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hidden features windows 8It’s very square, Windows 8, don’t you think? Those tiles have such defined lines – edges you could almost cut yourself on – and impressions of the whole user experience seem to change from person to person. Depending on your needs and requirements, Windows 8 is either a white elephant or a superb piece of finger-focused modern UI design. However, it remains as tweakable as previous versions of Windows, just in other ways.

For instance, although the redesigned desktop looks a lot different to those that have gone before, it hasn’t complete dispensed with Aero. Similarly, using Metro reveals all manner of tweaks and secrets that you can apply to your new operating system. Best of all, Windows 8 offers a revised screenshot tool, something that has been crying out for updating since….well, certainly since Windows XP and probably before!

Note that there are some tweaks below that require you to make changes to the Windows 8 registry, using Registry Editor. You’re advised to back up your registry 3 Ways to Manually Backup & Restore Critical Windows XP Data 3 Ways to Manually Backup & Restore Critical Windows XP Data Read More before making changes.

Missing Aero? Try Aero Lite!

The updated desktop style seen in Windows 8 has a very different look than that seen in Windows 7. It is designed to be used with hardware that meets a particular system specification – but what if your computer doesn’t perform too well?

In Windows 7, Aero could be disabled to get around this (to a small extent); in Windows 8, you can switch to the hidden Aero Lite theme, which you will not find in Control Panel > Change the Theme.

To activate, press Win + R and enter Resources. Open Themes > Aero and copy aerolite.msstyles to the parent folder, Themes, agreeing to the instruction to make the change as an administrator. With this done, you will need to create a configuration file.


hidden features windows 8

Begin by copying aero.theme and pasting it to the desktop. Using Open with… to view the file in Notepad, go to File > Save as… and save the document as aerolite.theme. You can then make the following changes:

Change line 5 to DisplayName= Aero Lite

Find the [VisualStyles] section (either by scrolling or using CTRL+F) and change the path entry to Path=%ResourceDir%\Themes\Aero\Aerolite.msstyles

Save the file again and open Control Panel > Change the Theme or right-click the Desktop and select Personalization – the new Aero Lite option will be available! Although the visuals aren’t all that different, the Aero Lite option changes some buttons and other aspects of the OS, enabling you to sport an individual Windows 8 theme.

Revive the Start Screen Animation

When you first log into Windows 8, you will notice an impressive Start screen animation. Sadly, after the first run, Windows forgets about letting you see this again. This is a shame, because on Windows Phone devices, each press of the Start button instigates a similarly impressive display of tile animation. One of the key points about Metro (as Microsoft previously called the tile-based user interface) is that it should feel “alive”, but this doesn’t translate as well to Windows 8 after the first run.

Fortunately, we can reinstate this, enabling fans of Windows 8 to show off this but of graphical eye candy to friends and interested admirers. Begin by pressing Win + R and enter regedit to launch the Windows 8 Registry Editor. Agree to any User Account Notifications that might be displayed.

windows 8 features

Expand the tree to find HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ImmersiveShell\Grid, and with the entry opened, right-click in the right-hand pane and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value, which you should name Launcher_SessionLoginAnimation_OnShow. Open this, and change the value to 1, then click OK and close Registry Editor. When you hit the Start button, the tiles will be animated.

Note that you can achieve custom Start screen animations in Windows 8 with the Start Screen Animations Tweaker.

Adjust The Number Of Rows In The Start Screen

By default Windows 8’s Start Screen displays tiles as a grid, four rows deep. However, it doesn’t have to be this way…

windows 8 features

From anywhere in Windows 8, press Win + R and enter regedit – this will launch the Windows 8 Registry Editor. Expand the tree to reach the following key:    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ImmersiveShell\Grid and look for the entry Layout_MaximumRowCount. If it’s not there (it probably won’t be) create it by right-clicking in the right-hand pane and selecting New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.

Once created, double click the entry, set the Base to Decimal and alter the value – you can have as many as five rows. After making the change, click OK, close the registry editor and logout of Windows 8. When you log back in, the Start screen layout will have been altered, with the new rows added!

If you don’t like the new look, simply delete the DWORD.

Which Apps Can You Search In?

Searching in Windows 8 is initially tricky, but once you get the hang of the interface this is one of those aspects of the OS that comes naturally.

hidden features windows 8

When you open the Search screen, the right-hand side of the screen displays all of the applications and areas that will be queried. After running a search, the results can be filtered by selecting from these apps.

You can customize the selection of apps in this list by opening Charms (Win + C) and opening Settings > Change PC Settings > Search and clicking the switches against the displayed options. This can prove to speed up search in some cases, or at least make it more efficient, by removing potentially irrelevant search sources such as Finance or Sport, or apps that you rarely use.

Take Instant Screenshots

Since forever, the ability to take screenshots in Windows has been largely usurped by third party tools. Sure, Microsoft Word has a useful screenshot tool, and Microsoft’s Snipping Tool (introduced in Windows Vista) sort of manages to redress the balance, but neither of these are universally great for screen grabs.

Instead, users rely on anything from Steam to SnagIt (depending upon their requirements) to get a screen capture, safe in the knowledge that it will be automatically saved or cached.

This isn’t the case with the old Print Screen > Paste into Paint procedure that has been around since Windows 3, but it is something that has been revised for Windows 8. Taking a screen grab is now fiendishly effortless – just by using a keyboard combination (Win + Print Screen or Win + Volume Down on tablets) Windows 8 takes a screenshot of the current screen and even saves it as a PNG file in the Pictures library!

Have You Found More Windows 8 Secrets?

So there we have it – five excellent hidden features in Windows 8 that contribute to an increase in productivity, enable you to tweak existing defaults and get more eye candy bang for your buck.

There are, of course, many other secrets in Windows 8. Task scheduler has been updated, as has Windows Explorer. Could this new Microsoft OS holds all manner of so-far unrevealed tweaks and tools, or have we covered them all here?

Let us know what you think – especially if you have some useful hidden Windows 8 tweaks and Easter eggs!

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