1. Take intelligent screengrabs    

If a Windows 8 application is showing something interesting and you’d like to record it for posterity, then hold down the Windows key, press PrtSc, and the image won’t just go to the clipboard: it’ll also be automatically saved to your My Pictures folder with the name Screenshot.png (and then Screenshot(1).png, Screenshot(2).png and so on).

You might hope that pressing Win+Alt+PrtSc would similarly save an image of the active window, but no, sadly not. Maybe next time.

2. Set Start screen background

If you’d like to change your lock, user tile or start screen images then go to the Start screen press Win + I, click ‘Change PC settings’ and choose the Personalize option. Browse the various tabs and you’ll be able to choose alternative images or backgrounds in a click or two.

In theory you’ll also be able to define apps that will display their status on the lock screen, although the app must specifically support this before it’ll be accessible from your Personalize settings.

Windows 8.1 extends Personalize with several useful options. In particular, it enables you to set your desktop wallpaper as the Start screen background, a great way to reduce the jarring effect when you’re bounced from one to the other.

3. Schedule maintenance

Windows 8 can run common maintenance tasks – software updates, security scanning, system diagnostics and more at a scheduled convenient time, which is good.

Unfortunately it doesn’t actually ask you what time is convenient, instead just setting it to 3am and allowing the system to wake your computer (if hardware and circumstances permit) to do its work. Which isn’t so good.

To change this, launch Control Panel, click System and Security > Action Centre > Maintenance. You can now click ‘Start maintenance’ to launch any outstanding tasks right now, while selecting ‘Change maintenance settings’ enables you to choose a more convenient time, and optionally disable the feature’s ability to wake up your computer if that’s not required.

4. Speed up chkdsk

If you suspect your Windows 8 system may have a corrupted hard drive, then you might be tempted to use the old chkdsk /f command. This does still work, but it’s horribly slow, and won’t do anything at all until you reboot. What’s more, it may no longer be necessary now.

Windows 8 now regularly runs chkdsk in the background, looking for problems, and recording them. And then, when run at boot time, it doesn’t have to scan every single sector of your hard drive. It just fixes the known problems, usually in a few seconds.

The first lesson here is that you probably won’t have to use chkdsk any more.

But if you want to try it anyway, don’t use chkdsk /f first. Enter chkdsk /spotfix instead, agree to run a check when you next reboot, then restart your PC and any fixes will be applied, much more quickly.

While this works most of the time, there are no guarantees. If you’re out of other options then you can still try chkdsk /f later.

5. Simplify search

By default Windows 8 includes every bundled app in its Search results. If you’ll never want to use some of these – the Store app, say – then select Win + I > Change PC Settings > > Search, choose which apps you don’t want included, and your search list will be more manageable in future.

6. Customise the Quick Access toolbar

Windows Explorer in Windows 8 features a Quick Access toolbar immediately above the menu, providing easy access to options such as ‘New Folder’, ‘Minimise’, ‘Undo’ and more.

This is customisable, too – click the arrow to the right of the default buttons, in the Explorer window caption bar, and choose whatever options you need. And you can include add any other ribbon option on the Quick Access Toolbar by right-clicking it and selecting Add to Quick Access Toolbar.

7. Help and Tips

If you’re a newcomer to Windows 8, and having trouble getting a feature to work, then scanning the official Help files might prove useful. Open the Charms bar, click Search, and type Help: ‘Help+Tips’ is a Windows 8.1 app with some useful, but basic information, while ‘Help and Support’ has more in-depth advice.

If you’re an expert PC user, though – or the problems are more severe – then consulting the usual Control Panel applets may point you in the right direction. Action Centre may reveal problems Windows has noticed already; Device Manager and Event Viewer often highlight relevant low-level issues, and the Troubleshooting applet has a wide range of fixes on offer.

8. Fix it if Windows 8 apps won’t launch

If you click a Windows 8 app, and nothing else happens, display issues are often the cause. In particular, Windows 8 apps don’t currently support screen resolutions lower than 1024 x 768 (or 1366 x 768 when snapping), so increase your resolution if possible (launch the desktop, right-click, select Screen Resolution).

Or if that’s no help, try updating your video drivers.

