Knowledgebase : Windows

If you set up an account in Windows 10, and the account has an everyday, ordinary password, you can use a picture password. It’s easy. Changing your login password in Windows 10 to a picture password consists of two parts: First, you choose a picture — any picture — and then you tell Windows 10 that you’re going to draw on that picture in a particular way, such as taps, clicks, circles, and straight lines, with a finger or a mouse. The next time you want to log in to Windows 10, you can either type your password or you can repeat the series of clicks, taps, circles, and straight lines.

So, for example, you may have a picture of Thai dancers, as shown in the upper-right corner, and you may decide that you want your picture password to consist of tapping the forehead of the many-armed figure in the middle, then on the dancer on the left, then on the right, in that order.

Windows 10 picture password
The photo in the upper right, in the Pictures folder, will make a great picture password.

That picture password is simple, fast, and not easy to guess.

Most people who have had the chance to switch to a picture password or PIN in Windows 10 loves it. Whether you’re working with a mouse or a stubby finger, a few taps or slides are sooo much easier than trying to remember and type a17LetterP@ssw0rd.

Microsoft has a few suggestions for making your Windows 10 picture password hard to crack. These include the following:

  • Start with a picture that has lots of interesting points. If you have just one or two interesting locations in the photo, you don’t have very many points to choose from.
  • Don’t use just taps (or clicks). Mix things up. Use a tap, a circle, and a line, for example, in any sequence you can easily remember.
  • Don’t always move from left to right. Lines can go right to left, or top to bottom. Circles can go clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Don’t let anybody watch you sign in. Picture passwords are worse than keyboard passwords, in some respects, because the picture password appears on the screen as you’re drawing it.
  • Clean your screen. Really devious souls may be able to figure out that trail of oil and grime is from your repeated use of the same picture password. If you can’t clean your screen and you’re worried about somebody following the grime trail, put a couple of gratuitous smudges on the screen.

Here’s how to change your account to use a picture password:

  1. Tap or click the Start icon, the Settings icon, and then Accounts.
  2. On the left, choose Sign-In Options.
    The password settings for your account appear.
    Windows 10 password settings
    Your account’s password settings.
  3. Under Picture Password, tap or click Add.

    If your account doesn’t yet have a password, you’re prompted to provide one. If you do have a password, Windows 10 asks you to verify your typed password.

    You must have a typed password — the password can’t be blank — or Windows will just log you in without any password, either typed or picture.

  4. Type your password, and then tap or click OK.
    Windows 10 asks you to choose a picture.
  5. Tap or click Choose Picture, find a picture (remember, with ten or more interesting points), and tap or click Open.

    Your picture appears in a cropping bucket. The picture must conform to an odd shape, or it won’t fit on the login screen.

  6. Slide the picture around to crop it the way you want. Then tap or click Use This Picture.

    Windows invites you to set up your gestures.

    draw password Windows 10
    Here’s where you draw your three taps/clicks, lines, and circles.
  7. Trace out the gestures exactly as you want them.

    Make sure the gestures are in the correct order and that each of the three consists of a click, a line, or a circle.

    Windows 10 then asks you to repeat your gestures. This is where you get to see how sensitive the gesture-tracking method can be.

  8. Repeat the gestures. When you get them to match (which isn’t necessarily easy!), tap or click Finish.

    Your new picture password is ready.

  9. Go to the Windows 10 Start menu, tap your picture, choose Lock, and make sure you can replicate your gestures.

If you can’t get the picture password to work, you can always use your regular typed password.

Firewalls can be absolutely infuriating and Windows 10 Firewall is no exception. may have a program that has worked for a hundred years on all sorts of computers, but the minute you install it on a Windows 10 machine with Windows Firewall in action, it just stops working, for absolutely no apparent reason. Luckily, you can change the Windows 10 Firewall to allow your favorite programs.

You can get mad at Microsoft and scream at Windows 10 Firewall, but when you do, realize that at least part of the problem lies in the way the firewall has to work. It has to block packets that are trying to get in, unless you explicitly tell the firewall to allow them to get in.

