Alright, Windows 8 fans. You’ve taken our advice and speed-ran your way through a clean installation (or upgrade!) of Microsoft’s latest OS. You’ve created or attached an existing Windows Live account to your installation, you’ve taken care of the few prompts Microsoft’s asked you to fill out or click through, and you’ve even given a cursory glance to the company’s brief “How to use Windows 8” video during the installation process.
You’re staring at the Start Screen.
Now what do you do?
Before you get confused, scared, or start clicking mindlessly through your desktop in an effort to figure out how to shut down your PC, stay cool for a moment. We have a swath of little tips that will help you ease into Microsoft's new operating system from Windows 7. With our helpful Windows 8 Tips Guide, you’ll be a Windows 8 master faster than you can say, “SmartGlass.”
Manage Your Windows 8 Start Screen
See all those tiles? Some – mostly those representing Microsoft’s core apps or apps you’ve downloaded from the Microsoft Store – can get bigger or smaller. Right click on them to see the Start Screen’s “context menu,” a disappearing bar at the bottom of the Start Screen, and you might have the option to enlarge or shrink certain tiles. This is the same way you’ll launch programs with administrator rights and boot them off the Start Screen as a whole: Look for the “unpin” option.
Uninstall Windows 8 Apps
Same deal. You’ll find a link to uninstall an app when you right-click on any of its tiles that have been placed on your Smart Screen by the app’s installation utility. While Windows 8 will take you to the Desktop-based Programs and Features utility (otherwise found off of the Control Panel), it won’t actually jump you to the exact place on the “to be uninstalled” list where you’d find the app – that would have been a wonderful little touch.
Group Windows 8 Start Screen Icons
It goes without saying, but dumping icons into their own groups — organized by column — is as easy as dragging and dropping. But you can also drag and drop these clusters of columns around as a whole, in case you want to move your “games” chunk before your “apps” chunk or whatnot. Move your mouse to the lower right-hand corner within the Start Screen and click on the icon that looks like a hyphen with a box around it. The Start Screen will zoom out, and you can now move your columns around.
If you want to your columns them a fun name, just right-click on a column and select the “Name Group” option.
Pretty up the Windows 8 Start Screen
The first time you boot into the Start Screen after you log in, Windows 8 fills your colored background with your icons with a pretty left-to-right kind of a “fill” animation. We like that. We like it so much, that we want to see it all the time – Windows just makes your Start Screen boringly “appear” when you open and close it after this first login animation.
Open up the registry (type “regedit” on the Windows 8 Start Screen) and navigate over to this key:HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ImmersiveShell\Grid. Right-click on the right-most window pane, hover over “New,” and select the “DWORD” option. Right-click on your new DWORD and rename it to “Launcher_SessionLoginAnimation_OnShow,” and then double-click on it and set its Value data to 1. Voila: Pretty Windows 8 icon animation forevermore! To revert this modification, just delete the DWORD you created.
Condense Your Rows
Before you leave the registry key we just mentioned, there’s one more tweak you can make to lock down the number of icon rows that appear on the Start Screen. Add another DWORD, just like before, and name this one: “Layout_MaximumRowCount.” Double-click on the DWORD and input the number of rows – to a maximum of five – that you want to limit your Start Screen to.
And don’t freak out when you first see that your change had absolutely no effect on your Start Screen. You have to log out and log in before your Start Screen changes.
If there’s one thing we hate about having to use Windows 8 with a mouse and a keyboard, it’s the fact that we have to drag our mouse all over the place – and wait for that slight delay – to access elements like Windows 8’s Charms Bar. Keyboard shortcuts, here we come.
Tap the following commands to pull up the various sub-menus of the Charms Bar: Your Windows Key and H displays the “Share” sidebar; Windows Key and K displays Devices; Windows Key and I displays Settings — a super-quick way to shut down your PC.
Also, here’s a bonus one – If you right-click on the lower-left-hand icon within Windows 8’s Desktop Mode, the one that would otherwise be where a start button would be, you can access a useful menu of Power User shortcuts: Control Panel, Task Manager, your System configuration screen, and more! If you’re feeling lazy, pressing the Windows Key and X simultaneously will pull up the same menu.
