Windows 10 cheat sheet

Windows 10 is the best operating system that’s come along from Microsoft in a long time. It’s a shape-shifter that changes its interface depending upon whether you’re using a traditional computer or a touch-based one. It undoes the damage wrought by Windows 8, including eliminating the awkward Charms bar and bringing back the long-mourned Start menu.

A lot more has changed from previous versions as well, with a default Chromium-based browser called Edge, the introduction of the Cortana digital assistant, links to Microsoft’s cloud-based OneDrive cloud storage service, and plenty more.

Share this story: IT pros, we hope you’ll pass this guide on to your users to show them the Windows 10 ropes. Also see our printable PDF of Windows 10 gestures and shortcuts.

Whether you’ve upgraded to Windows 10 from an earlier version of Windows or if you’ve got it on a new PC, this cheat sheet will get you up to speed on it. I’ll cover everything you need to know, and I’ve also provided quick-reference charts listing useful keyboard shortcuts, touchscreen gestures and touchpad gestures.

Keep in mind that there have been 10 major updates to Windows 10 since its initial release in July 2015. This story is based on the Windows 10 October 2020 Update, (version 20H2), so the features that are described here and the screenshots you see may differ from what you see if you have an older version of Windows 10.

Note: If you want to get the most out of Windows 10, you’ll have to use a Microsoft ID as your user account. Without a Microsoft ID, you won’t be able to use a number of Windows 10 apps or sync settings among multiple devices. So when you set up Windows 10 for the first time, sign in with an existing Microsoft ID or create a new one.

Before we get started, a few words about some terminology you’ll need to know. Microsoft has sowed enormous confusion with a set of lightweight apps that were originally designed for the Windows 8 touch-oriented Start screen interface. It first called them Metro apps, and then through the years changed their names to Modern apps, Windows Store apps, and then Universal Windows apps. Now it’s settled simply on Windows apps, although at times the company also calls them Universal Windows apps. In this article, we’ll refer to them as Windows apps.

What about apps designed for the desktop? Microsoft now calls them Windows desktop applications. In this article we’ll call them desktop applications for simplicity’s sake.

The Start menu

The loudest complaint that desktop users had about Windows 8 was the death of the Start menu. In Windows 10 it’s back with a vengeance. When you use Windows 10 on a desktop or laptop, you boot directly into the desktop. Click the Start button at the lower left of the desktop to bring up the Start menu — command central for traditional PC users. (Those who use Windows 10 on a tablet will instead see a Start screen; more on that later in the story.)

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The Start menu is command central for Windows 10. (Click any image in this story to enlarge it.)

The menu is divided into two sections. Down its left side you’ll find the following:

All Apps: Up at the top left of the screen is a “hamburger menu” (three parallel horizontal lines) that when clicked is a toggle for turning on or off a list of all Windows apps and desktop applications, in alphabetical order. (By default, the list is turned on.) Click any to run it.

At the very top of the All Apps list is a list of apps you’ve recently installed. Just beneath that are the apps and applications you use most frequently. Right-click any and you’ll see a list of the files you’ve recently opened in it. Click the file to open the application or app, with the file loaded into it.

In some instances you’ll see a folder with a down arrow next to it rather than an icon — that means there are several options there, for example, to run the Dropbox app or visit the Dropbox website. Click the folder to show all the options, then click the option you want to run. (Also note that in some instances, there will be a folder, but when you click it, you only get one option, to run the app or application.)

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The jump list for Acrobat Reader shows the PDFs you’ve recently opened.

Account: Down toward the bottom left of the screen is a set of stacked icons, starting with an icon for your user account. Click it to sign out of Windows, lock your PC or change your account settings. When you choose to change your account settings, you’ll be sent to a screen that lets you change your account picture, your password, and a variety of other settings.

Documents, Pictures, Settings, Power: These icons at the bottom left of the Start menu are no mystery: Documents opens the Documents folder using File Explorer; Pictures opens the Pictures folder using File Explorer; Settings brings you to the Windows Settings app (more on that later); and Power lets you put your PC to sleep, shut it down or restart it. Click any icon to run it.

If you’re confused about which icons are for Account, Documents, Pictures, Settings and Power, just hover your mouse over any of them. The icons disappear and are replaced by text labels.

The right side of the Start menu has tiles for Windows apps and desktop applications. They’re grouped into two Microsoft-created categories — Life at a glance and Play and explore — and then, if you have more apps than fit in those two, they’re grouped into unnamed categories below that. New tiles will be added to the unnamed groups as you install new apps and desktop applications. (Note that if you’re using an enterprise edition of Windows 10, your IT department may have configured other groupings, such as productivity applications or support tools, to appear on the right side of the Start menu.) Click any tile to run the app associated with it.

Some tiles are “live” — that is, real-time information gets piped into them. So the Mail tile, for example, shows your latest email, the Weather shows the weather and so on. Only Windows apps have live tiles. Desktop applications, such as Microsoft Office, don’t. Each group of tiles is three columns wide, with most tiles taking up one column by default.

The Start menu is highly customizable. To change its height, hover your cursor over its top edge until a two-headed arrow appears, then drag it up or down to expand or shrink it. On some Windows 10 installations you can do the same thing at the right edge of the menu to expand it to the right or shrink it back again, although this doesn’t work for everybody.

To rename a group of tiles, click the group name and type in a new name for it. You can also move tiles around the Start menu by dragging them from one group to another, or, to create a new group, drag tiles to a blank area on the menu. You can name any unnamed group by clicking on the blank area above it and typing in a name.

