How to Optimize Windows 8.1 for the Desktop

So you’ve made the plunge and dived into Windows 8.1 Public Preview.  Whether you have it installed on your physical computer or set up Windows 8.1 in a VM, you now want to get the most out the OS.  Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can do to make Windows Desktop friendly.  In this article, I’m going to show you how to pull off eight Windows 8.1 tricks that everyone should know:

  1. Enable Boot to Desktop
  2. Disable Hot corners
  3. Unify the Start Screen and Desktop
  4. Make clicking the Start Tip open the Apps view
  5. Shutdown from the Start Tip
  6. Enable Peek
  7. Get your Desktop Icons Back
  8. Use Hero Search

1. Turn on Boot to Desktop

Microsoft throws three screens in front of you before you ever get to the Windows desktop:

  • The lock screen
  • The login screen
  • The Start Screen.

Why are there so many barriers to the beloved desktop? Just give me the desktop!

You can configure Windows so that the desktop, not the Start Screen, immediately appears after logging in.  You’ll completely circumvent the happy tiled Start interface and get right to business.

  • Unlock and login
  • Left click the Task Bar along the bottom edge of the screen
  • Press Alt Enter to open the Taskbar and Navigation Bar properties
  • Click the Navigation Tab and choose Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in (highlighted below)

Windows 8.1 Boot to Desktop

2. Disable Hot Corners

Do you know what annoys me in Windows 8 and 8.1?

I hate it when my mouse accidentally drifts into the upper right corner of the screen and I inadvertently summon the Charms bar.

Or when I try to click the X in the red rectangle that lives in the upper right corner of a window and I unwittingly summon the Charms bar.

Or I…

You get the picture; there’s nothing charming about a Charms bar that opens when I don’t want it to.

Also, sometimes I move my mouse into the opposite screen corner and accidentally call up the App Switcher.

The App switcher is the new way of switching between Apps in Windows 8.  It displays thumbnails of all open Apps in a bar that slides in from the left side of your screen.  But this bothers me:  when I want to switch Apps I just want to press Alt Tab.

To get rid of these hot corners, look back in the Taskbar and Navigation properties and uncheck the first two checkboxes:

  • When I point to the upper-right corner, show the charms
  • When I click the upper-left corner, switch between my recent apps

Windows 8.1 Disable Hot Corners

3. Unify the Start Screen and Desktop

Let’s face it: the Start Screen and the traditional desktop screen feel disconnected.  Part of the reason is because the Start Screen has a different background; therefore, switching between both screens feels like switching between two totally different operating systems.  This disconnection makes Windows 8.1 feel clunky and pieced together.

The smart way to solve this annoyance is to check Show my desktop background on Start in the familiar Taskbar and Navigation properties window.

Windows 8.1 Match Start Screen Background to Desktop

4. Make clicking the Start Tip open the Apps view

The Start “Tip” is the official name for the Start Button.  Lame? Yes, but I’m just trying to be correct here.

Right now, if you click the Start Tip it flips open the colorful Start Screen we’ve all grown to hate.

Honestly, I don’t know what it is about the Start Screen that nettles me; I mean, there is actually useful information in the Live Tiles such as up to the minute news events and current weather conditions.

I think I feel such antipathy toward it because it doesn’t feel like a match for a desktop computer.  It’s like Microsoft took a tablet interface and coerced non-tablet users to use it anyway.

If it bothers you as much as it bothers me then this is how to change it so that clicking the Start Tip defaults to displaying your Apps.

You can still get to the Live Tiles screen by clicking the up-arrow on the Start Screen, but by default, Windows will display your Apps grouped into categories starting with Desktop Apps on the left side of the screen and finishing with the Metro/Modern UI apps as you scroll to the right.

Back in Taskbar and Navigation properties check these two boxes:

  • Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start
  • List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category

Windows 8.1 Start Tip opens Apps View instead of Start Screen

Make sure you click Apply on the Taskbar and Navigation properties screen then click the Start Tip and change the sort from by name to by category.

Windows 8.1 Start Screen Apps by Name to by Category

And there you go.

Now clicking the Start tip opens the App view sorted by category with desktop Apps listed first.  Scroll right for Metro Apps and click the Up Arrow near the button of the screen to flip back to playful tiles.

Windows 8.1 Apps Sorted by Category

5. Shutdown with ease

There are few ways to shutdown the computer.  You can still click the Desktop and press Alt F4.  Or you can press Alt X U U but that’s long and hard to remember so don’t do that.

I actually think the easiest way to Shutdown Windows 8.1 is to simply right click the Start tip and choose Shut down.

Done.

Windows 8.1 Shutdown by right clicking the Start Tip

6. Enable Aero Peek

Peek was the cool Windows feature introduced in Windows 7 that instantly made your windows invisible so you could Desktop.  You would make your windows transparent by moving the mouse into the bottom right corner of the screen and leaving it there for a second.

It’s disabled by default in Windows 8.1.  To get it back, revisit the Taskbar and Navigation properties by pressing Alt Enter or right clicking the Taskbar and choosing Properties.

Then put a check in Use Peek to preview the desktop when you move your mouse to the Show desktop button at the end of the taskbar.

Windows 8.1 use Aero Peek

7. Get your Desktop icons back

If you miss the My Computer, Control Panel or Network icons from Windows 7 and Vista you should reclaim your right to have them.

  • Right click the traditional Desktop and choose Personalize
  • Click change desktop icons in the upper left pane

Windows 8.1 Personalization Settings

  • Put check marks near the icons you want to display.  You can also display your User Files on the desktop which I find pretty convenient.

Windows 8.1 Desktop Icon Settings

Beautiful isn’t it?

Windows 8.1 show desktop icons

8. Use Hero Search

Hero Search is the name of the new unified search Microsoft introduced in Windows 8.1.  It aggregates search results from not only your local computer but also the web and Skydrive.  I love it because it does away with the stupid Apps, Settings and Files categories from Windows 8 and just displays everything in one view.

To use it just press the Windows Key + q from the Desktop or just start typing on the Start Screen.

Windows 8.1 Hero Search

Windows 8.1 Hero Search 2

The Bottom Line

Windows 8.1 public preview works fine out of the box; however, to get the most out of it you’ll need to make a few adjustments.

But I love my setup now.  I can actually get stuff done with minimal frustration.  I hope this article helps to ameliorate any frustration you have too!

About

Connect with Vonnie on Twitter

Posted in How To, Windows 8.1 Tagged with: