Windows 11 21H2 is about to run out of road for support, so if you’re still on this version of the operating system, then you need to upgrade very soon.
Bleeping Computer highlighted an end-of-servicing announcement Microsoft issued pertaining to Windows 11 Home, version 21H2 (and Pro versions, too, including Windows 11 Pro Education).
Microsoft reminded us: “These editions will no longer receive security updates after October 10, 2023.”
What does that mean? Feature updates are one thing – upgrades that add new capabilities and refine the interface of Windows 11 in one way or another – but security updates are the really important bit.
They patch up vulnerabilities that have been discovered in Windows 11, and if not fixed, could be exploited by attackers to compromise your system in some way (usually with dire results).
If you’re still running Windows 11 21H2 – which is the version of the OS from 2021, as the name suggests – then you need to upgrade to 22H2, and do so before October arrives.
Analysis: Get going on that upgrade
Upgrading to Windows 11 22H2 is an easy process. Just head to Windows Update (in Settings), and click the ‘Check for updates’ button, whereupon the upgrade should show up with the option to install it.
Not sure what version of Windows 11 you have? You can find out simply by typing ‘winver’ into the search box on the taskbar and clicking on ‘Run command’. Winver stands for Windows Version and will pop up a panel telling you if you are currently running Windows 11 21H2 or 22H2 (or whatever flavor of Microsoft’s OS you’ve got for that matter, if it’s another).
Microsoft has also been forcing upgrades to Windows 11 22H2 for the same reason over the course of 2023, and as the final October deadline for 21H2 support approaches, more users are going to get an automatic upgrade coming into play, again to ensure their PC continues to receive security fixes.
We’ve caught a glimpse of how a part of the Windows 11 interface could work in the future, thanks to digging in a new preview build.
PhantomOfEarth, one of the regular sources of Microsoft leaks on Twitter, used ViVeTool to uncover how smart snap suggestions should pan out in Windows 11.
Another demo of the smart snap assist suggestions feature rolling out with build 23493, now with tooltips and snap bar snapping working properly! To get it, enable SnapFlyoutAndBarSuggestions (replace X with 1 or 2)vivetool /enable /id:42500395 /variant:X pic.twitter.com/XBmj3tqWF5July 3, 2023
You can see the results (this is in preview build 23493 in the Dev channel) in the video clip provided in the tweet above.
As noted by the leaker, the snapping process and tooltips are now working properly, so Microsoft is making progress with this part of the interface.
For the uninitiated – those who don’t use snap layouts – it’s a part of the interface that allows you to easily ‘snap’ multiple apps together in different layouts, with the suggestions providing predefined templates of how you might want those apps to sit on the screen.
Microsoft is also adding icons to the snap flyout carrying the suggested layouts, so you can see which windows will carry which apps (as the icon of the application is present in its relevant window).
On top of all that other work on the UI (there’s a new volume mixer in 23493, to boot), this is a promising glimpse of how snap suggestions is coming along. It looks pretty slick even in this still early stage of the game, as remember, the feature isn’t even functional yet. (Not without using the aforementioned Windows configuration tool, ViVeTool, to turn it on).
As ever, features in testing may change, and as PhantomOfEarth points out, Microsoft is currently testing two variants of snap suggestions with the available layouts arranged somewhat differently, trying to work out which is optimal no doubt.
There’s even a chance that features in testing won’t make it to release at all – especially hidden functionality like this – but in the case of snap suggestions, we’re thinking this is a pretty safe bet for eventual inclusion in Windows 11. Particularly as snap layouts is an area Microsoft has been tinkering with a fair bit in recent times.
The web version of Google Photos just got a major upgrade that brings a slew of editing features like Color Pop, Portrait Blur and Sky suggestions. But it’s not perfect.
Google Photos has been a great cloud photo storage platform for some time, making it easy to share your snaps between devices, and on mobile it’s also a solid photo editor. It’s not on par with services like Photoshop, but you can pull off some great looking adjustments – we particularly like Color Pop which makes the image black and white except for objects you select, and Background Blur which artificially blurs the background of pictures.
While this update finally gives the web client these tools and others found on the version on your Google Pixel 7, there are unfortunately two catches to the new and improved Google Photos web version.
Firstly, you’ll need to be subscribed to Google One – Google’s paid subscription service – to be able to take advantage of these new features. The cheapest Google One tier is Basic; it costs $ 1.99 / £1.59 / AU$ 2.49 per month and gives you access to these Photos tools as well as 100GB of storage, the use of the Google One VPN and a handful of extra benefits.
