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Inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Coming on the heels of the Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft recently released the Windows 10 Technical Preview. With this new version of Windows, Microsoft is combining elements from Windows 7 and Windows 8 / 8.1 to better enhance the keyboard / mouse user experience. Let's take a look at what's new in the Windows 10 Technical Preview.

The Start menu returns in the Windows 10 Technical Preview
The Start menu returns in the Windows 10 Technical Preview

With this version of Windows, we are seeing a shift in the focus from touch-based devices to keyboard / mouse systems. The biggest change by far is the return of the Start menu. And it is kind of a hybrid now, with elements from Windows 7 (Start menu (left-side)) and Windows 8 / 8.1 (Start screen Tiles (right-side)). But if you like using the Start screen, it's still there too. It's just a check box and restart away.

You can switch in between the Start menu and the Start screen in the Windows 10 Technical Preview
You can switch in between the Start menu and the Start screen in the Windows 10 Technical Preview

But let's be honest, the Start screen concept might work on a tablet or phone, but it fails miserably on a laptop or desktop computer without a touch screen. I have even been told by customers that they have returned brand new Windows 8 systems because they could not stand the Start screen.

Using multiple instances of the Desktop with Task view inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview
Using multiple instances of the Desktop with Task view inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Along with the return of the Start menu, Microsoft has also built-in the ability to run multiple instances of the Desktop called Task view. With Task view, you can have different sets of programs running in separate desktops. This feature is kind of cool if you're using a single display.

The Windows RT / Metro apps from Windows 8 / 8.1 have also under gone some changes. Thier name has been changed to Universal apps and they now run in completely re-sizable windows. You still need to use the Store to install universal apps and can still sync them across multiple devices using a Microsoft account.

There is also small change here and there too. One change is with the way you copy and paste with the Command Prompt. You can now use the Windows keyboard short-cuts (Ctrl + C for copy, Ctrl + V for paste) for these tasks.

The Windows 10 Technical Preview is available for anyone who wants to give it a try. Remember; do not install the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a production system. Use only a system that can be reformatted after the preview expires (4/15/15). For this article, I used an Oracle VirtualBox virtual machine.

For more information on the Windows 10 Technical Preview, check out the links below.

Windows Technical Preview
Windows Technical Preview FAQ's

How to create the Windows 8.1 user group of tiles on the Start screen

With the release of the Windows 8.1 Update, all new users have a new group of tiles on the Start screen: This PC (My Computer), PC Settings, Documents (My Documents) and Pictures (My Pictures). If you're a Windows 8.1 existing user or still running Windows 8, you will not see these added to your established Start screen, only new profiles get these. Windows RT users only get the PC Settings tile. Here's how to create the Windows 8.1 user group of tiles on the Start screen.

  1. On the Start screen, left-click on Desktop.
  2. Left-click on File Explorer on the Taskbar.
    Pinning This PC to the Windows 8 Start screen
  3. Right-click on This PC and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  4. Right-click on Documents and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  5. Right-click on Pictures and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  6. Left-click on the Start button or press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key to bring up the Start screen.
    Pinning PC Settings to the Windows 8 Start screen
  7. Bring up the search charm: Windows 8 - Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + F or bring up the Charms bar and select Search. Windows 8.1 - Left-click on the Search button.
  8. In the Search box type PC Settings. In the search results, right-click on PC Settings and select Pin to Start.

Inside the Windows 8.1 Update

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Update (actual name), the latest refinement of Windows 8.1. Most the changes are targeted at keyboard / mouse users, like me. The update comes only months (10/17/13) after the initial release of Windows 8.1 and includes user interface enhancements and security fixes. Here's a look inside the Windows 8.1. Update.

The update builds on the previous Windows 8.1 changes geared towards keyboard / mouse users: the return of the Start button, smaller tile size on the Start screen and booting directly to the Desktop. But the overall focus was still towards touch sensitive devices. The Windows 8.1 Update changes all of that.

The first thing you'll notice is the default behavior of Windows 8.1 has changed. Windows 8.1 now checks to see if there is a touch sensitive display attached to the computer and modifies the way it runs. For example, if your computer doesn't not have a touch screen, the default programs that open pictures, videos and music files go back to the familiar Desktop apps that Windows 7 used. Here's a complete list of the changes to Windows 8.1 behavior:

Windows 8.1 defaults before update Windows 8.1 defaults after update
  • Boots to Start Screen
  • Closing App takes user back to Start Screen
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Modern App
  • Boots to Desktop
  • Closing App takes user to the previously used App.
  • After closing all Apps the user ends in the Desktop
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Desktop applications

New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features
New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features

The Start screen has also seen some Desktop friendly revisions too. Microsoft has finally added a Power button, so you no longer have to log-off to turn off or restart your computer. Also added are familiar Desktop style content menus for the Tile properties. There are also a new set of tiles that are added for new users; This PC, PC Settings, Documents and Pictures. They won't appear for existing users, but can easily be recreated if you want them.

New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons
New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons

Microsoft also made some changes to the Metro (Windows RT) interface too. In an effort to make it more Desktop friendly, Metro apps now have a drop-down Title Bar on top, similar to Desktop programs, with Minimize and Close buttons. Also, Metro apps can now be pinned to the Taskbar (the Store is automatically pinned with the update).

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Update, just follow the link below.

Exploring Windows 8.1 Update

Six ways to make Windows 8 easier to use

Repairing computers for a living requires working on different versions of Windows. Windows 8 must have the most changes out of all the Windows releases I've seen in the last decade or so. It seems like what worked in previous versions of Windows doesn't work in Windows 8. So here are six ways to make Windows 8 easier to use.