You can also widen the groups in the Start menu so that tiles take up four columns rather than three. To do it, from the Start menu select Settings > Personalization > Start and in the “Show more tiles on Start” setting, move the slider to On. The tiles will now take up four columns, but to take advantage of the extra space you’ll have to manually drag tiles to the fourth column. You can personalize many other aspects of the Start menu from this Settings page, including whether to show your most used apps, have the Start screen run full screen and more.

When you right-click a tile, a menu pops up. Here’s where things get a bit confusing, because not every Windows app and desktop application has the same pop-up menu, and depending on your installation you might have to click More to see some of these options. Most have some combination of these choices:

Unpin from Start: Select this and the tile vanishes from the Start menu.

Resize: As you would expect, this lets you resize the tile. You can choose Small, Medium or Large, and some tiles also have a Wide choice that makes it span two columns in its group.

Turn live tile off: This stops real-time information from streaming into the tile. If it’s already off, you’ll get a Turn live tile on choice.

Pin to taskbar: As it says, this pins the app to the taskbar. If it’s already pinned, you’ll get an Unpin from taskbar choice.

App settings: This leads to a screen that lets you change the app’s settings, such as whether to allow it to run in the background, or to get access to your microphone.

Uninstall: This uninstalls the app. Some Windows apps created by Microsoft, such as Skype and Solitaire, can’t be uninstalled. However, over time, Windows 10 has let you uninstall more built-in apps than previously, including Mail, Calendar, Sticky Notes and others.

Rate and review: This option is available only for apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store. It brings you to a page that lets you rate the app on a one-to-five-star basis and write a review. The rating and review appear in the app’s description in the Microsoft Store.

Share: This lets you share a link to the app using a variety of methods, including email, Twitter and others.

Run as an administrator: This lets you run the app or application as an administrator.

Open file location: Opens File Explorer to the folder where the application lives.

Some Windows apps have other choices as well, depending on their purposes. For example, right-click the This PC app and you get choices such as mapping or unmapping a network drive.

You can also right-click the icons for the “Most used” apps on the left side of the menu as well as the File Explorer, Settings and Power icons underneath them. (If you right-click All Apps, no menu appears.) Windows apps and desktop applications on the “Most used” app menu typically have similar choices to those already outlined (with some hidden under the “More” submenu). In addition, you might find these additional options:

Pin to Start: This moves the app from the “Most used” list to the right side of the Start menu.

Run as a different user: This lets you run the app as someone other than the person currently logged in.

Don’t show in this list: Takes the app off the “Most used” list.

Cortana and search

Windows 10 introduces Microsoft’s Siri-like digital assistant Cortana to computers. (It was first introduced on Windows Phones in 2014.) Through the years, Cortana has gone through significant changes on Windows 10. At first, it became closely integrated with Windows Search, and its results appeared in the Search box. It also was given a considerable amount of power, able to do things as diverse as playing music and controlling your home’s smart appliances.

But those days are gone. Microsoft has dramatically cut back on Cortana’s features, and it is no longer closely integrated into Windows and Windows Search. Now, Cortana is its own app that works like any other Windows 10 app, including running in a resizable window that can be moved around the screen.

The only way to use Cortana is to run the app. Start it by clicking the Cortana icon in the taskbar just to the right of the search box, pressing the Windows key + C, or saying “Hey, Cortana.” You can then speak your search, or type your search into the app.

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Cortana is no longer integrated with the Search box; it now displays results in its own window.

When you ask Cortana a straightforward question or issue a straightforward command, Cortana displays the result onscreen and reads it to you. However, if you ask a more complicated question that requires a display of web links, Cortana will show the links in the Edge browser.

To make sure that Cortana responds to “Hey Cortana,” first click the Cortana button to the right of the Search box to launch the app. Click the three-dot icon at the top left of the screen and then click the Settings button (it’s in the shape of a gear) and select Talk to Cortana. From here you can tell Cortana to respond when you say “Cortana” or press the Windows key + C. And you can also choose whether you’d like to interact with Cortana via typing or speaking and typing.

You can also remove the Cortana button to the right of the search box. Right-click the taskbar and uncheck Show Cortana button from the menu that appears.

(You can even turn off the search box in this way. Right-click the taskbar, select Search, and click Hidden.)

Although Microsoft has scaled back Cortana, there are a number of things it can do for you. The best is the way it can remind you about tasks or upcoming events. It’s easy to set a reminder — just say or type in plain English what you want to be reminded about, for example, “Create a reminder for my weekly Tuesday 2pm Zoom meeting.” In order for Cortana to pop up alerts about the reminders you’ve set, you need to turn on Windows 10’s notification feature. To do it, go to Settings > System > Notifications & actions and then turn the slider on in the “Get notifications from apps and other senders” section.

For more about using Cortana, see “Windows 10 quick tips: Get the most out of Cortana.”

Using search

The Windows 10 search you’ve been used to since the operating system was introduced has changed over time, notably when Cortana and Search went their own ways. So even if you think you know how it works, you might want a refresher, which I’ll provide here.

To do a search, type it into the Search box at the bottom left of the screen. Search uses the Bing search engine to look through your files, your Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage, your videos and music, the apps on your PC, your settings, your email and the web. When you do a search, a series of tabs appears across the top of the screen:

  • All displays all search results.
  • Apps shows any app-related matches.
  • Documents shows documents on your PC that match the search.
  • Web displays results from the web.
  • More shows results from other places, including individual folders, email and apps including Music, People, Photos, Settings and Videos. You’ll have to click the down arrow next to More to see them all.
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Search shows results in a flyout mini-browser.