The other catch is the new Google Photos web tools lack the best feature found on the Google Pixel version of the app: Magic Eraser. This AI-powered tool allows you to clean up your photos; the app removes the objects you’ve highlighted and then cleverly fills in the blank space with a background using context from the image. It’s not perfect, but nine times out of 10 you wouldn’t know the image was altered unless someone told you.
Opinion: Magic Eraser is like a photo cheat code
Magic Eraser isn’t a Google Photos editing tool you should always rely on. Our Cameras Editor Timothy Coleman recently argued that cleaning your messy photos with Magic Eraser is a bad thing. It removes authenticity from your snaps, and often options like Background Blur can create a much tidier looking image.
But there are plenty of times when a minor fix from Magic Eraser can help remove a distraction that blemishes a shot you love. When I took a holiday with my parents in December 2021, I snapped a picture of them next to a huge Christmas tree, but they’d left their brightly colored bags in the shot. Thanks to Magic Eraser I could clean up the offending items, and get a result we were much happier with.
Given my success with the tool, I’m disappointed to see it’s not coming to Google’s Photos web app yet. This is hardly a surprise though; Magic Eraser is one of the best features on Pixel phones and by making it available to any Google One subscriber, Pixel handsets would lose one of their unique appeals.
Hopefully this Pixel exclusivity won’t last forever. But even if it does, with a bevvy of AI image tools on the rise alongside the best AI art generators, you might find a Google Photos rival can offer a good alternative to Magic Eraser.
The activation algorithm for Windows XP has been cracked, so those stuck not being able to get the ancient operating system working can now do so – and yes, there are folks who still use this OS.
Granted, it’s a seriously slim – vanishingly so – niche of Windows users, and we’ll come back to that. For most of us, though, this is just a curiosity.
As The Register reports, the encryption algorithm for Windows XP product activation has been cracked and reimplemented, with the details provided via a tinyapps blog post.
This means anyone can now generate a valid product key to install and activate Windows XP offline.
Microsoft turned off the servers required to activate Windows XP long ago, so you can’t use a genuine old product key to activate the OS. Well, not online anyway, though from what we can see on Reddit, Microsoft still facilitated a product activation on the phone back in 2020 – and The Register reckons this way still works.
Analysis: Desperate times, desperate measures…
So, if you don’t want to get on the phone and try to persuade Microsoft to activate your Windows XP when you have a genuine product key that can’t be validated online anymore, you can simply do-it-yourself at home (or in the office) with no fuss.
Why would you ever want to use Windows XP, though? Yes, it was a much-loved operating system without a doubt, for many reasons – mainly that it was such a big step forward for performance, and the quality of the interface, over its predecessor – but it’s obviously ridiculously outdated at this point in time.
However, some people must remain on Windows XP due to legacy software or hardware that won’t work with any more modern Microsoft operating system. These are most likely businesses, who might, say, have eye-wateringly expensive machines that only work with software that runs on XP and hasn’t been updated in forever.
In those cases, this crack could prove very useful, but clearly, anyone running Windows XP is exposing themselves to a whole lot of potential pain in terms of the vulnerabilities present in the OS. Which is why if you are in this boat, whatever you do, keep that Windows XP installation offline for obvious reasons.
Are you now wondering how many Windows XP users are still out there? According to the latest from analytics firm Statcounter, XP amounts to a 0.35% userbase out of all Windows versions (not all that far behind Windows 8, Microsoft’s most recently defunct OS which is on 1.28% as of April 2023).
Cracking rusty old Microsoft operating systems appears to be quite the trend at the moment. You may recall that Windows 95’s (relatively flimsy) activation was recently hacked, with a twist – ChatGPT was fooled into generating keys that worked with the OS (in a small number of cases).
Is Windows 11 being abandoned by gamers? That’s what it looks like on the face of it with the arrival of the latest Steam hardware survey, but there’s a lot more to those stats if you dig under the surface.
Valve’s survey for March shows that Windows 11 has dropped a massive 9.65% for operating system share among Steam gamers, leaving it on 22.41% (shedding almost a third of its hard-fought adoption figures, no less). Meanwhile, Windows 10 is up 11.62%.
Leading to the obvious question – what’s happening here, are folks leaving Windows 11 to revert to Windows 10? Well, no – there’s a strong clue as to what’s going on if you take a look at another part of the survey, namely the language used for the surveyed operating systems.
This shows a huge jump in ‘Simplified Chinese’ which represents 51.63% of the PCs surveyed in March (up 25.35% on the previous month). Whereas ‘English’ language installations have dropped to 22.83% (down a hefty 12.44%).
