How I work: Chrome Extensions

Google Chrome is currently the most popular web browser in the world with 62.58% usage as of March 2019. One big reason for that dominance is Chrome web extensions. Other browsers have web extensions, but Google did it first. Their web extension store is simply more mature. Having the right Chrome extensions can transform Chrome from being just a web browser into a powerful tool to get more work done…or simply get more enjoyed out of the Internet.

Having said all of that, I thought I would make a list of the Chrome web extensions that I use. I’m not going to tell you that these are the best. This is not the be all end all list of great Chrome extensions. This is merely a list of what works best for me. In no particular order…

1) Disconnect – Makes the web faster, more private, and more secure. Blocks unwanted tracking and really does make websites load faster. For example, when downloading a new version of CCleaner, the download starts almost instantly. Without Disconnect, it can take 1-2+ minutes for the download to actually start. They have a neat pricing model too – pay as much as you want. I made a one-time payment of $9.99.

2) Amazon Assistant – The official Amazon browser extension. If you are a frequent Amazon shopper, this should make your life much easier with real-time order updates and more. This extension makes it easy to add items to your wish list or shopping list.

3) Ebates – If you use Ebates, this is a must have! This extension automatically tells you when you are on a site that participates in Ebates. Never miss out on cash back again.

4) Evernote Web Clipper – I use Evernote and I have a paid account. When I see things online that I need to or want to save for later, this is what I use. I have notebooks for my house, my car, and other topics that interest me. I use Evernote for my personal note taking.

5) OneNote Web Clipper – As on Office 365 user, I use OneNote for all of my business note taking. When I see something business related that I want to save for later, this is what I use.

6) Google Keep for Chrome – When I need to access a note quickly, I put it in Google Keep. My online note taking is weird, but it works for me. Quick lists like shopping lists, and other things that I don’t need to keep forever go in Google Keep. Long term personal notes go in Evernote. Long term business notes go in OneNote.

7) Google Hangouts – I make calls on my PC through Google Hangouts and this makes it possible. Plus, since I’m a Google Fi customer, I can send and receive text messages too. Texting from an actual keyboard is so much better than from a smart phone.

8) Grammarly for Chrome – Nobody wants to sound like a High School dropout. Grammarly really helps make it look like you actually paid attention in English class. Punctuation, grammar, and spelling do matter!

9) Office Online – My old school Chromebook doesn’t support Android apps. That’s where this chrome extension really shines! I can use all of my Office 365 apps in a browser. Files save in OneDrive which is where I’d save them on my PC anyway.

10) OneTab – Google Chrome can certainly be a memory hog. OneTab makes it better. Run it and it puts all of your open tabs into a list on one Chrome tab. That frees up tons of RAM.

11) Password Alert – A handy extension from Google. It lets you know when you’ve entered your Google password on a fake login page. If it alerts you, it’s time to change your Google password!

12) Password Checkup – Another handy extension from Google. It tells you when the password your using for a website has been involved in a security breach. If it has, it alerts you that it’s time to change your password for that website.

13) TunnelBear VPN – My current favorite VPN. Why? They’re the only VPN to pass an independent security audit. Not just once, but twice! I like this service so much, I pay for it. Remember, with a VPN…if it’s free, they are making money off of you somehow. Most likely by selling your browsing data! This is one area where you don’t want to try and save money with a free service. They have Windows, Apple, and Android clients. The web extension is used on my Chromebook.

14) Remembear – My current favorite password manager, from the makers of TunnelBear! All password managers (that I’m aware of) have a Chrome extension. This didn’t work that great until after I deleted all of my passwords in Google Chrome. Now that my passwords are only being stored in Remembear, it works very well.

15) WiseStamp – My personal and business email is through Google. Gmail for personal email and my domain is managed by Google Apps for Business. WiseStamp makes keeping a great email signature easy. This is another service I like so much, I pay for it.

Do you have a favorite Chrome extension? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!

What version of Windows 10 do you have?

Microsoft has said that Windows 10 will be the last version of Windows. To the causal computer user, that is seen as a good thing. However, for tech lovers, this opens up a entirely new can of worms. Microsoft will be putting out major updates to Windows 10 approximately twice per year. The first major update was back in November of 2015. The second major update came out last month (August 2nd, to be exact).

Sometimes the updates will change things enough to make it clear that the updated version of Windows 10 is different. That was the case with last month's major update. 

