Lately, it’s been Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system that’s snatched headlines. Like with previous updates, many are hoping that Windows 10 will deliver the features they want and the add-ons that they need to stay product and entertained. The features coming with that update that’ll certainly please most PC buyers. What we forget is that it was Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 that paved the way for Windows 10.
Windows 8.1 has a ton of features and little small changes that aren’t appreciated. Worst, Microsoft hasn’t done the best job at publicizing some of the reasons Windows 8.1 is the best operating system for notebooks, desktops and tablets we’ve ever had. Here are 21 Windows 8.1 tips and tricks that you can use today. At the very least, they’ll help you hold out until Windows 10 makes its debut later this year.
1. Windows Store Apps Sync Content
Microsoft’s Windows Store allows users to download new apps. These apps purchases sync automatically, showing up on new computers whenever you sign in. There’s another reason they’re better than Desktop programs: many of them sync the content inside them across devices too. For example, when you log into Tweetium on a new PC all of your accounts are already there because they synced from your old one.
Look in your apps settings to see if its content can be sycned with other devices using your Microsoft Account.
2. Use Built-In OneDrive to Back Up Your Data
When you setup your Windows 8.1 PC, chances are you turned on OneDrive syncing. Windows 8.1 includes OneDrive sync in the background. Anything added to the OneDrive folder on your PC is available online at OneDrive.com or on your other PCs. This is great for quickly sharing documents, or backing up nearly everything on your device.
3. Keep Track of Facebook & Twitter with the People app
Both Twitter and Facebook have great apps available in the Windows Store. You don’t really need them though. Depending on your needs, the People app offers a pretty compelling social experience. There you can see Facebook and Twitter status updates. Additionally, you can post new updates too. Also, there’s a contact book in there.
4. Swipe Down on the Lock Screen to Go Directly to Camera
Windows 8.1 wasn’t just made for notebooks and desktop PCs, it was also designed for 2-in-1s and tablets. Machines in both of those form factors sometimes come with a rear-facing camera for picture taking. Swiping down on the Start Screen is the easiest way to access a rear-facing camera without unlock a Windows 8.1 2-in-1 or desktop.
5. Play Games Using the Xbox One or Xbox 360 Controller & Earn Achievements
With Windows 10, Microsoft is rolling out full-on Xbox Live support. Windows 8.1 doesn’t have very robust direct integration with Xbox Live, but there’s are some basic things that are available. Shop for games in the Windows Store to earn Xbox Live achievements. Many games support the Xbox One controller too.
6. Pin Websites to the Start Screen If They Don’t Have an App
Can’t find an app in the Windows Store for your favorite website? That’s ok. Instead, go to the Windows Store version of Internet Explorer, navigate to the website and click or tap on star icon. Now click or tap on Pin. From that point on, a tile on your Start Screen will take you directly to that site.
7. Use the Settings Charm to Check for Preferences and Settings
Can’t search a Windows Store app or find a specific setting that you think should be there? You need to check in the Charms Bar. Access the Charms Bar by placing your mouse pointer in the top-right corner of your screen. Touch users should place their finger on the right edge of their display and swipe left.
8. Play Almost Anything with Xbox Video
You can download the world-famous VLC media player Desktop app or you can use, Xbox Video for all of your video content. Anything placed in your videos folder will show up there. Xbox Video supports tons of formats, including many from smartphone cameras and the web.
9. Turn Off OneDrive Syncing
Microsoft built-in OneDrive syncing so that Windows 8.1 users would never have to wonder whether their stuff was already synced. It was a good idea, users had complained about the separate OneDrive syncing app on Windows 7 and Windows 8 for years. Unfortunately, some just don’t want any syncing going on between their apps.
Don’t like OneDrive? Turn it off from inside the Settings app under OneDrive.
10. Adjust the Size of Text and Apps
Many notebooks, all-in-one desktops and monitors have incredible displays with ridiculously high resolutions. To help with this, some companies like Lenovo upscale text, images and interface elements. You can adjust the elements size and more directly from the Control Panel.
