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Personalizing Your Windows Experience

  • Mike Halsey
Chapter

Abstract

Windows has always been one of the most customizable operating systems available, which is one of the things that has made it so popular over the years. Indeed, a whole industry of third-party products is well established with companies providing ever more imaginative ways for you to personalize your copy of Windows.

Keywords

Power Plan Administrative Tool Personalization Page Screen Saver Desktop User 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Windows has always been one of the most customizable operating systems available, which is one of the things that has made it so popular over the years. Indeed, a whole industry of third-party products is well established with companies providing ever more imaginative ways for you to personalize your copy of Windows.

Windows Vista introduced the Aero Glass interface. Here was something that had a much nicer appearance than the Teletubby blue of XP or the battleship gray of Windows of old, so fewer people felt the need to customize their Windows installation.

When Aero Glass was further refined in Windows 7, changing the look of Windows to a metallic or movie-style theme, it became even less likely that people would personalize the desktop.

Windows 8.1 has the new Start screen and apparently fewer personalization options than the desktop. There are fewer wallpaper and color options, and a sea of colored squares and rectangles.

So how can you personalize your copy of Windows 8.1? What options exist to allow you to change the desktop in imaginative ways? What hacks and third-party software exist to change the look of Windows 8.1 by perhaps customizing the taskbar or even bringing back the Start menu?

You’ll be pleased to hear that Windows 8.1 is just as customizable as its predecessors. In this chapter, I’ll show you how to give it a look and feel that best suits you.

Personalizing Windows 8.1

Again, Microsoft doesn’t really allow a great deal of personalization with the new user interface (UI). When you first install Windows 8.1, you’re asked to choose a color for the background—but there are other ways you can make the Start screen your own.

The main personalization options for the Start screen are in the PC Settings’ Personalize section. Here you have three tabs across the top of the page: Lock Screen, Start Screen, and Account Picture. In the following sections, you’ll look at these primary options and other ways that you can personalize Windows 8.1.

Personalizing the Lock Screen

You personalize the lock screen in PC Settings by clicking PC & Devices, and the Lock Screen settings will be highlighted straight away. You might also see Lock Screen in the Top Settings section when you enter PC Settings. You can change the main background picture on the lock screen, but there’s much more you can do with it besides, and I’ll show you what else you can do shortly.

Figure 9-1 shows a selection of standard photographs you can choose from for your lock screen image. You can also click the Browse button to choose an image from your computer or network attached storage.
Figure 9-1.

Personalizing the Windows 8.1 lock screen

You can also turn your lock screen into a picture slide show. To do this, activate the Slide Show switch and then you can add multiple picture folders to the slide show. The options here are quite comprehensive, allowing you to let Windows decide which pictures to display (sort of a shuffle mode), when the lock screen photo slide show appears, and whether it turns off. If you have a low-power PC such as a Surface, this option enables you to use the PC as a digital photo frame.

More interesting are the lock screen apps. You can choose from installed apps that are capable of displaying live information on the lock screen. Not every app is capable of this, but those that are greatly increase the functionality of the lock screen.

To examine just how useful this can be, let’s have a look at earlier Windows versions and the way we use our computers. In every earlier version of Windows, the lock screen didn’t provide any information except which user was logged on.

With Windows 8.1, the lock screen always provides the time and date. It can also show additional information, such as the number of unread e-mails, the number of instant messages you have received, the current weather, and much more. You can also have an alarm app shown on the lock screen, and Windows 8.1 ships with such an app. This makes low–power Windows RT devices suitable as alarm clocks as they will wake from sleep to sound your morning alarm.

Tip

At the bottom of the lock screen options is one to allow the camera to be used with a downward swipe on the screen (as opposed to the upward swipe to unlock the PC). This enables you to use the camera quickly without having to unlock the PC.

As I mentioned earlier, not every app is compatible with the lock screen, and some are capable of displaying only limited data. This includes the e-mail app because you don’t necessarily want people who are walking past your computer to be able to read the names of the senders and the subjects of the e-mails you have waiting.

You can add up to seven apps to the lock screen in Windows 8.1. They always display in the bottom left of the screen under the date and time.

Some apps provide much more information, including the calendar. It is very useful for providing details about your afternoon schedule, seeing what your friends are doing on social networks, or informing others that you’ll be at the dentist for the next hour—so that they can mess around with your computer.

You can only have one of the seven apps display additional information (this is optional). If you want to turn off this feature so that you see only the basic apps, click the Detailed Status app and select Don’t display detailed status on the lock screen.

Tip

You can remove any or all of the apps from the lock screen by clicking them in the Personalize page and selecting Don’t show quick status here from the options.

Personalizing the Start Screen

There are a great many ways to personalize the Windows 8.1 Start screen. Changing the color and background picture are just two. Depending on how you use Windows, you may want to use the Start screen in one of several ways, so I’ll show you how to configure it for different scenarios. Let’s begin with the color and background.

To access the personalization options for the Start screen, open the Settings charm (see Figure 9-2). You see a personalization option near the top right of your screen; click it.
Figure 9-2.

You access the personalization options for the Start screen from the Settings charm

The main options are to select a background image. In the top of the personalization panel are the background images from which you can choose; notice that the last of these is your desktop wallpaper. This option isn’t quite as animated as some of the standard Start screen backgrounds, but it can make the transition between the Start screen and desktop less jarring. These images are specially designed to pan sideways as you scroll around a crowded Start screen, and some of them include animations. Beneath the images are the color options. As you change the background image and color options, a live display shows you exactly how the new image/color combination will look (see Figure 9-3).
Figure 9-3.

Changing the appearance of the Start screen

The Background color and Accent color options give you a tremendous amount of control over the way Windows 8.1 looks, and they can also make things very easy to see for people who need high-contrast color schemes. The accent color is the color that highlights items on your screen and in apps. There is no need to press an OK or Apply button—just clicking a background object and moving the color slider is enough to apply your selections.

