Three features to customize in Windows 10

October 21, 2015 at 11:56 am 1 comment

When I received my new Windows 10 laptop, the first thing I did was customize it.  My goal in so doing was to increase productivity, and also to make the computer look and feel more like the venerable Windows 7 that remains on my everyday laptop.  (As a software trainer, I need Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 machines in order to emulate my clients’ systems.  My primary laptop runs on Windows 7, in part because that’s the operating system most of my clients have and in part because – as most people probably would agree – Win 7 is a user-friendly, highly stable workhorse.)

Some of the customizations I undertook were quick and easy.  A few required a little ingenuity and/or digging.

What follows is a list of three of the features I customized – some in multiple ways.

Sign In

By default, Windows 10 prompts users to sign in (log in) to the computer with a Microsoft account.[1]   The advantage of doing so is that whatever you do in Windows can be synced with the Web, with OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud), with the Microsoft Store, and with social media.  In addition, you can take full advantage of the features of Cortana, the new voice-capable search assistant (similar to Apple’s Siri, Android’s Google Now, and Samsung’s S Voice).  And you can use Microsoft’s “lite” mail and calendar apps.[2]

However, even though I have a OneDrive account, I chose to sign in with a local account.   I’d rather not have my entire computer be Web-enabled; I’m not a heavy user of social media; and if I want to search using a personal assistant, I can do so via my cell phone.  Furthermore, if / when I decide to save a document to OneDrive, I have the option of doing so directly from within the application I’m using, such as Microsoft Word or Excel.

You should be able to choose Local Account during the sign-in process, but if you do set up a Windows account and then decide, later on, that you prefer to use a local account, click the Start Menu, Settings, click Your account, and click “Sign in with a local account instead.”  Then follow the instructions for setting up a local account.

Start Menu

Adding, Deleting, Moving, and Resizing Apps / Tiles

By popular demand from Windows 8 users, Microsoft reinstated the much-loved Start Menu in Windows 10.  However, the Win 10 Start Menu differs in significant ways from the one in Windows 7.  For one thing, you can’t change the order of the items on the left side (the most used apps / settings and what I think of as the “core features” – Documents,  File Explorer, Settings, Power, and All Apps).

You can, however, remove items from the “Most used” list by right-clicking any of them, and you can move, delete, and resize the icons (called “tiles”) on the right side of the menu.  To delete a tile, just right-click it and choose “Unpin from Start.”  To move a tile, just drag and drop it.  After deleting tiles for programs or utilities that I probably won’t ever use, I dragged and dropped a bunch of tiles so as to line them up in only two columns – I prefer a narrow, if somewhat long, Start Menu.

I also resized some of the tiles, another right-click option.  “Resize” typically offers at least three choices:  Small, Medium, and Wide.  (Depending on the app, there’s sometimes a fourth choice:  Large.)

Turning Off “Live” Tiles

Because I’m easily distracted, I turned off most of the “live” tiles – the apps, such as Weather, that are linked to the Web and are animated.  To do so, right-click a tile and choose the option to “Turn live tile off.”

Pinning Items to the Start Menu (and/or the Taskbar)

You can add tiles for your favorite programs and utilities to the right side of the Start Menu and/or add icons to the Taskbar.  In fact, you can do so for most of the core features on the left side of the menu, including Settings and File Explorer.  But if you don’t find the item you want to pin to Start or to the Taskbar, click “All apps,” and then either scroll down through the alphabet OR click any of the numbered / lettered headings (0-9, A, C, etc.) to view a sort of index, then click any letter, such as “W,” to take you to the features that start with that letter.

I chose “W” as an example partly because there are a lot of cool features under “W” that you can pin to Start (or the Taskbar).  To name just a few, under “Windows Accessories,” you will find such classic utilities as Sticky Notes, Paint, Notepad, and Wordpad.   Any / all of those features can be pinned by right-clicking.

