Unlock Windows 10’s secret modes

Some of Windows 10’s most useful features are mysteriously tucked away. We reveal how to find and make the most of the operating system’s hidden ‘modes’

If you only started using Windows 10 in January, when Microsoft ended support for Windows 7, you may still be getting to grips with its intricacies. But even those of us who have been using the operating system for the last few years can miss some of its most useful tools and settings, because many of them are mysteriously tucked away by Microsoft.

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In this feature, we lift the lid on Windows 10’s hidden ‘modes’ and explain what they do, where to find them and how to make the most of them. Some modes are widely known – you’ve probably heard of Safe Mode, for example, even if you’ve never used it.

But others – such as Immersive Reader in Edge – aren’t even called modes, which makes them even easier to miss. 

You won’t find these modes unless you know where to look, but they are well worth exploring to see how they can enhance your Windows 10 experience and fix frustrating problems with the OS.

Improve how Windows works

GOD MODE

What it does: Microsoft introduced a useful hidden God Mode

in Windows 7 that displays all the operating system’s administration tools and customisation options on a single screen. Although the software giant has moved much of the configuration functionality to the Settings app in Windows 10, it has yet to remove the Control Panel from the operating system, which means God Mode still works and is a useful means of tweaking lots of settings in one place. Helpfully, the mode’s hundreds of entries are organised into categories and sorted alphabetically.

Where to find it: To enable the feature, right-click the desktop and select New, Folder. Highlight this folder, press F2 and call it:

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GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Note the full stop, curly brackets and lack of any spaces. You’ll see a new God Mode icon (left) appear on your desktop.

You can create similar shortcuts for different sets of Windows settings by repeating the process above and using one of these alternative strings instead:

Default Programs.{17cd9488-1228-4b2f-88ce-4298e93e0966}

My Computer.{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D}

Network.{208D2C60-3AEA-1069-A2D7-08002B30309D}

Programs and Features.{15eae92e-f17a-4431-9f28-805e482dafd4}

Power Settings.{025A5937-A6BE-4686-A844-36FE4BEC8B6D}

Icons And Notifications.{05d7b0f4-2121-4eff-bf6b-ed3f69b894d9}

Firewall and Security.{4026492F-2F69-46B8-B9BF-5654FC07E423}

How to use it: Once you’ve created your God Mode folder (or any of the alternatives listed above), you simply double-click it to access the system settings contained within. Double-click any setting to open it, so you can perform the relevant tweaks.

If typing all those characters seems like a hassle, you can get instant access to God Mode using the free tool God Mode Launcher (bit.ly/godmode502). Just be sure to decline the bundled junk during installation. 

GAME MODE

What it does: First introduced in the Windows 10 Creators Update, Game Mode is designed to intelligently manage system resources to prioritise gaming. This means that other applications won’t be able to muscle in and slow things down, and Windows won’t attempt to install updates at a crucial point midway through a game.

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Where to find it: Type gaming into the search box and press Enter to open the Game Mode settings page. The feature should already be enabled  by default but, if it isn’t, flick the toggle to On. If you don’t play games, you can disable the mode.

How to use it: Game Mode should kick in automatically when you start playing a supported game. You can open the Game Bar at any time by pressing Win+G, which presents a number of features you can enable, including telling Windows to remember that the application currently running is in fact a game (if it doesn’t already know this).

BATTERY SAVER MODE

What it does: Windows 10’s ‘Battery saver’ mode extends how long your laptop or tablet can last between charges. You’ll have seen something similar kick in on your phone when the battery gets low. It basically tweaks certain features to reduce the amount of power your device uses, such as  lowering display brightness and throttling the resources used by apps you’re not actively using.

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Where to find it: Click the battery icon on the taskbar and, in the window that opens, use the slider to set a balance between battery life and performance. You can also open the Battery settings page from here. This lets you set a trigger for ‘Battery saver’ to kick in (when battery life falls below X%). You can turn the feature on or off by opening the notification centre and clicking the button there.

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How to use it: In most cases, you’ll only want ‘Battery saver’ mode to come into effect when you start running out of juice, but you can enable it any time. Say, for example, you left your charging cable at home, you might want to enable the mode from the start, to get as much power out of your device as possible, all day long. There’s also a toggle on the Battery saver's settings page that lets you keep it in this mode until the next charge.

ENHANCED SEARCH MODE

What it does: By default, Windows 10 indexes your libraries and the desktop to make it easy to find content, but you can expand this so that it searches your entire PC, or customise the search to exclude certain locations.

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Where to find it: Click Start, open Settings and go to Search. Click ‘Searching Windows’ on the left, then select the Enhanced option on the right. 