The Search box can be quite useful even if you don’t do a search. Put your cursor in it and you’ll see a list of the apps you most frequently use, as well as recent searches you’ve done. Click a search or app to open it.

Putting your cursor in the search box also lets you do targeted searches — you can limit searches to just apps, documents, the web, and more. Click the appropriate tab at the top of the screen and type in your search.

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Put your cursor into the search box to see your most-used apps and to do targeted searches.

By default, Search only looks through a limited selection of default libraries and folders including OneDrive, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos, and Desktop. It won’t find files kept in other locations on your PC. However, you can change that. Go to Settings > Search > Searching Windows, and in the “Find My Files” section, select Enhanced. That will tell Windows to search through your entire PC. If there are folders you want to exclude from the search, go to the “Excluded Folders” section, then click Add an excluded folder and browse to the folder you don’t want to search.


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Handling Windows updates

After years of complaints, in the spring of 2019 Microsoft finally gave many users what they’d been asking for since Windows 10 was introduced — the ability to control whether to install the twice-yearly feature updates Microsoft releases for Windows. Before that, those with Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education licenses could delay the updates, but Windows 10 Home users couldn’t unless they resorted to sneaky workarounds (none of them ideal) to stop the installations. And even those who could delay installations couldn’t put them off forever.

All that has changed. Windows 10 Home (and Pro) users can put off installing the twice-yearly feature updates, and can even skip them altogether, using the “Download and install” option.

Now when Microsoft releases a new feature update to the public, it is no longer automatically installed. Instead, Windows notifies you that it’s available with a “Download and install” message and link in the Windows Update Settings pane. If you don’t want to install it, ignore the message and your PC stays as it is. Whenever you want to install an update, just click it and follow the instructions.

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All Windows 10 users can decide whether and when to install the twice-a-year feature updates.

There is one caveat. When your current version of Windows reaches what Microsoft calls “end of service” — the point at which Microsoft no longer supports it — Windows 10 will install a more recent feature update automatically. For Home and Pro users, that’s usually 18 months after your current Windows version’s release.

Even so, it’s theoretically possible to skip over some feature updates entirely. Since they’re released approximately every six months, you could install one version, decline to install the next one that’s released, and then install the one after that.

You also have control not just over the twice-a-year feature updates, but also over the minor updates that Microsoft issues in between them. You can pause these smaller updates for up to 35 days. Those who use the various business and educational versions of Windows 10 have been able to delay minor updates for quite some time, but now everyone has the option.

To do it, go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and click Pause updates for 7 days. After seven days you can do it several more times, a total of five times to delay it for 35 days.

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You can delay minor Windows 10 updates seven days at a time for up to 35 days.

In addition to all this, Windows has a safety net that will uninstall problematic updates that harm your PC. If your computer won’t start properly after you install an update, Windows will diagnose the problem and try to fix it. If it can’t, it will uninstall a recent Windows 10 update or driver update that might be causing the problem and block it from reinstalling for 30 days. See details from Microsoft.

You can also ask Windows to alert you, via a system tray icon, when you need to reboot your PC in order to finish an update. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options, and underneath “Show a notification when your PC requires a restart to finish updating,” move the slider to On.

Windows apps

In Windows 8, Windows apps and the desktop didn’t get along. Windows apps could only be run from the Start screen, not from the desktop. What’s more, they didn’t appear in traditional application windows; you could only run them full-screen or side by side with another Windows app (but not a desktop application) so the two apps filled the full screen. That meant you couldn’t have multiple Windows apps running in separate windows on the desktop alongside desktop applications. It was just one more way in which Windows 8 felt like two separate operating systems.

That’s no longer the case in Windows 10. You can resize, minimize and close Windows apps in the same familiar way as desktop applications. Drag the edges of a Windows app to resize it. Use the familiar icons on the upper right of the app window for minimizing, maximizing and closing the app.

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In Windows 10, Windows apps can be resized, minimized and closed in the same way as desktop apps.

Windows apps also get a better way to access all of their features. On the left side or bottom of the app window you’ll typically see a series of icons for the different features in the app. The icons change depending on the app. For example, the Weather app has icons for news, maps, historical weather in your location and so on. And the Money app has icons for markets, currencies, a mortgage calculator, and so on.

Most of the apps show useful information by default, but it’s worth investigating the customization options for each app. To customize the News app so it shows exactly the kind of news you’re interested in, for instance, click the icon that looks like a star with a row of lines next to it — it’s just below the home icon. Once you do that, you’ll be able to tell the app your news preferences — Top News, US News, World News, Good News, Crime, Technology, Entertainment and so on.

You can set up the Mail app not only to work with Microsoft’s web-based mail service (currently called Outlook.com), but also with other web-based services, including Gmail. To add an account after you launch Mail, click Accounts, and from the “Manage accounts” screen that appears, click Add Account. Then select the kind of mail account you want to add (Outlook.com, Office 365, Google, Yahoo,  POP and IMAP mail, and so on) and follow the prompts. For web-based accounts, it’s straightforward. For POP and IMAP accounts, you’ll need your account information ready, including POP and SMTP server names and passwords.

You can also combine mail from multiple accounts into a single, unified inbox. To do it, click Accounts > Link inboxes and combine the accounts you’d like.

The Calendar app will connect to your mail accounts automatically and display their calendars. For example, if you set up both an Outlook.com account and a Gmail account in Mail, the calendars associated with them automatically appear in the Calendar app.

