SEARCH

How-To Geek

Lesson 5: Working with PC Settings

Windows 8.1

If you have a Windows tablet or a device with a touchscreen, you will need to adapt to using the new PC Settings in Windows 8.1. The PC Settings allow users to do a great deal of Windows administration and customization with just a few taps (or clicks).

The PC Settings take a great deal of the tediousness out of trying to operate your device using your fingers. They offer large targets that don’t require a lot of accuracy otherwise afforded by a mouse or similar pointing device.

We’ve already talked a little bit about the PC Settings, and we’ve covered them previously on How-To Geek, so the object of this lesson is to really tour the PC Settings so, if they come up again, you know exactly what we’re talking about. We don’t intend to dwell or spend an inordinate amount of time hashing out each setting and explaining it from top to bottom. Instead, we’ll briefly point out what each one does and, when possible, present you with the desktop option.

The PC Settings span quite a few categories but what we want to start with is the very top-most group, PC and Devices. This covers a wide swath of devices and device behavior. We already discussed the Llock Screen settings previously; we’re going to move forward to the rest of the PC and Devices settings so by the end, you will have a strong enough familiarity with the PC Settings to manage your computer effectively.

Why Not Just Use the Control Panel?

Trying to use the Control Panel with your fingers is a bad idea. In fact, the desktop environment as a whole, is finger hostile. Most of the time, accurately tapping targets is difficult, if not tedious. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Control Panel.

Take for example, the “Display -> Screen Resolution” control panel that many Windows users are likely quite familiar with. Little has changed here in recent Windows versions and it’s still perfectly functional, however, just try manipulating that with your digits and the whole thing quickly goes south.

clip_image002

Compare this then with the PC Settings’ equivalent. You see here it provides big targets so you can efficiently make changes without the frustration of feverishly tapping and missing or hitting the wrong target.

clip_image004

Without this added functionality in Windows 8.1, it would be almost entirely useless on a touch-enabled device.

Controlling Your Device Effectively with PC and Devices

There’s a whole lot going on in the PC Settings so we want to dig right in and start showing you around. Whenever possible, we will show you the Control Panel equivalent so you can make any comparisons yourself.

As the name implies, PC and Devices is largely system-related. Let’s go through and briefly explain the gist of each, and what you can do with it.

clip_image005

Lock Screen

We discussed the Lock Screen settings in a previous lesson, so you can turn to that for a more complete breakdown. In a nutshell, these options allow you to choose the look and behavior of your device’s lock screen.

Display

If you have ever adjusted your computer’s resolution then you know what the Display settings essentially accomplish. If you’re using a tablet or your laptop with a touchscreen, you can use these settings to change your display’s resolution and orientation.

clip_image007

This setting is very similar to its Control Panel counterpart so it should be pretty simple to understand and use. Note, if you want to quickly add a second display or project to another display, remember you should just use the Project function from the Devices charm, discussed previously in Lesson 2.

Devices

The Devices settings allow you to add peripherals to your system or remove them. Usually when you plug in a new device, it is automatically detected and the drive is installed. If that doesn’t happen, you can tap the “Add a device” button and it will hopefully be detected.

clip_image008

What you will encounter in the devices settings has the same function as the Devices and Printers control panel except you can add Bluetooth devices through that same control panel.

clip_image009

Bluetooth-enabled Windows 8.1 devices get their own Bluetooth settings.

Bluetooth

As we mentioned, if you want to manage Bluetooth devices, you’ll get a separate settings panel. Here you will be able to turn Bluetooth on or off as well as manage devices currently paired with your device.

clip_image011

As we also mentioned previously, this is a departure from the old way of managing Bluetooth devices. In the Control Panel, all devices are combined into the same place.

clip_image012

Here, things are divided between USB stuff and everything else though you can still remove Bluetooth devices by right-clicking and selecting “remove device” from the resulting menu.

Mouse and Touchpad

Use the Mouse and Touchpad settings to set your mouse button to left or right-handed use, how many lines you can scroll through at a time, and set the delay on the touchpad to prevent accidental clicks.

clip_image013

These are rather rudimentary functions, and you’ll get more customization options if you use the Mouse control panel. This is especially true if you have pointer hardware that exceeds simple clicks and scrolls.

clip_image014

And, of course, you will absolutely still need to use your manufacturer’s device software to really get the most out of your mouse and keyboard’s extra features.

clip_image016

As we said, the Mouse and Touchpad settings are very basic, they are there solely to allow you to change essential mouse and touchpad behavior.

Typing

This setting simply allows you to turn autocorrect and spellcheck functions on system-wide, or at least in Windows Store apps.

clip_image017

Don’t expect to see little squiggly lines indicating typos in all your desktop apps, but if you’re for instance, using the Mail app to compose an important e-mail, having these features enabled could save you from potentially embarrassing errors.

Corners and Edges

Next up is Corners and Edges for stuff like switching between apps and how corners behave.

On the “App switching” pane, you can deem how your Windows switches apps. If you remember back in Lesson 2, we explained how Windows 8.1’s touch abilities allow you to quickly switch between apps with a flick of your finger. With these settings, you can turn all that off. You can also decide whether Windows Store apps are shown on the taskbar or not.

