Microsoft launched Windows 8.1 last month, featuring a range of refinements and functional improvements, including a more customisable Start screen, enhanced Bing search, and a range of new apps and services. Here are some of the operating system’s best hidden features.
1. Turn the Start screen into an app launcher
It can be difficult to find the app you need from the Windows 8 Start screen, because tiles take up so much of the screen. There is, however, a way to turn the Start screen into a useful app launcher. On the desktop right-click the taskbar and select ‘Properties’, then click the ‘Navigation’ tab. In the Start screen section, tick the box next to ‘Show the apps view automatically when I go to Start’. From now on, when you go to the Start screen you’ll see a list of all your apps rather than those big tiles.
2. Boot to desktop
Plenty of people have little or no use for the Start screen, but in the past this has been the default lamding page when you boot up your PC. Now Windows 8.1 offers the option to go straight to the desktop when you log in. On the desktop right-click the taskbar and select ‘Properties’, then click the ‘Navigation’ tab. In the Start screen section, tick the box next to “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start.” From now on, when you log into Windows, you’ll go straight to the desktop.
Why we like it: Some of you don’t like the new Start screen. Some of you actively hate it and refuse to acknowledge Windows 8’s existence.
For the latter group, you can now directly save your self the few seconds and extra click of a tile, by choosing to boot your computer directly to desktop mode. You can even configure the settings in the Start screen to give you a prioritized view of desktop apps when you click the Start button.
How to use it: In desktop mode, right click the Task Bar and select “properties.” Click the tab that says “navigation,” and check the box that says “Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in.”
If you want to prioritize desktop apps in the Start Screen, check the boxes for “Show the apps view automatically when I go to Start” and “List desktop apps first in the Apps view when its sorted by category.”
3. Open the Metro version of Internet Explorer 11 in multiple windows
One of the better known features of Windows 8 is the Snap action, that allows you to run two apps side-by-side. With Windows 8.1 you can also run two instances of IE11 in multiple Snapped windows. However, Snapping one instance of IE11 to one side of the screen and then attempting to open a second instance doesn’t work. You have to open multiple tabs in one window, and then press and hold or right-click one of them and select ‘Open tab in new window’. Unfortunately other apps don’t appear to offer multi-window capabilities.
Why we like it: Though opening a new tab is no difficult feat, you might have missed the news that you can now have as many tabs as you want in Internet Explorer. Your computer’s processor will now hate you.
How to use it: Fire up internet explorer, tap the navigation box, and start clicking the new tab icon as many times as you want.
4. Shut down from the Start button
The Start button is back, but the Start menu is not, meaning that you still need to go through several steps involving the charm bar if you want to shut down your PC. Alternatively, right-clicking the Start button brings up an array of menu options, including quick links to functions like Disk Management and Command Prompt tools. With Windows 8.1, this menu includes a ‘Shut Down’ option, and hovering over it also gives you the option to restart your PC, removing the need to return to Metro mode.
5. Quiet hours
With Windows 8, Microsoft meshes several desktop and mobile features. One of those mobile features is app notifications, which pop up with a sound when you get a message. These can be useful during the day, but it can get annoying if your laptop is pinging away through the night. Windows 8.1 adds a Quiet Hours setting that lets you silence notifications for specific times of the day. Access this setting by opening the ‘Settings’ charm, navigating to ‘Change PC Settings’ followed by ‘Search and apps’ and ‘Notifications’.
6. IE11 Reading View
Reading View strips the clutter and advertisements from the article you are reading and presents the information in a pleasant, horizontally scrolling format. To enable Reading View, just click the open-book icon on the right side of IE11’s address bar. Reading View also appears integrates with the new Reading List app in Windows 8.1, so when you bookmark an article with this app from IE11, it will display in Reading Mode later.
7. Hands-free mode
One of Windows 8.1’s coolest features is buried deep in the new Food & Drink app, which is full of all manner of delectable recipes. However, when you’re making cake and your hands are all covered in butter and flour, it may not seem like the best moment to be using a touchscreen. Fear not, because Windows 8.1 has a hands-free mode, which lets you flip through the steps of the recipe by waving your hand in front of your device’s webcam.
Why we like it: Microsoft is introducing gesture control features in Windows 8.1 with the new Food and Drink app. To avoid touching the screen with filthy hands while cooking, you can wave your hand by the camera to move from page to page. It still doesn’t feel completely polished, but it’s a very useful feature.
How to use it: Tap the button that says “Hands-Free Mode” at the bottom of any recipe and wave the palm area of your hand left or right past your webcam to move backwards and forwards.
8. Hands-free mode Extra tile sizes
Why we like it: In addition to the small square and wide rectangle live tiles, there are two more type of tiles you can use for your apps on the Start Screen: little squares (which conserve screen space) and big squares (which can offer more data).
How to use it: To choose between these, right click or long press any tile (or group of tiles) and click the “re-size” icon at the bottom of the screen.
9. Reading list
Why we like it: Windows 8.1 now has Instapaper-like functionality integrated throughout the OS, which means that you can take an article or story you find on the Web and push it over to the reading list app, where it will be bookmarked for later consumption.
How to use it: When you want to save an article (or website or whatever), bring up the share charm and choose the Reading List icon. When you open reading list, the article should be waiting.
10. Expanded universal search
Why we like it: When you use the search feature in Windows 8.1, you no longer have to choose which category you want to sift through. Instead, it will pull results from your files, your apps, and the Internet, and you’ll get it in all in one list.
How to use it: Swipe over from the right side of the screen and select the search charm. Search for something and watch the results pour in.
11. Start screen organization
Why we like it: In Windows 8.1, Microsoft gives users the ability to move entire groups of tiles to a new or existing cluster, and give them a name. Now that there’s an easy-to-navigate, index-like view available for browsing of all your apps, you no longer have to put most of your apps in the Start menu — only the ones you use frequently.
How to use it: Right click or long press any tile to activate the menu. Click as many tiles as you want to move them all at once. Click the grey box above a group to add or modify the title for the tile cluster.