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 May 2019 Update.)

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OneDrive in Windows 10

Microsoft includes its OneDrive cloud-storage service along with Windows 10. After you upgrade to Windows 10 or run it for the first time on a new machine, you'll get a notification that it's available. Click the notification to begin the setup process. If you don't want to use OneDrive, dismiss the notification. If you later want to set it up, look for the OneDrive icon on the taskbar and click it. If you don't see the icon, type "OneDrive" into Cortana's search box and you'll be able to set it up.

Before using OneDrive, you should know the lay of the land. OneDrive lives in the cloud, but you can choose to sync its files and folders to your local PC. So you'll have a choice to sync all of your existing OneDrive files and folders to your Windows 10 PC, or just some of them. Syncing happens automatically, without you having to do anything.

In Windows 10, you get to your OneDrive via File Explorer. By default, this shows you OneDrive files and folders that live on your PC — those that you've chosen to sync. If you instead want to see OneDrive in the cloud, go to www.onedrive.com. Alternatively, OneDrive Files On-Demand lets you see and access all your OneDrive files, even those stored in the cloud, from File Explorer. I’ll explain how to use that feature below.

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OneDrive in Windows 10 with One Drive Files On-Demand enabled. Icons next to files show which are local, which are in the cloud and which are syncing. (Click image to enlarge it.)

With all that in mind, let's go back to setup. When you first set up OneDrive, you'll be asked whether you want to sync your entire cloud-based OneDrive to your local PC, or only individual folders. If you choose individual folders, you'll be able to pick and choose which to sync.

You're not stuck with that decision forever, though. Let's say that you've chosen only to sync some folders, and later on you decide you want to change them — add some folders to sync and remove others. To do it, right-click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar, select Settings, go to the Account tab, and click "Choose folders."

A screen appears. If you want to sync all folders, check the box next to "Make all files available." If you instead want to sync only some of them, uncheck that box, then check the boxes of those folders you want to sync and uncheck the boxes of those you don't want to sync.

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You can choose which folders to sync in OneDrive. (Click image to enlarge it.)

A word of advice about using OneDrive: I suggest that if you're going to use it as your primary local and cloud storage that you rethink your folder structure. Over the years, Microsoft has nudged or pushed you into using various folder structures, such as organizing everything in Documents, or in Libraries. That's problematic with OneDrive, because if you do that, you won't be able to easily sync them with OneDrive.

So if you become serious about OneDrive, I recommend organizing everything under your OneDrive folder. That way, when you create new files and folders on your PC, they'll automatically sync up to the cloud.

Using OneDrive Files On-Demand

OneDrive Files On-Demand is great for people who have multiple PCs and laptops, because it gives you access to all of your OneDrive files on every device, without having to download them first.

Turning on One Drive Files On-Demand makes it easier to save space on local hard drives while still giving you access to all the files you need. That way you can buy a less expensive laptop with less storage than you would normally need, because it’s easy to access all of your OneDrive files, even with a modest amount of local storage.

To use it, first make sure it’s turned on: Click the OneDrive icon on the right side of the taskbar, click the three buttons on the right side of the screen that appears, select Settings, click the Settings tab from the screen that appears and check the box next to “Save space and download files as you use them.”

When you do that, you’ll see all of the files you have stored in OneDrive, whether they’re on your PC or not. Icons next to each file or folder indicate whether it is stored only on the web (the cloud icon) or on your PC as well (the checked circle icon).

If you double-click a file in File Explorer that’s on your PC or in both locations, you open it from your PC. If you double-click one that’s only online, it gets downloaded to your PC, and you work on it locally. From that point on, it’s available on both your PC and OneDrive and syncs to both.

You can easily change the status of any file or folder from local to cloud storage or vice versa. To do it, right-click the file or folder. Then select “Always keep on this device” if you want to download the file or folder to your PC, or select “Free up space” if you want to remove it from your PC to get more storage space but still keep it in OneDrive on the web.

This works in applications as well as in File Explorer. So files from OneDrive on the web show up in Microsoft Office, and when you open them, they get downloaded for use on your PC.

Other useful features

Windows 10 has several other new interface tricks up its sleeve that are worth knowing about, including the Action Center, My People, Task View, Timeline, and a powered-up version of the Windows Clipboard.

The Action Center

In Windows 8, you got to system settings and other behind-the-scenes tools via an awkward interface called the Charms bar. In Windows 10 it's been replaced by the Action Center, which you may or may not find useful. But you should at least know what it is and how it works so you can make your own decision.

There are three ways to launch it:

  • Swipe from the right on a touch-based device.
  • Click its icon on the far right in the taskbar. (It looks like a rectangular word balloon.)
  • Press Windows key + A.
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The Action Center springs up with a swipe, a click or a keyboard combo. (Click image to enlarge it.)

The Action Center is designed for double duty: It displays notifications for such things as your news feed, new emails, and security and maintenance messages, and it lets you change a handful of common settings for such tasks as connecting to Wi-Fi networks, switching to and from tablet mode, and changing brightness settings. It also works with Cortana and will display information from Cortana here — for example, what the traffic is like on your morning or afternoon commute. 