Installing or updating Windows 8 apps normally takes only a moment, but if your PC just can’t do either any more then there are several potential causes.

A corrupted Store cache is one of the more likely candidates, for instance, but fortunately Microsoft has provided a tool to help. Press Win+R, type wsreset and press Enter, and the Store cache will be cleaned for you.

If Windows Update is broken or disabled then you’ll also have app problems. Launch the Control Panel Troubleshooting applet (press Win+W, type trouble, and click “Troubleshooting”) and click “Fix problems with Windows update” to detect and resolve any issues.

And if these don’t help then it’s time to try the official Store troubleshooter. http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkId=268423

9. Master Internet Explorer in Windows 8

Click the Internet Explorer tile from the Start menu and you’ll launch a full-screen version without toolbars, menus or sidebars, which like so much of Windows 8 may leave you initially feeling lost.

Right-click an empty part of the page or flick your finger down from the top of the screen, though, and you’ll find options to create and switch between tabs, as well as a Refresh button, a ‘Find’ tool and the ability to pin an Internet shortcut to the Start page. Click the spanner icon and select ‘View on the desktop’ to open the full desktop version of Internet Explorer.

10. Diagnose with Device Manager events

If you’ve got a driver or hardware-related problem with Windows 8, launch Device Manager, browse to the relevant device, right-click it, select Properties and click the new Events tab. If Windows has installed drivers, related services or carried out other important actions on this device then you’ll now see them here, which is very useful when troubleshooting.

11. Recover your system

Windows 8 has performed well for us, but if you find it won’t boot at some point then you now have to press Shift+F8 during the launch process to access its recovery tools.

Access the Troubleshoot menu, then Advanced Options, and you’ll be able to try the Automatic Repair tool, which may fix your problems. No luck? The same menu enables you to use the last System Restore point, tweak key Windows Startup settings, and even open a command prompt if you’d like to troubleshoot your system manually.

If that all seems like too much hassle then the Troubleshoot menu’s option to ‘Refresh your PC’ may be preferable, because it essentially reinstalls Windows 8 but keeps your files, and will fix many issues.

But if it doesn’t then there’s always the more drastic ‘Reset your PC’ option, which removes all your files and installs a fresh new copy of Windows 8.

You don’t have to access these features from the boot menu, of course. If Windows 8 starts but seems very unstable, then open the new Recovery applet in Control Panel for easy access to the Refresh, Reset and other disaster recovery features.

13. Uninstall easily

If you want to hide an unused app for now, select ‘Unpin from Start’. The tile will disappear, but if you change your mind then you can always add it again later. (Search for the app, right-click it, select ‘Pin to Start’.)

And, if you’re sure you’ll never want to use an app again, choose ‘Uninstall’ will remove it entirely.

Of course, if you like to try out lots of apps then uninstalling them one at a time can get a little tedious. If that becomes a problem, give Windows App Boss a try – it enables you to select multiple apps and remove them all at once.

14. Default to Photo Viewer

Double-click an image file within Explorer and it won’t open in a Photo Viewer window any more, at least not by default. Instead you’ll be switched to the full-screen Windows 8 Photos app – bad news if you thought you’d escaped such hassles by using the desktop.

If you’d like to fix this, go to Control Panel > Programs > Default Programs and select Set your default programs.

Scroll down and click Windows Photo Viewer in the Programs list.

Finally, click ‘Set this program as default’ if you’d like the Viewer to open all the file types it can handle, or select the ‘Choose default’ options if you prefer to specify which file types it should open. Click OK when you’re done.

15. Smart search

When you’re in the mood to track down new Windows 8 features relating to a particular topic, you might be tempted to start by manually browsing Control Panel for interesting applets – but there is a simpler way.

If you’d like to know what’s new in the area of storage, say, just press Win+W to launch the Settings Search dialog, type “drive”, and the system will return a host of related options. That is, not just those with “drive” in the name, but anything storage-related: BitLocker, Device Manager, backup tools, disk cleanup, and interesting new features such as Storage Spaces.

This Search feature isn’t new, of course, but it’s easy to forget how useful this can be, especially when you’re trying to learn about a new operating system. So don’t just carry out specific searches, use the Apps search to look for general keywords such as “privacy” or “performance”, and you just might discover