Using Windows 10 on a tablet or 2-in-1

One of Windows 8’s biggest drawbacks was that it forced people with desktop computers to use an interface designed for tablets. In Windows 10, Microsoft changes that with a feature called Continuum that automatically senses the device you’re using and switches Windows 10’s interface to match it — the Windows 8-like Start screen for tablets, and the desktop and Start menu for laptops and desktops.

Continuum works dynamically. If you’re using a tablet with a keyboard attached, such as a Microsoft Surface, it displays the desktop interface, but if you detach the keyboard, it asks if you want to switch to tablet mode, which uses the Start screen interface. Tap Yes to switch to tablet mode. Similarly, if you’re using a tablet and attach a keyboard to it, a notification appears asking if you want to switch out of tablet mode.

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Windows 10 senses when you detach a keyboard from a 2-in-1 device and asks if you want to switch to tablet mode.

If you don’t want to be bothered by the notification again, select Remember my response and don’t ask again. From then on, you’ll switch automatically from desktop to tablet mode and back again depending on whether you have a keyboard attached to your device. No notification will appear. If for some reason you like those notifications, instead select Always ask me before switching.

You can also manually switch in and out of tablet mode via an icon in the Action Center, which I’ll cover later in the story.

Tablet mode in Windows 10 works much like Windows 8 used to work, with the usual touch and swiping gestures. As with Windows 8, there’s no desktop but instead the Start screen with groups of tiles that represent your apps — the same tiles grouped in the same way as they are on the desktop’s Start menu, except here they take up the full screen. Tap any tile to launch it. You can scroll through the tiles, but note that they scroll vertically rather than horizontally as they did in Windows 8.

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Tablet mode in Windows 10 features the Start screen, which will be familiar to Windows 8 users.

There are some other differences between the Start screen in Windows 10’s tablet mode and the old Windows 8 Start screen. On the left side of the screen you’ll find six icons, three grouped at the top and three at the bottom.

At the top is a hamburger menu, which doesn’t serve much purpose. Tap it, and the left-hand side of the screen turns black, and all six icons get text labels. Tap it again, and the labels and black screen go away. Just beneath the hamburger menu is the pinned tiles icon — tap it to see the Start screen filled with tiles, which is the default tablet interface. Below the pinned tiles icon is the all apps icon. Tap it and instead of seeing pinned tiles, you get a full-screen all apps view that lets you scroll through all of your apps and desktop applications to quickly find one you want.

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You can see the all apps listing even on a tablet.

Down toward the bottom of the screen are three icons that will be familiar to those who use the desktop and laptop interface: One for your user account, so you can sign out of Windows, lock your PC, switch to a different user account, or change your account settings; one that gets you to the Settings app; and a power icon that that lets you put your tablet to sleep, shut it down or restart it.

You can also auto-hide the taskbar when you’re in tablet mode, even if you hadn’t hidden it in desktop mode. To auto-hide it in tablet mode, go to Settings > System > Tablet Mode and switch on the setting Automatically hide the taskbar in tablet mode.

The Edge browser

With Windows 10, Microsoft finally bids goodbye to Internet Explorer — almost. You’ll still find it, but it’s no longer the default browser, and development work has essentially stopped on it. The browser of today and tomorrow is Edge.

The Edge you see in Windows 10 today, though, is very different than the Edge that was first released with Windows 10 in July 2015. In January 2020, Microsoft killed the old version of Edge and released a new version based on open-source Chromium code, which was first developed by Google and also underpins Google Chrome and other browsers including Opera and Brave.

The old version of Edge was filled with kludgy features that no one wanted, such as being able to read e-books and mark up and share web pages. That version also had very few extensions — four-and-a-half years after it was introduced it had fewer than 300, compared to many thousands for Chrome.

The new Chromium-based version of Edge has eliminated many unnecessary features from the old Edge, so it’s a far cleaner, simpler, faster browser and can use the many thousands of extensions written for Chrome. (For a hands-on review, see “Microsoft’s new Edge browser: Third time’s the charm?”) If you’ve stayed away from Edge in the past, you might want to give it a second look.

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The new Chromium Edge is simpler, cleaner and faster than the original version of the browser.

Edge works much like all other browsers. The upper left has arrows for going forward, back and reloading a page. Type URLs in the address bar or use the address bar as a search box by typing in search terms. Favorites are accessed via the icon of a star with three horizonal lines at the top right of the screen. To access advanced features, click the three-dot icon on the top right of the screen, and you’ll be able to do things like change settings, view your downloads, see your history, control extensions, and so on. Add Favorites by clicking the icon of a star on the far right of the address bar.

For some, the biggest improvement in the browser is its ability to use extensions written for Chrome. You can get extensions from the Chrome Web Store, the Microsoft Edge Addons site, or from individual web sites.

To use extensions from the Chrome Web Store or any sites other than the Microsoft Edge Addons site, you’ll have to first tell Edge to accept them. To do it, click the three-dot icon in the upper-right corner of Edge, select Extensions from the drop-down menu, and on the bottom left of the screen that appears, move the slider next to “Allow extensions from other stores” to the On position. That’s all it takes.

Microsoft says that some Chrome extensions might not work on Edge, notably those that rely on Google Account functionality to sign in or sync data and those that rely on companion software on your PC.

To manage your extensions, click the three-dot icon at the far right of the screen, then select Extensions. You’ll come to a page that lets you turn on or off any extension or remove it. You can also get more details about each extension here.

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Here’s the page that lets you manage your extensions.

Edge also has a very useful privacy feature called tracking prevention, which blocks ad providers from tracking you from website to website. That makes it more difficult for companies to build comprehensive profiles of your activities and interests.

By default, it’s turned on. But you can customize how it works, making it less or more restrictive by balancing how much privacy you would like when browsing the web with how much you want to see ads and content that mirror your interests.

