Tired of Windows File Explorer? This app makes it way easier to navigate everything on your PC

If you think that Windows 11’s File Explorer could be better, you’re not alone – and there’s a popular third party alternative, the Files app. The Files app (which despite its name, has no relation to Microsoft’s own File Explorer) just got an upgrade that makes it an even better tool for navigating your file systems, with the latest version of the app allowing users to navigate big folders more easily. 

The Files app update 3.2 brings user interface (UI) improvements like a list view layout for files and folders, the capability to edit album covers of media files via folder properties, and support for higher quality thumbnails. Along with UI improvements, users can also expect many fixes and general improvements.

According to Windows Central, the Files app’s occasional instability while handling large file folders was one of the biggest user complaints with it and this update addresses that, too. The app should now be more functional when users attempt to use it with bigger file folders.

A young woman is working on a laptop in a relaxed office space.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How the Files app measures up as a file explorer 

Windows Central does state that it doesn’t think the Files app is just ready to completely replace the default Windows Files Explorer, but that “it can be a powerful and useful companion app.” It offers unique features that File Explorer itself doesn’t offer and, to many users, it’s got a sleeker look. This app is available for both Windows 10 and Windows 11, but the app’s performance can vary from system to system. Window Central writes of its own investigation of the File app’s performance and it does report that the app has issues with performance and stability on some PCs. You can check the full change log of what Files version 3.2 delivers if you’d like to know more.

Many users would like to see Windows’ old File Explorer include many of the File app’s features, and maybe Microsoft is watching. It recently released its own proprietary PC Cleaner app, a system cleaner tool that offers lots of the tools of popular paid third-party system cleaners for free. Also, Microsoft’s been at the receiving end of some heat both from industry professionals and competitors, as well as regulators in the European Union with its recent introduction of the Digital Markets Act (DMA). Offering tools like PC Cleaner and a souped-up File Explorer could be a way for it to win back some user trust and goodwill. 

The existence of third-party apps like this is good for users two-fold because it can motivate first-party developers to improve their products faster, and it also gives users more choice over how they use their devices. The Files app looks like it sees regular updates and improvements, and definitely sounds like it could be worth users’ while given that it has no malware issues and if you get good performance upon installing it.

If you’d like to try out Files for yourself, bear in mind that it isn’t free: the app comes with a one-time charge of $ 8.99/£7.49, although thankfully there aren’t any subscription fees. You can download it directly from the Microsoft Store

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New Windows 11 update makes a small but important tweak to Copilot and fixes some nasty bugs

Windows 11 just got a new cumulative update that applies a bunch of security fixes, and makes a small number of changes to the OS, although they include some important tweaks.

The most interesting change here is that Microsoft has decided to give the Copilot button a new home on the taskbar.

As previously seen in testing with Windows 11, the icon to invoke the AI assistant is now on the far right of the taskbar, in the system tray area.

Patch KB5034765, which is for both Windows 11 23H2 and 22H2 versions, also applies an important fix for Explorer.exe which is affecting some PCs. This bug can happen when restarting a PC that has a game controller attached, and means that Explorer.exe stops responding – basically, the desktop (File Explorer) locks up, which is obviously bad news.

Microsoft also let us know that a bug that meant announcements from Narrator (the screen reading tool) were coming through too slowly has been remedied (when using natural voices with Narrator, that is).


Analysis: Don’t expect Copilot relocation right away

As mentioned, there’s the usual raft of security patches with this new update, which are important to apply to keep your Windows 11 PC fully secure.

The big change is the shift for the Copilot button, with it being ushered along the taskbar to the system tray area as mentioned. Why do this? The reasoning is that the Copilot panel is over on the right, so having its button just below where the UI appears makes sense, which is fair enough.

Remember that those who don’t want a Copilot button can drop it from the taskbar, anyway (and folks who want to go further than that and strip out the AI entirely from Windows 11 can do so – kind of, though we wouldn’t recommend it).

Note that not everyone will get this repositioning of Copilot straight away, as Microsoft notes that Windows 11 PCs will get this tweak at different times. In other words, this is another gradual rollout, so it may be some time yet before Copilot shuffles over onto the right of your taskbar – but rest assured, it’ll happen.

While we’re always somewhat cautious around any new update, at least for the first couple of days after it debuts, thus far it seems there are no known issues being reported with KB5034765 (on the likes of Reddit). So far, so good, then, and hopefully the mentioned bug fixes don’t come with any unintended side effects elsewhere in the OS.

