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Updated 16 Jan 2022 (What’s New?)

Windows 10 Tips and Tweaks

Copyright © 2021–2022 by Stan Brown, BrownMath.com

Summary: In December 2021 I got a new-to-me (refurbished) desktop PC from Discount Electronics. The only options were Windows 10 Home and Pro, and I chose the latter. It’s an adjustment from Windows 7, no question. As I learn to navigate my way through Windows 10, it may be helpful to record what I find for the benefit of other new users and would-be power users.
Contents:

Caution: Except as noted, I’ve tried everything on this page. If something here trashes your system please don’t blame me, but do let me know so that I can add a warning.

Make a Repair Disk and an Install Disk

The repair disk will let you diagnose and fix some problems and may help you to avoid reinstalling Windows. And as the saying goes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

To create it, you’ll need a blank CD. (A DVD will work also, but most of the space will be wasted.) Open Control Panel, then select System and Security » Backup and Restore (Windows 7) » Create a system repair disc. Or if you prefer, type backup in the taskbar search box, select Backup settings in the search results, then click Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7) » Create a system repair disc. When prompted, insert a blank CD or DVD.

The repair disk is quick to make, but those repair functions are also included in the install disk, so you might as well go ahead and make the install disk.

You can download an image of the latest version on Windows 10 at Microsoft’s Download Windows 10 page. If your version of Windows 10 is not the latest, there will be a prompt offering the update. You can do that if you wish, but it’s not required. However, the download will be the latest version of Windows 10, not your version.

Click Download tool now and run the downloaded tool. You can have the tool write directly to a USB thumb drive or DVD, or have it create an ISO file that you can burn to a DVD yourself.

How to Open …

Open a Command Prompt

In the “Type here to search” box on your taskbar, type cmd and press the Enter key.

See also: 10 Ways to Open the Command Prompt in Windows 10

Open an Administrative Command Prompt

Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager. In the menu row at the top, click File. Then, Ctrl-click Run new task. This opens a command prompt with “Administrator: C:\Windows\​system32\​cmd.exe” in the title bar.

Source: the article mentioned just above.

Alternative: In the “Type here to search” box on your taskbar, type cmd and press Ctrl+Shift+Enter. This may give you a UAC prompt, depending on your settings, before it opens a command prompt with “Administrator: Command Prompt” in the title bar.

Open Settings

Press Windows logo key+i. If you don’t have the Windows logo key, right-click the Windows Start Menu icon and select Settings.

See also: Ways to Open Windows 10’s Settings App

Open Control Panel

Although you still need Control Panel for some things that aren’t in Settings, Control Panel takes more mousing or typing to open, so it’s worth while pinning it to the taskbar or the Start Menu so that you can find it more easily.

To pin Control Panel to the Start Menu: click the Start button, jump to the W’s or scroll down to the Windows System folder, and click the down arrow to open the folder. Right-click on Control Panel and select Pin to Start.

To pin Control Panel to the taskbar: click the Start button, jump to the W’s or scroll down to the Windows System folder, and click the down arrow to open the folder. Left-click (normal click) on Control Panel to launch it. Then right-click on the Control Panel icon on the taskbar, and click Pin to taskbar.

See also: 13 Ways to Open the Control Panel on Windows 10

The Start Menu

Jump to Start Menu Items

The list of programs in the Start Menu can be quite long, but you don’t have to scroll through them. Suppose you’re looking for the Windows System group. That begins with W. To get to the W’s directly, click the Start Menu icon, then click one of the subheads like Recently Added, #, or A. You’ll see a grid of letters open up. Either click on the W, or type a W followed by the Enter key.

Customize Your Start Menu

You can get access to the Start Menu for the purpose of adding or removing icons or changing icon properties including assigning shortcut keys. The Start Menu that you see when you click the icon is actually a merge of the all-users menu and your own personal menu.

Create a Shortcut Key to Open the Calculator

This can’t be done in the usual way, because the Calculator entry in the Start Menu doesn’t have any shortcut file (.lnk file) behind it, not in either of the Start Menu locations (see above). It’s just a bit of Windows 10 magic, I guess.

