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How to use layered security to protect your computer

Updated June 22, 2023

It seems whenever I tell someone that I repair computers for a living, I almost always get asked the question, "What do you recommend for anti-virus software?". I tell them I use a layered approach to security, not relying on just one program for protection. I'm not particularly eager to use all-in-one security suites. It's not that I don't trust any particular software; I don't like having only one piece of software protecting my computer. Here's how to use layered security to protect your computer.

How to use layered security to protect your computer

Software firewall

Windows has had a good firewall built-in since Windows Vista, and it's turned on by default. It comes pre-installed inside of Windows and is ready to go. There are also some great free and paid firewall products. And you will also find software firewalls included in most security suites, like McAfee or Norton. It's your choice.

Always remember that when you connect to the Internet, do it through a router or hotspot. Never connect a wired network connection directly to the Internet jack on your modem. With a router or hotspot, some form of Network Address Translation (NAT) happens, so you are not directly connected to the Internet.

Anti-virus software

This one is a no-brainer. Microsoft has included a built-in anti-virus program inside of Windows since Windows 8.1 and has worked hard to make it a top-rated program. And if you install a different anti-virus program, Windows Security will detect it and turn its real-time protection off. But you can still have it run periodic scans.

There are plenty of free and paid anti-virus programs on the market, and I have used quite a few different ones over the years. Some internet service providers like Cox Communications even offer free security suite software.

The only thing to remember when picking an anti-virus program is the system's performance you're installing it on. I would not install a full-blown security suite like Norton or McAfee on a laptop.

Anti-malware / anti-adware software

Anti-virus software typically looks for, you guessed it, viruses. I've cleaned out several pieces of malware and adware that anti-virus programs missed because it wasn't a virus. Quite a few anti-malware programs are meant to be run side-by-side with anti-virus software.

When it comes to anti-malware programs, Malwarebytes is the most popular. If you want real-time scanning, you will need a license. If you want to periodically manually scan your computer, the free version will work just fine.

Now with the rise of pop-up bogus security warnings, adware is becoming the biggest threat to consumers. Malwarebytes has a great program called AdwCleaner for finding and removing adware in all popular browsers (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, etc.).

Using anti-virus software together with anti-malware and anti-adware programs creates excellent layered security. As the old saying goes, "Never put all of your eggs in one basket.".

Windows 8.1 Preview - user interface enhancements

Note: Since Windows 8.1 was released on August 27, 2013, the Windows 8.1 Preview is no longer available for download.

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Preview, the future upgrade to Windows 8. Some of the changes are subtitle and are quite quickly overlooked; 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 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 program's name). If you want 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 undergone some changes. The tiles can now be resized smaller for non-touch devices like personal computers. You currently 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 between it and the Apps screen. You no longer have to right-click the Start screen to bring up the Apps command bar. 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 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 of 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 facelift 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.

Run Windows RT apps on the Windows 8 desktop with ModernMix

As many of you know, I've been using two monitors on my workstation for over ten years. I like being able to view two or more programs all at the same time. So when Windows 8 came out, I was happy to see better multiple monitor support. Still, I didn't particularly appreciate running Windows RT / Metro apps, as they took up the full display area. They are nice, but it was just too much for me with a screen size of 2560 x 1024. Then the folks at Stardock came out with a program to run Windows RT / Metro apps in a window on the desktop called ModernMix.

Two Windows RT apps running on a desktop with two monitors using ModernMix in Windows 8
Two Windows RT apps running on a desktop with two monitors using ModernMix in Windows 8

ModernMix allows almost any Windows RT / Metro app to run inside a window on the desktop in Windows 8. It remembers the settings of all of the Windows RT apps you have run, and you can manually modify them if needed. I came across a couple of apps that would only run in full screen. It also has a screen overlay you can enable in the upper right-hand corner that allows you to switch between modes (full screen, maximized, and windowed) and bring up the Settings charm for that app. You can even Pin a program to the Taskbar with ModernMix.

Application settings page inside of ModernMix
Application settings page inside of ModernMix

Here's a quote from the ModernMix website:

What is ModernMix?

ModernMix is a revolutionary new program that lets you run Windows 8 "Modern" apps in a window on the desktop. Windows 8 Modern apps, also known as Metro or RT apps, will use the full screen on your display regardless of how much of the screen they really need. As a result, that weather app, mail program or stock ticker is going to use the entirety of your computer display.


    Run modern apps in windows
  • ModernMix enables you to run multiple Modern apps in individual separate windows on the desktop as well as launch them from the desktop.
    Apply custom settings
  • Modern app window sizes are remembered the next time you launch them.
    Pin modern apps to the taskbar
  • Active Modern apps will also appear on your taskbar where they can be pinned for quick access later. Also create desktop shortcuts for Modern apps.
    Bring back the familiar Windows look
  • Standard Windows 8 title bar is enabled for Modern apps.
  • Explicitly close Modern apps by clicking its close button.

The price of ModernMix is $4.99 (at the time this article was written). For more information on ModernMix and Stardock, just follow the links below:



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

When it comes to doing computer repair, there are some things you do quite often. Restarting and shutting down computers has to be at the top of the list. So when I found that there was no easy way of doing this in Windows 8, I decided to see what I could do. Here is how I created my log-off, restart, and shut down shortcuts on the Start screen in Windows 8.