Perhaps most infuriatingly, Windows Firewall blocks those packets by simply swallowing them, not by notifying the computer that sent the packet. Windows Firewall has to remain stealthy because if it sends back a packet that says, “Hey, I got your packet, but I can’t let it through,” the bad guys get an acknowledgment that your computer exists, they can probably figure out which firewall you’re using, and they may be able to combine those two pieces of information to give you a headache. It’s far better for Windows Firewall to act like a black hole.

Some programs need to listen to incoming traffic from the Internet; they wait until they’re contacted and then respond. Usually, you know whether you have this type of program because the installer tells you that you need to tell your firewall to back off.

If you have a program that doesn’t (or can’t) poke its own hole through Windows Firewall, you can tell WF to allow packets destined for that specific program — and only that program — in through the firewall. You may want to do that with a game that needs to accept incoming traffic, for example, or for an Outlook extender program that interacts with mobile phones.

To poke a hole in the inbound Windows 10 Firewall for a specific program:

  1. Make sure that the program you want to allow through Firewall is installed.
  2. In the search box, next to the Start button, type firewall. Choose Allow an App through Windows Firewall.

    Windows Firewall presents you with a lengthy list of programs that you may want to allow: If a box is selected, Windows Firewall allows unsolicited incoming packets of data directed to that program and that program alone, and the column tells you whether the connection is allowed for private or public connections.

    Windows 10 firewall exceptions
    Allow installed programs to poke through the firewall.

    These settings don’t apply to incoming packets of data that are received in response to a request from your computer; they apply only when a packet of data appears on your firewall’s doorstep without an invitation.

    In the image above, the tiled Weather app is allowed to receive inbound packets whether you’re connected to a private or public network. Windows Media Player, on the other hand, may accept unsolicited inbound data from other computers only if you’re connected to a private network: If you’re attached to a public network, inbound packets headed for Windows Media Player are swallowed by the WF Black Hole (patent pending).

  3. Do one of the following:
    • If you can find the program that you want to poke through the firewall listed in the Allow Programs list, select the check boxes that correspond to whether you want to allow the unsolicited incoming data when connected to a home or work network and whether you want to allow the incoming packets when connected to a public network. It’s rare indeed that you’d allow access when connected to a public network but not to a home or work network.
    • If you can’t find the program that you want to poke through the firewall, you need to go out and look for it. Tap or click the Change Settings button at the top, and then tap or click the Allow Another App button at the bottom. You have to tap or click the Change Settings button first and then tap or click Allow Another Program. It’s kind of a double-down protection feature that ensures you don’t accidentally change things.

      Windows Firewall goes out to all common program locations and finally presents you with the Whack a Mol … er, Add an App list like the one shown here. It can take a while.

      Windows 10 Firewall Exception
      Allow a program (that you’ve thoroughly vetted!) to break through the firewall.
  4. Choose the program you want to add, and then tap or click the Add button.

    Realize that you’re opening a potential, albeit small, security hole. The program you choose had better be quite capable of handling packets from unknown sources. If you authorize a renegade program to accept incoming packets, the bad program could let the fox into the chicken coop.

    You return to the Windows Firewall Allowed Apps list, and your newly selected program is now available.

  5. Select the check boxes to allow your poked-through program to accept incoming data while you’re connected to a private or a public network. Then tap or click OK.

    Your poked-through program can immediately start handling inbound data.

In many cases, poking through Windows Firewall doesn’t solve the whole problem. You may have to poke through your modem or router as well — unsolicited packets that arrive at the router may get kicked back according to the router’s rules, even if Windows would allow them in. Unfortunately, each router and the method for poking holes in the router’s inbound firewall differ. Check for an enormous amount of information about poking through routers.

The Windows desktop gives you the flexibility to personalize it. You can display your favorite picture of your grandchildren on your desktop or use the color of your choice as your background. The possibilities for changing your computer’s desktop background are almost endless.

You can even apply a desktop theme, which applies several color and image settings at once. However, if you apply a desktop theme, you overwrite whatever desktop settings you’re making in the following steps. If you apply a desktop theme and then go back and make desktop settings, you replace the theme’s settings.

