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Windows 8/8.1 Tips & Tricks

I thought I would never have to write this article. A few years back, I had moved to Ubuntu and Gnome 2 desktop. I am still quite happy with it. However, for work reasons, I have had to install Windows 8 five or six times, and each time I have had to perform the same hacks all over again. Hence, I have created this article where I can find it all in one place. I hope it will be useful to others as well.

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  1. Regarding Start screen tiles, I will say no more than that you take one good look at it, spit on it, turn off all those useless stupid tiles and uninstall them from the Start screen. (The self-updating tiles are useless. Once the novelty wears off, which is quite early, they sit there and unnecessarily consume bandwidth. You will never bother to read all that they have download. Get an RSS reader instead and read all updates in one location instead of all over the screen and beyond.) Keep shortcuts of applications that you actually use and get rid of the rest. Also, go to Control Panel (the new and ugly one from the right-hand side) and disable all those spyware/bandwidth-hogging settings. (I can't get myself to enumerate the steps. It is excruciating. You figure them out yourself.)
  2. Scott Hanselman's Windows 8 Videos: Scott Hanselman is a Microsoft employee but he works on the open-source side of the company. He has produced some useful videos on Windows 8, which greatly lessen the pain of this hard-as-nails operating system. Go to http://hanselman.com/windows8
  3. In Windows 8.1, you can boot directly into the desktop using a Control Panel setting. Go to Appearance and Personalization » Taskbar and Navigation » Navigation and select When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start.
  4. Create Quick Launch toolbar: Microsoft has hidden the quick launch toolbar to an obscure location in that hope that everyone over time will forget its incredible usefulness and shift to the stupid "Start Screen". (Only mindless orangutans with an obsession to play with their members would want to use the Start Screen.)
    1. Right-click on the Taskbar and choose to "Unlock" it.
    2. Again, right-click on the Taskbar and create a new toolbar for C:\Users\{insert-your-username-here}\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch. (See where those idiots have hidden in it? A folder meant for an Internet browser!)
    3. Right-click on the i>Quick Launch toolbar and disable "Show text" and "Show title" menu options.
    4. Drag the toolbar to the left of the taskbar.
    5. Lock the Quick Launch toolbar after you have populated it with your favourite shortcuts.
  5. Restore the classic icon for Show Desktop shortcut in the Quick Launch toolbar: Microsoft in its infinite wisdome has set an inconspicuous icon for this important shortcut. (Why are these morons like this?) Use an icon that you can spot easily. Right-click shortcut, go to Shortcut tab, click on Change Icon and set it to the old icon in C:\Windows\System32\explorer.exe.
  6. Populate QuickLaunch toolbars: Don't pin applications to the taskbar. Move them to the Quick Launch toolbar.
    1. Pin your favourite programs to taskbar.
    2. Open C:\Users\{insert-your-username-here}\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\TaskBar in Windows Explorer (the file manager, not the browser).
    3. Cut the shortcuts and then paste them in QuickLaunch folder a few levels above.
  7. Use a Start menu replacement: You can use Start menu replacement applications such as Classic Shell (free) and Start 8 (paid). I found Classic Shell to be a bit buggy. I devised an alternative way of reproducing the Start menu functionality using the Quick Launch toolbar!
    • Right-click the task bar and create a toolbar for this folder.
    • Open your favourite applications and right-click on their task bar buttons and pin them.
    • Move the shortcuts from the C:\Users\{insert-your-username-here}\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\TaskBar folder to C:\Users\{insert-your-username-here}\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch
    • Right-click inside the Quick Luanch toolbar and create folders inside it for various applications. Move (drag and drop) the shortcuts to those folders.
    • Resize the toolbar.
    • Move the pointer to the right edge of the toolbar and click to see the new Start menu.
    You can also create a symbolic link of the "All Users" account's start menu folder in the Quick Launch folder. This is the original Start menu. You create symbolic links using the DOS mklink command.
    cd "C:\Users\REPLACE-WITH-YOUR-USERNAME-HERE\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch"
    mklink /d "All's Menu" "C:\Users\All Users\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs"
    
  8. Install Subhash Copy Path Windows Explorer Context Menu Extensions. This is not a shameless plug. You need it if you want to use Windows 8 without tearing your hair apart from your scalp, particularly if you use this lemon of an operating system at work.
