Windows 8 hasn't received much in the way of great press since it launched. Entrepreneur, software developer and aviator, Philip Greenspun, went so far as to call it a "Christmas gift for someone you hate." However, I find there's a lot to like about Windows 8, even if you do spend your first few hours negotiating a steep learning curve. Here's what you need to know to get up and running.
Windows 8 Doesn't Need Touch
Windows 8 is designed for touch screens, so you need to change your thinking about navigating even if you're using a mouse. The Start screen scrolls horizontally rather than vertically, and you should aim for the edges of the screen when you're looking for things. You will find open apps in the top-left; the Start screen icon appears in the bottom-left; you'll find Charms at the top-right, and you close an app by dragging it down from the top of the screen.
Finding the Start Screen
The Windows 8 action begins with the new modern style Start screen, but you first have to get there. The Lock screen doesn't display any instructions or buttons, but if you hit the Space Bar you can sign in, and then you'll see the Start screen.
Windows 8 Apps, Programs and Tiles
Applications and programs appear on the Start screen as tiles. You can't tell the difference between a traditional program and an app just by looking at the tile, but the two types of programs behave differently.
Windows 8 apps are small programs that are either installed with Windows 8 or that you download -- for free or for a fee -- from the Store. Apps let you perform small, discrete tasks such as viewing the weather or tweeting without needing to open a browser. When you run them they run from the Start screen.
The traditional Windows applications such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Suite products, accounting software and so on may be accessible as tiles on the Start screen, if they were installed there. If not, you can search for them, and then click to run them.
These traditional programs launch and run from the familiar Windows desktop. This is one of the confusing aspects of Windows 8 -- the desktop and Start screen are two different interfaces that look and operate differently.
Find and Use Charms
Windows 8 Charms live on the right-hand side of the screen, and they'll appear if you hover your mouse over the right side of the screen or press Windows key + C. Charms are icons for tools such as Search, Share and Settings. Click Settings to power off your computer – the shortcut for Settings is Windows key + I.
Figure 1: The new Windows 8 Start screen includes tiles for apps and more traditional Windows programs. The Charms reside on the right.
Use Search (which you can go to directly by pressing Windows key + F) to find programs and apps. To find and run Excel, for example, type Excel and look for it in the results area to the left. You can then either click it to run the program or right-click and choose Pin to Start to pin it to the Start menu. Doing so let's you run it from there in future. Once you add a tile to the Start screen, you can drag-and-drop the tile to a new position on the screen.
Figure 2: If a program doesn't have a tile, you can search for the program and run it from the search results.
Finding Windows Tools
You can find tools such as the Device Manager, Control Panel and so on, in two ways. You can use the Search method described above, or you can find then in a small Quick Link menu. The menu appears when you right-click in the bottom-left corner of the screen or press the shortcut Windows key + X.
Figure 3: The new Quick links menu gives you access to useful Windows 8 tools.
Close an Application
To close an application you can press Alt + F4, or you can position your mouse at the top of the screen until it looks like a hand and then drag down to close the app.
What Browser is This?
Windows 8 comes with two versions of Internet Explorer. Which one you see depends on whether you launch Internet Explorer from the Start screen or from the Desktop. The version accessible from the Start screen sports a modern, stylish interface, while the Desktop version is the older, classic browser. You can switch to the older style by clicking the Tools icon and then selecting View on the Desktop.
Opening Multiple Applications
When you're working with the traditional desktop you can have multiple applications open at the same time, and you can position them wherever you like. On the Start screen you can only have two applications visible at once, although more might be open.
One of the visible apps will appear in a narrow panel down one edge of the screen and the second will take up the remaining screen space -- regardless of how big your screen is. You can run the desktop as one of these applications, so you can have the desktop in the larger portion of the screen with one app running in the side panel.
Figure 4: You can run the Windows desktop as an app, so you can work with it and still see a second Windows app on the screen.
You can view multiple apps by holding your mouse pointer in the top-left corner of the screen. Drag down to expand the list, and then select one to work with it. You can also switch between apps by pressing Window key and Tab.
What You'll Love About Windows 8
If you take a lot of screen grabs, you will like the new feature that saves the image to your My Pictures folder as well as to the clipboard when you press Windows key + Print Screen. This doesn't work, however, with the Windows key + Alt + Print Screen key combination.
In Windows 8 you can mount ISO files directly without special software to handle them or to burn them to a DVD. This is good news, because a lot of software comes via ISO files, and Windows 8 doesn't include a DVD burner (or a player).
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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