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Microsoft’s official PC Cleaner app is now on the Microsoft Store – and makes big promises about speeding up your PC for free

Microsoft is making its powerful clean up tool PC Cleaner easier to install by adding it to the Microsoft Store (which is built-in to Windows 11) – and it could be a handy tool for speeding up your computer and fixing issues.

The tool is similar to CCleaner, a long-established third-party system cleaner for Windows (now also available for Mac, Android, and iOS). Apps like CCleaner aim to clear out clutter from Windows system folders and improve your PC’s performance due to the cleared space.

Microsoft has been testing its own system cleaning and maintenance software since 2022. Originally, Microsoft’s PC Manager app was being developed and tested by Microsoft’s for the Chinese market. Now, Windows Latest has spotted that the PC Manager app is available for download from the Microsoft Store and is also available in more regions including the US. You can use PC Cleaner in both Windows 10 and Windows 11 as it’s supported on both operating systems. It didn’t come up on either of my Windows 11 devices in the Microsoft store, but have a look for yourself. It seems like if you can’t get it yet, it is coming soon according to an official Microsoft PC Cleaner page.

A screenshot of the official Microsoft PC Cleaner page

(Image credit: Future)

What features and tools users can expect

The latest version of PC Cleaner introduces a floating toolbar which allows you to quickly access PC Cleaner’s tools. These include:

  • PC Boost which deals with unnecessary processes and deletes temporary files, along with a Smart Boost option for spikes in RAM usage and temporary files that exceed 1 GB file size.
  • Deep Cleanup that seeks out older Windows update files, clears out recycle bin files, your web cache, and application caches. However, you can select what you’d like to keep or remove.
  • Process which provides a view of all of the processes currently running on your PC, allowing you to end any process in PC Cleaner without opening up Task Manager.
  • Startup that allows you to manage the apps that launch on start-up
  • Large Files which locates large files on any of your drives more quickly than if you had to find them manually using File Explorer.
  • More tools like Taskbar Repair to revert it to its original state and Restore Default Apps to restore all default app preferences. In true Microsoft fashion, it looks like the company will apparently use this feature to encourage you to use Microsoft apps such as Edge, according to Windows Latest.

Man using download manager on laptop

(Image credit: Unsplash)

Microsoft's take on third-party system cleaner apps

Microsoft has spoken less than favorably about third-party PC cleaner apps and sometimes called them harmful. It would warn users that these apps would be more likely to delete crucially important registry files by accident to clean up as much ‘junk’ as possible. CCleaner even got Microsoft’s potentially unwanted program (PUP) stamp of disapproval. A PUP is a piece of software that may be perceived as unwanted, unnecessary, or harmful by users. While Microsoft has its own vested interest to have people use as many in-house apps as possible, CCleaner has had legitimate security concerns in the past because of malware-related incidents. 

However, it should be noted that while Microsoft has labeled CCleaner a PUP, it’s available to download from the Microsoft Store as well.

Microsoft’s PC Manager is free to use and it can be set to correspond with your Windows theme. It’s got a host of useful tools designed by Microsoft itself for Windows, and the company promises it won’t delete any necessary system files. While options like third-party apps are good to have, this seems like a solid bet and I’ll be installing it myself when it's available to me. It’s less likely to come with malware since it comes straight from Microsoft, and will be able to be downloaded via the Microsoft Store. It also has features for free that you have to pay for in other apps like CCleaner. If you can’t see it in the Microsoft Store yet (like me), there is an official Microsoft page for PC Cleaner that indicates a direct download link is coming soon. 

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Microsoft is adding a Windows 11 feature that makes accessing your phone’s photos even easier

A new feature is coming to Windows 11 that will make transferring screenshots from your phone to your PC much easier. Thanks to testing being done by Microsoft, you should soon have the ability to access and edit your screenshots from your phone directly on your PC.

The Windows Insider Program for Developers is a channel that receives experimental builds of Windows 11 that represent any upcoming updates or new features that Microsoft plans to implement in the near future, in order to gather feedback before pushing features to the public version. 

When enabled in the Dev Channel, the Windows 11 Build 23619 now has a ‘Cross-Device Experience Host update’ that will replace the existing Phone Link feature, using this new feature instead to connect your phone and your PC.

