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An Administrator's Guide to Customizing the Desktop and the User Interface for Windows 8

Modifying Display Appearance and Video Settings

The display appearance and video settings have a major impact on the look and feel of the Windows 8 desktop and its graphical elements. Appearance options control window, button, color, and font settings. Video settings control screen resolution, color quality, refresh frequency, hardware acceleration, and color management.

Configuring Window Color and Appearance

Windows Aero is an enhanced interface that provides features such as the transparent taskbar background, live previews, smoother window dragging, animated window closing and opening, and more. As part of the setup process, Windows 8 runs a performance test and checks the computer to see whether it meets the basic requirements for Windows Aero, which include:

  • Support for Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM). WDDM 1.0 was introduced with Windows Vista. In Windows 7 or later versions of Windows, display drivers that support WDDM 1.1 will offer improved performance while also reducing the per-window memory usage by up to 50 percent.

  • Support for DirectX implemented in a graphics processing unit (GPU) with at least 128 MB of graphics memory. WDDM 1.1 supports DirectX 11. DirectX 11 offers enhancements and performance improvements over its predecessors.

On compliant systems, Windows 8 uses the Aero desktop by default to enable advanced display features and options, including Snap, which allows you to arrange windows side by side, and Shake, which allows you to temporarily hide all open windows except the one you are working with. To snap an active window to the side of the desktop using the keyboard, press either the Windows key + Left Arrow or Windows key + Right Arrow. To shake, drag the title bar of the window you want to keep open back and forth quickly and then to restore the minimized windows, shake the open window again.

To configure color options for the display, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Personalize.

  2. Tap or click the Color link to display the Color And Appearance page, as shown in Figure 3-8.

  3. Change the color of windows by tapping or clicking one of the available colors. To make your own color, tap or click Show Color Mixer, and then use the Hue, Saturation, and Brightness sliders to create a custom color.

    Figure 3-8

    Figure 3-8. Configure the visual appearance of the display using the options on the Color And Appearance page.

  4. Use the Color Intensity slider to set the strength of the color and the level of transparency. Increase the intensity to make the color stronger and to reduce the transparency. Reduce the intensity to make the color dimmer and the transparency greater.

  5. Tap or click Save Changes.

To better support the visually impaired, Windows 8 includes several Ease Of Access themes, including High Contrast #1, High Contrast #2, High Contrast White, and High Contrast Black. When you use these themes, the options of the Color And Appearance page change, and you can override the default color settings for individual graphical elements, such as the window background color, text color, and active window color. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Personalize.

  2. Tap or click the Color link and then set the color to use for interface elements. For example, with active windows titles, you can set foreground and background colors.

  3. Tap or click OK, and then tap or click Save Changes.

Optimizing Display Readability

Regardless of whether users have 27-inch widescreens or 19-inch displays, you may find that users have difficulty reading text on the screen. Often, the readability of text on the screen decreases when you increase the display resolution, which results in the text on the screen becoming smaller. To understand why this happens, you need to understand how DPI works.

When you print documents on a printer, the number of dots per inch (DPI) determines the print quality. Generally, the higher the DPI, the better the quality of the printed document because images and text look crisper as you use more dots per inch. For example, a high-resolution picture printed at its normal size using 1,200 x 600 DPI generally looks much better than the same picture printed at 300 x 300 DPI. However, if you use scaling to print a 2 x 3–inch picture at 6 x 9 inches, you often get a poor result because the scaled image looks grainy.

For Windows computers, 96 DPI is the default for most monitors, and Windows 8 displays all user interface (UI) elements, including text, at 96 DPI by default. When you change the display resolution, you change the scaling at which UI elements are displayed. For example, if a monitor has an optimal resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 and you use a display resolution of 800 x 600, the UI elements will seem large and grainy because you’ve caused the display to scale 800 x 600 pixels into a space optimized for 1,920 x 1,200 pixels.

Generally, you can determine the optimal resolution by multiplying a monitor’s screen width by 96 and a monitor’s screen height by 96. For example, a 24-inch widescreen monitor may have a screen that is 20 inches wide and 12.5 inches high. If so, the optimal display resolution is 1,920 x 1,200. However, at that size, text and UI elements on the screen may seem small, and you may need to make adjustments to improve readability. One way to do this is in an application. For example, in Word, users can use the Zoom combo box to scale text to a readable size.