Notifications first appear on their own on the lower right of the desktop and disappear after a few seconds. You may or may not want to click them right away, which is where the Action Center comes in. After they fade away on the desktop, they live on in the Action Center.

Security and system notifications are generally well worth heeding. For example, you may be told that you can speed up your PC by stopping unnecessary programs from launching at startup. Tap the notification and you'll be sent to the Task Manager, which lets you stop them from running. The alerts also tell you when you've got printer woes, issues with Microsoft's OneDrive cloud-based storage or similar problems. So overall, you'll probably find it worth your time to regularly check the Action Center.

As for email, you might find those notifications less than useful, because the Action Center doesn't always play well with your mail provider. If you've set up the Windows 10 Mail app to hook into your Gmail account, you will see a notification in the Action Center when that account gets new email. When you click the notification, the Mail app launches and you can read the message there. But the Action Center doesn't take into account whether you've already checked your Gmail account in a browser, so you'll continue to see notifications for messages you've received, even if you've already read them in Gmail and deleted them.

That said, there is a way to suppress Mail notifications from the Action Center, which I'll cover below.

More useful are the icons for quick actions at the bottom of the Action Center. Just click the icon of the action you want to perform. Most are self-explanatory, such as connecting to a Wi-Fi network or turning Bluetooth on or off.

By default, four icons appear in the top row of the quick-actions area. To show icons for all the quick actions available to you in the Action Center, click "Expand" just above the row of quick action icons. All of the remaining quick-action icons will appear. The exact icons that appear depend upon the capabilities of the computer that you're using. On a desktop PC, for example, you might only have eight or so quick-action icons, but on a laptop or tablet there will likely be more icons available for options such as Battery saver, Bluetooth, Airplane mode and so on. To display only a single row of icons when the Action Center is expanded, click Collapse.

To change which ones appear in the row, click the "All settings" icon, then go to the System group, click "Notifications & actions" and look at the area at the top of the screen labeled “Quick actions." Underneath it, click “Edit your quick actions.” You’ll see all of the quick action icons you have displayed in the Action Center, with a pin on each icon’s upper right. Click a pin to remove its corresponding quick action. To add quick actions icons, click Add at the bottom of the screen. You’ll see a list of the quick actions you’ve deleted. Click any to add it. When you’re finished, click Done. You can also change any icon’s position in the Action Center. Simply drag it to the location where you want it to appear.

You can also change which notifications show up in the Action Center, or turn them off completely. Go to Settings > System > Notifications & actions, and to turn off notifications, turn the slider to off in the “Get notifications from apps and other senders” section. Turn the slider to on to get notifications. Then scroll down and select the kinds of notifications you want to see and turn off the ones you don't want to see. You'll be able to choose or hide general types, such as Windows tips or app notifications, or turn off and on notifications from individual apps, including Mail. To do the latter, scroll to the "Get notifications from these senders " section and toggle them On or Off.

You can also set priorities for which apps are more important than others and have their notifications show up at the top of your notification lists. Go to Settings > System > Notifications & actions, then scroll down to the "Get notifications from these senders" section and double-click an app. A new screen appears which lets you fine-tune how that app’s notifications are displayed At the bottom of the screen you'll see settings for three levels: Normal, High and Top, with Normal being the lowest priority and Top the highest. Choose the one you want.

You can also adjust how many notifications can be visible at any time in the Action Center for any app. The default is three. To change it, from the same screen, click "Number of notifications visible in action center," and select a number from the dropdown list (you can choose one, three, five, 10 or 20).

My People

My People is a useful app that lets you pin contacts to the Windows taskbar, and then communicate with them without having to open a separate app.

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With the People app, you can pin contacts to the taskbar to make it easier to contact them in multiple ways. (Click image to enlarge.)

To use it, click the People button on the right side of the taskbar — it looks like the heads and shoulders of two people. (If the button isn’t visible, right-click the taskbar and from the screen that appears and select the “Show People on the taskbar” button.)

The first time you use the app, a Get Started button appears. Click it, then click People at the top of the screen that appears. On top of the screen is a list of people you’ve frequently contacted. Click a contact to pin him or her to the taskbar. (To pin other contacts, click “Find and pin contacts” at the bottom of the screen. That leads to a search box that lets you search for contacts to pin.)

Once that’s done, the contact is pinned to the taskbar. (To unpin a contact, right-click it and select “Unpin from taskbar.”) You’ll now be able to communicate with him or her without having to open a separate app such as Mail or Skype. Just click the icon for the person with whom you want to communicate, and in the contact information page that opens, choose the app you want to use. You’ll be able to get in touch from right inside the contact info page.

You can scroll through your history of communications with the contact. You’ll see all messages you two have exchanged in a threaded list. It includes communications such as Skype video chats and instant messages, not just email.

My People also has some drag-and-drop features, including changing the order of contacts on the Taskbar by dragging them and sending a file to a contact pinned to the Taskbar by dragging the file to that person's icon.

