You don't have to be paying a lot of attention to know that power users have a few key complaints about Windows 8, with most centering on the supposedly limited Metro environment and the ways in which Microsoft has changed the Windows desktop. But look a bit closer at the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and you'll find that the software giant has made a ton of task management improvements to this release. And while Microsoft may never silence the haters, those who really try to understand how this stuff works will find they can be very efficient indeed in the new OS.
Before continuing, understand that virtually all of the task management features in Windows 7 are still present in Windows 8. (One minor exception I can think of off the top of my head is that Windows Flip 3D is no longer with us; this task switching UI has been replaced by Switcher, which is described below.) So Windows 8 mostly represents a superset of the task management functionality you're already familiar with.
Second, while many of the new task management features in Windows 8 apply to the new Metro-style environment, almost all of them also relate to the classic desktop environment too. Don't worry, folks. No one is getting left behind.
OK, here are some of the key new task management features in Windows 8, many of which are also new to the Consumer Preview.
Need to get back to the Start screen or toggle between the Start screen and an app? Simply use the new Start experience, which replaces the old fashioned Start button and now works in both the desktop and Metro environments. Here's how:
Keyboard: Tap the Windows Key (WINKEY) on your keyboard, or CTRL + ESC.
Mouse: Mouse into the lower left corner of the screen to display the Start tip, and then click it.
Touch: Activate the Charms by swiping in from the right side of the screen and then tap the Start charm.
Note: You can also right-click the Start tip to display a new power user menu. The keyboard shortcut is WINKEY + X.
Windows 8, like Windows Phone, lets you move "back" the previous app. You can invoke Back with the following input devices:
Keyboard: Use the full Switcher user experience, described next.
Mouse: Move the mouse cursor into the top left corner of the screen. A thumbnail of the previous app will appear. Click to go Back.
Touch: Swipe in from the left side of the screen to navigate to the previous app.
Switcher is a new task management UI that helps you switch between the currently running Metro-style apps and desktop applications. This UI works in both the desktop and Metro. You invokes Switcher as follows:
Keyboard: WINKEY + TAB (or WINKEY + SHIFT + TAB)
Mouse: Move the mouse cursor into the top left corner of the screen. When the thumbnail of the previous app appears, move down the left edge of the screen.
Touch: Swipe in from the left side of the screen, and when the first app thumbnail appears, swipe back toward the left.
Switcher provides a vertical list of thumbnails representing all of the running apps and applications and, at the bottom, the Start screen. You can navigate between them until you find the one you want; select it, and that app will move to the forefront.
Switcher also lets you close running apps and applications. To do so, drag it out of Switcher and down to the bottom of the screen. (You can also drag thumbnails out of Switcher to utilize the side-by-side screen sharing feature described below.)
Note: The ALT + TAB keyboard shortcut works as before.
Side-by-side screen sharing
While the Windows desktop works largely as before, with floating and full screen windows, and a plethora of window management options, Microsoft has implemented a limited form of screen sharing for those that wish to use Metro-style apps. This feature lets you split the screen in well-understood ways using two Metro-style apps or one Metro-style app and the desktop.
You can't split the screen arbitrarily. Instead, you can snap a secondary app (or the desktop) into approximately one-third of the screen on either the left or right side of the screen. In this mode, the app with the most onscreen real estate is said to be the primary app and the one with the least is the secondary app.
You can invoke side-by-side screen sharing with the following input types:
Mouse: Display Switcher as described above and then drag an app thumbnail left towards either the left or right side of the display. When the Snap UI appears--a vertical line with three dots--release the mouse button and the selected app will snap into the secondary display area.
Touch: Display Switcher, and the drag an app thumbnail left towards either the left or right side of the display. When the Snap UI appears--a vertical line with three dots--release the mouse button and the selected app will snap into the secondary display area. (Alternatively, you can snap the previous app into the secondary display area by swiping in from the left edge of the screen and then releasing when the Snap UI appears.)
You can also reverse which displayed app gets the primary display area by dragging the Snap UI left or right.
To restore the single app view, drag the Snap line to the closest screen edge.
Note: Side-by-side screen sharing works best when the app you intend to use in the secondary display area offers an alternative user interface for that purpose. Not all apps do. Two good examples of apps that do, however, are Calendar and Bing Weather.
Close Metro-style apps
Everyone knows that you can use ALT + F4 or the Close Window button to exit a traditional Windows application. But how do you do this with a Metro-style app? New to the Consumer Preview are the following methods:
Mouse: Grab near the very top of the screen and drag down, all the way to the bottom of the screen; the app will turn into a large thumbnail as you do so and then disappear.
Keyboard: ALT + F4. Yep, it still works.
Touch: Grab near the very top of the screen and drag down, all the way to the bottom of the screen; the app will turn into a large thumbnail as you do so and then disappear.
While Windows has always offered very basic multi-monitor capabilities, Windows 8 turns things up a notch with truly stellar multi-monitor support. And while you can only use the Start screen and Metro environment on a single display any time, the ways in which you can configure the desktop to utilize the remaining onscreen real estate should be cheered by power users. You can display different wallpapers on each monitor or stretch a single panoramic wallpaper across multiple displays.
More important, perhaps, Windows 8 now supports different taskbars for each monitor, a first. That means that apps will open and pin to the correct display, allowing users to customize their setup in ways that were never previously possible.
New Task Manager
The Windows 8 Task Manager is a deceptive little guy. It looks innocuous at first glance, with just a Spartan list of running apps from which to choose.
Tap More Details, however, and it comes to life with multiple tabs--Processes, Performance, App history, Startup, Users, Details, and Services--that hint at this vital tool's amazing capabilities.
From a task management perspective, of course, Task Manager does just what you think it does. You can right-click (or tap and hold) on any running app (or application) and choose End task to kill that thing dead. And it happens quick.
Of course, I don't recommend that users micro-manage their running apps in this way. Windows 8 is a very modern operating system that utilizes methods and technologies from Microsoft's smart phone platforms to ensure that apps perform well and automatically suspend and the end on their own, without any need for you to do so manually. But it's nice to know you can if you need to.