many people have reported issues with Windows Update in Windows 10. Check first that you've upgraded to the Windows 10 Fall update (see above). If you're still getting problems, download and run the Windows Update Troubleshooter, then reboot and try to update again.

If the problems remain, you might need to get a bit more stuck in. First, check that System Restore is configured (see above) and create a restore point. With this done, use Win+x and select Command Prompt (Admin), then type “net stop wuauserv” (without the quotes) and hit Enter, followed by “net stop bits” and Enter.

You should see confirmations that each service was either stopped or wasn't running. Next, open Explorer, navigate to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution, and delete its contents including any sub-folders. Now reboot, open Windows Update and click Check for updates.

How do I turn off forced updates?

If you're like many users, you set up previous Windows releases so that they wouldn't install updates automatically – one forced reboot is one too many. To be fair to Microsoft, Windows 10 handles post-update reboots much more elegantly, but we'd still rather be in control from the outset.

There is a workaround for users running Windows 10 Pro: from the Start Menu, search for “gpedit” and run the Group Policy Editor. Expand Computer Configuration in the left-hand pane, and navigate to Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Update.

Double-click Configure Automatic Updates in the list, select the Enabled radio button, and in the left-hand box select “2 - Notify for download and notify for install”. Now click OK, and you'll be notified whenever there are updates – unfortunately, they'll be a daily irritation if you're using Windows Defender.

The Group Policy Editor isn't available on Windows 10 Home, but we'd recommend you at least open Windows Update, click Advanced options and select “Notify to schedule restart” from the “Choose how updates are installed” list. While you're here, all Windows 10 users might want to click Choose how updates are delivered, and ensure that Updates from more than one place is either off, or set to PCs on my local network.

How do I stop Windows 10 installing updates when I shut down?

Sometimes you go to shut down your PC, you may see a yellow exclamation mark icon on the ‘Shut down’ button. This basically means that Microsoft has downloaded Windows updates in the background and will apply them to your PC as soon as you click the ‘Shut down’ button. Depending on your Windows version and the size of the downloaded files, the time required for your PC to update and shut down can vary from a few seconds to several minutes.

There’s a simple way to bypass installing these updates and shut down your PC immediately. This method can be a life­saver if your laptop battery is low or if you’re in a hurry to shut down. The updates will then get deferred to the next time you switch on your PC.

First, save any files you’re working on and close all the programs on your PC. Now press the Windows key+R to open your Run dialogue box, type “cmd” into it, then press Enter to open your Command Prompt. Type the following into it: “shutdown –s –f –t 00” (without the quotations). Here, ‘­s’ means shutdown, ‘­f’ is the command to force­close any open programs (including ones in the background) and ‘00’ refers to the time­delay after which the command should be executed (instantly). Press Enter and your PC will shut down.

What’s in these Windows 10 auto-installed updates, anyway?

Microsoft wants Windows 10 to be more akin to a web service than a traditional operating system. Nobody knows which version of, say, Xero or Netflix they’re using, and that’s how Microsoft wants Windows 10 to work. Alas, that’s achieved by obfuscating the update delivery process to the point where it’s very tricky to keep track of what’s being downloaded and installed, and what’s coming next. The positive spin is that users no longer need to worry about updates, as they happen in the background.

You can’t stop Windows downloading important updates, meaning keeping track of downloads is largely an exercise in curiosity, but clicking Details under “Updates are available” will show you what Windows Update has in store. Hover your mouse over any of the impending updates and a textbox will appear telling you what each download entails.

Infuriatingly, the textbox vanishes after five seconds, which makes reading longer passages difficult. To find out more, you can always highlight the update number (normally beginning KB), press Ctrl+C, and paste it into a search engine.

Next: Problems with Windows start-up and configuration

How do I fix slow boot times?

Like Windows 8 before it, Windows 10 uses a hybrid boot to enable fast boot times. When you shut the system down, apps and app processes are terminated, but the Windows kernel itself is hibernated to allow for a faster restart. In theory, it's great, but it seems to still be very slow for some Windows 10 users.

Disable it by searching for Power Options in the Start Menu and running the matching Control Panel applet, then in the left-hand pane click Choose what the power buttons do. Click Change settings that are currently unavailable, scroll down and un-tick Turn on fast start-up, then click Save changes. This should prevent very slow starts on affected PCs. Some users report that if they subsequently reboot, re-trace their steps and re-enable fast start-up the problem remains cured.

If you're dual-booting between Windows 10 and Windows 7, switching fast start-up off will also fix the problem where Windows 7 checks the disks each time you boot it: With fast start-up enabled, the earlier operating system doesn't recognise that the disks have been properly shut down by Windows 10.

