Tools and Utilities in windows 11 and windows 10
Tools and Utilities
The tools and utilities that you will need and use are scattered around Windows 11, and some of the most useful are pretty well hidden such as the System File Checker and the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) tool, both of which we’ll look at in depth in Chapter 9, and the Problem Steps Recorder which we’ll demonstrate in Chapter 6.
Some of the most useful tools aren’t even part of Windows but are available from the Microsoft website or the Microsoft Store to download. There are a complete wealth of useful tools and utilities however which I’ve always found odd.
The reason for this is that the number of problems you tend to get in Windows is the inverse of the number of tools available to diagnose and fix them. Windows XP, for example, had many stability and reliability problems and yet didn’t come with half of the tools available in the much more stable Windows 7.
With Windows 11 though, things will be subject to change. I detailed in Chapter 1 how Windows 10 changed throughout its life and how Windows 11 will inevitably follow the same path. This means that some of the tools I detail in this chapter will very likely move in the future, but I will always detail if this is likely at the appropriate time.
It was back with Windows 8 that Microsoft first introduced a Settings panel. This was largely a joke as even some of the desktop personalization options weren’t available there at the time. This, of course, was in response to absolutely every other operating system having moved to a more friendly settings interface for users, with even Linux having had a more friendly settings interface than Windows for many years. Steven Sinofsky, who was the man running the Windows division at Microsoft during the years of Windows 7 and Windows 8, wanted to make the Windows experience work and feel more like we were used to on a smartphone and tablet.
In some ways, the ideas he and his team introduced were not just revolutionary but widely praised, such as the sideways-scrolling panels that could aggregate all your messaging or social media feeds into a single place in Windows Phone (see Figure 2-1).
Figure 2-1. Windows Phone’s scrolling panels were considered revolutionary
Alas, there were problems with this as the big social media companies objected to Microsoft baking support for their platforms directly into the OS. They wanted more control over pushing advertising to their users and thus wanted everybody using their own apps. Microsoft caved and before very long Windows Phone became a shadow of the great OS it had been at launch.
Things didn’t go so well with the port to the desktop either, with the Windows Phone interface being inadequate for large PC monitors, and the push toward full screen, and if I’m honest, woefully badly written apps, just wasn’t the way PC users wanted to work.
By the time Windows XP and Windows 7 came to the ends of their supported lives, there were still around 20% or more of PCs running the older OS. I have given talks to user and other groups about end of support, and on my website windows.do, I had many articles advising people what to do about the end of support for Windows 7, just as I will do with Windows 10 when that reaches the end of its life in 2025. With the end of support for Windows 8.1 though in January 2023, I doubt I’ll bother, as there’s just nobody still using it.
Settings has expanded greatly though since it was refined for the launch of Windows 10 in 2015. In Chapter 1, I detailed by just how much it had been expanded, and this will continue to happen with Windows 11.
Tip:Settings includes a search box in its top-left corner which can be helpful as some settings are buried and can be quite difficult to find.
Settings is available from the Start Menu All Apps list, and it’s automatically pinned to the Start Menu when Windows 11 is installed. It’s straightforward to use with main categories on the left side and options for the currently selected category on the right (see Figure 2-2).
Figure 2-2. The Settings panel in Windows 11
There are, at least when I write this, 11 main categories available in Settings:
- System is where the main end user–focused configuration options for the PC are to be found, including display, sound, battery, and notifications. It is also where some troubleshooting tools can be found, such as Recovery (which we’ll look at later in this chapter and in Chapters 6 and 22) and Remote Desktop (see Chapter 6 for details on this).
- Bluetooth & devices is something we’ll cover in Chapter 15 and is where you’ll find configuration and connection settings for wired and wireless peripherals, but also where privacy settings for devices such as cameras and microphones can be found.
- Network & internet is one of the Settings areas that will be expanded into the future, with more Control Panel applets being brought to it. This contains options for managing wired and wireless networks, as well as configuring Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), cellular hotspots, flight mode, and proxy servers, as well as being where data usage can be monitored.
