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Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Improvements to Mouse and Keyboard Navigation

While I probably had more experience with the Windows 8 Developer Preview than almost anyone--I used it as my primary PC platform for several months until the release of the Consumer Preview--it didn't take much time with that version of the OS to realize that something was missing. And that's because it was missing. Yes, Microsoft had nearly fully realize the touch experience for Windows 8 in the Developer Preview, because that was essentially a new interface paradigm for most users and the company wanted to get it right. But users of PCs with traditional keyboards and mice--i.e. almost everyone--noticed that the Developer Preview was quite lacking. And the complaints pored in as expected.


Folks, it's all fixed.


In the Consumer Preview, Microsoft presents, for the first time, a nearly complete look at how this system will work and perform on PCs of all kinds, including new slate-like devices, of course, but also traditional desktop PCs and laptops. And while the touch interfaces in Windows 8 were mildly updated for the Consumer Preview, the mouse and  keyboard interfaces were dramatically updated and now work as well, and as seamlessly, as do the touch interfaces.


In this article, I'd like to explain how the common Windows 8 touch-based user eperiences work with the mouse and keyboard.




The Windows 8 Consumer Preview presents a new, consistent method for access the Charms, a set of system commands that are always available, no matter what you're doing (using the Start screen, a Metro-style app, or the desktop. To access the Charms via touch, you swipe in from the right side of the screen.


Mouse: To access the Charms with a mouse, mouse into the top right or bottom right corner of the screen. The Charms will appear in  preview mode, as shown here, because it's possible that you targeted that general area for another reason (such as to access a scroll bar).




To enable the normal Charm display, move the mouse cursor towards the left center area of the screen. (That is, if you're in the top right corner, move down, and if you're in the bottom right corner, move up.) To access a Charm, simply click it.




Keyboard: To display the Charms from the keyboard, tap WINKEY + C.




The Windows 8 Consumer Preview includes a new and consistent way to switch between running apps courtesy of a new UI called the Switcher. With touch, you can invoke the Switcher by using a fairly complex gesture: You swipe in from the left side of the screen, and when the first app thumbnail appears, swipe back toward the left. If you do it just right, the Switcher appears, like so:




Mouse: To access the Switcher with the mouse, simply mouse into the upper left corner of the screen. This will trigger a new Back action, displaying a thumbnail of the previous app in the Back stack; click it to switch to that app. But if you want the full Switcher interface, simply mouse down from the Back thumbnail, along the edge of the screen.


Keyboard: To display Switcher with the keyboard, tap WINKEY + TAB (and repeatedly tap TAB to move between the available choices). Or,  you can switch between running apps using the ALT + TAB keyboard combination as before.




While the Windows 8 Consumer Preview finally kills off the old Start button, it's been replaced by a new Start tip that lets you access the Start screen, or the previously chosen app, from anywhere in the system. You access this interface with touch by invoking the Charms and tapping the Start icon, or you can use the hardware Windows key button on the device, or the PC keyboard.


Mouse: To access the Start tip, mouse into the lower left corner of the screen.




You can click this tip to invoke the Start action. However, power users will want to check out the unique right-click menu which is only available from the mouse:




Keyboard: To access the Start action from the keyboard, just tap the WINKEY button. Or, tap CTRL + ESC.




With a touch-based system, you typical tap the screen once to select an item or tap and hold (what's sometimes called a "long tap") to get more information about an object. These actions have mouse- and keyboard based equivalents too, of course.


Mouse: To select an item with the mouse, click the left (primary) mouse button once. On the desktop, you often need to double-click to trigger an application or other object. To get more information about an object, right-click it.




Keyboard: You can select items the keyboard using Enter. (Navigate with the arrow keys.) To get more information about an object, press the Spacebar.




To scroll through a Metro-style app or the Start screen, you typically swipe the screen from left to right or vice versa.


Mouse: There are a number of ways to scroll with the mouse. If you move the mouse around the screen in a Metro-style environment like the Start screen, an onscreen scrollbar will appear; you can click or drag that to scroll. Conversely, you could use a new Windows 8 feature called Push Scrolling. To invoke Push Scrolling, simply move the mouse cursor against the edge of the screen. If you move the cursor quickly, the screen will scroll quickly in that directly; do so slowly and it will scroll slowly.


Keyboard: You can scroll slowly in any direction using the arrow keys. Or to scroll quickly , use PGUP or PGDN.




Windows 8 offers a new zoom effect that is invoked by pinching the screen with your fingers.


Mouse and keyboard: To emulate pinch zoom with the mouse and keyboard, hold down the CTRL key and use the mouse wheel.

Close a Metro app


The Windows 8 Consumer Preview offers a fun new way of closing Metro-style  apps: Simply swipe down from the top of the screen, all the way to the bottom. As you drag, you'll see the full app window change to a large thumbnail, keep dragging to the bottom and it will close.


Keyboard: To close the current Metro-style app with the keyboard, use the standard ALT + F4 keyboard combination. Note that there will be confirmation, and the app will close immediately.


App Bar


To bring up the App Bar on the Start screen in any Metro-style app, you use an edge UI: Swipe up from the bottom of the screen or swipe down from the top.


Mouse: To display the App bar, right-click.


Keyboard: To display the App bar, type WINKEY + Z.

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