Windows 8: 15 tips and tricks

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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