Windows 8 has been with us for well over 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.
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.
Windows 8.1 now provides a special Customise mode with much the same functionality. Right-click an empty part of the Start screen, or swipe up, tap Customise, then drag and drop tiles or rename app groups to whatever 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. Press Ctrl+Tab, click the arrow button at the bottom left of the Start Screen, or swipe up from the bottom of the screen and a list of your installed programs will appear. If you can’t see what you need immediately, start typing an application name to search for it. Or, in Windows 8.1, click the arrow to the right of “Apps” to sort your programs by date installed, most used, category or name.
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’.
In Windows 8.1, press Win+X, click ‘Shut down or sign out’ and select the option you need.
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.
Windows XP has but 59 days left to live – officially, that is. On April 8, as we’ve reported numerous times previously, Microsoft is officially pulling the plug on the operating system. The not-so-insignificant number of users running the legacy OS will still be able to use it, but they won’t be able to count on Microsoft for patches, updates, security fixes, and other forms of support past the cutoff date.
That’s not quite news. What is news, however, is Microsoft’s renewed efforts to convince these (stubborn?) users to switch over. We can only imagine that the flurry of communications, warnings, and outright insistence from Redmond will grow as we approach various milestones closer to the shutoff date.
At 60 days out, Microsoft’s big communication is a new blog post that asks tech-savvy readers to help out those who need a little assistance making the big switch.
“As a reader of this blog, it’s unlikely you are running Windows XP on your PC. However, you may know someone who is and have even served as their tech support. To help, we have created a special page on Windows.com that explains what “end of support” means for people still on Windows XP and their options to stay protected after support ends on April 8th,” wrote Microsoft senior marketing communications manager Brandon LeBlanc.
He goes on to list some steps that Windows XP users should take prior to the big cutoff date. Namely, three steps: Purchase and install Windows 8, upgrade your computer to support Windows 8, or buy a new PC that… comes with Windows 8 preinstalled. Sensing a theme?
Of course, upgrading to Windows 8 from Windows XP requires users to manually save all their critical data prior to the switch; the process won’t automatically save your data for you. LeBlanc is quick to note that Microsoft’s own cloud storage service, SkyDrive (now OneDrive), doesn’t actually have a desktop client for Windows XP – ruling out dragging and dropping ones files to Microsoft’s cloud as a means of temporary data backup.
What LeBlanc doesn’t mention, however, is that Microsoft has officially extended Microsoft Security Essentials updates for Windows XP users through July 2015. That includes updates to the application as-is, as well as signatures updates for virus and malware detection. While that still doesn’t do much for those who would prefer an up-to-date operating system, it’s still a bit of a consultation prize for those planning to ignore Microsoft’s pleas and continue running XP post-cutoff.
Interestingly enough, LeBlanc left comments on his blog post, and a number of people are using it as an opportunity to blast Microsoft, blast Windows 8, and blast the XP cutoff.
“Honestly, this sounds more like a sales pitch for Windows 8.1 than any kind of interest in what is actually best for my friends and family. Had the article actually mentioned both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 as options, I would be able to take it more seriously,” wrote user “Naru.”
The plea comes as XP gained market share at the expense of Windows 8 in January, while HP started selling Windows 7 PCs again, which it said were back “by popular demand.”
For more, check out PCMag’s review of Windows 8.1.
Got a new PC over Christmas? Check these top tricks to help you maximise productivity.
If you’re new to the Windows 8 experience, you might be irked by some of the interface tweaks Microsoft has made. We show you 13 tips to make the most out of your PC for productivity purposes and help to give the OS a more familiar feel.
1 – Boot to desktop
In Windows 8.1 users can now boot directly to the desktop. However, this feature needs to be activated manually. To do this right-click the Taskbar > Properties > Navigation tab.
Under Start screen (bottom pane), tick the first option that says, “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start”. Then click on OK or Apply.
2 – Get a proper Start Button
Windows 8.1 is reintroduced a dumbed down Start button, but thankfully there are a range alternatives that bring back the fully featured Windows 7 version.
One of the most popular is Classic Shell and it’s free. The app offers three types of Start Button – Classic, Two Column and Windows 7.
Version 4 offers improved compatibility with Windows 8.1. New features include a dedicated shutdown button, the ability to pin programs to the taskbar from an explorer windows and better Windows Search functionality.