So what are these mythical Start screen scenarios of which I spoke, and how can you personalize the Start screen to make it suitable for both app and hard-core desktop users? To examine this in greater detail, let’s split it into specific scenarios. For this scenario, I assume that a person is happy to use both the apps and the Windows desktop, and to switch between them.

The Switcher

The Start screen offers compelling new ways to use Windows. If you have a touchscreen laptop or a professional-grade tablet, you might want to use both the apps and the desktop programs. This would make you a switcher, someone who wants to use both Windows 8.1 interface types equally.

The Start screen allows you to arrange your tiles and icons into groups that you can name. Tiles and icons can be moved around the Start screen by simply dragging and dropping. If you want to create a new group, move slowly when you are between two groups (or at the very left or right of the Start screen), and a vertical colored bar appears. If you drop an icon onto this bar, you create another group.

To name a group, you need to zoom out of the Start screen, either with a pinch-out touch gesture or by clicking the bottom right of the Start screen. In this zoomed-out view, you can right-click (or tap and drag downward) on a group; from the App bar, an option to name the group appears. Naming groups can prove handy, as seen in Figure 9-4.
Figure 9-4.

The switcher’s Start screen

The Intensive Desktop User

Let’s say you’re not especially fussy about apps because you use your computer for work and you have enough desktop software anyway. In Windows 8.1, you can start the operating system directly to the desktop, and I will show you how to do this later in this chapter. However, the Start screen offers some advantages, not the least of which is being able to pin a great many more programs to it than you can to the taskbar and to group them more effectively and make them larger and easier to click. You can hide any app or program from the Start screen by right-clicking it or touching and holding it (you can select multiple apps this way, too). On the App bar, you will see an option to unpin the app from the Start screen.

Tip

Don’t forget that you can bring up the All Apps view by clicking the small down arrow near the bottom left of the Start screen or touching and dragging upward anywhere in a blank space on the Start screen. From All Apps, you can repin apps and programs to the Start screen or just run software you don’t use very often.

By unpinning your apps, you can turn the Start screen into a very organized alternative to the former Windows Start menu, with all your programs and software organized into groups (see Figure 9-5). You may also want to name these groups to make programs easier to find using the method I described for switchers.
Figure 9-5.

An intensive desktop user’s Start screen

The Light Desktop User

Many people don’t use very many desktop programs, so their Start screens might look quite barren and dark. If you are one of these people and you’re not really interested in using apps, you can scale up everything on the Start screen to make things easier to see and click, and so that your desktop software icons take up more space.

To do this, you need to go into PC Settings and turn on one of the usability settings. Under the PC’s & Devices and then Display controls, turn on the option to Change the size of apps on displays that can support it (see Figure 9-6). Note, however, that this option works only on screens with larger resolutions, such as full HD.
Figure 9-6.

Changing the size of tiles on the Start screen

The advantage of this is that it affects only the Start screen, not your desktop, on which you scale up everything separately. As you can see from Figure 9-7, it has quite a profound effect on the Start screen.
Figure 9-7.

The Start screen of a desktop-only light user

The Work/Life Balance User

One of the most compelling things that the new Start screen offers people who use their computers for both home and work is a unique way to separate the two. By using the desktop for work and the Start screen for leisure time, you can completely ignore all your desktop programs, such as Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Excel, and just use the app equivalents for play.

This makes sense in a lot of ways because apps are extremely different from their desktop equivalents—especially the Mail and Calendar apps, which can be set up for different e-mail accounts from your desktop e-mail software if you use an Exchange account for work.

You also have access to different photo viewers, video players, and music players. You might be surprised at how it feels as if you’re using a completely different computer in the evening from what you’re using during the day at work.

To set this up, you’ll want to make the desktop tile the very last thing on your Start screen because you don’t want to click it by accident when you’re not at work (see Figure 9-8). It’s fine at the far right of the Start screen anyway because it’s extremely easy to remain working on the Windows 8.1 desktop all day without ever having to see the Start screen (something I will talk about later in this chapter).
Figure 9-8.

The work/life balance user

The Widget Dashboard

There are those who really don’t want to know about the new UI, don’t want to use the apps, and aren’t interested in the Start screen, but who are interested in some of the new features in Windows 8.1, such as Windows To Go or Hyper-V.

It’s possible to turn the Start screen into a widget dashboard—reminiscent of the widget dashboard in Apple’s OS X desktop operating system (see Figure 9-9).
Figure 9-9.

The widget dashboard

To turn the Start screen into a widget dashboard, you first need to remove all the tiles and icons from the Start screen that you won’t use or that can’t give you live information. You can then scale up the Start screen using the display scaling feature that I described for light desktop users.

This will turn the Start screen into a dashboard with live widgets that can provide you with information on everything from e-mail and calendars, to foreign currency exchange rates, stock market figures, the local weather, and more.

Tip

Even if this type of user is unlikely to be much interested in apps, it’s a good idea to look in the marketplace occasionally to see what new apps are available that have Live Tile displays.

Displaying Administrative Tools on the Start Screen

The Windows 8.1 Start screen doesn’t show any of the administrative tools. Sure, you can access most of them by pressing Win+X to bring up a menu, but there is another way to display them on the Start screen.

To display the administrative tools on the Start screen, open the Settings charm from the Start screen (it doesn’t work from the desktop). You see Tiles at the top right of the screen; click it.

You see an option to show the administrative tools (see Figure 9-10). Turning it on automatically displays a wide range of new icons to the All Apps view (see Figure 9-11), and if you don’t want them all, you can still right-click individual tiles (and groups of tiles) to hide them. Here if you want any displayed on the Start screen you can select them. From the App bar, click Pin to Start.
Figure 9-10.

Displaying the administrative tools on the Start screen

Figure 9-11.

