Tips, tricks and shortcuts: Ed Bott makes Windows 10 work for you

Need help navigating Windows 10? Let Windows pro Ed Bott be your guide.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Image: ZDNet

  1. How to access Cortana's secret calculator: Who needs Windows Calc? Cortana can do simple math, and with one extra keystroke you can display a full-featured calculator in the Start menu.
  2. Access symbols, emojis, and other special characters: Entering special characters, including foreign currency symbols, fractions, and emoji, is a cumbersome task on most physical keyboards. Use this hidden Windows 10 option to open an on-screen keyboard that puts all those options at your fingertips.
  3. Hunt down battery-draining apps: Buried deep in the Settings app on a Windows 10 laptop or tablet is a list of which apps and desktop programs have been burning through your battery lately. You'll also find special Battery Saver settings that can extend your remaining battery life dramatically.
  4. Reclaim precious disk space with these storage tools: Is your Windows 10 laptop or tablet running low on free space? Built-in storage management tools let you pinpoint exactly which files and apps are to blame. In many cases, you can recover that free space with just a click or two.
  5. Disable annoying app notifications: By default, Windows 10 apps (even desktop programs like Outlook) can interrupt you with notifications. Here's how to take control of those pop-ups and sounds so they don't become a distraction.
  6. Find any setting in seconds: One confusing aspect of Windows 10 is the way it keeps some options in the old-style Control Panel and others in the new Settings app. The good news is you don't have to guess where to look, once you learn these two search secrets.
  7. Defrag secrets for hard disks and SSDs: Should you defrag your solid-state drive? Absolutely not! Here's how to keep conventional hard disks, SSDs, and even virtual disks running at peak efficiency.
  8. Create a recovery drive: If your Windows 10 PC is operating perfectly right now, great. Take advantage of the opportunity to create a recovery drive so you have a way to perform repairs if something ever goes wrong.
  9. Use Cortana's secret dictionary: Need to look up the meaning of a word? There's no need to fumble for a reference book or open your web browser. Just learn this magic word and you can ask Cortana.
  10. Protect your privacy in File Explorer: File Explorer's Quick Access feature is a great time-saver, but it also displays shortcuts to files and folders you've used recently. If you'd rather not advertise that activity, here's how to take back control.
  11. Check the performance of your laptop battery: A powerful but obscure command-line tool lets you see at a glance how your portable PC's battery is performing and how much battery life you can expect from each charge.
  12. Look up your IP address quickly: You don't need to dig deep into Control Panel or use a command line to find your IP address. That information (IPv4 and IPv6) is in Task Manager, if you know where to look.
  13. Mount (and unmount) any ISO file instantly: Disk image files in ISO format have mostly replaced old-fashioned shiny disks. Windows 10 includes the ability to mount any ISO file as a virtual DVD. To unmount the file, you need to use a slightly illogical command.
  14. Point and click to edit the system path variable: Adding a folder to the system path used to require manual editing, with the accompanying risk of mistyping. Windows 10 updates this ancient but still-useful feature so that you can browse a folder list and update the path variable by pointing and clicking.
  15. Stay organized using virtual desktops: You no longer need third-party software to use virtual desktops, now that this feature is included in Windows 10 as part of Task View. Here's how to create extra desktops and move open apps and windows between them.
  16. Switch back to a local account from a Microsoft account: During Setup, Windows 10 encourages you to use a Microsoft account. But if you prefer to use a local account, the option is there. Here's how to switch back easily.
  17. Find out if your PC can run Hyper-V: The Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 10 include Hyper-V virtualization software, but only if your CPU supports a few advanced virtualization features. How do you know if your CPU is up to the Hyper-V challenge? You just need to know where to look.
  18. Temporarily delay the Anniversary Update: Microsoft is about to release a big upgrade to Windows 10. If you're running Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise, you can wait a few months before you install this version. Here's how.
  19. Find your PC's original product key: If you've purchased a new PC with Windows pre-installed in the past few years, chances are it has a product key embedded in its BIOS. With a little PowerShell wizardry, you can find that well-hidden key and learn more about your current licensing status.
  20. Turn off Cortana completely: In the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, version 1607, Microsoft removed Cortana's on-off switch. But it's still there, if you know where to look. Use this tweak to make Windows search strictly local.
  21. Shut down OneDrive completely: In Windows 10, OneDrive is built in. The connections are so tight, in fact, that OneDrive has its own node in File Explorer, with no obvious way to remove it. But the options to disconnect OneDrive are there if you know where to look. Here are full instructions.
  22. Solve network problems with a one-click reset: The Windows 10 Anniversary Update includes a new feature that lets you see your network status at a glance. If there's a problem, you can run a troubleshooter or do a complete reset, with a single click.
  23. Create a perfect background for your desktop or lock screen: Personalizing your desktop background or lock screen has always involved a guessing game: Will your favorite personal photo fit the screen, or will it be stretched and distorted? A hidden feature in the new Photos app guarantees success.
  24. Squeeze hours of extra life from your laptop battery: The new Battery Saver feature is set to turn on automatically when your battery capacity dips below a preset level. But why wait? Turn this feature on manually to get the most out of your system when you're away from a power outlet.
  25. Change UEFI firmware settings or start in Safe Mode: Who can remember the magic keystroke combo that unlocks your PC's UEFI firmware settings screen? Use the hidden Advanced Options menu instead; it lets you choose advanced startup options for maintenance or troubleshooting.
  26. Hide unwanted drivers in Windows Update: Windows 10's new approach to updates won't allow you to refuse a security or reliability patch. But you can use a special troubleshooter to say no to a driver delivered through Windows Update. Here's how.
  27. See all your calendars at a glance in agenda view: Just like earlier versions, Windows 10 shows the date and time at the right side of the taskbar. But Windows 10 adds a new trick: Click the date to open a flyout that shows your agenda at a glance, bringing multiple calendars together.
  28. Pin your favorite folders to the Start menu: Windows 10 includes a well-hidden option that gives you quick access to common folders. This secret shortcut list appears on the left of the Start menu. Here's how to customize that list.
  29. Start in Safe Mode and use other advanced startup settings: Safe Mode is the most important of the classic Windows troubleshooting tools. In Windows 10 on modern PCs, the old F8 shortcut doesn't work. Here's how to get to Safe Mode quickly.
  30. Toggle file extensions and show hidden files with a single click: Tired of digging through dialog boxes to show file extensions and hidden files? Try adding those options from the ribbon to the Quick Access Toolbar so they're always visible.
  31. Move your synced OneDrive files to a new location: There's no obvious way to relocate the folder where OneDrive saves your synced files, but it can be done. Here's the secret, in five steps.
  32. How to enable the built-in Administrator account (and why you shouldn't): In Windows 10, the built-in Administrator account is disabled. You can open a Command Prompt window and enable it with two commands, but think twice before you go down that road.
  33. Keep your Microsoft account secure with 2-factor authentication: Signing in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account is convenient, unless your password is stolen or phished. Protect yourself by turning on additional security features.
  34. Windows 10 tip: Jump through your list of installed appsThe Windows 10 Start menu includes a handy scrolling list of all the apps and desktop programs you've installed. It also offers a hidden alphabetical index. Here's how to make that index visible.

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