Once your phone is connected, every time you take a screenshot on your phone a little pop-up will appear in your desktop notifications. You’ll then have to option to view, edit or share your screenshot straight from your PC.

Simple and smooth sharing 

I’m pretty excited for the feature to officially arrive in the public build of Windows 11, as it takes the hassle out of sending your photos to your PC via either a cable, messaging service or cloud storage service in order to edit them. At least once a week, I have to email myself screenshots from my phone to open on my computer, so it’ll be incredibly time-saving to simply have a little notification pop up on my desktop instead that I can choose to ignore or open and get to work. 

This feature will also be really good for those of us who might not be as technologically adept or are just in a hurry to transfer a new photo. It’s much easier to explain to someone who might need help that if you connect your phone to your PC using this feature you can simply take the screenshot and the pop-up will automatically appear, rather than explaining a lengthier step-by-step process to them.

It’s always good to see Microsoft continually working to improve Windows 11 – especially given some people’s unwillingness to upgrade from Windows 10. This update also came with some useful fixes, such as squashing a bug that caused crashes when you change voices in Narrator in Settings, and more work to improve the performance of File Explorer.

Via Betanews

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Windows 11 update makes Copilot AI better in small but meaningful ways

Windows 11 just got its latest cumulative update which applies a bunch of fixes to the OS, along with bringing improvements to the Copilot AI.

It’s Copilot that’s the main focus here, with Microsoft introducing the AI assistant to the Alt+Tab function in December’s update (patch KB5033375). In other words, when you use that to tab through the various running apps on your PC, Copilot will be one of those running processes.

On top of that, Microsoft has made it so that you can use Copilot across multiple monitors. You can invoke the AI on any monitor now (with its taskbar icon), and by using the Windows key + C shortcut you can bring up Copilot on the last display it was present on.

Another smaller tweak, but a very useful one, is that the December update makes Copilot open faster when you click its icon on the taskbar. It’s always good to have tasks happen in a speedier fashion, of course.

A bug which previously meant that the Copilot icon on the taskbar wasn’t showing as active when the AI was in fact running has also been fixed.

Elsewhere, KB5033375 solves a widely reported problem whereby Narrator (the screen reader feature) failed to work during the installation process for Windows.

Another interesting move here is a tweak for the Dynamic Lighting hub, and we’re told Windows 11 now reduces the amount of power it uses on your PC. Savings on wattage are always welcome, of course.

As mentioned at the outset, there are a bunch of security fixes applied in the December update, and general troubleshooting work besides. Check out the support document for KB5033375, or rather, for the same update in preview (which is where the tweaks are listed in full – that preview arrived earlier in December, just over a week ago).


Analysis: testing the waters

The slight catch with the major two additions for Copilot here – the support across multiple monitors, and within Alt+Tab – is that not everyone will get them to begin with. Only a small subset of Windows 11 users will benefit off the bat, ahead of a broader rollout which will be ongoing.

It’s likely that this will be the approach for much of Microsoft’s Copilot tinkering, testing the waters in a limited way before a wider deployment is initiated.

We can expect Microsoft to be constantly improving Copilot every month, pretty much, now that the AI has rolled out to the general public in Windows 11. It’ll without doubt be the focus for Microsoft going forward into next year – and the potential release of next-gen Windows in 2024 (which may or may not be Windows 12).

Via Bleeping Computer

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Your Alexa mobile app finally makes more sense thanks to a recent update

Amazon has redesigned its Alexa mobile app with a focus on improving the software’s layout and reorganizing key sections.

The tech giant has been incrementally making changes to Alexa throughout 2023 like the time it added a new Home Shortcuts Bar. But instead of drip-feeding users, Amazon seemingly saw fit to roll out the rest of the update in one big push. 

The first thing you’ll notice is the Home tab is more structured than before. As TheVerge points out, the old app had a random assortment of “Most Relevant” and “Recently Used” items on the Home tab. The layout is more compartmentalized with a Shortcuts carousel at the top, an Activity section in the middle, and Favorites at the bottom taking up a large amount of space.

According to Amazon, Shortcuts “organizes devices by category and” displays commonly-used features like Routines. If you don’t use certain features, users can customize the carousel to better suit their needs. That area will even show you the current status of your smart home gadgets. The availability of the status readouts is a bit strange, however. The announcement states it will first come to users who have “20 or fewer devices” before expanding to others in the coming months.