The full display of administrative tools

Managing Notification “Toasts”

Toasts in Windows 8.1 are the notifications that pop up in the top right of your screen. Depending how many apps you have installed, they can become intrusive, but there are several ways to manage them in Windows 8.1. The first method is to temporarily silence them. Open the Settings Charm and in the bottom right of the screen click the Notifications icon. Here you can hide toasts for 1, 3, or 8 hours.

If you want to silence some or all toasts completely, in PC Settings navigate to Search & Apps and then Notifications. Here you have several options (see Figure 9-12).
Figure 9-12.

There are several ways to silence toasts

  1. 1.

    The first option, Show app notifications, allows you to silence all toasts altogether. If you don’t want to do this, additional options exist such as turning off notification sounds and disabling notifications on the lock screen.

     
  2. 2.

    Perhaps of more interest is the Quiet Hours feature, which allows you to automatically silence all notifications between certain times of the day, such as at night if you use your PC as a bedside alarm or during work hours if you simply cannot afford to be disturbed (like I was when writing this book).

     
  3. 3.

    Below this is a list of all the apps you have installed; here you can disable toasts from individual apps one at a time, allowing you to very selectively decide from which apps you want to receive notifications.

     

That Syncing Feeling

Windows 8.1 includes a facility that can synchronize many of your settings, configuration options, and more besides. You need to be logged in to the PC with a Microsoft account for this to happen, and it’s very controllable if you don’t want settings to be synced (for example, to separate home and work PCs). You access these settings in PC Settings under SkyDrive and then Sync Settings (see Figure 9-13).
Figure 9-13.

You can syncronize lots of settings in Windows 8.1

The different settings type that can be synced are as follows:
  • Personalization, which are your settings for the look and feel of both the Start screen and the desktop, including the locations of live tiles—though not desktop and taskbar icons.

  • App settings, which are the specific configuration options you have set for apps.

  • Other settings including your Internet Explorer favorites and open tabs (more on this shortly), your passwords, ease of access, and other settings.

Each one can be individually turned on and off so you can, for example, choose not to synchronize your Start screen tiles layout between your Surface tablet, which has a low resolution screen and a three–row tile layout, and your new 4 KB display with considerably more rows of tiles.

Syncing Internet Explorer Tabs

I mentioned that you can synchronize your web browser tabs between different Windows 8.1 computers, but in use you might not notice this working because when you return to a PC, the tabs will be just as you left them and won’t have changed. When you open the address bar and tabs view in Internet Explorer, you see the word Tabs on the left of your screen. Clicking it displays a drop-down menu of all your Windows 8.1 PCs and you can select another PC to work with the tabs from that PC (see Figure 9-14).
Figure 9-14.

You can access browser tabs from other PCs

Personalizing the Windows 8.1 Desktop

If you’ve been using Windows 7, you’re already familiar with the Windows 8.1 desktop personalization options because little has changed. The Start button is gone, but I’ll talk about alternatives later in this chapter. Everything else is accessed in the same way.

The main desktop personalization options are accessed by right-clicking (or touching and holding) any empty space on the desktop and then selecting Personalize from the options that appear.

There have been a few changes, including the themes that change the color of your windows to complement your desktop wallpaper.

Personalizing the Desktop Wallpaper

As with Windows 7, you can choose themes with desktop backgrounds. You can also manually select several backgrounds and have Windows rotate them at a set frequency. Windows 8.1 can also change the color of the surrounding Windows furniture to match.

There are two ways to do this. The easiest way is to go to the Personalization page and click a theme that is overlaid by a color swatch (see Figure 9-15). A foldout card shows a range of colors overlaid onto the background image(s) of the theme.
Figure 9-15.

The desktop Personalization options

I’ll come back to this automatic color-changer shortly, but first let’s have a look at changing the background image.

You can change the desktop wallpaper by clicking Desktop Background at the bottom of the Personalization page. This brings up a new page that has several different elements to it.

In the main part of the window are the currently available wallpapers. By default, you see all the wallpapers that ship as standard with Windows 8.1, including those that are for dual-screen setups.

In the Picture Location section, you can choose from several commonly or recently used picture locations. You can also click the Browse button to search for any picture (or pictures) on your computer to use as wallpapers.

At the bottom of the window is an option that changes how the wallpaper fills your screen (see Figure 9-16). The default option is to have the wallpaper fill the screen so that you don’t have any areas of black. There are other options to consider, however, especially if you are using a 4:3 ratio screen.
Figure 9-16.

Changing the desktop wallpaper

If you have multiple wallpapers selected, you can decide how often you want Windows 8.1 to change the desktop wallpaper. The options range from every ten seconds to once per day. You can check the Change picture every: box to randomize the order in which they appear.

Tip

Graphics can adversely affect your battery if you are using a laptop or other portable device. If you have your desktop wallpaper set to change regularly, there is an option at the bottom of the Desktop Background screen to pause the changing of the desktop when running on battery power.

Personalizing the Window Color

I mentioned that Windows 8.1 can automatically change the color of the windows on your desktop to complement the color of your desktop wallpaper. Clicking Window Color and Appearance on the Personalization page displays these options.

The Window Color and Appearance page features a color swatch and cards in various colors. This signifies that the window color will be changed and managed automatically by Windows 8.1.

Elsewhere in these options are 15 other window colors, each of which can be modified by sliding the color intensity slider. If you can’t find the color you want (perhaps you are after a rich brown, for example), you can click Show color mixer to create your own custom color by setting hue, saturation, and brightness levels (see Figure 9-17).
Figure 9-17.

Changing the window color

Personalizing Sounds in Windows 8.1

It’s much less common for people to personalize the sounds in Windows. There are modifications you might like to make, however, especially if you’ve never been a fan of the critical-error “donk!” sound, or if you want to turn the Windows startup sound on or off.

You can most easily access the sounds in Windows 8.1 by right-clicking the volume icon on the far right of the desktop taskbar and selecting Sounds from the options. You can also go to the Personalization page to display the Sound dialog (see Figure 9-18).
Figure 9-18.

