Windows 9: Features we want to see

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With the Windows 9 release date looming, here are the top features we want to see

Microsoft sold out of tickets to its Build 2014 conference in 24 hours when rumours of Windows 9 hit the internet. Developers will flock to the event in San Francisco this April expecting to hear details of Redmond’s next operating system.

Details on Windows 9, codenamed “Threshold” (a reported Halo reference), are scarce. We do know Microsoft wants to distance itself from Windows 8, which has been a disaster.

As Microsoft works on winning back dissatisfied users, here are a nine features we hope to see in Windows 9.

1. Lower price

Microsoft needs a carrot to dangle in front of consumers and businesses to convince them to invest in Windows 9 machines. The firm might even have to go so far as offering users the chance to upgrade to the next-iteration of Windows for free.

Reducing the cost of upgrading will help people finally part with Windows XP – the 10-year-old operating system, which is about to come to the end of its lifecycle.

2. Better Battery Life

Intel’s 2013 Haswell chips provided a big jump in battery life, which can be seen in the latest crop of Ultrabooks.

Windows machines have long been known to burn through battery power quicker than Mac OS X counterparts.

Ars Technica gave a detailed breakdown of how OS X Mavericks saves power. The system schedules tasks to run in clumps to maximise processor idle time and minimise power consumption. The latest version of Apple’s OS was so efficient, it even added an extra 60 minutes of battery life to older hardware which is upgraded to this operating system.

Microsoft needs to better implement power saving features into Windows 9 or risk being left further behind next-gen Mac products.

3. Desktop-Only Mode

The Metro UI has alienated many loyal Windows users and the firm is going to have to work hard to appease them.

Microsoft could earn back trust if it admitted its error and added a desktop-only mode. Windows 8.1 went some way towards this making things better as it allows you to boot straight to desktop.

But we want Windows 9 to take this a step further. We want the option to switch Metro off. So when you turn on desktop-only mode, this means images should open in Windows Gallery, not the Metro Preview app.

Desktop-only mode would let users work in peace and placate some of Microsoft’s critics, while allowing the company to keep experimenting with Metro for consumers.

4. Virtual desktops for improved productivity

OS X and Linux have had virtual desktops for years. They allow you to keep multiple sets of windows open on one computer, improving productivity when juggling multiple projects.

Microsoft should build this feature into the next version of Windows, so you don’t have to install third-party software.

5. Bring back the real Start button

It’s amazing how so many people can miss such a small feature. Microsoft gave into popular demand when it put a Start button in Windows 8.1, but this just brings you back to the Start screen.

Perhaps the company could add a traditional Start menu for when the user runs desktop-only mode. Something with the old menu, not just another shortcut back into Metro.

6. Over-the-air system recovery

Microsoft could also make it easier to restore Windows in the event of a malfunction. Mac devices can reinstall OS X by simply downloading files from the internet.

A similar system would make it easier to recover Windows computers, as it is much simpler than digging through BIOS boot settings and trying to find your recovery USB.

Keeping so many system-specific files would be difficult, but it’s possible. Microsoft could convince hardware manufacturers to contribute the necessary files so users could recover their systems over-the-air.

7. Better display scaling

Windows has not been able to cope with the high-resolution devices manufacturers have started pumping out. As screen resolutions climb north of 1920 x 1080, programs such as Adobe Premiere and Vegas Pro can be rendered unusable in some cases as icons can appear tiny and pixellated.

Howtogeek put up a useful guide explaining how to change the compatibility settings for your troublesome Windows apps in order to make the text readable again, but this shouldn’t even be necessary.

Microsoft needs to add better support for Retina-quality displays to make sure the new version of its OS still looks good on devices like the Surface Pro 2.

8. Improved anti-virus

Windows is a primary target for viruses, if only by virtue of its dominant market share. Redmond’s OS attracts the lion’s share of malware, while OS X and Linux aren’t as vulnerable.

Microsoft releases regular security patches and has built Microsoft Security Essentials into Windows 8 – but this has been critically panned. In the Dennis publishing tests, it missed 39 per cent of malware thrown at it.

We might see things improve with Windows 9 as Intel has rebranded the McAfee software suite and could provide comprehensive protection. But Microsoft has to up its game too.

9. Fix Windows Update

Updating Windows software has driven many people to the brink of insanity. If ignored for too long, Windows may reboot your PC at the worst moment possible and then you can be trapped in what seems like a never-ending cycle of updating and rebooting.

Refreshing drivers is the same. PC users shouldn’t have to dig through a manufacturer’s website in 2014, looking for the latest version of a driver for their laptop’s graphics card.

Surely Microsoft could leverage its Windows Store to deliver updates more efficiently and simultaneously, instead of forcing users to endlessly download more and more patches.


Windows 8.1 tips & tricks: 13 ways to increase productivity

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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.

More shortcuts can be found here.

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.