1. Disable the lock screen
If you like your PC to boot just as fast as possible then the new Windows 8 lock screen may not appeal. Don't worry, though, if you'd like to ditch this then it only takes a moment.
Launch GPEdit.msc (the Local Group Policy Editor) and browse to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Control Panel > Personalisation.
Double-click 'Do not display the lock screen', select Enabled and click OK.
Restart and the lock screen will have gone.
If you can't easily find GPEdit.msc by searching in the Start screen, search for 'mmc', and then press Enter. On the File menu, click 'Add/Remove Snap-in', then in the 'Add or Remove Snap-ins' dialog box, click 'Group Policy Object Editor', and then click 'Add'.
In the 'Select Group Policy Object' dialog box, click 'Browse'. Click 'This Computer' to edit the Local Group Policy object, or click 'Users' to edit Administrator, Non-Administrator, or per-user Local Group Policy objects, then click 'Finish'.
2. Install anything
Most mobile platforms recommend you only install apps from approved sources to protect your security, and Windows 8 is the same: it'll only allow you to install trusted (that is, digitally signed) apps from the Windows store.
If this proves a problem, though, and you're willing to take the security risk (because this isn't something to try unless you're entirely sure it's safe), then the system can be configured to run trusted apps from any source.
Launch GPEdit.msc (see above for instructions on how to find it), browse to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > App Package Deployment, double-click 'Allow all trusted apps to install' and select Enabled > OK.
3. Log in automatically
WARNING: Your account will lose admin privileges as a result of this step
Of course even if you remove the lock screen, you'll still be forced to manually log in every time your system starts. This can also be resolved at speed, though, using much the same technique as in previous versions of Windows.
Hold down the Windows key, press R, type 'netplwiz' and press Enter to launch the User Accounts dialog.
Clear the "Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer" box and click OK.
Enter the user name and password of the account that you'd like to be logged in automatically, click OK, restart your system and this time it should boot directly to the Start screen.
4. Replacing the Start menu
If Windows 8's search and navigation tools still leave you pining for the regular Start menu, installing ViStart will replace it with something very similar.
Download the program and install it, carefully; it's free, but the Setup program will install the trial of a commercial Registry cleaner unless you explicitly tell it otherwise.
But once that's out the way, your old Start button will return in its regular place, and clicking it (or pressing the Windows key) will bring back the usual Start menu complete with search box and all the usual menus.
The program has a few flaws - on launch it gave us an e-mail icon for Outlook Express, for instance - but otherwise works well.
There's also Start8 from Windows customisation veterans Stardock. It provides similar functionality to ViStart but with a more up-to-date look.
5. Windows key shortcuts
- Win : switch between the Start screen and the last-running Windows 8 app
- Win + C : displays the Charms: the Settings, Devices, Share and Search options
- Win + D : launches the desktop
- Win + E : launches Explorer
- Win + F : opens the File Search pane
- Win + H : opens the Share pane
- Win + I : opens Settings
- Win + K : opens the Devices pane
- Win + L : locks your PC
- Win + M : minimises the current Explorer or Internet Explorer window (works in the full-screen IE, too)
- Win + O : toggles device orientation lock on and off
- Win + P : switch your display to a second display or projector
- Win + Q : open the App Search pane
- Win + R : opens the Run box
- Win + U : open the Ease of Access Centre
- Win + V : cycle through toasts (notifications)
- Win + W : search your system settings (type POWER for links to all power-related options, say)
- Win + X : displays a text menu of useful Windows tools and applets
- Win + Z : displays the right-click context menu when in a full-screen app
- Win + + : launch Magnifier and zoom in
- Win + - : zoom out
- Win + , : Aero peek at the desktop
- Win + Enter : launch Narrator
- Win + PgUp : move the current screen to the left-hand monitor
- Win + PgDn : move the current screen to the right-hand monitor
- Win + PrtSc : capture the current screen and save it to your Pictures folder
- Win + Tab : switch between running apps.
6. Launch programs fast
If you're a fan of keyboard shortcuts and don't like the idea of scrolling through app tiles to find the program you need, don't worry, Windows 8 still supports a useful old shortcut. Which is perfect if, say, you're looking to be able to shut down your PC with a click.
Launch the desktop app, right-click an empty part of the desktop and click New > Shortcut.
Browse to the application you'd like to launch here. Of for the sake of this example, enter
shutdown.exe -s -t 00
to shut down your PC, or
shutdown.exe -h -t 00
to hibernate it, and click Next. Type a shortcut name - 'Hibernate', say - and click Finish.
Right-click the shortcut, select Pin to Start and it should appear on the far right of the Start screen - just drag the tile wherever you like.
7. Intelligent screengrabs
If a Windows 8 application is showing something interesting and you'd like to record it for posterity, then hold down the Windows key, press PrtSc, and the image won't just go to the clipboard: it'll also be automatically saved to your My Pictures folder with the name Screenshot.png (and then Screenshot(1).png, Screenshot(2).png and so on).
You might hope that pressing Win+Alt+PrtSc would similarly save an image of the active window, but no, sadly not. Maybe next time.
8. Photo Viewer
Double-click an image file within Explorer and it won't open in a Photo Viewer window any more, at least not by default. Instead you'll be switched to the full-screen Windows 8 Photos app - bad news if you thought you'd escaped such hassles by using the desktop.
If you'd like to fix this, go to Control Panel > Programs > Default Programs and select Set your default programs.
Scroll down and click Windows Photo Viewer in the Programs list.
Finally, click 'Set this program as default' if you'd like the Viewer to open all the file types it can handle, or select the 'Choose default' options if you prefer to specify which file types it should open. Click OK when you're done.