A power user's guide to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

A power user's guide to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Summary: The more I use Windows 8, the more I like it. In this post, and the accompanying gallery. I want to share some of the small but useful hidden shortcuts, surprises, and secrets that only reveal themselves when you roll up your sleeves and use the new OS every day.

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The more I use Windows 8, the more I like it.

It’s still a beta, of course, but it’s been fast and reliable enough for me to use day in and day out.

After more than a month of daily use, the new Start and search screens have become comfortable. Yes, the new design is a big change, one that takes some time (and a bit of unlearning) to adapt to. And yes, there are minor annoyances. The shortcut in the lower left corner of the display that leads to the Start screen, for example, desperately needs some fine-tuning. I have no doubt that Microsoft has heard the intense feedback and will make the necessary adjustments in the final release.

In this post, and the accompanying gallery. I want to share some of the little shortcuts, surprises, and secrets that only reveal themselves when you roll up your sleeves and use the new OS every day. These are things you might not discover on your own.

Gallery: 12 shortcuts and secrets for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

I’ve come up with a dozen items, divided into four categories.

User accounts

One of the biggest changes in Windows 8 is the addition of a second account type, as a complement to the traditional local user account.

If you choose a Microsoft account instead of a local account, you use an email address as your user name. That unlocks the option to sync your settings between PCs—handy if you have Windows 8 running on multiple devices.

Regardless of which account type you choose, you can add a four-digit numeric PIN to unlock your PC. This doesn’t replace the strong password associated with your user account. It just makes unlocking your PC more convenient. Using a PIN makes it easier for someone who has physical access to a PC to access its contents, so this option is best reserved for home PCs, where physical security isn’t an issue.

Power-user conveniences

The average user rarely goes past the desktop. Power users, though, know where all the little configuration utilities are available.

One extremely useful change in Windows 8 is the addition of a Startup tab in Task Manager. You no longer need to dig around in the registry or use Msconfig to undo the changes that ill-mannered programs make when you install them.

The quintessential power user’s tool is the Remote Desktop client, which you can use to connect to another Windows desktop or server. In the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, there’s an extremely limited Metro style Remote Desktop client, but the “classic” Remote Desktop connection client is still there. I explain how to find it.

And hardware geeks will appreciate one small addition to the dialog box for an installed device, which lists the driver history for that device.

Multiple monitors

If you sit in front of a desktop for hours every working day, adding a second (or third) monitor can dramatically improve your productivity.

The big change to the Windows 8 Start and search screens means equally big changes to the way a multi-monitor setup works. (The new Start screen, for example, shows up only on one display, while desktop apps get to use both.) Explaining how multi-monitor works is worth a post on its own. In this gallery, I point out two long-overdue and very welcome small changes.

First, you can customize how how the taskbar works in multi-monitor setups. By default, the taskbar is duplicated on both monitors. For my configuration I changed the settings so that the secondary monitor only shows taskbar buttons for programs actually running on that display.

And second, you can finally set separate custom backgrounds for each monitor, although the option isn’t easy to find.

Backup and recovery

Some of the biggest and potentially most confusing changes in Windows 8 involve backup and recovery options.

Every beta tester knows the value of a clean install. You also know what a PITA the process can be. In Windows 8, you can use the Refresh your PC option to do a clean install without wiping out data files and user settings. Use this in conjunction with the option to create a custom refresh point to turn a process that used to take hours into one that literally takes 20 minutes or less.

An essential part of your Windows 8 toolkit should be a Recovery drive—a bootable USB flash drive that you can use to repair a broken installation or restore a backup. This option replaces the older disk-based option (although you can still use a CD or DVD if you need it).

And finally, I uncovered the answer to a question that I’ve been asked many times. What happened to the option to save a system image backup? It’s still there, although it’s well hidden and confusingly labeled. Fortunately, the option to restore your system from a saved image is a little easier to find.

For the details about each of these tips, see the accompanying gallery: 12 shortcuts and secrets for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

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Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Windows

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  • A power user's guide to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

    Great guide! For those who haven't tried this yet I highly encourage you to download and install it now to become familiar with it because once its released its going to be the OS everyone will be running. Stay ahead of the curve.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Utter tosh.

      When you still have corporate XP users, with the upgrade skipping directly to Windows 7 and missing out Vista. You must not know history, or even reality to come out with utter nonsense such as

      " once its released its going to be the OS everyone will be running"

      If it's not true now, it's not true never. Care to prove me wrong?
      Bozzer
      • The follow up question

        [b]If it's not true now, it's not true never. Care to prove me wrong?[/b]

        To this is can you prove Loverock Davidson wrong? I do not like Windows 8 at all but I can't say he's wrong or right.
        NonFanboy
      • You are not wrong

        Corporations will skip 8, users on good PC's with Windows 7 will skip Windows 8.

        For those unlucky people that cant afford a Mac and have to buy a new PC (consumer) they will be stuck with Windows 8. At least until someone can downgrade them to Windows 7.
        JeveSobs
      • If it's not true now, it's not true never.

