Windows 11 24H2 blanket bans some desktop customization apps in test builds – and a lot of folks aren’t happy

Windows 11 users who have customized the interface of the operating system with a third-party app may run into trouble with the incoming 24H2 update later this year, if what’s happening in testing is anything to go by.

Tom’s Hardware spotted a Neowin report noting that in the recently deployed preview build 26100 of Windows 11, which is supposedly the RTM version of the 24H2 update, Microsoft has stealthily (and rather crudely) disabled some apps that modify the interface.

Specifically, StartAllBack and ExplorerPatcher are the two UI customization apps that are blocked from Windows 11 24H2, meaning you won’t be able to get the update until you remove that software.

So, why has this happened? As you might guess, the reason for effectively casting aside these third-party apps is bound up in the compatibility and possible stability and security issues that they cause, as Windows development MVP Rafael Rivera makes clear on X (formerly Twitter).

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Indeed, as Neowin points out, when you attempt to install ExplorerPatcher on build 26100, the OS tells you that it can’t be run because the app “causes security or performance issues on Windows.”

Windows 11 working on a laptop PC

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Analysis: A rush to RTM?

As one bright spark on X observes, tongue firmly planted in cheek, Microsoft Teams is also “an unreliable high crash rate bit of software” so why doesn’t Microsoft block that from installing? Well, Rivera does respond to that little bit of trolling, noting that whatever stability issues Teams may have, it doesn’t prevent OS boot or recovery options – suggesting there are some serious flaws with these customization apps and the 24H2 update.

If you recall, 24H2 has an all-new underlying platform called Germanium, so there are some big changes here – and we’re guessing that this shift under the hood is the reason for the apps being problematic. That’s pure guesswork, mind.

Whatever the reason behind the apparently thorny compatibility issues, there are problems with the way Microsoft has gone about this. Communication with the software developers would be expected – and normally happens in these kinds of cases, at least giving them some warning of what’s going on. Not this time, though.

Furthermore, the way the ban appears to have been implemented seems very crude – it’s a blanket ban on all EXE files containing the names of the offending apps (which means all versions are affected, and any related apps). The way this has been done smacks of either laziness or a rush to get this move through, which isn’t a good look for Microsoft.

It almost seems like Microsoft has jammed this in at a late stage because the 24H2 update RTM needed to be pushed out of the door sharpish. There was a problem found last-minute and a fix was hastily applied using a hatchet, not a scalpel (again, guesswork – but this is what it feels like).

That theory does make some sense, as the predicted date for the RTM (near-finalized) candidate of the 24H2 update was April, and this build needs to be ready for new Snapdragon X Elite AI PCs which are coming in June (in theory). These laptops require that Germanium build due to their ARM-based chips, so there’s a critical need to get this done.

In short, it’s all a bit messy and some feathers have definitely been ruffled here – although due to the mentioned shoddy implementation of the app ban, it’s actually very easy to circumvent it: simply rename the EXE of the client. We wouldn’t recommend doing that, mind – as if the hints about boot failure are on the money, your PC could end up with a serious spanner in the works.

Meanwhile, these customization apps still work with Windows 11 23H2, the current version, and we have to remember that these changes are still in testing. We don’t know if this ban is temporary, or whether it’ll actually be enforced when 24H2 arrives later this year (from September, most likely).

Microsoft and the relevant devs should be able to work together and find a better solution, indeed a full resolution, before then, and Rivera’s comments indicate this will be the case.

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Apple’s test of a new iOS subscription payment system is a huge step back

Apple is testing out a new subscription payment system for iOS devices that would let developers automatically charge a higher subscription-renewal price rather than ask for explicit acceptance, so long as the user is notified ahead of the renewal price increase and given the chance to cancel their subscription.

While this is a fairly common practice with subscription services, this isn't the way this is supposed to work on iOS. From Apple's developer documentation:

When you increase the price of a subscription, Apple informs affected subscribers via email and push notification and asks them to agree to the new price. On iOS 13.4 and iPadOS 13.4 and later, affected subscribers are also notified through a price consent sheet that automatically displays in your app… If they don’t agree, their subscription expires at the end of their current billing cycle.

