Microsoft finally exorcises digital poltergeist that messed with desktop icons and stopped some users from getting Windows 11 23H2

Remember that really strange bug where Windows 11 caused havoc with multi-monitor setups, shuffling desktop icons around, or even moving them onto different screens?

Well, the good news is Microsoft has now fixed this (but the not-so-great news is that it isn’t remedied for Windows 10 users, not yet – we’ll come back to that shortly).

Affected Windows 11 PCs were seeing icons being moved about on the desktop, or seemingly randomly shifted to their other monitors in a highly confusing fashion. Rather like the digital equivalent of a poltergeist possessing your system and causing mischief.

The problem was first spotted in Windows 11 back in November 2023, with the root cause being Copilot – and this led to Microsoft putting a block (a so-called compatibility hold) on rolling out the AI assistant to those with multiple monitors attached to their PC. (And furthermore, there was a block on the Windows 11 23H2 upgrade, for those who hadn’t yet migrated to that version – as it introduces Copilot).

However, all that’s now lifted as the issue has been resolved, as Neowin spotted.

Microsoft updated its known issues with Windows 23H2 (in the release health dashboard) to say that: “This issue was resolved on the service-side for Windows 11, version 23H2 and Windows 11, version 22H2 on devices with updates released January 9, 2024 or later. Non-managed consumer Windows devices with no other compatibility hold should now have Copilot for Windows available. The safeguard hold has been removed as of February 7, 2024.”

Analysis: Ghost in the machine

A service-side tweak means that Microsoft has applied the fix on its end, so there’s no actual update or tinkering that needs to happen with your Windows 11 PC. The fix is just there, and the compatibility hold on Windows 11 23H2 is lifted, so those who’ve been stuck without 23H2 or Copilot should now be able to upgrade just fine.

However, Microsoft observes that it may take up to 48 hours for 23H2 to be offered to your computer. Restarting the PC and manually checking for updates may help to prompt Windows to discover the upgrade.

This is true for Windows 11 PCs previously blocked from 23H2, and also Windows 10 users who wanted to upgrade their device to Windows 11 23H2. The twist here, though, is this icon-flinging bug isn’t actually resolved with Windows 10, if you want to stick with the older OS rather than migrate to Windows 11.

If you recall, Windows 10 users were also affected, and blocked from getting Copilot (when it was subsequently rolled out to them). And sadly, that’s still the case, so those with multiple monitors running Windows 10 still won’t get the AI assistant. With the problem solved in Windows 11, though, presumably it won’t be long before it’s also cured for those staying on Windows 10.

Microsoft updated the Windows 10 release health dashboard to note that: “We are working on a resolution for this issue on Windows 10, version 22H2 and will provide an update in an upcoming release.”

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Windows 11 Copilot makes digital mischief with desktop icons, leaving users baffled

A new Windows 11 preview build, KB5031455, that enables the AI-powered assistant, Windows Copilot, is reportedly causing havoc to desktop icons.

Windows 11 Build KB5031455 is one of a series of updates that have come to us via Windows Update and through the Windows Insider Program, Microsoft’s official community for Windows enthusiasts and industry professionals that help try new versions of Windows and features before they’re rolled out to all Windows users. Build KB5031455 was released in October and was packed full of new developments like Windows Copilot. Other feature updates include reworkings of the Start menu, File Explorer, and native system support for more archive file formats

However, it’s not all been smooth sailing, and some users are reporting problems. According to BetaNews, Microsoft has acknowledged that there’s a known problem with the preview build where desktop icons are shuffled around. This apparently happens due to Copilot’s interaction with Windows multi-display setups.

The update is pretty stacked feature-wise, so it’s somewhat expected that there’s an issue here or there for certain users. That said, the affected users will probably be hoping for a fix as soon as possible, especially as most are looking forward to getting to take Copilot for a spin. Also, this is the sort of feedback that these preview builds are for. 

