Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets

Get to grips with Microsoft's latest OS with the help of our expert tips and tricks

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Windows 8.1 might look a lot like Windows 8, but scratch the surface and some subtle - and not-so-subtle - differences begin to appear.

If you're just getting started with Microsoft's newest operating system, these tips and tricks will turn you into an 8.1 wizard in no time at all - from booting straight to the desktop to creating system backups, there's plenty to explore in the latest release.

1. Boot to the desktop

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
Windows 8.1 enables you to boot straight to the desktop

Microsoft has bowed to the pressure from desktop users and given us an option to skip the Start screen after logging in. Right-click on the taskbar, choose 'Properties', then switch to the Navigation tab. Tick the 'Go to the desktop…' option to load it first instead of the Start screen.

2. Find your apps

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
This tiny arrow leads to all of your installed applications

The 8.1 edition of Windows pins fewer apps to the Start screen by default, and has moved the location of the full apps list - you can now find it by clicking on the down arrow in the lower left corner. Click or tap the drop-down menu by the Apps heading to change how the items are sorted.

3. Universal wallpaper

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
You can set the same wallpaper for your desktop and Start screen

In Windows 8.1 you can set your Start screen wallpaper to the same image used for the desktop wallpaper, if it makes life without the Start menu a little easier for you. Open up the 'Personalise' link from the Settings charm on the Start screen and your current desktop backdrop will be one of the available thumbnails.

4. Quicker shutdown

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
Access the shutdown and restart options from the Start button

Windows 8.1 retains the shortcut menu that appears when you right-click in the bottom left-hand corner of the desktop, but there are some new options. You can now shut the system down or log out of your account from here, rather than going through the Settings charm.

5. Configure Smart Search

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
If you don't want Bing search results, you can disable them

By default Windows 8.1 will look through files on your PC, in your SkyDrive account and on the web when you type a query into the Search charm, but you can modify this behaviour. Open the Settings charm then choose 'Change PC settings > Search and apps > Search' to disable Bing integration.

6. App tiles

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
There are now more options for the size of your live tiles

It's not exactly a headline feature, but Windows 8.1 gives you more control over the size of your app tiles on the Start screen. Right-click on a tile, choose 'Resize' from the menu at the bottom and there are four different options to pick from: Large, Wide, Medium and Small.

7. Lock screen slideshows

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
If you can't choose one lock screen image, set up a slideshow

Having a static photo as your lock screen picture is so Windows 8. Join the Windows 8.1 revolution by configuring a slideshow of several images instead - on the Lock screen page under 'PC and Devices' in the Settings app there's a new Slide show entry, complete with a variety of configuration options.

8. Name app groups

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
You can assign titles to your groups of live tiles

Each of your Start screen app tile groups can have its own heading now, if required. You could name one group 'Work' and one 'Play', to be completely unoriginal and dull, for example. Right-click on the Start screen and choose Customise to bring up the labels.

9. Display tweaks

Windows 8.1 tips, tricks and secrets
Display settings are now available from the Start screen

Your screen resolution configuration and other related settings can now be accessed straight from the Start screen without venturing to the desktop or the Control Panel. Choose 'Settings' from the Charms bar, then 'Change PC settings', and then 'Display'.