Six Hidden Windows 8 Features You Can't Live Without

Windows 8 can take some getting used to. While the desktop app works very much like Windows 7, there are plenty of new shortcuts, options, and tricks built into the operating system. Think you know how to use it like a pro? Here are a few Windows 8 features that you probably haven't found yet.

1. The Secret Start Menu

Microsoft has replaced the old Start orb with an animated, tiled page of apps, but there's still a Start menu of sorts in place -- right-click in the lower left-hand corner of the screen to bring up a menu of quick links to the Control Panel, Task Manager, programs list and other key areas of the system. From here you can search for files, launch the Run box, open the File Explorer and more.

2. Automatic Backups

New in Windows 8 is File History, which works in a similar way to Apple's Time Machine technology, automatically logging older versions of your files that you can restore as and when required. The feature isn't enabled by default though, so you'll need to open up the System and Security screen in Control Panel to get it up and running. You'll also need a second hard drive on hand -- whether internal, external or networked -- to save your file version history too. Once everything is set up, it works automatically, and can prove a lifesaver if you lose your holiday photos or a week's worth of work.

3. Mix Metro And The Desktop

Windows 7 allowed you to snap windows to the sides of your screen, but Windows 8 goes further -- Metro-style Start page apps (like People and Weather) can be docked to the left or right edge of the display, and they will switch to a special mini mode at the same time. This means you can check on the forecast while working in Photoshop, or keep an eye on your Twitter feed while crunching some numbers in Excel. Click and drag the top of any Windows 8 app to the side of the screen to dock it, then drag out the black border bar to restore the full-screen view. It's also possible to have two Metro Windows 8 apps show at once.

4. Sync Everywhere

If you've just upgraded to Windows 8, then you might still be using your old user accounts -- and you may not realise the features available with the new Windows IDs. Sign in with this ID (it's the same one you use for MIcrosoft services like SkyDrive and Hotmail/ It will make syncing emails and photos easier and it will transfer your Windows 8 settings and preferences instantly to any other location you sign in from.

If you have Windows 8 machines in the home and in the office, for example, then this is a quick and painless way of keeping your preferences, desktop wallpaper, Internet bookmarks and other data consistent across machines. You can also specify what is and what isn't synced in the Windows 8 settings, if you want to keep your personalisations without syncing your passwords.

5. Take The Shortcuts

The Snipping Tool introduced in Windows 7 is still present in Windows 8, but there's an even easier way to get a screenshot of your display -- hit the Windows button and PrtScrn at the same time to save a PNG screengrab to a Screenshots folder in the Pictures library. Press Win+C to bring up the Windows 8 Charms. Use Win+X to display the secret Start menu we mentioned earlier. Hit Win+D to switch to the desktop app from anywhere else in Windows 8.

If you're using a full-screen Windows 8 app, right-clicking the mouse brings up the app's menu, or if you're on the Start page a link to all the software on your system. Left-click in the lower right-hand corner of the Start page to arrange your tiles and apps into columns. Those are my favourite shortcuts -- Kyle shares several others in his Windows 8 survival guide.

6. The Easy Reinstall

Reinstalling Windows used to involve messing around with product keys, DVDs and backups. It could take up half your day. Windows 8 streamlines the whole process, which can be completed with just a few mouse clicks.

Head to the Change PC Settings link from the Settings charm. Under the General tab, you'll find you can "Refresh your PC" or "Remove everything." Use the first option to restore Windows to its factory setting while leaving your personal documents, files and personalisations intact. If Windows is running sluggishly, or there's a problem with the OS settings, or something has gone wrong with your hardware/software setup, then this is the choice to go for.

The second option performs a full reinstall, clearing out all your files and wiping the hard drive (so you'll need to make sure you have everything backed up). Use this when you have a serious problem with Windows (such as a virus or a ton of spyware) or when you're putting your PC up for sale on eBay and need to get back to square one.

Do you have your own tips to share? Let us know!



    I've used Windows since version 3 and now I've just installed Windows 8 on my laptop. My initial opinion is that for a desktop OS Windows 8 is a step backwards from Windows 7.

    It appears that a lot of effort has been spent on making things pretty (I assume so that they work on a tablet) but after a while the OS should become "transparent" and my apps and data should be paramount. With Windows 8 I'm forever reading the UI and searching for my stuff.