Screenshot of Windows Copilot in use

(Image credit: Microsoft)

What Microsoft has to say about the matter

Microsoft has shared the release notes for the preview build in a Support post detailing the nature of the updates and changes, as well as the known issues in the update. About the above issue, Microsoft writes the following:

“Windows devices using more than one monitor might experience issues with desktop icons moving unexpectedly between monitors or other icon alignment issues when attempting to use Copilot in Windows (in preview).”

It then goes on to explain that there’s no existing workaround or solution, and Microsoft recommends that Windows Copilot isn’t used on devices that are currently using a multi-monitor configuration. It does offer some consolation in that a resolution is currently being developed and will be released in a future update. 

This is a fairly typical response from Microsoft but it does also have a reputation for turning around solutions for such problems, even if it can take a little while. I think we can expect to see one soon, especially as this was picked up after a preview build was released. These are specifically released to test and monitor for feedback, so an opportunity to improve a feature is perfectly normal for a Windows release like this, and Microsoft will be keen to make sure its flashy new Copilot feature works well for as many users as possible – including people who use more than one screen.

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Microsoft Paint is becoming a digital art powerhouse thanks to this new AI assistant

Microsoft has recently held multiple events where it’s made it known that it’s serious about AI, and following the grand unveiling of its new AI assistant, Windows Copilot, the company has now introduced another AI bot, Cocreator, to help generate images in the iconic Paint app. 

TweakTown reports that that Cocreator’s been known about in the Windows-sphere since test versions of the feature were released through the Canary and Dev channels in September, two release channels of the Windows Insider Program which allows users to sign up to it to preview potential Windows versions and features to give feedback before they are widely released. After these releases, a version was released via the Beta channel (a third Windows Insider release channel) and, just last week, a Cocreator version made its way through the Release Preview channel (the fourth and final release Windows Insider channel that sees features before they’re integrated into upgrades for all users). 

Cocreator is powered by Dall-E, like Bing Image Creator, and works in a similar way. You give Cocreator a description of what you’d like to see composed, select the art style if you have one in mind, and Cocreator will try to create it. 

TweakTown calls the results “impressive” and other early reactions to the new tool are positive, partly due, no doubt, to it utilizing the latest version of OpenAI’s Dall-E. 

One of the first demonstration opportunities was spotted and posted by X (formerly Twitter) user PhantomOfEarth, who found a new 'first run' tutorial to take you through using Paint Cocreator for the first time in Windows version 11.2309.28.0 (in Canary and Dev). 

Windows 11 Update showing on laptop in an office

(Image credit: TechRadar)
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How to try Paint Cocreator for yourself

Cocreator is still being tested it seems, and to be able to try it, Microsoft asks you to sign up to the waitlist in the Cocreator side panel – and once approved, you should receive an email. Microsoft doesn’t elaborate what panel this is, but Nerds Chalk writes that you can alternatively get Paint Cocreator by first being in the Windows Insider Program (to which you’ll have to sign up to if you’re not) and install the latest Canary or Dev build. Then you should be able to update your Paint app through the Microsoft Store > Library

Whichever route you take, Cocreator is still being tested and the version you’ll see will be a preview one, prone to possible changes and developments. That said, with Cocreator being spotted in the Release Preview channel, it should appear soon in a Windows 11 update. The new Paint has already been something of a favorite among its fans, and this development will definitely make it a better-equipped creator playground. It’s already seen a major revamp with the addition of a layers feature and now Cocreator. 

To think, Microsoft was ready to send the basic (but much-loved) Paint into retirement a few years ago, but it might prove to be one of the most successful apps that draws users to Windows yet. I have many fond memories of playing around in Paint when I was a kid, and with its pack of new features, maybe it’ll ignite the imaginations of children and adults alike today. 

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Windows 11 no longer has Cortana as Microsoft pulls the plug on digital assistant

It’s official – Microsoft has made the move to scrap Cortana in Windows 11, as promised a while back.

If you recall, back in June, Microsoft let us know that Cortana was going to be killed off later in 2023. We then heard a firm date for that to happen, namely August, and the first sightings of some folks seeing Cortana dumped were reported just over a week ago.

