Windows 10: The Best Hidden Features, Tips, and Tricks

Windows 10: The Best Hidden Features, Tips, and Tricks

Microsoft marked a turning point for Windows 10 with the Creators Update; while there were no earth-shattering upgrades included, it’s feeling much more like a mature OS version, particularly with its new privacy controls, Game Mode, and upgraded Edge browser.
Let’s take a look at some of the best hidden features, tips, and tricks in the operating system. Windows 10 combines the best of Windows 8 — super-fast startup, improved security — with much of what made Windows 7 familiar and easy to use, and without trying to force you to buy a touch screen or learn a whole set of hidden UI gestures. The Creators Update only makes it that much sweeter.
And if you’re a computer nut like me, tweaking the OS is always the fun part. Discovering and implementing power user tips are my favorite part of getting a major new version of an OS. I still remember back when DOS 5.0 came out, and I was running DOS 3.3, and I got to try all these new things to optimize my 286. And when I  upgraded from Windows/286 to Windows 3.0, I felt like my life had changed. (We’ve come a long way.) Nostalgia aside, here’s what you need to know to amp up your Windows 10 install and take it to the next level.

Windows 10 Game Mode

Windows 10's new Game Mode lets you boost performance by reallocating system resources toward whatever you're playing. In fact, there's a whole new Gaming panel in Settings that gives you quick control of the Game DVR and the Game Bar (triggered with Windows key-G). You can also broadcast games to your audience with sub-second latency using Beam.

Configure privacy settings

Microsoft has finally come clean with privacy settings in the Creators Update. When you're first setting up Windows 10, make sure to select a Custom install so you can modify the privacy settings, instead of going with the Express install. (If you already installed it, no worries; you can fix it all in Settings using the above link as a guide). While Windows 10 was free for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, it's not a free product in and of itself -- so there's no reason to share your personal information when it's not required.

Set up GodMode

The awesomely named GodMode brings up a special menu that puts lots of settings together in one place. To enable it, create a new folder anywhere on your root drive and rename it GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}. It will create a special icon that when you click on it shows you a beautiful advanced control panel.

Windows Activation

For the first time, you can tie your Windows key to your Microsoft account, instead of the hardware in your machine. This way you can upgrade your PC components whenever you want, without having to call Microsoft or otherwise figure out how to reactivate your PC using the same code online. To do so, head to Settings | Update & Security | Activation.

Clean Installs

Head to Settings | Updates & Security | Recovery and you'll see a new option under More recovery options: "Learn how to start fresh with a clean installation of Windows." This link takes you to an online Microsoft help page that lets you download a tool to aid in clean installs.

Task view and virtual desktops

One of the best things about Windows 10 is how it handles virtual desktops. The fact that it finally handles them at all, out of the box, is a great step, since Mac OS X and Linux users have had that capability for a long time. It lets you set up a series of tasks and windows on your desktop, your email and Twitter window on another, and a third for general Web browsing and research. To get started, click the Task View icon on the taskbar (immediately to the right of the Search box), or hold down the Windows key (abbreviated throughout as Win) and Tab. You can also drag an app to a new virtual desktop by bringing it over to the +New Desktop option at the lower right.

Make the desktop more stylish

Windows 10 lets you personalize your desktop more thoroughly than before. Head to Start > Settings > Personalization > Colors, and choose Show color on taskbar and Start Menu. You can also tell it to automatically pick a color from your wallpaper and apply it underneath icons of open apps, and you can remove the Start Menu's translucent option. In addition, a Dark Theme option turns the menus black. I love it, but your feelings may differ. I also wish it extended system-wide, to Explorer, the old Control Panel, and other places, but hey, at least it's a start.

Bash shell

This awesome feature lets you install the classic Bash UNIX shell, thanks to a joint effort with Canonical. Enable it by first heading to Settings | Update & Security | For Developers and switching on Developer mode. Once that's done, head to the old Control Panel | Programs | Turn Windows features on or off and check the box next to Windows Subsystem for Linux (beta). You'll need to reboot, at which point all you have to do is search for Bash to get started using it.

Print to PDF

You can finally print a document (or rather, save it) as PDF without using a third-party utility using Microsoft's Print to PDF. This makes it much easier to save and distribute documents that aren't easily modified. Another long overdue feature makes it in under the radar.

Schedule Windows updates

Instead of getting ambushed whenever Microsoft decides to push out a patch, you can schedule timed restarts to install updates by going to Start > Settings > Update and Security > Windows Update. You can do this for future updates as well by selecting Show More Notifications.

Run it in a virtual machine

If you haven't taken the Windows 10 plunge yet, but don't want to disturb your machine that's currently running just fine, here's how to install Windows 10 in a virtual machine first. Note that this is different than the virtual desktops I mentioned above; it's virtualizing the entire OS within another OS (your existing one).