Bring the Start Button back to Windows 8
If you want to bypass the Windows 8 Start Screen, remove your ability to accidentally pull up its sidebars, and restore your Windows Start Button to a place of prominence in the corner of Windows 8’s Desktop Mode, there’s one free app that can perform all this magic: Classic Shell. Give it an install, and you’ll find a wealth of easy-to-manage options for removing some of Windows 8’s more controversial user interface elements.
Ditch the Windows 8 Lock Screen
While we’re at it, let’s get rid of that annoying Lock Screen – a pointless addition to the Windows 8 operating system for those that lack the capability to swipe a finger up their screens and make it go away. Open up Windows 8’s Group Policy Editor (type “gpedit.msc” on your Start Screen) and navigate to the following location: Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Personalization. You’ll want to then double-click on the policy called, “Do not display the lock screen.” Change the option to “Enabled,” and then click OK. Goodbye, annoying-but-pretty extra step between you and logging into your operating system.
Take Easy Screenshots with Windows 8
Tech writers everywhere rejoice at this little trick. In previous versions of Windows, taking a screenshot was a multi-step affair: You had to Print Screen the entire desktop, open up your favorite photo manipulation program (or Paint), paste your giant screen capture, crop down to whatever you even wanted to take shot of to begin with, and save your image as a file.
In Windows 8, you merely need to hit the Windows Key and Print Screen on your keyboard. The operating system will automatically take a shot of your full screen and dump an image file into a “Screenshots” folder within the Pictures folder of your account’s User folder. Say that three times fast.
Redo Your New
For whatever reason – and maybe this is just an issue I’m having – but Windows 8 doesn’t populate your right-click context menu’s “New” submenu very well. I’ve installed the Office 2013 preview, but still can’t right-click on a folder and create a new Word or Excel document from scratch.
I’ve also found a way to fix that, and to fix it for any file type that you want to add to your default right-click context menu.
Hit up your registry (again, type “regedit.exe” in your Start Screen), and navigate on over to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. Find the folder of the file type you want to add as an option to the “New” submenu previously described. Right click on that folder/file type and hover over “New,” then select “Key.” Right-click on the key and rename it to the phrase, “ShellNew.” Within this “ShellNew” folder, right-click on the right-most pane of the Registry Editor, hover over “New,” and select “String Value.” Rename this String Value “NullFile.” That’s it!
Now, you’ll find this file type as one of the available options under your right-click context menu > New sub-menu.
Automatically Log Into Windows 8
We’re big fans of security at Maximum PC. But if you’re the only one who will ever have physical access to your computer – or you really trust your cat – there’s no need for Windows 8 to mandate that you always type in a password or PIN to log on.
You can instruct the operating system to bypass the password step of your login process by first typing in “netplwiz” on your Start Screen. In the “User Accounts” screen that pops up (once you’ve clicked on the “netplwiz” icon, uncheck the box for, “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer.”
Stop Opening My Files
Let’s face it: For a desktop or laptop user, Windows 8’s default applications for multimedia are absolutely horrible. Photos is crap. Video is crap. Music is crap. And it’s annoying that, in some instances, these are the apps that load when you double-click a file within File Explorer.
Let’s change that.
Type “default programs” into your Windows 8 Start Screen and click on the subsequent icon that appears in the search results. Click on the “Set your default programs” option. Now, pick an application on the left that you want to use to open your file types – like Windows Media Player, for example. Or, if you’re fancy, perhaps you have an app like Media Player Classic already installed and waiting.
Once you’ve picked your app, you can either select the “Choose defaults for this program” option to piecemeal together the different file types that the app should pull up. Or you can also do what we do: the nuclear option. Click on the “Set this program as Default” choice, and said app will now open up all the files it can possibly open up. Everything. The whole kit and caboodle, as it were.
So that's our Windows 8 tweak guide. Did we miss any helpful tips? Let us know in the comments section below!