  9. Install Freecommander. Change its settings, particularly the toolbar and then save the changed settings. FreeCommander may not be a great looker but it gets the job done. Windows Explorer has been shot in the leg. It couldn't roll on its sides if its life depended on it.
  10. Install Rambooster. This software is from the 90s but you will need it if you run a lot of applications. Windows has put on a great deal of weight over the years and becomes sluggish and useless without this software. (How many services will Windows run? Even when no applications are open, there are probably a hundred services running. There are millions network probes and hundreds if not thousands of port listens. What do you call a spyware that masquerades as an operating system?)
  11. Windows applications can no longer store user settings in the Program Files folder. So, YOU create specific folders in C:\Users\{insert-your-username-here}\AppData\Local\ for applications that need to store their settings in a folder. Examples of that would be FreeCommander and Context editor.
  12. Shorcut key for new folder is Ctrl+Shift+N. (Copied from Linux file manager Nautilus.)
  13. Run applications without warning: Windows 8 will throw a warning if you try to run it from a network drive. Even if it runs, it may not work properly. You can either copy the folders to C:\Program Files or create your own application folders in C:\Users\{insert-your-username-here}\AppData\Local\. As mentioned earlier, you may need to create settings folders for those applications in C:\Users\{insert-your-username-here}\AppData\Roaming.
  14. Install these good utilities: Startup Control Panel, Startup Monitor, Powermenu, Unlocker, Sizer, Program Explorer, Program Monitor and Naviscope. Many of these applications were built for older versions of Windows and will not easily install in Windows 8. To ensure that they install and run properly, you need to first right-click their installation programs and then set their compatibility option to Windows XP SP3 and also set it to run with administrator privileges. Next, you should right-click it and select Run as administrator.
  15. Rearrange Taskbar buttons simply by dragging them: You can do this now with your mouse, although I think this feature has been there since Vista. (I stayed mostly with XP and avoided Vista and 7.)
  16. Copy files from network drives to protected folders: Windows Explorer will not let you copy files from a network drive to a protected folder like C:\Program Files. The solution for this restriction is to first copy the folder from the network drive to the desktop and then copy the folder from the Desktop to the protected folder.
  17. Install Internet-enabled applications wisely and avoid spyware like Google Chrome: Keep Internet Explorer up to date but don't use it. If you do need to use it for some reason, then prevent it from running Adobe Flash and ActiveX controls. Use it with Drop My Rights. Install the following: Firefox (exclusively for browsing Adobe Flash-enabled websites such as YouTube and for using its plugins such as DownThemAll, Download Helper, Download Youtube as FLV/MP4,…) Seamonkey (for use as e-mail client; disable Adobe Flash) and Opera 12.6 (for regular browsing; disable Adobe Flash). Don't install Google Chrome. Chrome is spyware. Women in particular should avoid installing Chrome on their system. Don't install Opera newer than 12.6. Those versions of Opera are built with the same Chrome browser spyware source code. Adobe Flash is a spyware too. It is worse than Google Chrome and more ubiquitous. Use it only when you have no choice. Unlock its update folder and delete its update application. This application is used to download specialized spyware code on an individual ad-hoc basis. Even if you are innocent, the Fascist world order might want you as a patsy. Adobe Flash has full control over your OS and has had access to your microphone, web camera, GPU and other hardware more than a decade before Chrome/Firefox got to it.
  18. Using an old browser such as Opera 12.6 may mean you may be will have to go without security fixes: The solution to that is to avoid visiting shady sites, incessantly clicking toolbar installers, and giving away your login details to unknown websites with abandon. Use a good Internet security system such as AVG Internet Security and that will stop most infections particularly those borne via Internet and USB drives. In AVG, you need to manually enable automatic scanning of removable drives. Malware infections in Windows computers are spread mostly by USB pen drives and open firewalls. (After many many years, Microsoft has reportedly disabled autoplay (not entirely though). And, that Windows Firewall is almost impossible to configure. Have you ever checked the firewall rules in "Advanced" section? A simple glance is enough to disorient a COBOL programmer!) When you download new software, DO NOT go to Download.com. They wrap a spyware with all their downloads and their pesky toolbars and popups are almost impossible to get rid off. Visit still-decent sites such as SoftPedia.com instead to download Windows software.