Of course you can find Calculator in the Start Menu, right-click it, and select Pin to Start. Or you can run it, then right-click on it in the taskbar and select Pin to taskbar. I don’t like those solutions because they add extra visual clutter. I prefer shortcut keys because my hands never leave the keyboard (and I’m not very accurate with a mouse.)

To assign a shortcut key to the calculator, you have to create a shortcut and assign the key to that, as follows:

  1. Right-click in an empty spot on your desktop, and select New » Shortcut.
  2. Enter %windir%\system32\calc.exe in “Type the location of the item” and click Next. Assign whatever name you wish, and click Finish.
  3. If you wish, move your new shortcut to either Start Menu location (see above).
  4. Right-click your new shortcut, and select Properties. On the Shortcut tab, assign your chosen key combination. On the General tab, you can make your shortcut hidden if you wish.

(The above was adapted from Method 4 of Easy Ways to Open Calculator in Windows 10.)

See also: If you want to open Calculator with a keyboard shortcut, you’d probably like to know the keyboard shortcuts for doing things in Calculator. My list, here, corrects some errors in Microsoft’s list and supplies some shortcuts that were not in Microsoft’s list.

Keyboard

Is Your Keyboard Missing Some Keys?

To use the On-Screen Keyboard, type osk in the taskbar search window and press Enter. Be sure to click Options to customize the OSK to your preferences.

The OSK can be handy if, for example, your keyboard lacks the Windows logo key. And by the way, the Windows logo key, Ctrl, and Alt keys are all “sticky” with the following key, so that you can make all the special combinations like Windows logo key+R.

Enter Unicode Characters

There are a lot of methods for entering any Unicode character at your keyboard. Here I’ll just present a few that I like.

Method 1: Use Numeric Codes for Characters

Assuming you know the hex code, press and hold the Alt key, then press and release + on the numeric keypad, then type the four-digit hex code and release the Alt key. For example, U+21D2 is a right-pointing arrow, so you would press and hold the Alt key, press and release the + on the numeric keypad, then type 21d2 or 21D2, then release the Alt key.

You can type digits on the numeric keypad or the top row of the main keyboard; letters can be upper or lower case. If there are leading zeroes in the hex code, you can omit them.

It’s possible nothing will happen when you try this method. In that case, you need to enable this form of input in the System Registry, in the following one-time procedure:

  1. Type regedit in the search box in the taskbar, and press the Enter key. If you get a prompt asking whether to let Registry Editor make changes, select Yes.
  2. Paste this in the window just below the menu, and press Enter:

    HKCU\Control Panel\Input Method

  3. Look in the right-hand panel. If you see EnableHexInput, double-click it and set it to 1. If you don’t see that name, right-click an empty spot on the right and select New » String value. Type the name, then double-click and give it a value of 1. (Yes, Windows wants this to be a string value, even though it will contain a number.)
  4. This will be effective after you sign off and sign on again. There’s no need to restart your computer, though you can if you wish.

If you have a list of Unicode characters, the list may show the values in decimal or hex. How can you tell which is which? Codes in the form U+xxxx are hex; and if any codes in the list contain letters a–f then all the codes in that list are in hex. Look in the table for 215: if it’s a × multiplication sign you have a list of decimal codes; if it’s u with an odd-looking accent the table is hex codes.

See also:

Method 2: Use a Unicode App

You can press Windows logo key+. (the Windows logo and the period or full stop together) to bring up the emoji picker. This also has a bunch of accented language characters, special characters, and so on. But it’s only a fraction of the full Unicode list.

Character Map is part of Windows; just type charmap in the taskbar search window and press Enter. You can scroll down looking for the character you want, double-click it to put it on the clipboard, then Ctrl+V to paste it where you need it. If you check (tick) Advanced view at the lower left, you get a search window.

Personally, I prefer BabelMap, which you can get here for free. The interface is similar to Character Map, but there are more options and more output formats.

