Windows 8 - Master Advanced Skills

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The final step of our Crash Course explores Windows 8’s task management, networking and maintenance tools

Key points

·         Windows 8’s Task Manager has been completely redesigned

·         Startup tasks can be managed from within Task Manager

·         Performance information is now easy to see

·         Networking has been made easier, and you can still use Home Groups

·         Automatic maintenance helps keep Windows running smoothly

Up to now, our Crash Course series has concentrated on the parts of Windows 8 that you’ll regularly use. Here, in the final installment, we’re going to roll our sleeves up and delve deeper inside Microsoft’s latest operating system.

Task Manager

Windows Task Manager has always been a useful troubleshooting tool, and in Windows 8 it has been redesigned to make it even more helpful. To open Task Manager from the Start screen, click the Desktop tile, right-click a blank part of the Taskbar, then choose Task Manger. A small window will open, showing any open old-style (Desktop) or new-style apps, including any that have crashed (indicated by a ‘Not responding’ message). To force an application to close, select it and click ‘End task’. Only do this if normal ways to close a program don’t work.

Task Manager has been completely redesigned

Task Manager has been completely redesigned

Click ‘More details’ to see a new tabbed interface. The Processes tab shows everything that is going on inside Windows, with columns to the right showing performance statistics.

Now click the Performance tab. At a glance you can see exactly how busy the PC is, with live performance graphs for the processor (CPU), memory, hard disk and network (Ethernet or wireless). For example, click the CPU section to show how busy the processor is, along with details such as the processor speed and how long the PC has been turned on (the ‘Up time’ figure).

Another addition is the Startup tab. It lets you see which programs load when the PC starts. If a PC takes ages to start, you should disable some programs to see if that speeds things up. Start with programs labeled as ‘High’ in the Startup impact column.

Understand networking

Configuring and using networks in Windows 8 can be a little confusing, because the network-connection status is not immediately visible from the Start screen. To view it, either open the Desktop and click the network icon in the Notification Area; or from the Charms bar (hold down the Windows key and tap C) choose Settings then click the network icon to open a side panel that shows a list of networks.

Right-clicking a connected network shows a ‘Turn sharing on or off’ option. Turn this on the share folders with other PCs and make the PPPC visible on the network. Sharing should be turned off if the computer is connected to a public network, such as a wireless hotspot. For wireless networks, right-clicking the status icon shows options to monitor data usage and set the network as a metered connection – these are useful for monitoring a 3G broadband connection with a download limit.

HowGroups (first introduced in Windows 7) simplify network sharing between PCs on a home network, allowing any Windows 7 or 8 PCs to share files, folders and attached printers with little fuss. To create, join or leave a HomeGroup, at the Start screen open Settings on the Charms bar, then click Change PC Settings. Click HomeGroup then click Create (if there is already a HomeGroup on another PC, click Join). The screen will then show the sharing options for Libraries, printers and devices, with toggles to turn sharing on or off for each item. The HomeGroup password, which other users need to join the HomeGroup, is at the bottom of the screen.

It’s now possible to disable startup items in Task Manager

It’s now possible to disable startup items in Task Manager

XP and Vista PCs can’t join a HomeGroup, but they can access the Public folders as long as password-protected sharing is disabled. To do this, open File Explorer (hold down the Windows key and tap E), select the Network section, and then click Properties in the ribbon menu. Click ‘Change advanced sharing settings’; then expand the ‘All networks’ section. Select the radio button labeled ‘Turn off password-protected sharing’, and then click ‘Save changes’. If prompted for a username and password when trying to connect to Public folders from a Vista or XP PC, type any name in the username box and leave the password blank – this is just an odd Windows quirk.

To change the sharing options for a specific file or folder, even if it’s not in a library, open File Explorer, select the item then click the Share tab. To stop all sharing of the item, click the ‘Stop sharing button. Otherwise, choose whom to share it with in the ‘Share with’ box. To share with non-HomeGroup users, click ‘Specific people’. In the dropdown menu, click Everyone, then Add. In the ‘Permission level’ column, choose Read to allow viewing, or Read/Write to allow changes.

Enable sharing to allow PCs to communicate via a network

Enable sharing to allow PCs to communicate via a network


A new tool called Automatic Maintenance automatically performs tasks such as antivirus scans, defragmenting the hard disk and installing Windows updates.

To view and change the settings, open Control Panel, then click ‘Review your computer’s status’. Expand the Maintenance section by clicking the down arrow on the right. Automatic maintenance tasks run at a set time each day if your PC is not busy. Click ‘Change maintenance settings’ to change the time. By default, the PC is woken up from sleep mode to run Automatic Maintenance – clear the tick box to disable this.

The main dialogue box also shows the statuses of other maintenance items, including hard disks, driver software, File History and HomeGroup. If there’s a problem, an alert shows up.

Change HomeGroup settings in the PC Settings menu

Change HomeGroup settings in the PC Settings menu

Finally, a useful item is the Reliability History chart – click the link labeled ‘View reliability history’. It shows what problems Windows has detected during its lifetime, with an overall reliability score out of 10. This helps highlight problems with new software or hardware. Details can be viewed by clicking on a day in the chart.

Active tip

The new performance graphs in Task Manager are very useful, but give only a broad overview of what’s happening on the PC. To see more detail, click on the ‘Open Resource Monitor’ link below the graphs. This launches a much more in-depth monitoring program that is great for advanced troubleshooting.

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