To change your computer’s desktop background:

  1. Right-click the desktop and choose Personalize from the shortcut menu.

    The Personalization window appears.

  2. Click the Desktop Background link.

    The Desktop Background dialog box appears.


  3. Select a category of desktop background options from the Picture Location list box and then click the image from the background preview list that you want to use.

    The background is previewed on your desktop.


  4. Click Save Changes.

    Your settings are applied, and the dialog box closes. You can then close the Personalization window.

Windows 10 lets you create password reset questions so that you don’t have to contact support every time you forget or lose your password. If you have a Microsoft account, the only way to reset the password is online. Go to Microsoft’s Reset Password page, and follow the instructions.

If you have a local account (not a Microsoft account), Microsoft doesn’t store your password on its computers. Prior to Windows 10 version 1803, Microsoft had a set series of steps that would allow to create a password reset disk — basically a simple file that would unlock your PC, should you forget the local account’s password. As of version 1803, those days are gone. Microsoft has not only done away with the password reset disk, they now specifically acknowledge that they can’t and won’t help you get your local account password back, should you lose it.

If you forget your local account password, you’re out of luck. Windows 1803 and later won’t let you in. Your only option is to reinstall Windows, which you need about as much as an IRS audit.

The one exception? If you have the presence of mind to set up three specific password challenge questions before you forget your password — and you can remember the answers to all three of those questions — Windows 10 will let you in.

If you use a local account, it is extremely important to establish your three password challenge questions, particularly if your PC has only one administrator account, and it’s a local account. Mail comes in practically every day from people who have forgotten their passwords and can’t get in. This one simple trick, which takes all of a couple of minutes, will save you untold grief should you forget that lousy password!

Here’s the basic idea: You log into Windows 10, using any kind of password — typed, PIN, or picture. You find the magic location to update your security questions, and then fill in answers to three questions that you choose (from a very small set). When you forget your password, Windows 10 will prompt you to answer those questions. Say the magic words, and click your heels three times. Bingo, you’re in!

It doesn’t matter if somebody has changed your password without your knowing. The password challenge questions let you in, no matter what the password may be. As long as you have a local account, you’re in like Flynn.

Establishing password security questions in Windows 10

If you have a password-protected local account, follow these steps to set up the magical three questions that will let you back in to your account, should you ever get locked out:

  1. Log in to Windows 10 using your local account.
    It doesn’t matter what kind of password you use.
  2. Click Start → Settings. Click the Accounts icon.
  3. On the left, choose Sign-In Options.
    You get the Sign-In Options page.
  4. On the right, under Password, click the link to Update Your Security Questions.
    Windows shows you drop-down boxes for three security questions.
    Windows 10 password reset questions
    Windows 1803 introduces a bare-bones security questions list.
  5. Choose the best questions you can find in each of the three boxes and type the answers.

    Only six questions are available, and they’re the same questions in all three drop-down boxes. Thus, you’re forced to enter responses to three of the built-in questions — one in each box. You can’t enter your own questions.

    The answers are case-sensitive so, for example, Dummies is not the same as dummies. The fact that they’re case-sensitive may make you change a question.

  6. If you’re concerned that you won’t remember the precise answers — you’ll need to type the answers exactly — make a note for yourself on your phone, or someplace safe.
  7. Click Finish.
    Or X out of the Sign-In Options page.

Once again: The password security questions are only for logging in to your PC with your local account. They don’t work for Microsoft accounts.

Using password recovery questions in Windows 10

So you followed the steps and set up the challenge questions for your local account’s password. The time comes when you forget your password. Here’s how to get in:

  1. On the log in screen, type an incorrect password and click OK.
    You see a Reset Password prompt.
    reset password Windows 10
    If you can’t remember your password, type a bad one. You see this screen.
  2. Click Reset Password.

    You’re prompted to enter the answers to your three security questions.

  3. Type answers to all three questions, and then press Enter or click the right arrow next to the bottom answer.

    Windows starts and immediately prompts you to reset your password.

    password reset wizard
    The wizard forces you to create a new password and hint.

