One of our writers recently acquired a new Surface 3, which he promptly upgraded from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, so we thought we’d share some unboxing images!
If you have ever used a Windows PC for any length of time, you have most likely encountered the fabled Blue Screen of Death at some point. The “Blue Screen of Death” is the colloquial term for a STOP error, a system crash so severe that it forces Windows to stop and start over. (The nickname comes from the blue background for the error message.) By default, Windows 8.1 reboots automatically when it encounters a bluescreen error. This is useful for the occasional error, but if your computer does it consistently, it can become annoying, especially since the computer will restart too quickly for you to see the complete error message, which can make tracking down the root cause quite difficult. Fortunately, you can disable the automatic restart. If the automatic restart is disabled, Windows 8.1 will display the error message until you manually restart the computer. This will allow you to write down the error message and begin troubleshooting.
To disable automatic restart on system failure, first summon the Administrative Menu by pressing the WINDOWS+X keys simultaneously. When the Administrative Menu appears, click on the System item. When the System control panel opens up, click on the Advanced System Settings link.
This will open the System Properties dialog box. Click on the Advanced tab, located the “Startup and Recovery” heading, and click on the Settings button.
The Startup and Recovery options will open up. Under the System Failure heading, uncheck the box marked “Automatically restart”, and then click OK to exit the Startup and Recovery options dialog box. Click OK again to exit the System Properties dialog box, and Windows 8.1 will no longer automatically reboot on a bluescreen error.
By default, the Taskbar in the Windows 8.1 Desktop sits at the bottom of the screen. However, it is possible to configure the Taskbar to disappear unless you move the mouse directly over it. Additionally, if you do not want the Taskbar on the bottom of the screen, you can configure it to occupy either the left edge or the right edge of the Desktop, or even the top of the screen.
To configure the Taskbar, go to the Desktop, right-click on the Taskbar, and then select Properties. This will bring up the Taskbar And Navigation Properties dialog box. Click on the Taskbar tab, and you will see the configuration options for the Taskbar.
To enable Auto-hide, put a check mark in the box labeled “Auto-hide the Taskbar”.
To change the Taskbar’s location, go to the “Taskbar Location On Screen” dropdown menu. The four available options are Bottom, Left, Right, and Top. Make your selection here, and Windows 8.1 will move the Taskbar to the side of the screen you designate.
Finally, it’s a good idea to leave the “Lock The Taskbar” checkbox enabled. When using the Desktop with the Taskbar unlocked, an errant mouse click or finger swipe on a touchscreen device as the irritating habit of accidentally moving the Taskbar to the left or the right or making it bigger. Leaving the Taskbar locked helps to avoid this particular irritation.
Windows 8.1 includes the Command Prompt, a built-in command line interface. Using Command Prompt, you can execute old DOS-style commands, along with many new commands that have been developed in recent years. Performing a task from the Command Prompt is often more efficient and faster than executing the same task through the graphical user interface.
There are several different ways to launch the Command Prompt.
The first is to go to the start screen and type “cmd”. The Command Prompt tile will appear in the search results. Click or tap on the tile, and the Command Prompt will launch.
The second way is to hit the WINDOWS+R keys simultaneously, which will take you to the Desktop and the Run box. Type “cmd” into the Run box and click OK, and Command Prompt will launch.
Finally, File Explorer has a useful feature – you can launch a Command Prompt session in whatever folder you are currently viewing in File Explorer. To use this feature, click on the File tab on File Explorer’s Ribbon, and then click on the icon for Open Command Prompt.
When using a Windows 8.1 computer, it is a good idea to avoid filling up your hard drive. Hard drives are larger than they have ever been, but a large collection of video files, pictures, and music can quickly fill up hundreds of gigabytes worth of space. Additionally, if you are using Windows 8.1 on a tablet device (such as Microsoft’s Surface tablet), your device will have an SSD, which are usually smaller than mechanical hard drives and much easier to fill. Therefore, you will want to keep an eye upon how much space is available on your hard drive. Fortunately, while there isn’t an easy way to do this from the Start Screen, File Explorer makes it simple to check both on disk space usage and the size of individual files and folders.
To launch File Explorer, hit the WINDOWS+E keys on your keyboard simultaneously. When File Explorer launches, by default it takes you to the This PC window, which displays all of your local drives. A convenient blue bar graph will show you how much space you are using on each local hard drive, along with the total number of gigabytes free remaining.
