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Coming to grips with Windows 8.1: Tips and tricks


August 7, 2013

Windows 8.1 will be arriving soon and we have a look at what's new and some helpful tips to get you started

Windows 8.1 will be arriving soon and we have a look at what's new and some helpful tips to get you started

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When Windows 8 was released last October it didn't receive a lot of fanfare. But this year Microsoft is making several changes to the operating system with version 8.1 and a lot of them are for the better. While it's not a complete overhaul, there are some subtle changes that should make it easier for new users to learn and use. Here's a look at some tips and tricks for using new features in Windows 8.1.

Boot to desktop, Start button, and easier navigation

Two of the biggest complaints of Windows 8 was having to deal with the modern-style Start screen when logging in, and the lack of a Start button. For users on a traditional PC without touchscreen capabilities, it made no sense and was confusing. Microsoft listened, returning a Start button, boot to desktop, and giving users the ability to make the new modern-style interface less in your face. This should be welcomed by users of computers with a mouse and keyboard who prefer to stay in the desktop environment. It's not set up by default, but it's simple enough to configure.

On the desktop, right-click the taskbar and select Properties to open "command central" for tweaking Windows to get it just the way you want it. It provides options to bypass the Start screen and go straight to the desktop when you log in, sort programs so your desktop ones appear first on the list, and disables aspects of the modern UI so it isn't as invasive.

Another subtle but effective change in the navigation settings is the ability to sort all apps more easily, set desktop apps to be listed first, and keep your desktop background on the Start screen.

New lock screen features

The lock screen in Windows 8 was mediocre at best. It allowed you to get app notifications, and while that function is still there, more have been added. You can now accept Skype video, voice, and text calls, and access your device's camera, much like you can with iOS and Android. And another cool feature is the ability to create slide shows from images and photos stored on your local device or in the cloud on SkyDrive.

Full SkyDrive integration

In Windows 8.1 you no longer need to install a separate desktop version of SkyDrive. It's all integrated into the modern interface and the desktop. It's also integrated into the new search feature, which makes finding your files much easier. The modern-style SkyDrive app now lets you save files for offline access, and provides easier management of your stored files.

New built-in Bing apps and utilities

When it comes to built-in apps in Windows 8, Microsoft's own Bing apps were probably the best developed and most usable. Apps like News, Sports, Maps, Weather and others are still in 8.1 but have been improved over the past year. The two most impressive are Bing Health & Fitness and Bing Food & Drink. The Health & Fitness app provides a diet and exercise tracker, nutrition plans, prescription drug information, health news and a lot more. Bing Food & Drink offers recipes, meal plans, cooking tips from celebrity chefs, wine and cocktail guides, and the ability to create your shopping list.

Another notable new app is Reading List, which lets you collect articles from Internet Explorer 11 and save them for offline reading. To use it, open the modern version of IE, bring up the charms bar, and select Share charm. Other apps include Alarms, Calculator, and Sound Recorder, which weren't in the first iteration of Windows 8, believe it or not.

Summing up

This is a look at just a few of the new features in Windows 8.1 with tips that should help you get started more quickly. If you're using Windows 8 currently, and not too thrilled about it, the 8.1 update will provide easier navigation, new apps and other welcome features. The 8.1 update is for Windows RT too, which finally includes Outlook 2013. The update is free to all current Windows 8 users and is due to be released later this month.
About the Author
Brian Burgess Brian Burgess resides in Minnesota. A technology enthusiast his entire life, he worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. In addition to contributing to Gizmag, he’s the Editor in Chief at groovyPost.com and has written for other notable tech sites Byte, InformationWeek, and How-To Geek. Away from the keyboard, you're likely to find him listening to heavy metal, playing guitar, or watching Star Trek. All articles by Brian Burgess

Calculator is there as I use it?

Gary Bonney

Why couldn't Microsoft come up with 8.1 in the first place? disconnect from customer experience? or tech-monopoly ego?

Cliff Tsay

Been using the preview on my Surface RT and so far its been good. A few glitches with regard to freezing up after sleep but its a preview so I expect stuff like that.

One of the things I would like W8 to support is allow users to resize their tiles to much larger sizes if the app supports it. Would be nice to have, say a mail app with all your mail, calendar with all your days appointments, etc displayed. Just not sure why they are so restrictive with what tiles can do.

Rann Xeroxx

good article, it was laid out nicely.

I plan on getting win 8.1, the boot to desktop and start button are important ones for me. I don't have a touchscreen monitor....but soon after I install Win 8.1 I plan on buying the leap motion.