3 – Re-open Libraries
Microsoft has disabled the libraries feature by default. However, this can be reactivated easily. To do this open up Windows Explorer > View > Options. Tick the box Show libraries in the navigation pane to re-activate the feature.
4 – Uninstall unused apps at the same time
Windows 8.1 allows users to select multiple apps and uninstall them all at the same time. If you ever need to do this, right click on the Start screen > Customise > Tick apps you want to uninstall.
5 – Disable Charms
Charms in Windows 8.1 aim to speed up access to menus. But if you find yourself inadvertently activating the menu with your mouse, it’s possible to disable it.
Go to Taskbar > Properties > Navigation and untick the “When I point to the upper-right corner, show the charms.”
6 – Open files in the desktop instead of Modern UI
Music, videos, pictures and PDF files are automatically opened using Modern UI apps by default, but you can changed to be opened within the desktop.
To do this, from the Windows Start screen type “default programs and click on the Default Programs icon under results. Click “Set your default programs” and choose the app you want to set as your default for your files.
7 – Keyboard shortcuts
Many people still use the mouse to perform tasks which can be done quicker using a keyboard shortcut. Here are a few useful combinations which will get you started.
Windows key + C: Opens up the charms menu
Window key + O: Locks the orientation of the screen
Windows key + Q: Opens up the App Search pane. This now appears alone and without the Start screen.
Windows key + M: Minimises all windows and brings you back to the desktop.
Windows key + H: Opens the Share charm in any app you are currently in.
Windows key + F: Opens up the Search box to help find files.
Windows key + I: Opens up the Settings Charm.
Windows key + (full stop) + Arrow key: Moves app to the left or right of screen so you can view more than one app at a time. Using the down arrow key with this combination will close the app you are in.
8 – Turn off notifications to minimise distractions
If you want to get work done without being distracted by notifications Windows 8.1 has got you covered.
Go to PC Settings > Search & apps and then make sure the Quiet Hours switch is on. You can then choose which times you want to be left in peace.
9 – Search locally and on the internet
The search function in Windows 8.1 searches files on your device and also for answers on internet simultaneously.
When you enter a term, the local files will appear as normally, but swiping to the left will bring up other web pages Bing has trawled through. This also shows up files on SkyDrive too.
10 – Get SkyDrive under control
SkyDrive is baked into Windows 8.1. Files stored here are listed alongside other categories, such as downloads and documents. Whilst cloud storage is a boon to those who use files across multiple machines, you may not want all you fires in the cloud.
To ensure that Windows 8.1 isn’t storing stuff in the cloud without your permission, go to PC Settings. Here there are settings for the cloud storage tool that will determine whether it is enabled by default as well as how specific content types are handled.
SkyDrive also tries to save space on the hard drive by using what it dubs “Smart Files”. This is a great feature as long as you have an internet connection, but useless when you don’t. To make sure that all SkyDrive files are accessible when you need them go to Windows Explorer > right click SkyDrive > select Make Available Offline. This will download all files stored in the cloud and save them locally.
11 – Ditch Command Prompt and go for PowerShell
In Windows 8.1 right clicking on the Windows icon in the taskbar brings up a list of power user commands.
For those of you that need to carry out more intensive, complex tasks using DOS-style commands you can replace CMD with Windows PowerShell.
To do this go to Navigation Properties > Tick the box marked Replace Command Prompt with Windows PowerShell in the menu when I right-click the lower-left corner .
12 – Show all apps instead of live tiles
If you want to retain the Modern UI start screen but want to change the layout, it’s possible to display all apps.
To make this more productive in use, it is best to tick all of the last four boxes in the Taskbar and Navigation Properties dialogue box.
When you click on the Start button you will see all your desktop applications first on the list (Modern UI apps appear at the end). Of course you can still go back to the live tiles by clicking the little arrow at the bottom to go back to that view, but why would you?
13 – Pinning your apps to the taskbar & emails folders to desktop
You should pin your most frequently used apps to your taskbar so you can access them faster.
Right click on an app within Modern UI. Then select the option at the bottom that says “Pin to Taskbar”.
If you like to set up rules and filters in your email that moves messages into certain folders (for example, all emails from your boss go into one folder), you can pin these folders to the start screen to save extra time in locating them.
From within the Mail app in Windows 8.1, right click a folder you wish to pin, then click on the “Manage Folders” icon at the bottom, the click “Pin to Start”. After selecting the tile size, you can then go back to the Start screen and place it wherever you want.