Log off, restart and shutdown shortcuts on the Start screen in Windows 8
Log off, restart, and shut down shortcuts on the Start screen in Windows 8

  1. On the Start menu, left-click on the Desktop tile.
  2. If you want to create a toolbar on the Taskbar containing these shortcuts, you will need to create a new folder. If not, you can just make them on the Desktop. Then right-click inside the new folder or an empty area of the Desktop and select New > Shortcut.
  3. Enter the code below for the different shortcuts.
  4. Right-click on the shortcut you just created and select Properties.
    Log-off, restart and shutdown shortcut properties in Windows 8
  5. Select the Shortcut tab, pull-down the Run drop-down menu, and select Minimized.
  6. Right below Run is the Change Icon button; left-click on it. A warning may appear telling you that the program contains no icons. Select OK.
    Log-off, restart and shutdown change shortcut icon properties in Windows 8
  7. Select an icon from the default library (shell32.dll). Or you can use another library by browsing for it. When finished selecting an icon, select OK twice.
  8. Right-click on each of the shortcuts you just edited and left-click Pin to Start.
    Log-off, restart and shutdown shortcut toolbar on Windows 8 Taskbar
  9. If you created a shortcut folder, go to the Desktop and right-click on the Taskbar and select Toolbars > New toolbar... and select the folder you created the shortcuts inside.

Windows 8 log off shortcut Syntax and parameter(s)

C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe -l -f

Windows 8 restart shortcut Syntax and parameter(s)

C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe -r -f -t 00

Windows 8 shutdown shortcut Syntax and parameter(s)

C:\Windows\System32\shutdown.exe -s -f -t 00

Shutdown.exe Syntax and Parameters in Windows 8

shutdown [{-l|-s|-r|-a}] [-f] [-m [\\ComputerName]] [-t xx] [-c "message"] [-d[u][p]:xx:yy]
-l Logs off the current user; this is also the default. -m ComputerName takes precedence.
-s Shuts down the local computer.
-r Reboots after shutdown.
-a Aborts shutdown. Ignores other parameters, except -l and ComputerName. You can only use -a during the time-out period.
-f Forces running applications to close.
-m [\\ComputerName] Specifies the computer that you want to shut down.
-t xx Sets the timer for system shutdown in xx seconds. The default is 20 seconds.
-c "message" Specifies a message to be displayed in the Message area of the System Shutdown window. You can use a maximum of 127 characters. You must enclose the message in quotation marks.
-d [ u ][ p ] : xx : yy Lists the reason code for the shutdown.

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8

In 1995, Microsoft introduced Windows 95 with a new feature called the Start menu. To make it easy to use, they added a key to the standard keyboard and called it the Windows logo key. Microsoft even added a hand full of keyboard shortcuts to go along with it. The Windows logo key is now standard on Windows based computers, and Windows 8 takes full advantage of it.

The Windows logo key from a Microsoft keyboard
The Windows logo key from a Microsoft keyboard

There are now over forty different Windows logo key shortcuts inside of Windows 8 (all of them are listed below). For more keyboard shortcuts for Windows, see the links at the bottom of this article.

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8

Press To
Windows logo key Start screen
Windows logo key + C Open charms
Windows logo key + D Show desktop
Windows logo key + E Open Windows Explorer
Windows logo key + F Go to Files in Search charm (+Ctrl to find computers on a network)
Windows logo key + G Cycle through desktop gadgets
Windows logo key + H Share charm
Windows logo key + I Settings charm
Windows logo key + J Switch focus between snapped and larger
Windows logo key + K Devices charm
Windows logo key + L Switch users (Lock computer if on a domain)
Windows logo key + M Minimize all windows (desktop)
Windows logo key + O Lock screen orientation
Windows logo key + P Projection options
Windows logo key + Q Search charm
Windows logo key + R Run...
Windows logo key + T Set focus on taskbar and cycle through running desktop apps
Windows logo key + U Ease of Access Center
Windows logo key + V Cycle through notifications (+Shift to go backward)
Windows logo key + W Go to Settings in Search charm
Windows logo key + X Quick link power user commands (Opens Windows Mobility Center if present)
Windows logo key + Z Open app bar
Windows logo key + 1-9 Go to the app at the given position on the taskbar
Windows logo key + + (plus) Zoom in (Magnifier)
Windows logo key + - (minus) Zoom out (Magnifier)
Windows logo key + , (comma) Peek at the desktop
Windows logo key + . (period) Snap a metro app to the right (+Shift to snap to the left)
Windows logo key + Enter Narrator (+Alt to open Windows Media Center if installed)
Windows logo key + Spacebar Switch input language and keyboard layout
Windows logo key + Tab Cycle through metro app history (use Ctrl to use arrow keys)
Windows logo key + Esc Exit Magnifier
Windows logo key + Home Minimize non-active desktop windows
Windows logo key + Page Up Move Start screen to left monitor
Windows logo key + Page Down Move Start screen to right monitor
Windows logo key + Break System Properties
Windows logo key + Left Arrow Snap desktop window to the left (+Shift to move window to left monitor)
Windows logo key + Right Arrow Snap desktop window to the right (+Shift to move window to right monitor)
Windows logo key + Up Arrow Maximize desktop window (+Shift to keep width)
Windows logo key + Down Arrow Restore/minimize desktop window (+Shift to keep width)
Windows logo key + F1 Windows Help and Support

For more keyboard shortcuts for Windows, see the links below:

Windows logo key keyboard shortcuts

General keyboard shortcuts

Natural keyboard shortcuts

Dialog box keyboard shortcuts

Accessibility keyboard shortcuts

Windows explorer keyboard shortcuts

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