        So what you are saying is that if it is not true now, it will be true in future. "It is not true never means it is not true, never. Or it is never false. Just like "isnot null" means there is something. Maybe what you meant to say was "its not true ever". But I think it is kind of silly that all these so called "power users" and computer literate types cannot acccept or learn how to change a little. I, like the author have been using 8 for a while now and find a lot to like. There are some things to get used to but I can now scoot around the OS with a trackpoint or a mouse easier than I can with a mouse in Win 7 or xp. People, there are still a plethora of very powerful keyboard shortcuts. And once get hang of how it is set up, using a mouse is also very efficient. And there is no reason why even many a desktop app can not be easily modified to also include true touch capability. I honestly can see very little difference between the start menu and the task bar as you can pin just about anything you want to the new start menu and have ability to group them and organize them much easier than on a desktop or task bar or that thing that Apple uses --the launching pad --or whatever.
        brickengraver
      • MS used the Start screen to extend taskbar functionaity

        @brickengraver
        Their telemetry from millions of users showed that most were favouring the taskbar over the Start menu since Win7 (as MS designed for and expected).

        I suspect the only people having a real problem with Win8 will be the reactionary, self-proclaimed power users. Most will just see that it is new and learn some of the new things enough to get by (rather like they do with a new DVR.
        Patanjali
      • i dont understand the whole desktop wars thing...

        I am quite certain there are more copies of linux out there than there are windows or OSX. Linux comes in routers, tvs, settops, consoles, watches, toys, clocks, and they want to be king of the desktop too?! Linux is great, I love linux and use it daily. But ive still never installed linux without driver or stability issues. I haven't had driver or stability issues on windows since '98. There is no better or worse here, they're DIFFERENT operating systems. I don't want to spend 40 gigs of my ssd on windows, but if i have problems with linux, my grandma will too, that greatly limits market share. As for OSX... those fascists can go (*&^$ themselves. :-P
        shadfurman
    • going to be the OS everyone will be running

      or not.
      JeveSobs
      • I wonder

        How kong it will take Windows 8 to beat usage share of both Osx and Linux combined, probably only a month or two as was the case with previous Windows versions including Vista.
        sjaak327
      • not the point...

        @sjaak327 - how long will it take to beat XP or windows 7 numbers.. or even vista numbers.. likely years if ever.. that's the point... businesses WILL NOT jump on windows 8.. i think anyone who thinks about it for 5 seconds understands that.. just too much retraining for no return on that investment.. there is no compelling business reason for businesses to adopt windows 8..
        theFunkDoctorSpoc
      • Wonder all you want

        [i]How kong it will take Windows 8 to beat usage share of both Osx and Linux combined, probably only a month or two as was the case with previous Windows versions including Vista.[/i]

        Well if you collude with the OEMs to pre-install Windows on 99% of the PCs out there, you'd win by default as well.
        ScorpioBlack
      • That old fairy tale again, SB?

        Lets see, OEM's want to sell computers, so the smart choice is to install Linux, an OS that the majority have shown don't want?

        No colluding needed, OEM's go to MS looking for an OS, as they want to sell computers, not have them sitting on their warehouse shelves.
        William Farrel
      • Except that the improved power management allows better power idling ...

        @theFunkDoctorSpoc
        ... which may save a tonne of power bill money (and many tonnes of CO2).
        Patanjali
      • Linux on netbook blew away that argument

        @ScorpioBlack!
        PEOPLE chose Windows, not just accepted what was loaded.

        Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it, or to fail again!
        Patanjali
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        lubnapipo
    • Virus on my computer but fixed it with this website!

      Yeah you're right, the guide is really good! The backup and recovery article you put here was really good thanks! I dont have a problem with my computer now but i bookmarked this page so that when i do (because i know i will soon) i will be able to fix it! I have a website that helped me out with a virus for those of you Windows 8 users. Its really helpful well it was to met at least, here it is virus-tools.com it has step by step instructions on how to kill a virus.
      April M
  • User Accounts

    Something I haven't seen mentioned by anyone is the ability to connect a domain account to a Microsoft account. When you connect to a domain you don't want to switch the user to a Microsoft account so instead it give you the option to connect the two together. This gives you the ability to log into your domain and the ability to sync your settings to other machines.

    I also agree, the more you use it the more you like it (and the harder to go back to a previous version of windows).
    Row5
    • Good suggestion

      Will look into that. I suspect most people testing Windows 8 in domain environments are doing so as part of TAP or other invite-only betas.
      Ed Bott
      • works nicely

        It's nicely done; there are GPOs to control what syncs out from the domain-joined PC, domain credentials never sync out, according to MS. So you get the useful bits without the security worries.
        mary.branscombe
    • Yep

      And that linking works fine, been using it both at my home domain and at work (yes I use Windows 8 as my main os at work).

      There are certainly a few problems (hyper-v and exchange admin tools don't work) but these are no real biggies with remote powershell and scvmm that do work.

      Incidentially, the metro rdp client does have one killer feature worth mentioning, it utilising tabs in the same way as ie10, very very usefull if you rdp into multiple systems at the same time.
      sjaak327