Windows 8 Hints and tips to increase the quality
Windows 8 has been with us for over half a year now, and if you’re used to previous versions of Windows then you’re going to notice that quite a bit has changed. In fact, Windows 8 has seen the biggest change since the jump from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95.
Out goes the Start menu, in comes the new touch-oriented Start screen with new Windows 8-style apps and new interface conventions. Even experienced PC users may be left feeling a little lost.
- Windows 8: what you’ll need to relearn
- Windows 8.1 release date, news and features
Don’t despair, though, help is at hand. We’ve poked around every part of Windows 8, uncovering many of its most important tips and tricks, so read our guide and you’ll soon be equipped to get the most out of Microsoft’s latest release.
1. Open from the lock screen
Windows 8 opens on its lock screen, which looks pretty but unfortunately displays no clues about what to do next.
It’s all very straightforward, though. Just tap the space bar, spin the mouse wheel or swipe upwards on a touch screen to reveal a regular login screen with the user name you created during installation. Enter your password to begin.
2. Handle basic navigation
Windows 8’s interface is all colourful tiles and touch-friendly apps. And if you’re using a tablet then it’ll all be very straightforward: just swipe left or right to scroll the screen, and tap any tile of interest.
On a regular desktop, though, you might alternatively spin the mouse wheel to scroll backwards and forwards.
And you can also use the keyboard. Press the Home or End keys to jump from one end of your Start screen to the other, for instance, then use the cursor keys to select a particular tile, tapping Enter to select it. Press the Windows key to return to the Start screen; right-click (or swipe down on) apps you don’t need and select Unpin to remove them; and drag and drop the other tiles around to organise them as you like.
3. Group apps
The Start screen apps are initially displayed in a fairly random order, but if you’d prefer a more organised life then it’s easy to sort them into custom groups.
You might drag People, Mail, Messaging and Calendar over to the left-hand side, for instance, to form a separate ‘People’ group. Click the ‘minus’ icon in the bottom right corner of the screen to zoom out and you’ll now find you can drag and drop the new group (or any of the others) around as a block.
Right-click within the block (while still zoomed out) and you’ll also be able to give the group a name, which – if you go on to add another 20 or 30 apps to your Start screen – will make it much easier to find the tools you need.
4. Use the quick access menu
Right-click in the bottom-left corner (or hold down the Windows key and press X) for a text-based menu that provides easy access to lots of useful applets and features: Device Manager, Control Panel, Explorer, the Search dialog and more. Download the Win+X Menu Editor and you’ll be able to further customise the list with programs of your own.
5. Find your applications
The Win+X menu is useful, but no substitute for the old Start menu as it doesn’t provide access to your applications. To find this, hold down the Windows key and press Q or either right-click an empty part of the Start screen or swipe your finger up from the bottom of the screen and select ‘All Apps’ to reveal a scrolling list of all your installed applications. Browse the various tiles to find what you need and click the relevant app to launch it.
6. Make access easier
If there’s an application you use all the time then you don’t have to access it via the search system. Pin it to the Start screen and it’ll be available at a click.
Start by typing part of the name of your application. To access Control Panel, for instance, type ‘Control’. Right-click the ‘Control Panel’ tile on the Apps Search screen, and click ‘Pin to Start’. If you’re using a touchscreen, press and hold the icon, then flick down and select ‘Pin to Start’.
Now press the Windows key, scroll to the right and you’ll see the Control Panel tile at the far end. Drag and drop this over to the left somewhere if you’d like it more easily accessible, then click the tile to open the desktop along with the Control Panel window, and press the Windows key to return you to the Start screen when you’re done.
7. Shut down
To shut Windows 8 down, just move the mouse cursor to the bottom right corner of the screen, click the Settings icon – or just hold down the Windows key and press I – and you’ll see a power button. Click this and choose ‘Shut Down’ or ‘Restart’.
Some of the tricks available in previous versions of Windows still apply. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del, for instance, click the power button in the bottom right-hand corner and you’ll be presented with the same ‘Shut Down’ and ‘Restart’ options.
And if you’re on the desktop, press Alt+F4 and you’ll be able to choose ‘Shut Down’, ‘Restart’, ‘Sign Out’ or ‘Switch User’ options.
21. Disable the lock screen
If you like your PC to boot just as fast as possible then the new Windows 8 lock screen may not appeal. Don’t worry, though, if you’d like to ditch this then it only takes a moment.
Launch REGEDIT, and browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Personalization (create the Personalization key if it doesn’t exist).
Click Personalization in the left-hand pane. Right-click in the right-hand pane, select New > DWORD Value, and give it the name NoLockScreen.
Double-click your new NoLockScreen value, set it to 1, click OK, and when you next reboot it the lock screen will have gone. If you decide to restore it for some reason, set NoLockScreen to 0 or delete it entirely.
22. Install anything
Most mobile platforms recommend you only install apps from approved sources to protect your security, and Windows 8 is the same: it’ll only allow you to install trusted (that is, digitally signed) apps from the Windows store.
If this proves a problem, though, and you’re willing to take the security risk (because this isn’t something to try unless you’re entirely sure it’s safe), then the system can be configured to run trusted apps from any source.
It’s all done via a single Registry key, too. Just launch REGEDIT and set the value of the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Appx\AllowAllTrustedApps key to 1.
23. Pin app contents to the Start screen
It’s easy to pin apps to the Start screen (right-click, select “Pin”), but you don’t have to stop there. Many apps also enable you to pin particular content for easy access later.
If you want more ideas for your upcoming holiday in Rome, for instance, you could open the Travel app, right-click, select “Destinations” and choose the “Rome” tile. And then repeat those steps every single time you revisit the page. Or, alternatively, right-click your preferred Destination tile, select “Pin…”, and you’ll be able to access it directly from the Start screen.
