Hidden tricks and fixes in Windows 10 build 9879

From the Insider Hub app, to unsticking Caps Lock, to OneDrive problems galore: There's much more to build 9879 than meets the eye

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Credit: Microsoft

By now, if you're in the "Fast" circle, your copy of Windows 10 Technical Preview should have upgraded to build 9879. While there are more than a few changes that Microsoft has described -- you can turn off the Search and Task View buttons on the taskbar, there are slicker animations and a Notification Area that works -- some of the more interesting changes aren't part of the official party line.

If you don't have build 9879 but want it (fair warning: for me, build 9860 was more stable), in build 9860, click or tap Start, PC settings. On the left, click Update and recovery, then click Preview builds. In the drop-down box on the right, choose Fast. Then click or tap Check now, followed by Install, and sit back and watch build 9879 perform an in-place upgrade.

To install one of the Enterprise versions of build 9879, download the ISO from the Windows Evaluations site.

Windows Insider Hub hidden

The most important, largely undocumented, new feature in Windows 10 build 9879 disguises itself as an app. To bring up the Windows Insider Hub, click Start, All Apps, Insider Hub. You'll see a cross between a website and an old-fashioned bulletin board, with lots of 9879 information, almost all of which is duplicated elsewhere. At the bottom, click the link and tell Microsoft what you think about build 9879. Then, below, take the three "missions" listed under We need your help.

If you recently got build 9879 up and running, you should check Windows Update and make sure you've installed all the latest patches. In particular, immediately after upgrading/installing 9879, you will find the Windows Technical Preview November Update (KB3016725). According to Brian Burgess, head honcho at GroovyPost, "this update provides new OneDrive features and will save you frustration when using it." PaulDesmond on the My Digital Life Windows 10 TP forum says that the patch "is quite important since it saves the integrity of your onedrive files." But Microsoft spokesman Gabe Aul tweeted to Burgess "That KB fixed the DFS and black screen issue, nothing to do with OneDrive."

Microsoft has no documentation at all for the patch, as best I can tell -- back to the days of mushroom patch management.

OneDrive takes a dive

Speaking of OneDrive, reaction to the new OneDrive behavior in build 9879 ranges from indignant to unprintable. Gregg Keizer has a full write-up in his Computerworld blog, but the basic beef goes like this: In Windows 8.1 and earlier, files stored in OneDrive weren't, in general, stored on your PC; Windows downloaded the "smart files" as soon as they were needed, keeping the process transparent, more or less. Only icons and, in some cases, thumbnails of the files were stored on your PC. Of course, there were ways to override the settings, but most people had their real data in the cloud, with "smart files" to pick up the slack on their PCs.

That led to some surprises when people tried to access their OneDrive files when they weren't connected to the Internet. But it also greatly reduced the amount of storage required on each PC and reduced the bandwidth necessary to sync files.

Starting with build 9879, OneDrive doesn't work that way. By default, all of your OneDrive files are physically present on your machine. That's the way Dropbox and Google Drive work. If you have 5TB of data in your unlimited OneDrive account, that 5TB gets copied to every single machine you use. You can use "selective sync" to keep files or folders in OneDrive and not on your machine(s), but the files that are only in the cloud won't show up in File Explorer, and they won't get found in a search. If you want to look at all of your OneDrive files, you have to switch over to a browser and log in to OneDrive.

Basically, smart files are dead at this point, and you don't have any say in the matter. Either a file is synced on your machine and thus visible to Explorer, or it's cloud-only and invisible unless you log on to OneDrive through a browser.

If that seems a bit excessive, mosey over to the Uservoice forum and add your vote to the request to "add an advanced option to restore showing ALL OneDrive files in Explorer, synced or not."

Paul Thurrott hit a OneDrive glitch when his OneDrive icon in the system tray came up with a red exclamation point and the explanation "Your OneDrive won't fit on this PC." If you encounter a similar problem, Paul's WinSupersite article has a workaround.

Caps Lock stuck

There are other problems, and I encountered a particularly confounding one. When I first booted into build 9879 on one of my VMs, my Caps Lock key got "stuck." The Caps Lock light went on, and everything I typed was all caps. When I tried to push the Caps Lock key to turn Caps Lock off, the problem persisted. When I rebooted, the problem was back again. Unplugged the keyboard: No luck.

