10 Windows 8 tips, tricks and hacks

Take control of Windows 8 on the Desktop, the lock screen and more.

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5. Lock the lock screen image

If you share a Windows 8 PC with others and don't want them messing with the lock screen image, you can lock it so that it can't be changed. To do it, though, you're going to have to get down and dirty by editing the Registry.

Caution: Keep in mind before trying this that you can do damage to your system if you use the Registry incorrectly, so if you don't feel comfortable with Registry editing, stop right now. (See our story "The tweaker's guide to the Windows Registry" for more information about Registry editing. And be very sure to read the instructions for backing up the Registry before you attempt any Registry edits whatsoever.)

For those who do feel comfortable, when you're on the Start screen, type regedit, click Apps on the right-hand side of the screen, then click the regedit.exe icon that appears on the left side of the screen.

launching the Registry Editor
Launching the Registry Editor.

A security window appears asking if you want to allow the Registry Editor to make changes to your PC. Click Yes, and the Registry Editor launches.

Now navigate to

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\

See if there's a key called Personalization there. If the key already exists, don't create another one. Instead, follow the instructions in the next paragraph. If the key doesn't exist, you'll have to create it. To do so, click Edit --> New --> Key. That creates a new key, but it will have a name like "New Key #1." You have to rename it. Right-click it, select Rename, and rename it Personalization.

Now that the Personalization key is there, create a new DWORD value under it called NoChangingLockScreen. To do that, right-click the Personalization key and select New --> DWORD (32-bit) Value. Rename the DWORD value NoChangingLockScreen. Double click-it and change its value from 0 to 1. Now exit the Registry Editor.

Registry Editor

Setting the NoChangingLockScreen DWORD value to 1 prevents the lock screen image from being changed. Click to view larger image.

Log out of Windows or restart it, then log back in. The lock screen background shouldn't be changeable -- consider it locked. If you want to allow the background to be changed in the future, use the Registry Editor to change the value of NoChangingLockScreen from 1 to 0.

6. Kill the lock screen altogether

Not a fan of the lock screen? There are plenty of people who don't find it useful and would prefer to bypass it so they can just sign into Windows and get straight to work. You won't find a setting to do it. Instead, you'll have to use the Registry Editor.

All the caveats about using the Registry Editor outlined in the previous tip apply here, so keep in mind it could be dangerous to use it. However, if you're comfortable using the Registry Editor, follow the instructions in "Lock the lock screen image" above to launch the Registry Editor, and, if you haven't already done so, to create a Registry key called Personalization in

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\

Create a new DWORD value under the Personalization key by right-clicking it and selecting New --> DWORD (32-bit) Value. Rename the DWORD value NoScreenLock. Double click-it and change its value from 0 to 1. Now exit the Registry Editor.

The new setting should take effect immediately. The next time you reboot or wake your PC, you won't see the lock screen. Instead, you'll go straight to the Windows sign-in screen.

7. Bend File Explorer to your will

Windows 8's File Explorer file manager is different from the old Windows Explorer in more than just name. It's gotten a complete makeover, notably by the addition of a Ribbon interface that puts many tasks, features and views in easy reach. Following are my favorite ways to get more out of it.

But first you need to make sure that File Explorer displays the Ribbon, because it might not be turned on. To turn it on, press Ctrl-F1 or click the downward-facing arrow on the upper right of its screen. The Ribbon displays, and the downward-facing arrow turns into an upward-facing arrow. To turn it back off, press Ctrl-F1 again or click the upward-facing arrow.

Turn panes on and off

File Explorer has several useful panes you can turn on and off. Click the View tab to find them. You'll find ways to turn them on and off on the far left-hand side of the Ribbon. Just click the pane you want turned on, and if there are options, select options from the menu that appears when you click the arrow next to the pane's icon.

The first basic choice is whether to use the Navigation pane. That's the pane on the left-hand side of File Explorer, and it's what you use to navigate through your hard disk. Click its icon on the View tab and uncheck "Navigation pane" to turn it off, or check it to turn it on. There are also several other options available, such as whether to show favorite folders such as Desktop, Downloads and Recent Places.

File Explorer with preview pane

The Navigation pane on the left helps you get around your hard drive. The Preview pane on the right displays a large thumbnail of a file you click. Click to view larger image.

There's another choice there: whether to use the Preview pane or the Details pane, or neither. (You can't use both at once.) Either pane lives all the way over on the right-hand side of File Explorer. If you select the Preview pane and then click a file, you'll see a large thumbnail of the file in the pane, or else the actual contents of the file, as long as you have an app that runs or reads the file. (For example, Office for displaying .doc files.)

File Explorer with Details pane
The Details pane shows detailed file information and a small thumbnail.

If you instead choose the Details pane, you'll see details about the file, such as its size, when it was created, its file name and more depending on the file type. (For example, for pictures it displays the dimensions.)

Click the Preview pane or Details pane icon in the Ribbon to turn it on, and click it again to turn it off.

Display hidden files and folders

Microsoft assumes that most people don't want to see the plumbing of Windows, and so hides many system files and folders, as well as file name extensions. But if you want to tweak how Windows 8 works, you'll need to see that plumbing.

