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10 Things You Need to Know About Windows 8.1

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Windows 8 was very different from Windows 7, but change is only speeding up — Windows 8.1 has seen quite a few changes since Windows 8. You’ll have new things to learn, whichever which version of Windows you’re upgrading from.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will help you get to grips with Windows 8.1 and locate the settings you may be looking for — especially if they’ve moved since Windows 7 or 8.

Desktop Options Aren’t Enabled By Default

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Microsoft made a significant effort to make Windows 8.1 less awkward for desktop users, but the only difference you’ll notice by default is that the Start button is back. If you want to boot to the desktop and prevent the app switcher and charms from appearing when you move your mouse to the top corners of your screen, you’ll need to configure these options yourself. To do so, right-click your taskbar, select Properties, and change the options on the Navigation tab.

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You Can Shut Down in Two Clicks

Press Windows Key + X or right-click the Start button to open the power user menu. This menu contains shortcuts with quick access to commonly used options like the Control Panel, Task Manager, and File Explorer. On Windows 8.1, you can now shut down from this menu — it takes just as many clicks as it did on Windows 7.

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Default File Associations Are Still Frustrating

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Windows 8.1′s file associations are still obnoxious for desktop users. When you open an image from the desktop, you’ll be whisked away to the full-screen Modern interface with your taskbar and entire desktop hidden. It would make sense for each environment to have its own file associations, so you’d see a desktop program when you opened a picture from the desktop, but Microsoft hasn’t done this.

If you use the desktop, you’ll need to head into the Default programs control panel and change the default file associations for images, PDFs, music, and video files.

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Bing Integration Can Be Disabled

Microsoft’s Bing search engine is integrated in Windows 8.1, allowing you to easily search with Bing from the system’s search feature. To accomplish this, searches you start typing on your computer will be sent to Bing’s servers. If you’d rather not have the searches you type sent to Bing, you can disable Bing integration from the Search and apps panel in the PC Settings app.

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Tiles Aren’t Created By Default

Windows 8 automatically created tiles on your Start screen when you installed a Windows 8 app or desktop program. Windows 8.1 no longer does this, allowing you full control of your Start screen layout. To add tiles for newly installed programs, click the arrow button or swipe up on the Start screen. Right-click or long-press an application shortcut and select Pin to Start to create a tile for it.

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SkyDrive Only Syncs Files in the SkyDrive Folder, Mostly

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Windows 8.1′s SkyDrive integration will only synchronize files and folders in your SkyDrive folder at C:\Users\NAME\SkyDrive. You can’t synchronize folders outside of this folder, and the old symbolic link trick won’t work either. SkyDrive will also sync the photos in your Camera Roll folder, but it won’t sync other images in your Pictures folder.

To sync another folder, you’ll have to try moving it into SkyDrive and creating a symbolic link elsewhere.

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Libraries Are Hidden By Default

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Libraries are now hidden by default, even though they’re still used heavily by Modern apps. For example, image applications have access to your Pictures library, while video players have access to your Videos library.

To make libraries visible again, right-click in the left pane of the File Browser and select Show libraries.

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Internet Explorer’s Two Interfaces

Internet Explorer still offers two interfaces — the full-screen, Windows 8-style one and a desktop application. When you launch the Internet Explorer tile from the Start screen, you’ll see the Windows 8-style Internet Explorer.

If you’d rather use the desktop version of Internet Explorer when you click the Internet Explorer tile, open IE on the desktop, click the gear menu, and select Internet options. Click the Programs tab and set Internet Explorer to open “Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop.”

If Internet Explorer isn’t your default browser, it will always open on the desktop and you’ll be unable to change this setting.

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Snap is Improved

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Snap is an extremely important part of using Windows 8 apps, as it allows you to use multiple apps at a time. It feels fairly limited on a laptop or desktop, but it’s refreshing and powerful on a tablet.

To snap an app, swipe in from the left of your screen and position the app’s tile at the left or right sides of the screen. It will snap alongside the current app. With a mouse, move your mouse to the top-left corner of the screen and drag-and-drop the app’s tile onto your screen where you want it. You can now resize the apps to use as much space as you like or even view three or more apps on screen at once, depending on your screen resolution. Windows 8.1′s Modern interface is much more powerful than Windows 8′s.

Administrative Tools Are Hidden By Default

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The system tools found in the Windows Administrative Tools folder — applications like the Task Scheduler, Event Viewer, Services, and Computer Management tools — are normally hidden. They won’t appear in your All apps list and you won’t be able to find them by searching your installed applications, either. If you need them, head to the Start screen, press Windows Key + C, select Settings, select Tiles, and enable the Show administrative tools option on the Tiles pane. They’ll show up in All apps and appear when you search for them by name.

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We mostly focused on the desktop here, but tablet users aren’t left out. If you use Windows 8.1 on a tablet, check out our list of new features Windows 8.1 brings for tablet users.

Image Credit: Rodrigo Ghedin on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/19/14

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