Why aren’t all my programs in the start menu in Windows 10?

If your Start menu has more than 512 individual items in it, there’s a chance they won’t all show up when you click ‘All apps’ after clicking the Start button. If you suspect you’re affected, click the search bar and type “powershell”. Then, enter “Get-StartApps | measure”.

This will show you how many Start menu apps you have. If it’s more than 512, you might not see all of them. Microsoft says it’s working on a fix.

How do I log in automatically in Windows 10?

As Windows and Microsoft’s personal accounts – whether you came to yours via Hotmail, Live, Outlook.com or Xbox – do ever more, security becomes more important. If, when you installed Windows 10, you gave it your Microsoft account details, your PC will already hold plenty of data. That’s why, when you come to log in, you’re asked for your password each time.

In practice, this can be a bit irritating. There’s nothing like turning on your PC and going to boil a kettle, only to find you still need to log in and wait for your computer to load your startup applications. The medium-security solution is to go to Accounts in the Settings menu and choose Sign-in Options, then add a PIN number. These need to be at least four characters long. The lowest security option is to have your Windows 10 PC start without a password.

Click the search bar and type “CMD” to load a prompt. Type “control userpasswords2”, and uncheck “Users must enter a username and password to use this computer” in the resulting dialog box. Click OK and a new window will appear, into which you’ll enter your existing password twice. Click OK and your computer will start up and log in automatically in the future. We’ll leave it to your better judgement to decide whether this a wise move or not.

The lock screen gets in the way

Return to a locked Windows 10 device and you'll see a pretty picture. That's nice, but it's a needless obstacle in the way of logging in. If you're as impatient as we are, disable the lock screen by searching the Start Menu for regedit, and running the Registry editor.

Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows. If you don't already see a key named 'Personalization', select the Windows key, right-click it, choose New>Key and rename this new key to Personalization (sic). Right-click the Personalization key, choose New again then select DWORD (32-bit) Value. Select New Value #1 in the right-hand pane and use F2 to rename it NoLockScreen, then double-click it, change the value data to 1 and click OK. After a reboot, the lock screen will be gone.

Why has my printer stopped working in Windows 10?

Malfunctioning printers are a perennial problem of PC ownership, but Windows 10 throws a few fun new quirks into the simple task of putting ink on paper. Plenty of users have complained about Windows’ upgrade process nuking their printer drivers and leaving them with malfunctioning kit.

The good news is that, if your printer worked under Windows 7 or 8.1, it will almost certainly work under Windows 10 – you might just need to coax it into life. Open Settings, then choose Devices. If your printer appears, click it, then choose Remove Device. Next, opt for “Add a printer or scanner” and cross your fingers that Windows will find your printer: if it’s attached via USB you’ve got fairly good odds.

If nothing appears, you still have options. The easiest is likely to be heading to your printer manufacturer’s website and finding a driver package for Windows 10, although Windows’ “My printer is a little older. Help me find it” feature may prove itself useful. For networked printers, you’ll need to know your printer’s hostname or IP address: if you have either of these, click the relevant option and pop in the appropriate details.

Why are files opening with the wrong default apps?

Windows 10 has a nasty habit of reverting all the file associations back to default settings when it updates. This means that even if you specifically set certain types of files to open with certain apps, they may switch back to the Windows defaults.

This isn't ideal, especially given that the default Windows apps for many tasks are inferior to third-party alternatives. Luckily, there's a very simple fix for this, allowing you to restore your preferred associations.

Open Windows 10's Settings app, and under the System tab, you should find a category marked 'default apps'. From here, you'll be able to pick what kind of app opens different kinds of media. For example, you change it so that music is played in Windows Media Player rather than Groove Music, for example.

You can even get right down to the fine details, changing which apps handle specific file extensions. This means that you can set different programs to open specific image or video files, for instance, whilst still having the majority handled by a different application.

Where's Safe Mode when you need it?

Nothing gets you out of Windows trouble like Safe Mode, which is why it's inexplicable that you can no longer enter it by pressing F8 or Shift+F8 at boot. Although it's still available in Windows 10, you have to boot into Windows first, then either restart holding the left Shift key or via an option within Update & Security in the Settings app. Neither method is helpful if your PC can't boot into Windows in the first place. 

You can't get around this, which is why it's helpful to create a boot time Safe Mode option before trouble arrives. Hit Win+x and select Command Prompt (Admin), then type "bcdedit /copy {current} /d "Windows 10 Safe Mode" and hit Enter.

From the Start Menu type "msconfig", run System Configuration in the results, and navigate to the Boot tab. Highlight the Windows 10 Safe Mode option you just created, tick Safe boot and select Minimal under Boot options and – if necessary – reduce the Timeout value so you won't be inconvenienced; the minimum is three seconds.

