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Magic Fixes in Windows

System Restore was the Windows go-to fix when your computer began running rough. System Restore lives on in Windows 10. But Windows 10 offers several other powerful tools that bring an ailing computer back to health.

The following sections explain each new tool, when to reach for it, and how best to make it work its magic.

Resetting your computer

When dealing with a particularly sick computer, sometimes reinstalling Windows is the only cure. In the past, reinstalling Windows took a lot of time and effort. When you add the time spent installing Windows with the time spent copying your files and programs back onto the computer, you could be looking at a half-day's work.

Windows 10 aims to solve that problem. By pushing a few buttons, you can tell Windows to reinstall itself onto your computer. And while installing a fresh copy of itself, Windows saves everybody's user accounts, everyone's personal files, their apps downloaded from the Windows Store, and some of their most important settings.

Performing a reset saves settings from your wireless network connections as well as from your cellular connection, if you have one. The Reset tool also remembers any BitLocker and BitLocker-To-Go settings, drive letter assignments, and personalization settings, including your lock screen background and desktop wallpaper.

When your computer wakes up feeling refreshed with its new copy of Windows, you only need to reinstall your desktop programs. (The program politely leaves a handy list of those programs on your desktop, complete with website links, if possible, so you know exactly what to reinstall.)

Tip:
The Reset tool can go one step further, if you like, by wiping your computer completely clean of everything: user accounts, data, and personal files. Then Windows 10 reinstalls itself, just as if it were on a new PC. That lets you either start from scratch or simply give away your computer to a relative or charity without worrying about leaking your personal information.

To reset your ailing PC, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and choose Settings from the Start menu. The Settings app appears.
  2. Click the Settings app's Update & Security icon. When the Update & Security window appears, click the Recovery option from the left pane. Then, in the section called Reset Your PC, click the Get Started button.
    If asked, insert your Windows disc, flash drive, or whatever else you used to first install Windows. Don't have a Windows installation disc or drive? Then click Cancel. You can't use the Reset option, unfortunately. Windows displays the window, offering two ways to reset your computer.
  3. Choose an option and click Next.
    The Reset tool offers two options:
    • Keep My Files:
      The most widely used choice, this reinstalls Windows, but preserves everybody's user accounts and files. The only thing you lose are desktop programs, which must be reinstalled from their discs or installation files. If you choose this option, jump to Step 5. (Windows 8 and 8.1 called this option Refresh instead of Reset.)
    • Remove Everything:
      Only choose this when you want to wipe everything away from your computer, including everybody's user accounts and files, and reinstall Windows 10. Then you can start from scratch or safely sell or donate your computer to others. If you choose this, move to Step 4.
  4. Choose whether to just remove your files or to remove files and clean the drive.
    Windows offers you two choices:
    • Just Remove My Files:
      Select this option only when your computer will stay within your family. Although this option is relatively secure, somebody with the right tools may be able to extract some previously erased information.
    • Remove Files and Fully Clean the Drive:
      Select this option when you intend to sell or donate your computer to strangers. This option removes your data and then scrubs the hard drive extra clean. That keeps out everybody but the most dedicated specialists who own expensive data recovery equipment.
    When you click an option and click the Reset button, Windows removes everything from your computer, fully cleaning the drive, if requested, then reinstalls itself to leave your computer with a "like new" copy of Windows 10. At that point, you're finished, and your computer's ready to start afresh or be given away safely.
  5. Take note of what desktop programs will need to be reinstalled, then click Next, and click the Reset button.

Windows reinstalls itself on your computer, which takes anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. When your computer wakes up, it should feel refreshed and ready to work again. Expect any or all of the following things to take place when resetting your computer:

Warning:
  • If you've inserted a Windows DVD into your computer in Step 2, be careful when your computer restarts. As it restarts, your computer may ask you to "Press any key to boot from disc." Don't press any key; instead, wait a few seconds until the message disappears. Then Windows loads itself from your computer's newly refreshed hard drive rather than the Windows installation DVD.
  • When your computer wakes up and you sign in, you find a shortcut called Removed Apps waiting on your desktop. Click it, and your web browser displays a page with links to any desktop programs that you need to reinstall - if you decide you miss them, that is. (And if you do miss them, you need the program's installation discs to reinstall them.)
  • Shortly after Windows wakes up, it visits Windows Update to download and install oodles of security patches, as well as updated copies of its bundled apps. Grab a good novel.
  • After resetting your computer, reinstall your desktop programs one by one, restarting your computer after each new install. That gives you the best chance to weed out any misbehaving programs that may have caused the problems that messed things up.
  • If you're connected to a network, you may need to tell Windows whether you're on a home network or a public network. You may also have to rejoin your homegroup.
  • If you've wiped your hard drive completely clean, you can use a File History backup, described in the next section, to restore the files that once lived in your Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders.

