Freeing up Disk Space on a Windows 8 tablet

Image from Graeme Newcomb, Flickr

Is your hard disk overloaded?

Updated 12/05/2014: Included some new savings that can be made after installing Windows 8.1 Update 1

I love my little Windows 8 HP ElitePad but if I had one major complaint its that I got the one with only 32GB. I knew, from years of maintaining PCs, laptops & netbooks, that the space would quickly be eaten up by Windows Updates alone! In fact, when the ElitePad was brand new out the box it unbelievably only had 11GB free.

I went to upgrade to Windows 8.1 now it has been publically released but discovered that I only had around 750MB free on my c: drive! The Win8.1 Pro download was 2.1GB itself so I had to do some serious freeing up of disk space. Unfortunately, Windows is quite good at hiding this stuff and a lot of online guides make recommend pointless “tips” such as “to save space, flush the DNS cache”!

So here is my guide on several options you have to free up space on your restricted device. Some of them, like removing the recovery partition, are one-offs but others can be repeated whenever space starts to get a bit tight

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Why now is as good a time as any to upgrade to Windows 7

Windows 7 branded mug of teaYou may be wondering why you would bother upgrading your existing Windows XP and Vista machines to Windows 7, when Windows 8 has just been released.

Whether you are a home user or a large company there are great benefits to be  had from upgrading and using your new Windows 7 PC as a stepping stone to Microsoft’s latest and greatest.

Windows XP recently celebrated its 10th birthday, a major achievement for it to keep such a stronghold but also a major issue when it  becomes time to change to something new. The are always scare stories when Microsoft releases a new OS. The fact of the matter is, change often creates such fear-mongering when really its an opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of.

Businesses stayed away from Windows 7 for 2 major reasons

  1. Windows Vista had a terrible launch, fraught with bad reviews and needing an extra expense of upgrading hardware
  2. Due to people sticking with XP, business software wasn’t upgraded and smaller bespoke software would cost a fortune to redevelop for a new OS

Nowadays, this isn’t as much of an issue. Windows 7 runs easily on hardware  over 4 years old and really flies on the latest kit. All major applications have been updated or can be delivered via modern methods like application virtualisation or by using tools like Microsoft’s free application compatibility toolkit or XP Mode. OS deployment technologies have moved on too, meaning you can upgrade people from XP to 7 in a couple of hours.

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Shutting down Windows 8 using only the keyboard

Screenshot of the desktop settings panel One of the issues with Windows 8 is trying to find how to shut it down!

Only the free developer preview has been released so far, so all may change by time the beta comes out (rumoured February 2012). For now it’s been quite tricky to shutdown or restart your PC. One way is to create some shutdown tiles for the Start Screen but I’ve learnt a couple off ways using just the keyboard.

  1. Press [CTRL]+[ALT]+[DEL] then use the Power button at the bottom right of the screen. You can press tab a lot of times to get to the Power icon but the option below is a bit quicker
  2. [WIN]+[I], [LEFT], [SPACE], [UP], [ENTER]

“+” means press the keys together, a “,” means do the next press separately

Windows 8 Tip – Restoring the old style Start Menu

Windows 8 has shown a dramatic change to the Windows Start Menu, in fact, it has been renamed to the Start Screen and it is the first thing you see when you log on to Windows.

The basic idea of this is to a) improve the touch experience on Windows Tablets/Slates and b) merge the usefulness of Windows Vista-era gadgets with the low resource usage of Windows Phone Live Tiles. You can read loads more about the changes on Microsoft’s official Building Windows 8 blog.

Unfortunately, this is slightly jarring for everybody used to the old way of working. Many people have blogged ways to hack the OS to bring back the old Start menu or install new software to provide an equivalent menu. I personally love the changes and certainly don’t want to hack or install unnecessary apps on a my operating system. The problem is, due to the lack of “metro” style immersive apps, or problems with the Start Screen loading on unsupported hardware (e.g. graphics cards), it can be handy to have something similar to the Start Menu present.

A very simple way to do this is by using a feature available since the taskbar debuted in Windows 95!

  • Right-click the taskbar
  • Select Toolbars > New Toolbar…
  • Point it to “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

There you have it, a zero maintenance, familiar Start Menu sitting happily side by side with the Start Screen.

You may want to check out my related article Windows 8 will be Great on a Slate but is it too Late?


You may notice that the solution above only shows the main (All Users) Start Menu. However, thanks to the comment from Michael below, there is a couple of ways to include your personal Start Menu as well.

Option 1 (via Michael)  is to create a custom library that includes both Start Menu locations and then point your custom toolbar to the location of that library.

Open up This PC (i.e. Windows Explorer) and create a new library called Start. The Library needs to include the following two folders

  • Personal Start Menu > “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”
  • All Users Start Menu > “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

As above create a custom toolbar on the taskbar. The custom toolbar should point to the following location %UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries\Start.library-ms

This gives you a “Start” toolbar that shows 2 “Programs” subfolders that will expand out to the relevant folders. One small issue is that there is no way to differentiate which folder is which so this can be a bit confusing

Dual Folder Start Menu

Option 2 is a slightly neater way. Open of the following locations in Windows Explorer

  • Personal Start Menu > “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”
  • All Users Start Menu > “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

On the window with the All Users start menu, drag the “folder” icon in the address bar over to the window with the Personal start menu and drop it below the other shortcuts. This effectively creates a new shortcut in the personal start menu. Rename the shortcut to something more descriptive, like “.All Users”. Renaming the shortcut with a ‘.’ [period] at the front allows it to jump to the top of the menu.

Now,  when you add the custom toolbar, point it to “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”. As you can see from the screenshot, you get one menu with the All Users shortcut opening up like any other folder.

Single Programs folder Start Menu

Ultimatley the preference is yours, whether you want one menu, two or maybe none at all!

Windows 8 will be Great on a Slate but is it too Late?

Microsoft has revealed some juicy info about the next version of Windows, codenamed Windows 8, at the AllThingsD conference. What we know so far is that the user interface is going all touchy-feely with big “live Tiles” instead of icons in the revamped Start Menu. Windows-8-start-menu

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