Changing the sound options

You can easily and quickly turn off all Windows sounds by selecting No Sounds from the Sound Scheme drop-down list or you can modify any individual Windows sound in the list.

You can even use your own sounds in place of the standard sounds any type of playable sound file can be used, including MP3s. After you choose your sounds and create your own customized sound scheme, click the Save As button. You can share your personalized sound with friends and family as well as keep a copy as a backup.

Choosing a Screen Saver

The screen saver options are last on the Personalization page. Unlike earlier versions of Windows, Windows 8.1 does not use a screen saver as the default setting, but instead turns off the display after ten minutes (see Figure 9-19) because screen savers are necessary only for older CRT monitors (a fuller explanation follows).
Figure 9-19.

Choosing a screen saver

Some screen savers come with additional settings. You can preview the screen saver before turning it on by clicking the Preview button.

There is also an option to control the amount of time the computer is inactive (i.e., not using the keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen) before the screen saver switches on.

By default, Windows 8.1 returns you to the desktop when you return to the PC, but for extra security, you can check the option to instead return you to the logon screen.

Note

Do you need a screen saver? Screen savers are necessary for older cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, in which a beam of electrons is fired at a phosphor layer inside the screen glass to display a picture. If a single electron beam fires for too long at the same patch of phosphor, the image could end up physically burned into the phosphor layer—an effect called phosphor burn in. Modern flat-panel monitors do not suffer from this because they use individual pixel lights instead of an electron gun, so Windows 8.1 is set by default to simply turn off the screen instead. This saves a considerable amount of power over the lifetime of your computer.

Changing the Desktop Icons

In the top left of the Personalization page is the option to Change desktop icons. To be honest, I love the argument about whether people have icons on their desktop or not. Many people like a desktop with icons and folders scattered over it, whereas other people, including myself, like a clean desktop. Frankly, this is why some of the arguments surrounding the new Start screen have been so intense.

So let me be fair here. The Desktop Icon Settings dialog is where you can both turn on and off desktop icons in Windows 8.1. You can turn on and off the icons for the computer, your user folder, your network, the recycle bin, and the Control Panel (see Figure 9-20).
Figure 9-20.

Changing the desktop icons

You can also restore default icons or prevent desktop themes from automatically changing the icons to custom icons.

Changing the Mouse Pointer

Also in the Personalization page is the option to Change mouse pointers, which opens the Mouse Properties dialog. The mouse properties options, including those for mouse pointers (see Figure 9-21), are much more useful than you might think. I want to look at each tab in this window to explain what it does.
Figure 9-21.

Changing the mouse options

  • Buttons tab: Used for left-handed people to switch the left and right mouse buttons. It also swaps the buttons on a laptop trackpad. You can slow down or speed up the double-click speed, which is extremely useful for people who can’t click as quickly. ClickLock allows you to avoid having to hold down the mouse button to drag items around the screen. These last two features are excellent for people with weaker motor skills.

  • Pointers tab: Includes options to change the mouse pointer to a variety of high-visibility options, which is excellent for people who have difficulty seeing or reading the computer screen. There is more information about this in  Chapter 10, in which I show you how to change the mouse and keyboard options in detail.

  • Pointer options: Allow you to turn on useful features such as mouse trail so that you can see the mouse moving across the screen more easily. You can also display the position of the mouse by pressing the Ctrl key on your keyboard. You can slow down the mouse speed (or speed it up for gaming). You also set the mouse to automatically snap to the closest button. This is a great feature for those with weaker motor skills.

  • Wheel tab: Contains the vertical and (if your mouse supports it) horizontal scrolling options for Windows 8.1. If you do not have a wheel on your mouse, you might not see this tab.

  • Hardware tab: Allows you to view information on the hardware driver and driver settings for your mouse.

Tip

If you find Windows 8.1 difficult to use because of challenges with eyesight or motor skills, changing your mouse settings can help make Windows 8.1 more accessible and usable.

Personalizing the Taskbar

I would imagine your biggest question about the taskbar is how to get the Start menu back. Okay, I’ll get to that, but I want to talk about other ways to personalize the taskbar first.

Access the taskbar personalization options (see Figure 9-22) by right-clicking the taskbar and selecting Properties from the options.
Figure 9-22.

The Taskbar and Navigation properties dialog

The options allow you to automatically hide the taskbar so that you can take full advantage of your screen when running programs. You can also lock the taskbar to prevent toolbars (if you use any) from being moved around, and you can change how icons appear on the taskbar.

The Navigation tab includes options for changing the Windows 8.1 startup behavior and more. I will explain these features later in this chapter.

Tip

Aero Peek was a feature in Windows 7 that would hide all your windows when you moved your mouse to the bottom right of your desktop. This feature is turned off by default in Windows 8.1, but you can turn it back on in the Taskbar and Navigation properties dialog.

Tweaking the Taskbar

The three views available of the taskbar are useful, but I’ve always felt there was something missing—the ability to have separate buttons for running instances of a program without the text labeling (see Figures 9-23 and 9-24). It’s possible to add this feature, however, with a simple registry change.

One thing to note is that whenever you make a change to the Windows registry, you should create a backup copy of the registry first. You can do this in the registry (from the File menu) by clicking the Export option. If a problem occurs, you can later restore this backup by clicking Import from the File menu in the Registry Editor.
Figure 9-23.

Combining buttons into stacks (with labels hidden)

Figure 9-24.

Never combining buttons

  1. 1.

    Right-click the taskbar and select Properties.

     
  2. 2.

    In the pane that appears, make sure the Taskbar buttons option is set to Never combine and then click OK.

     
  3. 3.

    Open the Registry Editor by searching for regedit at the Start screen.

     
  4. 4.

    Navigate to Computer ➤ HKEY_CURRENT_USER Control Panel ➤ Desktop ➤ WindowMetrics (see Figure 9-25).

