Windows 10 is probably the best edition of Microsoft’s venerable operating system. But Redmond has never made an entirely perfect OS. As much as we like Windows 10—and we really do like it a lot—it’s got problems. Thankfully, many are easily corrected. Here are the steps you can take to rectify them so the OS doesn’t drive you up the Windows wallpaper.
Stop Auto Reboots
Windows 10 updates are regular and seemingly never-ending, and pretty much out of the user’s control (unless you turn off updates altogether, which is a bad idea). What’s worse: if you don’t reboot your PC after an update, Windows 10 eventually takes it upon itself to reboot for you. That’s a good way to lose data in open apps.
Take advantage of a feature called Active Hours, which lets you schedule a time for reboots. And starting with the May 2019 Update (version 1903), Microsoft won’t force these updates on you quite as strongly as it once did. Instead of automatically installing big feature updates, you’ll see an option in the Windows Update settings to download and install the update at your leisure.
Prevent Sticky Keys
If you hit the Shift key five times in a row in Windows, you activate Sticky Keys, a Windows feature that allows for keyboard shortcuts where you hit one key at a time instead of simultaneously (so it works with any combo that includes the Shift, Ctrl, Alt, or Windows () keys).
If you activate it without knowing—you’d have to hit “yes” in a dialog box without thinking, but it happens—it can be seriously annoying. Prevent it from ever happening by hitting the Shift five times rapidly to bring up that very dialog box. Click the “Disable this keyboard shortcut in Ease of Access Keyboard Settings” and uncheck the box next to “Turn on Sticky Keys when SHIFT is pressed five times.”
Calm the UAC Down
Ever since Windows Vista, User Account Control (UAC) has been there to protect users so they can quickly grant administrative rights to software programs that need it—specifically when installing or uninstalling software. In the old days, when you went to do an install, the screen would suddenly dim and everything seemed to come to a halt, causing several (anecdotal, probably fictional) heart attacks amid the populace. UAC is still there in Windows and will still dim the desktop, but you have the option to turn it off, or at least prevent the screen dimming.
Type UAC into the Windows 10 search box to get Change User Account Control Settings. The screen presents a slider with four levels of security, from never notify (bad) to always notify (annoying—it’ll warn you when you make your own changes). Pick one of the middle options; the second from the bottom notifies you without the dimming scare tactic. With that option, you’ll still get a dialog box confirmation with a yes/no option when you install things.
Delete Unused Apps
Did you know you have a program in Windows 10 called Groove Music? Probably not, because the world uses other services. Thankfully, a few pre-installed Windows apps can finally be deleted.
Navigate to Settings > Apps > Apps & Features, where you can ditch Mail and Calendar, Groove Music, Weather, and Maps.
If your uninstall option is grayed out, you could go the DOS route, but it gets a little complicated and you should be 100 percent sure of what you’re doing.
- Type PowerShell in the Windows searchbox—when you see it, right-click and launch it via Run as Administrator.
- Type in “Get-AppxPackage –AllUsers” without the quotes. A giant list of all the stuff you’ve got installed that came from Microsoft’s Store, plus some other stuff, will appear.
- It’s hard to find those apps in there, but the last one will probably clearly read Microsoft.ZuneMusic—that’s actually Groove Music. Copy everything it says on the line next to PackageFullName.
- You’ll then type in a command and paste that line, so it reads something like “remove-AppxPackage Microsoft.ZuneMusic_10.16122.10271.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe” (yours will be different after the first underscore character).
- Execute it with a stroke of the return key, and if you don’t get any errors, the Groove Music app should be gone. Be careful using this on other apps—be sure you’ve picked the right one.
Use a Local Account
Microsoft really wants you to sign in to Windows 10 with your Microsoft account—the one attached to all things Microsoft, be it your Xbox, Office 365, or OneDrive account, buying apps or music or video in the Windows Store, even talking on Skype, to name just a few. When you set up Windows, Microsoft specifically asks you to sign in using that account.
But you don’t have to. During setup, just click Skip this step. If you already signed in with the Microsoft account, go to Settings > Accounts > Your info. Click Sign in with a local account instead. Enter a local account name and new password (with a hint for when you forget it).
