Getting ready for the future, according to Microsoft
Sure, Windows 8's Start screen represents a whole new approach towards personal computing (at least for Windows users) but once you get on top of things, working your way through the interface should be a breeze.
We've been using Windows 8 for a while now, so allow us to share some helpful tips and tricks that will make your experience with the operatingsystem better. As always, feel free to leave suggestions in the comment area below.
Some might say that Microsoft laid a gauntlet at users' feet, demanding that they accommodate the significantly different workflow of Windows 8. We’re not here to say that Windows 8 is a must. After all, you’re free to use the operating system you’re most comfortable with—a choice that includes the availability of desired programs. However, if you are using Windows 8, be prepared for the change it represents. Once you understand that Windows 8 is a different experience, understanding how to make full use of it becomes that much easier.
Another Microsoft product serves as a great analogy for Windows 8: Microsoft Office. When the office suite’s 2007 edition said goodbye to the traditional toolbars for the ribbon, many users complained about the steep learning curve. Fast forward several years later, such reservations about the new interface no longer hold weight.
Learn (and remember) the keyboard and mouse shortcuts
Yes, Windows 8 is designed to be primarily controlled through a touchscreen. However, you can't expect Microsoft to leave millions of Windows 7 users out in the cold, especially when they are all potential upgrade customers for 8.
That's why, for the most part, your old keyboard shortcuts will work. Aside from the good ol' Copy (Ctrl + C), Paste (Ctrl + V), and Cut (Ctrl + X), you have system commands such as close (Alt + F4), lock system (Windows Key + L), and show desktop (Windows Key + D).
And access Windows 8-only elements such as the Start screen and the "Charms" toolbar is also possible via the keyboard and mouse. You can hit the Windows Key or move the pointer to the upper and lower right corners of the screen. Here are some useful Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts to keep in mind.
Don’t Forget About Desktop Mode!
Most of Windows 8 is designed to run full-screen. Novice users can find this disconcerting, especially if they’re used to toolbars when working with programs. Think of the same Desktop you’ve used in Windows 7 and previous versions as a separate app of sorts: to access it and use your older software without too much trouble requires launching it from the Start screen. Desktop Mode is a reason why a lot of talk about Windows 8’s "incompatibility" with legacy applications fall flat, because, once it’s active, it’s as if you were using a classic version of Windows.
The Task Manager is Still Your Best Friend
Any one of your programs, whether designed for Windows 8 or not, is bound to crash or freeze up. So how do you recover? Just press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to summon the Task Manager. It lists not only all your running apps but processes, background software you normally don't interact with directly. Just select the offending app, then click on End Task to close the program. The App History tab also shows how much resources a program has consumed, allowing you to see just why your computer is slowing down. Make sure you stay away from the Processes, however. As a general rule, you should only end those kind of tasks if you really know what you're doing.
Use Aero Snap
Is your screen resolution at least 1366 x 768? Then you can use Aero Snap. Just press Windows Key + . (yes, that shortcut includes a period) to make the app snap to the right and make some space on the left for another app, which you’ll snap to the left by pressing Windows + Shift + . (again, a period).
Aero Snap creates a movable separator between the two snapped apps, which means you can shrink one app and turn it into a sidebar of sorts. This lets you keep it very accessible as you work with the other app, as you can treat entire programs as sidebars that you can expand on demand.
Take Advantage of Easy Uninstalls
For casual users, uninstalling applications from a Windows 7 (or older) installation proves difficult. It requires launching a separate program, selecting the software to uninstall, and then waiting. On Windows 8 however, Microsoft has simplified the process significantly. That is, for apps on the Start screen at least. All you have to do is right-click on a tile, and select Uninstall. It’s that simple.
Protect Your Privacy
By default, Windows 8 apps have access to your account name, picture, and even location. While some of us have no problems with those three pieces of data becoming public, there is a way to limit that.
Just press Windows Key + I wherever you are, and a special menu will appear. Click on More PC Settings, then select Privacy. You’ll be presented with a list of options that you can uncheck or keep checked for more or less privacy respectively.
Recreate the Start Menu
The replacement of the Start Menu with a full-screen Start screen is perhaps one of the more controversial changes for Windows 8. Luckily, there's a way to recreate the Start Menu from Windows 7 and earlier. It won't look the same, however.