Of course, the Steam survey takes a sample of a whole different swathe of PCs (rigs whose owners have indicated they want to take part) every time around, which often accounts for variations in percentages. And a big change in the geographical focus of the survey, as seen here, is going to make a major difference no doubt – as we see with Windows 11 adoption.
We do have to consider the possibility that Valve’s March survey is flawed somehow, too – and perhaps the numbers of Chinese installations of Windows have been inflated. There have been theories about this in the past, contending that Valve is potentially misreading installations as Chinese (or that other factors could be at play, such as bots).
Interestingly, though, there’s other evidence of odd shifts in macOS and Linux, particularly Apple’s desktop platform which has dropped heavily.
Analysis: Untrusted Platform Modules?
The biggest impact is clearly that Windows 11 shift, and this makes sense for the Chinese market due to one obvious upgrade blocking factor – TPM.
In China there was a big fuss made when Windows 11 was wheeled out with its TPM requirement, because in that country, they use TCM chips instead – not trusting TPM. (Ironically, we suppose, as technically that makes them UPM or Untrusted Platform Modules).
At any rate, this was a big problem for Microsoft, what with TPM being a hard requirement for Window 11 in order to bolster security levels with the desktop OS. It’s something Microsoft has worked around for enterprise clients in China – that’s far too large a cash cow to ignore – but as for your average Chinese consumer, well, they’ve been left out in the cold. And they’re still shivering there as of 2023, something clearly illustrated by this latest Steam survey, in which the large influx of Chinese PCs has caused such a swing between Windows 11 and Windows 10.
In summary, then, no, gamers aren’t fleeing Windows 11 in droves, but Microsoft still has a big problem in the Chinese market when it comes to TPM and adoption of its newest OS. Clearly, Chinese users are not keen on trying to fudge an installation of Windows 11 without TPM (which is possible, but not recommended).
We weren’t sure what Microsoft was going to do regarding the consumer market in China back at the launch of Windows 11, and we still aren’t sure, but presumably, this is an issue that needs to be addressed at some stage.
Otherwise, Microsoft’s desktop OS dominance in China – a massive market where Windows currently accounts for 82.5% of PC operating systems as of March 2023, according to Statcounter, is surely going to be eroded. Remember, Windows 10 only has a couple of years of support left in the tank.
No one can blame you if you've given up on Spotify HiFi ever becoming a thing. It’s been two years since the initial announcement. However, all hope is not lost as the streaming service recently confirmed that it’s still working on the high-res audio tier.
This news comes from Spotify co-president Gustav Söderström who sat down for an interview on TheVerge’s podcast, Decoder. Confirming HiFi’s existence was pretty much the only straight answer he gave as the rest of the responses were vague at best. According to Söderström, the reason why the tier is taking so long is that the “industry changed and [Spotify] had to adapt”, but doesn’t elaborate any further. He does hint at the cost of HiFi and deals with music labels as being two major factors to the delay, and again, doesn't elaborate any further.
Söderström goes on to say Spotify wants to do something “unique” with HiFi and not “unnecessarily commoditize” itself by “[doing] what everyone else does”. When asked about an expected launch date and support for spatial audio, Söderström remained tight-lipped. There will be a “Spotify HiFi lossless-type experience at some point” in the future, however, that’s all the co-president was willing to divulge.
Söderström’s comment on needing to adapt to a changing industry is arguably the most telling in that whole exchange because it’s emblematic of the company’s recent moves. Pinning the delay of Spotify HiFi on not wanting to copy other platforms is rather ironic if you think about it. For starters, the streaming service is currently rolling out a redesign for its mobile app taking clear inspiration from TikTok. It now sports a vertical discovery feed as a way to encourage people to check out the latest songs or popular podcasts. You even have Spotify incorporating tech from OpenAI in its new DJ feature to simulate a real-life radio DJ. While these additions are great and everything, do users really want the TikTok experience and generative AI? From what we’ve seen, not really.
It appears the platform is more interested in growing its media library over providing HiFi. Spotify has grown its podcast content exponentially alongside real-time transcriptions. Also, the audiobook feed has a new preview feature where users can listen to a book for five minutes before purchasing. All this and still no high-res audio, at least any time soon. We asked Spotify if it could tell us more about its HiFi tier – anything at all. This story will be updated at a later time.
AMD has fixed a nasty bug in Windows 11 (and 10) which causes all sorts of unpredictable issues, including the dreaded Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), with the cure coming as part of its latest graphics driver.
