8 Useful Tips and Tricks for Windows 8

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Windows 8 Developer Preview is out and even casual users are jumping at the chance to try out the new, and arguably improved, operating system. Even if you consider yourself a Windows 7 expert, don’t expect to figure out Windows 8 right away; the operating system features an interface never seen before in previous editions of Microsoft Windows.

In fact, Windows 8 can be that much more confusing for those familiar with the operating system; even the Start menu — a staple that’s been present since the Windows NT days — is completely redesigned. To help you figure out how to navigate the new OS, I’ve put together a list of tips and tricks that should be useful to both novices and super users.

8. New, Awesome Keyboard Shortcuts

Along with the updated design, Windows 8 comes with some cool new keyboard shortcuts. Although a few of the old shortcuts — like Win+R to launch Run — are still present, some of the new keyboard combinations offer more utility than the old shortcuts. Windows+Q, for example, gives Windows+R a run for its money; it features the same functions as Run, but at the same time enables you to search your system for installed programs or browse through an alphabetized list of apps.

Here are a few of my favorite Windows 8 shortcuts:

  1. Windows: Toggles between the Start Screen and the Windows desktop, or between the Start Screen and an active app.
  2. Windows+Tab: Toggle between running apps.
  3. Windows+C: Displays the Charms (the Settings, Devices, Share and Search options), date and time, and power options.
  4. Windows+F: Opens the new Windows search feature, Search Files.
  5. Windows+I: Opens the Settings pane and displays the wireless networking, speaker, screen brightness, language, and power options.
  6. Windows+O: Rotates orientation on tablet and slate PCs.
  7. Windows+W: Opens the Search Files function from within the Settings tab.
  8. Windows+Z: Displays a contextual menu when running a full-screen Metro app.

7. Use a Picture Password

Just about every online service, from banking to social networks to email services, require passwords — all of which, to provide the most protection, should be unique. To keep your files and other information safe from unauthorized users, you should create a password when setting up a new Windows 8 account. However, rather than memorizing yet another jumble of letters and numbers, you can instead create a picture password.

Picture passwords can be made up of a combination of taps, straight lines and circles. To set up a picture password in Windows 8, open Control Panel, and then click “Users.” Click “Create a Picture Password,” and follow the onscreen directions.

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6. Log in to Your Account Automatically

In contrast to picture passwords, if you’re the only one who uses your computer and you don’t have to worry about other users logging into your account without permission, you can configure automatic login. Open regedit, and then navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionWinlogon. Double-click “DefaultPassword” and enter the password for your username. Double-click “AutoAdminLogon,” and then change the value to “1” to enable automatic login.

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5. Mount Disc Images Without Third-Party Software

In previous editions of Windows, you had to download a third-party application to emulate disc images. Windows 8, however, includes a built-in tool that can mount ISO images to a virtual disc drive. To emulate an ISO file in Windows 8, press the Windows key and “E” to open Windows Explorer, and then navigate to the folder where the ISO file is stored. Right-click the file and then select “Mount” from the contextual menu.

4. Restart Explorer with the Click of a Button

Windows Explorer isn’t always the most stable process, and when the taskbar or file manager lock up or become unresponsive, killing explorer.exe is sometimes the easiest way to restore the operating system to working order. In the past, you had to find Windows Explorer in the Processes tab in Task Manager, end the task, and — on much older editions of Microsoft Windows — even create a new explorer.exe task. Windows 8, however, now provides a two-click solution from within Task Manager. Simply click “Windows Explorer” from beneath the Applications or Windows Processes section, and then click “Restart.”

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3. Restore the Old Windows Desktop

If you’re a creature of habit, you’re probably not going to be a big fan of the new Start menu. The menu now consists of just four options, called Charms. No more is the jump list, the user folders, or the Computer, Control Panel or Network options; Settings, Devices, Share and Search are all of what makes up the Windows 8 Start Menu. But one quick change to the registry can restore the classic Windows desktop. Open Regedit, and then navigate to the HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorer. Double-click RPEnabled and change the value to 0. Click “OK” to re-enable the old Start menu.

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2. Turn on the Touch Keyboard

Windows 8 features a touch keyboard, improving on the old onscreen keyboard. The touch keyboard is ideal for tablet and slate users; it automatically capitalizes the first letter of each sentence, adds a period to the end of a sentence when you double-tap the spacebar, and can toggle between different modes. To enable the touch keyboard, right-click the taskbar, point to “Toolbars,” and then click “Touch Keyboard.” Select the keyboard icon from the bottom right of the dock to switch between full-screen mode, thumb mode, and pen mode.

1. Close Running Apps

If you launch an app from within Metro, you’ll notice that the caption buttons are missing from the upper right side of the window, preventing you from closing the application. Even worse, Alt+F4 does nothing. Pressing the Windows key will switch you over to the Start Screen, but the app you opened will still be running in the background. If you switch to the Windows desktop, Windows 8 will suspend the application, but it won’t close it. The Windows 8 development team may change this sometime in the future, but for now, the only way to close running apps in Windows 8 is to end the task from Task Manager. Press “Windows” and “D” to switch over to the desktop, then press “Ctrl,” “Shift” and “Esc” to open Task Manager. Select the app you want to close, and then click the “End Task” button.

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