One of the great strengths of Windows is that users can install literally millions of programs and achieve a staggering amount of tasks. But as Microsoft has refined and expanded the platform, the company has added plenty of new tools of its own, sometimes removing the need for adding more programs (and potentially slowing down you system). Here are some tools and functions that you might not know your computer already has.
Most users know about the Windows built-in screenshot tool: press the Print Screen button (sometimes labelled as “PrtScrn” or similar) to save a copy of the current screen to your clipboard, then press Ctrl + V to paste it into an image editor. In Windows 8, Win + Print Screen will save an instant copy of that screen shot to the dedicated Screenshots folder in Pictures.
But starting with Windows Vista, you don’t even need an image editor. The built-in Snipping Tool can grab a screenshot of just a portion of your screen and save it wherever you want. Press the Windows button to start a search, then type “snipping tool” to quickly find the program and launch it. Click “new” to grab a rectangular screenshot, which then opens in its own window, complete with annotation tools. Click File, then Save As to save the screenshot in JPEG, GIF, or PNG format.
It’s still a good idea to run an anti-virus and anti-spyware program on your PC. There are plenty of free and powerful options on the web, but Microsoft has worked hard to make its own free solution. Beginning with Windows 8, the built-in Windows Defender combines the anti-spyware tools of the older Microsoft AntiSpyware and the virus scanner of Microsoft Security Essentials. This program is activated as soon as you turn your computer on, and updates to both Defender itself and the definition database are free.
You don’t need to do much of anything to run Windows Defender — it’s automatically enabled and updates itself in the background, alerting you if anything goes wrong. To manually change settings, press the Windows button and type “defender,” then click on Windows Defender. Users can run quick, full, or targeted scans for viruses and malware at any time, or manually update the definition database.
Users on older versions of Windows can download Microsoft Security Essentials to get what’s basically the same anti-virus program. It’s free for all Windows users.
Related: Best free antivirus software
One of the easiest ways to speed up your computer without adding any extra hardware or software is to cut down on the programs that automatically start with Windows. On older versions of Windows this is done with the MsConfig tool, but in later versions the startup manager moves into the Task Manager program.
In Windows 7 or earlier, press Win + R, then type “msconfig” in the Run window and press Enter. Click the Startup tab. In Windows 8 or later, right-click on an empty portion of the taskbar and click “Task Manager,” then click the Startup tab.
Windows 7 and earlier users, remove the check marks from any programs that don’t need to open immediately (like Google Chrome or Adobe Acrobat Reader) to disable their startup. On Windows 8 or later, right-click the program and select “disable.” If you don’t know what a program is, do a quick web search to see if it’s essential. Once you’re done, restart your PC and marvel at how snappy Windows feels after you login.
Starting with Windows 7, Microsoft has included a neat little Sticky Notes tool in the operating system. Press the Windows button and type “sticky notes” to find the program. These little floating text windows work more or less like real sticky notes: just type a bit of reminder text, then click anywhere else and the note will “stick” to your desktop, not getting in the way of any active windows.
Click on the top of the note to drag it around — notes “stack” on top of each other, but not other parts of Windows. If you have more than one and you’d like a little variety, right-click on any part of the note to change its color. When you’re finished, just click the “X” in the upper-right corner to close the note.
Disc image burner
Before Windows 7, users needed separate software to burn ISO image files to CDs or DVDs, but now there’s a built-in tool to manage that for you. Just insert a blank disc into your CD or DVD writer drive, find the ISO file you want to install in Windows Explorer, right-click the file, and click ”burn disc image.”
The Disc Image Burner tool will open. Select a burner (if you only have one disc writer drive, only one will appear), then click “burn” to start. Click “verify disc after burning” if you want to make sure the process completes correctly.
If you just want to load a .ISO to a USB — to install a copy of Windows, for example — you can do that, too, by downloading the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. Despite the name, it works will all versions of Windows since, including Windows 10.
Map network drive
If you often use a work or home network to access files, one of the easiest ways to increase ease-of-access is to map frequently-used folders to a new letter drive. In Windows 7 or earlier, press the Windows button, then type “Computer.” (Windows 8 and 10 users, search for “This PC.”) Right-click it, then click “map network drive.”
Type the location of the network folder (if you don’t know the location, click “browse” to open it manually). Select the letter of the drive you want to assign to this folder — by default Windows selects Z: so that is doesn’t interfere with the standard drive letters at the other end of the alphabet. Now whenever you open My PC, you’ll see this folder as a separate drive for quick and easy access. Note: network drives cannot be accessed when either computer is shut down or disconnected from the network.