Windows 7, 8, and 10 Configuration and Use Notes

Last Updated:   8/30/15  20:29                 Jeffrey Knauth

This file contains some information which may be helpful to Windows 7, 8 (meaning 8.1), and 10 users. It was originally written for Windows 7 and has been updated for Windows 8 and 10, or at least for the desktop side of 8 and 10. The deletion/modification of the desktop Start button (the Windows 7 style of the button) has been a problem for many Windows 8 and 10 users. Many people have had to buy a third-party program, e.g., Stardock's Start8 or Start10, to get back the deleted functions. In the following I'll assume you may have installed Start8 or Start10 or something similar, but I won't specify the details where, for example, you take different steps to configure that Start button vs. what you do in Windows 7 to get a similar result.

This file describes how I set up my systems in some areas. Of course you may choose to do things a different way. It does not cover networking, printers, or the standard changes done thru Personalize and Control Panel, but instead points out some things that may be a little off the beaten path. The Overviews and Tutorials section, would be good to review if you are a new user of these systems.

Starting in Windows 8, Microsoft changed the term "Windows Explorer" to "File Explorer". I'll just use the term "Explorer" in the following text.


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Useful Key Combinations and Mouse Operations

Many useful key combinations are documented in the keyboard shortcuts web pages. Select the desired system from the dropdown at the upper right part of the initial page. The Windows 10 page was not completed at the time of this writing, however most of the Windows 8.1 list should apply to Windows 10. Although the total set of shortcuts is pretty overwhelming, you can probably pick up a few good ideas the first time you go thru it. As you use Windows more and more, you can come back to the list and probably find other key combinations that are worthwhile remembering.

Double-clicking the title bar of a window will maximize the window size. Double-clicking the title bar of a maximized window will return it to the restore size. The Windows logo key used with the up or down arrow does the same thing. In the following text "Windows+" means to press the Windows logo key in conjunction with another key.

If you are used to seeing File, View, Edit, etc. near the top of certain windows and those menu items are now missing, try pressing the Alt key.

There is a tiny, almost invisible, "show desktop" box at the extreme right end of the taskbar. In Windows 7 and 10, if you hover the mouse cursor over the box, the windows currently on the desktop are temporarily hidden (leaving just an outline); they are restored when the cursor is moved off the box. In contrast, in Windows 8 if you hover the cursor over the far right side of the task bar for a second or two, the Windows 8 "Charms" sidebar is displayed.

In Windows 7, 8 and 10, if you left-click the box, all the current windows are minimized. If you left-click again, all the windows are restored exactly as they were before. Note that when the windows are minimized, removing the clutter from the desktop, you can now click one or more items from the taskbar to start a new desktop arrangement. This causes the old desktop arrangement to be forgotten, although all the windows are still available on the taskbar for individual restoration if needed. Windows+D does the same thing as clicking on the tiny box.

Along the same lines, Windows+Home leaves the currently active window on the desktop and minimizes all others. Using the same keys again restores the original desktop.

Often there are more context menu options available if you Shift + right-click an object, e.g., a file icon, instead of just right-clicking it. I frequently use "Copy as path" from that extended menu to put the fully-qualified name in the clipboard. I can then paste that text to a text file, or a shortcut Target field, or somewhere else. Note that quote marks are put around the copied name; you may need to delete the quotes or other parts of the path after you paste the information. In Windows 8 and 10, "Copy path" is under the Home tab in the Clipboard section of an Explorer window's ribbon (the stuff near the top of the window).

Also available from the extended context menu (Windows 7 only) is "Open command window here" if the selected object is a drive or folder. This opens a command window already positioned at the directory of the selected object. This saves some Change Directory (CD) typing, particularly helpful if the path name is long and/or complex. In Windows 8 and 10, "Open command prompt" is under the File tab of an Explorer window's ribbon (the stuff near the top of the window).

In the Navigator pane of an Explorer Window, Ctrl+Shift+E will expand the tree to show the folder being examined (the way old Windows used to show it). Left-clicking some expanded folder in the Navigation pane and then pressing the left arrow collapses the expansion. Unfortunately, I have found no simple keystroke to just say "Collapse All". I think there used to be a way to do that in old Windows (numeric "/" key or something like that; however numeric "*" still does an "Expand All" -- use with care).