And now it seems Microsoft is fully pulling support for the digital assistant.

Windows Central reports that the deprecation of Cortana is fully underway, and you’ll be notified the assistant is no longer available if you try to access it in Windows 11. Along with that notification, a link is provided to a support page where you can learn more about what’s going on here.

The change seems to be rolling out for everyone on Windows 11 now, though some folks may still have access to Cortana – but not for much longer.

Cortana will also be getting the elbow from Microsoft Teams later this year, we’re told, and will only remain in Outlook mobile by the time the end of 2023 rolls around.

Analysis: Curtains for Cortana across the board

Waving goodbye to Cortana won’t be a difficult task for most users. After all, certainly for the general computing population using Windows 11, Cortana wasn’t used much anyway. Microsoft had already angled the digital assistant more towards business use because of this – but Cortana will also be dumped from Microsoft Teams, as well, soon enough.

The reason for getting rid of Cortana pretty much everywhere (except Outlook mobile, for some reason) is obvious, and that’s the incoming Windows Copilot AI, a much more ambitious desktop assistant.

This will basically be the Bing AI integrated into a side panel in Windows 11, but with a lot of extra abilities to customize Windows settings in various ways, to save you the trouble of having to hunt for these (options that might be buried deep in submenus somewhere).

Microsoft’s Copilot is already in test builds of Windows 11, but right now, it’s still a barebones incarnation of what the software giant has promised. Meaning it’s pretty much just a built-in Bing chatbot with a few very limited powers to manipulate the Windows 11 environment, though Microsoft is going to build out the latter facets considerably going forward.

Rumor has it Copilot could debut in Windows 11 23H2, and clearing out Cortana before then would make sense in that light. We still have our doubts that Copilot will be impressive enough to launch in just a few short months though (mind you, Bing AI itself not being ready didn’t stop Microsoft launching the chatbot, either).

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Google wants you to send AI-generated poems using its strange digital postcards

Google has redesigned its little-known Arts & Culture app introducing new features plus an improved layout for easier exploration.

We wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t aware that Arts & Culture even existed in the first place. It is a pretty niche mobile app aimed at people who want to learn more about the art world and its history. It looks like Google is attempting to attract a bigger audience by making the Android app more “intuitive to explore… [while also] creating new ways to discover and engage with culture.” Leading the charge so to speak is the AI-powered Poem Postcards tool. Utilizing the company’s PaLM 2 Model, the tool asks you to select a famous art piece and then choose from a variety of poetic styles (sonnets, limericks, ballads just to name a few) in order to create an AI-generated poem.

Poem Postcards on Google Arts & Culture

(Image credit: Google)

After a few seconds, you can share your generated work with friends or have the AI write up something new. We should mention you can access Poem Postcards on your desktop via the Arts & Culture website although it appears to be “experimental”. So it may not work as well as its mobile counterpart.

Endless art feed

The other major feature is the aforementioned Inspire section which utilizes an endless scrolling feed akin to TikTok. It brings up a series of art pieces with the occasional cultural news story and exhibition advertisement stuffed in between. The app doesn’t just focus on paintings or sculptures either as the feed will throw in the occasional posts about movies, too. 

In the bottom right-hand corner of Inspire entries is a “cultural flywheel”. Tapping it opens a menu where you can discover tangentially related content. Google states it is “always investigating new ways to connect cultural content” meaning the flywheel will see its own set of updates over time.

As for the layout, the company has added buttons on the Explore tab for specific topics. If you want to look for art pertaining to sports, science, or even your favorite color, it’s all at your fingertips. There’s also a Play tab on the bottom bar where you enjoy games like the adorable Return of the Cat Mummy.

Arts & Culture new layout

(Image credit: Google)

The redesigned Arts & Culture app is currently available on Android through the Google Play Store with an iOS version “soon to follow”. The company says Poem Postcards is only available “in select countries”. We reached out to the tech giant for clarification. This story will be updated at a later time.

Be sure to check out TechRadar's list of the best drawing apps for 2023 if you ever decide to scratch that artistic itch.  