Restoring backups with File History

The Windows backup program, File History, saves the files that you've created. It doesn't back up your apps and programs. After all, apps and programs can always be reinstalled. But many of the moments that inspired so many of your photos, videos, and documents can never be re-created.

To keep your files safe, File History automatically makes a copy of every file in your Documents, Music, Photos, and Videos folders. It copies all the files on your desktop, as well. And File History automatically makes those copies every hour.

File History makes your backups easy to see and restore, letting you flip through different versions of your files and folders, comparing them with your current versions. Should you find a better version, a press of a button brings that older version back to life.

To browse through your backed-up files and folders, restoring the ones you want, follow these steps:

  1. Click the taskbar's File Explorer icon (shown in the margin) and then open the folder containing the items you'd like to retrieve.
    For example, click This PC in the folder's left pane to see your most commonly used folders, Desktop, Downloads, Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. Open any folder by double-clicking its name.
  2. Click the Home tab on the Ribbon atop your folder; then click the History button.
    Clicking the History button, shown in the margin, fetches the File History program. The program looks much like a plain old folder.
    The File History program shows you what it has backed up: your main folders, your desktop, your contacts, and your favorite websites.
    Feel free to open the folders inside the File History window. You can also peek inside the files you find there to see their contents.
  3. Choose what you'd like to restore.
    Point and click your way through the libraries, folders, and files until you spot the item or items you'd like to restore:
    • Folder:
      To restore an entire folder, open it so you're viewing its contents.
    • Files:
      To restore a group of files, open the folder containing them, so the files' icons are onscreen.
    • One file:
      To restore an earlier version of a file, open that file from inside the File History window. File History displays that file's contents.
    When you've found the file or folder you want to restore, move to the next step.
  4. Move forward or backward in time to find the version you'd like to restore.
    To browse through different versions of what you're currently viewing, choose the left-pointing arrow along the bottom. To see a newer version, choose the right-pointing arrow. As you move forward and backward through time, feel free to click open folders or individual files, peeking inside them until you're looking at the version that you want to retrieve.
    Tip:
    Not sure whether a folder contains your sought-after item? Type it into the Search box in File History's top-right corner.
  5. Click the Restore button to restore your desired version.
    Whether you're looking at an individual file, a folder, or an entire library's contents, clicking the Restore button places that item back in the place where it used to live.
    That brings up a potential problem, however: What happens if you try to restore an older file named Notes into a place that already contains a file named Notes? Windows warns you of the problem with the window, which brings you to Step 6.
  6. Choose how to handle the conflict.
    If Windows notices a naming conflict with the item you're trying to restore, File History offers you three ways to handle the situation.
    • Replace the File in the Destination Folder:
      Click this option only when you're sure that the older file is better than your current file.
    • Skip This File:
      Click this if you don't want to restore the file or folder. This option returns you to File History, where you can browse other files.
    • Compare Info for Both Files:
      Often the best choice, this option lets you compare the files' sizes and dates before choosing which one to keep, the incoming file or the currently existing file. Or, if you want, this choice also lets you keep both files: Windows simply adds a number after the name of the incoming file, naming it Notes (1), for example.
  7. Exit File History by closing the window.
    You close the File History window just as you close any other window: Click the X in its top-right corner.
Tip:
When buying a portable hard drive, flash drive, or memory card to create backups, don't skimp on size. The larger the hard drive you choose, the more backups you can save. File History comes in very handy.

Restoring from a restore point

The new Refresh and Reset programs in Windows work wonders in resuscitating an ailing computer, and they're more powerful than the older System Restore technology. But in case you've come to rely on the System Restore programs built into earlier Windows versions, Windows 10 still includes System Restore - if you know where to find it.

To send your computer back to a restore point when it was working much better, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the Start button and choose System from the pop-up menu. When the System window appears, click System Protection from the left pane. Finally, when the System Properties window appears, click System Restore.
    The System Restore window appears.
  2. Click the Next button at the System Restore window.
    The System Restore Point lists available restore points.
  3. Click a listed restore point.
    You can see more available restore points by selecting the Show More Restore Points check box.
  4. Click the Scan for Affected Programs button to see how your chosen restore point will affect programs.
    A handy touch, this feature lists programs you'll probably need to reinstall.
  5. Click Next to confirm your chosen restore point. Then click Finish.
    Your computer grumbles a bit and then restarts, using those earlier settings that (hopefully) worked fine.

