April 2016: Windows 10: The best tricks, tips, and tweaks

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windows 10 aio
Digging deep into Windows 10

Windows 10, Microsoft’s back-to-basics re-embracing of the PC, is alreadybrimming with handy new features, and with all the new goodies comes with a legion of new tweaks and tricks—some of which unlock powerful functionality hidden to everyday users.

Others, though, simply let you mold some of Windows 10’s new features into the shape you see fit. Here are some of the most useful Windows 10 tweaks, tricks, and tips we’ve found. Be warned: Some of these may break as the operating system evolves, given Microsoft’s new “Windows as a service” mentality, though we plan to update this article over time (most recently with goodies from the bigNovember update). Got any tricks of your own? Share them in the comments!

hey cortana
Make Cortana’s ears perk up

Cortana’s finally made the leap to the PC in Windows 10, assuming control of the operating system’s search functions and dishing out just as much sass as the Windows Phone version. But by default, she doesn’t listen for your commands.

If you’d like to be able to just bark commands at your PC, open Cortana by clicking the search field in the taskbar and select the Notebook icon in the left-side options pane. Select Settings from the list, then simply enable the “Let Cortana respond when you say ‘Hey Cortana’” option. You’ll need an active microphone for this to work, of course.

While you’re poking around Cortana’s options, you can dive into the Notebook menu to fine-tune exactly what personal data Microsoft’s digital assistant can access. Remember, however, that like Google Now, Cortana’s effectiveness is directly related to how much she knows about you.

cortana find pictures
Powerful natural language search

Cortana can handle all sorts of commands you issue using natural language, such as playing music, creating reminders, or showing you the weather, but the most powerful use of her natural language abilities revolves around basic search capabilities. You can give Cortana basic commands like “Find pictures from June” or “Find documents with Windows 10” and she’ll apply the appropriate filters, then scour your local files and OneDrive storage for results.

Thirsty for more Cortana secrets? Check out our ultimate guide to Cortana for more.

windows 10 start menu
Customize your Start menu

Don’t forget to make the Start menu your own. If you appreciate the blend of the traditional interface with the Live Tiles, note that you can right-click on any tile and select Resize to alter the tile’s dimensions—just like on the Windows 8 Start screen.

Alternatively, if you loathe Live Tiles and the Metro interface with the ferocity of a thousand suns, you can also right-click on every one of the defaults in the Start menu and select Uninstall to wipe them from your system. (Or simply Unpin from Start if you’d rather hide than eradicate them.) Repopulate them with desktop software of your choosing—you can right-click any app or program and select Pin to Start—and before you know it, it’ll be kind-of-sort-of like the Windows 7 Start menu all over again.

PCWorld’s guides to customizing Windows 10’s Start menu and 11 must-know Start Menu tricks can help you dive deeply into its secrets.

windows 10 find my device
Find My Device

Windows ain’t just on desktops anymore, and a handy new feature released in the Windows 10 November Update acknowledges that: Find My Device, which does exactly what you’d think. (Though sadly, it doesn’t offer remote lock or wipe capabilities yet.)

To active it, head to Start > Update & Security > Find My Device, then click the big Change button and enable the “Save my device’s location periodically” option when prompted. Once it’s on, you can log into your Microsoft account and head toaccount.microsoft.com/devices to see the last known location of your Windows 10 gizmo.

windows tablet sd card storage
Install Windows Store apps elsewhere

The Windows 10 November Update fixes another longstanding frustration for both mobile and desktop users: The inability to install Windows Store apps to external storage. Ever since the Windows Store debuted in Windows 8, it’s forced you to install apps to your device’s primary hard drive—a sore point for Windows tablet owners, or users who run Windows off a small SSD boot drive.

No more! After you’ve installed the Windows 10 November Update, you can save apps to external storage or secondary drives by heading to Start > Settings > System > Storage after you’ve connected the storage to your PC, be it a thumb drive or SD card. From there, click the drop-down menu under “New apps will save to” and select the external storage drive you want to use.

windows 10 folder options
Turn off File Explorer’s Quick Access view

When you open File Explorer in Windows 10, it defaults to a new Quick Access view that shows your most frequently accessed folders and recently viewed files. I love it, personally, but if you’d rather File Explorer defaulted to the “This PC” view found in Windows 8, here’s how.

Open File Explorer, then select View > Options from the Ribbon. A Folder Options window will open. Click the “Open File Explorer” drop-down menu at top, then select the “This PC” option. Click OK and you’re done!

windows 10 miracast
Cast videos to TVs and more

No Chromecast? No problem, at least after Windows 10’s November update, which enabled the Edge browser to cast media to Miracast- or DLNA-equipped devices with just a few clicks—though beware that the implementation has some quirks, and won’t work with DRM-protected streams from Netflix, Hulu, and the like. YouTube works just fine though!

