From shortcuts to Charm bar: 50 top tips and tweaks for Windows 8

From shortcuts to Charm bar: 50 top tips and tweaks for Windows 8

Windows 8 was unleashed at the end of last week, and, more so than any version in recent times, it really is the Windows world reinvented. That much is clear from your very first click (see our full review of the OS here, incidentally).

Maybe you’ve just started running Windows 8 on a brand-spanking-new PC and have been poking around inside it. Or maybe you’ve just updated your existing laptop or desktop. If so, you’ve probably worked your way through Windows’ few basic tutorials, and you know the rudiments of Windows 8’s “new normal,” such as how to mouse/swipe around the all-new Start screen or expose the essential Charm bar. But there’s more – far, far more! – to the new OS beneath the surface that’s unlike any Windows you’ve used before.

There’s a big learning curve, too. To be sure, whatever you think of it, Windows 8 is undeniably… different. It poses challenges for those of us used to the relative comforts of Windows 7 and XP. The familiar Windows desktop is still around, and it works much the same as it always did (minus, as has been mourned for months, the old-style Start menu).

But the new Start screen and tiled interface present wholly new ways of organising and launching your applications and files – as well as a whole new way to think about Windows. Our take? Windows 8 should really be called “Windows 4+4,” because it bridges – and forces you to contend with – two very different worlds: The familiar Windows desktop world, and a new (Metro) Windows apps world.

Managing and customising Windows is a different ballgame in version 8, as well. Many of the new commands and features in Windows 8 are hidden or difficult to find, so it’s easy to get lost trying to figure out where and how to perform specific tasks. The actual input devices you use with Windows 8 matter, too, much more so than with any previous Windows switchover. Tablet users can swipe their way around the Start screen and Windows 8 apps with their touch-sensitive displays, but PC users face unprecedented challenges with this upgrade. Unless you’ve bought a new Windows 8 PC equipped with a touchscreen, you’ll have to rely on a trusty mouse and keyboard. And that’s not always easy in Windows 8, given that Microsoft specifically designed it to take advantage of touchscreen tablets, laptops, all-in-one PCs, and hybrid devices.

Don’t worry, though. We’ve compiled 50 key power-user tips guaranteed to help ease your way around Windows 8 on your desktop or laptop. The tips are organised into seven sections, accessible from the drop-down table of contents above. We’ve assumed you’ve mastered the most basic Windows 8 actions, such as swiping in from the right side of your screen (or mousing to the top right corner) to access the Charm bar (the vertical strip of icons that’s a gateway to loads of crucial functions), or swiping in from the left side of the screen to switch between open applications.

Because Windows 8 is such a significant interface change, it serves up more than its share of quirks and mysteries to new and experienced Windows users alike. But with a little bit of time and patience – and the tips on the following pages – you’ll start to feel far more at home in Microsoft’s latest operating system. You just need to get experimenting, swiping, and clicking – let us be your guide. So, enough chit chat – let’s move on to the first seven tips, which focus on how to manage the Start screen.

Tip 1: How to organise your Start screen tiles

Every app and program you install in Windows 8 creates one or more Start screen tiles, so after a while, the screen becomes cluttered, challenging you to find that one specific app you’re looking for. Of course, you can simply start typing the name of the app to bring it up, but maybe you’d like some better visual organisation on your Start screen?

Alas, you can’t organise your Start screen apps into folders, but you can place them into named groups. To organise your Start screen tiles into groups, drag a tile to the right or left of its current group until you see a transparent vertical bar. Drop the tile, and you’ll see a visible space between it and its former group. Drag other tiles that you want to add to your new group next to the first tile.

Once you’re done with a group, click the Semantic Zoom icon (in the lower right corner of your screen) to zoom out of the Start screen to see a holistic view of it. Then, right click your new group of tiles, and click the Name Group button on the bottom app bar. Type a name for that tile group in the field that pops up, click the Name button, and, finally, click any empty area of the Start screen to zoom back in. The new name appears above the tile group.


