Exploring Windows 8 Secrets and Hidden Gems

Windows 8 is packed with features designed to make your computing life a little easier. We share the best of the best.

After the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8 we leapt at the chance to explore the new operating system, returning with all manner of secret treasures, useful shortcuts and, in one suspicious case, a bad sunburn and a flower lei. Here are a few of our favorite Windows 8 secrets.

Get Off the Beaten Path with Shortcuts

Windows 8 represents a serious attempt on the part of Microsoft to break into the touchscreen tablet market. This doesn't mean, however, that mouse and keyboard users have been left out in the cold. Windows 8 includes a number of keyboard shortcuts that makes navigating from the Start screen and switching applications quick and easy.

Pressing the Windows button by itself jumps you between the Start screen and the last app you used. Other favorites include:

  • Windows button + D: opens the desktop.
  • Windows + E: opens Explorer.
  • Windows + F: opens File Search.
  • Windows + I: launches Settings.
  • Windows + Q: opens App Search.
  • Windows + Tab: Cycle through open apps.

Microsoft has improved the old screenshot shortcut. Pressing Windows + PrtScr doesn't add the screen shot to Clipboard anymore. Instead, the shortcut saves the screenshot directly to the My Pictures file under the name Screenshot.png.

Multiple Monitor Machinations

Users increasingly work with two monitors, and Windows 8 acknowledges this. Pressing Windows + PgUp moves your currently selected app to the left–hand monitor, while Windows + PgDn shoots the app over to the right–hand monitor.

Organizing App Groups

Organizing Windows 8 apps into groups is easy and intuitive. Choose one of the apps you want to include in the new group and drag the tile to an empty area of the Start screen. A new app group automatically starts. Move apps into the new group by dragging them there.

To name the new group, click the small icon in the bottom right of the screen. The Modern UI tiles will shrink to thumbnails. Right click the new group and a Name Group icon pops up. Click this icon and type in the new group's name.

You Get What You Type

Here's a quick timesaver if you want to access a program in Windows 8 without hunting through all the Start screen app tiles. Just type in the name of the program you want. You don't need to click on the screen or open a search box: Just start typing with the mouse pointer anywhere on the screen, and Windows 8 finds the program for you. It's a nice little timesaver when you need to open little-used programs.

Scheduling Computer Maintenance

Windows 8 helpfully automates system maintenance tasks, such as software updates, virus scans and similar diagnostics. Unfortunately, the default time for these important housecleaning tasks is set to 3:00 a.m. That's fine if your hardware allows the system to wake up the computer, but pretty much useless if your system lacks that ability.

Fortunately, you can quickly change these settings by launching the Control Panel, selecting System and Security and clicking on Action Center. Once the Action Center opens, click on Maintenance. Now you can choose a more convenient time for maintenance under the Start Maintenance option.

Sneaky Syncing

Windows 8 can synchronize settings on multiple devices, so your tablet, Windows Phone and PC can share the same Windows Live account. The operating system will share Contacts, calendar events and other information among your devices.

Handy though this is, some information may be too sensitive for synchronizing. You can customize the syncing operation by pressing Windows + I and clicking More PC Settings. Click on Sync Your Settings and you get a list of twelve possible items that you can omit from synchronization. Some of these items are highly sensitive, such as website passwords. Others, such as background screens, are unlikely to attract the attention of identity thieves, but handy if you like to customize devices individually.

If you don't want to synchronize your devices, choose Local Account instead of Microsoft Account when you set up your account. You can switch between Local Account and Microsoft Account at any time by opening the PC Settings and selecting Users.

Finding Your Recycle Bi

Windows 8 lists open applications in its left–hand navigation pane (just move the mouse pointer to the left side of the screen to open the pane). The navigation pane is designed with simplicity in mind: You won't see any links to your Control Panel or Recycle Bin here. If you like quick access to your folders, click View on the pane and then click Options. Now you can select Show all Folders.

Refresh and Wipe

While Windows 8 runs quite well, circumstance may force you to restore the system. The new Recovery option in the Control Panel gives you three different options for restoring your system. System Restore works pretty much the same way it always has, restoring your settings to the last System Restore point.

The Refresh Your PC option completely reinstalls Windows 8 while keeping your existing files intact. And when the time comes to replace your PC, the Reset Your PC button completely wipes your files before reinstalling Windows. (Pro Tip: Confuse these two buttons at your peril.)

Pruning Your Startup Menu

"Startup Creep" afflicts many a Windows user. Many programs insist on "helpfully" adding themselves to your Startup menu during installation, so they open automatically when you boot up the computer. Auto-start programs are like leeches, sucking up your system's resources. Depending on the software, you may not even realize a programs opening every time you boot up.

Windows 8 has added a Startup tab to a redesigned Task Manager. The Startup link lists all programs that open during Startup. You can check off any programs you don't want running and then click the Disable button.

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