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7 Windows Desktop Settings Only Available in PC Settings on Windows 8.1

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If you use Windows 8.1 on the desktop, you can’t ignore the new “Windows 8-style” interface entirely. There are some important options you can only access from the PC Settings app, not the desktop Control Panel.

We’ll try to ignore settings that only apply to the “touch-first” interface here and just focus on settings you might want as a desktop user. To be clear, this article is about Microsoft’s oddly-named Windows 8.1 Update.

Lock Screen Settings

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Unsurprisingly, almost all the lock screen settings are only available from PC and devices > Lock screen within the PC Settings app. The Lock screen is practically part of the new interface, but it’s something all Windows 8.1 users will see — even if they have “boot to desktop” enabled. To change your lock screen background and tweak which “Lock screen apps” show you information on this screen, you’ll need to head to PC Settings.

One setting that isn’t available here — but is available on the desktop — is the ability to disable the lock screen entirely. If you have a Professional or Enterprise version of Windows 8.1, you can disable it with the Group Policy Editor. If you have a standard version of Windows 8 like most people do, you’ll have to disable the lock screen with a registry tweak.

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Microsoft Account Settings

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Microsoft pushes you to sign into Windows with a Microsoft account by default. This has some benefits even for desktop users, including the ability to use the OneDrive cloud storage support in the desktop File Explorer and sync some desktop settings between your Windows 8.1 computers. However, Microsoft accounts can’t be modified from the desktop Control Panel. If you try, you’ll see a “Make changes to my account in PC settings” link in the desktop Control Panel.

You’ll have to visit Accounts > Your account to change your account picture or convert an account from a Microsoft account to a local user account.

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PIN, Picture Password, and Assigned Access

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Other account settings can also only be accessed here, too. For example, if you want to set up a PIN or Picture Password to log into Windows more quickly, you’ll need to do it from Accounts > Sign-in options. If you want to set up a limited user account for Assigned Access and create a Windows user account that works in “kiosk mode” — you can basically just limit an account to a web browser or even the Chrome OS desktop — you’ll have to do it from PC Settings.

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OneDrive Settings

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While OneDrive is now deeply integrated into the desktop’s File Explorer and even has a system tray icon so you can see what’s going on, most of its settings are unavailable on the desktop. Gone is the old “SkyDrive” desktop settings interface, replaced by the OneDrive category in PC Settings.

To control which desktop personalization and other settings sync, as well as choose whether OneDrive syncs over “metered connections” like tethered smartphone connections, you’ll have to visit PC Settings.

If you’d like to control which folder or hard drive OneDrive downloads files to, you’ll have to do it on the desktop by right-clicking the OneDrive folder in File Explorer, selecting Properties, and using the options on the Location tab. No other OneDrive settings are available here.

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Bing Search Integration

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Search is the fastest way to open programs, settings, and files. Just tap the Windows key to bring up the Start screen and start typing the name of your favorite program to launch it.

You may want to tweak the way this search feature works. On Windows 8.1, the system search integrates results from Bing. If you don’t want your local search queries being sent to Bing or you just don’t want to see Bing content when searching your computer, you’ll have to visit Search and apps > Search in the PC Settings app to disable Bing search integration.

Oddly enough, other search settings can only be changed from the desktop. For example, the “Search everywhere instead of just my apps when I search from the Apps view” option can only be enabled by right-clicking the taskbar, selecting Properties, and clicking the Navigation tab.

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Wi-Fi (Forget Networks), Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi Toggle

Windows 8 removed the old pop-up dialog for Wi-Fi and other networking options on the desktop, so clicking the Wi-Fi icon in the system tray opens a “Windows 8-style” sidebar with Wi-Fi options. It’s no surprise that many of the Wi-Fi and connectivity options desktop users would care about are only available in the new settings interface. There’s a reason the “View Connection Settings” link in the Wi-Fi sidebar takes you to Network > Connections in PC Settings, not to the desktop Control Panel.

If you’d like to have your computer forget Wi-Fi networks you’ve connected to, you have to click “Manage known networks” under Network > Connections to view a list of remembered Wi-Fi networks you can remove. Thankfully, Microsoft returned this option in Windows 8.1 Update after removing the interface entirely in Windows 8.1.

Other options, such as the ability to quickly toggle all wireless communication off, or toggle Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, are only available here and not in the desktop control panel.

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Refresh, Reset, Advanced Startup

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The Refresh and Reset Your PC features are very important to all Windows 8.1 users, as they allow you to quickly reinstall Windows without a disc and without going through an obnoxious setup process. It basically brings the convenience of a “factory reset” option to Windows PCs, allowing for much easier and quicker Windows reinstalls. If you’d like to create your own custom refresh image, you’ll have to do that from the Command Prompt.

These options are only available in Update and recovery > Recovery. There’s also a button here that will take you to the Advanced Startup menu, where you can access Safe Mode and other important startup tools. There’s no link to get here from the desktop Control Panel, although you can press and hold Shift as you click the Restart option under the Settings charm bar or on the Start screen to boot directly to the advanced startup menu.

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The mix of settings here is somewhat confusing. In some cases, Microsoft has gone out of their way to add interfaces to both PC Settings and the Control Panel — look at the Windows Update and File History features, which are accessible from both interfaces. In other cases, some tools are only available in the Control Panel, while others are only available on the desktop. Microsoft is adding more and more settings to PC Settings, but we doubt they’ll add much to the desktop Control Panel.

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 04/19/14