Tip 2: How to customise your Start screen

Alas, you can’t add your own personal background image to Windows 8’s Start screen, but you can liven it up with different colours and styles.

To customise your Start screen, open the Charm bar, click on the Settings charm, and then click on the link for Change PC Settings. In the resulting PC Settings screen, click on the Personalise tab. In the right pane of the Personalise section, click on the link for Start screen. Choose a style from one of the two rows of icons under the Start screen’s preview window, and choose a colour from the palette below.

If you want to see a preview before committing, press the Windows key on your keyboard to peek at your new Start screen. Press the Windows key again to return to the Personalise tab if you want to change the colour or style.


Tip 3: How to resize your Start screen tiles

You’ll notice that some of your Start screen tiles begin their digital lives as large rectangles, while others spawn as small squares. You can’t adjust the size of a Start screen tile in the same granular way that you can a regular window, but you can switch certain tiles between large and small.

To do this, right click on a Start screen tile. If the tile can be resized, you’ll see an option on the app bar that says Larger or Smaller. Obviously enough, if you want to bump up the size of a small tile, click on the Larger option. Likewise, to shrink a larger tile, click on the Smaller option. Typically, Live Tiles can be resized in this way.


Tip 4: How to turn Live Tiles on and off

Live Tiles, the tiles on your Start screen that update in real time, come in handy since they display new notifications and information at a glance. The tile for Mail, for example, can alert you to new messages without the need for you to launch your e-mail program. The tile for the Calendar app can display your latest appointments, and the tile for the News app can reveal the latest headlines.

Sometimes, though, all those updating tiles result in an information overload. However, you can turn off a specific tile to keep it quiet. To do this, right click on the tile and click on the Turn live tile off button from the app bar. If you change your mind, just right click on the tile and change it back to a Live Tile (Turn live tile on).


Tip 5: How to add Live Tiles to the Start screen

Live Tiles can display information tailored to your own interests. For example, you can set up Live Tiles that show the latest scores in the Premier League, current quotes for a stock in your portfolio, or the weather for any spot in the world.

Here’s how the process works for a stock price. Open the Finance app from its Start screen tile. Hold down the Windows key and press Q to trigger the Search charm. In the search field, type the name of a stock you want to track, such as Apple. Click the result, and a page for Apple appears in the app’s main window. Right click on the screen to trigger the app bar, and click on the Pin to Start button. Enter a name for the new tile, such as Apple, and then click the Pin to Start option. Press the Windows key to return to the Start screen. Scroll to the end, and you’ll see a new tile displaying the latest stock price for Apple.


Tip 6: How to pin websites to the Start screen

The Windows 8 version of Internet Explorer (that is, the Metro or “app-ified” one you access from the Windows 8 tile menu) doesn’t let you store your favourite websites in folders in the way the desktop version does. But you can pin your favourite websites to the Start screen so they’re more easily accessible.

To pin a website, open the Windows 8 version of IE from the Start screen. Browse to a website that you want to pin, such as Google. Click on the Pin site button on the bottom app bar (it looks like a drawing pin), and select the popup option to Pin to Start. Confirm or change the name of the tile, then press the Pin to Start button. Press the Windows key to return to the Start screen. Move to the end, and you’ll see a tile for the website.


Tip 7: How to pin folders to the Start screen

Every app you install creates its own Start screen tile, but you can pin folders to the Start screen, as well, and have them appear as tiles. Here’s how.

Open File Explorer (which was formerly known as Windows Explorer in earlier versions of Windows) in the Desktop. Navigate to a folder that you want to pin to the Start screen, such as Documents. Right click on that folder, and click on the option to Pin to Start from the popup menu. (You can do the same for your Music folder, Pictures folder, and any other folders in File Explorer). Return to the Start screen, and scroll to the end. You’ll see tiles for the various folders that you pinned.

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