Windows 8 – Have it Your Way


If you currently are running Windows 8 on your computer, stop doing that.  Take the free upgrade to Windows 8.1 offered in the Store or Settings>Change PC Settings>Windows Update.  Almost every quibble about 8 has a correction in 8.1.  Done that?  Good.  Let’s move on.

If you are running RT on the new Surface 2, you may want to add a desktop tile since the desktop will be hidden by default.  In both RT and Pro the desktop tile should be placed in the top left hand corner.  That way one can just hit enter to go to the desktop upon logging in to their computer.RT is so limited I don’t know why anyone would want it.  Many people say the same sort of thing about Google’s Chromebook.  If you live in the Google universe using Chrome, Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps, and Google+, a Chromebook can make sense as a way to save money,  The same arguments could be made for Windows RT.  If you’re willing to live in the IE10, Outlook, Skydrive, Bing Maps, etc. universe, RT can be a fun way to save some serious money.  If I wanted RT I would want the Nokia 2520.  And before I started messing with it, I would order that awesome keyboard that provides an extra 5 hours of battery life and two more USB 3.0 ports.  I will try to indicate what works on 8.1 Pro only.  All of these tips apply to either 8.1 RT or 8.1 Pro and are not intended for those who have yet to use their free upgrade.

Initial Setup

Disable the lock screen on desktop computers using the Local Group Policy Editor.  From the Start screen, start typing Group Policy and the option to Edit Group Policy will appear.  Choose that.  Then ‘Local Group Policy Editor>Local Computer Policy>Computer Configuration>Administrative Templates>Control Panel>Personalization>Do Not display the lock screen’ .  (Why MS makes its settings locations so obscure we’ll never know.  It is a weakness in comparison to OS X.)




 If you prefer a lock screen to mask your Windows ID, you can set it to be a slideshow of one of your photo albums.  Click here for a tutorial on how to make that work.

Be aware that there are hot corners in the Windows 8.1 Start screen.  Clicking on the upper left corner reveals other open apps that you can click on.  This is the same as swiping in from the left on a touch screen.  Clicking on the lower right corner opens up Charms, including Search, Settings, Devices, etc.  This is the same as swiping in from the right.

When a Modern UI app is open, right click on it to see the app bar with the app’s functions and options.  This is the same as swiping up.  The upper right corner is a hot corner that will open the Share button.  This is the same as swiping in from the right.

There are some very cool keyboard shortcuts that help make Windows 8.1 RT easy and fun to use.  (Most of the old ones still work, too.)

toggles between the Start screen and the last open app
-S Search
-X (same as right-click on the Start button in the lower left corner) opens up a power user menu including the shutdown menu and powershell
-I opens the settings menu.

Many of us who have used Windows for years have found the adjustment to Windows 8 to be quite a jolt.  It reminds me of when I went from using DOS to Windows.  I personally like to open to the Start screen.  I like the live tiles that give me the weather, time, news headlines, sports headlines, and social media teasers.  The Modern UI apps from the app store that I have tried have been very compelling.  I especially like the Music and Sports apps.

Some people will want to make their Windows 8.1 computers behave more like a Windows 7 upgrade by hiding the juicy Modern UI of the Start Screen.  I don’t recommend that.  Accept the future.  Not for you?  Here is how you can almost roll back the clock to Windows 7.  From the Taskbar menu (right-click on the desktop’s taskbar), use Properties>Navigation to control when the Start screen will be displayed; whether your desktop and Start screen should share the same background; whether the Start button will open the Start screen or the All Apps app drawer.  If you are on an All Apps and Desktop only diet (avoiding the Start Screen boogie man), you can even organize the All Apps view by category and put the desktop apps first.  Of course, that will only work in Pro since RT doesn’t have desktop apps other than Office.

Look for these options and check the ones you want:

  • “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start.”
  • “Show my desktop background on Start.”
  • “Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start.”
  • “List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category”

Now, the only way the Start screen boogie man can get you is if you click on the  that appears in the lower left corner of the Apps view screen when you move your mouse.