Don’t lose the answers to those questions, okay?

To reiterate: As long as you have a local account, the ability to answer those three questions will get you into the machine, regardless of the original password.

Windows 10 has location tracking or what many refer to as GPS tracking. You have to tell Windows 10 and specific applications that it’s okay to track your location using GPS, but if you do, those apps — and Windows 10 itself — know where you are. However, there are ways to disable GPS tracking in Windows 10.

Location tracking using GPS isn’t a bad technology. Like any technology, it can be used for good or not-so-good purposes, and your opinion about what’s good may differ from others’. That’s what makes a horse race. And a lawsuit or two.

How Apple’s location tracking using GPS rankled

In April 2011, two researchers — Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden — found that iPads and iPhones were tracking location and time data using GPS inside the devices, even if the user explicitly disallowed location tracking. They discovered a log file inside every iPad and iPhone running iOS 4 that included detailed information about location and time since 2010.

They also found that the file was being backed up when the iPhone or iPad was backed up, and the data inside the file wasn’t encrypted or protected in any way, and a copy was kept on any computer you synced with the iPhone or iPad.

When confronted with the discovery, Apple at first denied it, and then said that “Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so” — effectively confirming the researchers’ discoveries. As details emerged, Apple claimed it was storing the information to make the location programs work better, but it wasn’t being used in, or passed to, any location tracking programs.

In May 2011, Apple released iOS 4.3.3, which no longer kept the data. But by then a series of lawsuits and a class action suit followed in the United States. In Korea, the Communications Commission fined Apple about $3,000 for its transgressions. The US case is still making its way through the courts.

Location tracking using GPS in tablets is a relatively new phenomenon, and it’s bound to have some bugs. With a little luck, the bugs — and gaffes — won’t be as bad as Apple’s.

Location tracking using GPS isn’t just one technology. It’s several.

If your PC has a GPS (Global Positioning System) chip — they’re common in tablets, but unusual in notebooks and rare in desktops — and the GPS is turned on, and you’ve authorized a Windows app to see your location, the app can identify your PC’s location within a few feet.

GPS chips Infineon
Source: Infineon press release
GPS chips turn tiny.

GPS is a satellite-based method for pinpointing your location. Currently, two commercial satellite clusters are commonly used — GPS (United States, two dozen satellites) and GLONASS (Russia, three dozen satellites). They travel in specific orbits around the earth; the orbits aren’t geosynchronous, but they’re good enough to cover every patch of land on earth. The GPS chip locates four or more satellites and calculates your location based on the distance to each.

GPS satellite
Source: HEPL, Stanford University
Carefully crafted orbits ensure that a GPS chip can almost always find four satellites.

How GPS is used to track your location

Any time you put a GPS system and a camera together, you have the potential for lots of embarrassment. Why? Many GPS-enabled cameras — including notably the ones in many phones and tablets — brand the photo with a very precise location. If you snap a shot from your tablet and upload it to Facebook, Flickr, or any of a thousand photo-friendly sites, the photo may have your exact location embedded in the file, for anyone to see.

Law enforcement has used this approach to find suspects. The US military warns active duty personnel to turn off their GPSs to avoid disclosing locations. Even some anonymous celebrities have been outed by their cameras and phones. Be careful.

If your Windows PC doesn’t have a GPS chip, or it isn’t turned on, but you do allow Windows 10 apps to track your location, the best Windows 10 can do is to approximate where your Internet connection is coming from, based on your IP address (a number that uniquely identifies your computer’s connection to the Internet). And in many cases, that can be miles away from where you’re actually sitting.

When you start a Windows 10 app that wants to use your location you may see a message asking for your permission to track your location, as in the Maps app.

Windows 10 maps
Windows 10’s Maps app wants you to reveal your location.

If you’ve already turned on location services, each time you add another app that wants to use your location, you see a notification that says, “Let Windows 10 app access your precise location?” You can respond either Yes or No.