To do it, click the three-dot icon at the top right of Edge’s screen and select Settings > Privacy, Search, and Services. You’ll see these three choices:

  • Basic. This allows most trackers and blocks only those that Microsoft considers harmful. You’ll have less privacy but will be more likely to see personalized ads and content.
  • Balanced. This blocks many trackers and is more restrictive than Basic. This is Edge’s default setting. You’ll have more privacy than with Basic, but ads and content will be less likely to be personalized. And like Basic, it blocks harmful ads. With both Balanced and Basic settings, the websites you visit will work as you expect them to.
  • Strict. This blocks the majority of trackers from all websites, as well as harmful ads. You’ll have the most privacy, and ads and content will probably have minimal personalization. Parts of websites may not work properly when you choose this setting.

You can customize tracking prevention even more by clicking Exceptions. That lets you specify sites on which you’d like to allow all trackers. Edge also allows you to see which ad trackers it has blocked. Click Blocked trackers to see them. You can also see which trackers have been blocked on any website you’re currently visiting. To do it, click the lock icon to the left of the URL, then click Trackers at the bottom of the menu that appears.

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Here’s where you customize tracking prevention.

You can also run websites like Facebook or Computerworld as standalone apps, without having to run Edge itself. When you’re on a website you want to run as an app, click the three-dot icon at the top right of the screen, then select Apps > Install This Site as an App and click the Install button. When you do that, the website will show up in your Windows 10 app list (and you can pin it to the taskbar) like any other app. Just click the app’s icon, and the website will be rendered by Edge with all of its functionality, but it will work as its own app without any other Edge features.

You can also run the app by selecting Apps from Edge’s three-dot icon, then clicking the app from the menu that appears. To delete any app you’ve installed, click Manage Apps from the menu, and on the new screen that appears, click the X next to any app you want to delete.


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OneDrive in Windows 10

Microsoft includes its OneDrive cloud-storage service along with Windows 10. After you upgrade to Windows 10 or run it for the first time on a new machine, you’ll get a notification that it’s available. Click the notification to begin the setup process. If you don’t want to use OneDrive, dismiss the notification. If you later want to set it up, look for the OneDrive icon on the taskbar and click it. If you don’t see the icon, type OneDrive into Cortana’s search box and you’ll be able to set it up.

Before using OneDrive, you should know the lay of the land. OneDrive lives in the cloud, but you can choose to sync its files and folders to your local PC. So you’ll have a choice to sync all of your existing OneDrive files and folders to your Windows 10 PC, or just some of them. Syncing happens automatically, without you having to do anything.

In Windows 10, you get to your OneDrive via File Explorer. By default, this shows you OneDrive files and folders that live on your PC — those that you’ve chosen to sync. If you instead want to see OneDrive in the cloud, go to www.onedrive.com. Alternatively, OneDrive Files On-Demand lets you see and access all your OneDrive files, even those stored in the cloud, from File Explorer. I’ll explain how to use that feature below.

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OneDrive in Windows 10 with One Drive Files On-Demand enabled. Icons next to files show which are local, which are in the cloud and which are syncing.

With all that in mind, let’s go back to setup. When you first set up OneDrive, you’ll be asked whether you want to sync your entire cloud-based OneDrive to your local PC, or only individual folders. If you choose individual folders, you’ll be able to pick and choose which to sync.

You’re not stuck with that decision forever, though. Let’s say that you’ve chosen only to sync some folders, and later on you decide you want to change them — add some folders to sync and remove others. To do it, right-click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar, select Settings, go to the Account tab, and click Choose folders.

A screen appears. If you want to sync all folders, check the box next to Make all files available. If you instead want to sync only some of them, uncheck that box, then check the boxes of those folders you want to sync and uncheck the boxes of those you don’t want to sync.

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You can choose which folders to sync in OneDrive.

A word of advice about using OneDrive: I suggest that if you’re going to use it as your primary local and cloud storage that you rethink your folder structure. Over the years, Microsoft has nudged or pushed you into using various folder structures, such as organizing everything in Documents, or in Libraries. That’s problematic with OneDrive, because if you do that, you won’t be able to easily sync them with OneDrive.

So if you become serious about OneDrive, I recommend organizing everything under your OneDrive folder. That way, when you create new files and folders on your PC, they’ll automatically sync up to the cloud.

Using OneDrive Files On-Demand

OneDrive Files On-Demand is great for people who have multiple PCs and laptops, because it gives you access to all of your OneDrive files on every device, without having to download them first.

Turning on One Drive Files On-Demand makes it easier to save space on local hard drives while still giving you access to all the files you need. That way you can buy a less expensive laptop with less storage than you would normally need, because it’s easy to access all of your OneDrive files, even with a modest amount of local storage.

To use it, first make sure it’s turned on: Right-click the OneDrive icon on the right side of the taskbar, select Settings, click the Settings tab from the screen that appears, and check the box next to Save space and download files as you use them.

When you do that, you’ll see all of the files you have stored in OneDrive, whether they’re on your PC or not. Icons next to each file or folder indicate whether it is stored only on the web (the cloud icon) or on your PC as well (the checked circle icon).

If you double-click a file in File Explorer that’s on your PC or in both locations, you open it from your PC. If you double-click one that’s only online, it gets downloaded to your PC, and you work on it locally. From that point on, it’s available on both your PC and OneDrive and syncs to both.

You can easily change the status of any file or folder from local to cloud storage or vice versa. To do it, right-click the file or folder. Then select Always keep on this device if you want to download the file or folder to your PC, or select Free up space if you want to remove it from your PC to get more storage space but still keep it in OneDrive on the web.