For those seriously wistful for doing things the good old fashioned way, Start8 by Stardock can return to the Start button to its former glory (or faded glory depending on one’s perspective) and all for a meager five bucks.

One of my favorite Windows 7 features is available in either the App view or the Start screen.  Up until Windows Vista, one had to find a program or file in a menu or Explorer window.  Starting with Vista, all one had to do was hit the  key or click on the Start button and start typing.  This filled in the Search box and generated a list of apps, files, and folders with the characters in the Search box.  If your choice was on top, all you had to do was press Enter and it opened what you were looking for.

If one allows Windows 8 or 8.1 to open in the Start screen, all one has to do is start typing and the same thing happens!  If you enable the Bing Smart Search you’ll even get options from the internet.  (As a side note, to configure how Smart Search works, go to PC settings>Search and Apps>Search.)  Smart Search and the live tiles are why I still log into the Start screen.  But this function works just as well if one starts typing in the App view.

If you’re using a mouse on the Start screen, click the arrow  near the lower-left corner of the screen to open the app drawer.  (This is the same as swiping up.)  Right-click on any app or set of apps to add them to the Start screen (no need to hold down the CTRL key in Windows 8).  Right click on any set of tiles on the start screen and drag them where you want a new group to appear.  There is a little icon in the lower right corner you can use to zoom out and make groups of apps draggable.  Click anywhere to zoom back out when you’re done moving groups.  Right click on any tile to make group names editable.  Hitting the Esc key or clicking somewhere on the screen will return the screen to normal.

Right click on a tile to have the option to change its size.  You can also drag individual tiles almost anywhere you want.  Just keep in mind that columns of tiles come in pairs and that can’t be changed.

If you really miss the old Vista/Windows 7 links to Computer (now This PC), Network, Control Panel, Devices and Printers, and Default Programs you can pin shortcuts for any or all of these to your taskbar.

Unless you’re going to shutdown for more than 24 hours or so, you may want to try the iOS-style shutdown now available on some Windows 8.1 devices called InstantGo.  Close and save any open apps first.  Then just hold the power button until prompted to swipe down to power off.  If your device did not come with InstantGo you can add it as a shortcut.  The rest of us can use the -X keyboard shortcut to the shutdown menu, which works just fine for me.

To set up a Windows RT tablet, or if one wants to move forward to using the Start screen, one wants the best Windows apps which I’ve listed below.  One wants a home screen tailored to the way one uses one’s tablet and to one’s own sense of what looks nice.  I’ve illustrated which groups I put the various tiles into by my subheadings.

Windows Start Screen

Favorites group

  • Desktop (should be in top left corner)
  • Chrome  (Pro only not RT!!)
  • Google search app (leave Bing as default).  Note:  One cannot change IE to use Google for default search and IE is the only available browser for RT.
  • Calendar – requires importing your Google calendar into Outlook
  • Weather (native), The Weather Channel
  • Clock
  • Photos (native)
  • Videos (native)
  • People (native)
  • Food + Drink (native)
  • Mail (native) and/or Yahoo Mail or Thunderbird desktop (the latter being Pro only)

Listen group

Create group

  • Camera (native)
  • Sound Recorder (native)
  • Movie Edit Touch (Magix) ($5) or VideoStudio ($$$)desktop  if you have Surface Pro
  • Audacity for Windows RT or just Audacity desktop if you have Surface Pro

Book group

News group

Shop group

Watch group

  • YouTube+ ($2)
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime is in the works but not yet available except via the web
  • Video (native)
  • Movie Guide by Zuhlke Engineering
  • Windows Media Center is an add-on that is useful for people with Windows compatible TV tuners (Pro only)
  • XBMC  desktop (Pro only)

Work group

  • RT comes with MS Office
  • Surface Pro comes with an MS Office trial, replace that with LibreOffice unless you have the money to buy/subscribe to Office
  • Evernote Touch
  • Skitch Touch
  • Dropbox
  • GDrive Pro ($4)
  • Skydrive (native)

Other group

Search for other apps online here

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