That would be the Adrenalin version 23.3.1 driver, which as AMD notes resolves a bug that triggers “intermittent driver timeout, system freeze or BSOD” with “select displays.”
The fix, however, is just for RDNA 3 GPUs at the moment (the RX 7900 XTX and 7900 XT). As Neowin points out, this issue also affects previous-gen AMD graphics cards (like the RX 6000 range), and because only RX 7000 cards are mentioned in the driver release notes, presumably the fix for older GPUs is still to come.
Meanwhile, there is a workaround of sorts for those who are still encountering this bug. In theory, the problem lies in the Multi-plane Overlay (MPO), which is part of the Windows Display Driver Module (v1.3), and Neowin explains that the issue has been around since January 2023.
The reason for that strong suspicion is that if you turn off MPO – sadly that requires a Registry tweak, which is not for the faint-hearted – the problem appears to resolve itself (at least in some reported cases).
Analysis: MPO needs some serious attention?
One thing to note is that while this bug sounds seriously nasty – and it certainly can be, given the listed effects – at least the worst manifestations, namely those full lock-ups and BSODs, are relatively rare. (Timeouts are more likely, which are irritating, but not nearly as much of a blow).
Although of course, you don’t want any chance of a hard crash happening in an ideal world. Since Windows 10, the likes of system freezes or blue screens have become much rarer (thankfully). Gone are the days when full-blown crash and burns were a relatively common experience for Windows users.
As to when AMD will smooth things over for those who don’t own a cutting-edge RDNA 3 graphics card, time will tell. Hopefully folks in that boat won’t have long to wait, as the workaround is not really suitable for those who aren’t confident enough with PCs to head into the Registry and do some tinkering. (A wrong step in the Registry can lead to very bad things happening with your PC, so always bear that in mind).
On a broader level, MPO – a feature designed to take some load off the GPU and CPU – has experienced a rather rocky time of things, and been labeled as the cause of a good many other bugs and display-related oddities. It seems like a part of Windows that needs an overhaul, in short, or we could find more strange bugs like the one AMD has (partially) stamped out manifesting themselves down the line.
As a final note, if you are updating to AMD’s driver version 23.3.1, be very careful in the process, as in certain circumstances, a rare but truly dire problem can arise on installation – namely your PC getting bricked.
Twitter thrives on shares, not just within the social media platform but from partner links all over the Internet. Except on Monday, most of those links stopped working.
For approximately an hour, anyone trying to share recently published articles on Twitter was met with an error message clearly intended for developers:
It was almost as if Twitter was informing publishers that they didn't pay their water bill and, as such, couldn't publish links on the social network.
What went wrong?
We didn't have to wait too long for Twitter CEO Elon Musk to explain. In response to a tweet from former Netscape founder and well-known venture capitalist Marc Andreessen pointing out how four of the five top Twitter trends were about Twitter, Musk tweeted, “A small API change had massive ramifications. The code stack is extremely brittle for no good reason. Will ultimately need a complete rewrite.”
A small API change had massive ramifications. The code stack is extremely brittle for no good reason. Will ultimately need a complete rewrite.March 6, 2023
This seemingly clear-headed tweet though should be cause for alarm. Musk claims the code stack (basically a massive stack of programs that all work together to create the Twitter whole) is brittle and needs a rewrite. What he fails to mention is that among the thousands of Twitter employees he laid off since November, a good number of them were engineers and, it's safe to assume, some were in what's known as QA or quality assurance.
Typically if you plan on making any kind of code change to a website, online service, or app, QA tests it on an offline copy of the platform. In this way, they ensure that the updates, no matter how small, won't adversely impact the live environment.
The concept is known as “production,” the live site or service, versus “staging,” an environment that's identical to live but can not be seen or touched by users. You run your new code or feature through staging, a group of QA testers applies a set of known scenarios (maybe they throw in an edge case or two) and as long as there are no red flags, the update gets pushed from Staging to Production.
Twitter, which has seen its overall reliability drop (from going offline to having features appear and disappear unexpectedly) since Musk took over, may be getting its updates in a different way.
The assumption he made here, that a small API change would have little impact on the site was a poor one. And, yet, Musk still doesn't understand that he's doing it wrong.
Testing features of any kind on a live version of a complex platform like Twitter will inevitably result in bugs and crashes.
Will rewriting the code stack solve all this? Maybe, but very few platforms stay as clean as they were on launch and even if the rewrite is robust and perfect, frequent updates and fresh features will test that stability.
