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Windows 10 secrets only the pros know

Windows 10 secrets only the pros know
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK

For the power Windows 10 user, juggling multiple tasks and apps is unavoidable and often a must. A web browser here, a spreadsheet there, a chat program over yonder, and in time, your desktop turns into a cluttered mess of tabs and windows. And we all know, digging through this gridlock of open applications just to get back to a specific document you have been working on is a chore that no one has to go through.

But we're here to help.

Here are some Windows 10 tips to help you organize and tidy up your computer work space to maximize your productivity to get you back into the (work)-flow of things.

1. Snapping and Snap Assist

Introduced way back in Windows 7, snapping is a cool feature that lets you automatically resize and position your open applications into nifty little side-by-side windows. Just mouse-click and drag a window title bar to the edge of your screen and it will automatically fill specific areas of your desktop. Grab another window and snap it on the other corner of the screen and you'll see how this could be extra useful. If you're working, say, on a word document while researching with a web browser, snapping will quickly let you view tasks simultaneously.

 

SnapAssist

Windows 10 Snap Assist

Even better, in Windows 10, the Snap feature has been improved with 2 x 2 (four corners) quadrant snapping and Snap Assist. With quadrant snapping, you could display four windows simultaneously (instead of just two halves in Windows 7 and 8) and with Snap Assist, small preview cards of your open applications are displayed and you could swiftly select which one to snap on the other side. This definitely saves a step or two when powering your way through different apps.

Pro Tip: If drag and drop is not your style, you could use keyboard shortcuts instead. Just press the Windows key + a directional arrow to snap, maximize or minimize. Try out a few combos and see what they do.

2. Task View and Virtual Desktops

Now we know snapping is extra useful but most of the time, screen real estate is still sparse especially if you only have one monitor. This is where Virtual Desktops come in handy. New in Windows 10, virtual desktops have always been a staple to OSX and Linux power users. Virtual Desktops will free you from the tyranny of one screen by virtually giving you extra desktops to work with.

Virtual Desktops

Task View with 2 Virtual Desktops

Start by pressing the Windows Key + Tab. This will show you the Task View with small previews of your open applications in your current desktop. Now, on the lower right corner of your screen, notice the little + sign labeled “New desktop”. Click that and a new lower bar with “Desktop 1” and “Desktop 2” magically appears. “Desktop 2” is your new, fresh and clean virtual works pace! Click on that and fire up applications as you normally would and they will stay on that particular desktop, away from your initial one. This is useful for organizing a group of applications for specific tasks if your Office applications are on one Virtual Desktop and your five-minute break games are on another.

With this, you could essentially have as many desktops as you want and better yet, under Task View, you could drag specific application windows from one Virtual Desktop to another (you could also right-click on the application card then select Move). This, combined with Snapping, will definitely clean up your work spaces. To close a Virtual Desktop, go to Task View, then X out of it (or press Windows Key + Ctrl + F4). Don't worry, this will not close the applications on that desktop. They will be moved to a Virtual Desktop beside it.

Pro Tip: Quickly switch from one desktop to another by clicking Ctrl + Windows Key + Directional Arrow. Also, you could use Ctrl + Windows Key + D to automatically create a new desktop without going into Task View. You could pin Task View on your Task Bar for easy access.

3. Alt + Tab (Application Switcher)

All power users probably remember the old Alt-Tab Application Switcher from Windows of old. It's still in Windows 10, but instead of small thumbnails of your open applications, the cards are larger and more proportional to the open applications they represent. This is a welcome change since you could see more detail about what's going on in any particular application. To quickly cycle through open applications on a particular desktop, just hold Alt then press Tab repeatedly until the desired application is highlighted. This will bring the application up front, ready for use. Also, on Windows 10, you have the option to view either the open applications on your current Virtual desktop or on all of your Virtual desktops.

Task View

Application Switcher with 3 Running Apps

To toggle this, just open Settings >> System >> Multitasking and drop down the option under "Press Alt + Tab shows windows that are open on." This is really convenient if you are keeping track of multiple applications spanning across Virtual desktops.

Pro Tip:  Alt + Tab will get you from left to right of the application grid. To go back (right to left) press Alt + Shift + Tab.

4. Cortana, the Virtual Assistant

New in Windows 10 is Cortana, an always-on, always-listening virtual assistant (akin to Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri). Cortana incorporates and essentially replaces the Search function in the Start menu.  One of Cortana's multiple talents that is extra convenient is her ability to launch applications. If you have a mic and is Cortana enabled, just say her wake up phrase “Hey Cortana” then “Open (name of application).” In practice, you could just say “Hey Cortana, open (or launch) Google Chrome” and “she” will auto-magically open it for you.

Cortana

Cortana Settings

Other Cortana skills that are extra useful for power users are searching for files locally or on the web, setting alarms, reminders or calendar events, doing math calculations and unit conversions, and composing and sending emails. Better yet, play around with her by saying “Hey Cortana” then experiment with different spoken commands, you'll be surprised with what else she could do. The "Hey Cortana" wake up phrase is not on by default, though. To turn it on, click on the Cortana search bar on Task Bar, then click on the Notebook icon then Settings. Locate the "Hey Cortana" toggle and switch it on or off as desired.

Pro Tip: You will need an active Microsoft Account to activate and use Cortana.

5. Pinning Apps

Continuing on from Windows 8 are the Start Menu Live Tiles. In Windows 10, Microsoft has given us the option to either display a full Start Screen (a la Windows 8) or something that resembles the legacy Start Menu (a la Windows 7). One great way to organize your often-used applications is to pin them either to the Start Menu as a Live Tile or to the Task Bar as a shortcut. Pinning them is easy. Just locate the desired application (either by Cortana, Search or clicking “All Apps” on the Start Menu), then highlight and right click on it. This brings up options to Pin to Start or by clicking “More” >> Pin to Taskbar. To unpin, just locate the Live Tile on the Start Menu or the app icon on the Task Bar and right click >> Unpin from its respective location.

Start 2

Windows 10 Start Menu with Pinned Apps

Pro Tip: Resize the Start Menu by hovering on its edges then dragging them to the desired size (similar to resizing application windows). You could resize the Live Tiles by right clicking, then “Resize”.

Bonus: Other useful tricks

Click and shake a window's title bar = this will minimize all the other open application windows on the desktop except the one you are in. Shake again to restore.

Windows Key = Open Start Menu

Windows Key + I = Open Settings

Windows Key + E = Open File Explorer

Windows Key + A = Open Action Center

Windows Key + D = Show Desktop

Windows Key + L = Lock Computer

Windows Key + Comma Key = Peek at your Desktop

Ctrl + Shift + Esc = Open Task Manager

So there you go. We hope these tips and tricks will help you boost your productivity and save you precious time by organizing your windows and tasks in Windows 10. With Snapping, Task View, Virtual Desktops and Cortana, Microsoft took huge strides in providing the power user essential tools for maximizing and cleaning up busy desktops. Try these out and see for yourself how refreshing it really is to have neat Windows 10 spaces.  As they always say, “An uncluttered desk-(top) is an uncluttered mind.”

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