- Personalization is where the end user will go to change the look and feel of Windows 11, from dark mode, and desktop wallpapers, to the lock screen, themes, and some accessibility features including the mouse cursor.
- Apps is also going to see more Control Panel applets folded into it and currently is where you can set default apps for files, add and manage optional features for Windows, and manage what programs run at startup, but I fully expect additional functionality including turning Windows features on or off to be added at a later date.
- Accounts is where end users can add and manage personal, family, child, and work or school (Microsoft 365 and Azure AD) accounts and also where Windows Hello bio-metric security is configured and managed.
- Time & language is a fairly generic settings panel for setting localization and region options. There are still a few Control Panel applets left to be folded into these settings.
- Gaming contains features used with Xbox gaming on the PC, including the Game Bar and Game Mode options. These will likely be extended over time as we see further integration with Xbox Cloud Gaming, and we see more technology including high dynamic range (HDR) displays and high refresh rate displays becoming commonplace on PCs.
- Accessibility is where the bulk of all the accessibility and ease of access settings in Windows 11 can be found. To find out how these can help everybody from young children, the elderly, and even people that work in noisy environments, you should read my book Windows 11 Made Easy (Apress, 2022).
- Privacy & security is where all of the privacy settings not already in Bluetooth & devices can be found, along with permissions for installed software and apps on the PC.
- Windows Update is quite obviously where you’ll find the update features for Windows 11, along with the update history log, configuration options for updating, and details of how to enroll the PC in the Windows Insider Program.
The Control Panel has been in Windows since its very first version in 1985 (see Figure 2-3), but at some point in the future, it will be disappearing completely. As I detailed in Chapter 1, the number of applets available in the Control Panel diminished significantly during the lifetime of Windows 10, and there are plenty of other applets that are prime candidates to be moved either to Settings or into Windows Tools, which I’ll detail shortly.
Figure 2-3. The Control Panel was first introduced in Windows 1 in 1985
There’s not much in Control Panel for Troubleshooting, though some of the applets will be very useful for you indeed for as long as they’re there. In Figure 2-4, you can see the full list of all the available Control Panel applets that were included at the time Windows 11 launched, though you will also see that many are already partly folded into Settings, and others are prime candidates for joining them.
Figure 2-4. The Control Panel should disappear during Windows 11’s lifetime
Of the Control Panel applets that are useful for troubleshooting, these are the ones you will need:
- Bitlocker Drive Encryption.
- Device Manager.
- Devices and Printers.
- Network and Sharing Center.
- Programs and Features.
- User Accounts.
- Windows Defender Firewall.
- Windows Tools.
If at any point you can’t find something in Control Panel that I’ve pointed you toward, it will have been moved to one or two places. For the more technical and administrative applets, these will have been moved wholesale into Windows Tools and will invariably work exactly as they had in the Control Panel; for everything else, you should check in Settings.
All of the anti-malware, main firewall (as there are two interfaces for this in Windows 11) and other security settings can be found in the Windows Security panel. This is found in the All Apps list in the Start Menu, but also by clicking the Shield icon that appears in the Taskbar System Tray.
Again, Windows Security is something that will change over time, partly because it will be given a “Fluent UI” makeover to bring it in line with Settings (what you’ll see here is still Windows Security sporting its Windows 10 look and feel; see Figure 2-5), but also because security does change over time.
Figure 2-5. Windows Security is where you will find most, but not all, security options
Over the last few years, Microsoft has been porting more and more of its enterprise-grade security features to Windows, such as Microsoft Defender Application Guard. The security options are largely out of the scope of this book, though I will discuss many of them in Chapters 3, 17, and 18. You can also find out about all the security features of Windows 11 in my book Windows 11 Made Easy (Apress, 2022).
For those of you that have been working with and administrating Windows for a few years, you will probably recognize this as Administrative Tools. Indeed, it’s the same panel that’s been rebranded to better reflect its use and position in Windows going forward. This is because many tools that might not be considered strictly “administrative” are being moved here, such as Windows Fax and Scan and Hyper-V. You can see the full list of currently available tools in Figure 2-6, and if something can’t be found in Settings or Control Panel, this is where it will be.
