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8 Is Enough: Sometimes It's the Little Things

We are all creatures of habit, and all it takes to drive that fact home is a few minutes with a new version of Windows. Over the years, Microsoft has changed the location of items in the Start Menu, in System Settings, and elsewhere, seemingly at random, and I've often joked that they do this on purpose just to keep us on our toes. I'm sure the truth has more to do with a boring analysis of usage data, but whatever. Things change. And we have to adapt.

In Windows 8, of course, this is going to be harder than ever. In fact, we've have to go back to Windows 95--in which Microsoft instituted the Explorer desktop and relegated the various "Manager" interfaces to eventual obscurity--to find a UI change even somewhat close in scope and disruption. Now, as then, the Windows UI is being changed for the better, we're told. But we'll go grumbling into this uncertain future just as we did in 1995.

I don't have to tell you that the new Start screen brings with it some challenges. This is especially true in cases of muscle memory, where we automatically and without thought perform some key combination or whatever in anticipation of some familiar outcome. And there's one obvious action I've gotten quite used to doing: I tap the Start button in order to find and use an infrequently-needed application or utility using Start Menu search.

Oddly enough, this works just fine in Windows 8. In fact, it's even been improved in some ways. But if you're using the Windows 8 desktop when you tap this key, the visual effect that occurs is startlingly and joltingly different. Instead of the Start Menu opening, the entire desktop disappears and is replaced by the (now green) Start screen, which visually slides in from the side.

The resulting screen works just like Start Menu Search, however. But now it has little sub-menus for apps, settings, and files. And it works really well.

The new Start Screen Search actually works better than its predecessor, once you get used to it

There's another reason I tap the Start button regularly: I want to access what I think of as a "secondary" application, ones that I do use a lot but don't keep pinned to my taskbar. In Windows 7, such applications include Notepad, Paint, Remote Desktop Connection, and some others. They're typically found in the Start Menu's Most Recently Used list (the left half of the Start Menu), so they're right there when I need them: You tap Start and then tap an arrow key a few times and you're home.

In Windows 8, this doesn't work. And there's no alternative to it, so I find myself pinning applications like Notepad and Paint to the taskbar so I can get to them quickly. But because of this muscle memory, I keep tapping the Start button first, realize my mistake, tap it again to hide the Start screen, and then get back to what I was doing. I will eventually get over this, I hope. But it keeps happening.

On a similar note, I now keep icons for Computer, Network, and Control Panel on the desktop. I do this because they're not easy to access, as before on the Start Menu, otherwise. In Windows 7, I simply used the Start Menu to access these locations. And I didn't realize how often I did this until they were gone.

Fun tip: What's the most efficient way to get to Control Panel from the Windows 8 desktop right after you've installed the OS? Click the Action Center icon in the tray notification area, choose Open Action Center, and then click Control Panel in the address bar of that window. Or, from the Windows 8 Start screen, click Control Panel, then scroll down to the bottom of the list and click More Settings.

When writing about the Server Core feature in Windows Server, I noted that this almost completely UI-less version of Windows Server requires admins to think differently, to use skills they've not used in years. You need to remember how to rename a machine or join a domain from the command line, for example. It's hard.

Windows 8 is like that too. While older versions of Windows didn't have Start Menu Search, they did have the Run command. Run works just like Start Menu Search except for one crucial and hilarious difference: You have to know the exact executable name (and, sometimes, the extension) to get it to work. So you can do something like launch the Local Security Editor. Assuming of course you know that the actual name of this thing is secpol.msc.

Of course it is.

The old Run command works in Windows 8, and I find myself turning to it a lot. You trigger it with Windows Key + R, as before. It's just that we stopped using it, thanks to Start Menu Search. Awake, old muscle memory, awake.

And then there are the truly edge cases. I happen to use Remote Desktop Connection all the time, because I have three servers in-house and need to access them from my PC. In Windows 8, the RDC client has changed, yet again, and this time--go figure--it's a full-screen, Metro-style app. What? That's completely unacceptable, sorry. So I started researching how I could install an RDC client in Windows 8, perhaps even the excellent Windows 7 version.

But Rafael Rivera, my Windows Secrets coauthor and, let's face it, a person more technical than I'll ever be, told me it was already in there. How so, I asked?  You need to use the Run command, he said. The command for RDC is mstsc.exe.

Of course it is.

Put simply, using Windows 8 this early in its development is an adventure. I'm enjoying it, really, and I know it's going to get better. But it's interesting to me that the little things are, in many ways, harder to overcome than the huge, obvious changes. It's just something you don't pay attention to normally. And then it's all different. And suddenly, it's all you can think about.

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