Microsoft's Windows OS isn't any one thing; it's an interwoven patchwork of features built atop other features that trace back to the beginning of the time-tested operating system.
With such a complex piece of software, it makes sense that there are little tricks and UI flourishes most people don't even know about. Maybe you haven't poked around Windows 10 too much or perhaps you've remained on Windows 7 for all these years. Well, it's time to make the jump, as Microsoft ends support for Windows 7 this week.
Whatever your situation, we've compiled a list of useful tips that will help you get more out of your Windows 10 experience. Or, at least, teach you some things you may not have known about.
Some have been available in Windows for a number of generations, while others are native to Windows 10. Microsoft's most recent update for the OS arrived in November, but the May 2019 update added a bunch of new features and killed a handful of others. So there are plenty of new features and tricks to make the most of a constantly evolving Windows experience.
Secret Start Menu
If you're a fan of that old-school (i.e. non-tiled) Start menu experience, you can still (sort of) have it. If you right-click on the Windows icon in the bottom-left corner, it will prompt a textual jump menu with a number of familiar popular destinations (Apps and Features, Search, Run). All these options are available through the standard menu interface, but you'll be able to access them quicker through this textual interface.
Show Desktop Button
This desktop button actually dates back to Windows 7, but is handy nontheless. On the bottom-right corner of the desktop is a secret button. Don't see it? Look all the way to the bottom and right, beyond the date and time. There you'll find a small little sliver of an invisible button. Click it to minimize all your open windows.
There's also the option to have windows minimize when you hover over this button versus clicking. Select your preference in Settings > Personalization > Taskbar > Use peek to preview the desktop.
This feature actually debuted in Windows 7, but I've found a lot of people don't know about it or use it (but they should—it's cool!). If you have a display full of windows, clear the clutter by grabbing the top of the window you do like and "shaking" it to minimize all the other windows. Suddenly having shaker's remorse? Shake again and the windows will come back.
Rotate Your Screen
If you use multiple displays, this feature, available on Windows 7 and 10, allows you to orient a particular monitor to fit your needs. The quickest way to do this is to simultaneously press Ctrl + Alt + D and any of the arrow buttons. The down arrow will flip it upside down, the left or right arrow buttons will turn it 90 degrees on its side, and the up arrow will bring you back to standard orientation.
Alternatively, you can right-click on the desktop background, click Display Settings, then choose an option from the Display Orientation drop-down menu to turn your page around in all sorts of ways.
Enable Slide to Shutdown
This trick is complicated and probably not worth the effort for what you get out of it, but here you go: Right-click on the desktop and select New > Shortcut. In the ensuing pop-up window, paste the following line of code:
This creates a clickable icon on your desktop, which you can rename. Then double-click on the new icon to prompt a pull-down shade and use your mouse to drag it down to the bottom of the screen. Keep in mind, this isn't sleep, this is a shutdown.
Enable 'God Mode'
Are you a power user who wants access to your PC's nitty gritty? "God mode" is for you. Right-click on the desktop and select New > Folder. Re-name the new folder with this bit of code:
To enter the "God Mode" window, double-click the folder and go nuts.
Right-Click on Tiles
Want to personalize those tiles quick? Just right-click on them to prompt a pop-up menu. This menu will give you various options, like the ability to un-pin from the Start menu, resize the windows, or turn that live tile off.
Right-Click on the Taskbar
Here's a handy menu that will allow you to quickly access a number of presets for the toolbars, Cortana, and window schemes. There's a lot there, and it's just a click away.
Drag to Pin Windows
This feature was available as far back as Windows 7, but has some extras in Windows 10.
Grab any window and drag it to the side, where it will "fit" to half the screen. In Windows 10, you have the option of dragging the window to any corner to have the window take over a quarter of the screen instead of half. If you're using multiple screens, drag to a border corner and wait for a prompt signal to let you know if the window will open in that corner.
You can prompt similar behavior by using the Windows key plus any of the directional arrow buttons.
Quickly Jump Between Virtual Desktops
Do you like to multitask on your PC? In Windows 10, Microsoft finally provided out-of-the-box access to virtual desktops. So now you can really multitask.
To try it out, click on Task View (the icon to the right of the Windows menu). This will separate all your open windows and apps into icons. You can then drag any of them over to where it says "New desktop," which creates a new virtual desktop. This would allow you to, say, separate your work apps, personal apps, and social media into different desktops.
Once you click out of Task View, you can toggle between virtual desktops by pressing the Windows button+Ctrl+right/left arrows. This will allow you to automatically switch between all the open windows which you've separated into different desktops, while leaving all the icons on your desktop unmoved.
To remove the virtual desktops, just go back into task view and delete the individual virtual desktops—this will not close out the apps contained within that desktop, but rather just send them to the next lower desktop.
Make Your Command Prompt Window Transparent
This feature will probably only be useful to a narrow niche of users, but if you like to dig your virtual fingers into the innards of Windows via the Command Prompt, Windows 10 provides a ghostly way to interface with it.