To beam a video to your TV, open it in Edge, then click on the three horizontal dots in the upper-right corner of the browser. A drop-down menu appears; clickCast media to device. After a moment, a black window with the names of all nearby Miracast/DLNA devices will appear. Simply choose the one you want and after a few minutes, it should begin to play.

Should. In our tests, casting to a Roku box proved tricky, while Vimeo delivered more consistent results than casting YouTube videos. Regardless, it’s a nifty feature. Try it out!

windows 10 virtual desktops
Move open windows between virtual desktops

Virtual desktops let you segregate your open apps into discrete areas—literally multiple, virtualized versions of your PC’s desktops. Switching between open virtual desktops is easy enough using Task View (the button that looks like two panels, one over the other, in the taskbard) or Windows key + Tab, while Alt + Tab jumps you between open apps across all desktops. There’s also a way to actually shift an open app from one virtual desktop to another if you’d like to shuffle things around.

First, head to the virtual desktop housing the app you’d like to move to another virtual desktop, then open the Task View interface. Just click-and-hold on the app you’d like to move, then drag it to the desired virtual desktop at the bottom of the screen. You can also drag it to the “+New Desktop” option in the lower-right corner to create a new virtual desktop for the app.

windows 10 updates advanced options
Schedule your restarts

This is wonderful. If you’ve got pending updates that require you to reboot your PC, Windows 10 will allow you to schedule a specific time for it to do so. Finally!

Open the Settings option in the Start menu, then head to Updates and Recovery > Windows Update. If you have an update pending, you’ll see the screen at left, which lets you schedule your reboot after you select the “Select a restart time” radio button. Even better, you can dive into the Advanced options and link and ask Windows to notify you to schedule a reboot whenever updates are ready to rock.

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Seize control of Windows Updates

While the ability to schedule installation times for updates is very welcome indeed, not everyone is happy about the way Windows 10 handles patches—specifically, that you can’t refuse them. Windows 10 Pro users—but not Windows 10 Home users—can delay downloading updates for some time, but eventually, Microsoft will force them on you.

There are some actions you can take to exert control over your Windows Update experience, however. Most notably, if you’re using Wi-Fi for connectivity, you canset Windows 10’s Wi-Fi connections as metered to download updates when you’d like to, rather than when Microsoft wants you to. And if you ever encounter a borked update that refuses to play nice with your PC, Microsoft’s released a tool that allows you to choose individual updates so they won’t be downloaded again.

Those workarounds aren’t a replacement for being able to manually choose the Windows Update you’d like to install, but they should help ease the sting a little, at least.

windows 10 updates delivery
Get Windows Updates from other sources

But the Windows Update upgrades don’t end there. Windows 10 introduces a new option that lets you download updates using peer-to-peer technology, rather than Microsoft directly. It could help you get that hot security patch faster when everybody’s hammering Microsoft’s dedicated servers, or save you bandwidth in a computer-crowded house—just download the new patch once from Microsoft, then share it among the PCs under your care.

To tinker with the setting, head to Settings > Update & Recovery > Windows Update > Advanced Options > Choose how you download updates. By default, “Get updates from more than one place” is enabled and configured to grab updates from PCs on both your local network and the Internet at large. If you don’t like the idea of your PC using your bandwidth to share Windows Updates with strangers, be sure to disable it.

windows 10 command prompt options
Secret, powerful new Command Prompt tools

Windows 10 packs a slew of nifty new command line features, including—hallelujah!—the ability to copy and paste inside the command prompt with Crtl + C and Crtl + V.

To activate the goodies, open the command prompt. Right-click its title bar, then select Properties. You can find and enable the new features under the “Edit Options” section of the Options tab.

windows 10 game bar
Record a video of an app

Windows 10’s new Game DVR function is supposed to be used for recording video evidence of your most glorious gaming moments, but it’ll actually let you create videos of any open app or desktop software (though not OS-level areas like File Explorer or the desktop).

To summon it, simply press Windows key + G. A prompt will ask you if you want to open the Game bar. Lie your butt off and click the “Yes, this is a game box” and various options will appear in a floating bar. Simply click the circular Recordbutton to capture a video. You can find your saved videos in the Game DVR section of the Xbox app, or inside your user folder under Video > Captures.

Our guide to Windows 10’s Game DVR feature can fill you in on everything you need to know about the handy new tool.

keyboard
Fresh keyboard shortcuts!

