This is a little cheat sheet will show you how to get the most out of the new Start screen and its apps, the Desktop, the new Charms bar, Internet Explorer 10 and other new features and apps. Also provided are reference charts listing useful touch-screen gestures and keyboard shortcuts.
Note: If you want to get the most out of Windows 8, you will have to use a Microsoft ID as your user account. If you do not already have one you will need to create one. Without a Microsoft ID, you will not be able to use a number of new Windows 8 apps, including Mail and People, and you will not be able to sync settings among multiple devices. So when you set up Windows 8 for the first time, sign in with an existing Microsoft ID or you can create a new one at this point. (You can also switch to a Microsoft ID account later from the “PC settings” screen.)
There is a new lock screen
When you start Windows 8 (whether booting up initially or waking from sleep), you will see the first big difference from previous versions of Windows — a whole new look for the lock screen. Like the lock screens on Windows Phone devices, it sports a big graphic image and displays a variety of information, such as the date and time, the local weather, the number of new emails you have, the strength of your network connection and how much power you have left on your device.
This information is not interactive; you cannot click or tap to see your email, for example. (Later this article will cover how to change the information that appears on your lock screen.)
To log into Windows, tap a key or click the mouse or, on a touch system, swipe from the bottom up — and you will come to a sign-in screen. Select an account if you have multiple accounts, type in your password and press Enter to sign into Windows 8.
Meet the Start screen
Once you are logged into Windows from the lock screen, you head directly to the new Start screen rather than the usual, familiar Desktop interface. This is the new face of Windows.
Initially Microsoft called this design the “Metro” interface, but now Microsoft is calling the new UI, “Windows 8 design.” Laptop and desktop PC users might have a bit of a learning curve getting used to the Start screen’s big tiles and horizontal orientation however this article will show you what you need to know in order to navigate it.
Tiles. The Start screen is made up of a grid of colorful tiles. Each tile represents an app; click (or tap) the tile to run the app.
Your new home: the Windows 8 Start screen.
To start, you will find tiles for several new apps — People, Mail, Calendar, Messaging and others — that are built into Windows 8 and will have the same look and feel as the Start screen. Formerly called Metro apps, they are now referred to as Windows 8 apps, Windows Store apps, Modern apps or Start apps by industry watchers. In this cheat sheet, Windows 8 apps will be distinguished separately from Desktop apps (more about those in a moment).
Notifications. Some Windows 8 apps grab information from the Internet and show live updates, also known as notifications on their tiles. For example, the Calendar app displays upcoming events and friends’ birthdays on its tile, the People app tile displays social media updates from friends, and the Mail app tile displays the sender and subject line of your most recently received emails. (Some notifications can also appear on the lock screen, depending on how you have configured Windows 8.)
A word about Windows RT…
Buying a new Windows-based tablet this fall? Some tablets, such as Microsoft’s own Surface RT, don’t come with Windows 8 but are instead based on Windows RT, a lightweight version of Windows 8 that’s designed for devices with energy-efficient ARM processors. Windows RT shares the new Windows 8 interface and many of its features and apps, and it ships with its own version of the Office 2013 productivity suite. It doesn’t, however, run most traditional Desktop-based applications.
This cheat sheet is for users running the full version of Windows 8, but Windows RT users can use this guide to learn about the Start screen, the Charms bar, Windows 8 apps and navigational gestures.
By default, those apps that show notifications have larger Start screen tiles than those that do not.
You will also find tiles for Desktop-based apps on the Start screen, and the Windows Desktop itself is now accessed via Desktop tile.
Desktop apps are traditional programs like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop; as a general rule, any application that you have run on previous versions of Windows is a Desktop-based app.
Desktop-based app tiles do not show notifications, and they have smaller graphics on them. Also, tiles for Desktop apps often appear on the right side of the screen, and they (and other tiles as well) may lie off the edge of the main, front screen, so you may have to scroll (or swipe, if you have a touch-screen device) to see them.
Charms bar. If you move your mouse pointer to the upper-right or lower-right corner of the screen, the Charms bar appears as an overlay on the screen — sometimes directly on top of tiles or other content. This bar gives you quick access to features such as search and system settings from anywhere in Windows 8.
Scroll bar. The Start screen has a horizontal orientation, so when you want to see more tiles on the screen, you will have to scroll or swipe to see them. The scrollbar is not normally visible, but it makes its appearance when you move your mouse. You use it as you would any normal scroll bar, except you scroll to the right and left rather than up and down.
When you get there, you will find a familiar-looking Desktop minus what had been one of its key features in previous versions of Windows — the Start button and its menu. And that means that you are going to have to get used to a new way of using the Desktop and utilize different ways of accessing apps and features.
The Windows 8 Desktop, notable for what’s missing: the Start button.