No, there's nothing wrong with my keyboard -- at least, I've never had a Caps Lock problem before or since. It looks to me like this is a bug. Poster Mtrai reports on the My Digital Life forum that he has a similar problem with both the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys.

I found a workaround, based on a Windows 7/8 hack for broken Caps Lock keys posted on YouTube by Mojtaba Turkmani. Right-click Start, choose Control Panel. Under Clock, Language and Region, choose Change input methods. On the left, choose Advanced Settings. Near the bottom, click on Change language bar hot keys. On the Advanced Key Settings tab, select Press the Shift key. Click OK, then Save. When you're back out, press the Shift key, and Caps Lock suddenly reverts to its usual behavior.

Mtrai was suspicious that his similar problem had to do with messed-up drivers, brought forward to build 9879 from his earlier version of the Tech Preview. He wiped his machine and re-installed 9879 using an ISO from TechNet. Here's what he said:

Gaming Keyboard keypad numbers still do not work.

Regular Keyboard Keypad numbers work however Num Lock does not light up.

My previous 9879 install was the normal upgrade, so not sure if the issues we are having are specific to certain keyboard drivers or specific USB driver or Win 10 TP 9879.

This issue also happens in Safe Mode. At this point I believe it is a Win 10 TP issue with certain hardware. As all my keyboards work correctly until Win 10 9879 loads.

zPC Settings changed a bit

I talked about the odd experimental app called zPC Settings in my initial discussion about build 9860. It looks like Microsoft is fleshing out an all-encompassing Metro style Control Panel, although the lack of reams of settings (Control Panel has thousands) makes me think it's a fool's errand.

As with build 9860, the most interesting entries in zPC Settings are in the Pending or Depricated section. It looks like the App sizes applet under Pending and Deprecated is identical to the one that's now in the "normal" PC Settings Search and apps / App sizes pane.

System Compression

Ed Bott at ZDNet found an interesting feature called System compression (see slide 3 of his build 9879 presentation). According to the dialog -- which you reach by running Disk Cleanup on a drive as an administrator -- the option will "Compress windows binaries and program files."

When Bott ran System compression on his Surface Pro 3, he got back 2.5GB of disk space. It seems to me that this is a user interface hook into the widely anticipated technology that will squeeze Windows 10 into a much smaller footprint than earlier versions. Time will tell.

Bring back the Windows 8.1 Network flyout

Many people lament the passing of the Windows 8-style Network flyout. In Windows 8 or 8.1, if you bring up the Charms bar, click Settings, then click the Internet Access icon, Windows brings up a flyout on the right that makes it easy to swap Wi-Fi connections, "forget" old connections, and the like. Starting in build 9860, clicking on the same icon (now labeled Network) brings up the PC Settings Metro app, which at first blush doesn't seem to be nearly as capable.

Although you can twiddle with your registry to bring back the old Windows 8-style flyout, there's a new option in the build 9879 PC Settings app that accomplishes much the same thing. To see it, bring up Charms (Windows key + C), click or tap Settings, click Network. Build 9879 brings up the PC Settings Metro app, in the Network applet. At the bottom on the left, click Manage. Then at the bottom, under Additional settings, click Open network flyout.

As best I can tell, that brings up the old Windows 8-style Network flyout. If you find discrepancies, please leave a note in the comments section!

Sneak peek at a buggy Metro Start screen

Some people stare at their newborn's butt-ugly face and figure it's the most beautiful thing they've ever seen. (I plead guilty.) If you want the same experience with Windows 10 build 9879, WinBeta has step-by-step instructions for taking a look at the work-in-progress version of the Metro Start screen. It's ugly -- and it's so buggy that you have to wonder how it'll ever work -- but it's there.

If you'd like to take a look without messing up your machine, WinBeta has a short YouTube video that shows the high points.

At last -- a Changelog

I'd like to end with one of the most important new developments on the Windows 10 Tech Preview scene -- and it doesn't come from Microsoft. A Belgian artist/designer known as Yannick, working with the name studio384, has put together an extensive changelog for the Tech Preview, highlighting the deltas between builds.

For those of us trying to keep track of who's on first and what's on second, it's a lifesaver.

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