Windows 10 tips

Windows 10 cheat sheet

Get to know the interface, features and shortcuts in Microsoft's latest operating system. (Now updated for the Windows 10 November 2019 Update.)

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Handling Windows updates

After years of complaints, in the spring of 2019 Microsoft finally gave many users what they’ve been asking for since Windows 10 was introduced — the ability to control whether to install the twice-yearly feature updates Microsoft releases for Windows. Before that, those with Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education licenses could delay the updates, but Windows 10 Home users couldn’t unless they resorted to sneaky workarounds (none of them ideal) to stop the installations. And even those who could delay installations couldn’t put them off forever.

All that has changed. Windows 10 Home and Pro users can put off installing the twice-yearly feature updates, and can even skip them altogether, using the “Download and install now” option.

Now when Microsoft releases a new feature update to the public, it is no longer automatically installed. Instead, Windows notifies you that it’s available with a “Download and install now” message and link in the Windows Update Settings pane. If you don’t want to install it, ignore the message and your PC stays as it is. Whenever you want to install an update, just click it and follow the instructions.

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All Windows 10 users can decide whether and when to install the twice-a-year feature updates. (Click image to enlarge it.)

There is one caveat. When your current version of Windows reaches what Microsoft calls “end of service” — the point at which Microsoft no longer supports it — Windows 10 will install the latest feature update automatically. For Home and Pro users, that’s usually 18 months after your current Windows version’s release.

Even so, it’s theoretically possible to skip over some feature updates entirely. Since they’re released approximately every six months, you could install one version, decline to install the next one that’s released, and then install the one after that.

You also have control not just over the twice-a-year feature updates, but also over the minor updates that Microsoft issues in between them. You can pause these smaller updates for up to 35 days. Those who use the various business and educational versions of Windows 10 have been able to delay minor updates for quite some time, but now everyone has the option.

To do it, go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and click Pause updates for 7 days. After seven days you can do it several more times, a total of five times to delay it for 35 days.

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You can delay minor Windows 10 updates, 7 days at a time, for up to 35 days. (Click image to enlarge it.)

In addition to all this, Windows has a safety net that will uninstall problematic updates that harm your PC. If your computer won’t start properly after you install an update, Windows will diagnose the problem and try to fix it. If it can’t, it will uninstall a recent Windows 10 update or driver update that might be causing the problem and block it from reinstalling for 30 days. See details from Microsoft.

You can also ask Windows to alert you, via a system tray icon, when you need to reboot your PC in order to finish an update. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options, and underneath “Show a notification when your PC requires a restart to finish updating,” move the slider to On.

Windows apps

In Windows 8, Windows apps and the desktop didn't get along. Windows apps could only be run from the Start screen, not from the desktop. What's more, they didn't appear in traditional application windows; you could only run them full-screen or side by side with another Windows app (but not a desktop application) so the two apps filled the full screen. That meant you couldn't have multiple Windows apps running in separate windows on the desktop alongside desktop applications. It was just one more way in which Windows 8 felt like two separate operating systems.

That's no longer the case in Windows 10. You can resize, minimize and close Windows apps in the same familiar way as desktop applications. Drag the edges of a Windows app to resize it. Use the familiar icons on the upper right of the app window for minimizing, maximizing and closing the app.

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In Windows 10, Windows apps can be resized, minimized and closed in the same way as desktop apps. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Windows apps also get a better way to access all of their features. On the left side or bottom of the app window you'll typically see a series of icons for the different features in the app. The icons change depending on the app. For example, the Weather app has icons for news, maps, historical weather in your location and so on. And the Money app has icons for markets, currencies, a mortgage calculator, and so on.

Most of the apps show useful information by default, but it's worth investigating the customization options for each app. To customize the News app so it shows exactly the kind of news you're interested in, for instance, click the icon that looks like a star with a row of lines next to it — it's just below the home icon. Once you do that, you'll be able to tell the app your news preferences — Top News, US News, World News, Good News, Crime, Technology, Entertainment and so on.