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How to improve your digital front door with WebOps

Online shopping and ecommerce have become more important over the last two years. According to the Office for National Statistics, Internet sales accounted for 27.1% of all retail activity in the UK at the start of 2022. 

During the first four months of the pandemic, more than 85,000 companies implemented new online stores or joined ecommerce platforms in the UK, based on research by Growth Intelligence. Consumers were pushed to ecommerce, which went up from 81% to 95% in Europe according to a 2020 survey by McKinsey.

All this activity led to more companies building and launching sites to interact with their customers. However, these digital experiences need to be kept up to date over time, which can be harder than getting started in the first place. 

For instance, website updates involve both technical requirements and new content posting. Security updates, changes to site plug-ins and new digital services would all require developer and IT team support, while changing brand assets or adding more content might fall under the remit of the marketing team. However, all those changes will come in at the same time, making the process more complicated.

WebOps and Collaboration

The biggest challenge around managing web operations is the number of potential stakeholders involved. Aside from developers responsible for creating any code that runs those digital services on the site, there are the IT operations staff responsible for running the systems involved. There is the marketing team, responsible for the content and assets on the site, and there is the brand team that looks at the design and delivery side.

Each one of these roles will have a hand in the success of a site over time, and they will be responsible for business goals that the site is used for. However, much of the time, these teams will work in their own silos rather than together.

Website Operations – or WebOps – is about breaking down those boundaries that exist around website management. WebOps establishes joint processes and goals so that marketing, developers and IT operations staff work more effectively. It is based on the principles of DevOps and having more collaboration, rather than stakeholders working to their goals in separate silos. WebOps works by putting all website project work in context of that bigger business goal. 

This can involve getting over some of the pre-conceptions that teams have of each other. For example, marketing departments today are driven by technology rather than solely by advertizing. 

Rather than being solely about creative work like brand and positioning, marketing teams today have to build and track customer journeys, deploy personalization tools, and automate customer relationships. These activities rely on online interactions to track engagement and preferences, which then inform the unique next steps in a customer’s journey with the brand. 

Similarly, content marketing activities involve deploying the right assets to customers depending on their browsing habits and preferences using automation.

On the IT and software sides, solving potential problems around customer actions demands creativity too. New launches for the business will rely on integrating software and creative assets into novel, innovative experiences that perform well and are available under stress. 

Delivering these kinds of projects effectively involves planning ahead and understanding workload across the whole team, rather than looking at individuals or specific departments alone. All of these tasks involve processes and timelines, which can be shared and made more visible to everyone.

This visibility can make a big difference to WebOps teams, as it helps everyone understand their responsibilities and priorities in context. For instance, it can be all too easy to assume that tasks are simple, or can be accomplished in timeframes that are not realistic. 

For example, marketing may assume that updating a website is the same as accepting an update to an application on their desktop, while IT operations teams may think brand refreshes are simply about new logos. The work required on both the IT and the marketing sides is often more involved and more complex than it is given credit for.

All sides in this have more in common than they might think. WebOps approaches can help define the goals that all the stakeholders have around website developments. This involves looking at the overall business goals that the organization has, and then how each team contributes to those aims. 

For instance, IT teams will see how brand updates can make a difference to company performance and customer acquisition goals, while the marketing department will find out exactly how much work goes into updating all the sites that a company may operate for security.

Making it easier to serve content

This recognition of what really goes on across teams or departments is an essential building block for more collaboration. Once teams understand the pressures they are under as part of delivering an overall goal, it is easier to make changes so that everyone pulls in the same direction. This makes work around website projects easier for everyone.

Similarly, you can break down some of the silos that exist around how sites are implemented and maintained. Rather than relying on developers to manage content updates, you can decouple your content management system (CMS) from the web front-end systems. This means that marketing teams can launch new content and iterate on their campaigns as soon as they’re ready. That agility is what drives results, as it allows marketers to quickly respond to market opportunities and serve customers with experiences that resonate. 