For taskbar icons:

In Windows 8 and 10, pressing Windows+X displays a popup menu for some key system facilities. Many of these were available via the Windows 7 Start button, which was deleted in Windows 8.

Creating a Command Window

Sometimes you need to run Windows commands. In Windows 7, one way is to enter the command in the Run field on the Start menu. You put Run in the Start menu as follows: Right-click Start > Properties > Start Menu > Customize, then check "Run command". In Windows 8 and 10, click "Run" in the menu displayed by the Windows+X key combination.

If you run commands often and want to be able to easily open a tailored command window, you can create a desktop shortcut to do that. Right-click an open area of the desktop and select New > Shortcut. In the location field enter "%SystemRoot%\System32\cmd.exe" (the path to this program depends on your system configuration). Click Next and enter a name to appear below the shortcut, e.g., CMD. Click Finish. Now when you double-click the shortcut icon, a command window will open. The properties of the window (e.g., font, colors, size, and position) can be tailored by right-clicking the shortcut icon and selecting Properties.

As described above, in Windows 7 you can create a command window already set to a specific directory by selecting "Open command window here" from an extended context menu.

In Windows 8 and 10, "Open command prompt" is under the File tab of an Explorer window's ribbon (the stuff near the top of the window). This opens a command prompt window already set at the directory of the Explorer window. You can choose whether or not to run the command window with administrator privilege.

Saving Sizes and Positions of Windows

Windows does not do a very good job remembering the sizes and positions for windows when they are closed. You would like to have some control to have a window put back in the same place when it is reopened. ShellFolderFix is a free, user-written program which provides this missing function. ShellFolderFix is described here.

Elevating Your Privilege Level

Even when logged on with an administrator ID, you are usually running with standard user privileges. Some things cannot be done, e.g., modifying certain files, when running with standard user privileges. This is intended to prevent you from accidentally altering system files or otherwise corrupting the system. There are several ways to temporarily elevate your privilege level to the administrator level, thus allowing the restricted functions to be performed. Of course you must be very careful when running with the elevated privileges.

This page shows you several ways to get an elevated command window. Commands submitted in such a window run with administrator privileges instead of standard user privileges.

In Windows 8 and 10, you can select "Open command prompt" in the File tab of an Explorer window's ribbon and then select to run the command window with administrator privilege. See above.

If you want to run some program with an elevated privilege level, you can request the elevation for it by right-clicking the program (or a shortcut to it) and selecting "Run as administrator" from the context menu. Of course you should do that only when necessary. In fact, if you have created a shortcut to open a command window, you can use this procedure on that shortcut to elevate the privilege level for the opened window instead of using the procedures described in the preceding paragraph.

Turning Off Hibernate

The hibernate facility allows you to turn off your PC but have Windows first record the contents of RAM memory to a file on your hard drive. When the PC is restarted, RAM contents are restored from the hard drive file. The file is typically very large in order to hold all of your RAM, e.g., 2 GB if you have 2 GB of RAM. If hibernate is enabled, Windows reserves this amount of hard drive space for the file. If you do not plan to use hibernate, this is just wasted space and can also make system backups less efficient. You can turn off hibernate, thus freeing the file space, by opening an elevated command prompt command window and then running "powercfg -h off".

Toolbars in the Taskbar To Emulate QuickLaunch

In previous versions of Windows, the QuickLaunch facility provided a convenient way to click a chevron and pop up a list of selectable programs. In Windows 7, 8, and 10, you can get the same function by creating a toolbar in the taskbar. First create a folder, e.g., C:\X. Put shortcuts in that folder for the programs you want to access. Now right-click the taskbar and select Toolbars, then New toolbar. Specify the folder you created, e.g., C:\X. Now an "X" and a chevron will appear on the taskbar. You can click the chevron and select the program you want to execute. You can easily add or delete shortcuts in the folder to control what will appear in the popup. You can add multiple such toolbars.

The contents of the folder used for the toolbar do not have to be shortcuts to executable programs. They can be executable files, text files, image files, directories, etc. -- whatever you want to be able to access quickly from the taskbar. It is a good idea to make the folder name short, e.g., "X", to reduce the taskbar space taken up by the folder name. The name and associated chevron to its right will appear beside the notification area at the right side of the taskbar.

