Seven Tips For Staying Out Of Trouble In Windows 8.1

IT support small business Windows 8.1

For the average computer user today, Windows 8.1, the latest offering from Microsoft, is the order of the day. Basically a ‘Service Pack’ for the breakaway Windows 8 OS released in mid-2012, the update version attempts to address the feedback from the dissatisfied and confused market.

Walk into any JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks, Harvey Norman stores and the like and your choice of Windows now is: 8.1. Like it or leave, but for those who have to ‘like it’, here’s a few tips on how to stay out of trouble while using it.


1. User Accounts.

With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft have provided two options for user accounts.

  • The traditional PC user local account, where a user selects a name and an (optional) password which appear every time the computer is booted. All the data and configurations associated with this account are kept purely on the user’s computer;

  • An on-line Microsoft account, where all your account information is kept with Microsoft (somewhere, who knows where!). This means that each time you start your computer and log-in to your account, you are automatically connected with Microsoft for the duration of the session (scary! …)

For a discussion on the two types of accounts, see this link:

This is fine if you’re aware of it, but the way it’s been set up is that, unless you know, by default you’ll be creating an on-line MS account linking your personal PC account with Microsoft. The decision’s yours actually, but here’s how to create the non-default local user account.

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IT Support Small business UserAcc1

When first starting your new Windows 8.1 computer and you get to the above page, take care not to fill in any details. Simply go to the very bottom of the page and click on ‘Sign in without a Microsoft account’. (Don’t worry about the ‘not recommended’ warning). Then you’ll be taken to the next page. Here you’ll  be persuaded to sign in with an MS account a second time. To again avoid this, simply click on ‘Local account’ at the bottom.

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IT support small business UserAccs2

And that’s it. The above method also works for creating additional user accounts on your PC.


2. Create ‘Back-Door’ Account.

I always advise clients to create a spare administrative account on any Windows PC. This can be done as outlined above (that is, a local account).

This is so that if you run into any system problems with your account (such as losing your password, or if you’ve suddenly lost/deleted some system files so that your account won’t run), you can still access the computer system from within another administrative account and attempt to rescue, if not your account, then at least your data files. (And it must be an administrative account, otherwise you won’t be allowed to make system-wide changes).

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IT support small business BackDoor

You can give the account any user name, such as Rescue or BackDoor or SysAdmin. Be sure to give the account a password, and don’t forget it!


3. Windows Updates.

Nowadays we are continuously connected to the internet while our computer is on. This means we are exposed to all manner of security threats from the outside, whether it be a virus through an email attachment, malware downloaded from a website, security hacks, and so on.

Operating System developers are constantly plugging holes in the software to prevent these illegal activities, and the best and easiest way to benefit from this work is to receive automatic updates. In Windows 8.1, these are set up by default.

If you want to change the settings to a customized schedule, that’s fine as long as they are carried out regularly, and often (at least once a  week).

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IT support small business WindowsUpdate

I’ve also noticed in Windows 8.1 that if the time between updates is long and the system has to process a large number of updates at once, it has trouble handling it.

What happens is that, instead of configuring the updates and automatically re-booting once, it seems to go through the cycle a number of times, like it’s processing the updates a few at a time. When I first noticed this, I thought something had gone wrong, but after simply letting it do its job (about 10 re-starts!) everything was back to normal and I could sign back in the usual way, with all updates successful!


4. Password Recovery.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced that horrible feeling when we’ve realized we’ve forgotten our password to some account, somewhere. We’re increasingly asked to sign in and provide login details with passwords which are strongly suggested to be a) complex, and b) regularly changed.

Well, it’s no secret that this advice is not followed very well by most of us. But make no mistake about it, to lose your Windows 8.1 password for a local user account is a real pain if you haven’t either set up a ‘back-door’ account as described in 2. Create Back-Door Account above, or created a Password Reset Disk. This is a handy Windows 8.1 feature which creates a little program (only a couple of kilobytes in size) which you install onto a USB flash drive or similar. In encrypted form, it stores your password and can be used to recover the password and allow you to sign in again if you ever forget or lose it.