This works in applications as well as in File Explorer. So files from OneDrive on the web show up in Microsoft Office, and when you open them, they get downloaded for use on your PC.

Other useful features

Windows 10 has several other interface tricks up its sleeve that are worth knowing about, including the Action Center, People, Task View, Timeline, and a powered-up version of the Windows Clipboard.

The Action Center

In Windows 8, you got to system settings and other behind-the-scenes tools via an awkward interface called the Charms bar. In Windows 10 it’s been replaced by the Action Center, which you may or may not find useful. But you should at least know what it is and how it works so you can make your own decision.

There are three ways to launch it:

  • Swipe from the right on a touch-based device.
  • Click its icon on the far right in the taskbar. (It looks like a rectangular word balloon.)
  • Press Windows key + A.
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 The Action Center springs up with a swipe, a click or a keyboard combo.

The Action Center is designed for double duty: It displays notifications for such things as your news feed, new emails, and security and maintenance messages, and it lets you change a handful of common settings for such tasks as connecting to Wi-Fi networks, switching to and from tablet mode, and changing brightness settings.

Notifications first appear on their own on the lower right of the desktop and disappear after a few seconds. You may or may not want to click them right away, which is where the Action Center comes in. After they fade away on the desktop, they live on in the Action Center.

Security and system notifications are generally well worth heeding. For example, you may be told that you can speed up your PC by stopping unnecessary programs from launching at startup. Tap the notification and you’ll be sent to the Task Manager, which lets you stop them from running. The alerts also tell you when you’ve got printer woes, issues with Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud-based storage or similar problems. So overall, you’ll probably find it worth your time to regularly check the Action Center.

As for email, you might find those notifications less than useful, because the Action Center doesn’t always play well with your mail provider. If you’ve set up the Windows 10 Mail app to hook into your Gmail account, you will see a notification in the Action Center when that account gets new email. When you click the notification, the Mail app launches and you can read the message there. But the Action Center doesn’t take into account whether you’ve already checked your Gmail account in a browser, so you’ll continue to see notifications for messages you’ve received, even if you’ve already read them in Gmail and deleted them.

That said, there is a way to suppress Mail notifications from the Action Center, which I’ll cover below.

More useful are the icons for quick actions at the bottom of the Action Center. Just click the icon of the action you want to perform. Most are self-explanatory, such as connecting to a Wi-Fi network or turning Bluetooth on or off.

By default, four icons appear in the top row of the quick-actions area. To show icons for all the quick actions available to you in the Action Center, click Expand just above the row of quick action icons. All of the remaining quick-action icons will appear. The exact icons that appear depend upon the capabilities of the computer that you’re using. On a desktop PC, for example, you might only have eight or so quick-action icons, but on a laptop or tablet there will likely be more icons available for options such as Battery saver, Bluetooth, Airplane mode and so on. To display only a single row of icons when the Action Center is expanded, click Collapse.

To change which ones appear in the row, click the All settings icon, then go to the System group, click Notifications & actions, and look at the area at the top of the screen labeled “Quick actions.” Underneath it, click Edit your quick actions. You’ll see all of the quick action icons you have displayed in the Action Center, with a pin on each icon’s upper right. Click a pin to remove its corresponding quick action.

To add quick actions icons, click Add at the bottom of the screen. You’ll see a list of the quick actions you’ve deleted. Click any to add it. When you’re finished, click Done. You can also change any icon’s position in the Action Center. Simply drag it to the location where you want it to appear.

You can also change which notifications show up in the Action Center, or turn them off completely. Click the Manage notifications link at the top of the Action Center or go to Settings > System > Notifications & actions, and to turn off notifications, turn the slider to Off in the “Get notifications from apps and other senders” section. Turn the slider to On to get notifications. Then scroll down and select the kinds of notifications you want to see and turn off the ones you don’t want to see. You’ll be able to choose or hide general types, such as Windows tips or app notifications, or turn off and on notifications from individual apps, including Mail. To do the latter, scroll to the “Get notifications from these senders” section and toggle them On or Off.

You can also set priorities for which apps are more important than others and have their notifications show up at the top of your notification lists. Go to Settings > System > Notifications & actions, then scroll down to the “Get notifications from these senders” section and click an app. A new screen appears that lets you fine-tune how that app’s notifications are displayed. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see settings for three levels: Normal, High and Top, with Normal being the lowest priority and Top the highest. Choose the one you want.

You can also adjust how many notifications can be visible at any time in the Action Center for any app. The default is three. To change it, from the same screen, click Number of notifications visible in action center, and select a number from the drop-down list (you can choose one, three, five, 10 or 20).


People is a useful app that lets you pin contacts to the Windows taskbar, and then communicate with them without having to open a separate app. But the app may not live for long — Microsoft says it’s no longer adding new features to it and may kill it in a future Windows 10 version.

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With the People app, you can pin contacts to the taskbar to make it easier to contact them in multiple ways.

To use it, click the People button on the right side of the taskbar — it looks like the heads and shoulders of two people. (If the button isn’t visible, right-click the taskbar and from the screen that appears and select the Show People on the taskbar button.)

The first time you use the app, a Get Started button appears. Click it, then click People at the top of the screen that appears. On top of the screen is a list of people you’ve frequently contacted. Click a contact to pin him or her to the taskbar. (To pin other contacts, click Find and pin contacts at the bottom of the screen. That leads to a search box that lets you search for contacts to pin.)