     
Figure 9-25.

Personalizing the taskbar using the Registry Editor

  1. 5.

    Right-click in the right pane. From the options that appear, click New.

     
  2. 6.

    Click String Value.

     
  3. 7.

    Name the string value MinWidth and press Enter.

     
  4. 8.

    Right-click MinWidth. From the options, select Modify.

     
  5. 9.

    Change the value data to 54 and press OK.

     
  6. 10.

    Close the Registry Editor.

     

You should restart the computer. Your taskbar buttons are now separated for different instances of a program, and the text labels are gone.

Personalizing Jump Lists

If you click the Jump Lists tab in the Taskbar and Navigation properties dialog, you can change the number of recent items that appear in Jump Lists for taskbar buttons. This is useful if you share your computer (and the same user account) with others and you want your file activity to remain private.

Personalizing the System Tray

By default, Windows 8.1 hides all your system tray icons and their notifications. Some people want to be able to see the tray icons, however, and you can turn them on or further hide icons. Click the small white up arrow to open the system tray. Click Customize (you can also click Notification Area Icons in the Control Panel). You can also right-click near the system tray or on the clock and select Customize notification icons from the options.

In the Notification Area Icons window (see Figure 9-26), you can change the options for all the installed software for which a system tray icon already appears. The options are these:
  • Show icon and notification

  • Hide icon and notifications

  • Only show notifications

Figure 9-26.

Customizing the system tray

Completely hiding icons and notifications is useful if you find a particular piece of software annoying, but showing icons and notifications makes the system tray more like the one in Windows XP (if you like that sort of thing).

Perhaps you really want to minimize things on the desktop and don’t want to even see the standard notification icons or the clock. You can turn these icons off completely by right-clicking in the notifications area or on the clock and selecting Properties from the options. The System Icons screen shown in Figure 9-27 appears.
Figure 9-27.

Turning the system icons on or off

Bear in mind, however, that if you turn off the icon for the Action Center, you won’t be alerted when security issues arise. Also, turning off the laptop battery indicator could leave you running low and needing a recharge without realizing it.

Tip

You can rearrange the order icons appear in the system tray by simply dragging and dropping them.

Setting the Date and Time

In the Date and Time dialog, you can quickly change the time and date on your computer, use time-syncing services on the Internet to automatically keep your time and date correct, change your time zone, and control automatic adjustment for daylight saving time (see Figure 9-28). You can also get to the Date and Time dialog by right-clicking the clock on the taskbar.
Figure 9-28.

Changing the date and time

You also have the ability to add extra clocks to Windows! They appear when you click the date and time on the Windows taskbar. You can add up to two for different time zones, each with a custom name (see Figure 9-29).
Figure 9-29.

Adding clocks to Windows 8.1

Enabling Recycle Bin Warnings

When you delete a file in Windows 8.1 you don’t get the “do you really want to delete this file” warning of Windows versions of old. This is because with the recycle bin combined with the File History feature (which I shall show you how to use in  Chapter 12), it’s very easy to recover accidentally deleted files. You can turn this feature back on if you want to, though, by right-clicking the recycle bin icon on your desktop and selecting Properties from the menu that appears.

The Recycle Bin Properties panel includes some simple controls, including being able to bypass the recycle bin altogether and just permanently delete everything. At the bottom of this dialog (see Figure 9-30) is a check box for Display delete confirmation dialog; you can turn this back on if you want these warnings re-enabled.
Figure 9-30.

You can re-enable recycle bin warnings

Start Windows 8.1 Directly to the Desktop

Earlier in this chapter, I wrote about how you can modify the taskbar, unless you’ve skipped all of the book so far and turned directly to this page in excitement, and something that’s changed from the first release of Windows 8.1 is the addition in the Taskbar properties of a Navigation tab. If you’re a serious desktop user, there are controls in here aplenty that are really very clever and powerful.

You access these controls by right-clicking on the taskbar and then clicking Properties from the menu that appears. When the Taskbar and Navigation properties panel pops up on your screen, click the Navigation tab quickly because it’s exciting!

The controls you have under the Navigation tab, see Figure 9-31, are the following:
Figure 9-31.

You can now start Windows 8.1 directly to the desktop

  • Corner Navigation includes
    • A control for turning off the charms when you move your mouse to the top-right corner of your screen (you need to open them with the Win+C control instead)

    • The ability to switch between running apps when you click the top-left corner of your screen

    • Replacing the Command Prompt in the Win+X menu with Windows PowerShell

Tip

Windows PowerShell is a powerful scripting language and an excellent alternative to the old DOS command language if you want to learn it. Although people have become used to using DOS over the last 30 years, you can replace the Command Prompt link in the Win+X menu with PowerShell.
  • The Start screen navigation includes the following:
    • Boot to the desktop! If you want your PC to always start directly to the desktop, check the Go to the desktop box.

    • Show my desktop background on Start is another way to force that Start screen to use the desktop wallpaper, in addition to the method in the Personalization options I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter

    • If you are using multiple monitors the Always show Start on my main display when I press the Windows logo key if checked will force the Start screen to display on the screen with the currently selected window, instead of the default behavior which is the primary display.

    • Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start forces the Start button and Windows key to take you to the All Apps view by default. You can swipe downward from this view to display the Start screen if you want it.

    • Search everywhere instead of just my apps appears if you check the Show the apps view automatically. This changes the behavior of the Search charm on the All Apps view to match that of the Start screen

    • List desktop apps first in the apps view when it’s sorted by category displays your desktop programs before your apps in the All Apps view. To enable this, you also need to change how the All Apps view is organized and you can do this by clicking the by name link in the top left of the screen, see Figure 9-32.

Figure 9-32.

You can change how the All Apps view displays programs and apps

Changing the Default File Explorer View

If you activate the Libraries in Windows 8.1 (see  Chapter 5 for how to do this), opening File Explorer always then takes you to your Libraries. But what if you don’t want this and instead want File Explorer to default to the new This PC view?