  19. Install Seamonkey For Email: Seamonkey is Mozilla project. It is a take-off on the old Netscape Internet Suite. It has a browser (Firefox), email client (Thunderbird), IRC client (ChatZilla) and a page editor. Use it for e-mail and for opening links in e-mail. Don't install Flash in it or in Opera. (Use Firefox for Flash-enabled websites. Use Seamonkey for e-mail. Use Opera for general browsing. Whenever you encounter a Flash-enabled website in Opera, right-click and select Open with Firefox.) If you are moving from Windows XP and your e-mail is stuck in Outlook Express, then export your mail to MBOX format, the universal e-mail format. Install Seamonkey in XP and let it import your e-mail from Outlook Express. Then copy the mail store folder created by Seamonkey in XP and move it to your Windows 8 system. Install Seamonkey in Windows 8 and overwrite the mail store folder created by it with the copy from your XP system. The advantage of the MBOX system is that you can move it to a Linux system and it will still work with Thunderbird, Seamonkey, IceDove or any other system that uses MBOX mail stores.
  20. Do not install .NET 3.5 Framework - enable it: Some older applications might complain that they need you to install .NET 3.5 or older in your computer. You do not have download it and install it. Windows 8 comes with .NET Framework 4.5. This includes all the previous .NET Frameworks. You just need to enable .NET 3.5 in Control Panel.
  21. Many browsers offer geolocation, malware/phishing/fraud detection services. These are nothing more than an excuse to record your browsing history. (They services cost good money and they are providing it free for a reason. Nobody is out there to give you a free lunch. Everything has to be paid for. They know how to collect it from you, whether you are aware of it or not.) These settings clog your Internet bandwidth and increases response times. Just disable them and browse with some common sense and presence of mind. Don't outsource security to some software. Don't visit dubious sites. Don't mindless click on toolbar install buttons. Don't slavishly give away your login details to unknown websites. If you snooze, you lose. Use a good firewall such as those bundled with your anti-virus software. More importantly, look at the settings and change them to your needs. Most of the defaults are either designed to block everything or to let in everyone and their dead relatives from the grave. Act wisely. There is no cure for stupid. Microsoft founder Bill Gates says CO2 emissions can be brought to down to zero. Maybe on a solid rock-hard cold planet like Pluto but not on Earth! You see, this OS was designed by the leading prize ass of the last two centuries. So, take care.
  22. Don't run your computer with Administrator login or an account with Administrator permissions. Create a "limited user" account and use that for your regular work. Use your Administrator login only for initial setup and to make permanent changes to your system such as when installing/uninstalling software. (You can always right-click an installer and choose Run as administrator. It will prompt you to enter your Administrator password while you are still in the regular user desktop.) Use Drop Your Rights to sandbox Internet browsers. You may read that Windows 8 automatically downgrades security privileges in Administrator logins and this application is no longer required. That is not true. Microsoft is Microsoft. They get to security as much as Bill Gates gets to science.
  23. You monitor your OS: Use Process Explorer to monitor applications processes. Use Naviscope to monitor Internet traffic.
  24. Windows 8 Enterprise activation: You will find that after installing Windows 8 Enterprise that you are unable to properly activate with a proper key. Enter the following keys in your Powershell command window. Run it with Administrator permissions.)
    slmgr.vbs /ipk YOUR_KEY
    slmgr.vbs /ato
    
  25. Windows 8 Update: Windows Update has always been a miserable feature of the product and it is no different in this version. Don't let it automatically install updates. It will hog all your bandwidth, slow down your computer, and take forever to finish installing the updates. Worse, just when you want to shut down the computer, it will ask you not to do that, as it is installing updates. Instead of suffering like that, disable Windows Update. Once a week, when you are about to go to sleep and are not going to work on your computer, enable Windows Update and let download and install the files. When it has finished everything, disable Windows Update again.
  26. Windows 8 Enterprise Updates: You will find that Windows 8 does not get the update to 8.1 no matter what you try. That is because you are using Enteprise version and those installations are meant to be managed by an administrator. So, the solution should be download the 8.1 offline installer ISO and then install from it. Windows 8 will mount ISO images as virtual CD/DVD drives.