Using headless content management systems alongside your website platform like Drupal or WordPress means that marketers can implement their updates faster, rather than having to break into developer workflows to get changes made. This can also make it easier for them to review the effect that those content changes might have, rather than relying on back and forth between different teams, which slows down the whole process.

The aim for WebOps

WebOps is about removing the barriers between teams that exist around website development. Rather than compartmentalising teams and their goals, WebOps ensures everyone involved understands what their work builds towards. It presents a unified approach to how websites are managed across technical, brand and experience parameters.

This understanding is essential to keep up with the demands that customers have for a better digital experience. 

Company websites are the digital front door for more businesses than ever before, so simplifying the process to host, update and manage those sites is essential. With WebOps, all companies can improve their internal processes and deliver results faster.

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7 essential online security and digital tasks you should do before 2021 ends

Keeping your digital world safe and secure is vital, everyone knows that. But it also takes time, and when life is hectic, jobs to do, places to go, people to see, it's easy to put off even the most important security tasks off until 'later' – whenever that might be.

It's OK. It's the same for most us. But it's never too late to get started, and there's a real payback for your efforts. While you may already have your antivirus and VPN installed, a few more minutes spent on even just one or two of these tasks can save you money, speed up your devices, protect you from cyber-scammers… and that's just the start.

Illustration of a login screen on a laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. Change your passwords

It's a hassle to set up, remember and manage your passwords, so precisely no-one at all wants to change them regularly. Even if it is good security practice.

Occasional updates are better than none at all, though, so why not change a few passwords right now? If nothing else, just choose the accounts that would cause you the most damage if they were hacked – your bank, PayPal, Amazon, email – and give them a brand new login.

And remember… if you’re tempted to use something like ‘password123’, then that’s definitely not improving your security situation. Use the Memorable Password Generator to create secure but also readable passwords.

And if you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of passwords you have to remember, then our guide to the best password managers is well worth a read.

2. Uninstall surplus apps

It's easily done. You see an app, it looks great, you install it to try later, but never get around to it. Not a problem if you've only one, but there more you add, the more your device gets weighed down by all this surplus junk. And that equally goes for apps that you used to use on a regular basis and no longer have the need for.

Take the time to browse all your apps and think about when you last used them or whether you really need them any more. If you can't think of a good reason to keep something, just uninstall it..

If you're unsure, then as long as it's not performing some useful background function (backup, security), uninstall it anyway. If you realize you need the app later, you can always reinstall it.

Windows 10 Uninstall Applications screen

(Image credit: Microsoft)

3. Review your finances

It's easy to sign up for apps and web services, but there's a down side: it's even easier to forget you've done that, and carry on paying for something you no longer use.

Visit your app store of choice, scroll down the Subscriptions list and make sure you recognize and need everything you see. If there's something you no longer use, cancel it; if there are payments you don't understand, investigate them.

Do the same at PayPal, if you've got an account, and with your bank, credit cards and anywhere else you might make payments. It's your money – make sure you're not handing it out without getting something useful in return.

4. Check renewal dates

Cheap VPNs, antivirus companies, web hosts and others often try to tempt you into buying with ultra-cheap signup deals. Which is great at the time, but the costs might double (or more) on renewal.

Do you have any long-term subscriptions to apps or web services where that might apply, and the renewal date is coming up? If so, and even if you think you know approximately when the renewal might be, remember many companies take renewal payments a few days before your term is up. You might remember that you bought a service in February, but if it was February 3, you might have to cancel at the end of January.

If you're unsure about any of these long-term subscriptions, sign into your web account and check. If you know you want to renew, turn off any Auto-Renew setting, or check how to cancel (some services require that you contact them).

If you're unsure, check the latest VPN deals (or whatever) to see if switching to another provider's introductory deal might be a better plan.

Avast Cleanup running on an Android device

(Image credit: Avast)

5. Clean up your system

Every time you install, use or remove apps, your device is busily creating new files and folders. Some might get removed later, but others won't, and that means your device just gets more and more cluttered over time.

This isn't the disaster that speedup tools claim, and you won't magically turbo-charge your hardware just by emptying your Recycle Bin. But all these leftovers can slow you down, so it's worth taking a little time to clean up your device.

