Windows is a vast operating system with plenty of features you might never stumble upon. Make the most of Windows 10 with these expert tips.
Updated August 10, 2020
Microsoft Windows isn’t any one thing; it’s an interwoven patchwork of tools built atop 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 after coming over from Windows 7, or perhaps you recently made the switch from a Mac. Well, it’s time to understand all the secret Windows 10 has to offer.
We have 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 May, introducing a bunch of new features with Windows 10 version 2004. So there are plenty of ways to make the most of a constantly evolving Windows experience.
Show Desktop Button
Dating back to Windows 7, the Show Desktop button is a handy little feature. 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 at once.
There’s also the option to have windows minimize when you hover over this button versus clicking. Select your preference in Settings > Personalization > Taskbar, then flip the switch under “Use peek to preview the desktop.”
Shake Away the Mess
This feature actually debuted in Windows 7, but many 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 allows you to orient a particular monitor to fit your needs. The quickest way to do this is to simultaneously press and hold Ctrl + Alt together, then use a directional arrow to flip the screen. The right and left arrows turn the screen 90 degrees, while the down arrow will flip it upside down. Use the up arrow to bring the screen back to its normal position.
These key commands only work with certain computers, so if you can’t get them to work, you can go through Settings > System > Display, or right-click on the desktop and choose Display Settings to get there faster. 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 you can use it to slide your computer to the off position. 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. Right-click the file and enter Properties to add a shortcut key or double-click the file to tun the program. This prompts a pull-down shade to appear, which you can drag with the mouse down to the bottom of the screen. Keep in mind, this is shutdown, not sleep.
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.
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. You also 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 next to the search box). 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 key + Ctrl + right/left arrows. 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.
While you’re here, you should notice that Windows saves a timeline on all your app activity on this page. You can save up to 30 days of activity when signed in with a Microsoft Account. Click on an activity and open it back like just like the day you were using it.
Customize the Command Prompt
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 few customization options.
To access the Command Prompt interface in Windows 10, click on the Windows menu and type “Command Prompt” to bring up quick access to the desktop app. Click the icon to open the Command Prompt, then right-click at the top of the window and choose Properties.
This pop-up window allows you to personalize the experience by changing the font, layout, colors, and more of the Command Prompt. You can also turn the window transparent by opening the Colors tab and moving the Opacity slider. 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.
Control this feature by going into Settings > System > Shared Experiences to turn Nearby Sharing on and off. You can also set it to share with anyone or only your devices for easy file transfer.
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.
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.
Test Files and Apps in the Sandbox
Windows 10 Pro users have an extra asset to protect them against dangerous apps and files. If you enable Windows Sandbox inside the Control Panel, it will create a virtual instance of Windows inside Windows. You can then safely open anything you’re not sure about before introducing it to your actual Windows installation. Once you close out of Sandbox, everything inside it goes away without hurting your computer.
Microsoft introduced a new cloud-based reset feature that should help users when Windows crashes. If there’s no recovery drive or USB drive to reset the operating system, you can do it remotely. The option re-installs the same version of Windows previously running, but it will still require removing all your apps and personal files. You can find this option under Settings > Update & Security > Recovery.
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.
Windows has several built-in apps that may look useless but offer helpful hidden features. For instance, the Calculator app can also calculate the difference between two dates and convert basically any unit of measure, including time, energy, temperature, mass, and even currency.
The Alarms & Clock app can calculate the time difference between two locations, even into the future. Open the app, click the Clock tab, and select the + icon at the bottom to add locations. 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.
View File Extensions in File Explorer
By default, Windows hides file extensions in File Explorer, requiring you to dig into the file’s properties to see if it’s a .jpg or .png file. If you’re someone who frequently needs to look this information up, it might be a good idea to set it so Windows shows you the file extension automatically.
The quickest way to do this is to search “File Explorer Options” in the Windows search bar, then select the Control Panel settings page in the results to open a new window. Select View, then scroll down to the option “Hide extension for known file types” and uncheck the box. Click Apply, and now file types will be listed at the end of all file names inside File Explorer.
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About Jason Cohen
Jason is PCMag’s how to content generator. He believes tech corporations are bad, but you might as well know how to use technology in everyday life. He is a Mac owner, Android user, dark mode advocate, and tech bargain hunter. Before joining PCMag, Jason was a technical writer, copywriter, and all-around freelancer covering baseball, comics, and more at various outlets. When not writing and editing, he is either reading comic books, playing his Nintendo Switch, hanging out with his wife and two cats, or some combination of the three.