Figure 2-6. Windows Tools is where everything not in Control Panel or Settings can be found
There are a lot of tools here that we’ll use throughout this book and in various chapters. These include
- Command Prompt which has largely been replaced by Windows Terminal, which I’ll detail shortly, but it can also be used and accessed from the Recovery Console, which will also be covered in this chapter. This can be useful if you have a PC that won’t start to the desktop or if you need to edit the main Registry on a nonbootable PC, or the Registry for a specific user, respectively.
- Computer Management is less of a utility we’ll need directly, but it is a centralized place from which you can access other utilities we do need, including Event Viewer, Device Manager, and Disk Management.
- Control Panel is something I detailed a little while ago, but this is just to let you know this is the best place to find it outside of a search in the Start Menu.
- Event Viewer, Almost everything that happens on a PC (Blue Screens of Death excluded) is recorded here.
- Local Security Policy and Group Policy.
- Performance Monitor and Reliability Monitor, along with a hidden tool that really should be here and might find itself included in the future, called Reliability History.
- Quick Assist is a highly effective remote assistance tool and, along with Remote Desktop Connection, along with the Steps Recorder.
- Recovery Drive is a useful little tool that I’ll show you how to use in Next.
- Registry Editor is by far one of the most useful and most important tools in Windows.
- Services will be covered in Next Article when we discuss apps.
- System Configuration, though its use these days is pretty limited.
- System Information is a utility that can provide all manner of detailed information about a PC.
- Task Manager is also available by right-clicking the Start button (hopefully anywhere on the Taskbar by the time you read this), and it is highly useful.
- Windows Defender Firewall with Advanced Security is the second firewall interface I mentioned.
- Windows Memory Diagnostic is a useful little utility.
- Windows Power-Shell is something that has largely been replaced by the Windows Terminal, which we’ll look at next, but the Integrated Scripting Environment (Power-Shell ISE) is very useful for writing Power-Shell scripts.
Microsoft first introduced the Windows Terminal (see Figure 2-7) in 2019 to almost universally positive reviews. It was an integrated environment for Command Prompt, Power-Shell, and the Azure Cloud Shell, but came with the additional benefit that third-party scripting tools could be plugged into it, such as BASH which is used by a lot of Linux programmers.
Figure 2-7. Windows Terminal is a great scripting tool in Windows 11
Available from the Microsoft Store at the following links or as a download from Microsoft for Windows 10, Windows Terminal is built into Windows 11 and can be found in the All Apps list in the Start Menu. Perhaps most easily though you can access Terminal from right-clicking the Start button or pressing the Windows key + X from the desktop to open the Administration menu.
You click the down arrow (▼) icon on the title bar in Terminal to open new tabs for specific scripting environments, but you can also configure those environments and add more by selecting Settings from the drop-down menu that appears. There are a great many settings for Terminal, including being able to copy HTML-formatted text (see Figure 2-8).
Figure 2-8. Windows Terminal is highly configurable
There are a few options that are well worth highlighting however, such as the Appearance and Color schemes options, which allow you to change the colors of everything from different command and argument types to the background of the Terminal itself. This can be especially useful if you have difficulty reading what’s on screen, perhaps because you have poor eyesight or maybe due to color blindness.
JSON files are plain text scripts that can be opened in Notepad on a PC (see Figure 2-9), if you want to edit the settings for Terminal manually.
Figure 2-9. You can edit the settings file for Terminal in Notepad
To add a new scripting environment to Terminal, click Add a new profile in settings and browse to the location on your hard disk of the appropriate executable (see Figure 2-10).
Figure 2-10. You can plug third-party scripting environments into Windows Terminal
Windows Subsystem for Linux
As I mentioned in Chapter 1, BASH is already available through the Windows Subsystem for Linux which is installable in the Pro and Enterprise versions of Windows 11. This useful subsystem and the newly included Windows System for Android might also see the inclusion of additional scripting environments becoming available in the future.