Windows 10 packs a handful of fresh keyboard shortcuts, all tied to newfound abilities inside the revamped operating system. There are many more than we can list here, so head over to PCWorld’s guide to Windows 10’s keyboard shortcuts to learn all about them. If you really want to get fancy, augment those hotkeys with Windows 10’s new touchpad gestures for true shortcut mastery.

windows 10 godmode
GodMode

The legendary GodMode, a hidden staple for Windows power users, makes its return in Windows 10. As before, activating it unveils a power user menu that brings together all of your system’s far-flung settings and configuration options into a single location. Just create a new folder and rename it to following:

GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Don’t forget the period after “GodMode”, and you can rename the “GodMode” portion whatever you’d like if you want another name for the folder.

windows 10 solitaire
Solitaire returns!

After being banished to the Windows Store in Windows 8, Solitaire is back in Windows 10, baby. But it can be tricky to find.

Solitaire’s not in the Start menu, and its old Start > Programs> Accessories > Games stomping grounds aren’t found in Windows 10. Looking for Solitaire in the All Apps section of the Start menu is also a fruitless endeavor—but that’s because the game’s officially called “Microsoft Solitaire Collection Preview.” You can find that in All Apps, or just search for Solitaire. It’ll pop right up.

Enjoy! If you’re really into it, you can even join the “Casual Games Inner Circle”to help determine which Solitaire-like games Microsoft should polish up next. Really!

windows 10 stream xbox games
Xbox One ties

Speaking of games, Windows 10 features myriad hooks into Xbox. Beyond the presence of Windows 10’s Xbox app itself, which serves as a PC-based hub for your Xbox Live activities, you can stream Xbox One games to your Windows 10 PC, as well as capture PC game videos and share it in your Xbox Live friend feed, using the Game DVR tool described earlier.

What’s more, cord cutters can use the Xbox One itself to stream live broadcasts to your Windows 10 device. Windows 10 and Xbox One gamers can play with each other in certain games, and the Xbox One controller’s a go-to gamepad on PCs. And Microsoft’s recently rolled out the Windows 10-infused “New Xbox One Experience” update that adds even more goodies, especially if you’re all in on Microsoft-powered hardware. Check out our guide to Windows 10 and Xbox One’s hidden synergies for the full scoop.

windows 10 firefox
Make Cortana use Google–or nothing

Cortana’s brains aren’t really on your PC—they’re beamed in from Microsoft servers. So it’s no surprise that Windows 10’s digital assistant relies exclusively on Bing. But while that makes sense for Cortana’s intelligent (or just plain snarky) responses, there’s no underlying reason to open Cortana’s simple web search results in Bing, aside from Microsoft forcing the matter.

Fortunately, two tools can help you use Google, DuckDuckGo, or other search engines with Cortana. The Chrometana extension (for Chrome, obviously) redirects all of Cortana’s Bing searches to the engine of your choice, while making Firefox for Windows 10 your default browser accomplishes the same thing, using your default search engine in the browser. Our guide to ditching Cortana’s Bing results has full, step-by-step details.

Or you could just kill Cortana if you’re not feeling her whatsoever.

windows 10 no web searches
Keeping it local

Killing Cortana also opens up a helpful new ability: The complete elimination of web results in your searches.

Searching for generic terms that don’t correlate with apps and settings in Windows 10 defaults to web results, rather than scouring local files that match the terms. (Here’s an image of it in action.) To find local file results, you have to click a second My Stuff button at the bottom of a search result to look for local files—unless you nuke the search bar’s web-enhanced functionality completely.

First, you have to kill Cortana. Then, open the search interface again and click theSettings cog in the left-hand pane. In the menu that opens, simply move the “Search online and include web results” slider to off to disable Bing’s search integration. From here on out, your searches will default to local apps, settings and files—though note that disabling Bing means you won’t see results for your OneDrive-stored files when you conduct a search.

windows 10 login screen
Keep it local redux

While it’s no more alarming than what Google does with Android and Apple does with iOS, Microsoft’s come under fire for embedding user-tracking hooks deep into Windows 10—something that Windows 7 on back didn’t do so heavily. Most are actually pretty helpful, and Windows 10 gives you granular control over all privacy aspects. One easy way to skirt the vast majority (but not all) of the concerns: Use a local account rather than a Microsoft Account.

The easiest way to do this is to simply create a whole new account after you’ve created a Microsoft Account first, which Microsoft all but forces you into. Creating a local account involves jumping through some hoops—Microsoft really wants you to use its services—but our guide to creating a local account in Windows 10can walk you through the entire process.

windows 10 contact support
SOS!

Did you break something in Windows 10 or one of your Microsoft apps? Don’t sweat it—help is just a few clicks away.

Just look for the new Contact Support app inside the All Apps menu. It can point you towards the appropriate community forums to find help for the issue, or even connect you with a Microsoft support representative via online chat or phone if you stumble into a particularly bad problem.

windows 10 maps download
Offline Maps

Speaking of apps, the revamped universal Maps app, like any maps tool worth using (and unlike the Windows 8 Maps app), packs an offline maps feature. Click the Settings (gear) icon in Maps, then select Download or update maps under the “Offline maps” header.