Method 3: Use Custom Key Combinations

Don’t assume you necessarily have to enter Unicode numbers or search in apps. There are other possibilities.

Some applications have “Rich Edit Controls” and can enter common Unicode characters with multi-key sequences. For instance, in Word you can press Ctrl+apostrophe and then e to get an acute e (é), so you don’t need to know that the Unicode number is 0233 or hex E9. If you use an application frequently, check its help file; or check Rich Edit Shortcut Keys on the Microsoft site and test whether the key combinations work in your application.

The popular and excellent free AutoHotkey lets you define your own keystroke sequences to produce anything from elaborate and variable text down to single Unicode characters. The active user community has provided many scripts that you can use, without having to become an AutoHotkey expert yourself.

Enable the Built-in Clipboard History

Unlike Windows 7, you can probably get along without a third-party clipboard manager. Windows 10 comes with one that will hold up to the last 25 items you copied or cut. The clipboard is there, but you have to enable it, as follows. Open Settings and select System » Clipboard. Slide the switch under Clipboard History from Off to On.

Once Clipboard History is enabled, what can you do with it? First you need to press Windows logo key+V to display the history on screen. Then you can do any of these:

Even after you enable the clipboard history, you don’t have to use it every time. If you want to copy (Ctrl+C) or cut (Ctrl+X) some text or a picture from one place and paste it (Ctrl+V) somewhere else, you can do that the same way you always have, with no need to bring up the history(Windows logo key+V).

What if you don’t have a Windows key? There doesn’t seem to be another key combination to bring up the Windows Clipboard History. But you can use the On-Screen Keyboard. Or you could use a utility like the free AutoHotkey to define a custom key sequence that AutoHotkey will translate to Windows logo key+V. I’ve been using AutoHotkey for years, and recommend it.

A lighter-weight open-source keyboard mapper, mentioned in the newsgroup alt.comp.is.windows-10, is sharpkeys; I haven’t used that one, but on a quick read it seems to be easier to learn than AutoHotkey.

Color the Title Bar of the Active Window

Windows 10’s minimalist interface is all very well, but the difference between the active window and other windows can be awfully subtle. Too often when typing, I notice that nothing is going into the window I expected.

You can set Windows to color in the title bar of the active window:*

  1. Open Settings, then click Personalization » Colors.
  2. In the right panel, scroll down to “Choose your accent color". You can check (tick) the “Automatically” box to let Windows pick a color, pick one of the preconfigured “Windows colors”, or choose any color at all by clicking the + sign next to “Custom Color”.
  3. Scroll down a bit further, and check (tick) the box “Title bars and window borders”.

* Actually the title bar and the window borders are colored. But the title bar color is very visible, and the borders’ color is very subtle, easy to overlook.

File Explorer

Sort File and Folder Names Numerically

Before Windows XP, file and folder names sorted alphabetically in Explorer and in common dialogs. Starting with XP, and continuing through Windows 10, ABC10 sorts after ABC2, rather than before. Some people like that, but I prefer a strict character-by-character sort.

A simple Registry edit controls this behavior. Type regedit in the search box in the taskbar, and press the Enter key. If you get a prompt asking whether to let Registry Editor make changes, select Yes.

Paste this string into the search window just below the menu, and press Enter:

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer

If there are multiple users on your PC and you want to do this for just yourself, change HKLM to HKCU in the above before pressing Enter.)

If you don’t see NoStrCmpLogical in the right-hand panel, click in a blank spot in that panel and select New » DWORD. After entering the name NoStrCmpLogical, double-click it or press Enter to edit it, and enter 1 in the box. The change is effective when you log off and log on, or if you Explorer.exe in Task Manager and then restart it.

If you change your mind later and want to go back to the Windows 10 default sort, go back to the same spot in the registry and change the 1 to a 0.

Instead of using the GUI Registry Editor, you could open a command prompt as administrator and execute this command (all on one line):

reg add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer
/v NoStrCmpLogical /t REG_DWORD /d 1

Get Rid of Useless Entries under “This PC”

Different people will consider different ones useless, so you can pick and choose.