Tick "Make all boot settings permanent" (in fact you can simply return here to delete the Safe Mode entry) and click OK.

You can repeat these steps, substituting suitable names in quotes at the Command Prompt, to create shortcuts for Safe Mode with Networking (tick Network rather than Minimal in System Configuration) and Safe Mode with Command Prompt (Alternate shell).

Next: Security and privacy problems

How do I fix Windows' privacy defaults

We're not fans of some of the data-sharing defaults in Windows 10, and we'd recommend all users review them periodically. Use the Start Menu to search for and run the Settings app, then click Privacy.

In the left-hand pane, you'll see many areas where your computer might be sharing data. It's worth spending time checking that you're comfortable with allowing apps to use your computer's camera, microphone, account information and so on, and where you are, checking that no surprise apps appear in the lists. Note, too, that the default Feedback & diagnostics setting is to send enhanced data to Microsoft.

If you use Windows Defender, click the back arrow and select Update & Security, then Windows Defender. Check that you're happy with the default behaviour, which is to enable Cloud-based detection and Automatic sample submission.

How do secure Windows' Wi-Fi settings?

Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of Wi-Fi Sense, which is designed to get you onto wireless networks more quickly. On a device with Wi-Fi, click the back arrow, select Network & Internet, click WiFi and select Manage WiFi Settings. We'd strongly recommend turning off Connect to suggested open hotspots, Connect to networks shared by my contacts, and disabling the button under Paid WiFi services if it's present.

Additionally, Wi-Fi Sense might result in the sharing of your network's wireless credentials among devices you don't control: allow a guest to log in and their contacts – and potentially theirs in turn – may also be able to.

Ridiculously, the only fix is to rename your network's SSID so that it ends with "_optout". We'd recommend confining guests to a guest wireless network, configuring your own devices not to use Wi-Fi Sense, and asking staff to do the same before allowing their Windows 10 devices onto the main wireless network.

Do I need antivirus software with Windows 10?

As with Windows 8, Windows 10 comes with antivirus software in the form of Windows Defender. Tightly woven into its host operating system, it’s updated regularly and monitors your PC in real-time, as well as giving you the option to run manual scans if you suspect something’s amiss. As out-of-the-box software goes, it’s usable, easy to navigate and stops a reasonable proportion of threats.

However, our testing revealed that it allows significantly more malware to slip through its net than the better third-party antivirus software. Fortunately, some of these more effective antivirus programs are free, while commercial versions offer more advanced protection tools.

With Microsoft aiming for Windows 10 to be installed on a billion PCs worldwide by 2017, the tempting target presented by the world’s most installed operating system isn’t getting any smaller – you’d be advised to take precautions beyond Microsoft’s own, flawed antivirus software.

Next: Problems using Windows 10

Turn off unnecessary notifications

Windows 10's Action Center is an excellent way to view all your computer's important messages, collating pop-ups and notifications from your email, social media apps like Facebook, updates from software like Adobe's Creative Suite and even system messages from Windows itself.

Unfortunately, it can quickly become cluttered with notifications that you're not really interested in, and having to dismiss repeated messages from over-eager apps can be an annoying hassle.

Thankfully, there's an easy way to ensure that the Action Center only shows you relevant information. Open the settings menu, then navigate to System | Notifications & Actions. You'll find a series of toggles governing how notifications are displayed, including the ability to turn off Windows tips, disable notifications from showing up on the lock screen or while presenting, and even the option to turn off notifications altogether.

You can also disable notifications on a per-app basis, so if Java keeps bugging you to install an update, or Candy Crush Saga won't stop nagging you to play another few levels, you can turn off notifications for those apps while leaving the software you actually care about to keep on giving you notifications.

Stop Windows 10 using 4G data 

Windows 10 often uses your internet bandwidth invisibly in the background which can play havoc with your data allowance if you’re using a portable hotspot.

To stop Windows 10 devouring your cellular data allowance in the background: 

  • Go to Settings, then Network & Internet.
  • Select Wi-Fi and then Advanced Options.
  • Click “Set as metered connection” to on, and Windows will stop fetching non-essential data in the background, such as app updates and Start screen tile updates.

Oddly, this tip doesn’t work if your PC connects to the internet via Ethernet.

Why can’t I get the Action Center to work in Windows 10?

One of Windows 10’s more irritating bugs is an intermittent one: you go to open the Action Center on the right-hand side of the screen and nothing happens. The Action Center hides some pretty useful shortcuts, particularly if you’re on a laptop, so its loss can be something of an annoyance.

One easy potential fix is to turn the system icons – in what we would, until recently, call the system tray – off and then on again. Right-click the clock and choose Properties, then “Turn system icons on or off”. Turn everything off, including the Action Center, and then turn it back on again. The Action Center should spring back into life.

How do I switch the search bar from Bing to Google in Windows 10?

In a similar vein to the previous problem, Bing won’t be for everyone. Anecdotal evidence is that it’s improved in the six years since launch, but if you’re used to your Google search history following you around on different devices, or simply prefer an alternative, it’s still possible to change Windows 10’s default search options.

If you want to use Edge, you can click the ellipses on the far right of the address bar and choose Settings, then Advanced Settings. The dropdown box for the default search engine will say Bing, but ‘Add new’ will give you more options.

In theory, anyway. For us, the alternative options list was blank. To fix this, go to your chosen search provider’s homepage (Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia all worked for us), and refresh the list of alternative search providers. Your alternatives should now appear.

Changing the default behaviour of the search bar is trickier. Microsoft doesn’t give you the option, leaving third-party kludges as the only way forward. If you want to use Google, set Chrome as your default browser and go to its web store. Find Bing2Google (free) and add it to Chrome. Web searches in the Windows 10 search bar will now fire up Chrome and deliver the results using whichever search engine is the browser’s default. Pleasingly, the rest of the search bar – for finding apps and settings and so on – continues to work as normal.

I can't play a DVD!

Windows 10 shipped without an app to play DVDs on. Which is not great if you like to watch movies on your PC. 

Luckily, Microsoft has released an app as a download. Trouble is it costs around $18. It’s also not very highly rated. Alternatively, you can download VLC, which is free and works just as well if not better.

 Bad localisation, Cortana 'not available'

Windows 10's localisation options seem convoluted, and we've had multiple reports of incorrect localisation even in computers that were upgraded from correctly localised Windows 7 or Windows 8 installations. Windows can also report that Cortana isn't available, even in regions where it is.

From the Start Menu, search for region and choose ‘Region & language’ settings. Check that Australia is selected under Country or region, and check that your chosen language(s) appear under Languages. Select your primary language, click Options and click Download under the language pack, and speech options if they're present. Check on this page that the keyboard is also correct – if it isn't, add the correct one then select the wrong one and remove it.

Click the back arrow and select ‘Additional date, time & regional settings’. Under Language, click ‘Change input methods’, select your chosen language, move it to the top of the list if it isn't there already, and click Options. Under Windows display language you might see either Enabled or Available - if the latter, click Make this the primary language. If you don't see either, download and install the language pack, then make it the primary language.

Click the back arrow to return to the language preferences, and in the left-hand pane click Change date, time, or number formats and check that the format is set to the correct language. Check the Home location on the Location tab, and finally use the Administrative tab to check the System locale, and use the Copy settings button to apply the settings to the Welcome screen and new user accounts.

Why is text blurry on my high-DPI screen in Windows 10?

If you have a high-DPI screen, whether on a PC or a Retina-compatible Mac, you’re ahead of the technological curve. By and large this is a good thing, but every now and then you’re going to find an app that doesn’t work as well. Individual apps have to detect the DPI of the screen they’re running on and scale upwards accordingly, so that text and image don’t appear blurred.

The list of compatible apps updated for high-DPI displays is growing all the time, but we’re not quite there yet. If you open Display Settings (right-click the desktop), you’ll be able to adjust your monitor’s scaling to make very small text readable. The result, in non-high-DPI apps, will be readable but blurry text.

There’s not much else you can do: every time you find an app that doesn’t support Retina-class displays, pop the developer an email. With enough clamour, eventually all apps will support next-generation displays.

Turn on Pop-Up Blocker in Edge

If you used Microsoft Edge, you may find that pop-up ads will get in the way of the websites you actually want to visit.

You can disable pop-ups by clicking on the icon with three dots on the right-hand side of the address bar and then clicking on "Settings", then "View advanced settings". Under "Block pop-ups" make sure this is setto "On". 

Save a web page as a HTML file in Microsoft Edge

Bizarrely, Microsoft’s new Windows 10 web browser can’t currently save web pages as a HTML file. The only workaround is to open the web page in Internet Explorer 11 (which is still included as standard with Windows 10) and save from there. 

To do this:

  • Select the menu on the far right-hand side of the Edge window.
  • Select the ‘open with Internet Explorer’ option. This will open your current web page in a new tab in IE.
  • In IE 11, press Control-S on your keyboard to access the Save as dialogue box.

This feature is based on articles that originally appeared at IT Pro and alphr.com.

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Copyright © ITPro, Dennis Publishing

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