Clear the clutter from your Windows desktop |

Clear the clutter from your Windows desktop

Photo for The Union John Hart

Jane asked how she could clear her Windows desktop clutter and interact with an icon on her desktop. The problem is that she has lots of windows open concurrently, and she can't really even see her desktop through all the windows. Is there an easy way to clear away the clutter and get to the Windows desktop, so she can start up a different app from its desktop icon?

Windows provides several different means of hiding all the currently active windows, effectively clearing the desktop so you can interact with its icons. The simplest one is relatively undiscoverable, unless you tend to randomly click at everything on your desktop! In Windows Vista (and if you're using Vista, it's time to upgrade, really), Windows 7, and in the desktop view in Windows 8, you can click on the little vertical rectangle that appears on the right-hand edge of the Task bar—this action minimizes all the active windows, leaving a clean desktop. In Windows 8, the rectangle doesn't "light up" until you click it, so it's even more difficult to notice. Clicking the rectangle a second time restores all the active windows to their original positions.

For a different solution, you can right-click on the Task bar, select Toolbars from the context menu, and then choose Desktop from the list of available toolbars. This action adds a Desktop menu to the Task bar, and you can select the icon in question from this toolbar, rather than clearing the active windows.

Windows also offers the option of minimizing all but the current, active window. The simplest way to do this is to press the Windows key and the Home key simultaneously. This key combination minimizes all but the current window, and pressing it again restores all the windows. (Doug found this one — Ken had never heard of it!)

Windows 8 also provides an alternate, weird and perhaps useless way to minimize all but the current window. This works, but who would have though of it? Click the header of the active window, and shake it with the mouse. No kidding! This action minimizes all but the active window. Grab and shake again to restore all the active windows. Try it — it works. But it's weird.

Setting an alarm

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on the iPhone, the easy way

Jay asks: I often need to set an alarm on my iPhone, and working my way through the clock app just takes too much effort. Is there a quicker way to set an alarm?

It's weird how much effort it takes to create an alarm on the iPhone, using the Clock app. If you have a recent model iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, or iPad mini, it's really easy, using Siri. Although neither of us uses Siri for much at this point, this is one task at which Siri excels. Press and hold the Home button until Siri starts up, and you're ready to go.

Siri supports several different ways to set alarms. You can specify a time ("Set an alarm for 8 p.m.") or an elapsed time ("Set an alarm for 5 minutes from now."). You can use alternate text, like "Wake me up at 9 a.m." (Note that Siri can't set an alarm for more than 24 hours in advance — for that, you'll need to create a reminder instead, but you can do that with Siri as well.)

You can easily create a repeating alarm. Simply add the text "every weekday," "on weekends" or "every day" to the alarm setting. You can also specify days, using text like "every Monday." So to set an alarm to wake you at 7 a.m. weekdays, tell Siri "Wake me at 7 a.m. on weekdays" and she'll set up the weekday alarms. You could then repeat the command, indicating your wake-up time on weekends.

You can also ask Siri to show you all your existing alarms, using a command like "Show me all my alarms." You can change an alarm using text like "Change my 9 a.m. alarm to 10 a.m." If you want to turn off one or all your alarms, you can use text like "Turn off my 8 a.m. alarm" or "Turn off all my alarms." Finally, you can cancel an alarm or all your alarms, using text like "Cancel my 8 a.m. alarm" or "Cancel all my alarms."

Although Siri has limited abilities (other than amusing you by answering questions like "What's the meaning of life?" and "What's the best smartphone?"), she excels at setting alarms (and similarly, reminders). Take some time to experiment with her time-based abilities — we think you'll appreciate her a lot more.

Doug Behl and Ken Getzspent years answering technical questions in private, and are minimizing the questions by pre-emptively publishing the answers. Hear Doug and Ken's tech tips on KNCO radio weekdays at around 8:21a.m. and 5:38 p.m.; find full write-ups including links to the products they mention at Submit your own technical questions to

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