Look at your Downloads and Documents folders, for instance. Sort them by date, and look at the oldest. Delete anything you're sure you don't need. Of the rest, is there anything you won't use regularly? Think whether it might be better off backed up to the cloud, or local storage. 

On Windows, use Disk Cleanup to clear away temporary files (launch Explorer, click a drive, select Drive Tools > Optimize.) Other devices have their own maintenance tools, and there are plenty of free apps (try CCleaner) that go a little further.

6. Browse app settings

No matter how carefully you set up your device and app security, there's scope for problems later. Maybe you turn off a firewall or some other key setting, then forget to enable it later. Perhaps another device user turns off that feature by mistake. App updates might sometimes change settings (or introduce new ones) without telling you, and you haven't noticed.

Take the time to browse your device, antivirus and VPN settings and make sure they're set up to suit your needs. If you remember setting the VPN kill switch on, for instance, is that still the case? Is your antivirus configured properly? If you have cloud backup, is it protecting everything you expect?

Go and browse all the backed-up files, make sure it has the most up-to-date versions, and isn't missing anything important.

PayPal web dashboard

(Image credit: PayPal)

7. Visit your account dashboards

Open a new account with a VPN, security company, web store or anywhere else, and you're usually directed to a web dashboard with various admin-type details. But if you just want to download the app, manage the product or shop in the store, then probably you'll do exactly that instead, and never revisit the dashboard again.

Trouble is, that could mean you're missing out. What if there's some brand-new feature you could really use? Or a feature you're currently using, which is about to get pulled? Has there been a price change? Maybe your details have changed since you signed up, and the website has an email address you no longer use?

Log into a few of your web accounts, and just look at the dashboards. Often they'll have notifications for changes you really need to know. 

If you don't see anything, look at any 'Personal Details' page: is everything correct? What about your subscriptions, are they all as you expected? Look at the Settings page: does the site have any useful functionality you're not using, such as two-factor authentication to make it more secure? Who knows what money-saving or privacy-boosting features might be waiting for you, just a click or two away.

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Thousands of UK SMBs are not yet compliant with incoming digital tax rules

Thousands of UK small businesses are still not prepared for important digital tax changes set to come into force within the next few months, a study has found.

The UK government has ruled that by April 2022 over one million small businesses will need to comply with incoming digital tax legislation, called Making Tax Digital (MTD). The changes — which require digital tax records uploaded online — apply to any business with less than £85,000 turnover.

Except there’s a problem: Intuit has conducted a survey and found that around 300,000 businesses are not yet compliant. 

Falling behind

The company, which makes the QuickBooks tax software suite, found nearly half (41%) of those it surveyed have been delaying making the necessary changes to comply with MTD, most likely because of the extensive paperwork. 

According to Intuit, most small business owners spend four hours per month worrying about VAT returns and some can spend up to seven hours per month. 

“Tax returns are a necessary fact of life for most small businesses, but that doesn’t mean they are enjoyable. With many experiencing sleepless nights around filing their returns, it’s understandable that many are avoiding thinking about upcoming VAT legislation,” noted Pauline Green, Head of Product Compliance & Programs at QuickBooks. 

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. Using digital software for VAT can actually reduce stress by automating the process, therefore minimising the time spent, improving efficiency and ensuring returns are accurate. Software also provides real-time insights into finances, helping to build better habits and financial awareness. If they prioritise becoming MTD compliant, small businesses will start to experience these benefits and eliminate tax worries – allowing them to focus on building a successful business.” 

Intuit has also worked with University of Bath Professor Bas Verplanken to create a free guide for alleviating some of the stress that stems from taxes, with a focus on simple changes that can make a big difference, freeing up time for other activities. 

As Verplanken says, “Successful habits form when you frequently and regularly conduct a task and protect against forgetfulness, procrastination, and even fear by making your tasks part of your daily or weekly routines. Building and adhering to these habits can minimise small businesses’ worries about their VAT returns and put them in full control of their business.” 

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