By Mary Branscombe and Max Slater-Robbins
Annoyances 1 – 5
Many criticisms can be leveled at Microsoft: in the 2000s it was a bully of a company, beating smaller companies into the dirt with its monopoly on various services or hardwares.
Under the leadership of Steve Ballmer it missed big opportunities in mobile and the Web. Apple has effectively swapped into its position as richest and most powerful tech company with Google snapping at its heals – and so on.
One area where Microsoft hasn’t lost its dominance is the PC. Over 95% of the world’s consumer and enterprise PCs run Windows in one form or another.
The trouble for Microsoft, however, is that the influence this bought them in the early 2000s has dwindled as more and more consumers and businesses move towards handheld devices.
To combat this, Microsoft decided to introduce Windows 8, an operating system that can offer a unified experience across all devices from smartphones to tablets to laptops to desktop PCs.
Unfortunately, Windows 8 was not a massive success: users lamented the lack of Start menu and vast user interface changes that made the experience seem alien when compared to the warm familiarity of Windows XP to 7.
Microsoft then released Windows 8.1 (and subsequently Windows 8.1 Update 1) which combated some of the issues faced by users, reintroducing a ‘boot-to-desktop’ option and bringing back the Start menu.
While these tweaks are obvious, some of them are less so. Here’s what we’re doing to all our new Windows 8.1 systems to get them running smoothly.
1. Fix OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive)
One of the most annoying issues with Windows 8.1 is when the newly integrated OneDrive won’t sync files. Often, that’s because you have a lot of files trying to sync and your PC is hibernating or going to sleep before it’s done.
When you turn your PC back on, OneDrive sync spends so long rebuilding the sync list that it doesn’t get through all the files before you’re turning off your PC again — with all the new files you created only making the backlog worse.
Open the OneDrive app, wait a couple of minutes and you should see the total numbers of files that need to upload and download. Tap the numbers to see a list of files with sync progress bars.
Create a power profile that doesn’t turn your PC off after a set time, switch to that and leave your PC plugged in overnight and OneDrive should plough through all the files. If there are files causing problems, they’ll be listed here as well so you can find and fix them.
2. Get compatibility view back in Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer (IE) 11 includes a lot more Web standards than before (universal rules across the Web which help display pages), but many sites still relegate all versions of IE to specially written pages designed for older, less standard versions.
If a page didn’t look right in IE 10, you could click the blue Compatibility icon in the address bar to load it in as if you were using one of those old browsers. You don’t see that icon for most sites in IE 11 because it now only appears if a site is listed by Microsoft as having compatibility problems.
Fortunately, you can add individual sites to the list yourself. Click the Settings cog next to the tabs and choose ‘Compatibility View’ settings. The current site will be highlighted.
Click Add to put it on the list and you’ll see the button again. Alternatively, press F12 and use the Document mode drop down to make IE pretend to be a range of different browsers, which can fix sites ‘Compatibility View’ doesn’t.
3. Trust this PC
Until your PC is marked in your Microsoft account as ‘trusted’ it won’t sync Wi-Fi passwords, website logins and other useful but sensitive information.
Usually it’s entrusted during setup (or when you add a new user account) by typing in a code Microsoft emails or texts to you. If you skip that step you can still use your PC, but secure details won’t sync.
Microsoft will also stop trusting any devices you don’t use for two months. To prevent his, go to Accounts in PC Settings. Under Your account, choose ‘More account settings online’.
This loads the browser and asks you to sign in to your Microsoft account. Select the check box that says ‘I sign in frequently on this device. Don’t ask me for a code.’
You’ll get a code by email, text message or whichever method you’ve chosen for authentication. Once you type that in, your PC will be trusted and will sync secure information. If you haven’t already set up any trusted devices, look on the Password and Security information page and choose Edit security info to pick how to authenticate new devices first.
4. Get the apps on your Start screen to install
When you upgrade to Windows 8.1 you’ll see Tiles for all the apps you had installed (and if you pick the Start screen layout from another Windows 8.1 PC you’ll see the tiles for all the apps you had installed on that PC).
That doesn’t mean you actually have those apps, however. Look carefully and you’ll see an arrow in the corner of some tiles, or if they’re on the All Apps screen they’ll say ‘install’ under the app name. You have a placeholder for the app, not the app itself. Just tap the tile and Windows 8.1 will install the app from the Store for you.
5. Get rid of the pop-up tips
The first time you start using Windows Store apps you’ll see pop-up tips explaining how to open the Charms bar and switch between apps. Annoyingly, you’ll keep seeing them unless you follow their instructions at least once. To stop the tips from appearing, simply follow their instructions once and they will disappear.
Annoyances 6 – 11
6. Put libraries back
You don’t have to keep your photos, music and videos where Windows suggests. You might have them on an external drive, on OneDrive or on another PC.
Adding the folders you use to the libraries in Windows means you get to choose where files live, but you can still find them quickly, especially in Store apps.
But Windows 8.1 hides Libraries in Explorer. To put them back in the navigation pane, open the View tab on the ribbon and choose ‘Options,’ then ‘Change Folder’ and search options, then put a tick next to ‘Show libraries’.
7. Fix file associations
You don’t have to open pictures in the Photos app or music in the Xbox Music app. If you missed the notification letting you pick which program to use the first time you opened a file, go to Explorer and select a file you want to change the default for.
Click the arrow next to the Open button and pick ‘Choose default program…’ to change to the software you want to use.