Similarly, if you use the Mail app with multiple accounts then just open these, and you can right-click to select separate live tiles for each one – much more useful.
24. Log in automatically
WARNING: Your account will lose admin privileges as a result of this step
Of course even if you remove the lock screen, you’ll still be forced to manually log in every time your system starts. This can also be resolved at speed, though, using much the same technique as in previous versions of Windows.
Hold down the Windows key, press R, type ‘netplwiz’ and press Enter to launch the User Accounts dialog.
Clear the “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer” box and click OK.
Enter the user name and password of the account that you’d like to be logged in automatically, click OK, restart your system and this time it should boot directly to the Start screen.
25. Use six apps at once
Launch a Windows 8 app and it appears full-screen, which is fine on a small tablet but not so impressive when you’ve got a 27-inch widescreen monitor to fill.
Toolbox for Windows 8 helps out, though, by bundling 12 common apps in a single package. You get a Facebook client, browser, calculator, weather app, clock and more. And instead of always appearing full-screen, you can run and interact with two, three, four, even six of these tools, all at the same time.
26. Replace the Start menu
If Windows 8’s search and navigation tools still leave you pining for the regular Start menu, installing the free Classic Shell will replace it with something very similar.
Install it and you get the standard menu of your installed programs, for instance, along with Search and Run boxes, the Recent Items menu, and Windows 7-type shutdown options. And it can make Windows 8 boot directly to the desktop, too.
Classic Shell doesn’t entirely ignore the modern UI world, though. A menu of installed apps enables you to launch them from the desktop, and you can alternatively switch to the Start screen with a click.
27. Learn Windows key shortcuts
- Win : switch between the Start screen and the last-running Windows 8 app
- Win + C : displays the Charms: the Settings, Devices, Share and Search options
- Win + D : launches the desktop
- Win + E : launches Explorer
- Win + F : opens the File Search pane
- Win + H : opens the Share pane
- Win + I : opens Settings
- Win + K : opens the Devices pane
- Win + L : locks your PC
- Win + M : minimises the current Explorer or Internet Explorer window (works in the full-screen IE, too)
- Win + O : toggles device orientation lock on and off
- Win + P : switch your display to a second display or projector
- Win + Q : open the App Search pane
- Win + R : opens the Run box
- Win + U : open the Ease of Access Centre
- Win + V : cycle through toasts (notifications)
- Win + W : search your system settings (type POWER for links to all power-related options, say)
- Win + X : displays a text menu of useful Windows tools and applets
- Win + Z : displays the right-click context menu when in a full-screen app
- Win + + : launch Magnifier and zoom in
- Win + – : zoom out
- Win + , : Aero peek at the desktop
- Win + Enter : launch Narrator
- Win + PgUp : move the current screen to the left-hand monitor
- Win + PgDn : move the current screen to the right-hand monitor
- Win + PrtSc : capture the current screen and save it to your Pictures folder
- Win + Tab : switch between running apps
28. Boot desktop apps faster
While you can still set up desktop apps to load when Windows 8 starts, they don’t have the priority they once did. Quite the opposite, in fact – Windows 8 delays their launch to ensure everything else starts more quickly. This can make the system more responsive as your system boots, but if you’re switching straight to the desktop then it may slow you down, so it may be worth turning off the delay, just to see if you can spot any improvement.
Launch REGEDIT and browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Serialize.
Create the Serialize key if it doesn’t exist, and select it in the left-hand pane.
Right-click in the right-hand pane, create a new DWORD value called StartupDelayInMSec, and leave it set at zero (or, if a value is already there, set it to zero).
Restart and the desktop apps will now launch more quickly. Try three or four test boots to see if there’s any improvement, and if not, delete the StartupDelayInMSec value to restore the default settings.
29. Launch programs fast
Windows Phone 8
If you’re a fan of keyboard shortcuts and don’t like the idea of scrolling through app tiles to find the program you need, don’t worry, Windows 8 still supports a useful old shortcut. Which is perfect if, say, you’re looking to be able to shut down your PC with a click.
Launch the desktop app, right-click an empty part of the desktop and click New > Shortcut.
Browse to the application you’d like to launch here. Or for the sake of this example, enter
shutdown.exe -s -t 00
to shut down your PC, or
shutdown.exe -h -t 00
to hibernate it, and click Next. Type a shortcut name – ‘Hibernate’, say – and click Finish.
Right-click the shortcut, select Pin to Start and it should appear on the far right of the Start screen – just drag the tile wherever you like.
30. Take intelligent screengrabs
If a Windows 8 application is showing something interesting and you’d like to record it for posterity, then hold down the Windows key, press PrtSc, and the image won’t just go to the clipboard: it’ll also be automatically saved to your My Pictures folder with the name Screenshot.png (and then Screenshot(1).png, Screenshot(2).png and so on).
You might hope that pressing Win+Alt+PrtSc would similarly save an image of the active window, but no, sadly not. Maybe next time.
31. Default to Photo Viewer
Double-click an image file within Explorer and it won’t open in a Photo Viewer window any more, at least not by default. Instead you’ll be switched to the full-screen Windows 8 Photos app – bad news if you thought you’d escaped such hassles by using the desktop.
If you’d like to fix this, go to Control Panel > Programs > Default Programs and select Set your default programs.
Scroll down and click Windows Photo Viewer in the Programs list.
Finally, click ‘Set this program as default’ if you’d like the Viewer to open all the file types it can handle, or select the ‘Choose default’ options if you prefer to specify which file types it should open. Click OK when you’re done.