Taskbar Icons

I replace the default Explorer icon in the taskbar with one of my own. It has "C:\Windows\explorer.exe /n,/e,c:\" (without the quotes) in the Target field of the properties. Clicking that icon opens an Explorer window at C:\ instead of opening the Computer window. However in Windows 10, the original Explorer icon is not deleteble from the taskbar; so I end up with two icons, each with a different view when clicked. Unfortunately the jumplist is attached to the original icon, not the new one I created to provide my preferred view.

Taskbar icons can be rearranged by dragging them to the desired place on the left side of the taskbar.

Pinning Items

I have found it very useful to pin frequently used things to the taskbar and/or the Start menu. Pinning can be done by right-clicking a file and selecting the desired location for the pin. (If you don't see the desired location in the context menu, try dragging the file to the Start or Explorer icon in the task bar and see if a pin popup appears.) Pinned folders show up at the top of the taskbar Explorer icon's jump list; right-click the Explorer icon in the taskbar to see its jumplist. (See the section above about which taskbar Explorer icon get the jumplist.) Items pinned to the Start menu show up in the section at the top left of the Start menu for the Windows 7 style start button; for Windows 10 the pinned items get put in the "Metro" style list on the right.

In addition to my browser (Firefox), mail program (Thunderbird), and text editor (KEDIT for Windows), I usually pin a clipboard viewer to the taskbar, e.g., Free Clipboard Viewer.

Icon Sizes and Spacing

You can change the desktop icon size. First left-click an empty space on the desktop. Then press Ctrl and roll the mouse wheel forward or backward to reach the desired icon size.

In Windows 7 you can change desktop icon spacing (both vertical and horizontal). Right-click the desktop and select Personalize > Window Color > Advanced appearance settings. In the Item dropdown, select the desired Icon Spacing item and then enter the desired number of pixels in the Size field. Unfortunately, in Windows 8 (and Windows 10? -- untested) they have made it more difficult; you have to edit the registry (not nice) -- for example, see this reference.

In Windows 7 and 8, you can make taskbar icons smaller by using the Start > Properties dialog. In Windows 10, right-click the taskbar to access some Start and taskbar properties.

In Windows 7, you can make the Start menu icons smaller. Right-click the Start ball (at the left end of the taskbar) > Properties > Start menu > Customize. Then uncheck "Use large icons", which is near the bottom of the list. Start8 and Start10 also let you use small Start menu icons.

"Send To" List

You can easily add items to your "Send to" list, which is accessed from the context menu. Just drop a shortcut in the SendTo directory. That directory is pretty well buried in Windows 7 and 8; however it is easy to get to by typing "shell:sendto" (without the quotes) on an Explorer location bar. Once a shortcut is in the directory, you can rename it. The items are sorted alphabetically, so I put a "$_" in the front of those items that I want on top, e.g., my text editor SendTo shortcut is named $_KEDIT.

Organizing Programs Listed in Start

When you install a new program on your PC, Windows tends to add it to the list of programs displayed when you click Start. With the Windows 7 style of Start button (e.g., as provided by Windows 7, Start8, and Start10), you can open the two Start Menu directories, create subdirectories in them, and move the existing program shortcuts into the desired subdirectories. You can also add shortcuts of your own and place them where you want. This capability lets you neatly organize the programs listed in Start.

For those systems you can easily open the Start Menu directories by clicking the Start button, right-clicking All Programs, and then selecting Open (for the individual user's Start Menu) or Open All Users (for the Start Menu items shared by all users).

You cannot do such a Start Menu organization with the Windows 10 native Start button. It does its own organization of the listed programs by just alphabetically arranging them when you click "All apps". The user cannot override this to provide something more useful.

Libraries and Search

Windows 7 introduced the library concept and it still works in Windows 8 and 10. This is very useful for organizing under one name a set of directories that can be widely scattered around your system or even across a network. So you could have a distributed music library, a distributed picture library, etc., recognized by your media player, photo editor, etc.

A very useful feature is that libraries are automatically included in a general Windows search, e.g., one done from the Start search box. This means you can create one or more libraries to include your user data directories, which can be in many locations. A general Windows search will then include those areas, in addition to the standard search areas such as your Documents folder. Also, when you open a specific library, the search box in the upper right part of the library window is automatically focused on that library. This gives you a way to do a quick search thru all those files, which may be widely scattered, but which are logically grouped by the library.