How to use it: If this is the first time you’ve used the Enhanced search feature, Windows will need to index your files. You can track the progress of this under Indexing Status, above. Depending on how full your hard drive is, this will take some time. Use the Excluded Folders option to specify any folders you want the indexing process to ignore. By default, these will include system folders.

HIBERNATE MODE

What it does: While it’s best to shut down your PC when you’re not using it, you also have the option of putting it to sleep or into hibernation. With the latter, Windows copies everything in the memory to a file on your hard drive (called Hiberfil.sys), then powers down properly. When you turn on your computer, Windows loads this saved file into the memory, bypassing the usual boot checks and allowing you to resume where you left off.

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Where to find it: Hibernation is primarily designed for use on laptops, so it’s often turned off by default on desktop PCs. To enable it on a system running Windows 10, type cmd into the Windows search box, then press Ctrl+Shift+Enter to open a command-prompt window with administration rights. Type powercfg /hibernate on and press Enter. Type exit to close the window. 

If there’s no Hibernate option visible in the Shutdown menu, type power options in the Windows search box, press Enter and click the ‘Additional power settings’ link on the right. Select the ‘Change when the computer sleeps’ link on the left and choose ‘Change advanced power settings’. Click the plus sign next to Sleep and turn off the ‘Allow hybrid sleep’ option. You can choose when Windows hibernates through the ‘Hibernate after’ setting.

How to use it: Hibernate mode is very straightforward to use. Once it’s enabled, click the Start button, then the Power button and select Hibernate. If you’ve just set up the feature and it’s not visible, try rebooting your PC.

FLIGHT MODE

What it does: You’re probably familiar with Airplane mode on your phone, which essentially turns off all wireless communication methods on your device, including Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth, GPS and Near Field Communication (NFC). It’s so named because you can switch to the mode when on a plane during take-off and landing, to save you having to physically turn your device off and on again. 

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Flight mode can also be useful at other times, such as when you want to avoid accidentally using mobile data. Windows 10 has the exact same feature.

Where to find it: Click the network icon on the Windows 10 taskbar and you’ll see a ‘Flight mode’ tile, which you can click to activate the feature. This is called ‘Airplane mode’ on older versions of the operating system.

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How to use it: If you’re travelling with a laptop and don’t want it trying to connect to networks everywhere you go, Flight mode can be very useful and is easy to enable and disable. There’s also a Settings page for the feature where you can turn it on or off, and choose whether to enable or disable Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth.

GUEST MODE

What it does: If people regularly ask to use your computer, you can create a Guest account that will keep them away from your private data.

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Where to find it: Windows used to have a Guest Account option, but that’s no longer available in Windows 10. Instead, you need to create an account using the Command Prompt. Press Win+X and select ‘Command Prompt (Admin)’ – or ‘PowerShell Admin’, if that’s what you see. You can’t call the account Guest, so we’ll call it Visitor instead. Type net user Visitor * and press Enter. You don’t need a password, so just hit Enter again. Next, type net localgroup users Visitor /delete and press Enter, then type net localgroup guests Visitor /add and press Enter again. Close the window.

 How to use it: Once the Visitor account is set up, just reboot Windows or log out to see a Visitor option when you go to log back in. Select this for your guest and they’ll be able to use your PC and programs, but not view or access your data.

Fix problems with Windows

SAFE MODE

What it does: If Windows won’t load or is being prevented from running normally, a rogue startup program or driver may be to blame. Before you do anything else, try running Windows in Safe Mode. This is a light version of the operating system in which only thebare minimum of drivers and services essential for Windows to run are loaded. It also uses a generic video-card driver, in case that’s the cause of your woes.

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Where to find it: There are a few ways to access Safe Mode in Windows 10. If you can get into the operating system, type msconfig into the Windows search box and press Enter. Select the Boot tab and, under ‘Boot options,’ tick ‘Safe boot’ and OK it. Restart your PC.

The other option is to click the Start button, hold down Shift, click the Power button and select Restart. You can also hold down Shift and select Power, Restart from the Windows sign-in screen. When the Windows recovery menu loads, click Troubleshoot, ‘Advanced options’ and choose ‘Start up Settings’, then click Restart. Choose the boot option you require.

If you can’t get into Windows at all, turn off your PC, restart it and, as it tries to load the operating system, restart your PC again. Do this three times and the Windows recovery menu will load.

How to use it: There are two versions of Safe Mode – with networking and without. ‘Safe Mode with Networking’ adds the network drivers and services, so you can access other computers on your network and – most usefully – the internet. If Safe Mode loads successfully, you can use System Restore to roll your computer back to when everything was working, then uninstall any troublesome software or look for another solution.

COMPATIBILITY MODE

What it does: If a program won’t run in Windows 10, perhaps because it hasn’t been updated for a few years, you can try using Compatibility mode to fool the software into thinking it’s running on an older operating system, such as Windows 7. 

