Smarter Not Harder: Twelve Ways to Tame Windows 8
By Lance Whitney
You fire up your new computer, fresh with Windows 8, looking forward to trying out all of the new features and commands. Normally, you would enjoy poking around the latest version of Windows discovering what’s new and improved. But when Windows 8 pops up, its Start screen and colorful tiles staring you in the face, you feel a little bit like you did when you got your very first PC with Windows way back when.
Like anything new and unfamiliar, Windows 8 can be frustrating to people accustomed to Windows 7 or XP. But the more time you spend with it and the more shortcuts you pick up, the easier it gets.
I am an expert at figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to new technology. I have been writing about and reviewing new technology for the past 20 years and am the author of the new book Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time. And as with any break-from-the-status-quo technology upgrade, Windows 8 will certainly have its fans and foes.
People don’t like change. Those of us accustomed to the familiar Start menu and features of Windows 7, Vista, and XP can find Windows 8 challenging and frustrating, at least at first. But once you learn your way around the new interface, you may actually start to appreciate and even enjoy the new Start screen and other touch-based elements. Even better, along with the new touch features, Windows 8 offers a host of other improvements that can speed up and simplify how you use your PC.
Read on for my top twelve tips on how to master Windows 8 so that you can control it rather than the other way around.
“Start” it up your way. The most dramatic change in Windows 8 is the one that stares you in the face as soon as you log in—the Start screen. Replacing the traditional Start menu familiar to longtime Windows users, the new Start screen is based on tiles. Instead of clicking a Start button to open a cascading menu of folders and shortcuts for your applications, a Start screen appears where you click on tiles to launch your apps and features. People used to launching their software programs through the Start menu may at first be thrown off by the Start screen, which presents a totally new and different way of organizing and opening your applications.
Whether you’re hooked on the Start screen, or you try to avoid it whenever possible, you can customize it to help you zoom through whatever you’re doing more efficiently. You can move the Start screen tiles around to sort them alphabetically or by category. You can separate tiles into individual groups so that any one tile is easier to find. You can also name a group of tiles and even sort the groups so the apps you access more frequently are within easy reach.
The Start screen can seem a bit wild at first. Every app you install creates one or more tiles, so the screen can easily become messy and disorganized. But by moving your tiles around and storing them in named groups, you can tidy up much of that clutter.
Stay up to date with live tiles. Thanks to live tiles, new information pops up on a Start screen tile as soon as it arrives. So without even leaving the Start screen, you can view notices alerting you to your latest emails, appointments, news items, weather forecasts, stock prices, and more. Not all apps support live tiles. The built-in Windows apps that do include Mail, Messaging, Calendar, News, Weather, Sports, Finance, and Travel. Enabling a live tile is as easy as launching and configuring an app for the first time. Once you’ve done that, the live tile is turned on by default. And if you’d rather not be bombarded with all that information, you can easily turn the live tile off.
Live tiles can be a good way to start your day because with a quick glance you can see what awaits you. One look at the live tiles on the Windows 8 Start screen quickly fills you in on new emails, messages, news, weather, and a lot more. I typically scan my live tiles to see what’s up and then move on to my work.
Quickly launch the apps you need. You can launch any Windows app through its tile on the Start screen or All Apps screen. But you can also launch an app just by typing its name at either the Start screen or All Apps screen.
Back up your documents with File History. We’ve all been there. You create an important document or store an irreplaceable photo on your computer. And now the file is lost or corrupted. Well, with Windows 8, you no longer have to suffer the pain of losing a critical file.
It tries to prevent that pain through a feature called File History. With File History turned on, Windows 8 automatically backs up your documents, desktop shortcuts, contacts, browser favorites, and other important files. You can choose to back up your files to a USB drive or a network location if you have a networked drive. You can determine which files to back up, how frequently, and how long to keep your backups. If an important file gets lost or damaged, simply restore it from the backup.
File History is one of my favorite features in Windows 8. You just set it up initially to back up whatever files you want, and your part is done. Your files are automatically backed up at specific intervals, and you can quickly restore any file from the backup.
Create picture-perfect passwords. With Windows 8, instead of struggling to devise and remember a complicated alphanumeric password, you can simplify the process and add some visual flair by using a picture password.
Find the right apps in the Windows Store. Looking for a specific app? Simply trigger the search charm within the Windows store and type the name of the app.
Print content from a Windows 8 app. To be honest, I wasn’t especially crazy about the new Print function in Windows 8 at first. But I quickly got used to it and grew to like the consistency of it from one app to another.
Easily copy or move files. Copying and moving batches of files is much easier now. And there’s less danger of losing an important file since Windows clearly shows you which files are due to be overwritten beforehand.
Sync your settings across different devices. People who juggle more than one Windows 8 device don’t have to struggle to maintain the same settings on each one. Instead, simply sync those settings so that they remain consistent from one device to another.
Hit the road with the Travel app. Windows 8 comes with several cool and useful apps courtesy of Microsoft’s Bing team, including the Travel app. It is especially handy for planning trips from start to finish.
Easily use and manage wireless networks. If you are using your laptop remotely and need to connect to and manage wireless networks, just go to the Networks pane to see a list of all available Wi-Fi networks. Pick the one you want, enter the security password, and you’re connected.
Troubleshoot quickly. Of course, sometimes Windows gets corrupted or starts misbehaving to the point where it no longer runs reliably. Simply refresh or reset your PC to bring it back to a cleaner state.
As with any big software change, Windows 8 takes getting used to. Many of the new features aren’t out in the open and require time to discover. But once you learn your way around, you’ll be able to navigate Windows 8 more efficiently so you take full advantage of the new environment.
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About the Author:
Lance Whitney is the author of Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time (Wiley, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-118-41864-2, $29.99).