5 Ways Windows 8.1 Can Make You More Productive

Ryan Dube 30-01-2015

Who would ever want to buy a new computer and be forced to start using Windows 8? Well, this guy right here for one.


The truth is, ever since Windows 8 came out, I abhorred the thought of buying a new computer and having to use Windows 8. Every review I ever saw of it displayed these atrocious looking “modern” windows with big square blocks meant for tablet users. I was a happy Windows 7 user, and intended to keep it that way.

14 messy Start Screen

Then, my laptop died. I was in a predicament where I had no choice but to buy a new computer. I was informed by MakeUseOf colleagues that with Windows 8.1, you can revert to Windows 7 How to Make Windows 8 or 8.1 Look Like Windows 7 or XP Is Windows 8 too modern for your taste? Maybe you prefer a retro look. We show you how to resurrect the Start menu and install classic Windows themes on Windows 8. Read More if you want to. So with that assurance, I purchased an ASUS Flip.

Giving into the next generation of Windows was probably one of the best decisions I could have made. If you haven’t yet – and you’re still clinging to Windows 7 like I was, I’m going to show you how moving to Windows 8 can boost your efficiency and make you far more productive at everything you do on your computer.

Quickly Opening Apps

The first thing many people noticed (and hated) about Windows 8 was the disappearance of the Start button in favor of this busy start screen with live tiles. It was a train wreck. In fact, it was because of all the bad press that a lot of people decided to put off buying a new computer.


Thankfully, with Windows 8.1, Microsoft took that negative feedback into account, and brought back the start button How To Upgrade To Windows 8.1 Preview & What To Expect Anyone using Windows 8 can now upgrade to a preview version of Windows 8.1 for free. This update refines Windows 8, giving keyboard and mouse users important interface improvements and making the Modern interface more... Read More (among other things).


Yes, the Start button brings you to the live tile screen and all things metro/modern, but nevermind all that. We’re looking for efficiency – and what you can do on that screen will provide you with that. All you have to do is start typing the name of the app you want to open, and there it is.



The search menu immediately pops up, you can click on the app, hit enter, and it launches.

This is a beautiful thing. You avoid all of the Start > All Programs > etc… clicking nonsense from Windows 7; by simply clicking the Start button and typing the name of the app, you launch an app in simply two clicks and some typing. The time saving benefit of this can’t be understated.

If you’re like me and you really prefer working from the desktop most of the time, you can configure the computer to boot right to the desktop when it starts up. Just go to Control Panel > Taskbar and Navigation and click Show My Desktop Background on Start.



Now you can work from the same sort of desktop UI you were comfortable using in Windows 7, and you can launch any program from the Start menu in a few seconds – faster than you ever could with Windows 7.

One-Search Desktop and Web Results

Speaking of the search dropdown menu; another fantastic time-saving feature in Windows 8.1 is the ability to search both your computer and the Internet at the same time.

To enable this feature, just go to PC Settings > Search and Apps and turn on the option to “Get search suggestions and web results from Bing.



Now, for example, if you want to get your local weather, don’t even waste time opening a web browser. Just click the Start button, and start typing the name of the town or city where you live. You’ll see the local weather, as well as a list of most relevant web search items.


The coolest thing is when you click on those results, you see the web information that’s available in a beautifully laid out format. For example, when I searched for “map of main towns“, the results page (still not having to open any web browser), revealed the top web pages available on the topic, as well as actually map images available along the left side of the results page.


You can click on any of the websites to finally open your default browser and visit the site.

Or, you can actually install content-provider apps from the Store and view information right on your computer. No browser required.

One of my favorite apps for this is the Wikipedia app. Search for detailed encyclopedia-like information using the Windows search feature, and get the wiki results and information instantly.


It is easy to see how quick access to nearly unlimited information can save a ton of time for anyone who frequently needs to look up facts or other information on the web. Save yourself some time and install the Wikipedia app and do all that research right on your computer in seconds.

Easy Access to Help and Settings

One of the biggest issues I had with all previous versions of Windows was the fact that the Help was virtually useless. It wasn’t so much that information couldn’t be found there, but the Help menus and navigation was so convoluted and difficult to navigate that I stopped even trying.

If you had the same frustrations with Windows Help, you will be thrilled with Help & Tips on Windows 8.1. To get to it, just click the Start button and type “help“, then click on “Help + Tips“.


You can use the search field to find exactly what you’re looking for, or use the well-categorized sections that are displayed to drill down to what you need. The organization of these menus is light-years ahead of what used to be available.

Again, if you simply can’t find a particular settings menu on your computer, the Start screen search feature comes to the rescue. Just type “settings” and you’ll see a long list of Windows settings available, or if you know more specifically what you’re looking for, just type it in and you see it show up in the dropdown.


