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How to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer

Do you have an old Windows based computer you would like to get rid of but want to make sure that all of your data is securely erased? Or maybe you would like to wipe all of the data from your hard drive and perform a clean installation of Windows? Either way, you'll want to make the data is completely wiped out. Here's how to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer.

Back-up all folder(s) and/or file(s) you want to save

This is the time to double and triple-check for any folder(s) and/or file(s) you may want to keep. If you plan on reinstalling Windows, make sure that you have all of the installation media available. If you need to create the recovery media that is stored on your computer, this is the time to do it. Once the hard drive is wiped cleaned, the recovery media images will be gone too.

Download and create bootable media with disk wiping software

The best way to completely wipe clean a hard drive is by booting the computer up on a CD/DVD disk or USB drive. This way you can erase all of the space on the hard drive. There are several free utilities for doing this, including Darik's Boot And Nuke, CMRR - Secure Erase and PC Disk Eraser. I recommend the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD), which has all of these and more already built-in. Just download the image file (.ISO) and use your favorite disk burning software or Windows built-in disk burning to create the bootable media. You can even create a UBCD bootable USB drive.

Encrypt the contents of your hard drive

This step may seem unnecessary, but it does make data recovery virtually impossible on the drive you are going to wipe. Windows has a feature called Encrypting File System (EFS) built-in, but it's disabled by default. It allows files to be encrypted transparently with a File Encryption Key (FEK). For more on EFS, check out this Wikipedia article. So even if someone was able to recover the data on the drive after the wiping, it would be in very poor condition. After that, the data would have to be unencrypted, and being in such bad condition, would be really hard, if not impossible.

  1. Open File Explorer / Windows Explorer (Windows logo key Windows logo key + E).
  2. Select the file(s) and/or folder(s) you want to encrypt.
  3. Right-click on the items selected and then left-click on Properties from the context menu that appears.
  4. On the General tab, left-click on Advanced.
  5. Left-click the check box for Encrypt contents to secure data.
  6. Left-click on OK. Be patient, encrypting the folders and/or files may take some time.

Insert bootable media and restart system

When you restart your system, it should boot up on the media you created. Follow the on screen instructions. If using the UBCD, navigate to HDD > Disk Wiping for the list of utilities. Each program will have similar data destruction settings. I always look for the latest Department of Defense standard (currently DOD 5220.22-M). If you really want to clean your hard drive, just run two or more of the disk wiping programs included on the UBCD.

If your system does not boot up on the media you just created, you may have to change the boot order for the computer. Check the 'splash' screen that first appears when you start your computer. Sometimes there is an option for boot device and/or menu, usually an F key. If not, you will have to change it manually inside the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). The BIOS can usually be accessed by pressing the DEL or F2 key when the 'splash' screen appears. It's always recommended to check the documentation for your motherboard on which keys are used to access the BIOS and where in the BIOS to change the boot order.

Search for files and folders faster in Windows 8 with Indexing Options

Being in computer repair, I have to keep track of a lot of client files and folders. The Search charm in Windows 8 works great, but sometimes the files or folders I'm looking for are not in any of the default (libraries, off-line files and e-mail) index locations (program and system files are excluded, as most people rarely need to search them). Adding files and folders to the Indexing Options is easy. Here's how to modify the Indexing Options inside of Windows 8.

How to access the Indexing Options in Windows 8

Main screen for Indexing Options inside of Windows 8
Main screen for Indexing Options inside of Windows 8

  1. Swipe in from the right-side of the screen or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + C to bring up the Charm bar. Left-click on Search button in Charm Bar, then Left-click on Settings in the Search charm.
    or
    Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + W to bring up Settings in the Search charm.
  2. Type Indexing Options in the Search field on the Search pane.
  3. In the results on the left hand side, left-click on Indexing Options.

How to add a file type to the index in Windows 8

If you use an unusual file type that's not currently recognized by the index, you can add it to the index so you can search in Windows 8 by that file type.