Other than that, the Desktop is essentially the same as it was in Windows 7. It shows icons for Desktop apps that you’ve installed; run them by clicking them. (See “Meet the Start screen” for the differences between Desktop apps and Windows 8 apps.) There’s a taskbar where you can pin apps and that shows currently running apps as well as a notification area all the way to the right that displays icons showing your network status, the time and date, and more.
Additionally, the Desktop supports all of Windows 8’s system wide navigation features, including the Charms bar and keyboard shortcuts. We’ll cover those later in the story.
There is, however, a significant visual change from Windows 7 and Vista. The Desktop no longer uses the Aero interface, along with its transparency, animations and other visual effects and graphics-intensive traits. Instead, windows are now flatter and with simpler colors.
You can’t run the new Windows 8 apps from the Desktop. You’ll have to either go back to the Start screen (press the Windows key) and click their tiles, or else use the Search charm: Run the Search charm, type the app’s name, and then click the icon when it appears.
Typically, when you install Desktop applications, they show up both as icons on the Desktop and as tiles on the Start screen, so you can launch them from both locations. Some system utilities and other Desktop apps don’t appear as icons on the Desktop by default; you can use the Search charm to search for and launch them.
This handy menu provides takes you to a plethora of power user tools.
The lack of a Start button makes the Desktop annoying to use, but it does offer one useful trick: Right-click in the lower-left portion of the screen (or press the Windows key + X), and a menu pops up that gives you access to the Control Panel, File Explorer (called Windows Explorer in previous versions of Windows), the Task Manager, the command prompt and a variety of other administrative and power user tools. (You can also bring up this power tools menu from the Start screen using the same methods.)
Introducing the Charms bar
The new Charms bar offers quick access to several powerful tools for navigating and working with Windows 8. When you move the mouse to the upper-right or lower-right corner of the screen to make the Charms bar appear, its icons aren’t labeled, so at first it’s not clear what they do. As you move your mouse toward them, though, the full Charms bar appears with labeled, easy-to-see icons on a black vertical bar.
At the same time, a black rectangle appears toward the lower-left portion of the screen, displaying the time and date and, if you’re using a portable device, the state of your Internet connection and power supply.
The full Charms bar appears on a black background as you move your mouse toward it.
You can also display the full Charms bar by pressing the Windows key + C on your keyboard — or, if you have a touch-screen device, by swiping from the right edge of the screen toward the center.
You can get to the Charms bar no matter where you are in Windows 8 — on the Start screen, on the Desktop, in a Windows 8 app, and even in a Desktop app. This feature is one of the ways in which Microsoft has attempted to bolt together the Start screen and the Desktop.
Search. Click this and you will be able to search for apps, files and settings; you can also search inside any app. Underneath the search box is a list that includes Apps, Settings, Files and each of your individual Windows 8 apps. When you type in a search term, click anything in the list to search it. So to search for an app, you would click Apps, and to search inside an individual app, click the name of that app — for example, to search your email, click Mail.
Windows 8’s Search charm with Apps selected.
Windows 8 supports three keyboard shortcuts that take you directly to the Search charm without going through the Charms bar first: Pressing the Windows key + F takes you to Search with Files already highlighted, the Windows key + Q takes you to Search with Apps selected, and the Windows key + W takes you to Search with Settings selected.
Because the Desktop no longer includes a Start button, you will frequently use the Search charm to run apps from the Desktop. Press the Windows key + Q to launch the Search charm, type the first few letters of the app’s name and click the icon of the app you want to run.
Note that when you are on the Start screen you do not need to launch this charm in order to do a search. Instead, just start typing what you want to search for, and the Search charm appears with your text in the search box. You cannot do this from the Desktop, though.
To close the panel for the Search charm or any other charm, just press the Esc key.
Share. Some of the new Windows 8 apps include a built-in Share feature that lets you share information from the app via email, social media, SkyDrive or messaging.
Windows 8’s Share charm, accessed from the Photo app.
It is context-sensitive, so you can share what you are currently viewing as long as the app has been written to take advantage of the Share feature. For example, the Photo app can share via Mail and SkyDrive, and the Music app lets you share via Mail and the People app.
At this point, not many apps support the Share feature, and of those that do share, not all can share in all ways – it is up to the app developer to decide. Desktop apps cannot use the Share feature at all. Pressing the Windows key + H activates this individual charm.
Start. Clicking this charm sends you back to the Start screen. If you are already on the Start screen, you will return to wherever you were before you headed to the Start screen — an app or the Desktop. Pressing the Windows key by itself accomplishes the same thing as clicking the Start charm.
Windows 8’s Devices charm, accessed from the Photo app.
Devices. This charm is context-sensitive, so what appears when you click it depends on what you are doing at the time and what kind of devices you have connected to your Windows 8 computer or tablet.
