The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is jam-packed with interesting and well-hidden features.
As part of the research for the next edition of Windows 8 Head Start, I've been digging into Windows 8, looking for shortcuts, secrets, and little bits of magic that aren't obvious at first glance.
In this gallery, I show you a dozen hidden gems you might not find on your own.
You have a choice of two account types in Windows 8. One is a local account, with a username and password, just like Windows 7 and earlier versions. New in Windows 8 is the Microsoft account option.
The advantage of a Microsoft account is that your sign-in credentials are connected to a secure service that allows you to sync settings between PCs.
You can switch between account types at any time by going to PC Settings, selecting the Users tab, and then clicking or tapping the button under your account name.
If you chose a Microsoft account, these options on the Sync your settings tab are enabled by default. (If you use a local account, you can't sync settings - sorry.)
In all, there are 12 separate options shown here, and all are enabled. You might want to disable some of these options. For example, you might want the background on your desktop PC to be different from the background on your notebook, so that you can tell at a glance which is which if you're using a remote connection. In that case, move the Desktop personalization slider to the left (Off) position.
From PC Settings, click Users to manage your account. When you do, you'll see three options under the Sign-in options heading.
If your desktop computer is in a secure location where you're not worried about intruders, consider adding a PIN as an alternative sign-in option. The PIN is a four-digit number, and it exists as an option alongside your (strong) password.
The PIN is used only for unlocking your PC locally. For remote access to shared resources, you still need to provide a password.
If you've used Windows for any length of time, you've probably gotten used to the frustration of finding programs that automatically add themselves to your Startup folder, slowing down the boot process and sucking system resources.
The new Windows 8 Task Manager has a Startup tab that consolidates most auto-start programs into a single, easy-to-find place. You can disable any item by selecting it from the list and clicking the Disable button at the bottom of the dialog box.
Not sure what a startup item is? Right-click its entry in this list and use one of the options on the shortcut menu to find it in Windows Explorer or look it up using your default search engine.
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview includes a Metro style Remote Desktop app that is almost Zen-like in its simplicity. And if you enter Remote in the built-in Apps search, that's the only program that will turn up.
Ah, but the "classic" Remote Desktop app, with its many useful options, is still there. Srarch for Mstsc (short for Microsoft Terminal Services Console) to find it. When you do, you can run it directly, but make sure you pin it to the Start screen or the taskbar, or both, so you can find it easily again.
The Windows 8 Device Manager looks a lot like its counterpart from earlier versions. On the Driver, tab, you can still see the exact version number of the currently installed driver, which is often useful troubleshooting information.
But this version has a new Events tab, which offers a historical view of what you and Windows have done with that device over time. Previously, you would have needed a Windows black belt to find these details in the Event Viewer. Now, you can just click to see when each driver update occurred.
In this example, I can see that Windows installed the original driver for this device on March 20 at 4:47 PM, and I manually updated the driver less than 10 minutes later. The View All Events button takes you to Event Viewer, where a custom view shows all relevant events. No ninja skills required.
This one surprised me, I confess.
By default, when you have two monitors installed, the taskbar is duplicated on both monitors. That's kind of ... wasteful, wouldn't you say?
So right-click either taskbar, click Properties, and look at the options under the Multiple displays heading. Clear the Show taskbar on all displays checkbox if you want only one taskbar on the main display. My preference, though, is to show all taskbar buttons on the main display and on the secondary display show only buttons for programs actually on that display.
If you use multiple monitors, try this. You'll like it.
Speaking of multiple monitors...
Windows 8 finally overcomes one of the most frustrating multi-mon limitations in Windows 7. You can now display a different desktop background on each monitor.
To make it happen, right-click the desktop, choose Personalize, and then click Desktop background to open this dialog box.
Right-click any image to see the very well hidden shortcut menu shown here. Pick one image for Monitor 1, another for Monitor 2, and you're done.
Bonus: If you choose multiple images and set them as a slideshow, you can change the pacing for each monitor so that it's constantly mixing images.
Sometimes, you just want a fresh start. With Windows, a clean install offers instant relief from the strange ailments that can befall a system where you've been messing around with poorly written desktop applications.
Windows 8 offers two quick and easy alternatives to the traditional (and tedious) full install. The first is a Reset, which restores your system to its like-new condition, wiping out all your data files and settings in the process.
The second option, Refresh your PC, is much kinder and gentler. It restores your system like a clean install, but doesn't tamper with your data, your settings, or your Metro style apps. You need to reinstall any programs you installed from downloads or disks, a process made easier by the list that appears on your desktop.
To make the process even easier, you can create a custom refresh image using the command line tool I document in Save a custom refresh point .
Stuff happens. Stuff especially happens to hardware when it's running beta software. Which is why it's a good idea to have a way to repair Things That Go Wrong.
So here's what you do.
1. Get a USB flash drive, at least 256 MB in size, and plug it into an empty port on your Windows 8 PC.
2. Press Windows key + W and type recovery drive in the search box.
3. Click or tap Create a recovery drive and follow the on-screen instructions.
Keep that drive handy. When (not if) you need it, you can boot from it to get to the options shown here;.
After I installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the first thing I looked for was a way to create s system image backup. That's the best way to recover from a true disaster, like a hard drive crash.
If you search Windows 8 for backup, as I did, you might conclude that this essential feature is gone. But it's not. Oddly, though, the only way to find it is to look for Windows 7 file recovery. That search turns up the familiar sequence of dialog boxes shown here. Follow the prompts to save a system image to an external hard drive or to a network location.
You saved a system image. How do you use it?
Here, too, Windows 8 is baffling. If you figured out how to save a system image using the Windows 7 File Recovery tool (as I showed you in the last step), you can restore that image from Windows 8.
You can use the Recovery drive. (You created one, right?) Get to the Advanced options screen and choose System Image Recovery, which leads to the slightly retro dialog box shown here. Pick your saved image file, click Finish, and