      I agree. For a person who simply uses one application for extencded periods, say Word, Windows 8 is usable. However, for any who flicks between a variety of applications, W8 is almost unusable. I mean it when I say that I have never had less joying using any OS as I have using W8. I have no idea how any can productively use it.

        Have 28 icons pinned to my taskbar and another 40 pinned to home screen. You're saying you're unable to be adaptive to a better way of doing things? I have found Windows8 much more productivity focused then previous versions.

          Different? Yes. Better? No. The W8 paradigm does not suit everyone and that includes me. If it suits you, well and good; enjoy it. But you need to accept that it does not suit everyone. I don't like it.

          And as an aside, the word is "than", not "then".

            It's an improvement in performance and responsiveness but a sidestep in usability.

            My machines wake and sleep faster and my laptop seems to last longer on a charge. I certainly wouldn't put in the effort to restore my machines to 7, but perhaps that's because of the effort involved. I've found that most things take longer in 8, and require more attention. e.g.

            To sleep:
            7 - Win Right Right Enter
            8 - Win+I Down Down Down Down Down (number of downs is different in each metro app since the options vary - and you can't go up) Right Enter Up Up Up Enter.

            Similarly, to open the "User Account" settings..
            7 - Win "User Acc" Enter
            8 - Win "User Acc" Tab Down Enter Right Enter

            Funny thing is, while typing this up. I looked up both weather and directions for my girlfriend via Metro. The former is still docked there and the latter is somewhere floating in the sea of duplicate UIs. It would've been quicker to open a new tab in Chrome.

            I get it. I kinda like it.
            But it feels shonky.... like Honeycomb Android shonky.

          No you haven't, that is a blatant lie, it doesn't allow you to flip through programs nearly as easily, it doesn't allow you to arrange them on your screen as you like, it is not at all friendly with multi monitor setups.

          Productivity focused my arse, you sir, are either a liar or an idiot.

            Sorry man, I'll just continue to use windows 8 on three screens, the exact same way I used to use win7.

            What do you LOSE beyond a button on the bottom left. Tell me. Christ, win8 haters are just always the same.

            None of the things you said are true. Moving between programs is equally as easy (alt+tab/win+tab), you can arrange your desktop applications in exactly the same ways you could before, and Windows handles multi monitor setups better than its predecessors - I've been running a four monitor setup since W8 launched and it's been flawless. As for productivity, I'm somewhere between equal and moderately better at productivity on my system with 8 over 7.

            Have you ever actually used Windows 8? It's essentially a performance-optimised version of Windows 7 with a start screen instead of a start menu. Almost everything else is the same.

      The word 'transparent' sparked an idea. What if the start screen had a translucent, rather than solid, background, allowing the user to see the desktop when open? That way it wouldn't feel so much like an 'app' of it's own, and just a function of using the OS.

    i been using windows 8 for months, and when i get back to my desktop at home, i miss it.
    i have windows 8 on my asus and acer laptops, and on the spare desktop at home.

    i do however have another copy of it for my desktop, will be installed as soon as i get my new ssd.

    use it for a while, and see how it goes

    Windows 8 is a piece of sh!t and Microsoft knows it. They are losing marketshare by the day because the internet no longer exists purely on PC monitor screens, it's spreading to nearly every electronic device. For over 20 years MS sat back and flourished in their monopoly not having to try and innovate. Now suddenly when they become threatened by new technology they scramble together trying to be hip & cool like Apple....... they fail every step of the way.

      I would just like to remind you that Microsoft pushed tablets long before Apple, their mistake was putting a full desktop OS on it so you could have full functionality. Windows 8 is great, you might not like the style but stop complaining. Its a very useable OS, sure it takes a step in a new direction but with your opinions about Apple I would guess that you would be the first to call this revolutionary if Apple did it. People always complained Microsoft never did anything exciting and different, and now they have and people are angry about it. Cant have it both ways.

        the irony is, now apple is getting lazy as shit, while microsoft is innovating better products.
        i honestly hope it works out well for MS in the long run.

        "their mistake was putting a full desktop OS "

        Not entirely correct. Many tablets and other devices used Windows CE. You should also note that a pitifully small number of Windows tablets were sold in the first decade; not as many as Apple sold in the first day of iPad sales.

        "People always complained Microsoft never did anything exciting and different, and now they have and people are angry about it." Yes. MS is caught between a rock and a hard place and criticised no matter what.