3D Objects

This procedure will hide 3D Objects, but it won’t actually delete any data or folders.

Type regedit in the search box in the taskbar, and press the Enter key. If you get a prompt asking whether to let Registry Editor make changes, select Yes. Paste this text into the location window just under the menu:

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MyComputer\NameSpace\{0DB7E03F-FC29-4DC6-9020-FF41B59E513A}

Right-click on {0DB7E03F-FC29-4DC6-9020-FF41B59E513A} and select *Delete.

If you have 64-bit Windows 10—​and you almost certainly do—also delete this key:

HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\MyComputer\NameSpace\{0DB7E03F-FC29-4DC6-9020-FF41B59E513A}

If you don’t have the Wow6432Node key, your Windows 10 is the 32-bit version, and you needed to delete only the one key.

For most users, there’s no need to reboot, or even to log off and on again. Test it by opening a new File Explorer window (press the Windows logo key+E). You should no longer see 3D Objects. It worked that way for me, but if you still see 3D Objects, a reboot should make them go away.

This information came from How to Remove “3D Objects” From This PC on Windows 10.

Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos

You can hide all six of these by clicking the drop-down arrow to the left of Folders in the main (right-hand) panel of the File Explorer window. (Again, these procedures don’t actually delete any data or folders; they just hide things.)

To hide these folders in the folder list under This PC in the left-hand panel, use a registry file from this article at How-to Geek: How to Remove the Folders From “This PC” on Windows 10. There's a file to hide all six of them, and separate files to hide individual ones. Whatever you hide through the registry hacks will be hidden in both the folder tree at the left and the main display at the right.

How-to Geek says that you’ll need to restart Explorer by using Task Manager, or else log off and on again. But check before you do—I simply opened a new Explorer window, and the objects were all hidden.

Remove OneDrive from File Explorer

Windows 10 Home: You can just uninstall OneDrive in Control Panel » Programs and Features, according to How to Disable OneDrive and Remove It From File Explorer on Windows 10.

Windows 10 Pro: Microsoft really wants you to use OneDrive, so even uninstalling it won’t remove it from File Explorer. Instead, use Group Policy Editor, as follows:

  1. Type gpedit.msc in the taskbar search box, and press Enter.
  2. In the left panel, select Computer Configuration » Administrative Templates » Windows Components » OneDrive.
  3. In the right panel, double-click “Prevent the usage of OneDrive for file storage” and Set it to Enabled.
  4. Restart Windows. (I have Windows 10 Pro, and I found restarting File Explorer, even signing off and signing back on, was not enough to kill the OneDrive icon in File Explorer.)

Remove “Share with Skype” from the Right-Click Menu

Seems like every time I right-click, the context menu includes Share with Skype and an icon to really draw attention to it. That’s fine for Skype users, but for the rest of us it’s just another annoyance. You could uninstall Skype in Control Panel, but then if you ever do need it you’ll have to go to the trouble of reinstalling it. Disabling it via the System Registry seems like less of a hassle overall.

  1. Type regedit in the search box in the taskbar, and press the Enter key. If you get a prompt asking whether to let Registry Editor make changes, select Yes.
  2. Paste this string into the location bar just below the menu, and press Enter:

    HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Shell Extensions

  3. In the left-hand panel, look at Shell Extensions, which is highlighted. If you don’t see a Blocked key under it, then right-click Shell Extensions, select New » Key, type Blocked and press Enter.
  4. Single-click on Blocked in the left panel. Then in the right panel, right click on empty space and select New » String Value. Set the name to {776DBC8D-7347-478C-8D71-791E12EF49D8}. Double-click it to edit and set the value data to Skype.

You should see this:

Regedit after successful editing to remove 'Share
with Skype'

Restart File Explorer and right-click a file. You should no longer see Share with Skype. If you do, but everything is correct in the Registry Editor, the change should become effective the next time you restart your computer.

Acknowledgement: This tip was adapted from Disable “Share with Skype” from Context Menu at Technipages. That page also has several other methods to accomplish the same goal.