Disabling all GPS tracking in Windows 10

To keep Windows from using your location in any app — even if you’ve already turned on location use in some apps — follow these steps:

  1. Click or tap the Start icon and then the Settings icon.
  2. Click or tap Privacy. On the left, choose Location.
    The Location Privacy screen appears.
    Windows 10 location privacy
    The master shut-off switch for location tracking is at the top.
  3. To turn off location tracking — even if you’ve already given your permission to various and sundry applications to track your location — set Location Service to Off.
    That’s all it takes.

Disabling GPS tracking in a Windows 10 app

If you’ve given an app permission to use your location, but want to turn it off, without throwing the big Off switch described in the preceding steps, here’s how to do it:

  1. Click or tap the Start icon and then the Settings icon.
  2. Click or tap Privacy. On the left, choose Location.
  3. Scroll down until you find the app you want to cut off.
    This image shows a search for the Weather app.
    Windows 10 weather
    You can turn off location tracking for individual apps, as well.
  4. On the right, slide the Location slider to Off.

    The app loses its permission.

Some apps keep a history of your locations or searches that may pertain to your location. If you want to verify that’s been deleted, too, bring up the app, click or tap the hamburger icon in the upper-left corner and choose Settings. The Settings pane appears on the right. In most cases, you can choose Options and then click the link that says Clear Searches.

You probably know how hard it is to install an external hard drive in a Windows 10 PC. Basically, you turn off the Windows 10 computer, plug the USB or eSATA cable into your computer, turn it on … and you’re finished. But, what if you need to install a second internal hard drive on your Windows 10 device?

Yes, external hard drive manufacturers have fancy software. No, you don’t want it. Windows knows all the tricks. If you install one additional hard drive, internal or external, you can set up File History. Install two additional drives, internal or external, and you can turn on Storage Spaces. None of the Windows 10 programs need or want whatever programs the hard drive manufacturer offers.

Installing a second internal hard drive into a Windows 10 PC that’s made to take two or more hard drives is only a little bit more complex than plugging an external drive into your USB port. Almost all desktop PCs can handle more than one internal hard drive. Some Windows 10 laptops can, too.

Here’s how to install a second internal hard drive on a Windows 10 computer:

  1. Turn off your PC. Crack open the case, put in the new hard drive, attach the cables, and secure the drive, probably with screws. Close the case. Turn on the power, and log in to Windows.
    If you need help, the manufacturer’s website has instructions. Adding the physical drive inside the computer case is really very simple — even if you’ve never seen the inside of your computer — as long as you’re careful to get a drive that will hook up with the connectors inside your machine. For example, you can attach an IDE drive to only an IDE connector; ditto for SATA.
  2. Right-click in the lower-left corner of the screen, and choose Disk Management.

    The Disk Management dialog box appears.

    Windows10 internal hard drive
    Add the new internal hard drive to your Windows 10compputer here.
  3. Scroll down the list, and find your new drive, probably marked Unallocated.
    The new drive is identified as Disk 0.
  4. On the right, in the Unallocated area, tap and hold down or right-click, and choose New Simple Volume.
    The New Simple Volume Wizard appears.
    Simple Volume Wizard Windows 10
    The wizard takes you through all the steps.
  5. Tap or click Next.

    You’re asked to specify a volume size.

  6. Leave the numbers just as they are — you want to use the whole drive — and tap or click Next.
    The wizard asks you to specify a drive letter. D: is most common, unless you already have a D: drive.
  7. If you really, really want to give the drive a different letter, go ahead and do so (most people should leave it at D:). Tap or click Next.

    The wizard wants to know whether you want to use something other than the NTFS file system, or to set a different allocation unit. You don’t.

  8. Tap or click Next; then tap or click Finish.
    Windows whirs and clunks, and when it’s finished, you have a spanking new drive, ready to be used.

If you have three or more drives in or attached to your PC, consider setting up Storage Spaces. It’s a remarkable piece of technology that’ll keep redundant copies of all your data and protect you from catastrophic failure of any of your data drives.

Changing Your Windows 10 C: DRIVE

Whoa nelly! If you’ve never seen a Windows 10 PC running an SSD (solid-state drive) as the system drive, you better nail down the door and shore up the, uh, windows. Changing your C: drive from a run-of-the-mill rotating platter to a fast, shiny new solid-state drive can make everything work so much faster. Really.