My People lets you pin up to 10 people on the Taskbar. Go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar, scroll down to the People section and choose the number of contacts you want to show, any number between one and ten.

Task View and multiple desktops

Some people might find another Windows 10 feature useful — Task View and its ability to create multiple desktops. Note that the Task View interface is combined with another feature called Timeline.

To activate Task View, click its icon (a large rectangle with two smaller rectangles flanking it) in the taskbar just to the right of the Cortana button or press Windows key-Tab. When you do so, both Task View and the Timeline feature spring into action on the same screen.

At the very top of the screen you’ll see a “New desktop” button, and beneath that, thumbnails of all of your currently running apps and applications arrayed against the desktop so you can quickly see what you've got running. Click any thumbnail to switch to that app or press the Esc key to leave Task View and return to where you were. Beneath that you’ll see Timeline, with thumbnails of documents you’ve run over the last thirty day. (For more details about how Timeline works and how to use it, see its section below.)

For those used to using the old Alt-Tab key combination to cycle through open apps and applications, you can still do that as well, but Task View adds a couple of extra twists. If you hover your mouse over any thumbnail, a small X appears in its upper-right corner. Click the X to close that app or application.

Task View also lets you create multiple virtual desktops, each with different Windows apps and desktop applications running on them. To create a new desktop, activate Task View and click "New desktop" at the upper left of the screen. You can run a different set of Windows apps and desktop applications inside the new desktop — for instance, you could dedicate one desktop to work-related apps and applications, and another desktop to entertainment-related apps and applications.

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The top of the screen shows all your virtual desktops, the middle shows the apps running in the current desktop, and the bottom shows Timeline. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To switch between desktops, click the Task View icon and click the desktop to which you want to switch. You can keep creating new desktops this way and switch among them.

One odd thing to keep in mind about virtual desktops is that you can't run a Windows app in multiple desktops simultaneously. If it's running in one desktop and you try to launch it in another, you'll immediately zoom to the desktop in which you originally launched it. You can, however, run desktop applications in multiple desktops.

Timeline

Timeline is a feature that lets you review and resume activities and open files you’ve started on your PC, any other Windows PCs you have, and iOS and Android mobile devices. (For it to work on iOS and Android devices, you need to install Microsoft’s Cortana app on them and be logged in.)

To turn on Timeline, go to Settings > Privacy > Activity history and make sure the box is checked next to “Store my activity history on this device.” If you want to have your activities on this device available to other devices associated with your Microsoft account, go down to “Send my activity history to Microsoft” and move the slider to On. Timeline is now turned on not just for your Microsoft account on this device, but on other devices as well.

To have activities from other accounts show up on your Timeline, go to the “Show activities from these accounts” section, and check the boxes next to all the accounts whose activities you want to see on Timeline. And if you want to turn off Timeline, in the “Show activities from these accounts” section, set the slider to off for all your accounts.

You get to Timeline the same way you get to Windows 10’s Task View, as outlined above. Once you’re there, you’ll see a list of your activities day by day over the last week, including websites you’ve visited and files you’ve opened. By default, Timeline only shows you seven days of your history. To show 30 days, scroll to the bottom of Timeline and select “Turn on.” When you do that, you’ll now see your history over the last 30 days.

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The Timeline feature shows your activities in Windows 10 over the last 30 days. (Click image to enlarge it.)

Each activity appears as a large tile, with the name of the application or app that created it at its top, and the file name and document title or URL and website name across it. In many cases, it shows thumbnails of the websites you’ve visited. The history is organized by days, with up to six activities for a day visible and with a link at the top of the day giving you the option to see all activities for that day, with the words, for example, “See all 12 activities.” Click it to see all of them. When you see all of them in a day this way, they’re organized by hour, so for a busy day you can see your work throughout the day, chronologically. To see only six when you’re looking at Timeline, click “See only top activities.”

Scroll through the tiles using a mouse, arrow keys, or the slider on the right-hand side of the screen. You can search through them by clicking the search icon at the top of the screen. But that only searches through titles and file names, not the contents of the documents you’ve opened — so if you’ve worked on a Word document in the last 30 days and it had the word “market share” in the body of the document but not in its title, a Timeline search won’t turn up the document.

Click a tile to open it. In the case of an application, like Word, the application will launch with the file open in it. In the case of a website, the site launches in the browser you were viewing it in. When you open a file, it shows the latest version of the file, not the state it was in on that day on the Timeline. For websites, you’ll see its current state, not state of the site at the time you visited it.

You can remove individual entries from Timeline or all the entries for a single day. Right-click the entry you want to delete and select Remove from the pop-up menu. To delete all of that day’s activities, instead select “Clear all from (date),” such as “Clear all from April 30.”

Keep in mind, though, that Timeline has some shortcomings. It currently tracks primarily Microsoft applications, including all Office applications and Microsoft Edge. But non-Microsoft apps may not be left out forever; their developers can add support for Timeline, and Microsoft itself has released a Chrome extension that allows Timeline to track activities in Chrome.

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