Creating Desktop Shortcuts

Once you have pinned a program or utility to the Start Menu, it’s easy to create a Desktop shortcut for that program or utility.  Simply drag the tile to the desktop.[3]  The only item for which I was unable to create a Desktop shortcut with this method was the Documents folder (formerly known as My Documents).  I had to open the File Explorer (formerly known as Windows Explorer), then right-click Documents and choose Send to > Desktop (Create Shortcut).

Adding / Renaming Groups

After adding and moving tiles, I decided I wanted a couple of new groups for my tiles, and I wanted to rename the existing groups.  To create a new group, drag a tile up or down until you see a thick horizontal bar, then drop the tile below the bar.  When you point to the bar, you’ll see two thin horizontal lines at the right.  After you click them, you’ll be able to type a name for the group (press Enter to set the name).  To rename an existing group, click the two horizontal lines and type a new name (again, be sure to press Enter when you’ve finished typing).

Finally, I made the Start Menu narrower and slightly shorter by dragging the right border inward and the and top border down as far as possible.  I would have preferred to make the menu still narrower, but couldn’t figure out a way to do so.  Even resizing all of the tiles to “Small” and arranging them as compactly as possible didn’t help.  Oh well.

Launching Programs / Apps / Utilities from the Start Menu

One quick note about tiles while I think of it, mainly for people who have jumped straight from Windows 7 to Windows 10.  You can launch a program / app / utility from the Start Menu by single-clicking it.  The same is true for the icons in the Taskbar.  However, you still have to double-click icons on the Desktop to launch a program / app / utility.

Search / Cortana

Disabling Personalized Suggestions and Reminders

If you have signed in with a Microsoft account, Cortana, the new Search Assistant, can make suggestions based on personal information that you provide and other data that Windows gathers about you.  To disable this feature, click in the Search box or click the Cortana tile in the Start menu, then click the Settings icon – the cog – and click below “Cortana can give you suggestions, ideas, reminders, alerts and more” so that the virtual button is set to “Off.”

Disallowing Web Searching

By default, Cortana will show you search results from both your computer and the Web – even if you have signed in with a local account, rather than with a Windows account.[4]  To configure Cortana to search your computer only, click the Settings icon and click to turn “Search online and include web results” off.

Turning Off “Popular Now”

In addition, Cortana displays a live news feed called “Popular now” or “Popular news.” Again, both because I’m easily distracted and because I use my computer for work / productivity, I turned this feature off.  To do so, click in the Search box or click the Cortana tile in the Start menu, then click the three dots at the top right side of the resulting menu, and click “Hide popular news.”

Search Box vs. Search Icon

Another change I made with respect to searching was that I converted the Search box into a Search icon.  The Search box was taking up too much space on the Taskbar, especially after I pinned my favorite programs and utilities (including the Snipping Tool and the Calculator) to the Taskbar.  So I right-clicked in the Search box – you can get the same menu by right-clicking in any empty space on the Taskbar – pointed to Search, and chose “Show search icon.”  There’s also a “Hidden” option, which will hide the Search box / icon entirely, but I like having the icon on the Taskbar.

BTW, if you do choose to hide both the Search box and the icon, you can still perform a search either by clicking the Cortana tile in the Start Menu OR, as in Windows 8.X, by pressing the Windows key – the one that looks like a flag – and the letter S at the same time (Windows S).

* * * * *

I actually customized a number of additional features in Windows 10.  However, this post should get you off to a good start with the new operating system.  I’ll provide instructions for further Win 10 customizations in one or more future posts.



[1]  If you don’t have a Microsoft account, you’ll need to set one up – and link it to an e-mail address.  

[2]  As it turns out, you can use the “lite” calendar app even if you don’t sign in with a Microsoft account.  I haven’t tried to use the “lite” mail app, since I rely heavily on both Outlook and webmail.

[3]  Note that you don’t have to press Ctrl before dragging (as is necessary in Windows 7 to avoid moving the shortcut from the Start Menu to the Desktop).

[4]  Windows 10 relies on Microsoft’s web search engine, Bing, for its online searches.


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