But it is important you create this Password Recovery Disk asap, because if you’ve lost your password before you do, you won’t be able to make use of this wonderful little feature. (Because it has to be created from within your account.)

To access this feature open the ‘Control Panel’ (to find the ‘Control Panel’, go to the ‘Start’ page using the ‘Start’ button in the lower left hand corner of the screen, and simply type the words Control Panel in an empty space. This brings up the ‘Search’ bar. Then click on ‘User Accounts’ where, in the left hand menu you’ll find ‘Create a password reset disk’. Clicking here opens up a wizard which is easy to follow.

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IT support small business Password Reset

As far as I could tell, it only recognizes USB devices to install to; you can’t write to a CD or DVD.

For a more detailed discussion on password recovery in Windows 8 / 8.1, see my earlier post:The Convoluted Password Recovery Method For Windows 8.

5. Windows Defender.

Unless you want to spend money unnecessarily on some third-party programs, the Windows 8.1 native anti-virus/anti-malware protection package, called ‘Windows Defender’ will do the job.

By default, the program is on and regularly checks on-line for new virus and malware definitions and runs regular scans of your PC, removing any nasties it finds.

See the following link for more on this package:

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IT support small business MSEssentials

Looking at the above screenshot, in the ‘Settings’ tab, be sure the ‘Real-time protection’ box is ticked (to provide you with protection at all times while you’re using the computer). And also ensure the ‘Create a system restore point’ is checked as well. This is a precautionary measure so that before each time a suspicious file is removed, the whole system is backed up. In the event that an innocent file, which happens to be an important system file or a needed software file is accidentally removed, the system can be restored to its earlier state.

One thing to be aware of, though, is that once a third-party anti-virus software (Norton, AVG, McAfee, to name a few popular ones) is installed/activated, ‘Windows Defender’ will be disabled. If you’ve bought a computer in the last few years, you will have noticed they all come with anti-virus ‘trial offers’ which expire after 30 days usually: then you’re asked to pay for protection. If you’ve made the decision to go with the default Windows product, it’s best to uninstall the third-party ones to ensure ‘Windows Defender’ can run optimally.


6. Start Up Programs.

Ever wondered (and been frustrated about) why it takes so long to log in to your user account? Well, usually the answer is that there are too many programs and processes starting up at the same time the moment you login. Most apps don’t need to be turned on until you decide you want to you use them. But many programs (particularly third-party software) install themselves in such a way that they are included in the list of programs that start up at the beginning of your login.

I found one client’s laptop was using up 4GB of RAM out of 8GB available just to be on and running because so many programs started up automatically on start-up and were running unnecessarily in the background!

The good news is that it’s very simple to disable start-up programs in Windows 8.1.

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IT support small business StartUp Tab

All you need to do is to right-click on the bottom panel of your Desktop and select the ‘Task Manager’. In the next menu, select the ‘Start-up’ tab and you will be shown a list of all programs that are turned on and running, many of which you may not need on. To prevent them turning on automatically every time you log in to your account, simply select the program and click ‘Disable’ in the bottom right hand corner.

A word of caution, though: only disable programs you are confident you don’t need to be on (some common ones are: I-Tunes & Apple Push, Skype, Java Update Scheduler, Adobe Reader & Acrobat Manager, Ask Updater, etc.).


7. Boot To Desktop.

If you’re a hardened Windows XP or 7 user and you just can’t stand the new ‘Metro Start’ interface, you can make use of the new feature in Windows 8.1 which enables you to boot straight into the familiar Windows 7 -style desktop.

Just right-click on the panel at the bottom of the Desktop and select ‘Properties’ at the bottom of the menu. Then you’ll see the ‘Taskbar and Navigation Properties’ menu.

Select the ‘Navigation’ tab and in the ‘Start Screen’ section tick the first box (see screenshot below).

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IT support small business Boot To Desktop

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