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How-To Geek

Lesson 9: Using the WIN+X Menu for Essential Administration

Windows 8.1

When Windows 8 was released, users were left confused and wanting for ways to control their devices. Actual guides to how to access the Control Panel were written and, even today, if you’re an established Windows user, the jump to Windows 8 can feel a little disorienting at first.

Windows 8.1 attempts to reconcile that deficit by adding what is typically known as the “Power User Menu” or, more usefully, “WIN-X.” Thus known because if you use the keyboard combo WIN+X it opens the menu.

So what is the WIN+X menu? It’s a collection of shortcuts that give you immediate access to essential, oft-used control panels and utilities. It’s kind of like a Start menu, in that it can be opened by right-clicking on the Start button.

In this lesson, we are going to focus on the WIN+X menu. We’re not going to explain in close detail everything that this menu covers, but we do want to take you through the whole thing and break it down into its immediate parts.

By the time we’re done, we think you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable using WIN+X as normal part of your daily compute routine. Knowing what’s there and what it does is very powerful way of assuming control and administering to common tasks and problems that occur on Windows systems.

The WIN+X Menu in all its Glory

As we explained, to access the WIN+X menu, key in the appropriate combo on the keyboard or right-click on the Start button. The menu appears and consists of a combination of control panels, management consoles, and functions such as Run and the Task Manager.

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Note, at the bottom of the menu, there is a shutdown feature, which gives you quick access to commands that were originally buried in Windows 8’s Start screen settings.

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Finally, you can also quickly show your desktop if it is crowded with open windows and applications. Let’s now move on and go through each of the menu’s items so you’re fully aware of its power.

Programs and Features

Programs and Features is a list of all the desktop applications and programs installed on your system (but not Windows Store apps). If you select a program, you can uninstall it, change it if you want to add or remove features, or repair your installation if it is acting strangely.

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This control panel also allows you to view all the installed updates on your system and, if necessary, uninstall or change something.

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And finally, you can add or remove features from your system, such as if you don’t want something or you need to free up some extra disk space.

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Programs and Features is the best place to start if you want to remove troublesome, unneeded, or drive hogging applications. We talk a great deal more about cleaning your computer not only within, but also out in this How-To Geek School lesson.

Power Options

As we discussed in Lesson 6, you can mess around with basic power options in the PC Settings, but if you really want to have tight, granular control over you system’s power schemes, you need to use the Power Options control panel.

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When you change your plan settings, you can do the same sort of basic adjustments as the PC Settings.

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But, when you click on “change advanced power settings,” you can really dig into things and control your power settings.

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There’s a lot in this control panel, so if your device is seeing middling or poor battery life, you can probably find a way to fix things here.

Event Viewer

The Event Viewer contains a whole lot of information about what’s happening on your system. This control panel is a very useful and informative diagnostic tool.

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For example, if your system keeps shutting off suddenly, or has a habit of restarting suddenly, or it’s exhibiting strange behavior, you can sort through the Event Viewer and locate what may be causing the problem.

For a full rundown on the Event Viewe” and all its secrets, you should definitely check out our How-To Geek Series lesson “Using Event Viewer to Troubleshoot Problems”!

System

The System control panel gives you access to key system information and features. We talked briefly about the PC Settings version “PC Info” earlier in the series but if you really want to get to the heart of your system and its advanced settings, you need to use this control panel.

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There’s obviously a lot going on here, too much to talk about in this short space. If you want to get the full rundown, we recommend you read our How-To Geek School Series lesson on “Understanding the Advanced System Properties Panel”!

Device Manager

The Device Manager has long been an important component of the Windows operating system. Over the years, it’s definitely improved and grown up, but it is still the best way to manage your system’s devices and components.

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The Device Manager is primarily a troubleshooting and administration tool. You can right-click on anything installed in or attached to your system and perform a number of key tasks, usually revolving around managing your drivers.

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And, right-clicking and selecting “Properties” will give you a full device dialog with a great deal of information and controls.

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How-To Geek has a great article that shows you just how to use the “Device Manager” to properly troubleshoot your system if you’re having problems!

Network Connections

Opening the Network Connections simply shows you all your system’s available connections.

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The nice thing about this is that you can right-click on anything, and you have a great many options to choose from.

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This will give you a lot of control over your connections. For example, you can disable a connection, bridge it, rename it, or see its properties. If you choose “Properties,” you’ll access even more settings.

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A network connection’s Properties dialog gives you a lot of options for configuring it. You can add or remove different protocols, clients, and services while clicking on the “Configure” button will instantly whisk you to your adapter’s hardware dialog.

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There’s a lot of power wrapped up in a few simple clicks and since computers are now so heavily connected, it’s definitely something you want to familiarize yourself with so you can diagnose and fix connection problems if or when they occur! If you want to know more about Windows networking and its features, you should check out our series on it.

