While Windows 7 and 8/8.1 aren’t brand-new, they do offer a lot of cool features that are noticeable right away. From Windows staples like the Taskbar and Windows Explorer to the new Start screen and modern tiles, Windows is constantly evolving with new goodies to try.
However, not everything useful in the operating system will jump out at you. As Ryan has discussed, years after release there are Windows 7 features you might have missed; today we’re going to dedicate some time to looking at the under-appreciated tools Windows 7 and 8/8.1 have to offer. While these might not be unknown or hidden, they just don’t always get the praise they deserve.
Calculators aren’t really anything new or special these days–heck, you can even use Google as a powerful calculator–but the Windows calculator still includes some nice features that most people overlook.
Aside from the basic four-function calculations, it also includes a “programmer” mode useful for counting binary numbers or calculating in hexadecimal (a great choice for those studying computer science). Another cool function is the ability to convert units of time, power, pressure, temperature, and other common measurements to different systems.
Want to find out how many days until Christmas, your birthday, or the end of school? Don’t let Mac users have all the fun with their OS X dashboard countdown widget–the Calculator allows you to punch in two dates and see just how long you’ll have to wait.
Finally, you also get a few forms you can fill out to calculate your mortgage payments, car lease per month, or your vehicle’s fuel economy. It’s not the type of functionality that you’ll need every day, and there are certainly more powerful calculator alternatives for Windows, but for a built-in tool, the Calculator packs a punch.
The Windows Key + X Menu
The Windows key is used many times in the plethora of keyboard shortcuts available in Windows, but many people don’t seem to take advantage of Win + X.
On laptops running most editions of Windows 7, the combination launches the Windows Mobility Center, a utility that collects actions you might want to perform on a laptop all in one place. Need to change your power plan, disconnect from wireless, or brighten up your screen? You can do them all in seconds with this tool.
For those on Windows 8/8.1 or 10, the shortcut does something a little different; you’ll get a menu most people refer to as the “Power User Menu” or something similar. Instead of being focused on laptop users, this menu seeks to fill the gap of the missing Start menu on Windows 8/8.1 and gives you quick access to all sorts of pages and links. It’s useful on its own, especially if you haven’t installed a Start menu replacement yet, but beefing it up with Win + X Menu Editor will make it essential.
The Control Panel might not be the most exciting part of the computer, but if you need to tweak some settings or find out information about your system, it’s the place to be and doesn’t require any advanced technical knowledge. Tina has explained all about the Control Panel if you’re not sure what to think of it.
In short, any time you need to uninstall a program (perhaps a junk toolbar), edit your firewall, modify your default programs, change how your mouse and keyboard work, or get help troubleshooting, the Control Panel is the place to perform all these actions.
Note that in Windows 10, the Control Panel will be replaced by the Settings app. Press Windows key + I to launch it.
Most Windows users are familiar with the Windows tTaskbar, which got a big update in Windows 7. However, included on the right side of the Taskbar is the System Tray (or Notification Area, if you prefer), a collection of icons that represent running programs on your computer.
The icons vary depending on what the program allows for, and some are quite useful right out of the box. For instance, your antivirus program probably pops up to warn you of any threats it finds, and Dropbox can send a notification to let you know that a file in your account was changed.
Like most Windows features, its standard capabilities can be greatly expanded. If you’re finding the area is becoming too cluttered or constantly notifying you with messages, in just a few minutes you can clean up the system tray. Even better, you can add functionality to the system tray with Mark’s list of the best programs to add. Once you’re done fancying up your System Tray, add all sorts of new features to your Taskbar with 7+ Taskbar Tweaker and that bar at the bottom of your screen will be more useful than ever!
The Run Dialogue
The Run menu has sort of fallen behind in modern versions of Windows; you can still add it to the Start Menu, but it isn’t front and center like it used to be in Windows XP and earlier. This is mainly due to Windows search being greatly improved in 7 and above, but the Run dialogue is still useful if you know how to use it.
If you’ve never even opened Run, pay a visit to Tina’s guide on getting starting using the Run command and see everything it can do. And don’t forget it’s one of the easiest ways to open…
Most Windows users never use the Command Prompt, as it appears to be a scary tool used only by experts. While it is an antiquated piece of software that has largely been replaced by user interface options, the ol’ command line still has some tricks up its sleeve.
Again, we have a beginner’s guide to the Command Prompt to read through if you’d like to learn about it, and once you’ve mastered the basics it’s worth picking up the essential commands all users should know. Don’t think the Command Prompt is out for good, either–Windows 10 is bringing all-new functionality that will make it easier than ever to use.
Windows Appreciation Day
We all have our favorite features on Windows, but sometimes it’s good to remember what else is around, too. While you might not use all these tools, now is a perfect time to see what you’ve missed! Windows is an adaptable OS and you can choose to take it as it comes or tweak its features all you like.
Hungry for more Windows goodness? Microsoft took your suggestions for new Windows 10 features, and the big launch is almost here! Read everything you should know about Windows 10 and how you can claim your copy so you’re ready to go!
What’s your favorite under-appreciated feature of Windows? Will you give any of these tools a try after reading about them? Leave a comment and tell us what you think!
Image Credits: open zipper via Shutterstock