You can set up the Mail app not only to work with Microsoft's web-based mail service (currently called Outlook.com), but also with other web-based services, including Gmail. To add an account after you launch Mail, click Accounts, and from the Manage accounts screen that appears, click Add Account. Then select the kind of mail account you want to add (Outlook.com, Google, Exchange, Yahoo, Outlook.com, POP and IMAP mail, and so on) and follow the prompts. For web-based accounts, it's straightforward. For POP and IMAP accounts, you'll need your account information ready, including POP and SMTP server names and passwords.

You can also combine mail from multiple accounts into a single, unified inbox. To do it, click Accounts > Link inboxes and combine the accounts you’d like.

The Calendar app will connect to your mail accounts automatically and display their calendars. For example, if you set up both an Outlook.com account and a Gmail account in Mail, the calendars associated with them automatically appear in the Calendar app.

Using Windows 10 on a tablet or 2-in-1

One of Windows 8's biggest drawbacks was that it forced people with desktop computers to use an interface designed for tablets. In Windows 10, Microsoft changes that with a feature called Continuum that automatically senses the device you're using and switches Windows 10's interface to match it — the Windows 8-like Start screen for tablets, and the desktop and Start menu for laptops and desktops.

Continuum works dynamically. If you're using a tablet with a keyboard attached, such as a Microsoft Surface, it displays the desktop interface, but if you detach the keyboard, it asks if you want to switch to tablet mode, which uses the Start screen interface. Tap Yes to switch to tablet mode. Similarly, if you're using a tablet and attach a keyboard to it, a notification appears asking if you want to switch out of tablet mode.

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Windows 10 senses when you detach a keyboard from a 2-in-1 device and asks if you want to switch to tablet mode. (Click image to enlarge.)

If you don't want to be bothered by the notification again, select Remember my response and don't ask again. From then on, you'll switch automatically from desktop to tablet mode and back again depending on whether you have a keyboard attached to your device. No notification will appear. If for some reason you like those notifications, instead select Always ask me before switching.

You can also manually switch in and out of tablet mode via an icon in the Action Center, which I'll cover later in the story.

Tablet mode in Windows 10 works much like Windows 8 used to work, with the usual touch and swiping gestures. As with Windows 8, there's no desktop but instead the Start screen with groups of tiles that represent your apps — the same tiles grouped in the same way as they are on the desktop's Start menu, except here they take up the full screen. Tap any tile to launch it. You can scroll through the tiles, but note that they scroll vertically rather than horizontally as they did in Windows 8.

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Tablet mode in Windows 10 features the Start screen, which will be familiar to Windows 8 users. (Click image to enlarge.)

There are some other differences between the Start screen in Windows 10's tablet mode and the old Windows 8 Start screen. On the left side of the screen you’ll find six icons, three grouped at the top and three at the bottom.

At the top is a hamburger menu, which doesn’t serve much purpose. Tap it, and the left-hand side of the screen turns black, and all six icons get text labels. Tap it again, and the labels and black screen go away. Just beneath the hamburger menu is the pinned tiles icon — tap it to see the Start screen filled with tiles, which is the default tablet interface. Below the pinned tiles icon is the all apps icon. Tap it and instead of seeing pinned tiles, you get a full-screen all apps view that lets you scroll through all of your apps and desktop applications to quickly find one you want.

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You can see the all apps listing even on a tablet. (Click image to enlarge.)

Down toward the bottom of the screen are three icons that will be familiar to those who use the desktop and laptop interface: One for your user account, so you can sign out of Windows, lock your PC, switch to a different user account, or change your account settings; one that gets you to the Settings app; and a power icon that that lets you put your tablet to sleep, shut it down or restart it.

You can also auto-hide the taskbar when you're in tablet mode, even if you hadn't hidden it in desktop mode. To auto-hide it in tablet mode, go to Settings > System > Tablet Mode and switch on the setting Automatically hide the taskbar in tablet mode.

The Edge browser

With Windows 10, Microsoft finally bids goodbye to Internet Explorer — almost. You'll still find it, but it's no longer the default browser, and development work has essentially stopped on it. The browser of today and tomorrow is Edge.

The Edge you see in Windows 10 today, though, is very different than the Edge that was first released with Windows 10 in July 2015. In January 2020, Microsoft killed the old version of Edge and released a new version based on open-source Chromium code, which was first developed by Google and also underpins Google Chrome and other browsers including Opera and Brave.