To create a library, open any folder and right-click the Libraries entry in the left pane of the Explorer window. Select New, then Library. A "New Library" is created. Right-click that entry, select Rename, and give it the desired name. Now double-click the renamed library and specify the first directory to be added to it.

In Windows 7, to add more directories, click the small "locations" link near the top of the window, click Add, navigate to the desired directory, and click "Include folder". In Windows 8 and 10, click the Library Tools tab at the top of an Explorer window in which you have opened the desired library; then click Manage > Manage Library > Add to add as many directories as you want. Alternatively, to add a directory in Windows 7, 8, or 10, right-click the directory in some Explorer window, select "Include in library", and then select the desired library from the displayed list.

A directory can be included in more than one library. The library just consists of pointers to the directories contained within it. Deleting directories from a library, or even deleting the whole library, just deletes the pointers, not the directories themselves.

Once you have a library, you can sort the included files in various ways using the standard Explorer technique of clicking the header of the column controlling the sort, e.g., "Name" or "Date modified". The sort is done within each directory separately. You can always change the sort depending on the needs of the moment.

When you open an Explorer window, there is a search box in the upper right section. A good trick to know is that you can specify *.* there and choose All Subfolders in the File tab to display all the files in the directory subtree. You can then sort those by Name, Size, etc. by selecting the appropriate option in the "Current view" section of the View tab.

Caps Lock Sound

You can turn on a warning sound for Caps Lock (and the other toggle keys: ScrollLock and NumLock) by Control Panel > Ease of Access Center > Make the keyboard easier to use.

Multiple Monitors

If you have an extra monitor and your display adapter can handle multiple displays, or you have multiple adapters, it is easy to set up an extended desktop on two displays. I do that, with the secondary display usually turned off. However when I am doing something that requires a lot of screen space, e.g., HTML/CSS debugging, it's nice to be able to have everything visible at once. One caveat is that when the second display is off, sometimes things are directed to it, e.g., property windows for icons on the far right of the main display (which I have to the left of the secondary). Then I have to turn on the secondary to see the missing window. In general, when something should be visible and isn't, see if it is hiding over there.

Vertical Snap and Horizontal Snap of Windows

I make some use of vertical snap to get windows as large as possible vertically. Left-click and hold while dragging (double-ended arrow should appear) the top or bottom edge of the window to the desired location until you see an indication that snap has occurred. Then release the mouse button. If you accidentally do a snap, before releasing the mouse button, drag the window edge back. You can also undo an accidental snap by double clicking the title bar.

Note that the snapped sizes may not be remembered by Windows or ShellFolderFix. If you want ShellFolderFix to remember the size, you may need to manually stretch the size by dragging the top and bottom edges to just short of the top and bottom edges of the desktop.

I make much more use of Horizontal snap, particularly via the Windows logo + left/right arrow keys, for example to show two windows side-by-side, each automatically using half the screen. (See next paragraph.) I can change the text in one window and then see the consequences in the other, e.g., editing an HTML/CSS source file and then displaying the browser's rendering of that source file. Horizontal snap via these keys makes it easy to set up such a display configuration instead of having to drag window borders to get the half/half split.

You can use the Windows logo key and the left or right arrows to move a selected Window to the left or right side of the desktop, taking up half the desktop. Repeatedly pressing the key combination cycles thru putting the selected window on either side of the desktop or restoring the original size and position. If you have multiple displays, the cycle will take you thru all positions on the display combination, so you can get things exactly where you want them.

Windows 10 enhances this by letting you put windows at the four corners of the display, using the four arrow keys in combination with the Windows key. The windows get sized appropriately.

Where Is It Now?!

Windows does tend to move things around a great deal from version to version. If you don't know which window/popup/dialog/etc. is used to invoke some function or where a setting is made or information is displayed, but you can remember some relevant word or words, try entering that text in the Start search box. For example, entering "reliability" provides a link to the Reliability History function. Configuration information is usually in the numerous Settings or Control Panel items, but might be elsewhere.

Of course to use this search trick, first you have to find the Search box. In Windows 10, it is no longer explicitly shown in the native Start button. However if you click that button and just start typing the search text, a search dialog box will appear. The Search box is explicitly shown in the Windows 7, Windows 8, Start8, and Start10 Start button popups.