Disk Management

The Disk Management console is by far one of the most useful features in Windows for diagnosing and fixing disk problems.

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There’s so much use in the Disk Management console, we could write a whole lesson on it. Luckily, we have! If you really want to dig into Disk Management and learn all there is on master boot records, partition table, and dynamic disks, you should most definitely check out our How-To Geek School Series lesson on “Understanding Hard Drive Partitioning with Disk Management”!

Computer Management

The Computer Management console, is kind of like the Swiss Army Knife of consoles. It has built into it quite a few useful functions, some of which we’ve already discussed.

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When you use the Computer Management console, you can access the Task Scheduler for easy system automation.

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You can also access the “Event Viewer,” which we discussed briefly above, and in great detail in this How-To Geek School lesson. You also manage “Shared Folders,” which is nice because you can see all your shared resources in one single location instead of spread out throughout the File Explorer.

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The “Local Users and Groups” snap-in will let you quickly administer users and groups. Note, here you don’t have to go into the Control Panel or PC Settings. You can set passwords, rename, delete, and even create new users right from this console snap-in.

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As you can see in the following screenshot, there’s no need to open the PC Settings, you can easily create local accounts quickly, and even set password policies such as forcing users to change their passwords at next logon.

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If you click on the “Performance” label, you will be treated to a many different performance-related tools for monitoring, collecting data, and reading reports.

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The last three snap-ins in the Computer Management console are the “Device Manager,” which we’ve discussed briefly earlier in the section and at great length in this article. Under “Storage” you can use the “Disk Management” console, also covered earlier and here in this How-To Geek School lesson.

Finally, there’s “Services and Applications,” which gives you access to the Services management console. Briefly, services are little programs that usually run in the background and provide important or optional functionality. You can administer them, such as to start, stop, or pause. You can also adjust whether they start automatically, manually, or disable them completely.

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How-To Geek has covered services in the past and you can read up on “Understanding and Managing Windows Services” if you truly want to master them.

The Computer Management console is a great tool with many useful tools and features, along with a lot of overlap with the other options on the WIN+X menu.

Windows PowerShell

If you’re new to Windows or a normal, casual user, you may never need to use the PowerShell. The PowerShell looks like the Command Prompt but it is far more advanced and make use of “pipes” as found in Linux and Unix systems.

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If that sounds complicated or confusing, then, like we said, you’re probably never going to need or use the PowerShell. If this does sound interesting or like you might have some use for it, we recommend you read our article on how the PowerShell differs from Command Prompt. If you’re good to go and you want to dig right in, there’s an article you should read that give you five cmdlets for starting out with the PowerShell.

Task Manager

We’ve covered the Task Manager at great length in the past. Needless-to-say, it’d be overkill if we did again here. Suffice to say, the Task Manager is a staple of Windows administration allowing you a tremendous amount of diagnostic information and tools.

From the Task Manager, you can check on running processes and stop them if they’re wasting resources or hanging your resource. You can also view your system’s resources and attend to services, among many other things.

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If you want to read a bit more on the Task Manager, then we recommend you read this article on using the Task Manager and Resource Monitor. You should also consider checking out our lesson on keeping your system running smoothly in our How-To Geek School guide on PC maintenance!

Control Panel

Here is just another way to access the Control Panel, which gives you ultimate control over care and administration of your system.

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We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that we have a great article that tells you many other ways to access the Control Panel in Windows 8. If you’re curious, you should check it out!

File Explorer

The File Explorer, formerly known as Windows Explorer, gives you access to all your folders and program files residing on your system.

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There’s a tremendous amount of functionality and power to be had here, we’re going to cover File Explorer a great deal more in the next lesson.

Run

Last, we have the Run command. Old Windows pros will remember that this used to hang out directly on the Start menu but it’s now accessible from WIN+X or alternatively, you can open Run by using WIN+R.

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There’s not a whole lot to explain about the Run dialog. It tends to be one of those things you use for specific computing applications such as quickly opening consoles or programs. Much of what you can do with Run can also be accomplished using Search so it will most likely depend on what you’re used to. Nevertheless, if you’re accustomed to Run on the Start menu, this is where it now resides.

Conclusion

That’s it for today, we think this was a very useful lesson with tons of info to help you administer your computer like a power user. We urge you to read any of the accompanying links we’ve included if you really want to take command of your system. In fact, that is today’s homework, click around through the WIN+X menu and appreciate it for all it offers.

In tomorrow’s lesson, our last lesson in this series, we finally spend some time on the desktop. Truth is, the desktop is remarkably similar to the one in Windows 7 but there are enough changes to merit a refresher lesson. We’ll also wind our way through the File Explorer a bit for the sake of completeness.

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 07/10/14