Six free, built-in, unpublicized Windows 8 utilities that you’ll appreciate

While the news on Windows 8 seems to be mostly all bad so far, there are some things that are actually positive about Microsoft’s new OS.

If you’re a recent convert or new user to Windows 8, you might not know that there are “Six awesome built-in Windows utilities no one knows about,” from an article of that name by Loyd Case of PCWorld.com.

Here’s an excerpt:

Windows 8 may not be the easiest operating system to use, but no one can accuse it of being stingy. If you poke deep inside the new OS, you’ll find a generous assortment of software tools, many of which make third-party utilities redundant.

One built-in tool helps you calibrate your PC’s display. Another helps you investigate system-stability problems. And yet another lets you record on-screen actions to create tutorials for Windows applications. All of these utilities are free and come preloaded in Windows 8, with no hidden add-on costs. (You should be aware, though, that the Hyper-V virtual machine manager requires Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise, not the standard version of Windows 8.)

Have we left out any worthy built-in utilities? Read our list, and let us know in the comments section of this article.

Windows reliability history

In the Windows 8 Start screen, type reliability, click Settings, and then select View Reliability History. You’ll go to the Windows desktop, and a window with a timeline will appear. You can also access the Reliability Monitor from the Windows Control Panel, by going to System and Security > Action Center.

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You can narrow down dates and specific apps for troubleshooting when you use the reliability history.

The chart is interactive. If you click a column, you’ll see detail text below. In my particular case, the reliability history let me know when my Asus AI Suite stopped working—and, in fact, that one program was the source of many of my Windows 8 app crashes. I have to note that I never once saw an error message when the apps crashed, and when I uninstalled AI Suite, I suffered far fewer stability issues.

Reliability Monitor doesn’t just report problems. It also keeps track of when you’ve installed or updated applications and drivers, so you can pinpoint exact dates and use that knowledge for troubleshooting and system repair. For example, once you know the precise date of a troublesome driver installation, you can roll back your machine via Windows System Restore to a date before that driver started wreaking havoc.

DirectX diagnostics

While I’m on the topic of troubleshooting, let’s take a look at the DirectX Diagnostic Tool, also known as DXDiag. In previous versions of Windows, DXDiag was installed whenever you installed DirectX, which usually occurred when you installed a game. But now that DirectX is part and parcel of the Windows 8 operating system, DXDiag is included from the get-go.

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DXDiag gives you detailed information on the state of your DirectX-capable hardware and drivers.

DXDiag pops up a wealth of useful information for evaluating DirectX problems. Under the Display tab, you’ll see the installed GPU, the display interface (DVI, HDMI, or the like), your graphics memory allotment, and so on. The Sound tab gives you information related to the audio device and drivers. DXDiag offers a deeper level of detail than you might find in Device Manager, and it’s all specific to DirectX-capable devices.

And, hey, if nothing else, it’s useful if you need to talk to tech support.

Display calibration

Out of the box, your PC monitor is usually too bright, and the colors are typically oversaturated. That may not be an issue if all you do is spreadsheet work, but if you’re editing photos or video, or even just watching movies, you’ll want to fine-tune the colors for accuracy.

Sure, you could spend $60 or more for color-calibration software and hardware, and that might be money well spent if you’re a graphics professional or a movie buff who’s finicky about faithful color reproduction. But the color-calibration tool built into Windows can give you most of what you need, and you don’t have to shell out the cash for additional software.

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Checking the color cast of the grayscale settings is just one of the steps in calibrating your display.

Type calibrate into the search box, and select Settings. You want to pick Calibrate Display Color, which is usually the top option. The color calibrator’s welcome screen includes a link to a help-center tutorial. All you really need to do, however, is walk through the steps and read the explanatory text. The first time you do this, don’t skip any of the steps. The steps are, in order: gamma settings, brightness adjustment, contrast adjustment, and color balance. (For more detail, check out “How to Calibrate Your Monitor.”)

Click here to get a better look at the screens (they didn’t reproduce so well here), and to read the rest of the article.

It would be aq benefit to Microsoft if it made an effort to publicize these…anything right now to help put a positive spin on Windows 8 would be a good idea, and might help the growing perception that Win8 is a failure…even if it’s not.

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