Windows allows you to change the size of text for specific UI elements, including the text for title bars in dialog boxes, menus, message boxes, palette titles, icons, and tooltips. As you increase or decrease the size of text in a specific part of the UI, you can improve readability. Each account on a computer has a separate setting for text size. You can specify text size for UI elements by completing the following steps:

  1. In Control Panel, tap or click Appearance And Personalization. Under the Display heading, tap or click Make Text And Other Items Larger Or Smaller.

  2. Tap or click the selection list under Change Only The Text Size and choose the UI element you want to work with, such as Menus.

  3. Use the Font Size list to set the desired size for the text on the previously selected UI element. Optionally, select Bold to display bold text.

  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 to set the text size of additional UI elements. When you are finished, tap or click Apply.

  5. You need to log off the user and then log on the user again for the changes to take effect.

Windows also allows you to use scaling to increase the size of text and other items on the screen. When you use scaling in this way, Windows magnifies the size of text and UI elements to the scale you choose. Each account on a computer has a separate setting for scaling. You can specify the scaling to use for text and UI elements by following these steps:

  1. In Control Panel, tap or click Appearance And Personalization. Under the Display heading, tap or click Make Text And Other Items Larger Or Smaller.

  2. The default scaling options allow you to choose a 100 percent scale (the default), a 125 percent scale, or a 150 percent scale. To use one of these scaling options, make a selection, and then tap or click Apply.

  3. To choose a custom setting of between 100 percent and 500 percent, tap or click Custom Sizing Options, and then use the Scale combo box to select or specify a scale.

  4. You need to log off the user and then log on the user again for the changes to take effect.

Configuring Video Settings

Video settings control screen resolution, color quality, refresh rate, hardware acceleration, and color management. This section focuses on making sure that Windows 8 has correctly identified the video card and monitor, and on optimizing various video settings.

Checking the Current Video Adapter and Monitor

Every computer has a monitor driver and a video adapter driver. The monitor driver tells Windows about the capabilities of the monitor. The video adapter (or display) driver tells Windows about the capabilities of the graphics card.

Proper display is dependent on the computer using accurate information about the video adapter and the monitor. Different driver files are installed depending on which video adapter and monitor models Windows 8 detects on a system. These drivers are extremely important in determining which display resolutions, color depths, and refresh rates are available and appropriate for the system. If the adapter and monitor aren’t detected and configured properly, Windows 8 won’t be able to take advantage of their capabilities.

Current settings for the video adapter or monitor can be wrong for many reasons. Sometimes Plug and Play doesn’t detect the device, and a generic device driver is used. At other times, Windows 8 detects the wrong type of device, such as a different model. In this case, the device will probably work, but some features won’t be available.

To check the current video adapter and monitor configured for a computer, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Screen Resolution.

  2. On the Screen Resolution page, shown in Figure 3-9, the currently identified monitors are listed in the Display list. The resolution and orientation are listed in the Resolution and Orientation lists. If the correct monitor isn’t displayed or you want to examine the monitor settings further, see the Changing the Monitor Driver section later in this chapter.

    Figure 3-9

    Figure 3-9. Check the monitor and video adapter configuration.

  3. Select a monitor in the Display list, and then tap or click the Advanced Settings link. The video adapter for the monitor is listed. If the correct video adapter isn’t displayed or you want to examine the driver settings further, see the next section, Changing the Video Driver.

  4. Tap or click OK twice.

Changing the Video Driver

If you followed the previous instructions and the video driver shown does not match the make and model installed on the computer, you might want to try to install a different driver. For example, if the computer has a generic S3 video driver configured and you are sure the computer has an NVIDIA GeForce video adapter, you should change the video driver.

To determine whether the video card make and model are correct, you need to know how the system is configured. The system documentation can tell you which video adapter is installed. Other administrators are also useful resources. Typically, someone else on the technology team will know immediately what video adapter is installed on a particular type of computer. If you can’t figure out the make and model of the video adapter, you have several options. If the current settings are working, you can leave the display settings alone. You can also try the following techniques to determine the video adapter’s make and model:

  • Shut down the computer, and then turn it back on (but don’t use the Restart option to do this because some computers may not fully initialize when you select Restart). Watch the screen when the computer first turns on. The name of the video card might appear briefly before Windows 8 begins loading.

  • Shut down the computer, and then remove the computer cover. Locate the name and model number on the video adapter itself. If the monitor is still attached to the rear of the computer, the video adapter is the card to which the monitor cable is connected.