11. Restore Back To Factory Settings with the Push of a Button
Don’t pay someone else at BestBuy to reset your computer. Instead, Microsoft made the process of restoring a Windows device much easier. Simply go to the Settings app and press the Update and Recovery button. From there you can reset your device back to factory settings and keep your files exactly where they are. Additionally, there’s a nice button for a fresh restart.
Read: How to Reset Windows 8.1
12. Dive Into the Games App to Check your Xbox Live Gamerscore and Messages
Remember, Windows 8.1 does have some decent Xbox Live integration. The Games app not only allows users to earn Gamerscore from apps sold in the Windows Store. Users can also check Xbox Live messages and get a breakdown of the games for the Xbox 360.
13. Go Straight to the Desktop in Windows 8.1
With the Start Screen, Microsoft wanted to create one interface for all kinds of users. Whether they succeeded or not remains up for debate. Touch users seem to love the Start Screen. Notebook and Desktop users seem to be just tolerating it.
With Windows Phone 8.1 Microsoft added the ability for users to skip pass the Start Screen and head directly to the Desktop. Go into the Desktop and right-click on the Taskbar. Then click on Properties. Under Navigation there’s a setting for going directly to the Desktop when you turn on your PC instead of the Start Screen.
14. Move the Taskbar to the Top of Your Screen
Right-click on the Taskbar and click on the Unlock the Taskbar button. Now drag the Taskbar to whatever edge you’d like it to show up on. By default it sits at the bottom, but putting it on the top makes it consistent with Mac OS, early versions of Windows and easier to spot.
15. Turn Your Lock Screen into a Photo Gallery
The Desktop is great for showing off pictures you’re proud of. However, they’re only available when your PC is on. With Windows 8.1 Microsoft added lock screen slideshows. You can configure your lock screen to cycle through different images while locked automatically. Pictures can even be pulled from Microsoft’s OneDrive service.
Go to the Settings app. Now tap or click on PC Devices. The option to turn your lock screen into a slideshow is at the bottom.
16. Use Storage Spaces to Make Multiple Copies of Your Important Files
Windows 8 didn’t add a lot in terms of hard-core features for Desktop users. One that did make it was Storage Spaces. Storage Spaces allow Windows 8.1 users to stitch together multiple physical hard drive for more storage and back ups.
17. Add a Background to the Start Screen
By default, The Start Screen comes with Tattoos, weird looking designs that users can switch the color of. Don’t use those. Instead, use your favorite Desktop background. Right click on the Desktop’s Taskbar. Click or tap on Properties. Select Navigation and click or tap on the option for using your Desktop background for the Start Screen.
18. Turn Off Live Tiles
Right-click or tap an hold on individual Live Tiles to Turn them off. This is great when you’re in public and don’t want to share your emails or giving a press conference where the latest news from the New York Times is relevant.
19. Use Bing SmartSearch to Find Websites and Apps Without Opening a Web Browser
You can search anything and everything on your PC with the search field in the Desktop. There’s also Bing SmartSearch, an integrated way to search files locally and for websites and images on the web.
Place your finger on the right edge of your screen and slide to the right if you’re using touch. Mouse users should place their pointer in the top-right hand corner. Just hit Search.
20. Breakdown Which Apps Are Using Most of Your Storage Space
Apps and games can quickly take up a lot of your storage. Included in Windows 8.1 is a storage tracker that gives users a breakdown of what apps and games are consuming the most storage on their device.
Go to the Settings app and hit Search and Apps. then click on App sizes. You can delete the most egregious apps from here without going out to find the app on your Start Screen.
21. Open More than One Internet Explorer Windows At a Time
In Windows 8.1 there are two versions of Internet Explorer. The most used one is probably the older design built for mouse and keyboard users in the Desktop. The second is a version built with mice, keyboards and touch in mind. Everyone knows how to open a tab in the second version, but not many realize you can open to Internet Explorer windows side by side.
Open a new tab and go to the website you’d like to use in the Internet Explorer app. If you have touch, tap and hold on the tab you want to put in a new window. Mouse and keyboard users should right click on the tap. Now tap or click on Open Tab in New Window.