Below these app switching settings are “corner navigation” settings, which basically turn off your system’s hot corners.

clip_image018

We’d like to point out that you can do this very same thing using the Taskbar properties and clicking on the “Navigation” tab.

clip_image019

And, as you can see below, the “Show Windows Store apps on the taskbar” option is buried in the middle of the “Taskbar” tab.

clip_image020

Note, this feature is new to Windows 8.1, update 1 but it’s actually a nice feature, because you no longer have to use the task switcher or open the Start screen to show any running apps that are minimized. It’s simply another small nod by Microsoft that the desktop is indeed important and usually preferred over the Start screen.

Power and Sleep

The Power and Sleep settings certainly aren’t much to write home about. They consist of two functions, the ability to set your screen timeout, and decide when your computer goes to sleep.

clip_image021

Admittedly, this is about all you need to conserve power and gain battery life but in order to assume total control of your system’s power schema, you will have to still dive into the control panel.

clip_image023

When you click on “change plan settings” as shown in the screenshot above, you can alter that plan’s settings similar to how you can in the PC Settings. Here we see how it looks on a desktop computer. If you click the “change advanced power settings” link, you’re taken to the “Power Options” dialog.

clip_image025

You simply cannot obtain the level of control in the PC Settings that you can with the “Power Options” and it’s quite easy to feel a little overwhelmed. Still, if you’re looking to wring every last bit of efficiency and battery out of your device, then this is how you’d accomplish that.

clip_image026

Obviously, the power options shown here aren’t for amateurs or the faint of heart as there’s a lot going on, but we’re sure most of these should make sense. If not, you should search for more answers or simply inquire in How-To Geek’s forums.

AutoPlay

You should be familiar with AutoPlay from as far back as Windows 95. Basically, autoplay works by launching a specific application or event when something like removable media (DVD, flash drive, external hard drive, etc.) is inserted. Autoplay can be pretty convenient, or it can be a little annoying. In our experience, we generally do different things with removable media each time we use them, so autoplay’s intrinsic value will depend largely upon a user’s preferences.

Autoplay has gotten a makeover in Windows 8.1 with new toast notifications that slide from the top-right screen edge.

clip_image027

Similar to the old desktop style autoplay notifications, these new ones allow you to choose what happen when you connect or insert a certain type of media.

clip_image028

True to form, autoplay functionality has also gotten its own new PC Settings version. As you can see, you can easily turn the whole thing off if it seems unnecessary or too insistent.

clip_image029

Note, the AutoPlay control panel still exists for desktop users and is just as robust and extensive as always. You’ll want to note in the screenshot below that it has far more options than its PC Settings counterpart; these are just a few that you’ll find in the AutoPlay control panel.

clip_image031

Needless-to-say, if you really want to assign specific actions to pretty much every kind of removable media you can think of, the AutoPlay control panel will let you do that.

Disk Space

The Disk Space settings seem to be more a diagnostic tool than an actual administrative one. When you open this, it shows you how much disk space your apps, media, and files are taking up. Disk space setting adds no further functions than providing a link to open the App Sizes settings panel and to empty the Recycle Bin.

For everything else, you will have to actually open the locations where your photos, videos, music, documents, and other files are contained and deal with them manually.

clip_image032

If you really want to quickly free up some space (if there’s actually space to free up) we recommend you still use the Disk Cleanup tool in the Administrative Tools (we showed you how to display the Administrative Tools in the previous lesson).

clip_image033

The quickest way to open the Disk Cleanup utility is to hit the WIN key and simply type it.

clip_image034

We’ll discuss the power of Search later in Lesson 7. You can also learn more about clearing up space on your hard drive (including using Disk Cleanup) in our How-To Geek School series on PC maintenance.

PC Info

Lastly, in the PC and Devices settings category, we have PC Info. You’re probably familiar to some extent with this on the System control panel.

clip_image036

As with the System control panel, the PC Info settings give you the same sort of stuff in that you can change your computer’s name or change your product key, but you can also join a domain.

clip_image037

This is useful in a pinch and certainly works well if you’re on the road or work in a corporate environment where you’re more likely to join a domain, but you will still have to use the Computer Name tab in the System Properties to change or join a workgroup.

clip_image038

Overall, PC Info feels a little unfinished and extraneous but as we said, even though it’s simple, it will get the job done for most users.

Conclusion

We’re going to wrap things up here and call it a day. These particular settings are the largest group to familiarize yourself with so we’ll be splitting them all up into easily digestible sizes. Your homework is to see how much you can accomplish using the PC and Devices settings without seeking out the Control Panel. Just play around and get to know them because you’re likely to need to use them at some point in the future.

Tomorrow we’ll cover more PC Settings groups including Accounts, OneDrive, as well as Ease of Access settings. We also talk a bit about child accounts and Windows Family Safety, so you can keep your kids on a short and well monitored leash.

Born and brainwashed an Ohio State Buckeye, Matt now lives a warm, snow-free life just north of the Texas/Mexico border. He fancies himself a modern-day jack-of-all-trades; favorite conversation starters include operating systems, Android, BBQ, quantum physics, and roller skating.

  • Published 07/4/14