The Top 5 Cool Hidden Features In Windows 8

Christian Cawley 22-11-2012

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 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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  1. Dan Mitchell
    May 11, 2013 at 12:23 am

    I went through every step but when i go to the personalization tab the aerolite theme isn't available. Can anyone help me with this?

    • Christian Cawley
      May 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Dan, which version of Windows 8 are you running?

  2. Sazid Anik
    April 15, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Start Screen Animation is slow for repeated use...the animation that come default is just fine...I've assigned one of my mouse buttons to bring start screen and it allows me to jump there quickly from any where of windows.

  3. Pooky Joralyn
    April 12, 2013 at 8:33 am

    The nifty airplane mode, volume and brightness slider, and fast startup!

  4. Vishnu M Bhatt
    December 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I couldn't install 2.0 and 3.5.It dodnt installed via windows ipdate.And i used the offline method.Bu still no luck.I've reinstalled windows many times and checked it many times too.Plz help me out

  5. Brenden Barlow
    December 14, 2012 at 2:17 am

    quite informative! although i love windows 8, im still getting used to it.

  6. Easton Wiki
    November 28, 2012 at 4:54 am

    Sweet tips! I didnt know about the new printscreen. I'm still using Snippingtool

  7. Austen Gause
    November 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    ive started to think windows 8 is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be

  8. brawdon
    November 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Great tips! I just wanted to point out that you can search for Regedit if you just start typing it on the start screen. the windows search automaticly opens and starts searching. no need for the run box. its a nice little feature.

    • Christian Cawley
      November 23, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      Absolutely right. I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy :)

      • Hunbuhbhuygb Ygygbgybygb
        December 12, 2012 at 1:11 am

        If you are old frashioned why bother aero?get the windows classic theme

  9. MakeSlowOf
    November 23, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    The Start Screen Animation is disabled for a reason --

    1) it's too slow opening tiles this way in practical, daily use
    2) it's been documented it will crash if you open it too quickly, too many times

    Win 8 comes tweaked for speed, why waste resources and slow it down?

    • Christian Cawley
      November 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Couldn't disagree more. If the tiles were too slow to open, then so they would be on a WP. They're not slow on either device. If your computer is too slow, then it shouldn't be running W8, and you can leave it untweaked if necessary.

      Would you mind sharing this "documented" evidence that W8 will crash if the start screen is opened "too quickly, too many times"? Who has documented it? What are his or her credentials?

      • MakeSlowOf
        November 23, 2012 at 11:32 pm

        Huh. You're welcome to disagree but try Googling, or just read the comments at the bottom of your link.

        As for daily use, you have to wait for the sliding animation *before* you can click on any of the tiles that are about to unfold. Nothing to do with a slow computer, MS simply made these psychedelic transitions appear in that order and at the same speed regardless of computing power.

        Disable it again, watch closer and you'll see what I mean. The intended delay makes sense -- it's meant to introduce the new Start menu to the user for the first time.

        Cool the first time but after that, give me an instant start menu so I can get to work. Reminds me of the annoying animated dock in OSX.. which is always the first thing I lock then disable magnification.

        • Christian Cawley
          November 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

          Why should I bother to Google it? One of the basic tenets of an online discussion is that if you have a point to make, you post links to back it up!

          This isn't a case of "links or it didn't happen" - it's basic netiquette.

          As it happens, thanks to your inability to post links (despite a readiness to post an *even longer* reply) I can see that some people have had crashes.

          I suspect that these crashes are due to over-setting the animation; I continue to use the tweaked Start screen without a problem.

        • MSO
          November 26, 2012 at 1:45 am

          lol who shit in your corn flakes, sir? Keep it professional, Chris!

          The comments in your own link were enough to illustrate the risk. Also applies to your instructions as mine crashed following them.. try pressing your Start key a bunch of times.

          Regardless, you clearly missed the real point here. Eye candy "tweaks" do not boost productivity -- they slow you down.

          Unfortunately, your attitude has now turned me off your articles, I won't be back to waste more time here.

          Good day!

        • MSO
          November 26, 2012 at 3:23 am

          lol who pooped in your corn flakes, Chris? Keep it professional, sir!

          The comments in your own link were enough to illustrate the risk. The issue also applies to your instructions as my Explorer crashed following them.. try pressing your Start key a bunch of times.

          Regardless, you clearly missed the real point here. Eye candy "tweaks" do not boost productivity -- they slow you down.

          Unfortunately, your attitude has now turned me off your articles, I won't be back to waste more time here.

          Good day!

      • Steve
        November 24, 2012 at 5:28 am

        I did not post the original post about activating the animation, but it does cause crashes. I had it changed in the registry and it caused my Accuweather app to crash as well as Internet Explorer. I had never had any crashes until the registry change. I just deleted that key in registry and now the Accuweather app works properly, My system is not slow but I agree it is disabled for a reason.

        • MSO
          November 26, 2012 at 3:32 am

          Good to know, Steve -- hope you don't get blasted for sharing your experience! ;)

      • Hunbuhbhuygb Ygygbgybygb
        December 12, 2012 at 1:09 am

        Windows phone afaik is based on windows ce,which is very nt is not.even the arm version(rt)

  10. Sukanya Sadhu
    November 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Has Internet Explorer improved in win 8?

    • Hunbuhbhuygb Ygygbgybygb
      December 14, 2012 at 1:25 am

      Yes.ie10 is very good.i no need chorme anymore

  11. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    It's silly they make it so difficult to access the Aero Lite theme. Okay, not that difficult for users who know what they're after, but to commoners, it's quite a work just to use a half-Aero appearance.
    How versatile is the new snipping tool? Does it allow us to take just specific portion of the screen?

  12. Anonymous
    November 23, 2012 at 8:46 am

    To make windows 8 lightweight and perform more faster on every system including tablets.

    • Hunbuhbhuygb Ygygbgybygb
      December 12, 2012 at 1:07 am

      Then why is there no windows classic?that will boost the speed.together with no gradient on the top blue bar and themes service disabled.

  13. Miles Cannon
    November 23, 2012 at 8:06 am

    After now gone completely Windows 8 on two machines--easy! on one I did an upgrade, while on the other, a 3 year old laptop, a total upgrade--I have the Windows 7 look with the Classic shell on both,,,So then is M$ just wanting to make more money? No...
    The big deal for me is discovering all the hidden little-HUGE things, such as a Total Shut Down/Restart is faster by minutes for me...Now also before just installing 3d party little programs, I search on Google or Bing for M$ stuff to see if Windows 8 cannot already do it better than with Windows 8 backward, e.g., Windows 8 automatic Defragging...As an aside, I am finding more and more FREE 3d party products like to install such things as tool bars, or take over searching, etc.,, and these "slide ins" can be the devil to uninstall, so I am more and more reluctant to add 3d party so-called FREE programs, and when I do I read carefully what is already checked that will be added by the FREE programs
    Bottom line, if you think you want to change something or add something to Windows 8, then "Bing it" with a search on "Windows 8 blah-blah-blah" -- You may then find a visual for it on YouTube...Free 3d party add-ons may give you an idea to check out if Windows 8 cannot already do this