Columnist Kim Komando shares tips on using Windows to do more, faster.
Kim Komando, Special for USA TODAY
In homes and offices across America, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a Windows PC. You’ll find Microsoft running on monitors in almost every school and library, in businesses big and small, and in living rooms, bedrooms, and dorms from coast to coast.
Windows is so commonplace, many of us don’t realize that it is has special features that boost your computer’s speed, stream media to multiple devices, share content with your family, and customizations to make it your own. Windows has come a long way in the past 30 years, and the number of handy tricks may surprise you.
Here are a few of the most interesting tools in the Windows 10 arsenal.
1. A Whole New Start (Menu)
The start menu is a Windows classic. It’s easily accessible through the stylized Windows icon in the corner of your screen. Click on it, and you get a layout of your most-used programs, access to power options, and shortcuts to your file explorer and computer’s settings. Change the start menu’s appearance when you right-click on the icon instead. If you’re using a touchscreen, then just touch the icon, hold it down for a second and then release.
Alternatively, use a keyboard shortcut by hitting the Windows key. Right-clicking the Start icon delivers a quick and clean menu. The access to programs is still there, but it also puts a lot more at your fingertips including the Task Manager, Control Panel, Device Manager, and even the trusty Command Prompt. You can also access this advanced menu by hitting the Windows key + X.
2. Disk Cleanup
Remember disk cleanup? It was a way to make your computer run faster when PCs had less RAM than they do today. Disk Cleanup fell by the wayside for most of us as PCs and laptops have become more sophisticated. But your computer could still use a de-bloating now and again.
Disk Cleanup is a simple way to delete files and to ensure your Recycle Bin is cleared out. On Windows 10, type “disk cleanup” into your taskbar where it says, “Type here to search” >> Click on Disk Cleanup app >> Put a check mark next to each folder you want to be deleted, such as temporary files.
3. Malware Removal
It’s more important than ever to have a multilayered approach to cybersecurity. Windows Defender is a security tool that can be set up to block malware attacks in real time or you can perform a scan when you need it.
To make sure it’s on, type “Windows Defender” into your taskbar >> Select Windows Defender app >> Make sure Real-time protection is on.
4. Open Taskbar Quickly
Windows 10 brought with it a slew of new and convenient keyboard shortcuts. Take a look at the taskbar at the bottom of your screen where you have program icons lined up, most likely including your web browser and the Windows file explorer, among others. You can open those programs by hitting the Windows key and the number that corresponds to the location of the icon in the bar.
Let’s say, from left to right, you have the File Explorer folder icon, the multi-colored round Chrome browser icon, and the blue “e” for Microsoft’s Edge browser. Hold down the Windows key and press “2,” and Chrome will open right up for you. It’s a quick way to access your most popular apps without reaching for your mouse.
5. Quick Assist
We all have that tech-challenged family member, don’t we? It might be your Aunt Sally in Boise, your best friend from high school or your book-smart but computer-novice dad.
That’s why there’s Quick Assist. In Windows 10, type “quick assist” into your taskbar >> Select Get Assistance or Give Assistance and then follow the onscreen instructions.
6. Video Streaming
If you’re like me, you probably don’t think about Windows 10 to stream videos on your TV. You can, though, using compatible devices such as Roku and Xbox One S. Type “media streaming” into the Windows 10 taskbar >> Select Media Streaming Options and follow the instructions.
7. Shake Your Windows
Here’s a fun one. If you have stacks and stacks of windows open, and you want to declutter down to just one, do this. Click on the top bar of your desired window, hold it down, and shake the mouse to instantly minimize all other open windows. Do it again to restore those windows.
8. Find Slow Programs
You’re working on your computer, but it’s dragging. You want to shout “Hurry up!” as you wait for tabs to switch or changes to take hold. It’s time to find out what’s slowing you down, so open up the Task Manager and check out the “Processes” tab. It will show you which apps and background processes are running and how much of your CPU, memory, disk and network resources they are each hogging up.
9. Task Manager
The Windows Task Manager was once a fairly straightforward feature, used mainly to force-quit an unresponsive program. The Windows 10 Task Manager is much more thorough. You can summon it through the right-click Start Menu or by hitting the traditional keyboard combination of Control-Alt-Delete and selecting it from the menu that appears.
10. Track Your Apps
When you open your regular Start Menu, you see a list of your apps running down the side. The most-used apps are on top, but the rest are laid out in alphabetical order. You could scroll through them all to find the one you want to open, but a quicker way to manage it is by clicking on any of the main letters (like “A”). This opens up a view of the entire alphabet. Just click on the first letter of the app you want, and you will be taken directly to that part of the Start Menu.
11. Task Scheduler
Task Scheduler does what you think it does; it helps you schedule tasks on your computer, like turning it off at a specific time each day. Type “task scheduler” into your taskbar to get started.
12. Find Missing or Corrupted Files
Remember this: cmd. It’s a command prompt that can help you find files that your Windows operating system needs to work properly. It can also help you fix problems.
Type “cmd” into the taskbar >> Right-click on Command Prompt >> Select Run As Administrator. To find missing or corrupted files, type “sfc /scannow.” To check for disk problems, type “chkdsk /f.”
13. Share Files
Your family and you probably send each other files all the time. You might send a document or a video by email. A better way is to set up everyone in your house on a Windows network to share files.
You start by clicking on the Start button (the Windows icon on the lower-left side of your computer screen). Then, go to Settings (the little gear icon) >> Network & Internet >> HomeGroup >> Create a HomeGroup.
14. Print PDF
If you print documents, you’re invariably hearing “send it to me as a PDF.” PDF is a file format that’s compatible across multiple operating systems and software programs. Windows 10 can easily convert a Word document into a PDF.
To do this, go through the steps to print as you normally would. When you see the option to choose a specific printer, select the one that says, “Microsoft Print to PDF.”
15. Record Screen Activity
We’re used to videos and online games occurring in real time, but now you can record them for later viewing. When you’re in the game or video, click on the Windows key on your keyboard and the letter G at the same time. Follow the prompts to record.
16. Speed Up Your Startup
When your computer gets slow, access Task Manager and trim down the number of programs that load on startup. Click on the “Startup” tab, and you will see a list of all your programs, whether they’re enabled, and what sort of impact each one has on your startup time.
Select a program and hit the “Disable” button to remove it from your start-up process. Scrutinize anything with a medium or high impact, but focus on programs you don’t use often.
If you find an app eating more than its fair share, then you can shut it down by selecting it and clicking “End task.” Be aware that you may lose work when you do this, so save first if you can.
What questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
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