  • If the video adapter is built into the computer’s motherboard (meaning that there isn’t a separate card), check the motherboard to see whether you can find a chip that lists the video information on it, or write down the motherboard model number and visit the manufacturer’s website to see whether the information is available.

Once you determine the video adapter’s make and model, see whether you can locate the necessary drivers on the manufacturer’s website. Some video adapters come with installation discs. On the disc, you might find a setup program. Run this program to install the video driver. If the installation disc contains the drivers but no setup program, you need to install the drivers manually.

When you are ready to install the video adapter driver, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Screen Resolution.

  2. On a system with multiple monitors or video cards, use the Display list to select the monitor with which you want to work.

  3. Tap or click Advanced Settings. On the Adapter tab, shown in Figure 3-10, note the current information in the Adapter Type and Adapter Information panels. Tap or click Properties.

    Figure 3-10

    Figure 3-10. Note the current adapter information.

  4. On the Driver tab, tap or click Update Driver. This starts the Update Driver Software Wizard.

  5. Specify whether you want to search for the driver automatically or browse for the driver.

  6. If you elect to search for the driver automatically, Windows 8 looks for a more recent version of the device driver and installs the driver if it is found. If a more recent version of the driver is not found, Windows 8 keeps the current driver. In either case, tap or click Close to complete the process, and then skip the remaining steps.

  7. If you choose to browse for the driver, you can do so in either of the following ways:

    • Search for the driver If you want to search for the driver, tap or click Browse to select a search location. Use the Browse For Folder dialog box to select the start folder for the search, and then tap or click OK. Because all subfolders of the selected folder are searched automatically by default, you can select the drive root path, such as C, to search an entire drive. If you don’t want to search all subfolders, clear the Search All Subfolders option.

    • Choose the driver to install If you want to choose the driver to install, tap or click Let Me Pick From A List Of Device Drivers On My Computer. The wizard then displays a list of compatible hardware. Tap or click the device that matches your video card. To view a wider array of choices, clear the Show Compatible Hardware check box. You’ll then see a list of all video card manufacturers. Scroll through the list of manufacturers to find the manufacturer of the device, and then choose the appropriate device in the right pane.

  8. After selecting a device driver, continue through the installation process by tapping or clicking Next. Tap or click Close when the driver installation is complete. If the wizard can’t find an appropriate driver, you need to obtain one and then repeat this procedure. Keep in mind that in some cases, you need to restart the system to activate the newly installed or updated device driver.

Changing the Monitor Driver

The overall display quality is controlled by the combined capabilities of a computer’s monitor and video adapter. Most computers have at least one monitor connection available. The type of connections supported may include the following:

  • High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is the current digital standard for connecting video devices. HDMI can be used for computer displays, but it is better suited to other high-end video devices. Although HDMI can be adapted to a Digital Video Interface (DVI) connection, most computers that have an HDMI connector also have at least one DVI connector.

  • Digital Video Interface (DVI) is the digital standard for computer-generated text and graphics. There are several formats for DVI. DVI-I and DVI-A can be adapted to VGA. However, DVI-D cannot be adapted to Video Graphics Array (VGA). Dual-Link DVI supports high-resolution monitors and is required on some very large displays for optimum picture quality. Because DVI cables can support one or more of these types at the same time, you should check your cables carefully to be sure you’re using the correct ones.

  • The 15-pin Video Graphics Array (VGA) is the analog standard for connecting monitors to computers. There are 9-pin VGA cables, and they are compatible with the 15-pin connector. It is still very common for monitors to have this connector, but newer connections like DVI and HDMI are recommended if available.

If a computer has a Plug and Play monitor, Windows 8 might have detected it and installed it properly, or it might have installed a similar driver, but not the one that matches the monitor’s make and model. For the best quality, Windows 8 should use the driver designed for the applicable monitor. Otherwise, the display mode, color depth, refresh rate, and color-matching options might not be appropriate for the monitor.

To change the monitor setup, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Screen Resolution.

  2. On a system with multiple monitors or video cards, use the Display list to select the monitor with which you want to work.

