Underused tools hiding in Windows 7 and 8

Michael Lasky

Back in Windows’ younger and simpler days, its coders hid small programs and features — called Easter eggs — in the OS for others to find.

Microsoft eventually banned those unofficial applets, but there are still some relatively hidden features in Win7/8 that users find helpful. Here are my favorites.

Hiding messages and images in plain sight

Wikipedia has a nice description of computer-based Easter eggs. In short, the term refers to hidden text, messages, images , and other bits of quirky material embedded in all kinds of software. It might even be a small video game concealed within an otherwise serious application. For those in the know, the fun was finding these digital eggs. You’ll find a list of Easter eggs in Microsoft products on another Wikipedia page.

Microsoft declared a ban on Easter eggs as part of its 2005 Trustworthy Computing policy (more info). In an Oct. 21, 2005, blog post, Microsoft developer Larry Osterman gave various reasons for the ban on unofficial code in the company’s products. But security was likely the main concern. The undocumented code in an Easter egg might be a benign bit of fun, but it might also allow malware into Windows or another MS application.

Easter eggs — and any other unofficial code — were finally eliminated with Windows 7 (see Figure 1). Even so, there are still some stealth productivity tricks buried in Win7 and Win8.1, activated by various methods such as digging deep into menus or cutting and pasting random phrases. Here are some that are hiding in plain sight.

No Easter eggs

Figure 1. A bit of JavaScript code is supposed to launch a hidden flight-simulator Easter egg in the original Win8 (more info), but this is the message I get in Win7 and Win8.1.

Command Central: Windows functions in one place

How did an essentially undocumented trick, designed for IT administrators and commonly called GodMode, go viral on the Internet? Certainly the all-powerful connotation of the name aroused interest. But it’s this function’s one-stop list of Windows tools that wins over most users.

Whatever you wish to call this function, it conveniently consolidates into one folder a veritable switchboard of configurable Windows options and commands. The 256 items (sorted into 45 categories) are typically buried under layers of Control Panel menus or in right-click submenus — or otherwise submerged in the vast number of admin tools in Windows.



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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2014-08-07:

Michael Lasky

About Michael Lasky

WS contributing editor Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California, who has 20 years of computer-magazine experience, most recently as senior editor at PC World.