If your system is already working fine, feel free to create your own restore point. Name the restore point something descriptive, such as Before Letting the Babysitter Use the Computer. (That way, you know which restore point to use if things go awry.)

Windows Keeps Asking Me for Permission

Like earlier Windows versions before it, Windows 10 serves up both Administrator and Standard user accounts. The Administrator account, meant for the computer's owner, holds all the power. Holders of Standard accounts, by contrast, aren't allowed to do things that might damage the computer or its files.

But no matter which of the two accounts you hold, you'll occasionally brush up against the Windows version of a barbed-wire fence. When a program tries to change something on your computer, Windows pokes you with a message.

Standard account holders see a slightly different message that commands them to fetch an Administrator account holder to type in a password.

Of course, when screens like this one pop up too often, most people simply ignore them and give their approval - even if that means they've just allowed a virus to settle comfortably inside their PC.

So, when Windows sends you a permission screen, ask yourself this question: "Is Windows asking permission for something I did or requested?" If your answer is yes, give your approval so Windows can carry out your bidding. But if Windows sends you a permission screen out of the blue when you haven't done anything, click No or Cancel. That keeps potential nasty's from invading your PC.

If you don't have time for this bothersome security layer, and you're willing to suffer the consequences, you can find out how to turn off user account permissions.

Retrieve Deleted Files

Everybody who's worked on a computer knows the agony of seeing hours of work go down the drain: You mistakenly delete a file.

The Windows File History backup program, described earlier in this tutorial, is a lifesaver here. But if you never turned on File History Windows offers another way to retrieve your deleted files: the Recycle Bin.

The Recycle Bin works because Windows doesn't really destroy your deleted files. Instead, Windows slips those files into your Recycle Bin (shown in the margin), which lives on your desktop.

Open the Recycle Bin with a double-click, and you find every file or folder you've deleted within the past few weeks. To restore a file or folder from the Recycle Bin, right-click the file and choose Restore. The deleted item magically reappears in its former home.

My Settings Are Messed Up

Sometimes you want to return to the way things were before you started messing around with them. Your salvation lies in the Restore Default button, which awaits your command in strategically placed areas throughout Windows. A click of that button returns the settings to the way Windows originally set them up.

Here are a few Restore Default buttons you may find useful:

  • Internet Explorer:
    When the age-old Internet Explorer program seems clogged with unwanted toolbars, spyware, or just plain weirdness, take the last resort of bringing back its original settings: In Internet Explorer, click the Tools icon (shown in the margin) and choose Internet Options from the drop-down menu. Click the Advanced tab and click the Reset button.
    Warning:
    Resetting Internet Explorer wipes out nearly everything, including your toolbars, add-ons, and search engine preference. If you also select Internet Explorer's Delete Personal Settings check box, clicking the Reset button even kills your browser history and saved passwords. Only your favorites, feeds, and a few other items remain.
  • Firewall:
    If you suspect foul play within Windows Firewall, bring back its original settings and start over. (Some of your programs may need to be reinstalled.) From the desktop, right-click the Start button and choose Control Panel. When Control Panel opens, choose System and Security and open Windows Firewall. Click Restore Defaults in the left column. (Be careful with this one, as you may need to reinstall some apps and programs.)
  • Media Player:
    When the Media Player Library contains mistakes, tell it to delete its index and start over. In Media Player, press and release the Alt key, click Tools, choose Advanced from the pop-out menu, and choose Restore Media Library. (Or if you've accidentally removed items from the Media Player Library, choose Restore Deleted Library Items instead.)
  • Music app:
    Sometimes even the Music app becomes confused. If it's leaving out some of your music or leaving ghosts of music you've deleted, try resetting it: Click the Settings icon (shown in the margin) in the left pane, just to the right of your account name. When the Settings pane appears, click the words, Delete Your Playlists and any Music You've Added or Downloaded from the Music Catalog. When the Music app wakes back up, it finds all of your music and adds it back into the app's catalog.
  • Colors:
    Windows lets you tweak your desktop's colors and sounds, sometimes into a disturbing mess. To return to the default colors and sounds, right-click the Start button and choose Control Panel. In the Appearance and Personalization section, choose Change the Theme. Then choose Windows from the Windows Default Themes section.
  • Fonts:
    Have you tweaked your fonts beyond recognition? Return them to normal by opening the desktop's Control Panel, clicking Appearance and Personalization, and then clicking Fonts. In the left pane, click Font Settings and then click the Restore Default Font Settings button.
  • Libraries:
    In Windows 10, libraries are hidden by default. When turned on, libraries appear in every folder's Navigation Pane. But if one of your libraries is missing (say, the Music library), you can put it back. Right-click the word Libraries along the right side of any folder and choose Restore Default Libraries. Your default libraries - Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos - all reappear.
  • Folders:
    Windows hides a slew of switches relating to folders, their Navigation Panes, the items they show, how they behave, and how they search for items. To mull over their options or return them to their default settings, open any folder and click the View tab on the Ribbon menu along the top. Click the Options icon; when the drop-down list appears, click Change Folder and Search Options. You can find a Restore Defaults button on each tab: General, View, and Search. (Click Apply after each change to make it stick.)