As long as Musk refuses to fully test what he launches before he launches it, there is no scenario in which Twitter escapes regular downtime.
This is a simple fix, Elon, make QA an inescapable part of the development pipeline and save yourself and us a lot of headaches. Or keep doing it your way because that's working out so, so well.
The notorious exploit-as-a-service RIG Exploit Kit, targeting users of the positively ancient, vulnerability-ridden web browser Internet Explorer, is still going strong, experts have warned.
Per a report by security research firm Prodaft, installs of the kit are attempting around 2,000 intrusions a day, and succeeding 30% of the time, allowing it to spread infostealers and other forms of malware to users in over 207 countries.
We keepwriting about it, and we keep getting emails from burgeoning violent criminals swearing at us over why we bother doling out security posture advice for businesses at all. (Hugs and kisses to all our readership, even if they’ve fled an institution. xox)
Chrono Cross fans have been calling for a re-release of the classic JRPG almost since its launch back in 1999. Finally, after many long years of waiting, we're getting our wish.
Available to play on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and other models, it features remastered graphics, the ability to fast forward, auto-battle improvements, and more.
I've been playing this new remaster on Nintendo Switch, and it's only strengthened my belief that modern RPGs can benefit a lot from the Chrono series, particularly when it comes to narrative and audio.
War of the Parallel Worlds
Chrono Cross is a sidequel, rather than a sequel to Chrono Trigger, the famous RPG released for Nintendo's Super Nintendo console in 1995. Instead of time-travel, you travel across parallel worlds to face off against Lynx, a cruel agent of the supercomputer FATE that's trying to eliminate the main character, Serge, and his party while they also try to defeat a Time Devourer.
When Chrono Cross was released back in 1999, it was critically acclaimed, with praise heaped on its battle system and multiple endings. You could see dramatically different conclusions depending on who you recruited to your party and the conversation options you picked through the game.
While Chrono Trigger saw a remaster in 2008 on the Nintendo DS, followed by a PC release in 2018, I hoped for Chrono Cross to get a similar treatment. The spinoff may not have found the same fame as Chrono Trigger, but it still had a loyal fan base.
While I bounced off of Final Fantasy VIII on the original PlayStation back in 1999, and attempts to get into other entries in the series, Chrono Cross' story of Balamb Garden hooked me in, especially as it revolved around time travel. I've loved stories of time travel ever since seeing films and shows like Back to the Future and Quantum Leap.
Final Fantasy VIII was how I discovered Chrono Cross, thanks to a magazine reviewing the eighth entry back in 2000. A small blurb was listing alternatives to the game, and it erroneously stated that it was a sequel to Chrono Trigger, with a bigger focus on time travel mechanics. Even though it turned out to be about parallel worlds, Chrono Cross still kept me enthralled.
Playing the remaster on my Switch in 2022 has been a joy. Its art style has been lovingly remastered from top to bottom, alongside the modern features similar to the Final Fantasy remasters of fast-forwarding gameplay, avoiding battles, and more, with the press of the ZR button.
The audio deserves a special mention too. It's easy to focus on the gameplay of these RPGs from the mid-90s, all the while forgetting the music is just as cemented in our memories. Moments such as Chrono Cross' battles and when Serge stands at the graveside of his parallel self, all land because of this fantastic score. Composer Yasunori Mitsuda knew raised the bar for what RPG scores could achieve.
While it's not been confirmed yet if you can play Chrono Cross on a Steam Deck, I'd be surprised if this wasn't possible. There was no slowdown on the Switch, and everything worked as intended. I'm sure playing this in a higher resolution on the Steam Deck will only enhance the game.
Chrono Cross is a prime example of how it makes you think about second chances, and what could have been if you took one route instead of the other.
We've all had those sliding doors moments, where we wonder what would had happened if we'd acted differently in the moment. Chrono Cross' story reminds me of a lyric from the song 'Two of Us', from The Beatles' 'Let it Be' album, “You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” That's what Serge's story is here, across the parallel worlds, with multiple endings.
Without spoiling the game, the endings are dependent on facing certain bosses at certain moments, alongside answering questions to characters in certain ways. This will all lead to one of 11 endings that may mean that Serge and his party find the happy epilogue or the sad conclusion of the story.
Somewhere in this universe, Crono and Marle from Chrono Trigger, alongside Serge and Leena are waiting to appear in a third game, and in an age of remakes and remasters, perhaps its time to see what these characters are doing, and how a game on our modern consoles and handhelds will work across time periods and alternate worlds.
Chrono Cross may well find itself on our list of the Best RPGs