For example, prior to the update, the Start Menu would only show you all of your apps/programs if you clicked "All apps". Also, the "Power", "Settings", and "File Explorer" icons were all clearly labeled as such as shown in the image below:

The new Start Menu in the August release of Windows 10 now shows all of your apps/programs by default and the "All apps" icon is gone. Furthermore, the icons for "Power", "Settings", and "File Explorer" are no longer labeled as seen in the image below:

Just like with the Windows 10  universal apps, the Start Menu has a Hamburger Menu. Regardless of where you see it, Windows 10, Android, etc, clicking it typically brings up app settings and / or options. The Hamburger Menu is circled in the image below:

Clicking the Hamburger Menu expands the Start Menu and labels the icons as seen in the image below:

Now for the point of this blog post. To see which version of Windows 10 your computer is running, click on the Start Button and then click on the "Settings" icon. The "Settings" icon is circled in red:

Clicking on the "Settings" icon brings up the "Windows Settings" window. Click on the "System" icon. The "System' icon is circled in red:

The "Settings" screen defaults to showing the "Display" section first. Go down to the bottom of the list and click "About". The "About" section has the information we are looking for. The image below has two red boxes. The top box has the Version number and the bottom box has the Build number. 

Microsoft has a support page that lists the Build and Version numbers. You can find that page here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/12387/windows-10-update-history. Halfway down the page, you will find the Build and Version numbers. Simply match the Version number on your "About" page with the Version number on the website. Then match the Build numbers. 

If your version of Windows 10 is not current you have two options. Option A would be to wait until the latest version is available via Windows Updates. Option B would be to scroll up to the blue "Get the Anniversary Update now" box (on that same Microsoft support page) and click it. That will download a small updater program from Microsoft. Run the program and it will download & install the update. If you choose to go this route, you should disable your anti-virus program (unless you are using Windows Defender) until the upgrade it complete. When the upgrade has completed and your PC has rebooted, you will be greeted by this Window: 

All that is left to do is to re-enable your anti-virus program if you disabled it before the upgrade. I'd also recommend going to the Microsoft Store and checking for updates. Any questions? Leave a comment below.

Public WiFi and safety

You're a road warrior. Or maybe you're a broke college student. Perhaps you just like to hang out at Starbucks for hours on end. Regardless of whether or not this describes you, you have probably used public or free WiFi at some point. I'm not judging you..it's free...and it's easy...and it works. But if there's one thing you take away from this post, please let it be this: NEVER enter a website or mobile app password while you are connected to public WiFi. Banking & shopping on public WiFi is literally that last thing I would recommend doing on a public WiFi network.

Here's why:

Many websites and even mobile apps, transmit your data unencrypted. Or it's encrypted, but it's not implemented properly. When this unencrypted data is transmitted, things like usernames, passwords, pins, and the websites you're visiting are in plain text. This data traffic can be "sniffed" and usernames, passwords, etc., can be pulled out. Now this may sound complicated, but it's actually a trivial affair with the right tools and a Google search or two.

Now as dire as that all sounds, it's actually not a major problem if you mitigate the risks. How do you mitigate the risks?

The answer goes by 3 initials - VPN.

VPN or Virtual Private Network used to be one of those things that was reserved for corporate environments or advanced users, mainly due to the difficulty in setting everything up. The age of the mobile app has changed that and now easy to use VPN programs are readily available and just an app store search away. VPN's encrypt your data traffic. A bad guy sniffing WiFi traffic would see that data is being transmitted, but he or she wouldn't be able to see what that traffic contained.

Currently, my two favorite VPN  programs are proXPN and TunnelBear. Both offer free and paid options and both work on PC's, Mac's, Chromebooks, Smart Phones, and Tablets. There really isn't any reason to use public WiFi and not do it safely.

Start using a VPN and the next time you're in Starbucks and you notice the shady guy with the beady eyes peering over the screen of his laptop, you don't have to worry if he's sniffing YOUR data. 

 

I never use public WiFi without this

I never use public WiFi without this

What to do when your Windows 10 Start Menu isn't working

So, your Windows 10 Start Menu stopped working?

One of the biggest problems people seem to be running into with Windows 10 is the Windows 10 Start Menu stops working. This often goes hand in hand with their task bar items disappearing. Common behavior includes clicking on the Start Button and nothing happens, or clicking on the Start Button and getting a "Critical Error" message. Sometimes right clicking on the Start Button will bring up a quick access menu, but it doesn't happen in every case.