Finally, don't forget the Reset option in Windows, described at the beginning of this tutorial. Although it's overkill for many problems, it resets most of your settings to the default.

Forgot My Password

When Windows won't accept your password at the Sign In screen, you may not be hopelessly locked out of your own computer. Check all these things before letting loose with a scream:

  • Check your Caps Lock key: Windows passwords are case-sensitive, meaning that Windows considers OpenSesame and opensesame to be different passwords. If your keyboard's Caps Lock light is on, press your Caps Lock key again to turn it off. Then try entering your password again.
  • Use your Password Reset Disk. When you've forgotten the password to your Local account, insert that disk to use as a key. Windows lets you back into your account, where you can promptly create an easier-to-remember password.
  • Let another user reset your password: Anybody with an Administrator account on your computer can reset your password. Have that person head for the desktop's Control Panel, click User Accounts and Family Safety, and click User Accounts. There, she can click the Manage Another Account link to see a list of every account. She can click your account name and click the Change the Password link to create a password you can remember more easily.
Note: If you've forgotten the password to your Microsoft account, none of the preceding suggestions will work. Instead, open any web browser and visit www.live.com. The site leads you through the steps to reset your password.

If none of these options works, you're in sad shape, unfortunately. Compare the value of your password-protected data against the cost of hiring a password recovery specialist. You can find a specialist by searching for recover windows password on Google (www.google.com).

My program is frozen

Eventually, one of your programs will freeze up solid, leaving you in the cold with no way to reach its normal Close command. Should you find yourself facing this icy terrain, these four steps will extricate the frozen program from your computer's memory (and the screen, as well):

  1. Hold down the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys simultaneously.
    Known as the "three finger salute," this combination almost always catches the attention of Windows, even when it's navigating arctic waters. When an option-filled screen appears, move to Step 2.
    (If Windows doesn't respond, however, hold down your PC's power button until your PC shuts down. You hear the fan stop whirring when the PC finally shuts down. After a few seconds, press and release the power button to restart your PC and see whether Windows is in a better mood.)
  2. Select the Start Task Manager option.
    The Task Manager program appears.
  3. Click the Task Manager's Processes tab, if necessary, and then right-click the frozen program's name.
  4. Click the End Task button, and Windows whisks away the frozen program.
    If your computer seems a bit groggy afterward, play it safe by restarting it.

My Computer Is Frozen Solid

Every once in a while, Windows just drops the ball and wanders off somewhere to sit under a tree. You're left looking at a computer that just looks back. None of the computer's lights blink. Panicked clicks don't do anything. Pressing every key on the keyboard doesn't do anything, or worse yet, the computer starts to beep at every key press.

When nothing onscreen moves (except sometimes the mouse pointer), the computer is frozen up solid. Try the following approaches, in the following order, to correct the problem:

  • Approach 1: Press Esc twice.
    This action rarely works, but give it a shot anyway.
  • Approach 2: Press the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys simultaneously and choose Start Task Manager from the menu that appears.
    If you're lucky, the Task Manager appears with the message that it discovered an unresponsive application. The Task Manager lists the names of currently running programs, including the one that's not responding. On the Processes tab, click the name of the program that's causing the mess and then click the End Task button. You lose any unsaved work in that program, of course, but you should be used to that. (If you somehow stumbled onto the Ctrl+Alt+Delete combination by accident, press Esc to quit Task Manager and return to Windows.)
    If that still doesn't do the trick, press Ctrl+Alt+Delete again and click the Power icon (shown in the margin) in the screen's bottom-right corner. Choose Restart from the pop-up menu, and your computer shuts down and restarts, hopefully returning in a better mood.
  • Approach 3: If the preceding approaches don't work, turn off the computer by pressing its power button. (If that merely brings up the Turn Off the Computer menu, choose Restart, and your computer should restart.)
  • Approach 4: If you keep holding down your computer's power button long enough (usually about 4 to 5 seconds), it eventually stops resisting and turns off.

More: Windows 10 Tutorials