No more digging through the control panel to try and find what you need. If there was ever a time-saver in switching to Windows 8.1, this is it.

Multiple App Views

The next big time saver on Windows 8.1 is a combination of ways to get access to the applications you currently have open.

If you’re a long-time Windows 7 user, then you’re most certainly used to the ability to pin apps to the taskbar and quickly see a live mini-preview of that window. Yes, you’ve still got that in Windows 8.1.

Well with Windows 8.1, you’ve got many more options available to preview, open, and close applications. The coolest feature, in my opinion, is the same sort of app-switching functionality that you’d see on Android or iOS tablets.

To enable easy app switching, just go to the PC Settings > PC and devices > Corners and edges.


Enable “Allow switching between recent apps“. Once you do that, you can simply move your mouse to the upper-left side of the screen to see a slide-out open showing all of your recently opened applications.


And if that’s not enough to make you smile, then you’ll want to start playing around with the “Snap view” feature. Unlike the limited “snapping” in Windows 7 when you dragged a window to the right or left extreme side of the screen, Windows 8.1 has a load of new features that make snap view so much more useful.

Making it happen is simple. If you swipe in from the left side of the screen, you can choose from the preview list of open apps. Drag the one you want to open onto the screen and hold it until the split bar shows up. Just drop the app on the side where you want it. You can resize the split to wherever you like.


You’ll notice in the picture above, I have an app open on the left, and the desktop on the right. This is why the snap feature is so much cooler on Windows 8.1. This is a split screen with a fully-functioning desktop view on one side – not just splitting two windows on the screen. Both sides are working independent of each other.

You’ll hear people tell you that you can’t resize apps on Windows 8. Well, that’s not true, as you can see. Just snap the app and then resize the split to your preferred view.

How is this a time saver? Well, if you only have on screen to work with and you really need side-by-side windows to see information on one side for your activity in the other, this is a fast and easy way to get the job done – without having to worry so much about the two windows overlapping or otherwise interfering with the other view.

Fast Cloud Drive Access

Mounting a cloud drive as an actual drive on your PC isn’t new. For quite a while now, you could mount a synced drive to Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon Cloud Drive How To Put Amazon’s Cloud Drive On Your Desktop Amazon’s recently released Cloud Drive service has been making waves, mostly due to the music streaming feature that lets users stream music files. Cloud Drive offers 5GB of free space by default, and that can... Read More .

However, the ease with which you can do this on Windows 8.1 is astonishing. Of course OneDrive is essentially embedded as a drive right from the moment you fire up your PC out of the factory.


Maybe using OneDrive as your own cloud storage solution is enough. However, if you’re like me – messing around with all sorts of ways to mount external FTP and file storage accounts as virtual drives – then you’re going to love how seamlessly cloud services like Google Drive or Dropbox mount like a regular drive in Windows 8.1.


Here’s a money-saving top: If you want to use non-Microsoft services like Google Drive, you might want to avoid the Store completely and just download the app available from the outside service.

For example, GDrive Pro, a Store app that lets you mount a virtual drive that’s synced with your Google Drive account, costs $3.99. However, you can just head right over to download Google Drive for Desktop straight from Google for absolutely free.

The truth is, Windows 8 gave a lot of potential computer-buyers a very bad taste in their collective mouths, forcing people to start looking for alternative solutions like Chromebook The Fundamental Advantages Of Using A Chromebook Chromebooks are highly divisive and a consensus about the merits of Google's offering is a long way from materialising. Here are the key advantages of using a Chromebook when compared to Windows and Macs. Read More or some Linux distro The Best Linux Operating Distros The best Linux distros are hard to find. Unless you read our list of the best Linux operating systems for gaming, Raspberry Pi, and more. Read More .

Thankfully, Windows 8.1 came along just in time. The tweaks and features added to the latest version truly made this latest version of Windows an enjoyable OS to use. Windows 10 Windows 10 In Pictures - A Guided Tour Of The Technical Preview The Windows 10 Technical Preview is now available to everyone. Some bugs aside, it does look promising. We'll guide you through the new Windows one screenshot at a time. Read More is certainly on the way, and Tina suggests that it might make us even more productive Will Windows 10 Make Productive People Even More Productive? It's official, the new Windows will be a perfect 10. Why Windows 10? Because Windows 7 8 (ate) 9. And here is what you will find inside the Technical Preview. Read More than ever before, but if your computer is dead and you’re dreading buying one of those Windows 8.1 systems in the electronics store, fear no more. You are sure to enjoy this fast and productive OS, once you get the hang of it. Besides, you can still downgrade to Windows 7 or upgrade to Windows 10 for free once it’s available.