The downside is that when you end up on a service or site that requires Microsoft credentials, you’ll have to enter your Microsoft login each time; it won’t automatically sign you in as it does if you log into Windows with a Microsoft account.
Use a PIN, Not a Password
If you’re okay using the Microsoft account, but hate how long it takes to type in your super secure password, reset it to a short personal identification number (PIN) used only on the PC. The PIN, which is only numerals—no mixed case letters or special characters—might not sound very secure. Because it’s PC-only, hopefully you’re the only user, and it doesn’t compromise the security of your Microsoft account anywhere else. Plus, the PIN can be as many digits as you desire.
Go to Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options, and click the Add button under PIN. Enter the PIN you want and restart to try it. If you’ve already got a PIN, you’ll see options to change it, remove it, or click “I forgot my PIN” to recover it.
Skip the Password Login
Are you the only person who ever—and I mean ever—uses your PC? Then you can probably skip the password login screen that appears after every reboot or sometimes even when you come back from the screensaver.
Go to the User Accounts control panel by typing “netplwiz” in the search bar. Select the account, uncheck the box next to “Users must enter a username and password to use this computer.” You’ll get a confirmation box that asks you to enter that very password—twice. Click okay. Reboot the PC and it should roll smoothly into the desktop without requesting a password. Don’t do this if it’s shared PC. Remember, you’ll still need to know the password if you’re logging into the PC remotely. (Or, you could use TeamViewer.)
Refresh Instead of Reset
Windows 10 has a fantastic feature that lets you essentially reinstall Windows 10 on your computer from the ground up, like new—with the option to not delete any of your data (though you will have to reinstall software and drivers). When your PC is beyond repair, you access it at Settings > Update & Security > Recovery, and click Get Started under Reset this PC, pick settings like “Keep My Files” or “Remove Everything” and let it rip. You don’t need any separate media, like a copy of Windows 10 on a disc or USB flash drive.
However, that can be overkill. Sometimes, Windows just needs a reset that does not eradicate your software and drivers. This is also easy to do, but it does require a copy of Windows 10 on separate media. Don’t have the media? Get it here. Run it and install the included ISO file onto a 4GB or larger USB drive to use in the reset now and in the future. Or you can just mount it as a virtual drive in Windows 10.
Double-click the setup on that media/drive’s Setup option, ask to download updates and check “Keep personal files and apps” when it appears. After a few more prompts and waiting, your Windows 10 system will get the refresh it needs.
Hide or Disable Cortana
Master Chief would never let this happen. Windows 10 took out the switch to turn off Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Alexa. But Cortana searches more than just a look on your computer; it searches the entire internet—that’s why her search box says “Ask me anything.” You can still turn her off, however.
First, there is the option to hide Cortana: just right-click the Taskbar and select Cortana > Hidden. The search box disappears. She’s still active and easily accessible, however: tap the Windows () key on your keyboard and start typing.
If you want to really take her out, so all searches are local, you need to edit the registry. Don’t do this if you’re not feeling like a Windows expert. And make a system restore point before you do it, just in case.
Open the Registry Editor: Type +R, then type regedit and hit Enter. In Windows 10 Home, navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREPoliciesMicrosoftWindowsWindows Search. If it’s not there, create it. Right-click it to create a DWORD value and call it AllowCortana. Set that value to 0 (zero). Once you sign out and come back, the search box will now read “Search Windows.” You can put Cortana back by doing all this again and setting the value to 1 (one).
Send OneDrive to the Grave
Like Cortana, OneDrive—Microsoft’s answer to Dropbox or Google Drive—is integrated into Windows 10. Tightly. Maybe too tightly. You can try to ignore it, but it comes up a lot.
Your first option: unlink it. Right-click the OneDrive cloud icon in the taskbar and select Settings. Under the Account tab, click Unlink this PC. If that’s not enough, under the Settings tab, uncheck all the boxes. Then go back to Account > Choose Folders, and uncheck all the folders it was syncing. Go to Windows Explorer, right-click OneDrive and select Properties; in the General tab, by Attributes, check the box next to Hidden. Then on the Taskbar, right-click OneDrive again and select Close OneDrive.
