So you make the plunge into Windows 8 and before you know it, you've been thrown from the frying pan into the fire. Designed to accommodate traditional keyboard and mouse interfaces as well as newer pure touch interfaces such as tablets, Windows 8 is very different from any of the preceding versions of the Windows desktop OS. Finding your way around Windows 8 with a touch interface is fairly intuitive. However, it can be a challenge with the mouse and keyboard. Plus, you can't just spend your time struggling to find stuff—you need to be productive right away. In this column, I'll give you the top 10 tips you'll need to survive the move to Windows 8. See also, "Q: What are the new keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8?".
1. Find the corners—You might question exactly how intuitive invisible hot spots in the corners of the screen are, but knowing about them is vital to getting around in Windows 8. On the Start screen, the most important hot spot is in the upper right corner and clicking it displays the Charms menu. The lower right hot spot accesses the Start screen, and the upper left hot spot displays the desktop. On the desktop screen, a hot spot in the lower left (close to where the Start button was) switches you to the Start menu. Alternatively, the Win key quickly toggles between the Start screen and the desktop.
2. Use Win+X—This shortcut is the catch-all key combination where you'll find everything important that doesn't fit on the new Start screen. Use Win+X to launch a command prompt or an administrative command prompt. Other menu options include Programs and Features, Power Options, Device Manager, Disk Manager, Computer Management, Control Panel and File Explorer. Everything launched from the Win+X key combination runs on the desktop.
3. Use the other shortcut keys—Perhaps somewhat ironically for a graphical OS, Windows 8 relies on many shortcut key combinations. You just learned about Win+X, the most important shortcut key. Some other useful keystroke combinations include: Win+C opens the Charms bar, Win+I (that's i) opens the Settings charm, Win+K opens the Connect charm, Win+H opens the Share charm, Win+Q opens the Search pane, Win+Tab cycles through running apps, and Win+Z opens the app bar.
4. Use Search—Search is now an essential way to start programs from the Start menu. The Start menu is flat and doesn't display all the programs on the system. However, you can launch programs using Search from the Start screen just by typing the program name. For instance, to run Paint, just type Paint. You'll see a list of results on the left side of the Start screen, and you can run the desired program by clicking its name.
5. Customize the Start screen—Unlike the old Start menu, the Windows 8 Start screen isn't static. It can automatically display the status of different apps continually (which I honestly find annoying, but it could potentially be useful if there were something that I wanted to get automatic updates about). When you install programs, their tiles are added automatically to the Start screen. To add your own tiles to the Start screen, press Win+Z, select All Apps, then right-click the application you want to add. You can change the Desktop theme by using Settings, Personalize, Start screen. You can pin programs to the task bar by right-clicking on the desired program.
6. Close apps—Windows 8 apps don’t always work like you expect. One prominent example is closing apps. While it's easy to start an app just by clicking its tile on the Start screen, once the app is opened you'll quickly see there are no close or minimize buttons in the upper right corner like a Windows desktop program. To close an app, move the mouse pointer to the top of the screen until it becomes a hand icon, then left click, hold, and drag down. The app will minimize, then you can drag it off the bottom of screen. Alternatively, you can press Alt+F4.
7. Enable Administrative Tools—If you're a Windows IT Pro reader, there's no doubt that you'll want to use the Windows 8 Administrative Tools. To enable Administrative Tools, open Settings either using the upper right corner hot spot or by pressing Win+I (i). Next, select Tiles and move the Show administrative tools slider to the right. The Start screen will be populated with many of the familiar administrative tools you know and love.
8. Make RDP Windows 8 friendly—If you remotely connect to a Windows 8 system (or Server 2012) via RDP, you'll find the experience is less than awesome because the default RDP settings don't capture the local hot key combinations that are used elsewhere in Windows 8. To allow RDP to send the Win hot key to a remote Windows 8 (or Windows Server 2012) system, go to the Remote Desktop Connection option and select the Local Resources tab. In the Keyboard drop-down menu, select On the remote computer, or if you run RDP in full screen (which I don't), select Only when using the full screen.
9. Get over it—There are some things you're just not going to get—at least not with this first release of Windows 8. Start button: gone. Aero: gone. Recent Items: gone. Windows Media Center: gone (technically you should be able get it as a paid add-on for Windows 8 Professional). DVD playback: gone (that's right, you need Windows Media Center (see "Q: Where is Windows Media Center in Windows 8?"), or a third party program for this function—VLC is a popular option). Windows DVD Maker: gone (but you can still burn data files by opening the drive from Windows Explorer).
10. If you don't want to get over it, use Classic Shell—Yeah, I know it's not really a Windows 8 tip, but it might help you survive the move to Windows 8. If you really miss the Start menu, you can get it back with the free Classic Shell. You can download Classic Shell from SourceForge.
The Windows 8 video is also online at Video: Windows 8 Keyboard and Mouse Survival Guide.