First Looks: Windows 8 Metro Interface

Wednesday Mar 28th 2012 by Helen Bradley
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In her series on Windows 8 for small business, Helen Bradley explores the new Metro interface. Plus, she provides a dozen Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts.

Metro, the new Windows 8 interface, is causing an equal measure of excitement and consternation across the Web. The new tablet-style interface that uses tiles to launch your favorite applications -- including the old familiar desktop -- will be unfamiliar territory for many people.

If you're planning to upgrade to Windows 8, there's no getting around Metro, and you'll need to train your employees how to work with it. In this column, we'll take a close look at how the Metro interface works, what makes it so different, and we'll give you 12 Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts, too.

Welcome to Metro

Metro is the first thing you see when you launch Windows 8; you can't by-pass it. Even the desktop, where you will launch most of your small business software, is just another Metro application. Metro is designed for tablets, and it will be great when -- on touch-screen devices -- you can flick and pinch and tap your finger to get places with it.

Metro is optimized for touch screens, so for use on an office desktop PC without a touch screen you'll navigate the old-fashioned way -- with a mouse. Luckily, the new Windows 8 Consumer Preview version includes some small but significant improvements over the Developer Preview that we first covered in our story Windows 8: First Looks for Small Business.

New Navigation Options

One early complaint about Windows 8 was the absence of the Start menu. It isn't back per se, but Windows 8 now includes a small fly-out image that you can click to return to Start -- you'll find it in the bottom left corner of the screen.

How to access Windows 8 Metro Start function

Figure 1: A small Start window appears when you hover over the bottom- left corner of the Windows 8 screen.

In fact, the corners of your screen are hot spots in Metro. Mouse over the top-left corner of the screen to see the most recently used app, and click on it to launch it. You can also move down from there to reveal a task-switching panel where you can scroll through all your currently open apps and click one to return to it. The bottom-right and top-right corners of the screen are hot spots for launching the Charms: icons that take you to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings.

The Windows 8 Metro Task panel

Figure 2: You can drag a narrow task-switching panel down from the top-left corner of the screen.

Technically the apps run full-screen size, and you can't size them down. This might be fine for a tablet screen, but on a 24-inch monitor it will look a little silly. Fortunately, you can now have two apps open side-by-side using the new Snap feature.

To use Snap, open both apps so they're running, or open an app and the desktop application for example, and then view one of them on the screen. Display the second app using the thumbnail in the top-left of the screen, and then drag it onto the screen.

This is not an intuitive process by any means, but once you've done it a few times it is easy to do. You can also right-click an app in the task-switching panel and choose Snap Left or Snap Right. When you have two apps snapped on the screen, one will be slim and the other will be larger. However you should note that this Snap feature is only available if the screen is large enough to accommodate both apps --otherwise it doesn't work.

Windows 8 metro Snap feature.

Figure 3: You can snap two apps -- or an app and the desktop -- so they share the monitor.

You can also close apps now -- you couldn't in the Developer Preview version. Lots of people really struggled with the concept of leaving applications open and allowing the operating system to close them if necessary to free resources.

In the current Consumer Preview version, when you hover your mouse over the very top of the screen the cursor changes into a hand. You can then click and drag the application off the screen to close it. You can also right-click an app in the task-switching panel and choose Close to close it.

You can zoom in and out of the start screen a number of ways. You can use the Zoom icon in the bottom-right of the screen; click once to zoom out and again to zoom in. You can also hold down the Control key as you zoom with the scroll wheel of the mouse, or Control + - and Control + + work too.

Windows 8 Keyboard Shortcuts

Unlike recent versions of Windows where you don't need to use shortcut keys to move around, when learning how to use Windows 8 on a desktop PC, everyone will benefit by knowing some crucial keystrokes.

Here are a bunch of Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts:

  • Windows key: display the Start menu
  • Windows + tab: display the task switching panel
  • Windows + C: reveal Charms
  • Windows + D: show the desktop
  • Windows + H: Share charm
  • Windows + I: Settings
  • Windows + K: Devices charm
  • Windows + L: Lock the screen
  • Windows + P: extend to a second monitor
  • Windows + Z: display an app's application bar
  • Alt + Tab: Cycle through open apps
  • Right-click an application window: reveal the application bar

Other Windows 8 Metro Interface Tricks

There are a couple of things to note about Charms. The Start charm takes you to the Start screen, and the Settings charm is context sensitive, so it shows you the settings for the app that you're currently using. You can use general options, such as a Power button, to choose Restart, Sleep or to Shut Down your computer.

Windows 8 Metro settings.

Figure 4: Many of the Settings Charm options are context sensitive, and here it shows options for Internet Explorer.

Scrolling on the touch screen takes the form of swiping from left to right, which means you'll be swiping across the Metro screen from now on rather than scrolling up and down. The scroll wheel on a mouse will scroll left to right, and you can also drag the scroll bar across the bottom of the screen to move from left to right and back again.

You can access a small menu if you right-click at the bottom left corner of the screen. This gives you access to tools such as Computer Management, Command Prompt, Device Manager, Power Options and others from a standard Windows style menu.

The Metro Affect on Small Business

You might expect seasoned and advanced Windows users to embrace the Windows 8 upgrade. But most employees just want to get their daily tasks done, and they don't want to spend hours poking around trying to discover how things work.

You can't discover many of Metro's features through icons and buttons simply because there are none. Unlike other versions of Windows, everyone will need some immediate instruction to learn how to use Windows 8 so they won’t feel confused and angry.

Small businesses will be well advised to provide some training before users get Windows 8 to prepare them for the change. Also, provide your employees with cheat sheets of shortcut keys to help them adjust in the first weeks.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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