Windows Updates

Don’t Let Microsoft Use Your PC as a File Server

This one seems incredible to me, but by design Windows 10 is set up to transmit updates from your PC to other PCs, not only on your local network but anywhere in the Internet. In effect, your PC becomes a Microsoft server, with no payment to you. And, depending on your ISP’s rate plan, it could even cost you money.

If you don’t like that, Open Settings, then select Update & Security » Windows Update » Advanced Options » Delivery Optimization. Set “Allow downloads from other PCs” to “PCs on my local network”, or to Off if you don’t have any other Windows 10 PCs on your LAN. (Yes, “Allow downloads from other PCs” controls your PC sending updates to other PCs.)

See also: How to Stop Windows 10 From Uploading Updates to Other PCs Over the Internet

Prevent Windows 11

I haven’t researched Windows 11, because my PC isn’t eligible for it, but it looks like a lot of people would rather not move to Windows 11, or at least not yet.

If you want to prevent the update to Windows 11, use a Group Policy setting if you have Windows 10 Pro, or a Registry edit if you have Windows 10 Home. This article explains the procedure: How to Block the Windows 11 Update From Installing on Windows 10.

You won’t get the Windows 11 update; you also won’t get Windows 10 updates past the version you specify. So you’ll need to check Microsoft’s site periodically, and when there’s a new version update the policy setting or Registry value on your computer.

Run Ad-Free Windows 7 Games in Windows 10 (or 11)

The Microsoft Software Collection that comes with Windows 10 is gorgeous, but the ads are definitely annoying. Windows 7 came with a good collection of ad-free games, several of which, including Minesweeper, Chess, and Mahjongg, didn’t make it into Windows 10. You can download a 100% free Windows 10/11 installer of the original Windows 7 games here, at Majorgeeks.com.

That page warns: “Some Windows Updates have been known to revert these changes and delete your games. We recommend you bookmark this page in case your games are deleted on a future Windows Update.” They do seem to update the installer to overcome this problem; on 23 Dec 2021, when I downloaded it, the page was dated 19 Oct 2021.

Install and Use Legacy Drivers

I have a Canoscan LIDE 50 flatbed scanner, which I bought on clearance in January 2005. (Judging from a Google search, a lot of other people have the same model.) Canon abandoned support of it some years ago, but they made a good product, and it’s been working just fine with Irfanview on my Windows 7 laptop. But naturally I want to use it with my Windows 10 desktop PC. Here’s what I discovered along the way to accomplishing that. (This should apply to any driver of legacy hardware, not just to a scanner.)

When I tried running the driver installer, there was no error message but also nothing happened. It turns out that you don’t install drivers, you just tell Windows 10 where to find them and it does the install. Follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the Start Menu button and select Device Manager.
  2. Locate your device in Device Manager, right-click it, and select Update Driver. (If you don’t see your device, click View » Show hidden devices.)
  3. On the next screen, select Browse my computer for drivers.
  4. On the next screen, click Browse and navigate to the folder that contains your driver. Then click Next.

You may get the error message “The hash for the file is not present in the specified catalog file. The file is likely corrupt or the victim of tampering.” If you do, the actual issue is that your driver isn’t digitally signed, and Windows versions starting with Windows 8 don’t want to install unsigned drivers. To get around this and install the driver, you will need to reboot Windows 10 in a special mode:

  1. Make sure to save any documents you are editing, and close the applications.
  2. Open Settings, and select Recovery.
  3. Under Advanced startup, click Restart now. This reboots your PC and brings up a special screen.
  4. Select Troubleshoot » Advanced options » Startup settings.
  5. Select Restart. Be ready: when a list of options appears after the reboot, you have only a second or two to press 7 Disable driver signature enforcement.
  6. Sign in as usual. You should now be able to install your driver by following steps 1–4 above.

After a successful install, you may wish to reboot your PC and return to the default mode of not allowing unsigned drivers to be installed. While Windows 10 won’t install unsigned drivers, my unsigned LIDE 50 driver seems to run just fine.

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