Windows 8 tips and tricks – part 1

Windows 8 tips and tricks - part 1


Windows 8 Start Screen 


Starting with ‘Start’

Let’s begin with the large Windows-dappled elephant in the room: the ‘Start’ menu is gone. If it’s something you were attached to (emotionally or otherwise) it would be rather nice to have it back.

We have our very own APC Fix8 tool which helps automate the installation of either Classic Shell or Stardock’s Start8 beta. Note that Start8 is now out of beta and a paid product but well worth the paltry asking price of US$5 if you don’t like Classic Shell. Another option is ViStart although you have to dodge some adware toolbars when you install it.

You can download our special Fix8 tool from apcmag.com/fix8.htm.

 

Unlock the lock screen

A lock screen is nice and pretty for a tablet and all and perhaps for a little privacy in the office but for your desktop at home it’s a barrier requiring more keyboard or mouse interaction just to use your PC. Save some sanity time and RSI in your hand by disabling it.

  • Tap Windows key+R to bring up the ‘Run’ dialogue box.
  • Type in gpedit.msc and press Enter.
  • Navigate to ‘Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Personalization’.
  • Double-click on the ‘Do not display the lock screen’ setting.
  • Toggle it to ‘Enabled’ and click ‘OK’.

Of course you’ll still be presented with the login screen which you may want to keep if more than one person uses your computer. However if this is redundant for you it can also be bypassed.

 

Auto signon

To automate login and thereby boot directly to the ‘Start’ screen – or directly to the classic desktop if you’ve used our Fix8 tool – follow these steps:

  • Tap Windows key+R to bring up the ‘Run’ dialogue box.
  • Type in control userpasswords2 and press the Enter key.
  • Deselect the ‘Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer’ box and click ‘Apply’.
  • Enter the password for your account.
  • Click ‘OK’ and you’re done.

 

Enforce classic defaults

Microsoft really wants you to like the Modern UI such that opening files like videos images or web links take you to the Modern UI app that manages the format even if you’re opening from within the Classic desktop. Fix this unwanted behaviour like so:

  • Hit the Windows key or hover your mouse to bring up the Charms bar and select ‘Search’.
  • Type in default programs and press the Enter key.
  • Click on ‘Set your default programs’.
  • To use the classic Windows image viewer click on ‘Windows Photo Viewer’ and then ‘Set this program as default’.
  • To use Windows Media Player click on (no surprise) ‘Windows Media Player’ and then ‘Set this program as default’.

For each you’ll see the number of total file associations linked to the program change after setting it as default. You can also do this with programs you install; for example if you’ve got Firefox or Chrome installed it should show up in the list and you can simply click these and set them as the default.

As standard any web links will be opened in the Modern UI’s IE not the classic desktop IE. To change this:

  • Press Windows key+R to bring up the ‘Run’ dialogue box.
  • Type in inetcpl.cpl and press Enter.
  • Click on the ‘Programs’ tab.
  • Under ‘Choose how you open links’ select ‘Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop’.
  • Click ‘OK’.

You’ll notice there’s also an option to force IE-based tiles to open on the desktop.

 

Startup programs

Some things never change and installing all your favourite programs will still likely see a bevy of unnecessary startup programs and services slowing down your boot. Other things do change however with Windows 8 actually making it easier to find out which culprits are slowing your system down and preventing them from doing so.

  • Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and select the ‘Task Manager’.
  • Under the ‘Startup’ tab right-click on any program and select ‘Disable’.

Neat. There’s also a helpful ‘Search online’ option in the same right-click menu though it simply passes it through a search engine. For startup services do the following:

  • Press Windows key+R to bring up the ‘Run’ dialogue box.
  • Type in msconfig and press ‘Enter’.
  • Click on the ‘Services’ tab.
  • Finally click the ‘Hide all Microsoft services’ checkbox.

For more detailed information on services launch services.msc through the ‘Run’ dialogue instead. In either case a level of common sense prevails here – don’t disable any service if you’re not sure about the impact as it’s possible to render your machine unbootable or cause hard-to-diagnose behaviour if essential services are stopped. This is why the System Configuration tool launched via msconfig is safer as you can hide all operating system services and see only those added by third-party programs.

 

File History

We’re including it as a tip because if you’re not using it you should be. Especially as it’s so flexible in its use and setting it up takes just a few seconds. File History works like Apple’s Time Machine and allows you to flick back through previous versions and selectively preview and restore a particular backup from any point in time.

First decide where you want to keep backups. File History can support a partition on a local hard drive external USB drives and even network targets. With this in mind do the following:

  • Hit the Windows key or hover your mouse to bring up the Charms bar and select ‘Search’.
  • Type in ‘File History’ and click the ‘Settings’ category underneath the search field.
  • Once the ‘File History’ dialogue is launched click ‘Select Drive’ on the left.
  • Choose a target drive which can include partitions on drives or select to set up a network location.
  • Click ‘Turn on’ to start the first backup.

If you click ‘Advanced Settings’ you’ll be able to specify how frequently File History backs up your files as well as when to purge old backups to free up space.

The only thing to remember about File History is that it only backs up predetermined locations: your desktop itself contacts favourites and libraries. If you want files backed up from other locations you have two options: copy them to one of the libraries (these include ‘Documents’ ‘Music’ ‘Pictures’ and ‘Videos’) or add your own library. Making a new library is easy:

  • Open up Explorer (click on the ‘Explorer’ icon in the classic desktop).
  • Right-click on ‘Libraries’ in the left pane.
  • Select ‘New > Library’ and type in a name.

You can then include any file or folder on your system in the library by right-clicking on it and selecting ‘Include in library’. At the next scheduled backup File History will add the library to its backup.

 

Page file on SSD

We haven’t covered some of the more traditional Windows interface or performance tweaks here like those you might have used with Windows 7 because for the most part they still work just the same and we wanted to focus on specific Windows 8 tips and tweaks.

One classic tip however bears mentioning especially in the current market where not only are SSDs cheap they’re likely to be found standard on many machines shipping with Windows 8: where to put the page file.

The prevailing wisdom used to be that in order to preserve the longevity of your SSD the Windows page file should be moved to a traditional spinning-disk hard drive. However in an MSDN blog post Microsoft’s Michael Fortin makes it clear the page file is ideal for SSDs.

Most page file operations are small random reads or larger sequential writes both of which are types of operations that SSDs handle well. In looking at telemetry data from thousands of traces and focusing on page file reads and writes we find that:

  • ‘Pagefile.sys’ reads outnumber ‘pagefile.sys’ writes by about 40 to 1.
  • ‘Pagefile.sys’ read sizes are typically quite small with 67% less than or equal to 4KB and 88% less than 16 KB.
  • ‘Pagefile.sys’ writes are relatively large with 62% greater than or equal to 128KB and 45% exactly 1MB in size.

In fact given typical page file reference patterns and the favourable performance characteristics SSDs have on those patterns there are few files better than the page file to place on an SSD.

Incidentally there are no SSD tweaks necessary for Windows 8. The operating system will detect if it’s booting from an SSD and ensure TRIM is enabled it will automatically disable Superfetch (though note Prefetch remains enabled and should be left as such) and will also automatically disable the file content indexing feature.

Importantly disk defragmentation remains a regularly scheduled service but this isn’t a mistake – the new defrag tool detects if a drive is platter-based or SSD and if the latter will instead send TRIM hints to the drive during idle periods to ensure the SSD operates at maximum efficiency.