A quick Google search of "Windows 10 Start Menu not working" or Windows 10 Start Menu critical error" brings up millions of results. This problem has been around since the developer previews from over a year ago. Microsoft still doesn't have a concrete answer on how or why this is happening. I believe the answer is tied into Cortana being so closely integrated with the Start Menu. I've seen many websites offer the same generic advice from running powershell to creating new user profiles. Some have said the only way to fix this is to reinstall Windows 10. 

After seeing this problem first hand on a customer's computer, I tried all of the suggested fixes. Keep in mind that none of those fixes are guaranteed to work and it's been my experience that they simply don't work most of the time. In my situation with that customer's computer, nothing worked. After wasting a few hours, I decided to try my go-to Windows 8 Start Menu program from Classic Shell. It worked! The computer had a functioning Start Menu. I wondered if uninstalling Classic Shell would leave behind a functioning Windows 10 Start Menu, by perhaps forcing Windows 10 to reinstall or reengage whatever code was missing or broken (Note - this is an uneducated guess. I'm not a developer). The answer was yes! A few reboots confirmed that the Windows 10 Start Menu was working once more. I think the answer is simple - spend hours trying fixes that might not work, or download Classic Shell and be back up and running in under 10 minutes.

Here's what I suggest:

  1. Download Classic Shell from www.classicshell.net or from www.ninite.com.
  2. Install Classic Shell. Classic Shell will do its thing and a few moments later it will be ready to go.
  3. Verify that Classic Shell is working. It's working when you click on the Start Button and you see a Start Menu.
  4. Reboot your PC.
  5. At this point, you can leave Classic Shell installed or you can uninstall it.
  6. If you uninstall it, reboot your PC. 
  7. After rebooting your PC, click on the Start Button. You should see the familiar Windows 10 Start Menu.
  8. In the event that uninstalling Classic Shell doesn't leave you with a functioning Windows 10 Start Menu / Start Button, just reinstall Classic Shell. Wait a day or two and remove Classic Shell again. Reboot. Your Windows 10 Start Menu should be back.
  9. Classic Shell has fixed EVERY computer I've seen that had Start Menu problems.

Classic Shell is a free program, but they do accept donations. If Classic Shell has saved the day for you, send a buck or two their way -- their donation link is on their homepage. 

 

 

 

Microsoft Store Updates

As detailed in my last blog post, the way you check for Windows Updates has radically changed in Windows 10. You can see that post here. In addition to checking for Windows Updates, Windows 10 brings something new to the table - Microsoft Store updates. That's right, there are now two different places to check for updates. This blog post will show you how to check for Microsoft Store Updates.

The easiest way, in my opinion, is to look at the taskbar on the Desktop. On the task bar, look for the icon that looks like a shopping bag with the Microsoft Logo on it. You can also click the start button and look for the Microsoft Store tile. In addition to that, you can click on the start button, go to "All apps" and scroll down to the "S" section where you will find that same shopping bag icon with the Microsoft Logo on it. Regardless of how you get there, click the icon or tile.

The Windows Store icon circled in red on the taskbar.

The Windows Store icon circled in red on the taskbar.

The Windows Store tile icon.

The Windows Store tile icon.

The Windows Store icon on the Start Menu

The Windows Store icon on the Start Menu

After clicking the icon or tile, the Windows Store will open up. Near the top and to the right of the screen you will see either your account icon or a generic icon depending on if you added a picture to your user account. This icon is located directly to the left of the Search Box. 

Click the user account picture or generic icon and you will see a list of options pertaining to your Microsoft Account. Click on "Downloads and updates" (circled below).

After clicking on "Downloads and updates", you'll see the blue button "Check for updates" (circled below).

Click the "Check for updates" button and if there are any updates available, they will show up on the screen in a list. The updates will automatically begin to download and install. Note that when you click the "Check for Updates" button, the button becomes grayed out and you should see a spinning progress wheel over the button. If there are any updates available, a number will appear next to your user account icon. That number corresponds to the number of updates available. See the screen shot below for an example.

Here's an example of an update that's queued up for updating:

When you are done, all of your Windows 10 apps will be up to date. Any questions? If so, leave a comment below.