It's easy to display it. On the View tab, check the box next to "Hidden items" to display hidden system files and folders, and check the box next to "File name extensions" to display those.

Hide files and folders

To hide those files and folders again, simply uncheck the "Hidden items" checkbox again.

Want to hide more files and folders? Simply select them, then click "Hide selected items" near the right edge of the Ribbon's View tab. Then, when the "Hidden items" checkbox is unchecked, you won't be able to see those items.

Change icon sizes

While you're on the View tab, you can change the size of the icons that represent files and folders. You'll find these options just to the right of the icons for turning panes on and off.

extra large and small icons
Here's what you see when you choose extra large icons (left) or small icons (right).

Add columns

By default, when you open a folder, File Explorer shows three columns of information about each file in the folder: date modified, type and size. But you can add columns that show other information, such as the date it was created, its author, tags and more. Just go to the View tab's "Current view" group and click the down arrow next to "Add columns" to add them.

adding columns to File Explorer

These are your options for adding columns of information about each file in File Explorer.

Click to view larger image.

Near the "Add columns" choice, you get several options to change how those columns display, including how you sort them, group them and make them all fit on a single screen.

Use the invert selection feature

On the far-right side of the Home tab, there is a group of commands called Select. The "Select all" option selects all files in a folder, and "Select none" deselects them. The third option, "Invert selection," is confusingly named but surprisingly useful.

Let's say that you've hand-selected certain files in a folder by holding down the Ctrl key while clicking them. Once you've selected them, you can perform a task on them all -- delete them or copy them or move them somewhere else, for example.

Now imagine that you've got 30 files in a folder, and you want to delete 26 of them. The obvious way to do it would be to tediously hand-select 26 of them one by one and then delete them. Here's where "Invert selection" comes to your rescue.

Select the four that you don't want to delete, and then click "Invert selection." Now all the files that you selected are no longer selected, and the other 26 are selected. You've inverted the selection, and you can now mass-delete the 26 files.

8. Use (and tweak) the All Apps screen

One of the most disconcerting things about Windows 8's dual interface is that it's difficult to see in one place all the apps you can run -- both Windows 8 Store apps and Desktop applications. You can find the Windows 8 Store apps on the Start screen, but all of your Desktop apps don't necessarily appear there. And because there's no longer a Start button on the Desktop, you can't find all of your Desktop apps there, either.

However, there's a way to see all of them in one place: Go to the All Apps screen. To get there, on the Start screen either right-click an empty space or press the Windows key + Z. That opens the App bar across the bottom of the screen. There's only one thing you can do on the bar: click the "All apps" button at the right.

That displays the All Apps screen, which, as the name implies, shows you all the apps on your system. On the left you'll find all the Windows 8 Store apps, and to the right, the Desktop apps. Click any to run it.

Windows 8 All Apps screen

The Windows 8 All Apps screen. Click to view larger image.

The Desktop apps on the right-hand side are organized into groups -- Windows Accessories, Windows Ease of Access, Windows System, and so on. If you've installed software, those apps might be in their own groups as well. But you can rearrange the apps in these groups if you like. Here's what you need to know.

The organization of the Desktop apps on the All Apps screen mimics the structure of two hidden Windows folders:

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

and

C:\Users\<i>username</i>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

where username is your Windows 8 account name. The first folder has all the apps that all users of the system will see, while the second has those that show up for an individual user.

Any subfolder in those folders shows up as a group -- such as Windows Accessories -- on the All Apps screen. And all the shortcuts in those folders show up as apps inside the groups on this screen -- for example, Calculator and Character Map. To change the organization of Desktop groups and apps on the All Apps screen, you only need to change the folder and shortcut structure in those two folders.

First, make sure you can view hidden files in File Explorer, as outlined earlier in the story. Then go into those folders, and add any folders that you want to show up as groups on the All Apps screen. In those folders, add shortcuts to any apps you want to show up as part of those groups. Delete any folders and shortcuts that you don't want to appear. That's all it takes. The changes will be reflected on the All Apps screen.

(Note: You can also rearrange and regroup the apps on your Start screen. To find out how, see "Customize the Start screen" in the Windows 8 cheat sheet.)

9. Build an Applications folder for quick program launching from the Start screen or Desktop

There's an even quicker way to access all your apps, whether you're on the Desktop or the Start screen: Create an Applications folder to house them all.

First, run File Explorer. Navigate to the Desktop and create a new folder. After you create it, rename it:

Applications.{4234d49b-0245-4df3-b780-3893943456e1}

On the Desktop and in File Explorer, the folder will be called Applications. Double-click it to see a list of all your applications, including Windows 8 Store apps, traditional Desktop applications and many system apps such as Control Panel. To run an app, double-click it.

Applications folder

The Applications folder includes both Windows 8 apps and Desktop apps. Click to view larger image.

There's still one problem, though: The folder doesn't show up on the Start screen. It's simple to put it there, though. Right-click it on the Desktop or in File Explorer and select "Pin to Start." It's now pinned to the Start screen, though it might not be immediately visible there.

To find it, scroll all the way over to the right, and it'll be there. Click it, and the folder opens with all your apps. If you like, you can move it to a more prominent location on the Start screen by dragging it to the left.

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