Generally, you use the Devices charm to print from a Windows 8 app and to manage your printers and other connected devices. For instance, if you have two or more displays connected to your device, Devices lets you control how the screens work.
Pressing the Windows key + K activates the Devices charm.
Settings. This charm, which you can also launch by pressing the Windows key + I on your keyboard, gives you access to a wide variety of application-specific and system wide settings. When you click it, you will see that it is divided into two parts.
The top part is context sensitive, showing settings related to what you are currently doing in Windows 8. If you click the Settings charm while you are in the Windows 8 Photo app, for example, you can designate which folders, computers and websites (such as Facebook and Flickr) you want photos displayed from, these are a few apps among other options. From the Start screen, you can change settings related to tiles, such as whether to show tiles for administrative tools like the Control Panel.
The bottom part of Settings is the same no matter where you are; it lets you change global Windows 8 settings for your network, sounds, screen, notifications, power and keyboard. Click the “Change PC settings” link at the bottom of the screen to get to the new “PC settings” screen, which lets you customize how the most important features of Windows 8 work from a single location.
For example, the Personalize section lets you change your account picture and the background images for your lock screen and Start screen, and choose which Windows 8 apps — Weather, Mail and so on — should deliver information to the lock screen. (Desktop apps cannot send information to the lock screen.)
The PC settings screen: one-stop for customizing how Windows 8 works.
If you are signed into Windows with a non-Microsoft ID account, here is where you can change that. Click Users, then click “Switch to a Microsoft account” and you will be able to sign in with an existing Microsoft ID, or else create a new one and sign in with that.
Get to know Windows 8
You can also change a myriad of other system settings, including app notifications, search preferences, privacy options and more. The settings are all straightforward and self-explanatory. Just click the one you want to change and get to work.
One noteworthy section in the PC settings screen is “Sync your settings.” Microsoft built Windows 8 assuming that people would be using it with multiple devices. This feature lets you sync some of your settings among them.
You can sync your lock screen; account picture; personalized Desktop settings; passwords for apps, websites and networks; app, browser and mouse settings; and so on. Simply turn on or off which items you want to sync or not sync.
You can customize how your settings sync among multiple devices.
More system wide navigation
When you first start using Windows 8, the navigation will probably confuse you — particularly because Windows 8’s two interfaces coexist uneasily. To help ameliorate that, Windows 8 has a number of system wide navigational features that are available wherever you are — on the Start screen, the Desktop, inside a Windows 8 app or in a Desktop app. The Charms bar is one of them, but there are others as well.
One is a longtime Windows favorite: the Alt-Tab key combination. Press it, and as with previous versions of Windows, a strip of thumbnails of your running programs appears. While holding down the Alt key, keep pressing the Tab key until you come to the thumbnail of the program you want to run. Release the keys at once, and you will switch to that program.
The old standby, Alt-Tab, works in Windows 8.
Another way to switch among your running apps is to move your mouse pointer to the upper-left corner of the screen (called a “hot corner”). A small thumbnail appears of the last app you were running, or where you last were. Click it to make a switch and keep clicking, to cycle through all your apps and open locations.
There is one caveat: You will not cycle through all your Desktop apps. If you have three Desktop-related items running, only the last app that was opened full screen, or else the Desktop itself, will appear in the upper-left corner. (See “Meet the Start screen” for the differences between Desktop apps and Windows 8 apps.)
Here is another navigation trick to try: Move your mouse pointer to the upper-left hot corner until the thumbnail of your previous location appears, then move the mouse pointer down. You will see thumbnails of all of your running apps. Click any to switch to it. However, the same caveat holds here about Desktop apps. Even if you have multiple Desktop apps running, you will see only a single Desktop-related thumbnail, either the last full-screen Desktop app you were running on the Desktop itself.
Viewing thumbnails of open apps in Windows 8.
As mentioned before, pressing the Windows key acts as a location toggle between the Start screen and the place you last were before going there. If you are a fan of the mouse rather than the keyboard, you can do the same thing by moving your cursor to the lower-left corner of the screen. A small thumbnail of the Start screen appears (or if you are at the Start screen, of where you were previously). Click it to go there.
Windows 8 supports a whole host of touch-screen gestures, including the swiping, pinching and rotating motions familiar to smartphone and tablet users. Tapping an item opens it; pressing and holding an item pops up a menu to display more information about it.
Note, however, that these gestures often do not work in Desktop apps. (See “Meet the Start screen” for the differences between Desktop apps and Windows 8 apps.)
Windows 8 also uses something called edge UIs, in which you swipe from the edge of the screen toward the center. Swiping in from the right edge of the screen displays the Charms bar. Swiping quickly in and back out from the left edge of the screen cycles through your open apps.