The old version of Edge was filled with kludgy features that no one wanted, such as being able to read e-books and mark up and share web pages. That version also had very few extensions — four-and-a-half years after it was introduced it had fewer than 300, compared to many thousands for Chrome.

The new Chromium-based version of Edge has eliminated many unnecessary features from the old Edge, so it’s a far cleaner, simpler, faster browser and can use the many thousands of extensions written for Chrome. (For a hands-on review, see “Microsoft’s new Edge browser: Third time's the charm?”) If you’ve stayed away from Edge in the past, you might want to give it a second look.

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The new Chromium Edge is simpler, cleaner and faster than the original version of the browser. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Edge works much like all other browsers. The upper left has arrows for going forward, back and reloading a page. Type URLs in the address bar or use the address bar as a search box by typing in search terms. Favorites are accessed via the icon of a star with three horizonal lines at the top right of the screen. To access advanced features, click the three-dot icon on the top right of the screen, and you’ll be able to do things like change settings, view your downloads, see your history, control extensions, and so on. Add Favorites by clicking the icon of a star on the far right of the address bar.

For some, the biggest improvement in the browser is its ability to use extensions written for Chrome. You can get extensions from the Chrome Web Store, the Microsoft Edge Addons site, or from individual web sites.

To use extensions from the Chrome Web Store or any sites other than the Microsoft Edge Addons site, you’ll have to first tell Edge to accept them. To do it, click the three-dot icon in the upper-right corner of Edge, select Extensions from the drop-down menu, and on the bottom left of the screen that appears, move the slider next to “Allow extensions from other stores” to the On position. That’s all it takes.

Microsoft says that some Chrome extensions might not work on Edge, notably those that rely on Google Account functionality to sign in or sync data and those that rely on companion software on your PC.

To manage your extensions, click the three-dot icon at the far right of the screen, then select Extensions. You’ll come to a page that lets you turn on or off any extension or remove it. You can also get more details about each extension here.

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Here’s the page that lets you manage your Chrome extensions. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Edge also has a very useful privacy feature called tracking prevention, which blocks ad providers from tracking you from website to website. That makes it more difficult for companies to build comprehensive profiles of your activities and interests.

By default, it’s turned on. But you can customize how it works, making it less or more restrictive by balancing how much privacy you would like when browsing the web with how much you want to see ads and content that mirror your interests.

To do it, click the three-dot icon at the top right of Edge’s screen and select Settings > Privacy and Services. You’ll see these three choices:

  • Basic. This allows most trackers and blocks only those that Microsoft considers harmful. You’ll have less privacy but will be more likely to see personalized ads and content.
  • Balanced. This blocks many trackers and is more restrictive than Basic. This is Edge’s default setting. You’ll have more privacy than with Basic, but ads and content will be less likely to be personalized. And like Basic, it blocks harmful ads. With both Balanced and Basic settings, the websites you visit will work as you expect them to.
  • Strict. This blocks the majority of trackers from all websites, as well as harmful ads. You’ll have the most privacy, and ads and content will probably have minimal personalization. Parts of websites may not work properly when you choose this setting.

You can customize tracking prevention even more by clicking Exceptions. That lets you specify sites on which you’d like to allow all trackers. Edge also allows you to see which ad trackers it has blocked. Click Blocked trackers to see them. You can also see which trackers have been blocked on any website you’re currently visiting. To do it, click the lock icon to the left of the URL, then click Trackers at the bottom of the menu that appears.

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Here’s where you customize tracking prevention. (Click image to enlarge it.)

You can also run websites like Facebook or Computerworld as standalone apps, without having to run Edge itself. When you’re on a website you want to run as an app, click the three-dot icon at the top right of the screen, then select Apps > Install This Site as an App and click the Install button. When you do that, the website will show up in your Windows 10 app list (and you can pin it to the taskbar) like any other app. Just click the app’s icon, and the website will be rendered by Edge with all of its functionality, but it will work as its own app without any other Edge features.

You can also run the app by selecting Apps from Edge’s three-dot icon, then clicking the app from the menu that appears. To delete any app you’ve installed, click Manage Apps from the menu, and on the new screen that appears, click the X next to any app you want to delete.

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