Killer Apps & Hacks for Windows 10

Did the UX people at Microsoft ever test Windows 10? Here are some must have apps and hacks I’ve found to make life on Windows 10 quick and easy.

Set Hotkeys for Apps

Sometimes you just want to launch an app from your keyboard. Using a method on Laptopmag.com, you can do this for most any program.

I use this in combination with macros like those noted below.

Quick Switch to VPN

vpn macro

VPN Macro

If you’re a smart and secure Internet user, you probably already use a VPN service to encrypt the data and web requests you send over the Internet (especially while on public wif-fi networks). But Windows 10 makes connecting to your VPN service a bit of a chore (I use Private Internet Access, by the way).

It’s weird because Windows actually placed the Connect to VPN in the Communications Center, but you still need to click into that, then click the VPN you want and then click Connect…that’s 3 clicks if you’re counting.

I’ve tried two methods to make this at least a little easier.

One caveat on all of this: if you log in with an administrator account (which I don’t because I’m concerned about security after all!), you could have your VPN client launch at start, but you’d still need to click the connect button and anytime you put the machine to sleep, it would disconnect (why they do that is beyond me).

With both methods, you need to manually add a VPN account to Windows built-in VPN feature.

Anyway, here are my two methods:

Macro Method

You can record actions as a “macro” and then save it as an executable program. You can then save the program to your desktop, start or taskbar. It’s a bit of a chore and in the end, the best you get is two-click access to your VPN connection…not the one-click you would get on a Mac. If my memory serves, this method only works if you log-in with an administrator account. Otherwise, you’ll be prompted for an administrator password each time…an who wants that?

Pin the Communicator VPN app to your Start pane.

This is actually how I ended up going in the end. To do this, you need to ‘hack’ a shortcut that points to your VPN settings panel (where the Connect button resides).

  1. On your desktop, right-click and select New > Shortcut
  2. A Shortcut wizard will open
  3. Paste ms-settings:network-vpn into the form
  4. Now pin the shortcut to your Start and you have quick access to the Connect dialog for your VPN

Switch between Audio Devices

Sometimes I want to jump between my speakers and my headphones and because I hate clicking and loath jumping out of Windows 10’s Metro design into the old-school looking Audio Device Controller, I followed the advice from The Windows Club. Their solution uses freeware called Audio Switcher to assign a hotkey to different audio devices.

I added Audio Switcher to my startup to make this a little more automated. Unfortunately, because I normally work in a non-administrator account on Windows 10, I get asked for an Admin password to launch this app at Startup. Egads!

In my case, I can now click the F1 (Headphones) and F2 (Speakers)  keys to switch playback devices for sound.

Overcoming the Windows Education or Windows Pro watermark

Windows embeds a horrible little Windows Education or Windows Pro watermark over the lower right corner of your desktop if you use one of those versions. There are two solutions to removing this remarkably distracting bit of text.

  1. Use a white background to “disappear” the white text
  2. Or, have an app sit over that space. I use MusicBee (recommended by LifeHacker) and set position the mini-version over that spot.
  3. Supposedly there’s a Regex trick where you delete the text but that’s a bit much work for me for such a slight annoyance.

Other Tricks

There are a couple other tricks that I’ve used to clean up Windows.

  1. Removing Metro Apps. This allows you to remove all the built-in apps that are there simply to confound your privacy and peddle your identity to Microsoft’s advertising partners. Remove them.
  2. Removing default folders from Explorer. If you’re like me and want better performance, you use a separate hard disk drive for your music, video and images and another drive (probably an SSD) for your OS and programs. Windows 10 is confusing for people with this kind of set up by placing folders in the File Explorer to your Images, Documents, etc. on your C Drive. In my case, that’s not the right drive. So I used the method linked above to remove those from Explorer.
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