To find the size of an individual file or folder, navigate to its location on the disk. Once you have found it, right-click on its icon and select Properties from the menu. The Properties dialog box will display a great deal of useful information, including the size of the item. Using this information, you can hunt down and delete unused files that are taking up valuable space.
There are many times when using a computer when you might wish to mute the sound – when giving a presentation, for example, or when you simply want to get some work done in peace and quiet without the computer chiming every time you receive a new email. Fortunately, Windows 8.1 offers two different ways to mute the sound on your computer, one from the Start Screen and one from the Desktop.
To mute the computer from the Start Screen, summon the Charms Bar by hitting the WINDOWS+C keys simultaneously, dragging the mouse down from the upper right-hand corner of the screen, or swiping down from the upper-right hand corner of the screen. When the Charms Bar appears, select the Settings charm. The volume control will appear at the bottom of the Charms Bar, and you can mute the computer by dragging the volume slider all the way to the bottom.
To mute the computer from the Desktop, look for the Volume icon in the Notification area – it will resemble a small computer speaker. Click on it, and the volume slider will appear. You can mute the computer by dragging the slider all the way to the bottom.
When using Windows 8.1, you might find it necessary to delete a wireless network profile entirely. If you take your laptop or tablet PC to a lot of different locations with wireless networks, you might find yourself connecting to many different wireless networks. If you wish to stop connecting to those networks, it is often easiest to delete the wireless profile. Additionally, an annoying problem is when you try to connect to a different wireless network with the same name (but different security settings) – your PC will often have trouble connecting to the network.
The easiest way to delete a wireless network profile is through the Command Prompt, Windows 8.1’s command line interface. To launch Command Prompt, go to the Start Screen and type “cmd”. Command Prompt will be the top hit, and click or tap on its tile to launch the program. When Command Prompt launches, type this command at the prompt:
netsh wlan delete profile name=”NETWORKNAME”
Note that you must change NETWORKNAME to the name of the wireless profile you wish to delete. Note also that the name of the network must be enclosed within the quotation marks.
Hit the ENTER key after you have typed the command, and Windows 8.1 will delete the wireless profile.
Wireless networking is useful and convenient, but it does have one significant limitation – it is almost always slower than wired Ethernet networking, especially when dealing with very large files on a local network. Additionally, wireless networking has a few other limitations. Local radio signals can disrupt it, and it has a hard time going through walls, especially if the walls happen to contain a large quantity of steel (like rebar). So wireless is often slower than wired Ethernet, which makes it advantageous to plug in your Ethernet port when available.
That said, sometimes Windows 8.1 prioritizes your wireless over the wired Ethernet, and continues to use the wireless even when plugged into a wired network. Fortunately, this behavior is easy to change.
First, summon the Administrative Menu by hitting the WINDOWS+X keys simultaneously. Once the Administrative Menu appears, click on the Control Panel item. When Control Panel launches, click on the Network & Internet category. Once this category expands, click on the link for Network & Sharing Center, and then click on Change Adapter Settings in the left-hand pane.
You will then see a window showing all the network connections available on your PC. Tap the ALT key to summon the Menu Bar, and then go to the Advanced menu. Click on the Advanced Settings item.
The Advanced Settings dialog box will appear, and you will see the available network connections listed by priority. To give your wired Ethernet connection greater priority, click on it to select it, and then click the UP button until it is moved to the top of the list. Once you are finished, click OK, and Windows 8.1 will then access your Ethernet connection before the wireless.
Windows 8.1’s File Explorer includes a Navigation Pane, a column running down the left-hand side of File Explorer’s main window that contains a number of useful links. The Navigation Pane shows the most commonly accessed folders in your user profile (Desktop, Documents, Pictures, and so forth), along with available Network locations. The most useful tool in the Navigation pane, however, is the Favorites list. By Default, Favorites lists your most commonly visited folders, but you can pin and unpin items to your Favorites list. For example, if you commonly visit a particular folder in your Documents folder, you can pin that particular folder to your Favorites list, allowing you to return to it quickly from anywhere within File Explorer. There are a number of different ways to pin a folder to the Favorites.
The first way to add a folder to the Favorites list is to navigate to that folder in File Explorer. Once you are there, right-click on the star-shaped Favorites icon in the Navigation Pane. From the menu that appears, select “Add current location to Favorites”. The folder will then be added to the Favorites list.
You can also add a folder to Favorites by clicking on its icon, dragging it onto the Favorites menu, and then releasing the mouse button. The folder itself will not physically be moved, but a shortcut will be created in the Favorites list.
To remove a folder from the Favorites list, right click on its shortcut in the list and click Remove.