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Where to find it: Right-click the problematic software’s ‘.exe’ file and select ‘Troubleshoot compatibility’.

You’ll be given two choices: to try the recommended settings or troubleshoot the program – this will let you specify which version of Windows to mimic.

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How to use it: Select the option to troubleshoot the program, then tick ‘The program worked in earlier versions of Windows but won’t install or run now’. Click Next. You can choose which older version of Windows to try. If you aren’t sure, tick ‘I don’t know’. Click the ‘Test the program’ button to see if Compatibility mode did the trick.

FOCUS ASSIST MODE

What it does: When you’re playing games or running some other type of full-screen application, you may not want to be bothered by distracting notifications. Focus Assist automatically hides these notifications from you until after you’ve finished whatever it is you’re currently doing. It can also hide notifications at specific times of the day.

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Where to find it: Type focus assist into the Windows search box and press Enter to open the feature’s Settings window. Here, you can turn it on, choose which notifications you see or hide them all, except alarms.

How to use it: The Settings window lets you configure the automatic rules. Choose the hours and activities when you want Focus Assist to run and silence notifications. The feature will provide a summary of what you missed when you emerge from Focus Assist mode, though you can disable this option if it’s not required.

S MODE

What it does: Windows 10’s S mode locks down the operating system, ostensibly to keep your computer safe from possible threats. It’s suitable for inexperienced PC users or those who need a faster, more locked-down system, such as in a business or school environment. You can only install apps from the Microsoft Store, browse the web with Edge and search with Bing.

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Where to find it: S mode comes installed on certain new PCs and tablets, such as Microsoft’s Surface Go 2 (you can’t buy the OS separately). If you’re not sure whether you have it, go to Settings, System, About and scroll down to the Windows Specifications section. If it mentions ‘S mode’, then  that’s what you’re running. Alternatively, try installing a third-party program from outside the Store or using a different browser. S mode won’t let you.

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How to use it: Given S mode’s limitations, you’d probably rather be using the full-blown Windows 10 operating system. However, this is a one-way process – once it’s disabled, you can’t re-enable it. To make the switch, go to Settings, select Update & Security and click Activation on the left. On the right, click the link under ‘Go to the Store to switch to Windows 10 Pro’. 

Make Windows easier to use

DARK MODE

What it does: You’ve been able to customise the look of Windows for many years, but Windows 10 comes with a handy but hidden built-in Dark mode that not only looks good, but can save battery life and reduce eye strain.

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Where to find it: To turn on Dark mode, open the Start menu and select Settings. Click Personalisation and select Colours, on the left. Click the Dark option under ‘Choose your default Windows mode’.

How to use it: Once you’ve enabled Dark mode, it will change Windows 10’s theme automatically (to change it back, select Light). You may also want to click Dark under ‘Choose your default app mode’, to have your apps take on the same theme. You can enable or disable transparency effects from this menu, too.

TABLET MODE

What it does: If you use Windows 10 on a tablet or a laptop with a touchscreen, interacting with the operating system using your fingers can be fiddly. Tablet mode frees up screen space and makes it easier to navigate, replacing the Start menu with a Start screen like the one introduced in Windows 8.

Where to find it: Type tablet mode into the Windows search box and press Enter. The Tablet mode settings screen will open. You can have Windows always open in Tablet mode when you turn on your PC, but this isn’t always practical, so click the drop-down menu under ‘When this device automatically switches tablet mode on or off’ and select ‘Always ask me before switching’.To activate Tablet mode, open the Notification Centre on the Taskbar and click the ‘Tablet mode’ button.

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How to use it: Once in Tablet mode, you can interact with the Start screen by pressing the tiles. There’s also a three-line menu button in the top-left corner for accessing all apps and other settings. In addition, you can use gestures to control the on-screen action: swiping in from the right side opens the Action Centre, while swiping in from the left displays all open apps in View, making it easier to switch between them.

HIGH CONTRAST MODE

What it does: If you struggle to read text, especially on websites with low-contrast colour schemes – blue text on black backgrounds being a prime example – Windows 10’s ‘High contrast’ mode offers more distinct colour combinations, and even lets you create your own theme.

Where to find it: Type high contrast into the Windows search box and press Enter. The Settings page opens – flick the toggle to On and wait while Windows makes the change (it takes a while). To switch between ‘High contrast’ and normal views, use the keyboard shortcut left Alt+left Shift+Print Screen.

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How to use it: The drop-down menu in the ‘High contrast’ settings lets you choose a theme from Classic, High Contrast Black, High Contrast White and High Contrast #1 and #2. You can also create your own theme by choosing the colours to use for text, links, buttons and backgrounds.

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