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Posted 3 Jun 2016

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Rediscovering windows: 30 years of fun facts and hidden features

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3 Jun 2016CPOL8 min read

So, you’re a Windows user, and chances are you have been for a few years now but, what exactly do you know about the operating system that has been a worldwide general standard for just about 30 years? Since its launch back in 1985, Windows tried to revolutionize the industry by introducing a visual-based operating system that worked with a graphic interface instead of only a command line. Although Microsoft instantly rose to fame its developers never lost their sense of, well, being developers, and always threw in a little something extra onto Windows, whether that was a feature that was actually useful, or just an easter egg to spice things up for the user.

We’re here today to shine some light on some of the past and present hidden features, easter eggs, and general curious facts on this OS, which maybe you didn’t know. If you did, share this content anyway, someone might not know about it. Some of this will just be generally widespread memorabilia for those of us who still want to remember things like the Windows 95 maze game.

 

EASTER EGGS

Windows has been known to hide a whole bunch of easter eggs along all of its distributions and some of its software. In this section we’ll be covering some of the most famous, along with some that remained hidden and rare because they had to be specifically searched for. Some of these still remain in current Windows 10, but obviously with certain modifications to adapt them to current times.

One of the first easter eggs that came along for Windows appeared in Windows 3.1 and is a bear that references the teddy bear one of the senior developers carried around at that time. He actually appears in two easter eggs of his own, one that is meant to redirect to the fictitious file BEAR.EXE, and in the other the bear presents the email aliases of the Windows 3.1 development team.

Another recurrent easter egg on Windows is the developer credits extra. This easter egg has been around since Windows 3.1 and stuck around until Windows 98 and evolved during a brief period of time, from the bear we saw in the previous example to a full fledged animated credits sequence.

Pipes screensaver and its multiple changes have also been a recurring easter egg for Windows from Win 95 to ME. This first easter egg returned an Utah Teapot instead of a normal joint. Later, if you knew how, you could access an undocumented texture for the same screensaver, although this time it’s just a candy cane texture for the pipes.

Port 666: uses a service named “doom”, in reference to the nature of the Doom 95 game. Port 666 was used for playing the game. Now the game isn’t available on port 666, and said port has had a name change and has remained among the Windows services as port “doom”.

When Windows XP came along, it included a .WMA file named <<title>> which is an environmental mix by Brian Eno  can be found under the system directory. This is the music that is actually played in the background during the initial configuration wizard for setup tasks on user accounts when the first OS setup was performed on WinXP systems. In Windows server 2003 and some builds of Vista <<title.wma>> was updated to the song “No Hay Problema by Pink Martini.

God Mode. On Windows 7 to 10 there is a so-called “God Mode” which is taken as an easter egg, although it really isn’t. What God mode enables is creating a specific and unique global identifier that allows users to create a shortcut to a location, creating  a control panel applet with all the control panel items visible.

And this brings us to the next section which is about hidden or unpopular features that have appeared along all versions of Windows over the years. Maybe some of these haven’t remained all that hidden, and maybe I skip a few, but here’s the ones I deem most relevant:

HIDDEN FEATURES:

The Phone Dialer: a feature available on all past and current Windows versions, from Win95 to Win10. It allows for a person to place a call through his or her phone port, supposing there is a phone port available on the computer. The rarity of this feature is that, not only can your PC serve a double purpose as a phone without the need for VoIP software, but that also this feature was only  documented on Windows 95 and 98, but yet it remains as a feature on the most recent editions of the Operating System.

Paint on Windows Server: let’s get something straight and out of the way: MS Paint has to be one of the most overpowered, yet simple, image editing programs out there. I mean, it’s basic, but what you really need to use it for, and looking at it objectively, it walks all over most any other pre-installed image editors on any OS available right now.  Apart from that, the dev over at Microsoft decided to include it as a “hidden” app on Windows Server, you know, for those slow days in the IT department when you’re creating memes while monitoring and automation software like Pandora FMS handles everything for you.

Deskbars: this feature was planned to be included in Windows 98 as a way for users to download and integrate desktop toolbars from their favorite websites. These toolbars could update automatically at specific, predefined moments in order to retrieve information from the desired webpages without needing to launch a browser. This showed little success in Win98 Beta editions, and it was buried in the Win98 RTM edition.

Cheating on Windows’ preinstalled games: who doesn’t remember Minesweeper, or the WinXP pinball mini game? I’d bet we all do. And who actually has won a hard game of Minesweeper? I bet not that many. Well in case you never found out, there existed cheats for these games. In the case of the Pinball game, if you type “hidden test” when the game is running, it’ll activate a test mode for the game, which will allow you to move the ball with your mouse, press commands for high scores, rank increase, system memory and frame rate. If you type <<1max>> when you get a new ball, it gives an extra ball. “Gmax” activates the gravity well, <<rmax>> gives a rank up and <<bmax>> gives infinite balls.

For Minesweeper, when the game starts if the user types <<xyzzy>> and then presses the right shift key and the enter key at the same time, a pixel will appear on your screen (not the game window) that will be white or black when you hover your mouse over a safe cell or one with a mine, therefore making the game pose no challenge whatsoever.

 

GENERAL CURIOSITIES

 

Windows 10 and the “slide to shut down” feature: considering that Windows is now one of the more touch system friendly operating systems right now, this one wasn’t hard to expect. It’s a feature created with tablet PCs (hybrid models) in mind, but you can still access it and use it from your system’s “System32” folder. It’s a nifty little feature that makes your PC be able to turn off in the same manner that usually Windows Phone or Windows mobile would shut down. You may not see this as a useful thing but believe that it might end up being more useful than we expect throughout 2016.

Reliability history: this feature is the bomb. It’s been around since WinXP and continues today on Win10. The basic premise of this is to monitor different actions your OS has performed over a selected period of time, the errors and hardware performance throughout those actions, and how much stability the different software used showed. This is very useful for basic monitoring and benchmarking. Knowing where the error is coming from will always help you solve it or at least curve it.

Screen Flip: This has always been a feature on Windows for a while now and I know most people never saw any usefulness for it. Well, there is a practical application. Let’s suppose you want a 4 monitor display, some people will prefer to place them in vertical position over horizontal widescreen. That’s were the screen flip feature comes along: without it this display change could never happen efficiently. Apart from this, it’s always nice to troll a friend who has no idea what just happened when they open their browser and everything is upside down.

Snipping tool: I’m sure we all know how to press the button on the keyboard that says “screen cap” but, how many of you actually know that there’s another tool included out of the box that does it better? Windows snipping tool is meant to allow users select the portion of the screen they want to capture exactly, instead of capturing the entire screen and later making you edit said screen capture on MS Paint. The tool can be found in the start menu, searching for it, and is easier to use than most tools on Windows: just click and drag the area you need to capture, check it’s right and save it.

 

Alright, so I know I might’ve not covered everything that I could have, but prioritising was of the essence. If you want to suggest an addition to this article, let us know in the comments section. Apart from this, I hope to be reading your comments, and replying to as many as I can. Everything is welcome, even if you hate Windows, and therefore are going to flame me for this article. Cheers!

 

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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Comments and Discussions

 
QuestionInteresting, but how to use? Pin
sch1166-Jun-16 15:03
professionalsch1166-Jun-16 15:03 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
Tokinabo6-Jun-16 4:40
professionalTokinabo6-Jun-16 4:40 
Thanks for sharing those handy little secrets Smile | :)
QuestionGreat Pin
LeaPatine3-Jun-16 4:09
MemberLeaPatine3-Jun-16 4:09 

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