    I have been using Windows 8 since the Developer Preview which I put on a Samsung Series 7 Slate for my Wife. Yes just like how Homer gives presents. I find it a lot faster to do what I used to do and some of the "metro" apps are very useful. Take Remote Desktop in the new Windows 8 world. Previously I had to click on the top bar which I normally hid to get back to my desktop. Under this I can just click that top left corner. So easy to switch.

    But the one thing I wasn't aware of and is probably the most awesome is #1. OMFG That's Awesome!

    "The Secret Start Menu" can also be brought up using Win Key + X when on the desktop.

      It's a great menu too. I use it mostly to access the administrator command prompt, but it has basically everything system-wise you might need.

    Loved windows 8 , until using the refresh option completely screwed up my hard drive after spending hours on the phone to Microsoft and acer the only option was to send it off for a complete brain transplant. When I get it back I have to decide whether to keep windows 7 on it or go back to glorious windows 8

    One thing that doesn't get a lot of attention is Storage Spaces. This essentially allows you to thin provision as much storage as you want, then dynamically add hard drives to a pool to actually store the data as you need it.

      Obviously you do not actually use it.

      Google how brilliant it is before you give the ol sales pitch.

      It is great if you like loosing all your data when you plug in another hdd.

        Before you spout off about things you also don't understand it doesn't wipe your data if you add a drive only on the initial setup..... Don't get me wrong but isn' RAID the same?

    I think ppl's gripes with win 8 is likely to be that they haven't studied the changes (or know enough about them) to move across fully, they're still using it like a win 7 OS with an added metro screen (which they find annoying).
    Coming from XP i had no Win 7 to base previous experience on, so it was ALL a learning curve, probably easier for me as i wasn't comparing so closely.

    Haven't used Win8 yet, due to many bad reviews and "positive" reviews saying how easy it makes things, (i hate that everything these days is being dumbed down for the masses).

    BUT that being said, i will be installing it for the first time in the coming month in preperation for the upcoming surface PRO tablets, and if the cross functionality between tab/PC and xbox is as great as they say, i will welcome win8 on my missus laptop for some beta testing.

    On a side note, Anyone that takes more than 2 hour MAX to reinstall windows and have there PC setup as it was prior, should not be re-installing windows on a PC. (unless its yoru first time doing so in which case, good on you for trying)

      Your last statement is hardly valid. Clean OS reinstall will take a certain amount of time, but application installs and device driver installs can take a lot of time, particularly with reboots as prerequisites for further steps. High end, large scale and enterprise applications in particular can go through long install processes with multiple reboots. Sure, reinstalling Windows doesn't take long at all, but "having their PC setup as it was prior" is entirely dependent on how complex their PC setup was beforehand. It's not possible to make a blanket statement such as you have.

    Windows 8 is awesome.

    I have it bootcamped on my MacPro and I love it.

    I love how much it loves talking to my Lumia 920. No iTunes style bullcrap. It shows me what's on my phone, and lets me simply drag and drop stuff back and forth with a very clean, easy to use UI.

    I even Metro'd my Steam and Origin tiles too, so it all looks clean and uniform.

    I own a Nokia 920 and have been using the OS since Beta.

    It is terrible, bipolar, half finished product that should have never seen the light of day.

      I think you are looking for the Win Phone 8 thread..... Just saying

    I do not like it because it does take longer then windows 7 to get to some quite vital areas.

    e.g. Windows updates. This should be front and centre but know you either have to through desktop to get it or use the SYSTEM search function. Why not just have the app search function search all apps? it would help and be more efficent.

    Having a metro IE and Desktop IE seems redundant to me have one or the other.

    Most people i know are installing the free classic start menu pack if they buy a new computer as it makes it, faster and easier to do the same tasks that most people have always done. Going from all start menu version of windows to windows 7 easy transition. going from any of those to windows 8 - very annoying without the classic menu pack.

    Windows 8 could of done a cross over e.g. go to desktop first and have metro built in e.g. widgets/gadgets but no they decided to have the entire start menu as the first screen.

      You are obviously the market that Win 8 is aimed at....

      It is designed to be more user friendly to the not so smart people.... It does most of the work for you!

      But I'll give you a tip, pull up you charm bar and click settings and the bottom right of the screen will be the text "change pc settings" .... click on that, at the bottom and if you can see through your cataracts Windows update is there ;)

    damn it! #1 is pure awesome!!

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