You can activate the Windows Subsystem for Linux by searching in the Start Menu for Turn Windows features on or off, where it will appear in the list of options (see Figure 2-11). It is possible that the Windows Subsystem for Android might also be available here, but as I write this, it is still undergoing testing and is installed directly from the Microsoft Store.
Figure 2-11. You can activate the Windows Subsystem for Linux easily
With the Windows Subsystem for Linux installed, you can install specific Linux distros from the Microsoft Store, where there are many to be found including SUSE, Kali, Oracle, Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora (see Figure 2-12).
Figure 2-12. You install Linux distros from the Microsoft Store
The Recovery Console contains tools to help you get up and running if Windows encounters a problem and can’t start to the desktop. There are several different ways to access the Recovery Console:
- If the PC is unable to boot two or three times, it will automatically start to the Recovery Console and start running the Startup Repair tool, which I will detail shortly.
- You can boot the PC from a USB Recovery Drive, and I will show you how to create one of these in Chapter 3.
- Hold down the Shift key when selecting Restart from the Start Menu or Lock Screen.
- Start the PC from Windows 11 installation media and click the Repair your Computer option when it appears near the bottom-left corner on screen.
When the Recovery Console loads, you will see four main options for continuing and booting Windows normally, Use a device if you want to boot from a USB Flash Drive containing recovery or installation media or that contains an offline anti-malware scanner, Troubleshoot which we’ll look at shortly, and Turn off your PC which is fairly self-explanatory (see Figure 2-13).
Figure 2-13. The Recovery Console is a useful troubleshooting environment
Clicking Troubleshooting will then present options to Rest this PC, which is something we’ll look at in Chapter 22, or more Advanced options. This takes you to a screen that has the options you’re likely to want to use (see Figure 2-14).
Figure 2-14. There are useful troubleshooting tools in the Recovery Console
- Start-up Repair is a tool that resets Windows boot components to their default state in an attempt to get a nonbooting PC to start to the desktop again. It will run automatically if the PC fails to start two or three times, and if it doesn’t find that it can fix the problem, it will bring you to the Advanced options screen.
- Start-up Settings will restart the PC to display the boot menu you would have been familiar with in Windows versions prior to Vista:
- Enable low-resolution video mode starts Windows to a 640 by 480 low video mode.
- Enable debugging mode turns on kernel debugging in Windows that can be sent to a different network-connected PC that’s running a debugger. The data is sent over the COM1 Serial port at 15,200 baud.
- Enable boot logging, which saves a text file containing details of everything that happened during startup. The file is saved to c:\Windows\ntbtlog.txt, and I’ll show you how to access this in the Recovery Console shortly. You can also enable boot logging in the System Configuration panel from the desktop, and I’ll show you how to use this in Chapter 18.
- Enable safe mode is also something I’ll discuss in Chapter 18.
- Disable driver signature enforcement will disable the requirement for all boot drivers to be digitally signed. This can allow older and unsigned third-party drivers to be loaded. We will look at drivers in much more detail in Chapter 15.
- Disable early-launch anti-malware protection stops Windows from loading its built-in or installed third-party anti-malware driver. This can be useful if anti-malware software is causing a problem where the PC is unable to boot to the desktop.
- Disable automatic restart on system failure will prevent the PC from automatically restarting after a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) event. This gives you more time to read the error message displayed.
- Command Prompt is something I’ll detail shortly as it can be extremely useful.
- Uninstall Updates can be used to remove a Windows Update that has caused a problem preventing the PC from booting to the desktop.
- UEFI Firmware Settings loads the UEFI firmware on the PC so you can make changes. This exists here because some PCs start so quickly, there is literally no time to press the Esc or F2 keys, or because the PC is a tablet and no such option exists for you.
- System Restore can roll back changes that have made the PC unbootable.
- System Image Recovery might be removed from Windows 11 at some point in the future. It is a system that allows the creation of a backup disk image for the installed OS.
Having the Command Prompt available from the Recovery Console can be extraordinarily helpful, and I will detail just how useful it can be in Chapter 20. Command Prompt doesn’t support PowerShell commands, though I most sincerely hope these are added at some point in the future, but many commands are available to you. Some of the useful commands to use from the Recovery Console are as follows:
- Regedit to open the Registry editor. From here, open the File menu and click Import to open a local Registry file on the PC which is available on the X: drive. You can also click HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and from the File menu select Load Hive, to load a registry file from the PC, again on the X: drive.