  3. Tap or click Advanced Settings. On the Monitor tab, tap or click Properties.

  4. On the Driver tab, tap or click Update Driver. This starts the Update Driver Software Wizard.

  5. Continue with the driver update, as described in steps 5–8 of the previous procedure.

Configuring Multiple Monitor Support

Most modern computers come with a video adapter that supports two monitors. You’ll know this because the adapter will have multiple monitor connection ports. On these computers, you can connect multiple monitors and then extend a user’s desktop across those monitors so that the user can see more information at one time. If you’ve connected multiple monitors to a computer, the Screen Resolution page will show one box for each monitor. The first monitor is labeled 1, the second is labeled 2, and so on. If you tap or click the monitor box, you can work with the monitor in the same way you would if you had selected the monitor from the Display list.

If a monitor you’ve connected doesn’t have its own box, check the monitor connection and then turn the monitor on. Then, when you tap or click Detect, Windows should automatically detect the monitor.

If you’ve connected multiple monitors and are unsure which monitor is which, you can tap or click Identify to display the numeric identifier of each monitor on the monitor’s screen. The numeric identifier appears as a large white numeral. If you find that the screens are represented in a different position than they are configured, you can drag the monitor boxes on the Screen Resolution page so that their position matches the physical layout of the monitors.

After you configure the monitors, you may want to extend the display across their screens. To do this, tap or click the box representing the second monitor (or select the second monitor in the Display list), and then select Extend These Displays from the Multiple Displays list. Generally, you will want screen 1 to be marked This Is Currently Your Main Display.

After you’ve configured your monitors, you’ll find that pressing the Windows logo key + P is a convenient way to change the monitor configuration quickly. After pressing the Windows log key + P, you can use any of the following options:

  • Select PC Screen Only, to use only the main computer monitor or the built-in screen on a laptop

  • Select Duplicate, to display the main computer monitor or the built-in screen on a laptop to a second monitor

  • Select Extend, to extend the display across two monitors

  • Select Second Screen Only, to display only on an external monitor or projector

With touch UI, you can access similar options by sliding in from the right, tapping devices, and then tapping Second Screen.

Customizing Display Appearance

Screen resolution, color quality, and refresh rate are key factors that affect display appearance. Screen resolution is the number of pixels that make up the display. Color quality is the number of colors that can be displayed simultaneously on the screen. Refresh rate is the rate at which the screen is repainted.

Windows 8 automatically optimizes display settings for each of your monitors by selecting a screen resolution, color quality, and refresh rate that seem most appropriate based on its testing. Normally, the settings that Windows selects work well, but they might not be the optimal settings for your computer.

The best resolution to use depends on the size of the monitor and what the user plans to do with the computer. Designers and developers who need a large screen area will appreciate a higher resolution, such as 1,920 x 1,200. They can then see more of what they’re working with on the screen. Users who spend most of their time reading email or working with Word documents might prefer a lower resolution, such as 1,280 x 1,024. At that resolution, screen elements are easier to see, and users will have less eyestrain. On a widescreen monitor, be sure to select a resolution that is appropriate for widescreen viewing.

Color quality depends greatly on screen resolution settings. Even though most current video cards display 32-bit color at a variety of screen resolutions, some video cards might not be capable of displaying 32-bit color at their maximum screen resolution. Video cards may display fewer colors when you set the screen resolution higher. In most cases, the higher the color quality that you can set, the better. Keep in mind that the amount of video memory required to maintain the video display is determined by multiplying the number of pixels on the screen (based on screen resolution) by the number of bits per pixel (determined by color quality). Furthermore, the maximum combination of resolution and color quality allowed is a function of the video memory on the video adapter.

You can set the screen resolution and color quality by completing the following steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Screen Resolution.

  2. On a system with multiple monitors or video cards, use the Display list to select the monitor with which you want to work.

  3. Tap or click Resolution, and then use the Resolution slider to set the display size, such as 1,024 x 768 pixels. Note that if the Resolution option is dimmed, you cannot change the resolution.

  4. To view the display modes available for 32-bit color, tap or click Advanced Settings. On the Adapter tab, tap or click List All Modes. Note the screen resolutions that support 32-bit color.

  5. Tap or click OK twice.

Your eyes can’t perceive the display refresh, but a low refresh rate (under 72 Hz) can sometimes make your eyes tired if you look at the display too long. To view or set the refresh rate for a video card, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Screen Resolution.

  2. On a system with multiple monitors or video cards, use the Display list to select the monitor with which you want to work.

  3. Tap or click Advanced Settings. On the Adapter tab, tap or click List All Modes. The resolution sizes and refresh rates supported by the monitor are listed.