The new payment system was first flagged by developer Max Seelemann on Twitter and later confirmed by TechCrunch.

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The issue appears to be limited to the Disney+ app for now and only seems to affect a limited number of users as part of a pilot test of a new iOS payment system.

Apple told TechRadar that the company is “piloting a new commerce feature we plan to launch very soon. The pilot includes developers across various app categories, organization sizes, and regions to help test an upcoming enhancement that we believe will be great for both developers and users, and we’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks.”

It's not clear whether this system, if implemented, would be open to all developers on the iOS platform, or whether only a selection of developers would be granted the ability to auto-charge for a price increase.

Analysis: while it could be worse, this is still a terrible idea

One of the worst things about subscription-based models is that they require a lot of management and juggling on the part of the user. Who among us hasn't completely forgotten that some subscription charge was due on a certain date and only realized it once we suddenly had a lot less money in the bank than we thought we had?

This is especially problematic when you're dealing with an annual subscription, which is a large chunk of money and is much more likely to be forgotten by the user (making it more unlikely that it will be cancelled ahead of the renewal charge). Subscription services are a very appealing model for businesses for that reason, and a major headache for users.

Apple's current system is about as good as you can expect, all things considered. It can't save you from forgetting about a looming renewal and over-drafting your bank account as a result, but at least it requires you to explicitly accept a higher price after an 'introductory' rate expires and automatically cancels the subscription if you don't do anything. 

We would much rather see Apple stick with that system than let a company automatically bill users a higher rate if they don't take action on it. On the plus side, it appears that the renewal-price increase notification is very obvious and there is at least a link for users to review the subscription and cancel it if they so choose.  

There's no getting around the fact, though, that this could open the door for ne'er-do-well developers to take advantage of users by starting off at a very low price and then jacking it up considerably for the renewal. While most users would immediately move to cancel if they saw that kind of scammy behavior, even with the new notification system, there's going to be some small subset of users who misread, misunderstand, or just miss the notification and find themselves getting hit with a higher-than-expected charge out of the blue.

Given that potential nightmare scenario, it's likely that only certain large developers would be allowed to automatically charge you an increased price in this way, which raises a different problem. This would give bigger players in the industry special treatment that puts smaller, legitimate developers at a disadvantage, with no obvious benefit to the user.

Given Apple's generally good track record on user protections, this feels like a big step back and is disappointing to see. If the big fish in the App Store pond do get special privileges, we should stop pretending that Apple's platform is as fair as the company claims it is. 

Since this appears to be a small pilot test, we hope Apple comes to see how valuable its current subscription payment model is for its users and doesn't break what is already working well. 

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You can now test WordPress 5.9 before its official release

A new version of WordPress that's currently under development, WordPress 5.9, is now available in beta for testing purposes.

Given WordPress 5.9 Beta 1 is not a stable release, the developers recommend tests should be carried out on test websites rather than live sites, in case any issues reveal themselves.

WordPress has released a set of detailed instructions for users to follow in order to carry out the test successfully.

The final version of WordPress 5.9 is scheduled for release on January 25, 2022.

WordPress 5.9 Beta 1 testing 

With eight weeks left until the software goes live, WordPress has developed three different ways for users to test WordPress 5.9 Beta 1 on their sites.

The first option is to install and activate the WordPress Beta Tester plugin, select the “Bleeding edge” channel and “Beta/RC Only” stream. 

The second way is to directly download the beta version, and the third way is to use WP-CLI to test: wp core update –version=5.9-beta1. However, the third option is not advised for filesystems that are case-insensitive.

WordPress said in a blog post that the main reason for these tests is to polish the release in the beta stage. The release already contains 580 enhancements and nearly 450 bug fixes, and contributors have addressed 297 tickets for WordPress 5.9 so far, including 110 new features and enhancements.

This latest WordPress version will also introduce WordPress’ very first block-based default theme, Twenty Twenty-Two.

“It’s the very first theme that’s block based and needs thorough testing as a result,” said a WordPress contributor in the detailed guide.

WordPress also dished out extra tips for those who want to participate in testing the new version on their sites, which include testing across different browsers, testing in different languages, and seeing what the new features look like on different screen sizes.

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