You can do this by creating a new shortcut for File Explorer on the Windows 8.1 taskbar:
  1. 1.

    Right-click in a blank space on the desktop and from the context menu that appears, click New and then click Shortcut.

     
  2. 2.

    In the Type location of the item box to %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /e,::{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D} and click Next.

     
  3. 3.

    Name the shortcut This PC and press Enter.

     
  4. 4.

    Drag the shortcut from your desktop onto the taskbar to pin it there.

     
  5. 5.

    Delete the shortcut from your desktop (if you want to). You can then optionally unpin the original File Explorer icon.

     
You can also change this target to anything you like; for example, you can put a folder location in there instead. If you click the icon on the far left of the address bar, the text in the address bar changes to display the current folder location. It can be copied and pasted into the Target box (see Figure 9-33).
Figure 9-33.

Copying the current folder location from the address bar

Changing and Customizing Your Region Settings

The Region settings in both PC Settings (available in the Time & Language section) and the Control Panel allow you to do much more than tell Windows the country in which you are located. You can customize the time, date, and numerical systems in Windows so that, for example, you can change the digit grouping symbol from a Western comma (,) to an Arabic point (.) or change the negative number format from a minus sign (–) to having the digit appearing in parentheses (). You can control these options by clicking the Additional Settings button.

Perhaps of more use is the ability to change the default date and time display options. These are two options I always change. I set the time to h:mm tt (single-digit hour:minutes seconds) and make the AM and PM labels lowercase text.

Additionally, you can display the full day of the week by adding dddd to the date options or the first three letters of the day of the week (see Figures 9-34 and 9-35).
Figure 9-34.

You can change some region settings in PC Settings

Figure 9-35.

Customizing region options

Working with Multiple Languages in Windows 8.1

If people who speak different languages use your computer, or if you are an interpreter or language student, you can add additional languages to Windows 8.1 by opening Time & Language in PC Settings and then clicking the Region and Language options, or by clicking Language from the Control Panel (see Figures 9-36 and 9-37). You can click Add a Language on the main Language page to add languages to Windows, as well as change other regional settings, such as number and date formats, which may be applicable to a certain language. The options link appears when you select a language.
Figure 9-36.

You can manage languages in Windows 8.1 from PC Settings

Figure 9-37.

Adding languages to Windows 8.1

If you click Advanced Settings in the left pane of the main Language page, you find additional options, including the option to turn on or off the language bar. This helpful tool, which can be docked to the taskbar, enables you to quickly and easily swap between installed languages on your computer.

Tip

Clicking the options for a language allows you to change the handwriting recognition options from freehand to single characters. This is useful for pictographic languages such as Chinese.

Personalizing the Power Management Options

It doesn’t matter if you’re using a laptop, ultrabook, tablet, or even a powerful desktop computer, you still probably want to customize the power options for your Windows 8.1 computer. So why would desktop users want or need to change the default power settings? After all, the default settings of turning off the display after 10 minutes and putting the computer to sleep after 30 minutes must be pretty perfect, right?

Well, by default, when Windows 8.1 turns off the display, touching the keyboard or mouse returns you to the workspace you were at when you left the computer. Instead, you might want Windows 8.1 to return to the logon screen. This is especially useful if you are using your computer for work or perhaps don’t want other people easily seeing your e-mail correspondence or your social networking (especially if they’re mischievous like my friends are).

When you put your computer to sleep, it also keeps drawing power. Many people say that the average power draw for a Windows 8.1 PC in sleep is tiny. Multiply that by millions of machines, however, and you quickly see how this can balloon into a very considerable sum. When Windows 8.1 is capable of booting to the logon screen from a cold start in just 10 seconds, do we still need sleep at all?

In this section, I want to look at the power options thoroughly and holistically, so that you can select the best options for you.

Changing the Power Plan

You can access the main power settings by clicking Power Options in the Control Panel. You get quick and easy access to the power plans, which are preconfigured options for your screen, shut down, sleep, and more; as well as the default plans added by PC manufacturers. Basic power plan options are available in PC Settings in the PC & Devices section and then by clicking Power & Sleep (see Figure 9-38).
Figure 9-38.

You can change some power settings in PC Settings

Figure 9-39 shows a Dell laptop—on which this book was written—that has two default power plans; three is the normal standard for Windows. Your laptop or tablet may come with more, however, because hardware manufacturers may add their own power plans.
Figure 9-39.

The Power Options page

The following are the default power plans:
  • Balanced: The computer balances performance with energy consumption.

  • Power Saver: Energy consumption is given top priority to extend battery life.

  • High Performance: Battery life isn’t an issue and you want the maximum performance from your PC (shown as an optional setting in the figure).

You may have additional power plans, such as Quiet or Cool. In the pane on the left of the page is the option to create your own power plan. It displays a wizard from which you can base your plan on one of the three default plans, but you can also choose from four more options: dimming or turning off the display, putting the computer to sleep, and the overall screen brightness.

You can choose a plan by clicking it. Each one can be modified by clicking Change plan settings.

Controlling the Power Button, Power Options, and Password Wakeup

You might want more control over the power options. Click Require a password on wakeup to take you to the System Settings screen (see Figure 9-40).
Figure 9-40.

Changing the power button options

You can determine what the physical power and sleep (if you have one) buttons on your PC’s case and keyboard do, as well as any actions that happen when you close the laptop lid. For example, if you set the close-the-lid action to Sleep, but the battery dies because you thought the computer was actually turned off, you will lose unsaved work.

On the main Power Options page, you can also click Choose when to turn off the display or Choose when the computer sleeps in the left pane and you are shown the Edit Plan Settings options, which control the amount of time the computer remains idle before turning off the screen or putting the computer to sleep (see Figure 9-41). Note that if you have a desktop computer that does not have a battery, you will see a slightly different screen.
Figure 9-41.