To access the Command Prompt interface in Windows 10, click on the Windows menu and type "Command Prompt" to bring up quick access to its desktop app. Click that. You can personalize the experience by right-clicking at the top of the window to prompt a pop-up menu and choose "Properties."
Click over to the Colors tab to see a range of personalization options. At the bottom of this tab, you'll find the Opacity slider, which allows you to see through the Command Prompt window.This feature lets you code away in the Command Prompt while simultaneously observing the desktop.
Silence Notifications With Focus Assist
Formerly known as Quiet Hours, Focus Assist is a redesigned April 2018 Update feature that gives you greater control over the notifications that pop up on your PC. Head to Settings > System > Focus Assist and then read our full how-to guide for customizing notifications for everything from contacts and apps to task-specific alarms.
In an open document or photo, you can share the file directly with nearby devices the same way Apple's AirDrop works. Click the Share icon atop your doc or photo toolbar to open the panel, and then click Turn On Nearby Sharing to see which nearby recipients are in range.
Mixed Reality Viewer
The Windows 10 app 3D Viewer allows you to play with 3D models—either ones you've created in Paint 3D or downloaded from Microsoft's library of models. If you own one of Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality partner headsets or want to start playing around with 3D and mixed reality development, this app is your way to start leveling up.
Stop Typing, Start Dictating
Speech recognition has always been a strong suit for Microsoft, but recent Windows 10 releases have made it almost second nature. At any time you can use the Windows Key-H hotkey combination to pop up a box that records your voice through your Windows machine's microphone and dictates the speech in your current text field. You'll still need to type manual punctuation, but save yourself some typing by dictating emails, messages, and more.
Control Your Smart Home
Cortana can now control all your smart home devices through Windows 10, too. The setting is a little tough to find, because you can't just search the Cortana bar for smart home or "connected home." Instead, you have to search for Cortana Notebook, which brings up a list of to-do items, reminders, and suggested tasks for Cortana. However, to find the connected home function you'll need to click on the Manage Skills tab at the top right of the pop-up window.
From there, scroll down and click into Connected Home. First, toggle the option at the top to Enable Connected Home, after which you can log into all your smart home devices— including Nest, SmartThings, Ecobee, Honeywell, and Hue—and connect to Cortana. Once enabled, all you have to do is say "Hey Cortana, set the thermostat to 70 degrees."
Dark Mode and Light Mode
Windows 10 gives you a significant amount of control over color themes. Open Settings > Personalization > Colors and you can set the operating system to either dark mode or light mode. These themes change the color of the Start menu, taskbar, action center, File Explorer, settings menus, and any other programs that are compliant with these palette changes.
There is also a custom option that will let you set one theme for Windows menus and another for apps. Want a little more color? There are swatches of color themes available to choose from that can help your menus and taskbars really pop.
The Windows clipboard had not changed much until the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, allowing you to save multiple items at once and paste across devices. Open Settings > System > Clipboard and turn on Clipboard History to start doing more. Check out our full guide for how to use it.
Revamped Screen Capture Tool
Screen capture is another feature where Microsoft is finally closing the functionality gap with macOS in the October 2018 Update. Instead of the clunky Snipping Tool, you can now pull up a new clipping utility called Snip & Sketch (previously bundled in Windows Ink) with a simple Shift-Windows key-S command to take a full-screen or rectangular screen capture. It's like macOS Mojave's screen-capture tool, but with the added digital inking capability.
Hidden Game Bar
Using the Windows key-G command, you can pull up the new-and-improved Game Bar. This lets you switch your Windows PC into gaming mode (which pools system resources to the game, turns off notifications, and lets you record and broadcast your gaming), along with added panels for controlling your audio.
You can also search for the Game Bar in the Start menu to configure custom keyboard shortcuts for turning your microphone, screen capture, recording timer, and more on and off while gaming.
Press Pause On Updates
We all know updates are important. They give your OS the latest features, security patches, and more. But sometimes you just want Windows to leave you alone without those incessant pop-ups. With the May 2019 Update, go to Settings > Updates and Security > Windows Update and you can pause upcoming feature updates.
Unlock Kaimoji and Symbols
Hit Windows Key-Period(.) to pop up an expanded bottom-right menu of emojis, "Kaimoji" characters built from unicode characters, and a wide array of miscellaneous symbols.
Measure Everything with Built-in Apps
Windows has several built-in apps that may look useless but offer helpful hidden features. For instance, the Calculator app does so much more than solve mathematical equations. It can calculate the difference between two dates and convert basically any unit of measures—time, energy, temperature, mass, and even currency.
Ever try to calculate time differences in your head? It's not easy. The Alarms & Clock app can help calculate the differences between two locations, even into the future. Open the app, click the Clock tab, and select the + icon at the bottom to add different locations.
You can then click the Compare icon to open a timeline. As you scroll across the timeline, the time changes on the map points, allowing you to keep track of time differences more easily.