Unfortunately, getting from an HDD (hard disk drive) C: to an SSD C: ain’t exactly 1-2-3.

Part of the problem is the mechanics of transferring your Windows 10 system from an HDD to an SSD: You need to create a copy (not exactly a clone) that’ll boot Windows. Part of the problem is moving all the extra junk off the C: drive, so the SSD isn’t swamped with all the flotsam and jetsam you’ve come to know and love in Windows.

Most of the drive cloning/backup/restore techniques developed over the past decade work when you want to move from a smaller drive to a bigger one. However, replacing your HDD C: drive with an SSD C: drive almost always involves going from a larger drive to a smaller one.

If a screen shot’s worth a thousand words, a video of the screen in action must be worth a thousand and one at least, right? Luckily, any problems you face in Windows 10 can be recorded. You simply have to use a handy Windows 10 tool to make a screen record of any problems you encounter.

Windows 10 includes the magical Problem Steps Recorder (PSR), recently renamed the Steps Recorder, which lets you take a movie of your screen. To a first approximation, anyway, it’s actually a series of snapshots, more like an annotated slideshow. You end up with a file that you can email to a friend, a beleaguered spouse, or an innocent bystander, who can then see which steps you’ve taken and try to sort things out. To read the file, your guru must run Internet Explorer (unless Microsoft has finally updated Edge to read MHTML files).

Steps Recorder creates a slideshow of your screen with automatically generated detailed annotations from Windows 10, good, bad, ugly, problem-infested, or rosy-cheeked. If you have a rosy-cheeked background, anyway.

Steps Recorder is fast and easy, and it works like a champ.

Here’s how to make a screen record of Windows 10 problems:

  1. Make sure you remember which steps you have to take to make the problem (or rosy cheeks) appear.
    Practice, if need be, until you figure out just how to move the whatsis to the flooberjoober and click the thingy to get to the sorry state that you want to show to your guru friend.

    Realize that anything appearing on the screen, even fleetingly, may be recorded, and your friend may be able to see it. So don’t send your salary information, okay?

  2. In the Cortana box to the right of the Start icon, type steps, and tap or click Steps Recorder.

    You can start the Steps Recorder from the Control Panel, but this method is a whole lot easier.

    The Steps Recorder, which resembles a full-screen camcorder, springs to life. It isn’t recording yet.

    Windows 10 Steps Recorder
    The unassuming Steps Recorder.
  3. Tap or click Start Record.

    The recorder starts. You know it’s going because the title flashes Steps Recorder — Recording Now.

    Note that the recorded slideshow will include the Steps Recorder window, so you may have to move it out of the way in order to show what you want to show.

  4. (Optional) If you want to type a description of what you’re doing or why or anything else you want your guru friend to see while she’s looking at your home movie:
    1. Tap or click the Add Comment button. The recording pauses, and the screen grays out a bit. A Highlight Problem and Comment box appears at the bottom of the screen.
    2. Tap or click the screen wherever your problem may be occurring and drag the mouse to highlight the problematic location.
    3. Type your edifying text in the box, and tap or click OK. Recording continues.
  5. When you’re finished with the demo, tap or click Stop Record.

    Steps Recorder responds with the Recorded Steps dialog box. Take a good look at the file because what you see in the Save As box is precisely what gets saved — each of the screen shots, in a slideshow, precisely as presented. Remember, this isn’t a video. It’s an annotated slideshow.

    save Step record Windows 10
    Save the recording as soon as you finish it.
  6. Type a name for the file (it’s a regular zip file), and tap or click Save.

    The zip file contains an MHT file, which can be reliably read only by Internet Explorer — although you may have some luck reading the file in Firefox, if it’s running the MAFF or UnMHT add-ons. (It’s possible, by the time you read this, that Microsoft has built MHTML file reading capabilities into Edge, but don’t hold your breath.)

  7. When you’re finished, click the red X button to close the Steps Recorder.
    Magical. Okay, Snagit does the screen recording shtick better, but still.
  8. Send the file to your guru friend.