Changing the display and sleep options

If the computer is sleeping and Windows detects that the battery is very low, it will change to hibernate mode, in which the contents of memory are saved to the disc. This can prevent unsaved work from being lost, but it is always wise to check that your work is saved before you step away from your computer.

Alternatively, if you use your laptop with an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor, you may not want it to sleep when you close the lid. You can change this setting. I do not personally recommend that you use a laptop with the lid closed, however, because this can cause some models to overheat.

Caution

Remember that if you set a PC to shut down instead of sleep, you lose any work that hasn’t been saved.

Many of the options on this screen are grayed-out and you cannot change them. To change these options, click Change settings that are currently unavailable at the top of the screen. Some of the additional options can be extremely useful:
  • [Don’t] Require a password has Windows 8.1 return automatically to the logon screen after returning from sleep or hibernation, or if the screen saver is on or the screen is turned off. If you share your computer or keep it in a room shared by other people, you might want to leave this setting turned on. But if the computer is not physically accessible to others, you may find this setting unnecessary.

  • The shutdown settings allow you to turn on and off the sleep and hibernate functions on your computer. It also permits you to turn off the new Fast Startup feature of Windows 8.1, which allows Windows 8.1 to boot to the lock screen from a cold start in just 10 seconds. It does so by hibernating the kernel (the core OS) so that it doesn’t have to load everything from scratch; it just opens the hibernation file and reads it back into memory.

    Some computers, especially older machines, have trouble with sleep and/or hibernation, and some don’t support these features at all. If you are having trouble getting Windows to sleep, hibernate, or start quickly, you can turn off these settings.

Tip

There was a proof-of-concept attack on Microsoft’s BitLocker security system a few years ago, when it was proven that the encryption key could be retrieved from a hibernating (or sleeping) computer because Windows keeps the key in memory while you are working. This key is readable from a hacked computer in sleep or from an extracted hibernation file. It can be used to gain access to BitLocker-encrypted computers. At the time of writing, there is no word on whether this vulnerability has been fixed with Windows 8.1. So it is best to assume that it still exists.

You can also turn off the display of your logon picture on the lock screen. This is most useful if you have chosen a really embarrassing photo of yourself.

Controlling Sleep and Hibernation

You can choose the sleep and hibernation options for your computer by clicking either Choose when to turn off the display or Change when the computer sleeps on the Power Options page. You probably have seen these options available in other sections of Power Options; they remain the same.

What is the difference between sleep and hibernation? When you put your computer to sleep, it retains its memory by drawing a very small electric charge. This means that when you turn the computer back on, you are up and running extremely quickly at exactly the point at which you put the computer to sleep because nothing needs to be read into memory. It’s already there.

Hibernation writes the contents of memory to a file on the hard disk. This means the computer can be shut down without requiring any power to keep the memory live, but it won’t restart quite as quickly.

Tip

You can restore the Hibernate command to the main power menu in Windows 8.1 by clicking Change what the power buttons do at the main Power Options screen and then clicking Change settings that are currently unavailable. At the bottom of the screen, you now see a Shutdown Settings section, and Hibernate now displays as an option that can be checked. Doing this restores the Hibernate function to the main PC shutdown controls and also to the Win+X menu.

Changing the Advanced Power Settings

When you are viewing the sleep options, you see the option to Change the advanced power settings. Here you have many more options (click Change settings that are currently unavailable to edit them all). Figure 9-42 shows the advanced power settings.
Figure 9-42.

Changing the advanced power settings

I want to talk about some of these settings and look at how they can be useful.
  • Hard disk: Why might you want to turn off the hard disk? Hard disks unnecessarily consume a lot of energy when not in use. Perhaps you have multiple hard disks on your computer, and most of the time they are used only for file storage (perhaps files you don’t often access) or for backups. Setting Windows 8.1 to turn off the hard disks on drives you are not using reduces overall power consumption on your computer. On any hard disk in use, the power remains. Remember that when you want to access a mechanical hard disk that is powered down, there is a slight delay as the disc spins up.

Tip

If you want to set any timings in the advanced power settings to Never, change the default time to 0 (zero).
  • Wireless Adapter Settings: Wi-Fi and mobile broadband are a huge power drain for a laptop, ultrabook, or tablet because they turn your computer into a radio transmitter and receiver. If you change the default setting for locations in which you have a strong signal, you still get a good signal, which means that the computer uses less electricity to power the Wi-Fi system.

  • Sleep: You can turn sleep and hibernate off completely if they cause problems on your computer.

  • USB Settings: If your computer is connected to USB devices that draw power from the PC—perhaps an external hard disk or optical drive—you can enable a setting that will cut power to the devices when they are not in use. This can dramatically extend the life of a portable computer such as an ultrabook.

  • Display: While the main power options allow you to choose when to dim your computer’s display to save power, these options give you finer control over exactly how much the display dims and how bright it is when plugged in. If your computer comes with a built-in light-meter, you can turn on the Adaptive Brightness, which automatically changes the brightness to match the available lighting.

  • Battery: The battery options allow you to control what Windows 8.1 sees as low and critical battery levels. If you know that your battery is generally excellent and you don’t want to be nagged, you could lower the low battery alert by 10 percent. If you often step away from your computer while it is running on batteries, however, you might want to set Windows 8.1 to automatically hibernate when the battery runs low.

Maximizing Battery Life on Mobile Devices

If you are using a laptop, ultrabook, or tablet on the go and want to maximize your battery life, there are certain things you can do that will help.
  1. 1.

    Dim your screen brightness as much as you can. The less power needed to display an image, the longer your battery will last. Your screen is a real power hog.

     
  2. 2.

    Turn off your backlit keyboard (if you have one) because this will save power as well.

     
  3. 3.

    Set the screen to turn off after two minutes of inactivity and perhaps set the computer to sleep after 10 minutes.

     
  4. 4.

