Windows 8: 7 Handy Tips and 4 Cool Tools

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Although it isn't even in beta, the Windows 8 Developer Preview edition is already getting tweaked and having its hidden features exposed by fanboys (and girls) and developers alike. Here are eight tips, tricks, and tools that are worth knowing about if you plan on playing with Windows 8 today.

Tip 1: Get back your Start menu
If you are like me, you installed the preview on a desktop (in my case, I installed it in a virtual environment) and not a tablet. On a touchless PC, the new Metro UI may not be the most comfortable method of working with Windows 8.

[ Want to run Windows 8 on your PC (or virtual machine on your Pc or Mac)? J. Peter Bruzese has a video that explains how to install Windows 8, and another video touring Windows 8's key features. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

But you can install the traditional look in two steps:

  1. Launch Regedit and browse toHKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer.
  2. Double-click RPEnabled and change its value from 1 to 0 to remove Metro and get back to the desktop Windows you are used to.

Tip 2: Use Windows 8's keyboard shortcuts

To launch Regedit, you may need to use a shortcut key. Here are some of the keys that can help you in Windows 8:

  • Pressing the Windows key and R simultaneously brings up the Run box.
  • Pressing Windows+I brings up your settings from the side panel.
  • Pressing Windows+Q brings up an application search.
  • Pressing Windows+C brings up the simple Start menu and time and date.

Many of your "old" shortcuts still work, too. But keep in mind that some of these shortcuts won't function the same if you turn off the Metro UI through the registry as described in the first tip.

Tip 3: Setting SmartScreen filtering
If you've played around a bit with Internet Explorer, you know that IE utilizes a feature called SmartScreen to filter and protect your system from harmful elements. In fact, Windows 8 uses SmartScreen to filter the entire Windows system, not just IE. You can find these settings in the control panels and in the Action Center under the Change SmartScreen Settings heading.

There are three options: Require approval from an administrator before running unrecognized programs from the Internet (recommended); give a warning before running unrecognized programs from the Internet, but don't require administrator approval; or turn off Windows SmartScreen.

Tip 4: Revisiting your file history
There's a cool new applet called File History in the control panel that can help you recover files, much like Mac OS X's Time Machine utility. You can configure the folders to focus on and/or exclude and determine the location of the drive for the backup destination (preferably an external drive). This allows you to check any file through Explorer by selecting the Home ribbon tab and clicking the History option. It isn't enabled by default, so you have to enable and configure it before you can use the History option.

Tip 5: Set a gesture-based password
You can take a picture and draw on it using taps, lines, and circles as your password -- a complex gesture that will be hard for someone else to guess. To see this, go to the control panel's Users applet and select Create a Picture Password. This feature requires the Metro UI.

Tip 6: Fixing disk errors

You can perform two different disk scans in Windows 8. The Scan Drive utility scans the disk and fixes minor issues but lets you keep using it during the operation. The Scan and Repair Drive utility does a deeper scan and can fix major issues, but your disk is unavailable throughout the process. To get these utilities, select a drive in the Explorer, right-click, and choose Properties from its contextual menu as you would in Windows 7 or earlier. From the Tools pane, click Check Now in the error-checking section.

Tip 7: Mount ISO files
Whenever I need to mount an ISO file, I typically search out MagicDisk, MagicISO, or some other little tool for the task. Windows 8 eliminates the need for such third-party utilities: You can just select the ISO file in Explorer, right-click it, and choose Mount. It may seem like a minor detail, but they all count right now.

Four cool Windows 8 tools
The whole point of a developer preview is to get developers to create apps in time for the new operating system's release. So far, that's happening. Windows 8 apps in development include a USA Today app, similar to its reader for the iPad and Android tablets. Jetstream Software is working on a "social traveling app" that looks interesting.

Noted Windows blogger Paul Thorrot has found four intriguing Windows 8 apps; of course, keep in mind these are very early days, so their stability is not guaranteed, and the final result may not match the promise.

  • Windows 8 Start Tweaker lets you change the wallpaper for the Start and logon screens.
  • Windows 8 Blue Poison unlocks additional features in Windows 8.
  • Windows 8 Start Menu Toggle lets you toggle between the classic Start Menu screen and the Metro version.
  • Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8 lets you customize the Metro UI.

No doubt we will see many, many more tips and tweaks in the coming year as Microsoft bakes the Windows Developer Preview edition into first a beta, then a release candidate, and finally into the shipping product. I can't wait!

This article, "Windows 8: 7 handy tips and 4 cool tools," was originally published Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at For the latest business technology news, on Twitter.

This story, "Windows 8: 7 Handy Tips and 4 Cool Tools" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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