You’ll be bounced to the Settings app, where you’ll be able to select which continent, then country whose offline map you’d like to download. (If you’re downloading a U.S. map, you’ll also have to select which state you need.) Helpfully, Windows tells you how large the download will be before you start scraping the maps.

windows 10 personalization
Chameleon

The customization doesn’t end there. Windows 10 offers you more granular control over the color of your taskbar, Start menu, and search field.

Open the Start menu and head to Settings > Personalization > Colors to start tweaking things. The “Automatically pick a color from my background” option does what it claims, then applies that color to the Cortana/search field and underneath the icons of open apps. “Show color on taskbar and Start menu” also does just that, while disabling “Make Start menu transparent”—which is enabled by default—removes the subtle see-through effect in favor of a full-blown opaque background for both the Start menu and the taskbar.

windows 10 tablet mode settings
Tinker with Tablet Mode

Windows 10’s Continuum, which dynamically switches from the traditional desktop to a more Metro-like interface when you’re using a touchscreen, is supposed to kick into action when you connect or disconnect a keyboard from your Windows hybrid or tablet, or you can activate it manually via the Action Center. But you can also tweak how the operating system handles Continuum.

Simply search for “Tablet Mode” and select the “Tablet Mode Settings” option that appears. Here, you’ll be able to tell Windows whether you want to even use Tablet Mode on this device, and specify how you want to handle Tablet Mode prompts if so. You can also tell Windows to keep your open and pinned apps on the taskbar when in Tablet Mode if you so desire, as well as to boot into tablet mode at startup.

pin to start settings app
Quick link to specific Settings app locations

Windows 10’s new Settings app hides another particularly useful feature: The ability to pin any specific subsection of the app to your Start menu. The new Action Center already offers configurable quick-toggle buttons for common actions—like enabling/disabling Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Tablet Mode, et cetera—but this trick lets you quickly jump to a far more diverse array of tools.

Pinning a Settings app subsection to the Start menu is super easy: Just navigate to the menu or setting you’d like quick access to, then right-click on the subsection’s name in the left-hand navigation pane and select Pin to Start.

This tip isn’t just for the Settings app, however—you can also use it in a limited number of other Windows apps, such as Mail and OneNote. Play around!

get office windows 10
Silence the annoying Office ads

One of the more annoying parts of Windows 10 is the way it semi-frequently pops ads and promotional offers for Office, even if you have Office installed. Ugh. Fortunately, it’s easy to stop Windows 10’s annoying Microsoft Office ads .

The messages flow forth from Windows 10’s Get Office app, which is installed by default. The easiest way to kill the notifications is to simply right-click on the app in the Start menu and select Uninstall to send it to oblivion. Alternatively, if you want to keep the app around for some reason, you can dive into Settings > System > Notifications & actions and disable notifications from Get Office.

windows 10 delete old os
Get rid of the old stuff

When you upgrade to Windows 10 over an existing Windows 7 or 8 installation, it keeps a copy of your old operating system around in a folder dubbed Windows.old just case you need to revert back for any reason. If you know you’re never going back you can delete that folder to reclaim the lost gigabytes—but it’s not as simple as right-clicking on it and selecting Delete.

Search for “Free up disk space by deleting unnecessary files”. Click the shortcut, select your primary hard drive (if you have multiple installed), and in the window that appears, click “Clean up system files.” After Windows thinks for a second, check the “Previous Windows installations” box in the list, then click OK and confirm you want to delete the files.

If, on the other hand, you want to return to the comfy confines of Windows 7 or 8, you can easily roll back your OS within 30 days of upgrading to Windows 10.Here’s how.

windows 10 notifications
Manage your notifications

System-wide notifications were a highlight feature for Windows Store apps in Windows 8, and Windows 10’s new Action Center lets you actually manage them, making notifications useful rather than one-off shouts into the wind.

You might not want every Windows Store app you install barking at you all the time, however, or maybe you don’t want to see any notifications while you’re in presentation mode. To tinker with you your notification settings, head to Start menu > Settings > Systems > Notifications and actions. Individual Windows Store apps, like the Mail app, tend to have more granular notification options in the Settings menus inside the apps themselves. Our guide to Windows 10’s Action Center notifications holds much more info.

windows 10 logo
More obscure new Windows tools

The amount of new goodies in Windows 10 is almost mind-boggling. Even after all these tips, you’re still only scratching the surface of the operating system’s depths. These 12 obscure new Windows 10 features may fly under the radar, but between these and virtual desktop support, Windows 10 renders a decent chunk of our list of free PC programs that ease headaches obsolete.

About Letowon Saitoti Abdi

simple person and always happy.