While the reaction to Microsoft’s decision to remove the Start button from Windows 8 has been decidedly knee-jerk, it’s important to understand that the new UI is more consistent and logical. With app-launching and system settings now available in more easily accessible interfaces, Windows 8 also provides a new hidden menu that targets power users and IT pros.
Yes, you can (and should) always use Start Search to find any hidden system utilities that you can’t find easily or at all in the new Windows 8 user interface. But Microsoft has bundled links to a number of frequently-needed utilities in a hidden new menu, the Power User menu, that’s available in the lower-left corner of the screen, right where the old Start button used to be.
You can access this menu via the keyboard or mouse, but not touch:
Keyboard: Type WINKEY + X
Mouse: Mouse into the lower-left corner of the screen and right-click when the Start tip appears
Either way, the Power User menu appears like so:
As with other new Windows 8 experiences, the new Power User menu is available from anywhere in Windows 8: The desktop, the Start screen, or any Metro-style app. All but one of these options (Search) triggers a desktop-based application, utility, or control panel, so selecting any of the non-Metro items will cause the desktop to appear if it’s not already visible.
The following items are available via this menu:
Programs and Features. This control panel is the latest version of Add or Remove Programs, and it provides quick access to two important interfaces: The ability to add, modify or remove existing desktop-style applications and Turn Windows Features on or off, which helps you configure some advanced Windows features like IIS, Hyper-V, PowerShell, and so on. You can also access the less frequently needed Installed Updates interface, which lets you view and uninstall updates you previously installed via Windows Update.
Power Options. This control panel is largely unchanged from Windows 7, but as was the case with that version of Windows as well, it’s a bit hard to get to from a desktop PC. (Mobile computer users can also quickly access Power Options via the Power system tray icon.)
Event Viewer. This Microsoft Management Console (MMC)-based administrative utility helps find and solve issues with Windows and applications, including Blue Screens and other problems.
System. This classic control panel was previously accessed most easily by right-clicking Computer in the old Start menu and choosing Properties. It provides a wide range of information about your PC, including your Windows edition, Windows Experience Index rating (not on Windows RT), processor, RAM, system type, pen and touch capabilities, and activation status. It also provides a front-end to numerous system-level utilities, including Device Manager, Remote settings, System protection, Advanced system settings, Action Center, Windows Update, and Performance Information and Tools. Many of those utilities, in turn, provide access to further functionality, making System one of the most versatile interfaces in Windows.
Device Manager. A classic MMC interface and one of the oldest utilities in Windows, Device Manager identifies each of the hardware components in your PC and tells you at a glance whether each is assigned a valid and working driver. This is one of the first places that any power user will turn when installing Windows, to ensure that all of the hardware devices and peripherals are properly configured.
Disk Management. Another classic MMC interface, Disk Management provides a layout of all of the storage that is attached to your PC and provides related interfaces for changing drive letters, formatting, shrinking or growing partitions, and the like. Disk Management may look old-fashioned, but it also provides modern Windows features like the ability to create VHDs (virtual hard disks, compatible with Hyper-V) and attach them to the file system.
Computer Management. This old-school MMC is really just a container for several other tools, and it could be thought of as the spiritual predecessor to the new Power User menu discussed here. It includes Task Scheduler, Event Viewer, Shared Folders, Local Users and Groups, Performance, Device Manager, Disk Management, Services and WMI Control plug-ins. Because the most useful tools are available separately in the Power User menu, this interface is for the most part deprecated.
Command Prompt. The classic DOS-style command line.
Command Prompt (Admin). An admin-level version of the command prompt, which lets you complete any task, not just user-level tasks. Launching this type of command prompt is much easier from this Power User menu than it is from Start Search, so if you need this interface, this is the best way to access it.
Task Manager. While I’ll be covering the new Windows 8 Task Manager in a separate Feature Focus article, it’s worth mentioning that you can still trigger this interface easily by right-clicking an empty area of the taskbar and choosing Task Manager. This is most frequently used to stop hung tasks, view performance data, and, in Windows 8, prevent desktop-type applications and utilities from launching automatically at boot.
Control Panel. The classic predecessor to PC Settings is still very much necessary in Windows 8 because many of the configurable features it contains are not available anywhere else. With a few exceptions, Control Panel looks and works exactly as it did in Windows 7.
File Explorer. The renamed Windows Explorer is much improved for Windows 8, with a ribbon-based user interface and dramatically better file copy performance. I wrote about this application previously in Windows 8 Feature Focus: File Explorer. And you can access it more quickly by typing WINKEY + E at any time.
Search. This item opens Start Search with the Apps view displayed, so it’s the equivalent of typing WINKEY + Q (or of selecting Charms, Search from the desktop or Start screen). This is the only Power User menu item that launches a Metro (i.e. non-desktop) interface.
Run. This item launches the classic and depreciated Run window, which is more readily accessible by typing WINKEY + R.
Desktop. This item works identically to typing WINKEY + D. If you’re viewing the desktop, all open applications and windows will minimize to the taskbar. But if you are elsewhere in the system, in any Metro-style experience, the desktop will display (and open applications and windows will not minimize).