Windows Explorer Home tab and Quick Access

Windows Explorer windows are a lot more useful this time around, thanks to a new Home tab (pictured above). It makes file copies a cinch. If you look at the top left of the window, you'll see a new Quick Access group that lets you navigate to recently accessed folders. That makes it much easier to maintain a fast workflow as you navigate around your computer's file system. And while File Explorer defaults to the Quick Access view, if you don't like it, you can set it back to This PC by choosing View > Options > Open File Explorer > This PC.

Customize the Start Menu

The Start Menu is such a huge improvement over what came with Windows 8.1 that it's almost impossible to describe the relief. It combines the best elements of Windows 7 and Windows 8. And it's also fully customizable. You can resize tiles in the Start menu by right-clicking them and choosing Resize, and then selecting a size from the pop-up menu. You can also unpin them or uninstall them completely. I admit the first thing I did is unpin all of Microsoft's tiles and then shrink the size of the menu so it looks a lot like Windows 7 (pictured).

Command prompt tweaks

A lot of Windows 10 utilities underneath the service still look the same as they did in Windows 7 and Windows 8. But one of the hidden tweaks is in the Command Prompt -- head over to Properties and you'll suddenly find you can enable a host of customizations, including a transparent background, resizing the window, and word wrap.

Battery saver

If you're on a laptop and your battery is running low, Windows 10 is smart enough to begin throttling back background services and other threads so that you can squeeze the last bit of battery life out of your machine. To enable Battery Saver, click the Start menu, and head to Settings | System | Battery Saver.

Background scrolling

Ever notice how when you hover your mouse cursor over a window and try and scroll, you still can't, because the window wasn't active? Turn this feature on in Settings | Devices | Mouse and Touchpad and you'll be able to do just that.

Keyboard shortcuts

Here are some keyboard shortcuts you may want to be aware of -- ones that will really help your daily workflow:
  • Windows Key-Tab (Task View)
  • Windows Key-Right-Up (Moves app to top right quadrant)
  • Windows Key-Ctrl-Left or Right (virtual desktop)
  • Windows Key-Ctrl-D (new virtual desktop)
  • Windows Key-Ctrl-C (Cortana listening)
  • Windows Key-S (Daily Glance for weather, news, sports)
  • Windows Key-Ctrl-F4 (closes virtual desktop)
  • Windows Key-Up and Down (snap apps to top or bottom of screen or maximizes)

OneDrive integration

Free cloud storage is a godsend these days, and Microsoft makes it super easy in Windows 10 with OneDrive. You can use it to store files for mobile device access from iOS or Android, and you can even set it to let you access any file on your PC remotely -- not just the ones you drag over to your OneDrive folder.

Amp up Cortana

If you've got a laptop, or a desktop with a microphone attached, click the search field and select the Notebook icon on the left. Then click Settings and click "Let Cortana respond to "Hey Cortana." Now Cortana will listen for your commands. Cortana can also use Google instead of Bing, even though Microsoft really wants you to use the latter. Install the Chrometana extension in Chrome, or just install Firefox and make that your default browser; both will accomplish the task of removing Bing from Cortana's brain.

Use Maps offline

The new Maps app lets you work offline (Remember those old Microsoft Maps programs?); click Settings > Download or Update Maps, and then select the continent and country you want.

Xbox Streaming

Windows 10 finally shows some real Xbox integration, and you can use it to log into your Xbox Live account. But more importantly, you can use it to stream Xbox One games locally on your PC. You'll have to enable it first on the Xbox One under Settings | Preferences | Allow game streaming, and then on the PC in the Xbox application. (Interestingly, Microsoft is also going the other way and adding keyboard and mouse support to the Xbox One  -- not that you'll need that, since you've already got a PC.) You can also record videos of apps or games using the Game DVR function. Press the Windows Key + G, click 'Yes, this is a game box,' and then you'll see options to manipulate the recording.

Find the original Control Panel (and other goodies)

The new Settings panel is easy to navigate and makes more sense than the crufty old Control Panel, but you'll still need the latter to access some deeper options in the system. It's easy to call up, even though it's hidden; just right click on the Start button on the bottom left of the screen and choose it from the pop-up menu, or type Control Panel in the Search bar at the bottom left in the taskbar. When you right-click the Start button, you'll see all kinds of useful things there, such as Computer Management and Disk Management; for what it's worth, those options bring you right back to the familiar Windows 7-style apps in each case.

Tone down Notifications

Notifications are a giant pain in Windows 10; there's just too many of them, and some are unnecessary. Turn 'em off by heading to Start > Settings > System > Notifications and actions, and turn off Windows tips and specific app notifications (you'll need to scroll down for the latter).

Nix the Office ads

Are you sick of the occasional Office ads that pop up on the desktop? So are we. To kill them, right-click on Get Office in the Start Menu and uninstall it.



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