Windows 8.1: Top 10 advanced features

When you first install Windows 8.1, there are plenty of new experiences in store, both large and small. Some are big changes that you’ll notice right away: the enlarged Start screen tiles, for example, jump out at you as soon as you power up your PC. But there are also plenty of advanced, under-the-bonnet upgrades that make Windows 8.1 much more than a service pack. Here’s ten of the most powerful features in 8.1 that will benefit power users, businesses and developers.

1. Mobile tethering

Windows 8 is designed for out-and-about use; increasingly, this means laptops and tablets with mobile data connections. Windows 8.1 introduces the ability to share a 3G or 4G connection with other devices over Wi-Fi, turning a Windows tablet into an ad hoc hotspot. If you’re logged into a client device with the same Microsoft account as the gateway device, no configuration is required, and connected clients will automatically detect that they’re using a tethered connection and default to “cost-aware” mode.

There’s also a new settings interface specifically for mobile connections, which lets you manage your mobile network, set and change your SIM PIN, and keep track of estimated data usage.

2. Per-display interface scaling

Per-display scaling is a welcome improvement for those using multiple monitors

It’s long been possible to scale up Windows’ fonts and icons to a maximum of 500%. But what’s right for your main screen isn’t necessarily going to work for a secondary display. For example, the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus boasts a 3,200 x 1,800 display, which is ordinarily scaled to 200%. If you connect this laptop to a 1080p TV, that scaling factor produces absurdly oversized text and icons.

Conversely, high-end TVs are already starting to hit 4K resolutions (3,840 × 2,160); hook up a regular laptop set to 100% scaling and everything will appear tiny.

Windows 8.1 solves this by letting you scale each screen independently. To access this new setting, right-click on the Windows desktop, select Screen Resolution from the dropdown menu and select “Make text and other items larger or smaller”.

3. Thin storage via SkyDrive

SkyDrive now lets you keep your files synced without taking up unnecessary disk space

Windows 8.1 integrates cloud storage into the OS; a SkyDrive dropdown now appears in the navigation pane of every Explorer window. However, this isn’t the basic syncing service we’ve seen before. Although your files appear to be right there on your desktop (or in the SkyDrive tablet app), the SkyDrive view is now actually a window into your cloud storage space. The files you see don’t take up any space on your local disk until you double-click to open them, at which point they’re quickly downloaded and opened. When you’ve finished with them, they’re quietly synced back to the cloud.

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