Advanced Indexing Options File Types tab inside of Windows 8
Advanced Indexing Options File Types tab inside of Windows 8

  1. Open Indexing Options (see above).
  2. Let-click on Advanced. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. In the Advanced Options dialog box, left-click the File Types tab.
  4. In the Add new extension to list box, type the file name extension (for example, "txt"), and then left-click Add.
  5. Left-click Index Properties Only or Index Properties and File Contents, and then left-click OK.

How to add a folder to the index in Windows 8

Indexed Locations screen for Indexing Options inside of Windows 8
Indexed Locations screen for Indexing Options inside of Windows 8

  1. Open Indexing Options (see above).
  2. Left-click on Modify.
  • To add or remove a location, select or clear its check box in the Change selected locations list, and then left-click on OK.
  • If you don't see all locations on your PC in the list, choose Show all locations. Administrator permission required You might be asked for an admin password or to confirm your choice. (If all locations are already listed, Show all locations won't be available.)
  • If you want to include a folder but not all of its subfolders, select the folder, expand the folder, and then clear the check box next to any subfolder you don't want to be included in the index. These folders will appear in the Exclude column of the Summary of selected locations list.
  • Indexing all of the files / folders on your system is not recommended. It is recommend that you index only your frequently used files and folders for best performance.

How to rebuild the Index inside of Windows 8

The index requires almost no maintenance. However, if the index can't find a file that you know exists in an indexed location, you might need to rebuild the index. Rebuilding the index can take several hours, and searches might be incomplete until the index is fully rebuilt.

  1. Open Indexing Options (see above).
  2. Left-click on Advanced. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. In the Advanced Options dialog box, left-click the Index Settings tab, and then left-click on Rebuild. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

How to index encrypted files in Windows 8

Before you add encrypted files to the index, we recommend that you have Windows BitLocker (Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise only) or a non-Microsoft encryption program enabled on your system drive (the drive that Windows is installed on). The index will automatically rebuild each time this setting is changed. This can take a long time, and might cause searches to be incomplete until the process is complete.

  1. Open Indexing Options (see above).
  2. Left-click on Advanced. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. In the Advanced Options dialog box, left-click the Index Settings tab,
  4. Left-click the Index encrypted files check box to select it and then left-click OK. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
    Notes:
  • Although you can use a non-Microsoft program to encrypt your system drive, non-Microsoft file encryption programs are not supported. Windows only supports files encrypted using Encrypting File System (EFS).
  • If you add encrypted files to the index and you're not using full-volume encryption for the location of the index, encrypted data from your files for example, text from an encrypted Microsoft Word document will be added to the index. The index is obscured so that it's not easily readable if someone tries to open the index files, but it doesn't have strong data encryption. If someone were to gain access to your computer, they could extract your data from the index. Therefore, the location of the index should also be encrypted to help protect your indexed data.

How to index words with and without diacritics as different words in Windows 8

If you commonly use diacritics (small signs added to letters to change the pronunciation of words) in your file and folder names, you can configure the index to recognize words with diacritics differently. By default, Windows recognizes diacritics according to the language version you are using. If you change this setting, all diacritics will be recognized. The index will automatically be rebuilt each time this setting is changed. This can take a long time and might cause searches to be incomplete until the process is complete.

  1. Open Indexing Options (see above).
  2. Left-click on Advanced. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. In the Advanced Options dialog box, left-click the Index Settings tab.
  4. Left-click the Treat similar words with diacritics as different words check box to select it, then left-click OK.

How to change the location where the index is stored in Windows 8

If you need to free up space on a hard disk, you can change the location of the index. If you change this location, the Windows Search service will automatically be restarted, and the change will not go into effect until the restart is complete.

  1. Open Indexing Options (see above).
  2. Left-click on Advanced. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  3. In the Advanced Options dialog box, left-click the Index Settings tab.
  4. Under Index location, left-click on Select new, browse to and left-click the new location, then left-click on OK.
    Note:
  • When you change the index location, you should choose a location on a non-removable hard disk that is formatted using the NTFS file system.

The Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar inside File Explorer in Windows 8

There are so many new features introduced in Windows 8, I wouldn't even know where to begin. Microsoft even renamed Windows Explorer to File Explorer. But they didn't add any truly 'new' features to File Explorer. In fact, they brought in some features from older programs and versions. Let's take a look at the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar inside of the Windows 8 File Explorer.

The Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar locations in Windows 8 File Explorer
The Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar locations in Windows 8 File Explorer

The Ribbon first appeared in Office 2007, and over the past few years, other software companies have adapted the Ribbon as well. The Ribbon is meant to optimize file management by exposing over 200 top-level features that were previously hidden in right-click context menus. The Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) first appeared in the Windows XP version of Windows Explorer.

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The Quick Access Toolbar in Windows 8 and Windows XP

Some of the Ribbon features are:

  • Every command in the ribbon is given a keyboard shortcut. Press Alt to reveal them.
  • You can pin your favorite commands to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT).
  • The Ribbon is collapsible to maximize vertical screen space. Even with the ribbon visible, more vertical screen space is provided in the default configuration than Windows Explorer in Windows 7.
  • The Ribbon is minimized by default.
  • File menu includes options for things like opening a Command Prompt as an administrator, opening a new File Explorer window, and accessing the folder and search options.
  • The Ribbon contains three main tabs: Home, Share and View, plus a File menu and a variety of contextual tabs.
  • Contextual tabs are shown when selecting certain areas or file types in File Explorer.

Standard Ribbon Tabs (shown at all times)

Tab nameCommand Group(s)
File Open new window, Open command prompt, Open Windows Powershell, Delete history, Help, Close
Home Clipboard, Organize, New, Open, Select
Share Send, Share with, Advanced security
View Panes, Layout, Current view, Show/hide, Options

Contextual Ribbon Tabs (shown when selecting certain areas or file types)

Tab nameCommand Group(s)
Library Tools Manage, Restore settings
Music Tools Play
Picture Tools Rotate, View
Video Tools Play
Drive Tools Protect (Enterprise only), Manage, Media
Search Tools Location, Refine, Options, Close search
Compressed Folder Tools Extract To, Extract all
Application Tools Pin to taskbar, Run
Recycle Bin Tools Manage, Restore

Working with Libraries in Windows 8

When I'm working on my computer, the one thing I hate having to do is navigating File Explorer to get to a folder. Windows 8 has a really useful feature built-in called Libraries. With Libraries, I can get to my documents, music, pictures, videos and frequently used folders with just a couple of clicks. Here's how to work with Libraries inside of Windows 8.

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View of Libraries inside of Windows 8 File Explorer

What is a library?

Libraries are collections of where you can get to all your documents, music, pictures, and other files in one single place. In some ways, a library works like a folder: you can use it to browse and sort files. But unlike a folder, a library gathers files that are stored in several locations. This is a subtle, but important, difference. Libraries don't actually store your items. They pull from folders that contain your items, and let you open and arrange the items in different ways. For example, if you have music files in folders on your PC and on an external drive, you can get all of your music files from the Music library.

There are four default libraries (Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos), but you can create new libraries for other collections. You can also add and remove folders from libraries. Libraries can include up to 50 folders.

What folder locations are supported in libraries?

You can include folders in a library from many different locations, such as your C drive, an external drive, or a network. Only folders can be included in libraries. Individual files and other items can't be included.

How to create a new library

  1. Swipe in from the right edge of the screen or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + C to bring up the Charms bar and then tap or left-click Search.
  2. Enter File Explorer in the search box, and then tap or left-click Apps. Tap or left-click File Explorer in the search results
    or
    press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  3. Tap or left-click Libraries.
  4. Tap or left-click the Home tab, tap or left-click New item, and then choose Library.
  5. Enter a name for the library, and then press Enter.

How to add a folder to a library

If the folder you want to add is on an external hard drive, make sure the drive is connected to your PC and that you can open it.

  1. If you're viewing the New Library page in File Explorer, tap or left-click Include a folder, select the folder, and then tap or left-click Include folder.

If you don't have the New Library page open, continue following these steps.