Derek Howe

@Cliff Tsay I'm guessing they decided they'd make more money if they hyped windows 8, then released windows 8.1 a bit later.

I can't think of ONE reason why I would choose windows 8 over 7.


I'm using MATE on Windows 8 and it is still better that Windows 8.1 for desktop / laptop users who prefer to do things the old trued-and-true way.

Why is it that Microsoft cannot give us the CHOICE anyways? It seems they are so arrogant that they think they can force their crappy new OS on us, when all we want is to do things the same way as always.

Sometimes change is NOT a good thing.


“asdf” says: “I can't think of ONE reason why I would choose windows 8 over 7”.

Well, I can think of at least a dozen. But, if I had to ignore eleven of those reasons and pick just ONE.... It would be the ability to use the “Refresh PC” option when the system starts slowing down and I start facing problems and random error messages due to a missing or corrupt system file or an incorrect Registry value.

With Windows 7, your only option is to put up with it, or back up all your personal data, format the hard disk and reinstall a fresh copy of the Windows 7 OS, but that requires some expertise and valuable time, because you'll need to first install Windows and then you'll have to reinstall all device drivers for your particular computer make, favorite software, games, personal data etc. and, oh yeah, you'll also need to customize all your settings again.

However, in Windows 8, the "Refresh PC" option reinstalls the factory Windows OS but keeps your personal files and settings (and Apps).

The "Refresh PC" option first copies your personal data (favorites, documents, pictures, music, games etc.), settings Apps and device drivers to a different location and then reinstalls Windows from scratch.

After reinstalling Windows, it then restores all the copied data so, after using this option, you'll have a brand new factory Windows 8 OS along with all your personal data, settings and Apps. I do that every couple of months ('cause it's so quick and EASY).

That ONE option, beats the hell out of Windows 7 all by itself.


Thanks for the tips and tricks for Win8. I am hoping 8.1 will give me a more positive experience than I am currently having with Win8.

It would be nice to downgrade to Win 7. Win 8 makes me like Win7 even more.

With Windows becoming more like a tablet computer operating system, I guess some would rather get a tablet with either iOS or Android instead of the 'bloated' software from Microsoft.

If most computer users usually just use their computer for going online, it would more sense to get a tablet computer or perhaps a thin client or something similar to Googles Chrome Box or Chrome Book (usually less expensive - IIRC).


Xander77, you just made me want to install Windows 8 right away. That one perk is truly enough to win the hearts of many that have had to reinstall windows from scratch multiple times. That and this new update might just see me give it a shot today. Sucks that it took this long to get what we wanted.

I would have installed windows 8 upon release but the learning curve was a bit steep and I was perfectly fine with Windows 7 at the time so there was no obvious incentive to get windows 8. Getting rid of the start button was a dumb move by microsoft (imagine how many more systems they would have sold just by including the start button right from the very beginning) and people who use their PC for more than just entertainment purposes would agree. This version should have only been available on touchscreen latops or tablet/laptops hybrids as it's not suitable for desktops.

They went for a tablet approach and completely forgot about their business side of things (Schools, corporations etc..) Maybe they should have released a professional edition that kept most of the much loved aspects of windows 7? That would have saved them a lot of headache. I read somewhere that group testing for windows 8 didn't start until the product was released to the market. That was a huge fail right there. Makes me wonder who makes the decisions. Oh, I think he definitely did pay for it...

I also think Windows 8 was launched a bit too early because most people have no real need for it atm. Windows 7 was a much needed upgrade from that flopcrap called Vista which was why it was well received upon induction.


I do have a nice 10.5 " CTL Win 7 Touch Tablet and am just waiting for you to decide the bugs are out and it's time to GO WIN 8.1

Richard Barrett

Xander77, there's a Refresh PC option for win7 the command is "sfc /scannow" in the Command Prompt. :)



Seriously, Bing is the one of the stupidest search engine I've ever used. I think Altavista was still plenty better back in the days compared to the current Bing. It never returned a single usable result. Hell, I would rather use Yahoo than Bing--that's how much I hated it.

Apart from that, I'm glad MS is recognizing the fact that it is damn near impossible for people to adopt touch-enabled screen. I want one, but unfortunately, there isn't a single one on sale in Bangkok. Yes, I looked. At every-single-shop-in-the-city. Maybe once Kinect roles in. (Just don't force me to keep that on all the time, and I'll get one)

Savin Wangtal
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