Easily-accessible information

Activity cards will display “time-sensitive information” like reminders or upcoming alarms. Looking at the preview image, upcoming events are placed at the front. The rest will be hidden although you can tap See All to expand the menu.

Favorites offer quick access to frequently used devices, so you can control them with a single tap. At the time of this writing, eight device types are supported including smart lights, locks, and cameras just to name a few. Amazon says it has plans to expand this list later down the line.

The Devices page has been revamped too, effectively becoming the app’s new settings menu. Groups, located at the top of this page, pool all the connected hardware in a house’s room together for easier configuration. But if you prefer to tweak them individually, each gadget will appear in the list below. Amazon also took the time to upgrade the software’s search function. Now you can sort devices by alphabetical order, the date they were added, their name, or using certain keywords.

Availability

The updated Alexa app is making its way to Android and iOS, however, we should mention the latter will have an exclusive feature called Map View

This tool creates a digital floor plan of your house and then pins all your connected smart home gadgets so you can see where everything is located. It will only be available to a select group as a preview in the United States. No word on when it’ll see a widespread release or if it’ll roll out to Android although we did ask Amazon for more details. This story will be updated at a later time.

Until we hear back, check out TechRadar's list of the best smart speakers for 2023.

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Google Messages new update makes it look a bit like the iPhone’s Messages app

To commemorate one billion monthly active users, Google is introducing several new customization options on its Messages app.

What’s particularly interesting about the update is that a few of the features are reminiscent of what you find on Apple’s own Messages app. For example, you have Photomoji, allowing you to clip specific parts in a photograph and use them as emoji reactions. iOS 17 has something similar called Stickers. In Google Messages, cutouts are “saved in a special tab for reuse”, plus other people in a group chat can use the same Photomojis at any time.

The similarities don’t stop there. Google Messages is adding Profiles that let users create an introductory biography about themselves alongside their name and a picture. Its iOS counterpart would be Contact Poster. In addition, the app will now have animated Screen Effects akin to the message animations on iPhone. Unlike iOS, you can’t activate the colorful displays whenever you want as Google’s rendition requires you to enter specific “prompt words”. The full list of prompts isn’t in the announcement, although it does mention two.

Typing in “I love you” will launch a bunch of hearts. Entering “it’s snowing” would presumably cause snowflakes to fall from the top. There wasn’t a demo showcasing the latter so we can’t say for sure.

Unique inclusions

Of course, the update isn’t only about copying Apple. 

There are Voice Moods that’ll let you slap an emoji onto a voice recording, giving it extra visual flair. Additionally, Google states it’ll be “increasing the bitrate and sampling rate” on vocal messages to improve audio quality. Next, you can change the color scheme of a chat, namely the text bubbles and background, to whatever you want via Custom Bubbles. This can help you differentiate conversations so you don’t accidentally send the wrong text to your mom when it was meant for a friend.

Google Messages' new Voice Mood

(Image credit: Google)

The last two aren’t as impactful, but they can add some nice flourishes to a chat. Now when you react to a message with an emoji, a short animation called a Reaction Effect will play at the same time. Also, standalone emojis sent through the app will sport extra visual effects like sparkles.

Once you get the patch, you can try out most of these features so keep an eye out for when it eventually arrives. The two outliers are Voice Moods and Reaction Effects; both of which are currently in beta. To try those out, you’ll have to become a beta tester for Google Messages, according to the official support page.

Android update

Besides the Messages update, Google is adding new features to other Android platforms. A lot is being implemented so we’re only going to mention the more impactful additions. 

Moving forward, smartwatches running Wear OS can now control more smart appliances like vacuums and groups of smart lights. The TalkBack tool is being given an AI voice that’ll read out text descriptions to help blind people understand the content in front of them. And finally, Live Caption on smartphones will be available in more languages.

Be sure to check out TechRadar's list of the best Android phones for 2023.

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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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ChatGPT Plus gets big upgrade that makes it more powerful and easier to use

ChatGPT is undoubtedly one of the best artificial intelligence (AI) tools you can use right now, but a new update could make it even better by increasing the range of file types it can work with, as well as making it a little more independent when it comes to switching modes.

The changes are currently being tested in beta and are expected to come to ChatGPT Plus, the paid-for version of OpenAI’s chatbot that costs $ 20 / £16 / AU$ 28 a month. As detailed by ChatGPT user luokai on Threads (via The Verge), these changes could make a big difference to how you use the AI tool.