Once that’s done, the contact is pinned to the taskbar. (To unpin a contact, right-click it and select Unpin from taskbar.) You’ll now be able to communicate with them without having to open a separate app such as Mail or Skype. Just click the icon for the person with whom you want to communicate, and in the contact information page that opens, choose the app you want to use. You’ll be able to get in touch from right inside the contact info page.

You can scroll through your history of communications with the contact. You’ll see all messages you two have exchanged in a threaded list. It includes communications such as Skype video chats and instant messages, not just email.

People also has some drag-and-drop features, including changing the order of contacts on the taskbar by dragging them and sending a file to a contact pinned to the taskbar by dragging the file to that person’s icon.

People lets you pin up to 10 people on the taskbar. Go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar, scroll down to the People section, and choose the number of contacts you want to show, any number from 1 to 10.

Task View and multiple desktops

Some people might find another Windows 10 feature useful — Task View and its ability to create multiple desktops. Note that the Task View interface is combined with another feature called Timeline.

To activate Task View, click its icon (a large rectangle with two smaller rectangles flanking it) in the taskbar just to the right of the Cortana button or press the Windows key + Tab. When you do so, both Task View and the Timeline feature spring into action on the same screen.

At the very top of the screen you’ll see a “New desktop” button, and beneath that, thumbnails of all of your currently running apps and applications arrayed against the desktop so you can quickly see what you’ve got running. Click any thumbnail to switch to that app or press the Esc key to leave Task View and return to where you were. Beneath that you’ll see Timeline, with thumbnails of documents you’ve run over the last thirty day. (For more details about how Timeline works and how to use it, see its section below.)

For those used to using the old Alt + Tab key combination to cycle through open apps and applications, you can still do that as well, but Task View adds a couple of extra twists. If you hover your mouse over any thumbnail, a small X appears in its upper-right corner. Click the X to close that app or application.

Task View also lets you create multiple virtual desktops, each with different Windows apps and desktop applications running on them. To create a new desktop, activate Task View and click New desktop at the upper left of the screen. You can run a different set of Windows apps and desktop applications inside the new desktop — for instance, you could dedicate one desktop to work-related apps and applications, and another desktop to entertainment-related apps and applications.

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The top of the screen shows all your virtual desktops, the middle shows the apps running in the current desktop, and the bottom shows Timeline.

To switch between desktops, click the Task View icon and click the desktop to which you want to switch. You can keep creating new desktops this way and switch among them.

One odd thing to keep in mind about virtual desktops is that you can’t run a Windows app in multiple desktops simultaneously. If it’s running in one desktop and you try to launch it in another, you’ll immediately zoom to the desktop in which you originally launched it. You can, however, run desktop applications in multiple desktops.


Timeline is a feature that lets you review and resume activities and open files you’ve started on your PC, any other Windows PCs you have, and iOS and Android mobile devices. (For it to work on iOS and Android devices, you need to install Microsoft’s Cortana app on them and be logged in.)

To turn on Timeline, go to Settings > Privacy > Activity history and make sure the box is checked next to “Store my activity history on this device.” If you want to have your activities on this device available to other devices associated with your Microsoft account, also check the box next to “Send my activity history to Microsoft.” Timeline is now turned on not just for your Microsoft account on this device, but on other devices as well.

To have activities from other accounts show up on your Timeline, go to the “Show activities from these accounts” section and check the boxes next to all the accounts whose activities you want to see on Timeline. And if you want to turn off Timeline, in the “Show activities from these accounts” section, set the slider to off for all your accounts.

You get to Timeline the same way you get to Windows 10’s Task View, as outlined above. Once you’re there, you’ll see a list of your activities day by day for the last 30 days, including files you’ve opened.

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The Timeline feature shows your activities in Windows 10 over the last 30 days.

Each activity appears as a large tile, with the name of the application or app that created it at its top, and the file name and document title across it. The history is organized by days, with up to 10 activities for a day visible and with a link at the top of the day giving you the option to see all activities for that day, with the words, for example, “See all 12 activities.” Click it to see all of them. When you see all of them in a day this way, they’re organized by hour, so for a busy day you can see your work throughout the day, chronologically. To see only 10 when you’re looking at Timeline, click See only top activities.

Scroll through the tiles using a mouse, arrow keys, or the slider on the right-hand side of the screen. You can search through them by clicking the search icon at the top of the screen. But that only searches through titles and file names, not the contents of the documents you’ve opened — so if you’ve worked on a Word document in the last 30 days and it had the word “market share” in the body of the document but not in its title, a Timeline search won’t turn up the document.

Click a tile to open it. In the case of an application, such as Word, the application will launch with the file open in it. When you open a file, it shows the latest version of the file, not the state it was in on that day on the Timeline.

You can remove individual entries from Timeline or all the entries for a single day. Right-click the entry you want to delete and select Remove from the pop-up menu. To delete all of that day’s activities, instead select Clear all from [date] — for instance, Clear all from April 30.

Keep in mind, though, that Timeline has some shortcomings. It currently tracks primarily Microsoft applications, including all Office applications. But non-Microsoft apps may not be left out forever; their developers can add support for Timeline.


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The powered-up Windows Clipboard

The Windows Clipboard, introduced more than 30 years ago in Windows 1.0, has always been underpowered and not particularly useful. But over time, Microsoft has given it some serious attention, and it’s now surprisingly useful.

The new clipboard does much more than merely hold a single clip at a time so you can paste it into a document, which is what the old one did. Now, it stores multiple clips, lets you preview clips and choose which one you’d like to paste into a document, share clips across Windows 10 devices store clips permanently.

