Be More Productive on Windows 8.1 With These Hidden Desktop Features

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The Windows Key + X menu on Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 has a lot of secret handshakes. There’s an entire secret society of Windows geeks out there who love Windows 8.1 on the desktop and consider it an upgrade from Windows 7. Ask any one of them and they’ll tell you their tricks. It turns out they’re not secrets at all — Microsoft just forgot to tell normal PC users about these features.

The Hidden Tools Menu

Did you know you can still access the Control Panel or shut down your computer from the Start button in just two clicks? Microsoft hid a menu with these options right under your nose.

To access this menu, press Windows Key + X on your keyboard or right-click the Start button at the bottom-left corner of your taskbar.

This menu is where Microsoft has hidden all the useful features we desktop users love so we can access them quickly. It’s a shame most Windows users will probably never find this menu, but it’s an essential tool for those of us who know about it.

The Invisible Search Box

The Start screen combined search feature on Windows 8.1Let’s say you need to find an app and launch it as quickly as possible. Do you start searching from the Charms Bar or All apps view? Or do you open the Start screen and click the Search button added in Windows 8.1 Update?

These are all inefficient ways of searching. Instead, it turns out that the entire Windows 8.1 Start Screen works like a search box, although you wouldn’t know it until you start typing.

You can perform a search for a program, file, or even a web page from the Start Screen itself. Just press the Windows key on your keyboard to pull up the Start Screen and start typing. For example, you can press the Windows key, type “fire,” and press Enter to launch Firefox. This works just like the search box in Windows 7’s Start menu, although there’s no visual indication until after you start typing.

The Buried Navigation Options

Windows 8.1 added many of the options desktop users had been demanding. You can now enable boot-to-desktop or prevent the Charms Bar and app switcher from appearing when your mouse cursor reaches one of the top corners of your screen. This only takes a few clicks — if you know where to click.

To find these options, right-click your desktop taskbar, select Properties, and click the Navigation tab. The options here will help you tweak how Windows 8.1 behaves on the desktop.

The Crucial Keyboard Shortcuts

The bottom of the Settings charm panel on Windows 8.1Keyboard shortcuts are also crucial for getting around Windows 8.1. Wherever you are in Windows 8, you can always press Windows Key + D to go to the desktop.

The charms are inconvenient without a touch screen. You’ll want to press Windows Key + C to bring them up instead of using that awkward hot-corner mouse gesture.

Better yet, skip the main charms bar and just press Windows Key + I to open the Settings charm pane. This pane offers a slider for screen brightness, a button to turn your PC off, a link to the Change PC settings app, and other features that matter for desktop users.

Remember these tricks and you’ll be able to get around Windows 8.1’s desktop much faster. Now we just need a real pop-up Start menu and the ability to run all those new apps on the desktop — Microsoft says they’ll add those new features soon.

Image Credit: Chris Hoffman

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