    Turn off your Wi-Fi, cellular (3G/4G/LTE) or Bluetooth connections if they’re not needed.

     

On a laptop or tablet, you might want to set the screen to turn off after only a couple of minutes—until you touch the screen, keyboard, or mouse to wake it up. The screen on a mobile device is the most power-hungry component. Having the screen switch off when not in use greatly extends battery life.

You might also want to turn off features such as 3G and GPS, both of which consume power through broadcasting and receiving radio signals.

Also, have Windows 8.1 cut power to any attached USB devices that can also drain the battery on your computer.

Adding Power Buttons to the Start Screen and Taskbar

Although the main Shut down, Restart, and Sleep options for Windows 8.1 might be hidden away in the Settings charm, it’s still possible to add them to the Start screen and the taskbar.
  1. 1.

    Right-click a blank space on the desktop and from the options that appear, click New ➤ Shortcut (see Figure 9-43).

     
Figure 9-43.

Creating a new shortcut from the desktop

  1. 2.

    In the window that appears, type shutdown.exe –s –t 00 and then click Next (see Figure 9-44).

     

Tip

To create a Restart shortcut, type shutdown –r –t 00. To create a Sleep shortcut, type rundll32.exe powrProf.dll,SetSuspendState 0,1,0. To create a Hibernate shortcut, type rundll32.exe powrProf.dll,SetSuspendState. To create a Lock Computer shortcut, type rundll32.exe powrProf.dll,LockWorkStation.

To enable sleep from a RUNDLL32 command, you also need to disable hibernation on the computer. To do this, open a Command Prompt (Admin) window and run (type) the powercfg.exe /hibernate off command. You can use the powercfg.exe /hibernate on command to switch it back on. Note that disabling hibernation on a laptop or tablet can result in the battery running to empty, and you will lose work on unsaved files and documents.
Figure 9-44.

Setting the shortcut code

  1. 3.

    Give the shortcut an appropriate name and then click Finish (see Figure 9-45).

     
Figure 9-45.

Giving the shortcut a name

  1. 4.

    Right-click the newly created shortcut and then select Properties from the options.

     
  2. 5.

    In the Shutdown Properties dialog, under the Shortcut tab, click the Change Icon button (see Figure 9-46). You are told that icons for this shortcut don’t exist. This is fine—just click through it.

     
Figure 9-46.

The properties for the shortcut

  1. 6.

    Choose an icon from the Change Icon dialog, and then click OK (see Figure 9-47).

     

Note

If you add an icon to a Sleep, Hibernate, or Lock icon, double-click the Shell32.dll file at the next view to display icons.
Figure 9-47.

Adding an icon to a shortcut

  1. 7.

    Right-click your new power shortcut icon in File Explorer. Select Cut from the options.

     
  2. 8.

    In File Explorer, click the icon to the left of the address bar. Navigate to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs (see Figure 9-48).

     

Note

You can also use your own .ico icon files. Many custom icons can be created from web sites, including the excellent www.iconarchive.com , which I used for the icons in the screen shots here.
Figure 9-48.

The C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs folder

  1. 9.

    Paste the shortcuts into this folder.

     
  2. 10.

    At the Start screen, open the All Apps view.

     
  3. 11.

    In the All Apps view, find the shortcut(s) you have created. Right-click it/them to open the app options for each shortcut. Here you can pin it/them to the Start screen (if they are not already pinned there) and to the taskbar (see Figure 9-49).

     
Figure 9-49.

Pinning your power icons to the Start screen and the taskbar

Note

Sometimes these shortcut links won’t work because of security that Windows 8.1 puts in place to prevent malware from shutting down your computer. If this happens, reopen the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs folder and right-click each shortcut, selecting its properties. With each shortcut, re-paste the command (e.g., shutdown.exe –s –t 00) into the Target field and then click OK. The shortcut should now work.

Creating a Power Buttons Toolbar

If you pin the power buttons to your taskbar, you probably don’t want them right next to your program buttons, where they’re far too easy to click by mistake. You can create a custom toolbar for the taskbar to keep the buttons on the far right of the screen, next to the system tray.
  1. 1.

    Right-click in a blank space on the taskbar and then uncheck Lock the taskbar in the options.

     
  2. 2.

    Right-click the taskbar again and then select Toolbars ➤ New Toolbar (see Figure 9-50).

     
Figure 9-50.

Creating a new toolbar on the taskbar

  1. 3.

    Create a new folder for the toolbar. Copy your power shortcut files into it. When you create your folder, select it and then click the Select Folder button (see Figure 9-51).

     
Figure 9-51.

Creating a folder for the toolbar

  1. 4.

    Your toolbar now appears on the taskbar. Drag the vertical bars to the left of it to resize it.

     
  2. 5.

    You can also right-click within the new toolbar to select different options (see Figure 9-52). They include turning off the toolbar’s text title and labels, and changing the View options so that it displays large buttons.

     
Figure 9-52.

Changing toolbar options

Your finished toolbar displays on the right of the taskbar, keeping the power buttons safely away from your program buttons (see Figure 9-53).
Figure 9-53.

A power toolbar on the taskbar

Summary

Despite many of the initial reactions to Windows 8.1 when it was unveiled to the public and press, this operating system is extremely customizable. Even the new Start screen can be customized in a variety of ways to suit many types of users. This includes turning the Start screen into a very useful widget view. You can turn the Start screen off completely with third-party software, if you choose.

Being able to personalize your computer is important to many computer users and it is a mainstay of the Windows operating system. Personalization options go far beyond what is included in this chapter.  Chapter 10 shows how these options can be configured further to assist people who have difficulty using computers.

This all helps make Windows 8.1 the customizable operating system you want, while at the same time still affording you all the cool new features it brings, such as Hyper-V and better multimonitor support.

Copyright information

© Mike Halsey 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mike Halsey
    • 1
  1. 1.RHUnited Kingdom

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