Are you a Windows 8.1 user? Has your opinion about it changed since you’ve been using it? Share your own opinions about Windows 8 productivity How To Use Windows 8 Productively Despite Its Modern Interface Windows 8 has been getting plenty of hate, partly because people resist change. But change can bring improvements. Let us lift your veil of ignorance and demonstrate how to be more productive with the new... Read More in the comments section below!

Related topics: Microsoft OneDrive, Windows 8.1.

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  1. veganaiZe
    April 23, 2015 at 2:35 am

    You could already click the start/Windows menu button in Win7 and just start typing to search. There is nothing new here. Get Classic Shell and be on your way.

  2. N
    February 8, 2015 at 6:36 am

    'All you have to do is start typing the name of the app you want to open, and there it is.'
    Who in the name of all the seven bells of hell REMEMBERS the NAMES of the couple of hundred programs that are installed on a power-user machine!?!
    Have we returned to DOS 6.2 where you threw all the possible executable paths into the PATH line in autoexec and then typed in the name of the executable?
    Horse hockey!
    I know the ICONS for programs, where they were in a hierarchy, and what the neighborhood LOOKED like. Keyboarding and search is for when THAT memory failed, not everyday use.
    Win 8 variants without Start8 on them are pretty much useless for a power-user. And those stupid live tiles! The FIRST thing you do is launch an application and they are HIDDEN, so what exactly was the point. MS BrainCramps. Active Desktop and digital dashboards come back around again. Failed the first time. Failed again. Told MS in feedback for the Win8 CTP that shipping without a Start Menu was going to leave Win 8 dead in the water. And dead it was/is. So much so that EVERYONE is getting a free upgrade away from it except Enterprise users--who likely have Software Assurance anyway.
    The 'typers' got a UI in Win 8, and the 'point-and-clickers' did not. Guess at the relative proportions in the real world!

    And just for fun--without cheating by typing in the full path--create a shortcut to WinWord.exe on the desktop. Kill the Start Menu AND make it impossible for normal users to put icons on the desktop. I really don't know how that EVER saw the light of day. Sinofsky and Jensen Harris saw the door. If Julie Larsen-Green doesn't complete the backpedal fast enough, she's next!

  3. PatL
    February 3, 2015 at 1:54 am

    Split windows. No thanks. I',m used to having 4 or 5 windows open at the same time.
    I've had Windows 8.1 for several months now and I'm not impressed. I'm hoping Windows 10 will be better. I don't want everything I do to be a learning experience, so I still rely on my crappy Windows Vista desktop.

  4. FCL
    February 2, 2015 at 7:47 am

    - Install Launchy
    - Add more catalog as needed, rescan
    - Alt + Space -> type app name -> launched

  5. Michael
    February 1, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    What I find strange about this article is that none of the "features" listed above are unique to Windows 8. How does it save time to launch an app by typing it's name, then clicking twice? That search capability was available in Windows 7 as others have mentioned.

    Dropbox, Google Drive, and Sugarsync all mount in the Explorer automatically, and Dropbox adds itself to the root of the Systray.

    I look forward to browsing through the list of articles when I get the MakeUseOf emails but this article seems to just be an attempt to fill up space. There is very little fact to the statements above.

    • Ryan Dube
      February 1, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks Michael - actually you type the name of the app and don't even click really, you just hit enter. If you do have to click, you click once.

      Also, the cloud storage services are in fact more convenient. In fact, when you buy a new Win8.1 computer, OneDrive comes already integrated without any install/setup whatsoever.

      The point really is that despite what people have been saying about Windows 8 being so horrible, it is actually not bad at all - and is just as productive, if not more productive, than Windows 7. In other words - people should just take the leap and upgrade. :-)

    • Michael
      February 12, 2015 at 12:53 am

      Hi Ryan,

      You are correct, and my comments were on the rude side. I apologize.

      I knew as I was typing that the Search function was simpler than that, but I still said it. Not sure why.

      I agree that Windows 8.1 isn't nearly as horrible as many have made it out to be. Quite frankly, I don't really use Metro, and I just installed Start Menu 8, but in general 8.1 suffers from the same issues that 7 suffered from at release. Nobody knows where to find anything.

      I'm looking forward to 10. :)

  6. Dragon
    February 1, 2015 at 9:02 am

    I bought a window 8.1 computer a year ago and it is the slowest, problem prone laptop I have ever used and has been from the get go, I got out my WINDOWS XP and it still kicks ass all over this new computer for speed and as far as my WIN 7 laptop it is even better..

