Windows 8 Tweaks and Tricks


As you probably know by now, Microsoft has made many major changes in Windows 8. The Start Screen replacing the Start Menu is just one of the major changes you’ll notice. These new and improved features can be quite useful and frustrating at the same time. So here I’ll share some tweaks and tricks you might be interested in as a Windows 8 admin and user.

Bringing Back the Start Menu

Though you’ll find similar shortcuts in the metro-style interfaces and gestures that were offered previously via the Start Menu, adding a Start Menu in Windows 8 can be useful. It can reduce the number of times you have to access the Start Screen, like when opening programs, powering down, and accessing system settings. Though Microsoft doesn’t offer a setting to bring the Start Menu back, you can download and use third-party utilities like ViStartStart8, or Windows 8 Tweaker.

Boot Directly to the Desktop

If you aren’t a fan of the new Start Screen consider booting directly to the Desktop. One method is to use Task Scheduler to run Explorer at boot; here’s how:

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Type “schedule” and it will start searching and then select the Settings option on the right, under the search field.
  3. Open the Schedule Task shortcut in the results.
  4. Select Task Scheduler Library on the left, open the Action menu from the toolbar, and select Create Task.
  5. For the Name, type something like “Show Desktop at Logon”
  6. Choose the Tiggers tab, select New, on the top select At log on, and hit OK.
  7. Choose the Actions tab, select New, for the Program/Script value enter “explorer”, and hit OK.
  8. If you’re on a laptop, choose the Conditions tab and under the Power options, uncheck Start the task only if the computer is on AC power.
  9. Hit OK to save the new task.

Next time you logon you should be taken to the familiar desktop where you’ll also find a Windows Explorer window opened to your Libraries.

Open Media Files in Desktop Applications

By default, media files you open in Windows 8 will be shown or played in the metro-style apps, which is annoying if you work mostly in the Desktop interface. However, you can choose which desktop application or Windows 8 app to open files with by right-clicking on a file. Or you can change the default programs for files:

  1. Open the Start screen, type “default”, and open the Default Programs shortcut in the search results.
  2. Select Set your default programs.
  3. Select the program with the desired associated file types, like Windows Media Player for audio and videos or Windows Photo Viewer for images and then select Set this program as default.

Launch Windows 8 Apps from the Desktop

The new Start Screen offers shortcuts to both Windows 8 apps and traditional Desktop programs. But from the Desktop, you can’t by default launch Windows 8 apps. So if you primarily use the Desktop interface, consider creating a folder menu of all your applications:

  1. Right-click (or touch and hold) on the desktop, select New, and choose Shortcut.
  2. Copy and paste the following into the location field: %windir%\explorer.exe shell:::{4234d49b-0245-4df3-b780-3893943456e1} and click Next.
  3. Type in a name, like “All Apps”, and select Finish.

 Now when you open the folder you’ll see a listing of your applications, including the Windows 8 apps.

Customize the Windows 8 Win+X Menu

The Win+X menu offers shortcuts to system settings and programs, accessible by pressing Win + X on the keyboard or by right-clicking the bottom-left corner of the desktop. This is a useful menu for admins and power users, but can be even more convenient by adding your own custom shortcuts. To do this simply download the freeware Win+X Menu Editor. It lets you modify the existing groups and shortcuts and add new ones.

Prevent Uninstallation of Windows 8 Apps

By default, Standard users can remove the new Windows 8 apps by right-clicking tiles on the Start Screen and selecting Uninstall. This makes uninstalling them quick and easy, but can be an issue if you don’t want users to remove them. However, you can prevent this by using Group Policy: navigate to User Configuration/ Administrative Templates/ Start Menu and Taskbarand enable Prevent users from uninstalling applications.

Disable the Windows Store

The Windows Store is where you can download free and paid Windows 8 apps. Although it’s convenient that you can make quick purchases from Windows Store using billing information on-file, it can be an issue if you share your computer with others that aren’t fully trusted—they can make purchases without your consent. However, you can use Group Policy to disable Windows Store: navigate to User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Store and enable the Turn Off the Store application policy.

Enable Windows Store in Windows 8 To Go

When using Windows 8 from a Windows To Go flash drive, the Windows Store isn’t available. But if you’d like users to be able to update or install Windows 8 apps, you can enable the Windows Store using Group Policy: navigate to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Store and enable Allow Store to Install apps on Windows To Go workspaces.

Create Custom Refresh Points

In a previous article, I discussed the new Refresh feature of Windows 8, which backs up all the personal files and metro-style apps and then reinstalls Windows. Though it doesn’t keep your traditional Desktop applications, you can create custom backup images that you can later restore to, which would include all applications; here’s how:

  1. Go to the Start Screen, right-click in an empty area, and then select All apps.
  2. Right-click Command Prompt, and select Run as administrator.
  3. Type “recimg /createimage <target location>” while entering the path to where you want to save the backup image.

Then you can later restore your PC to the latest image by using the Refresh feature within the PC Settings in Windows or via the boot menu.

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