  1. Swipe in from the right edge of the screen or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + C to bring up the Charms bar and then tap or left-click Search.
  2. Enter File Explorer in the search box, and then tap or left-click Apps. Tap or left-click File Explorer in the search results
    or
    press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  3. Expand the location to find the folder you want to add, and then select it. (For example, if you want to add a folder from a network, expand the network location and select the folder.)
  4. Tap or left-click the Home tab, tap or left-click Easy access, choose Include in library, and then select the library to which you want to add the folder.

Notes:

  • If you don't see the Include in library option for a network folder, it means the folder isn't indexed. Follow the steps below to add the folder to a library.
  • Folders on removable media (such as CDs and DVDs), network-attached storage (NAS) devices, and some USB flash drives can't be included in a library.

How to add a network folder that isn't indexed to a library

If your PC is running Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise, the easiest way to do this is to make the folder available offline, and then add the offline folder to a library by following the steps above.

If you don't want to make the folder available offline because you don't want to keep the folder contents on your PC, go to the PC where the network folder is located, and make sure the folder is in an indexed location. If it isn't, add the folder to the list of indexed locations or move the folder to an indexed location.

If neither of these options will work for you, follow these steps to add the folder to a library. Note that doing this will make searching, sorting, and filtering in the whole library slow. For best results, we recommend creating a new library for the network folder alone.

How to add a network folder that is not indexed to a Library in Windows 8

  1. Swipe in from the right edge of the screen or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + C to bring up the Charms bar and then tap or left-click Search.
  2. Enter File Explorer in the search box, and then tap or left-click Apps. Tap or left-click File Explorer in the search results
    or
    press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  3. Tap or left-click Computer and create a folder on your drive for your network folders, for example c:\share.
  4. Create another folder within that folder, for example c:\share\music.
  5. Select the subfolder you just created, tap or left-click the Home tab, tap or left-click Easy access, choose Include in library, and then select the library to which you want to add the folder.
  6. Delete the folder.
  7. Open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges (click here for complete instructions)
  8. Enter mklink /d, and then enter the path of the folder you just deleted and the path of the network folder. For example, mklink /d c:\share\music \\server\music. If either of the folder names has spaces, encase the path(s) inside of quotes. For example, mklink /d "c:\shared files\music" "\\server\shared music". This creates what is called a symbolic link.

How to remove a folder from a library

If you don’t need a folder in a library anymore, you can remove it from the library. When you remove a folder from a library, the folder and everything in it is still kept in its original location.

  1. Enter File Explorer in the search box, and then tap or left-click Apps. Tap or left-click File Explorer in the search results
    or
    press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  2. Select the library where you want to remove a folder.
  3. Tap or left-click the Library Tools tab, and then tap or left-click Manage library.
  4. In the dialog box that appears, select the folder you want to remove, tap or left-click Remove, and then tap or left-click OK.

Left hand keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8

A while back I wrote an article on left hand keyboard shortcuts for Windows. I like to use them so I don't have to take my right hand off of the mouse. With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft added in more shortcuts, primarily for the Start screen. So here is a list of Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts for just your left hand.

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

Left hand keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8

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PressTo

Windows shortcuts

Windows logo key Show the Start screen. If you have the Desktop running, you can also use this key to toggle back and forth between the Start screen and the Desktop.
Windows logo key + D Show just the Desktop (all running applications will be minimized). You can also use this combo to start the Desktop.
Windows logo key + E Start a new instance of Windows Explorer / File Explorer.
Windows logo key + C Open the Charms bar. When you open the Charms bar inside of a Windows RT app and select Settings, it displays the options for that app.
Windows logo key + F Open Files in the Search charm.
Windows logo key + Q Open Apps in the Search charm.
Windows logo key + W Open Settings in the Search charm.
Windows logo key + X Open the Power User command menu. There are over a dozen different apps you can run from this menu.
ALT + TAB Switch between open apps using Task Switcher.

Application shortcuts

CTRL + A Select all
CTRL + C Copy
CTRL + S Save
CTRL + V Paste
CTRL + X Cut
CTRL + Y Redo
CTRL + Z Undo

Check out these related articles:

A complete list of Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts
General Windows keyboard shortcuts

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