    • aqtech
      February 1, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      That sounds more like a hardware or specific software issue that is being pinned on the OS than any real issue with Windows 8.1. I've installed Win 8.1 on dozens of machines and it's been just as fast and reliable as Win 7 and even more so on many occasions (and much more than XP).

      The 20-30 second remark made by pccontroller is also an exaggeration in many cases, since bringing up the subject of exaggerations. I timed mine just now and it took around 1.5 seconds--of course I am on good hardware, including a solid-state drive.

      The speed issues just sound like hardware inadequacies, because when starting from scratch with 8.1, I've found everything to be plenty fast, even on older hardware. While 8.1 is not without plenty of faults, it sounds like a lot people dissatisfied with their actual machine and using the OS as the scapegoat.

  7. Mark Davies
    January 31, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Windows 8.1 is pretty good but I've stopped using the Metro interface completely and I also find the Windows apps are very slow to open.

    • Ryan Dube
      February 1, 2015 at 6:48 pm

      Thanks Mark - it's funny but I haven't found apps are hard to open at all. What model computer do you have?

  8. seeker
    January 31, 2015 at 9:14 am

    This is meant to be sarcasm, yes? In which case, hahahaha, very funny!

  9. Victor
    January 31, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Also, you can pin any program, file, or folder to the start menu for one-click access!

  10. pccontroller
    January 31, 2015 at 3:13 am

    "You can launch apps in a few seconds -- faster than you ever could in Windows 7." This is a bit of an exaggeration, and that's not mentioning that it's a complete falsehood in my experience. I was used to hitting the Start button on my keyboard and typing to search since, well, Vista. The only difference is that it's rebranded and more prominent this way. Not a bad thing... until the graphics-bloated Metro interface takes an eternity and it takes *more* than 20-30 seconds for Search to actually get my results. Hit enter, and what do I get now? Not Windows buffering my keyword and launching the top match anymore (I will admit, though, sometimes it would launch the search in Windows Explorer instead). Instead I get an obnoxiously oversized full-screen search window that's inelegant when docked to the side and cumbersome to do so. I am also now wary of hitting the enter button too early since Windows, for some unknown reason, indexes "Sound Recorder" above "Sound" and decides to "fill in the rest of what I was obviously thinking." The arrow keys, unlike before, are now pretty unreliable when it comes to selecting other options. That's just my frustration. That is most certainly not efficient, let alone "more productive".

    Also, there's a correction that needs to be made: if you want to boot to the desktop, check the "When I sign in or close all apps, go to the desktop instead of Start" instead of "show my desktop background on Start". The former makes the default screen the desktop and the latter puts your desktop image/background/wallpaper as the Start screen's image/background/wallpaper.

    • Surya ps
      February 1, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      good one !

      i didnt even read the entire article after he said in W7 we had to go to Start>all prog> accessories to open the notepad, came straight down to the comments for bashing.

      I think he never saw the search bar at the bottom after one opened the start menu. and W7 can do file searches as good as, or probably better than W8, inclusive of searching for files. we need to show it to him.

      out of the 5 points, the very first one is moot. HAHA!

    • Ryan Dube
      February 1, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Thanks - good catch.

      Starting apps faster is not an exaggeration, sorry. Even using start/search in Windows 7, the search results were nowhere as streamlined or organized as they are in Windows 8. For common apps like notepad, possibly, but when you got into other apps you installed, like IrFanview or MS Office products - forget about it. Compared to Windows 8, Win7 (and XP) was a royal PITA.

  11. threecleartones
    January 30, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    Nice, and yes, I am a Windows 8.1 user who is lovin' it. I didn't when I first upgraded though, so I did what I did when Windows 95 came out (which I also hated) - I forced myself to use it for two weeks. By the end, I couldn't think of working any other way, and now, Windows 7 looks downright archaic (just as Windows 3.1 did back then).

    Minor comment on your first point about tapping/clicking the Start button, typing an app name, and hitting enter to launch it - this feature was/is available in Windows 7, and Windows Vista as well, come to think of it. No Start screen of course, but your Start menu would fill with the results, with the most likely at the top and highlighted. I got used to opening apps quickly this way in Windows 7, so my habit didn't change at all with Windows 8.

  12. Dane Frankyln
    January 30, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    You actually don`t need a start menu if you use a portable launcher like aSuite. Much better imo.

    If you had win8 all you needed to download was Classic Shell if you so badly wanted the start button. Too many think they are stuck with the metro interface without realising you can disable it. Personally I think 8 and 8.1 are better than 7. There never was anything wrong with 8, but Microsoft didn`t quite get the fact that on none touch screen laptops the metro interface serves no purpose at all.