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How to Change PC Settings through Windows 8.1

No matter where you are in Windows 8.1, the Settings charm gives you immediate access to six common settings, plus a hook to get into more settings.

At the bottom of the Settings pane is the Change PC Settings link. Tap or click it, and the PC Settings page appears.

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The PC Settings page is a remarkable collection of settings, arranged in a way that’s infinitely more accessible — but arguably less logical — than the old-fashioned desktop Control Panel. On the left, you see these categories:

  • PC and Devices: From here, you can change the lock screen, which appears whenever your PC resumes from Sleep; the Metro Start screen; or your account picture.

    You can set your display resolution, or invoke multiple displays, add devices, make minor changes to your mouse’s behavior (for example, swap the left and right buttons), turn autocorrect on or off, alter the way apps are switched and turn off the distracting Charms bar when your mouse moves to the upper-right part of the screen; make power settings, set default behavior when you plug certain devices into your PC, and display standard information about your PC.

  • Accounts: Lets you disconnect a Microsoft account, set your account picture, and change information about your account with Microsoft’s account database in the sky. Find options that enable you to add a new standard user (you have to use the Control Panel to change a standard account into an administrator account), change your password or switch to a picture or PIN password, or switch between a Microsoft account and a local account.

  • SkyDrive: Shows you how much room you have left on SkyDrive, sets SkyDrive as your default save location, and lets you control upload of photos to SkyDrive.

    If you log in to Windows using a Microsoft account and confirm that the PC you’re using is a “trusted” PC, this section lets you control precisely what’s being synced as you move from PC to PC, logging in with your Microsoft account along the way. In many situations, you likely don’t want to sync everything — maybe not sync anything.

  • Search & Apps: Clear your search history. Turn off Smart Search. You can turn on SafeSearch if you don’t want to see too much flesh as a result of Bing searches. There’s a list of Share Charm-enabled apps that you can modify to turn off sharing behavior. You can control notifications (which appear on your lock screen and also occasionally toaster-style from the right) on and off, both overall and for individual tiled apps.

    This section also gives you an overview of how much space is being consumer by individual apps (tiny, compared to all the data you no doubt have), and — at least in theory — you can set your default apps for web browsing, mail, music and video playing, the calendar, and the like.

  • Privacy: A grandstanding set of settings, with no access at all to Smart Search. You can block app access to your name and picture, turn on and off location tracking, and keep your webcam and microphone locked up.

  • Network: Shows minimal information about your current network, lets you add a VPN connection, run through a proxy server, or (in Windows 8.1 Pro) connect to a domain. Also lets you join a HomeGroup.

  • Time and Language: Set your time zone, manually change the date and time, set date and time formats, and add keyboards in different languages.

  • Ease of Access: Microsoft has long had commendable aids for people who need help seeing, hearing, or working with Windows. All the settings are here.

  • Update and Recovery: An abbreviated form of the Automatic Update settings found in the Control Panel. You can turn File History on and off from this location.

    Remarkably, this section also includes (be careful!) links to refresh or reinstall Windows on your PC. Don’t accidentally choose one of these, okay?

All in all, it’s a well-thought-out subset of the settings that you may want to use, particularly if you spend most of your time on the tiled Metro side of Windows.

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