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Windows 8: 15 tips and tricks

Posted on 25 Jan 2013 at 17:36

Looking for Windows 8 tips? David Bayon runs through 15 ways to ease the upgrade transition

We’ve spent more than a year immersed in Microsoft’s multiple Windows 8 beta and final releases, so we feel we know it better than we know our own mothers.

Windows 8 brings countless small improvements to the operating system we’re all used to, but it also introduces bigger changes that can only be fully appreciated after a period of adjustment.

We’ve covered the merits or otherwise of those changes before, notably in the best features of Windows 8 and our full Windows 8 review; now let’s leave the debate behind. In this feature, we look at how you can make the transition to Windows 8 as smooth as possible, whether it’s by introducing hidden or non-existent options and utilities, or simply by making proper use of the tools that are already present. From keyboard shortcuts and layout changes to Registry hacks and God Mode, there’s plenty to get started on.

1. Take charge of the Start screen

15 tips to improve Windows 8

Microsoft understandably gives its own apps due prominence on the Start screen, but you’re free to change that. You can drag tiles around the grid, and a right-click on certain tiles brings up options to make them larger or uninstall them completely.

You should make good use of Windows 8’s tile groups. You can drag any tile to a blank space on the Start screen to create a new group, but for some baffling reason you can’t name those groups immediately. Instead, you have to use Semantic Zoom – pinch to zoom out on a tablet, hold Ctrl and scroll the mouse wheel, or click the tiny minus symbol in the bottom-right corner. Then, when in the zoomed-out view, just right-click or swipe a finger upwards on a group to give it a name. It might not sound like much, but when you have a lot of applications installed, it makes a significant difference to usability.

As for the grid layout, there’s also a way to change the number of tile rows on the Start screen – but don’t get your hopes up. The highest supported row count is six and the maximum for any given device is determined by screen size and resolution, so if your tablet boots with three rows then you probably won’t be able to increase that number. Still, it can be useful for lowering the row count on a big monitor – perhaps to match the layout of a smaller tablet or laptop for consistency.

To tweak this, search for and run “Regedit”, and before you do anything, click File | Export and save the Registry in case anything goes wrong. Then navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionImmersive-ShellGrid and look for an entry named Layout_MaximumRowCount. If it isn’t there, right-click on an empty space and create a new DWORD value, and give it that name. Then edit that entry, enter the number of tile rows you’d like and reboot your system.

2. Add a proper Shutdown button

We know it’s only three clicks to shut down a PC in Windows 8, but it’s the location of the power controls that’s annoying. Instead of them being hidden away in a charm, it’s easy to create your own power buttons for both the desktop and the Start screen.

Right-click on the desktop and select New | Shortcut. In the box, type “shutdown /s /t 0” (replace the /s with /r for a Restart button), and name it. To give it an icon, right-click your new shortcut and select Properties, then click Change Icon and choose the big power button. That’s your desktop Shutdown button. To add that to your Start screen tiles, right-click the icon and choose Pin To Start.

15 tips to improve Windows 8

Of course, the Windows-I key combination takes you directly to the Settings charm for a saving of one click, or you could use Ctrl-Alt-Del and the power button that pops up in the bottom-right of the screen, but many people – including several here at PC Pro – still prefer a single-feature button in plain sight.

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User comments

I lost interest when you started editing the registry. This is not something I would advise anyone to do under ANY circumstances. As they say, 'could' does not imply 'should'. Either wait for someone to write a TWEAKUI style app, or just accept the fact that Microsoft (the people who designed Windows, don't forget) don't want these features available to end-users. Particularly in a corporate environment, but also in my own home, I wouldn't let anyone who 'knows how to edit the registry' anywhere near my machines.

By c6ten on 25 Jan 2013


Regedit is not an end user tool, you have to have a degree of ability to to use it.

I've got Windows8 on my home pc, WIN7 on my work laptop, a variety of WIN o/s on the servers and non-WINTEL servers as well and I have to say that WIN8 has been the biggest learning challenge to date.

I've got no real issues with metro but the retraining costs are going to be horrendous in a corporate environment (I installed Stardock at home as I missed the start button).

Not sure if MS have really grasped how low many people's computer skills are. Remember that to many a computer is just a tool to do their job - if MS had just kept a conventional desktop it would have been SO much easier to transition.

And I have three big monitors at work, none of which are touchscreen, many of which run CLI interfaces.

Win8 is a long way off being usable as a desktop and I think MS has to address that with pretty damn soon.

By MikeHellier on 25 Jan 2013

2 points....

Firstly, we had all these same arguments when Win95 came out.
Moving from 3.1 to 95 was hellacious.... but after getting used to it, you never wanted to go back.

Secondly, while regedit may not be an end-user tool as such.
I would think that anyone who religiously reads pc pro mag / website should be comfortable enough to edit the registry.
Afterall, it's not that dangerous... unless you start editing it whilst blindfolded.

By SteveSmith on 25 Jan 2013

Or tired?

Actually I think you are both ignoring the fact that this article is easily accessible by Google. Some idiot will think it's sensible advice, when in actual fact it is distinctly hacky, and not a use for which regedit is intended nor designed for.

Much better for someone to implement a tool, test it, distribute it, and then you don't have to be a wide-awake ninja in case you accidentally delete a critical key and bring your system to a crushing halt and a then have to reinstall. I've done it. When I was tired. It is not recommended.