Basically, you're creating a new toolbar on the Start Menu-less taskbar on the Desktop that contains the Start Menu folder left in Windows 8 for compatibility reasons. So, make sure to start Desktop Mode before proceeding. Afterwards, open an explorer Window, select Tools and click on Options. Make sure "Show Hidden Files" is ticked off, then click on OK. Now right click on an empty area of the Desktop task bar, select the Toolbar submenu, then click on New Toolbar. Select the folder X:\Program Data\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu, where X is the drive where Windows 8 is installed.
Enable Administrative Tools
Ever used Windows' built-in Event Viewer, Task Scheduler, and Resource Monitor? Those advanced utilities are still available on Windows 8, albeit through a little tweaking. Just press Windows Key + I and click on Settings when the menu appears. Change "Show Administrative Tools" to Yes, then click on any empty area of the Start screen. Scroll to the right, and you'll see new tiles for the three aforementioned programs—and many more.
Maximize the New File History Feature
Admit it: even if you've been told that backing up your files regularly is a very important part of using a PC, how many of us really do it? The apathy towards backups will most likely grow, thanks to Windows 8 File History feature.
The name is self-explanatory. Once you turn it on, Windows will create "snapshots" of your data and save them on a flash drive or external hard disk pre-configured to store the backup. The process is automatic, so long as the storage drive is plugged in. It's also easy to manage, as you're literally flipping a virtual switch. The only caveat is the limited control over what File History can do. The primary configuration option is selecting folders to exclude from the automatedbackup process.
In short, you have even less excuse to not maintain copies of your important documents and saved games, which both represent endless hours of your time. Using this built-in Windows 8 will definitely save you a lot of money.
Run Command Prompt as an Administrator
If you don't know what "Command Prompt" or "Administrator" are, chances are you don't need to. For those who do: because there's no more Start Menu in Windows 8, launching the Command Prompt requires an extra step or two.
Go to the Desktop, and launch a new Explorer window. Click on the File menu near the top of the window, select the Open menu, then choose "Open command prompt as administrator". If you're just interested in opening a command prompt, this alternative is much faster: Press Windows Key + R, type in "cmd.exe" in the window that appears, and press Enter.
Consolidate Your Storage Spaces
Windows 8 can consolidate multiple hard disks and consider them one drive called a Storage Space. Aside from keeping things simple, the feature also allows faster file writing and reading speeds. Pieces of your data are distributed among the different disks in the storage space, allowing your PC to write and read to multiple hard disks at the same time instead of just one.
Storage Spaces also lets you maintain completely redundant backups of your data. For example, you can set two drives to "mirror" each other. That way, even if one drive fails, the other one will continue working and retain access to your ever-important information.
Disable Lock Screen
We wouldn't normally recommend this, but if your computer is in a secure location you can disable the lock screen and cut down the time it takes for your computer to wake from sleep. The drawback is, of course, there's no way for you to password-protect your PC, short of restarting it.
Search for a file called gpedit.msc (You can try pressing Windows Key + R, typing in "gpedit.msc", and pressing Enter). That's the Group Policy Editor, which you should launch. You'll see two lists, with folders on the left. Browse to Computer Configuration - Administrative Templates - Control Panel - Personalisation. Double-Click "Do not display the lock screen" so that you can disable it, then click on OK to save your changes.
Allow Automatic Logins
This tip also helps you speed up your computer (in a totally superficial way) at the cost of some security. Press Windows Key + R to summon the Run program window. On the text box, type in "netplwiz". This launches the User Accounts options.
Make sure "Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer" is unchecked, click on OK, and you're all set. Definitely not recommended for computers that are easily accessible by others (such as in the office), but for home use the lack of protection should be fine.
Speed Up Shutdowns
If you've been using Windows 8 for some time now, you probably know these two things: One, you can add programs to the Start Screen for quicker access, a list of frequently used favorites in tile format. Two, the shutdown command isn't as accessible as it was on older Windows versions.
Here's something you probably don't know: the shutdown command is actually its own program. This means you can create a shortcut to it, and add said shortcut to the Start Screen for more straightforward access.
Go to the desktop, right-click on an empty area and select New > Shortcut. Under "Type the location of the item:" enter "shutdown.exe -s -t 00". It's up to you what to name this shortcut. Afterwards move the new shortcut to X:/ProgramData/Microsoft/Windows/Start Menu/Programs (where X is the drive where Windows 8 is installed). Go back to the Start Screen and you'll see your Shutdown shortcut as a new tile, providing much more accessibility.