While the previous edge UI gestures work universally, some are specific to Windows 8 apps. When you are in a Windows 8 app, swiping up from the bottom of the screen or swiping down from the top of the screen displays the App bar. Also you can close a Windows 8 app by pulling down from the top edge of the screen all the way to the bottom of the screen. The app shrinks to a thumbnail and then disappears.
Here is a list of useful Windows 8 gestures, including more edge UI gestures. Keep in mind that not all of the following gestures work in all places and apps. Again, they typically, do not work in Desktop apps.
Windows 8 touch gestures
What it does
|Tap||Open an item. It’s the equivalent of clicking with a mouse.|
|Press and hold||Pop up a menu to display more information about the item.|
|Press and hold, slide and release||Move an item to a new location. It’s the equivalent of dragging an item with a mouse.|
|Pinch with two fingers||Zoom out. Used in apps such as Maps where you commonly zoom in and out.|
|Spread two fingers apart||Zoom in. Used in apps such as Maps where you commonly zoom in and out.|
|Rotate with two fingers||Rotate the display in the direction you move your fingers. Very few apps use this gesture.|
|Swipe horizontally||Scroll sideways through a screen, such as the Start screen to see apps off to the right side.|
|Swipe vertically||Scroll up or down.|
|Short downward swipe on an item||Select the item and show additional options, often in an App bar.|
|On the lock screen, swipe up from the bottom edge of the screen||Display the login screen.|
|In a Windows 8 app, swipe in from the upper or lower edge of the screen||Activate the App bar.|
|Swipe in from the right edge of the screen to the center||Display the Charms bar.|
|Swipe quickly in from left edge of the screen||Display a thumbnail of the previously run app.|
|Swipe slowly in from the left edge of the screen||Display a second app side-by-side with the current app on your screen.|
|Swipe quickly in from the left edge of the screen, then swipe quickly back||Display thumbnails of all your running apps.|
|Pull down from the top of the screen to the bottom||Close a Windows 8 app.|
|In Internet Explorer (Windows 8 version only), swipe right or left||Go forward or back.|
Not using a touch-screen device? Like previous versions of Windows, Windows 8 includes a host of keyboard shortcuts, so you don’t need to spend your life clicking. Those earlier keyboard shortcuts — for example, Ctrl-C to copy text — still work. But Windows 8 also has keyboard shortcuts for many of its new features.
The following table shows some of the most useful shortcuts for Windows 8; it includes both new keyboard shortcuts and some that worked in previous versions of Windows.
Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts
|What it does|
|Windows key shortcuts|
|Windows key||Go to the Start screen or toggle between the Start screen and your previous location|
|Windows-C||Open the Charms bar|
|Windows-D||Show the Desktop|
|Windows-E||Open File Explorer|
|Windows-F||Go to Files in the Search charm|
|Windows-H||Go to the Share charm|
|Windows-I||Go to the Settings charm|
|Windows-K||Go to the Devices charm|
|Windows-L||Lock the device|
|Windows-M||Minimize all windows (only on the Desktop)|
|Windows-O||Lock the screen orientation|
|Windows-Q||Go to Apps in the Search charm|
|Windows-R||Launch the Run box|
|Windows-T||Put the focus on the taskbar and cycle through your running Desktop apps|
|Windows-V||Cycle through your notifications|
|Windows-W||Go to Settings in the Search charm|
|Windows-X||Open a menu of tools for power users|
|Windows-Z||Launch the App bar (or make it disappear if it’s already showing)|
|Windows-1 through 9||Go to the app in the corresponding position on the taskbar (Desktop only)|
|Windows-, (comma)||Peek at the Desktop (on Desktop only)|
|Windows-spacebar||Switch the input language and keyboard layout|
|Windows-Home||Minimize non-active Desktop apps|
|Windows-Page Up||Move Start screen to left monitor|
|Windows-Page Down||Move Start screen to right monitor|
|Windows-up arrow||Maximize a Desktop app|
|Windows-down arrow||Restore/minimize a Desktop app|
|Windows-F1||Run Windows Help and Support|
Other keyboard shortcuts
|Alt-Tab||Cycle through thumbnails of open apps|
|Alt-F4||Close a Windows 8 app|
|Ctrl-E||Select the Search box in the Windows 8 Internet Explorer app; select the Address bar in Desktop version of IE|
|Ctrl-N||Open a new window in Internet Explorer (Desktop version only)|
|Ctrl-F4||Close the active document in Desktop apps|
|Ctrl-mouse click||Select multiple items in File Explorer|
|Ctrl-Shift||Select a group of contiguous items in File Explorer|
|Ctrl-W||Close the current window in Internet Explorer (Desktop version)|
|Ctrl-Shift-Esc||Run the Task Manager|
|Ctrl-Shift-N||Create a new folder in File Explorer|
|PrtScrn||Take a screenshot and place it on the Clipboard|