By c6ten on 25 Jan 2013


iv been using win 8 for about 9 months now and generally like it, but have now used a few of these tips which has improved things alot :)

By Ryenose on 26 Jan 2013

My only tip: Don't buy it until MS dump metro. It's a great, powerful OS under the hood, but with a keyboard & mouse it's like trying to drive a Ferrari wearing boxing gloves.

And Start8 isn't a solution, MS must remove all metro apps completely. They're all dogs on a big screen and with a K&M.

By brendan on 26 Jan 2013

DVD Playback

Microsoft has never included DVD Playback in Windows itself.

It was only ever available on PCs that also had Media Center installed - okay, with Windows 7, that was nearly all variants, but XP never had DVD playback (except Media Center Edition) and only Vista Home Premium and Ultimate had DVD playback.

On the other hand, most people probably never noticed, because nearly every PC came with an OEM version of WinDVD or CyberDVD etc.

By big_D on 28 Jan 2013

Do Microsoft want you to get WMP for free

Here is the long, sorry tale of how, despite many visits to Tech support, I still cannot get WMP or WMC:

Dear Microsoft,

I am sorry that your Customer Support, online forums and other staff have not been able to help me with this problem. It seems to me that there may be an inbuilt and systematic upgrade failure preventing customers using your software and downloading processes and procedures.

I am a disabled artist and make films and photographs as part of voluntary work around hate-crime. With that subject-matter – as well as with stuff for family and colleagues – I want reliability, control and ease-of-operation, I also expect commercial companies to be diligent, responsive and aware. Only one staff member has tried to help me with this: I have had repeated tweets – which I did not request -appearing to help but in fact doing nothing of the sort. Until now (here’s hoping).

Let me being by saying that I upgraded to Windows 8 Pro this December 2012. I was ecstatic: I loved the tiling design, the ‘always on” and the smoothness of operation. However, I soon discovered that the system called “Windows Media Player” in previous iterations was not working. Videos did not spontaneously run, files would not open.
I searched online and discovered there was a “free” upgrade, valid to 31 January 2013. I then began the arduous struggle to obtain this.

Repeated calls to Microsoft Support, emails and long sessions failed to allow me to upgrade. To shed light on this, I will now answer Microsoft’s questions (which are retained in Times font)

1) Are you referring to Windows Media Center or Media Player?

The simple answer is: I don’t know. Websites refer to Windows Media Player, and only one Microsoft staff member has referred to it as Media Centre (sic). Shouldn’t it be Microsoft who tells ME which software is appropriate?

On Microsoft Supports own page it calls this Microsoft Media Player:
• Media Player

Windows Media Center (sic) is mentioned. However this is only for Vista:
“ Getting started with Windows Media Center
This article applies to Windows Vista.”
That’s from the page to which you referred me

2) What is the exact issue that you are facing? Did you get the free Product Key which you have requested for or is that what you are having issues with?

I have received NO product key – see below. I have told Microsoft this four times.

3) Were you able to place the request for the Media Center key successfully from this link:
re-packs ?

I was able to place the request, but never received a key. The screen response was always:

We couldn't process your order.
If you think you have received this message in error, contact a Microsoft Customer Support representative.
Terms & Conditions
4) If you have already placed the request, when was it done? Was it before 48 hours?
Requests were made on 23rd at 16.20 and 26 January at 15.17. On the latter date, the latter Microsoft Technical Support staff member himself tried to obtain a key, used my other email addresses etc; tried everything in fact, but the page is unresponsive.

I do not understand your question “Was it before 48 hours?”. Before 48 hours of what? If you mean, 48 hours prior to my contact with you, then yes it was. If you mean something else, please elucidate.

5) Whom did you contact to check the status of your request? Was it the Microsoft Technical Support or the Store Support team?
Please make sure that you are making the request from this link:

I contacted Microsoft Technical Support. I used that link. It states:

Add Windows 8 Pro Pack or Windows 8 Media Center Pack to your edition of Windows
We couldn't process your order.
If you think you have received this message in error, contact a Microsoft Customer Support representative.
Terms& Conditions
If you have already placed the request and if you have been waiting for more than 48 hours, then I would request you to please click these links and contact the Microsoft Store Support for further assistance.

Hope this is helpful. Please feel free to get back to us for any further queries or issues related to Windows.

This is not helpful. These are premium rate telephone calls from the UK to the US. There is no guarantee I will get anything more than an “I am sorry” as I have on the many occasions I have phoned Tech and Customer Support.

Why can’t Microsoft simply be consistent and straightforward?

By ronmoule on 28 Jan 2013

TIP NO. 1: Touch screen not required

I have an iMac and for anyone else that does you all know have revoulutionary the touchpad is to interface with the OS. It's amazing and exactly what Windows 8 users need, goto Amazon and search for touchpad. Logitech do one and it beats a touch screen desktop anyday.

By Benih007 on 1 Feb 2013


Already with the latest issue of overly expensive MS bloatware, you have to resort to workarounds and lash-ons to get usability.
Wish they would address security and functionality before release, as a first priority.

By rhobstein3 on 1 Feb 2013

Reg Edit for File Deletion?

Right-click the Recycle Bin and choose Properties. Options for File Deletion Confirmation and others are there.

By cooloox on 22 Feb 2013

Good articel

That was a really good article. I just read the whole thing now... thanks :-)

By cooloox on 22 Feb 2013

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