Specifically, ChatGPT Plus members are now able to upload various files that the chatbot can use to generate results. For instance, luokai demonstrated how ChatGPT can analyze a PDF that a user uploads, then answer a question based on the contents of that PDF.

Elsewhere, the beta version of ChatGPT can create images based on a picture uploaded by a user. That could make the chatbot much more able to generate the type of content you’re after, without just having to solely rely on your prompt or description.

Automatic mode switching

ChatGPT responding to the prompt 'is there life after death?'

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Ascannio)

That’s not all this beta update brings with it. As well as file analysis, ChatGPT could soon be able to switch modes without any user input, in a move that might make the tool much less cumbersome to use.

Right now, you need to tell ChatGPT exactly what mode you want to use, such as Browse with Bing. In the current beta, though, ChatGPT is able to determine the mode automatically based on your conversation with the chatbot.

That can extend to generating Python code or opting to use Dall-E to generate an image too, meaning you should be able to get results much closer to what you wanted without having to make an educated guess as to the best mode to use.

All of these changes could make OpenAI’s chatbot much easier to use if you’re a ChatGPT Plus subscriber. There’s no word yet on when the features will be fully rolled out, so stay tuned for more news on that front.

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The best new macOS Sonoma feature makes it more like Windows 11 – in a good way

I’ve been playing around with macOS Sonoma, Apple’s latest operating system update for Macs and MacBooks, and one of the more subtle changes included in the update may prove to have the biggest impact on how I use my MacBook – making it similar to Windows 11.

Now, the idea that Apple could learn anything from Microsoft’s operating system could be considered blasphemy in some quarters, but the truth is that while macOS Sonoma certainly does a lot of things better than Windows 11, the opposite is also true. Sorry, but there are things I prefer in Windows – and the management of open windows is one of them.

You see, I’m a rather unorganized man, so after a few hours of working on a PC or Mac, my screen is awash with apps, browsers, programs, and other random windows. It can get a bit overwhelming – especially when I’m trying to find something on my desktop.

In the past, on a Mac I would have to hold down the Option key, and then click on an empty space on the desktop, which would then minimize everything on the desktop except for the top window that I was using. A useful shortcut, but not the easiest.

Over on the Windows side of things, however, there was a much easier method. Introduced way back with Windows 7 (which many people feel was the pinnacle of Windows releases), ‘Aero Shake’ didn’t just prove that Microsoft is awful at naming things, it introduced a quick way of minimizing every app or window apart from the window I am working in. All I had to do was click and hold the top of the window I wanted to keep open, then shake it from side to side. It was a fast and intuitive way to declutter my desktop, and I didn’t have to use my keyboard.

MacBook Pro 16-inch (2023) in use in a studio

(Image credit: Future)

Keeping your options open

However, as Apple Insider reports, Apple has brought in a new feature that simplifies this process and makes it just as easy – if not easier – than Windows 11’s way of doing things.

Basically, you no longer have to hold down the Option key along with clicking on an empty space on the desktop to minimize all background apps and windows – instead, you can just click on the desktop and all apps apart from the one you’re using will disappear. Clicking the desktop again will open them all back up.

This is much faster and more accessible than the previous way of doing things, and while it might not be the biggest change included in macOS Sonoma, it’ll likely have a big impact on the way I work. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, of course, and there will be people who are used to the Option-click method – which has been around for decades. 

The first time I noticed this new feature was when I accidentally hit the desktop rather than a folder I meant to open. The sudden disappearance of all my windows was a surprise, and at first I wasn’t sure what I did. But, once I figured out how to use it, and what was happening, I quickly adapted to the new way of working.

In some ways, macOS Sonoma’s way of hiding background windows is easier to use than Windows 11’s method – as I sometimes find Windows doesn’t quite pick up when I am shaking an app, leaving everything open.

On the other hand, you still need to find the desktop to click on it in macOS Sonoma – which is often a problem when you have loads of apps open. Part of the reason for using this feature is because you can’t see your desktop, so having to close or move a few windows to click the desktop to hide everything you’re not working on can still be a bit of a chore.

Still, as a user of both Windows 11 and macOS Sonoma, I am always glad when good ideas from one operating system make their way to the other OS – long may it continue.

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