1. Create Shutdown, Restart and Logoff shortcuts

Microsoft made shutting down and restarting Windows 8 kind of hard. You have to go to the Start screen and log-off before you can get to these options. Just seemed like too many steps for me, so I just created my own shortcuts and toolbar for shutting down, restarting and logging off.

How to create log-off, restart and shutdown shortcuts on the Start screen in Windows 8.

2. Start menu replacements

Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

If you're a die-hard Windows user and find the Start screen just doesn't work for you, there is hope. There numerous third party shell menus out there like Start8, Classic Shell and Pokki's Windows 8 Start Menu. Get one and Windows 8 will feel just like Windows 7.

3. Power users command menu

The desktop and laptop versions of the Windows 8 Power User command menu
The desktop and laptop versions of the Windows 8 Power User command menu

This is one of the Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8 (see below) but I think it deserves to be listed separately. It contains links to some of the most used programs inside of Windows. From the Control Panel, Computer Management and an Admin Command Prompt, if it's a commonly used Windows program, you'll probably find it here. Add it works on both the Desktop and Start screen.

PressTo
Windows logo key + X Open the Power User command menu. There are over a dozen different apps you can run from this menu.

4. Start screen hidden search feature

Most people find it hard to find programs on the Start screen (Windows RT). But there is one cool feature that actually will help you search for programs. If you go to the Start screen and just type the first couple of letters of the name of the program you're looking for, Windows RT will bring up the Search charm with Apps pre-selected. Remember that there is no box or form field associated with this feature, you just type.

5. Windows 8 Keyboard shortcuts

The Windows logo key Windows logo key has been around since Windows 95 and with every new version of Windows, Microsoft just adds more key combinations .There are now forty (40) different Windows logo key shortcuts in Windows 8.

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8.

6. Windows 8 restart options

Windows 8 restart option screen
Windows 8 restart option screen

It used to be when you had a problem with Windows, you could press F8 at startup and get to the boot options. This was the primary way to start Windows in Safe Mode or boot to other media. But with newer computers using Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) and Windows 8 booting faster, pressing F8 at boot is really hard, if not impossible. But there are a couple of ways to get there once Windows 8 is started. Note: If you want to boot from removable media, make sure that the media you want to boot to is attached (USB) or inserted (CD/DVD) before proceeding.

If you are logged off:

  1. On the logon screen, in the lower-right hand corner, tap or left-click the Power Icon. Hold the Shift key down while you tap or left-click on Restart.
  2. On the restart options screen, tap or left-click Troubleshoot.
  3. Tap or left-click on Advanced options.
  4. From here you can choose what startup settings you want to use or boot to a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive.

If you are logged on:

  1. Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + C to bring up the Charms bar.
  2. Tap or left-click Change PC Settings.
  3. Tap or left-click General.
  4. Scroll down to Advanced startup and tap or left-click Restart now.
  5. On the restart options screen, tap or left-click Troubleshoot.
  6. Tap or left-click on Advanced options.
  7. From here you can choose what startup settings you want to use or boot to a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive.

And if you would like enable the Advanced Boot Options menu, you can do that too. Just remember that there is no timer on the Advanced Boot menu anymore. If enabled, Windows 8 will wait for user input every time the system starts. How to enable the Advanced Boot Options menu at start up in Windows 8.

Windows 8.1 Preview - user interface enhancements

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Preview, the future upgrade to Windows 8. Some of the changes are subtitle and are quite easily over looked, others are not. Changes included in Windows 8.1 are B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device), mobility, security and user interface enhancements. With the promise of better user interaction on personal computers, Microsoft made some tweaks to both Windows RT and Windows 8. Let's take a closer look into the user interface changes inside of Windows 8.1 Preview.

The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview
The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview

The first thing you'll notice is that nothing appears to have changed. Right out-of-the-box the only thing that caught my eye was the return of the Start button on the Desktop. You no longer have to hover your cursor in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. If you left-click on the Start button, it brings up the Start screen, not the Start menu from previous versions of Windows. If you right-click on it, the power user command menu appears without keyboard shortcuts. Pressing the Windows logo key Windows logo key + X does the same thing, but has the keyboard shortcuts (the underlined letter in the name of the program). If you want and/or need a Start menu, you'll need a third party app like Start8.

Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

The Start screen has also under gone some changes. The tiles can now be resized smaller for non-touch devices like personal computers. You now have four different tile sizes to choose from: large (8x8), wide (8x4), medium (4x4) and small (1x1). There is now a button at the bottom of the Start screen to toggle in between it and the Apps screen. You no longer have to right-click the Start screen to bring up the Apps command bar. Now when you right-click on the Start screen, you get a customize button for adding names to groups of tiles. You no longer have to zoom out to do it. And now if you zoom out, all you can do is select a group of tiles to zoom in on.

The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview
The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview

The customization options for the Start screen have also been expanded. You can now use one of your own images for the lock screen or play a slide show on it. You can now also change the accent color along with the background color. Not as many options as some third party programs like Decor8, but it's an improvement compared to Windows 8.

Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

One the most anticipated changes is the boot to Desktop option. It took a little hunting, but I did find it under Personalization > Taskbar and Navigation properties. It's there you can make Windows 8.1 go to the Desktop when you sign in. You can also have the Desktop background on the Start screen and set the Apps screen as the default when you left-click on the Start button.

The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

Another program that got a face lift was PC Settings. Microsoft redesigned it with expanded categories and sub-menus to include more settings. It's still not as complete as the Control Panel, but it's getting better. The new layout seems more proportionate on a computer screen, with the menu titles smaller. Overall, I would say the user interface inside of Windows 8.1 is an improvement over Windows 8. But without a Start menu, it will still be a hard sell to die hard Windows users.

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Preview, just follow the links below:

Windows 8.1 Preview
Windows 8.1 Preview FAQ

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