Everything You Need to Know About Windows – January 2020

After the holiday break, there has been quite a lot of Windows activity, including the general availability of Microsoft’s new Chromium-based browser, a bug fix for search in File Explorer, and an update to the Your Phone app that lets you receive and manage calls right from your PC.

Chromium-based Microsoft Edge browser reaches general availability

As reported by Brad Sams on Petri, Microsoft made the new Chromium-based version of its Edge browser generally available after almost a year of testing. But classic Edge and its EdgeHTML engine are not being removed from Windows 10. Microsoft is planning to slowly roll out the new Edge to non-corporate users via Windows Update.

The new browser will replace classic Edge in Windows 10. User data, like favorites, will automatically be migrated. Users will notice that the Chromium-based Edge has a new icon and a more Chrome-like interface. Enterprises can deploy the new browser using an offline deployment package. The browser is also available now for Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and macOS.

If you are relying on Windows Update to manage Windows 10 in your environment, you can block the update using the Microsoft Edge Blocker Toolkit. For more information on how to use the toolkit, see How to Block Automatic Delivery of Microsoft Edge on Petri. If you don’t want to wait while Microsoft makes the new browser available for your device, you can download Edge from Microsoft’s website here.

Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 reach end-of-life

Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 reached end-of-life on January 14th. Meaning that Microsoft will no longer issue bug fixes or security patches for the operating system, unless your organization has decided to pay for Extended Security Updates (ESU) or if it qualifies for ESUs under a licensing agreement. There are several options for customers:

  1. Windows 10 Enterprise E5, Microsoft 365 E5, or Microsoft 365 E5 Security customers will get an additional year of Windows 7 SP1 support for free. After that, they will receive a fifty percent discount on Extended Security Updates (ESU) for Windows 7.
  2. Pay Microsoft for ESUs.
  3. Migrate to Windows 10.
  4. Use Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop service in the Azure cloud.

Desktop background bug

The last security update for Windows 7 SP1, issued as part of January’s Patch Tuesday, has a bug that for some users replaces desktop backgrounds with a black image. Microsoft has acknowledged the problem and will provide a fix for all customers.

Microsoft issues warning about Internet Explorer zero-day

Not long after this month’s Patch Tuesday, Microsoft published a security advisory for an Internet Explorer zero-day. The vulnerability is a remote code execution (RCE) flaw in the way that the JavaScript engine handles objects in memory. An attacker can use it to run arbitrary code in the context of the currently logged in user, take complete control of a system and install new software, read and modify data, and create new accounts with full user rights. Users without administrative privileges are less impacted.

The flaw affects Internet Explorer 9, 10, and 11 on Windows 7 through to Windows 10, and the respective server versions. The bug is rated critical for Windows client SKUs and moderate for Windows Server.

A CVE has been assigned to the vulnerability (CVE-2020-0674) but there is no patch for the bug at the moment. Microsoft is working on providing a fix. Although it’s not clear whether a patch for Windows 7 will be made available for organizations not paying for Extended Security Updates (ESU), as the OS reached end-of-life January 14th.

For mitigations, see Microsoft’s security advisory here.

Windows 10 and Server Insider preview builds

Insiders on the Fast Ring got several updates to Windows 10 this month.

Fast Ring builds

Build 19541 includes a new location in-use icon in the notification area, an option to show the architecture of each process in Task Manager, and an update for the Cortana app that reintroduces Bing Instant Answers and Timers.

Build 19546 got a graphing mode in Windows Calculator and Microsoft announced the Indexer Diagnostics app beta in the Microsoft Store. The new app can be used to help troubleshoot the indexer and issues with Windows Search.

Build 19551 got a ton of improvements and bug fixes but no new features. Although Microsoft did say that it was conducting an experiment in the way driver updates are delivered via Windows Update. Until March 5th, 2020, drivers categorized as ‘optional’ won’t be automatically installed on Insider builds 19536 or later.

Finally, build 19555 was released to the Fast Ring and again it contains no new features, just bug fixes.

Slow Ring builds

Microsoft released Windows 10 20H1 build 19041.21 for Insiders on the Slow Ring. It is a cumulative update that includes the security updates made available as part of Patch Tuesday.

Windows Server vNext build 19551

This build of the next semi-annual version of Windows Server includes a fix for containers that enlightens National Language Support (NLS) components so that they are container-aware. You can find more information about the build here.

Microsoft could be retiring the Store for Business and Store for Education

A report on ZDNet by Mary Jo Foley says that Redmond could be looking to phase out the Microsoft Store for Business and Store for Education. The Store was originally developed to distribute and update Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps securely in Windows 10. But UWP never really took off with developers. And along with the demise of Windows 10 Mobile, UWP as a stand-alone development platform is considered by most to be dead in the water.

Foley says that while Microsoft isn’t saying anything publicly, officials across various teams are trying to develop a new strategy. The Microsoft Store for Business and Store for Education will likely be deprecated by June 30th, 2020. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that customers with an investment in the Store won’t be able to keep using it for a limited period beyond that point. The web version of the Store is likely to stay, but it’s not known if the built-in Windows 10 Store app will remain.

For more information on this news and what plans Microsoft might have for distributing Windows apps, see Microsoft Planning to Wind Down Windows 10 Store for Business on Petri.

Microsoft releases bug fix for Windows 10 File Explorer search bug

Microsoft issued an optional cumulative update for Windows 10 (KB4532695) January 28th, including a fix for a series of File Explorer search bugs introduced in Windows 10 19H1. For a full list of the bug fixes included in this update, see Microsoft’s website here.

Microsoft Emulator announced for Windows 10X developers

February 11th should see the arrival of a preview SDK for Window 10X, along with new APIs for dual-screen support, documentation, and code samples. Microsoft Emulator is a dual-screen Hyper-V emulator that can be used with existing Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps and legacy Win32 desktop apps. Just like the Surface Duo emulator, which was released this month, Microsoft Emulator will allow developers to create applications for Windows 10X, both single and dual screen, without a physical device.

Microsoft Emulator requires a recent 64-bit Windows 10 Insider Build with Hyper-V, a 4-core CPU, minimum 8GB RAM, and a dedicated Direct X 11.0 or later GPU.

Your Phone Calls starts rolling out to everyone

Last but not least this month, Microsoft has started to roll out a new version of Your Phone that includes the Calls feature. Calls lets you make phone calls directly from your PC. Calls was previously only available on Insider builds but it is now rolling out to everyone with Windows 10 19H1 or later. With calls, you can perform the following actions on your PC:

  • Answer incoming phone calls on your PC.
  • Initiate phone calls from your PC using the in-app dialer or contact list.
  • Decline incoming phone calls on your PC with custom text or send directly to your phone’s voicemail.
  • Access your recent call history on your PC. Clicking on a specific call will auto populate the number within the dialer screen.
  • Seamlessly transfer calls between your PC and phone.

Before you can use Calls in Your Phone, any connected handset must be running Android 7 or later, and your Windows 10 PC must have Bluetooth.

That is it for this month!

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IT consultant, contributing editor @PetriFeed , and trainer @Pluralsight . All about Microsoft, Office 365, Azure, and Windows Server.