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Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Where Is It Now??

I've written numerous articles about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview already, and among them are some great guides to getting around in the new user interface--if I do say so myself--whether you're using a touch-screen tablet (unlikely) or a traditional mouse- and keyboard-based PC.


But I'm impressed the unending cavalcade of questions about Windows 8, especially by those who are confused that things have changed. Looking past the pure outrage we see from a vocal minority that apparently can't deal with change, a more pragmatic concern arrives. And it's simple. Today, we perform certain common tasks in Windows using interface elements that have been in place, in some cases, for many years. How do perform these tasks now? Where are those interfaces?


Where is it now??


Before starting getting into this, be sure to read at least a few of my previous articles that discuss these changes:


Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Welcome to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: What's New in the Consumer Preview

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: The Top 8 Features

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Personalizing Windows 8

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: The True Story Behind the Missing Start Button

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: User Experience and Fit and Finish Improvements

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Improvements to Mouse and Keyboard Navigation

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Windows Key Keyboard Shortcuts


OK, let's examine a few common tasks and see how they've changed in Windows 8. If you have further tasks you'd like me to discuss--I do intend to publish at least a second article like this--or corrections/additions to make, drop me a note a let me know.


Start button


The Start button debuted in Windows 95 and has been a mainstay of Windows ever since (though few know it was renamed to the Start orb starting in Windows Vista). It was removed from Windows 8.


Why: Because Windows 8 provides two different user interfaces, the Metro-style Windows Runtime (or "Metro") and the Windows desktop, Microsoft replaced the Start button with a new Start experience that works consistently between Metro-style apps and the Windows desktop.


Where it is now: You can activate the new Windows 8 Start experience via numerous actions. With a mouse, just move the mouse cursor into the lower-left corner of the screen and you will see the new Start tip thumbnail appear. With a keyboard, tap WINKEY or CTRL + ESC as before. With a touch-based device, tap the Start key on the device or open the Charms bar and tap the Start icon.


What else is new: In Windows 8, the Start experience works as a toggle. So it can also "go back" to the last screen you were viewing.


Start menu


The Start menu debuted in Windows 95 alongside the Start button and has evolved steadily over the years. It was used primarily for application launching and for locating numerous system settings. The Start menu was replaced by the Metro-style Start screen in Windows 8. But it's absolutely OK to think of these screen, conceptually, as a full-screen replacement for the Start menu ... At least from an application-launching perspective.


Why: Like other old-fashioned user interfaces, the Start menu quickly outgrew the space allotted, and while subsequent revisions in Windows XP and Windows Vista attempted to overcome the space issues, Microsoft eventually decided--as it did with the ribbon replacing toolbar and menu interfaces in Office applications and elsewhere--that something new was required. The Start screen is full-screen, both because that space can be better utilized, and because full-screen interfaces are in keeping with the design ideals of Metro.


Where it is now. When viewing a Metro-style app or the Windows desktop, just activate the Start experience (as noted above) to view the Start screen. Note, however, that some of the Start menu's other capabilities can now be found elsewhere, most notably via the new Charms bar. (This can be activated by tapping WINKEY + C, by swiping in from the right edge of the screen, or by accessing the right-most top or bottom corners of the screen with the mouse and moving the cursor along the edge of the screen towards the middle right.) In this bar, you will find Search, Devices, and Settings interfaces, all of which were previously accessed through the Start menu.


What else is new: The Start screen offers live tiles that are far more expressive than the icons used in the Start menu. It also offers new customization capabilities, including various background colors and patterns, tile grouping, and the like.


Start Menu Search


Start Menu Search is one of the best features in Windows 7. It lets you quickly and easily find applications, documents, and other items. It has been replaced in Windows 8 by an even better feature.


Why: Because the Start menu was replaced with the Start screen in Windows 8, Start Menu Search had to go too. Fortunately, it's been replaced by an even more powerful version that I call Start Screen Search.


Where it is now: You can access Start Screen Search in exactly the same way you accessed Start Menu Search: Just tap WINKEY and start typing. (If you're viewing the Start screen already, just start typing.) Search is now a full-screen experience and it has filtering for Apps, Settings, Files and for individual Metro-style apps that support the new Search contract. (Many do.)


What else is new: You can also access this new Search experience from anywhere in the system by invoking the Charms bar (WINKEY +C) and then clicking Search, or by typing WINKEY + Q. When you do this, Search will be context-sensitive. So if you launch Search from Internet Explorer 10 (Metro), you will search that app (or, search the web). If you do so from the Windows Store, you will search the store. And so on.


Shutdown (and Sleep and Restart)


Windows users have been the butt of jokes for decades because we must click the "Start" button before shutting down ("ending") Windows. Well, no more. The interface for shutting down the computer, and performing other similar tasks, has been finally moved in Windows 8.


Why: The Start menu has been removed in Windows 8 and replaced with the Start screen. Since shutting down the computer has nothing to do with launching applications, it has been moved to a more logical position in the user interface.


Where it is now: Shut down and other power commands (Sleep, Restart) are now found in the Settings interface. You can access this by typing WINKEY + I and then clicking Power. If you would like to lock the screen or logout, you do so from the user tile on the top of the Start screen.


What else is new: The Settings interface offers a consistent way to access networking, volume, screen brightness, notification, power, and language controls no matter where you are in the system. From this interface, you can also access other PC Settings (the Metro-style control panel) and context-sensitive settings related to the app or experience you're currently viewing.


Windows Flip 3D task switching


In Windows Vista, Microsoft debuted a new task switching interface called Windows Flip 3D that could be used in addition to the more common Windows Flip (ALT + TAB) method. Activated via the WINKEY + TAB keyboard shortcut, or through custom a mouse button configuration, Windows Flip 3D was nice looking but never really caught on with users and it's been replaced in Windows 8 with the new Switcher interface.


Why: As with many other user experiences in Windows 8, Microsoft needed a task switching interface that worked consistently between the Metro and desktop environments.


Where it is now: The new Switcher interface can be accessed via the same WINKEY + TAB keyboard shortcut. Mouse users can access Switcher by moving the mouse cursor to the upper-left corner of the screen, which will display a new Back tip. Then, move the mouse down along the left edge of the screen to display Switcher. For touch users, it's a swipe in from the left edge of the screen; when the first app thumbnail appears, swipe back a bit to display Switcher.


What else is new: ALT + TAB works exactly as it did in Windows 7, and it works in Metro too. But the Back tip is new to Windows 8 and lets you shortcut to only the most recently used app.


Control Panel and other advanced interfaces


Why: In previous versions of Windows, the Control Panel was used for system-level configurations and other related interfaces. It was most commonly accessed from the Start menu, which is now missing in Windows 8.


Where it is now: Because Windows 8 offers two user experiences, Metro and the desktop, it also offers two settings interfaces, one for each user experience. The new Metro-style PC Settings interface is accessed from the Settings bar (WINKEY + I, More PC Settings). The Control Panel is accessible from the desktop environment via numerous mechanisms: The easiest is to mouse into the lower left corner of the screen until the Start tip thumbnail appears; just right-click and choose Control Panel from the power user menu that appears. (If you need to access the Control Panel frequently, you can add an icon for this interface to your desktop as well via the Personalization control panel.


What else is new: The classic Control Panel works much as it did in Windows 7 assuming you can find it. But by changing the way system settings work, Microsoft has created a more consistent Settings interface that provides access to both system-wide settings and settings for the app you're currently using.


I'll be back....


It's time to stop whining and get to work, people. Got more? Bring 'em on.


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