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10 Windows 8 tips, tricks and hacks

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

January 31, 2013 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Whether you've installed Windows 8 yourself or bought a new PC with it, you're now faced with an unfamiliar operating system that at first glance seems more difficult to customize than earlier versions of Windows. What to do -- give up and simply use it as it came out of the box?

Editor's Note

Always check with your IT department before changing system settings or otherwise tweaking a company-owned machine.

Certainly not. There are plenty of ways to tweak, hack and make Windows 8 do things you wouldn't think were possible. In this article you'll see how to cobble together your own quick-and-dirty Start menu as well as customize the hidden Power User menu. I'll show you how to use so-called "God Mode," hack the lock screen and Start screen, master File Explorer and much more.

So fire up Windows 8 and get ready to hear it cry "Uncle."

Need help getting up to speed with Windows 8? See our Windows 8 cheat sheet, which shows you how to get around (including with keyboard shortcuts) and offers three quick tips for getting started with Windows 8.

1. Put "God Mode" in easy reach

You wouldn't know it by looking at the Desktop or Start screen, but Windows 8 practically bristles with settings you can customize. The problem is that they're scattered throughout Windows 8, and it can be time-consuming to track them down individually.

However, there is one way to find them all in one place: You can use what some people call "God Mode." While the term "God Mode" has a powerful ring to it, the truth is it's not a separate mode that you put Windows into. It's really a hidden folder that gives you fast access to many settings spread out across Windows 8. It's easy to put that folder right on the Desktop.

First, make sure that you can view hidden files in File Explorer, the system navigation app that in earlier versions of Windows was called Windows Explorer. Run File Explorer, click the View tab, and check the boxes next to "Hidden items" and "File name extensions" in the Ribbon at the top.

Then right-click the Desktop and select New --> Folder. That creates a folder on the Desktop named "New folder." Rename the folder:

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

GodMode icon
The GodMode folder on the Desktop.

The folder icon changes, and it has the name GodMode.

(Note that the "GodMode" text isn't what turns the folder into a special folder; instead, it's that long string of letters and numbers inside the curly brackets. You can use any text you want before the period just ahead of the opening bracket, and it still points to the same folder and everything works the same.)

Double-click the icon, and you'll launch a folder filled with dozens of actions, tools and tweaks, from "Change Automatic Maintenance settings" to "View update history." They're organized by category. Expand or shrink each category by clicking the small triangle next to it. Each category displays a number next to it, showing how many settings there are in it.

the God Mode folder with options
"God Mode" offers a plethora of settings and actions. Click to view larger image.

To start any action or tweak, double-click it in the list. In some cases you'll follow a wizard, in other cases you'll need to fill in dialog boxes, and in yet other cases you'll be sent to the Control Panel or another Windows location to do the work.

2. Put a quick-and-dirty Start menu on the taskbar

Particularly high on the list of things that annoy people about Windows 8 is the omission of the Desktop's Start menu. Microsoft did its best to stomp it to death -- but it didn't quite succeed. In the Windows 8 cheat sheet I showed you how to use free or paid add-on programs to get the Start button and menu back.

If don't want to use third-party software to get a Start menu, you can build your own quick-and-dirty one in no time. You won't get the full traditional Windows Start menu with Search button, recently run apps, the Control Panel, your network and so on. Instead you get a menu that lets you browse through applications and launch them.

First make sure that you can view hidden files in File Explorer, as outlined in the tip above.

Now right-click the Desktop's taskbar and select Toolbars --> New Toolbar. From the screen that appears, navigate to

C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu

where username is your account name, and click the Select Folder button. That will place a Start Menu toolbar on the far right of the taskbar. Click its double arrow to display a variety of folders (such as Programs and Computer) that you can browse through until you see the item you want; click it to launch it.

start menu approximation
Here's your quick-and-dirty Start menu. Click to view larger image.

To make the Start Menu toolbar go away, right-click the taskbar and select Toolbars, then de-select the Start Menu listing.



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