  4. On the Monitor tab, use the Screen Refresh Rate list box to set the refresh rate.

Color profiles allow you to get truer colors for specific uses. For example, you might need to more accurately match on-screen colors to print colors, and a color profile designed for this purpose can help you do that. After you obtain the color profile, you must install it on each monitor separately by following these steps:

  1. Press and hold or right-click an open area of the desktop, and then tap or click Screen Resolution. Display 1 is selected by default. Tap or click 2 to configure settings for the second monitor.

  2. Tap or click Advanced Settings. On the Color Management tab, tap or click Color Management.

  3. In the Color Management dialog box, select the All Profiles tab to get information about currently installed color profiles. Tap or click Add.

  4. In the Install Profile dialog box, find the color profile that you want to use and then tap or click Add.

  5. In the Color Management dialog box, select the Devices tab. Tap or click the new profile, and then tap or click Set As Default Profile.

If you don’t have a color profile and still would like the benefits of one, use the Display Color Calibration tool to fine-tune display colors to your liking. You can access this tool by typing Dccw.exe in the Apps Search box and pressing Enter.

Troubleshooting Display Problems

As I stated previously, every computer has a monitor driver and a video adapter driver. The monitor driver tells Windows about the capabilities of the monitor. The video adapter (or display) driver tells Windows about the capabilities of the graphics card.

Clearly, the monitor driver and video adapter driver have important roles on a computer. When you are installing video components or updating a computer, you should be sure that the computer has drivers that have been tested in your environment and proven to be reliable. If you suspect a problem with the drivers, update the drivers if possible. If you suspect the problem is due to the configuration of the computer, start the computer in safe mode and then modify the default settings.

Before you start detailed diagnostics and troubleshooting, determine what programs the user has been running. Programs created for versions of Windows prior to Windows XP may cause compatibility issues. Close all running programs and check questionable programs to see what display mode they are using. If a program requires an alternative display mode and switching into and out of this display mode is causing problems, you may be able to configure compatibility settings to resolve the problem. Press and hold or right-click the application shortcut, and then tap or click Properties. In the Properties dialog box, select the Compatibility tab. On the Settings panel, choose the appropriate option, such as Run In 640 x 480 Screen Resolution. If you are unsure which compatibility settings to use, press and hold or right-click the application shortcut, tap or click Troubleshoot Compatibility, and then follow the prompts in the Program Compatibility Wizard.

Many problems with monitors have to do with the connection between the monitor and the computer. If the monitor displays blotches, color spots, diagonal lines, or horizontal bars, or has other similar display problems, you’ll want to check the monitor connection first. After you are sure the connections are all right, turn the monitor off for at least 10 seconds, and then turn the monitor back on. If you still are experiencing a problem and think that the problem has to do with the monitor itself, you can try to resolve it through additional troubleshooting.

Monitor flicker or jitter or a shaky image can be caused by configuration issues as well as positional issues. If the monitor refresh rate is causing the problem, you can resolve it by changing the refresh rate settings, as discussed in the Customizing Display Appearance section earlier in this chapter. If a positional issue is causing the problem, you can resolve the problem by moving the cables and devices that may be causing electromagnetic interference, including power cables for other devices, large speakers, or desk lamps. If the problem persists, make sure the monitor has a shielded cable and that it is positioned away from air-conditioning units, large fluorescent lights, and so on.

If the monitor has built-in controls, check for an auto-tuning setting. Often, this will be a separate button, and when you push this button, the monitor will automatically adjust itself.

If blotches of color, color spots, or lines are the problem and resetting the connections doesn’t work, you might need to perform a monitor degauss. This operation removes the buildup of stray magnetic fields around the monitor, which can distort the video image. Some monitors autodegauss by turning the monitor off and then on, some have a manual control only, and some combine both of these features. You may find a control labeled Degauss, or there may be a menu option within the monitor’s software controls. While the monitor is degaussing, the screen may become distorted temporarily. This is normal behavior during the degauss process. If you manually degauss, wait 15 to 20 minutes before attempting a second degauss.

If problems persist, connect the monitor directly to the computer. Remove any extension cables connected between the monitor and the video adapter. Also, remove any antiglare screens or other similar devices that cover the monitor’s screen. Check the video data cable for bent, broken, or missing pins. Although some pins are missing as part of the design, other pins that are missing or bent will cause display problems. If there are bent pins and the pins are repairable, turn the monitor off, unplug the monitor from the power source, and use tweezers or pliers to straighten the pins.