    Sneakernet — the old-fashioned way of sticking the file on a USB drive and hand-delivering it — works.

  9. Tell your friend to double-click the zip file when she receives it and then double-click the MHT file inside.

    Edge appears and shows the MHT file. You have several options.

    Steps recorder snapshots Windows 10
    The recording appears as a series of snapshots, with detailed accounts of what has been clicked and where.

If you’re looking at the Recent files on your Windows 10 computer and you can’t see the period and three-letter suffixes of the filenames (such as .txt and .tif and .jpg), don’t panic! You can show or hide filename extensions at your will with Windows 10. You simply need to tell Windows 10 to show them — electronically knock Windows upside the head, if you will.

Every file has a name. Almost every file has a name that looks more or less like this: Some Name or Another.ext.

The part to the left of the period — Some Name or Another, in this example — generally tells you something about the file, although it can be quite nonsensical or utterly inscrutable, depending on who named the file. The part to the right of the period — ext, in this case — is a filename extension, the subject of this particular diatribe.

Filename extensions have been around since the first PC emerged from the primordial ooze. They were a part of the PC’s legacy before anybody ever talked about legacy. Somebody, somewhere decided that Windows wouldn’t show filename extensions anymore. (My guess is that Bill Gates himself made the decision, about 20 years ago, but it’s only a guess.) Filename extensions were considered dangerous: too complicated for the typical user, a bit of technical arcana that novices shouldn’t have to sweat.

No filename extensions? That’s garbage. Pure, unadulterated garbage.

The fact is that nearly all files have names such as Letter to Mom.docx, Financial Projections.xlsx, or ILOVEYOU.vbs. But Windows 10, with rare exception, shows you only the first part of the filename. It cuts off the filename extension. So you see Letter to Mom, without the .docx (which brands the file as a Word document), Financial Projections, without the .xlsx (a dead giveaway for an Excel spreadsheet), and ILOVEYOU, without the .vbs (which is the filename extension for Visual Basic programs).

It’s annoying when Windows 10 hides filename extensions, for four big reasons:

  • If you can see the filename extension, you can usually figure out which kind of file you have at hand and which program will open it. People who use Word 2003, for example, may be perplexed to see a .docx filename extension — which is generated by Word 2010 and can’t be opened by bone-stock Word 2003.

    Legend has it that former Microsoft CEO (and current largest individual stockholder) Steve Ballmer once infected former CEO (and current philanthropist extraordinaire) Bill Gates’s Windows PC using a bad email attachment, ILOVEYOU.VBS. If Ballmer had seen the .VBS on the end of the filename, no doubt he would’ve guessed it was a program — and might’ve been disinclined to double-click it.

  • It’s almost impossible to get Windows to change filename extensions if you can’t see them. Try it.
  • Many email programs and spam fighters forbid you from sending or receiving specific kinds of files, based solely on their filename extensions. That’s one of the reasons why your friends might not be able to email certain files to you. Just try emailing an .exe file, no matter what’s inside.
  • You bump into filename extensions anyway. No matter how hard Microsoft wants to hide filename extensions, they show up everywhere — from the Readme.txt files mentioned repeatedly in the official Microsoft documentation to discussions of .jpg file sizes on Microsoft web pages and a gazillion places in between.

Take off the training wheels, okay? To make Windows 10 show you filename extensions the easy way, follow these steps:

  1. In the taskbar, click the File Explorer icon.

    File Explorer appears.

    Windows 10 File Explorer
    The most frequently used folders and recently accessed files, shown by File Explorer.
  2. Click or tap View.

    You see File Explorer’s View ribbon.

    Windows 10 filename extensions
    Make Windows show you filename extensions.
  3. Select the File Name Extensions box.

    While you’re here, you may want to change another setting. If you can avoid the temptation to delete or rename files you don’t understand, select the Hidden Items box. That way, Windows 10 will show you all files on your computer, including ones that have been marked as hidden, typically by Microsoft. Sometimes, you need to see all your files, even if Windows wants to hide them from you.

  4. Your changes take place immediately.

    Look at your unveiled filename extensions.