- Notepad will open the Notepad text editor; in this environment, you can open and read many Windows log files, including the ntbtlog.txt boot log file I mentioned a little while ago.
- Diskpart opens the Windows disk management and partitioning tool.
- Rstrui will launch System Restore, which is also available as a main menu item in the Recovery Console.
Microsoft Sysinternals Suite
The last suite of tools we’ll use throughout this book to troubleshoot and repair problems with Windows 11 is by far the most significant. Microsoft Sysinternals suite began life as a pet project in 1996 for software developers Bryce Cog-swell and Mark Russinovich.
Sysinternals was a suite of freeware tools for administering and monitoring Windows installations and the software, drivers, services, and hardware running on them.
In 2006, the product was bought by Microsoft with Cog-swell and Russinovich moving to the company to maintain it. You can download Sysinternals from the Microsoft website at https://pcs.tv/2vJ7K2m or from the Microsoft Store at https://pcs.tv/3IOMkBz.
Russinovich has thrived at Microsoft, rising to the position of Technical Fellow, Microsoft’s most senior technical position, and Chief Technology Officer for Azure cloud services. He’s also the author of several successful tech-based thriller novels, in addition to many technical books.
I won’t detail the specific tools within Sysinternals that we’ll use throughout this book as each one will be detailed in full in the relevant chapters, but it consists of 74 utilities across the subject areas of file and disk, networking, process, security, system, and other miscellaneous tools.
Other Third-Party Tools
While we won’t specifically be using any of the following tools throughout this book, these are the ones that my colleagues and I have always found useful. They cover a broad range of subjects including security, gathering system information, and providing remote access. I always find these are useful bookmarks to keep:
Aida64 – www.aida64.com
CCleaner – www.piriform.com/ccleaner
Disk Digger – www.diskdigger.org
GRC – www.grc.com
Hiren’s Boot CD – www.hiren.info/pages/bootcd
Sandra Utilities – www.sisoftware.eu
TeamViewer – www.teamviewer.com
Ultimate Boot CD – www.ultimatebootcd.com
WhoCrashed – www.resplendence.com/whocrashed
There are also useful support and driver websites that are worth bookmarking. These fall into different categories depending on whether they’re for OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) hardware or cloud and online service status pages.
Hardware Driver and Support Websites
Acer – www.acer.com/support
Asus – www.asus.com/support
AMD – www.support.amd.com
Dell – www.dell.com/support
HP – www.support.hp.com
Intel – www.downloadcenter.intel.com
Lenovo – www.support.lenovo.com
Microsoft Surface Support – www.microsoft.com/surface/support
Nvidia – www.nvidia.com/page/support.html
Samsung – www.samsung.com/support
Cloud and Online Service Status Websites
Microsoft Azure – www.status.azure.com
Amazon Web Services (AWS) – www.health.aws.amazon.com
Google Cloud – www.status.cloud.google.com
These last two links can be most useful as they both monitor hundreds of online services from messaging chat and communications to hosting providers:
There are a lot of tools and utilities built into Windows 11 that you can use to troubleshoot and repair problems and issues, and more besides when you then factor in the Command Prompt and Power-Shell commands and scripts that you can run, and we’ll cover all of the most useful and relevant throughout this book.
There are so many useful Microsoft and third-party tools available as downloads however, and Microsoft’s Sysinternals suite definitely stands at the top of the tree. You may use your own preferred tools and utilities for troubleshooting and monitoring PCs, and if that’s what you’re happy using, you should definitely carry on doing so.
It’s all about what makes you most comfortable and what you find you’re most productive using. For most of the guides throughout this book, I will detail at least two ways of doing things, normally one using a tool in the Windows interface and another using scripting.
In the next chapter, we’re going to look at how we can prevent problems from occurring in the first instance though, by examining how to create a robust and secure PC ecosystem.