8. Put desktop IE back on the Start screen
The Tile for the desktop version of Internet Explorer is gone from the Windows 8.1 Start screen. You can’t put it back so if you don’t want to click the desktop tile and then open IE from the taskbar, you have to make desktop IE the default and then the tile for the modern version of IE launches the desktop browser instead. Click the Settings cog in desktop IE, choose ‘Internet Options’ > Programs and put a tick next to ‘Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop’.
9. See more Tiles on the home screen
Perhaps because of the 8-inch tablets Microsoft is pushing this year, the default home screen setting in Windows 8.1 puts only a few, larger tiles on the Start screen.
Open the Settings charm, choose ‘Tiles’ and you can make the tiles smaller so you see more of them. You can also add the Windows admin tools to the ‘All apps’ list here.
10. Squeeze in more apps and text
If you have a large, high resolution screen, you might want the high DPI that’s the default setting in Windows 8.1. Alternatively, you might want to have smaller text and see more information at once – more messages in Mail, more of a Web page on screen, more words in Word and so on.
In PC Settings choose PC and Devices > Display (alternatively, open the Search charm and search for ‘size’). The drop down under ‘More options’ lets you change the size of apps and text from Default to Smaller (or large), which puts yet more tiles on the Start screen and makes text smaller in your apps.
If that makes desktop programs look too small, you can change the DPI there separately: right-click on the desktop and choose ‘Screen resolution’ > ‘Make text and other items smaller or larger’.
You can drag the scale between Smaller and Larger or check ‘Let me choose one scaling level for all my displays’ to see the options as radio buttons instead.
11. Get an Administrator account
When you set up Windows 8.1 it guides you through signing in with a Microsoft account or making a local account. Signing in with a Microsoft account gets you all the handy settings synced, but it means you don’t get the choice of creating an admin account — and there are still plenty of times you need to be an admin in Windows. Fortunately, the remedy to this is simple.
Open the control panel and pick ‘Change account type’ under User Account and Family Safety, select your own account and choose ‘Change the account type,’ then pick ‘Administrator’.
Annoyances 12 – 18
12. Use Bing images as your lock screen picture
Unfortunately, the Windows 8 Bing app is gone in Windows 8.1 and with it the option to see the Bing daily image as your lock screen but you can still do it with a third-party app like Image of the Day if you miss the beautiful pictures Bing serves up everyday.
13. Update Office to get snipping back
Windows 8.1 uses the Windows-S (Windows key + S) shortcut for the Search pane instead of the ‘Snipping’ tool (a handy way of grabbing a section of the screen) and doesn’t give it another keyboard shortcut. You have to find the Snipping tool in Explorer, right-click and choose ‘Properties’ and open the Shortcut tab to add your own keyboard shortcut (using Ctrl-Alt).
If you have Office 2013 installed (including the free version in Windows RT) which uses OneNote’s snipping tool, make sure you’ve applied all the updates and you get the Windows-Shift-S (Windows key + Shift key + S) shortcut for snipping.
14. Fix disappearing USB drives
Windows 8.1 powers down USB drives when you’re not using them to save your battery as keeping the USB port live uses power on your PC. USB drives are supposed to turn themselves back on automatically when you want to use them, but it turns out quite a lot of drives don’t manage that.
Check the list here and if your drive is named there, try upgrading the firmware.
If that doesn’t help, find the drive details in Device Manager and use those to add a key to its settings in the Registry that stops Windows turning it off. You can find instructions to this in the link above.
15. Put remote pictures back in the Photos app
The Windows 8 Photos app showed pictures from Flickr, Facebook, OneDrive and your other Windows 8 PCs as well as local images. The Windows 8.1 version defaults to just showing the pictures on your PC and you can’t add the online images back.
However, if you include the picture folders on networked PCs in the Pictures library (using Explorer) you’ll see those images in the Photos app, as long as those PCs are turned on and running a version of Windows that has the search indexer.
This means you can see photos on a Windows 8 PC but not on a NAS (Network attached storage device). Open Explorer, select the folder you want to include in the Network section and click ‘Easy Access’ in the ribbon, then choose ‘Include in Library’ > ‘Pictures’.
16. Windows Explorer crashing or reloading frequently
Some users have reported that they are seeing lots of “Windows Explorer has stopped working” error messages. The problem is caused by a software fault in Windows 8 and can only be fixed by going to Settings > Update and Recovery and “Refresh my PC”.
After this, click “Get Started” and then click “Refresh your PC without harming any of your files”. Doing this effectively reinstalls Windows but deletes none of your files and solves the Windows Explorer issues.
17. Windows refuses to go to sleep or wakes up without prompting
Windows 8 devices sometimes refuse to go to sleep or, when asleep, wake randomly without user input. This is caused by a crossing of wires internally giving some programmes the ability to wake your PC when they shouldn’t be able too.
To fix this, open the Command Line (search for “cmd”) and type: “powercfg –devicequery wake_armed” (exactly as it is written here, minus quotes). This gives you a list of the programmes with the ability to wake your PC.
Now go to Device Manager (search “device manager”) and you will be presented with a list of devices. Double click to open properties of each device, go to the “Power Management” tab and check if “Allow this device to wake this computer” is checked. If so, uncheck and proceed to the next one.
Your PC should now sleep and not wake until you tell it to.
18. Blurry or fuzzy text
Some programmes are designed for older screens which contain less pixels than today’s. This means that some programmes may display fuzzy text which can be annoying.
The solution, however, is simple. Right click on a programmes executable, head to the Compatibility tab and check the box which says “Disable display scaling on high DPI settings” and simply restart the programme.