Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
14th Oct 2013 | 10:00
Get to grips with Microsoft's latest OS with the help of our expert tips and tricks
If you're just getting started with Microsoft's newest operating system, these tips and tricks will turn you into an 8.1 wizard in no time at all - from booting straight to the desktop to creating system backups, there's plenty to explore in the latest release.
1. Boot to the desktop
Microsoft has bowed to the pressure from desktop users and given us an option to skip the Start screen after logging in. Right-click on the taskbar, choose 'Properties', then switch to the Navigation tab. Tick the 'Go to the desktop…' option to load it first instead of the Start screen.
2. Find your apps
The 8.1 edition of Windows pins fewer apps to the Start screen by default, and has moved the location of the full apps list - you can now find it by clicking on the down arrow in the lower left corner. Click or tap the drop-down menu by the Apps heading to change how the items are sorted.
3. Universal wallpaper
In Windows 8.1 you can set your Start screen wallpaper to the same image used for the desktop wallpaper, if it makes life without the Start menu a little easier for you. Open up the 'Personalise' link from the Settings charm on the Start screen and your current desktop backdrop will be one of the available thumbnails.
4. Quicker shutdown
Windows 8.1 retains the shortcut menu that appears when you right-click in the bottom left-hand corner of the desktop, but there are some new options. You can now shut the system down or log out of your account from here, rather than going through the Settings charm.
5. Configure Smart Search
By default Windows 8.1 will look through files on your PC, in your SkyDrive account and on the web when you type a query into the Search charm, but you can modify this behaviour. Open the Settings charm then choose 'Change PC settings > Search and apps > Search' to disable Bing integration.
6. App tiles
It's not exactly a headline feature, but Windows 8.1 gives you more control over the size of your app tiles on the Start screen. Right-click on a tile, choose 'Resize' from the menu at the bottom and there are four different options to pick from: Large, Wide, Medium and Small.
7. Lock screen slideshows
Having a static photo as your lock screen picture is so Windows 8. Join the Windows 8.1 revolution by configuring a slideshow of several images instead - on the Lock screen page under 'PC and Devices' in the Settings app there's a new Slide show entry, complete with a variety of configuration options.
8. Name app groups
Each of your Start screen app tile groups can have its own heading now, if required. You could name one group 'Work' and one 'Play', to be completely unoriginal and dull, for example. Right-click on the Start screen and choose Customise to bring up the labels.
9. Display tweaks
Your screen resolution configuration and other related settings can now be accessed straight from the Start screen without venturing to the desktop or the Control Panel. Choose 'Settings' from the Charms bar, then 'Change PC settings', and then 'Display'.
10. Disable hot corners
In Windows 8 you needed a third-party tool or a registry hack to disable the 'hot corners' around the edges of your screen. In Windows 8.1, you can simply open up the Corners and Edges section of the 'PC and devices' settings page and turn off the corner navigation options.
11. IE11 Reading View
The brand-new Internet Explorer 11 comes bundled with Windows 8.1, and it has some neat new features (most of which have already been seen in other browsers, but still). One of these is the Reading View, which you can access by clicking the book icon on the right of the address bar.
12. App docking
Windows 8 enables you dock Start screen apps to the side of the screen, and this functionality is enhanced in 8.1 - you can dock two Start screen apps and avoid the desktop altogether, and adjust the size of each pane, giving you much more flexibility over how your display looks.
13. Save to SkyDrive
Windows 8.1 goes even further with SkyDrive integration than Windows 8 did - you can have all of your applications save to your SkyDrive folder by default. Open up the Change PC Settings screen, choose SkyDrive and the relevant setting is on the Files tab.
14. Find your libraries
The libraries idea ushered in with Windows 7 helps you quickly locate all of your music, videos, documents and so on, but the Libraries link isn't shown in Windows 8.1 by default. To display it, open the View menu from the ribbon menu in File Explorer and choose 'Show Libraries' from the Navigation pane drop-down menu.
15. Sound the alarm
Windows 8.1 has a brand new Alarms app that you can access from the Start screen. You can configure multiple alarms and choose from a variety of ringtones to wake you up or act as a reminder for something.
16. Quick calculations
Also new to the Windows 8.1 integrated apps scene is a basic calculator. Launch it from the Start screen and you can switch between Standard and Scientific modes. A handy unit conversion tool is included as well.
17. App updates
Start screen apps now update automatically, which will come as a relief to Windows 8 users who are used to having to apply the latest upgrades manually. If you want you can turn off this feature — select Settings and then App updates from inside the Store app.
18. Create a system image backup
The system image backup tool first seen in Windows 7 looks like it has vanished from the 8.1 release, but this isn't the case - it's just very well hidden. Launch the desktop Control Panel, head to the File History pane, and a System Image Backup link appears in the lower left-hand corner.
19. Edit your pictures
The Start screen Photos app has been given some basic editing tools in 8.1. Open up an image and you'll find autofix shortcuts, tools for adjusting colours and shades, and rotate and crop options.
20. Get more help
Working out all of the touchscreen, keyboard and mouse shortcuts for the new-look Windows isn't easy, so Microsoft has introduced a Help and Tips app to lend a hand. You can launch it from the Start screen and it also appears right after you've installed the new version of the OS - get the latest on Windows 8.1.