You’ll have to switch these new features on. To do it, go to Settings > System > Clipboard. In the “Clipboard history” section, move the slider from Off to On. If you’d like to sync your Clipboard history across multiple Windows 10 devices, move the slider from Off to On in the “Sync across devices” section.

To copy an item to the Clipboard, do what you’ve done in the past: Highlight what you want to copy and press Ctrl-C, or else use an application’s menu, such as Insert > Copy in Office applications. There are other ways as well, such as right-clicking an image on the web and selecting Copy Image from the menu that appears.

After you’ve copied clips into it, you can scroll through them, preview them, and choose which to paste into a document. To do it, put your cursor in the location in the document where you want the clip placed. Then press the Windows key + V. A small window appears with the clips you’ve pasted to the Clipboard. Scroll through, and when you find the clip you want to paste, click it. If you only want to paste your most recent clip into a document. Just press Ctrl-V as you do in earlier versions of Windows.

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The powered-up Windows Clipboard in use.

The clips you save while logged into your Microsoft account are also sent to the cloud and then to the Clipboard of any other Windows 10 devices running version 1908, the October 2018 Update, or later. So they’re always available, no matter which device you’re using.

When you turn off your PC, your clips are deleted. But you can save some permanently. To do it, launch the Clipboard, click the three-dot icon at the top right of any clip and select Pin. That pins the clip to the Clipboard. It stays there permanently until you unpin it.

You can also manually clean out your Clipboard by deleting individual clips or by deleting them all at once. To delete an individual clip, click the three-dot icon at its top right and select Delete. To delete all the clips in the Clipboard, click the three-dot icon at the top right of any clip and select Clear All. Pinned clips won’t be deleted unless you delete them individually.

Keep in mind that the Clipboard has some limitations. It won’t hold any clip over 4MB. You can still copy and paste clips larger than that into documents, but you won’t be able to see and manage them in the Clipboard. And only clips that are 100KB or smaller are shared via the cloud with other devices.

Settings and preferences

In Windows 8, when you wanted to change your settings, you had to look in multiple places and hope you found what you wanted. Windows 10 makes your life easier. Most settings, and particularly the most important ones, are found in the Settings app.

Get to it by clicking the Start button, then clicking Settings. You can also get to it from the Action Center by clicking the All settings quick action icon.

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The Settings app is the control center for all your system settings.

The Settings app has 13 sections: System, Devices, Phone, Network & Internet, Personalization, Apps, Accounts, Time & Language, Gaming, Ease of Access, Search, Privacy and Update & Security. It’s straightforward to use: Click on an icon and navigate to what you need. If you want to get to a specific setting fast, type into the app’s search bar, then click a setting that matches your search — for instance, to turn autocorrect off or on, you can type autocorrect in the search bar, select Autocorrect misspelled words, and drag the toggle switch to the setting you want.

That’s not to say that you’ll find everything in the Settings app. If you’re looking for something that only a tinkerer might want to change, you might find it instead in Control Panel. So, for example, if you want to assign your PC a static IP address, have your system display files that are normally hidden, or access similar techie settings, Control Panel is the place to go.

You can get there by typing control panel in the Settings app’s search bar and selecting Control Panel. Here you can navigate through the groups or search for your task. For instance, typing hidden in the Control Panel’s search bar turns up “File Explorer Options: Show hidden files and folders.”

Security settings

In Windows 10, all of your most important security settings are found in a single location, Windows Security. Get to it by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Security.

From here you can change all your important security settings. You likely won’t need to do that, though, because the default Windows settings are solid. However, if you’re looking for advanced customization options, such as letting apps through the built-in firewall (get to this setting from the “Firewall & network protection” section), here’s where to go.

And if you’re worried about ransomware, you can turn on an anti-ransomware capability called Controlled Folder Access, in which only approved apps can get access to Windows system files and data folders. To turn it on, in Windows Security select Virus & threat protection. Scroll down to the “Ransomware protection” setting and click Manage ransomware protection. At the top of the screen that appears, you’ll see the “Controlled folder access” section. Move its slider to On.

When you do that, you’ll also be able to customize how it works, including changing which folders should be protected and which apps should be allowed to access them. Click Protected folders to add a folder you want protected. (Note: You can’t remove the ones that Microsoft protects by default.)

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Controlled Folder Access protects against ransomware by allowing only vetted apps to access important folders.

If you instead want to add an app that can access the folders, click Allow an app through Controlled folder access, then click Add an allowed app. When you do that, you have two choices: “Recently blocked apps” or “Browse all apps.” Click Recently blocked apps if Controlled Folder Access has blocked an app you want to let through. You’ll see a list of apps. Select the ones you want to allow through.

If you want to add an app that hasn’t been recently blocked, click Browse all apps. You’ll have to know the location of the executable file that runs the app. Navigate to the file, select it, and it will be allowed through.

Handy touchpad gestures, keyboard shortcuts and touchscreen gestures

Windows 10 supports a variety of keyboard shortcuts as well as gestures for touch-based devices. Try them out a few times, and before long they’ll become second nature.

< p id=”touchpad”>First, let’s look at touchpad gestures. Touchpads are standard equipment on laptops these days, and for everyday computing a modern touchpad can do everything a mouse can, and more. (Note, however, that if you have an older machine, some or all of these gestures might not work.)

Next up are the most useful keyboard shortcuts — get to know these and you’ll save oodles of time as you zip around Windows 10 without taking your hands off the keys.

< p id=”touchscreen”>Finally, if you’re working on a tablet or a touchscreen PC, here’s how to get around.

This article was originally published in December 2015 and most recently updated in December 2020.


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