System Administrative Tools

The System Administrative Tools provide a great deal of information and useful functions: a task scheduler to start things at particular times, logs for system and application errors, a performance monitor, a tool to look at your hard disk structure and assign device letters, a way to get to the Device Manager, tools to display details about your computer's configuration and services, and more. In Windows 7, you can put an entry for Administrative Tools on the Start menu or program list as follows: Right-click the Start ball (at the left end of the taskbar) > Properties > Start Menu > Customize, then select the desired location under "System administrative tools". In Windows 8 and 10, go to the Control Panel, right-click Administrative Tools, and select "Pin to Start".

Adjusting Some Windows Default Settings

Windows has some default settings which I (and many others) always choose to change. Open any folder with Explorer. In Windows 7, press the Alt key; then select Tools > Folder options > View. In Windows 8 and 10, select the View tab in the Explorer window.

In Windows 7 check "Always show menus". That makes the menu bar (File, Edit, View, etc.) always appear at the top of Explorer windows -- no need to press the Alt key in the future to make the menu bar appear.

In Windows 7, uncheck "Hide file extensions for known file types". Unchecking this causes the .exe, .txt, .jpg, .htm, etc., extensions to appear at the end of file names instead of being hidden in the displayed file names. Truncated display of file names can lead to a great deal of confusion; it's better to see the full name of each file. In Windows 8 and 10, check "File name extensions" to get the same (show me the extensions) result as in Windows 7.

For future reference, keep in mind that this area also has options allowing the display of hidden files, folders, and drives and the display of protected operating system files. By default these are not shown, lessening the possibility that you might accidentally damage them, or be confused by their appearance among the other files. However sometimes you may need to unhide them to do maintenance work.

If you do not see the options in the places described above or if you prefer working in Control Panel, go to Control Panel. Select "Folder Options" in Windows 7 or "File Explorer Options" in Windows 8 and 10. Then select the View tab. You will see MANY options there, including those described above.

File Associations

When you double-click a file entry in an Explorer window, an associated program may be executed. For example, double-clicking a .txt file may open a text editor. An association is not required to exist for an extension, e.g., .txt. If none exists when you double-click the file, you will be prompted to select a program to execute. You can choose to have the selected program executed for only this one time, or have the selected program run whenever a file with that extension is double-clicked. You can modify this setting as follows: right-click a file with the target extension > "Open with" > "Choose default program" (or words to that effect). Browse for the desired program if it is not listed.

If the "Open with" does not appear in the file's context menu, no association currently exists and you should be prompted for your intention if you double-click the file.

Be sure to properly check or uncheck the "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file" box. If you accidentally check (or leave checked) the box, you can unintentionally associate that program with all files of this kind instead of having the program run just this once for this specific file. If you check the box, that program will be executed whenever any file of this kind is double-clicked.

If you make a mistake and leave the box checked, you can correct it easily by right-clicking any file of this kind. Then go thru the "Open with" procedure described above, now choosing the proper program for the association and checking the box to have the new association remembered.

Miscellaneous Additions in Windows 10

In Windows 10 you can have multiple desktops, called virtual desktops. This lets you have a number of open windows, some on each desktop, and not have to crowd them all onto one desktop. By default a Task View icon is displayed on the taskbar. If you click it, on the far right of the current desktop you will see "+ New desktop". Click that to add a new desktop. In it you can open additional windows. Each desktop has its own set of windows. You can switch to a different desktop by selecting it from the list presented when you click the Task View icon in the taskbar. You close a desktop by clicking its X in the Task View list. When a desktop is closed, its open windows get moved to some other desktop; they are not closed just because the previous underlying desktop is closed.

In Windows 10 with the native Start button, the screen Lock function has been moved. To access it, Click on the Start button and then on the picture at the top left to get to Lock. For other versions of Windows or with Start8 or Start10 buttons, Lock is in the dropdown at the right side of the Start menu. Or just press Windows+L for any version of Windows.

Other Considerations

Some other considerations (directory organization, system and data backups, anti-malware, useful programs, etc.) are listed in PC and Internet Notes.

Overviews and Tutorials

Here is a pretty random selection of overviews and tutorials provided by Microsoft and others. You can find many such pages by doing an Internet search.