Really want to uninstall OneDrive? It can be done, but not with the Windows 10 graphical interface. First you have to kill the OneDrive processes that is running by typing this in a command line: TASKKILL /f /im OneDrive.exe. Then, also in command line, type this to uninstall: %systemroot%SysWOW64OneDriveSetup.exe /uninstall (substitute System32 in the middle if you’re using 32-bit Windows). You won’t get any confirmation, and some residual folders my stick around. You can also re-install it by typing the above line minus the /uninstall at the end.
Access Special Symbols Quick
Just using 26 letters and 10 numerals and a few pieces of punctuation—that’s so old-school. We live in the emoji world now. So how do you put those fun little icons into your text when typing in Windows 10? You can’t, unless you memorize a bunch of codes… or you could try the pop-up keyboard. It’s typically meant for use when Windows is in tablet mode, but it’s easy to access even when you’re using it with a regular keyboard.
Right-click the Taskbar in a blank area, and select Show touch keyboard button. A new icon of a little keyboard will appear next to the clock in the taskbar. Tap it anytime with the mouse cursor to bring up the on-screen keyboard; use your IRL keyboard to dismiss it from the screen. Click the extra keyboard icon at the top left to access various layout options, including a split keyboard and a stylus pad.
You now have access not only to emoji but also special characters like the em dash or degrees symbol (°). If you can’t find them, that’s because first, you have to hit the &123 key to switch to symbols, then, like on a smartphone, hold down your cursor on the main key to get some special symbols—hold down on the hyphen to get em dash and en dash; hold down on equals (=) to get non-equals (≠), etc. Same goes for the letters to get variativons, such as accent symbols over the letters. Voilà!
This on-screen keyboard also offers quick access to the improved Windows 10 clipboard, which holds multiple items you’ve cut or copied, and speech-to-text typing.
No More Notifications
You either love notifications or hate the distraction. The noise, the popup, it’s too much when your phone is likely displaying most of the same info. Go into Settings > System > Notifications & Actions. Turn off all the toggle switches for individual apps, especially the ones you find most annoying. Or click on the App name in the list for even more granular control—get notifications from one app on the lock screen, for example, but nowhere else. Or turn off sounds for all but one notifier. Play with the settings to get it just right.
Personalize Quick Actions
Settings > System > Notifications & Actions is also where you can personalize the Quick Action buttons that appear at the bottom of the Windows Action Center (the pane where notifications appear on screen). The buttons give you quick access to settings like Airplane mode, brightness adjustments on laptops, turning off Bluetooth or Wi-Fi or VPN, activating a mobile hotspot, or making a screen snip. For example, you don’t need to have a tablet mode if your Windows device doesn’t ever turn into a tablet.
Cool Your Diagnostics
Like many other big-name companies, Microsoft likes to get OS feedback about things like crashes. But when you do a setup and Windows 10 asks to “Send full error and diagnostic information to Microsoft,” Redmond’s getting more than you think. In Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & Feedback you can set things to protect some privacy, like only allowing Basic diagnostic data, not Full data; turn off the “Improve inking and typing” option; and even delete all the diagnostic data currently on your PC—but that doesn’t prevent previous or future data from going to Microsoft.
Get Off the Edge
Don’t like Microsoft’s latest browser? It’s safer and faster than using Internet Explorer, but Edge is nothing special compared to our Editors’ Choice, Mozilla Firefox. But no matter what browser you choose, you need to make it the default so anytime you open a link, it goes to the browser you want.
Go to Settings > Apps > Default Apps, scroll down and click Web browser. A list will display all your installed browsers—pick the one you want permanently. You can always go back to whatever Redmond thinks best later by clicking the “Reset to Microsoft Recommended defaults” button.
If you get problems with certain links, ensure the file type (like .htm versus .html) or even protocols (like http:// versus https://) are all set to your browser of choice as well. Click Choose default apps by file type or Choose default apps by protocol on the same screen.
Most new browsers will try to take back the default position when you launch them the first time, so if you speed through a setup, you may need to revisit these settings to go back to your original, preferred web browser.