Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

Summary: Are you one of the million people who have downloaded Windows 8 and taken it for a test drive? Windows 8 introduces some fundamental changes to the way familiar actions work. That can be a bit disorienting, until you learn the new ways of working. Here are my shortcuts and secrets.

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Roughly a million people have downloaded the Windows Developer Preview that Microsoft released publicly at the opening of its BUILD Conference last week.

For Microsoft, that’s good news and bad news. That’s a tremendous amount of interest for a product that is probably a year away from shipping. But it also means a lot of non-developers are experimenting with an incomplete operating system that hasn’t been polished for a mainstream audience yet.

As I noted in my first look last week, Windows 8 introduces some fundamental changes to the way familiar actions work. That can be a bit disorienting at first, as you try to adjust to a new way of doing things. The good news is that the “Where did everything go?” feeling vanishes pretty quickly once you learn a few basic techniques (and unlearn some familiar habits).

I’ve put together a gallery showing some Windows 8 shortcuts and secrets that you definitely need to know about. In this post, I want to talk about Windows 8 at a slightly higher level.

Last week, I had a chance to play with the Windows Developer Preview (curiously, there’s no 8 in that name—did you notice?). I returned that hardware to Microsoft before leaving Anaheim, and the first thing I did when I got back in the office on Friday was to begin installing the OS on a handful of computers that I had set aside to be sacrificial lambs.

  • The first was a Dell Latitude XT2. I had high hopes for this device, which has a touchscreen and a 256GB SSD and has generally been a reliable performer for me. Alas, it’s been a complete washout as far as Windows 8 is concerned. The XT2 is not on Microsoft’s list of touchscreen systems, and in my case a problem with the digitizer makes the system literally unusable under Windows 8. Oh well.
  • The second system is a Dell Studio One 1909. This all-in-one system has a touchscreen with a fairly large bezel that makes some of the edge-swiping techniques tricky. In addition, it supports single-touch input only, which means that pinch zooming and some of the cooler sample apps (Piano and PaintPlay, for example) don’t work. Aside from those caveats, it works very well indeed.
  • Finally, I have a year-old Dell desktop with an i7 processor, 10 GB of RAM, and a swift SATA 3 SSD. This system is on my desktop, and I’ve been switching between it and my main Windows 7 box (a newer i5 desktop) for the past couple days.

After using the tablet hardware for a week, I struggled initially with this desktop installation, which has a keyboard and mouse but no touchscreen. But after some time I’ve finally begun to settle into a rhythm and figure out why the new user interface works the way it does.

So, in the spirit of sharing, let me tell you about some of the things I’ve discovered about Windows 8 so far.

The most disorienting factor, in my experience, is the switch from the Start menu in Windows 7 and earlier to the Start screen in Windows 8. It’s tempting to stuff the Start screen with hundreds of icons and break them into groups. In a way, that replicates the Start menu’s organization. But I’ve ultimately come to the realization that this system was designed as a “search first” experience.

Yes, your absolute favorite apps should be pinned on the Start screen, but for most apps it’s much easier to just search. From the Start screen (tap the Windows key to go there immediately), start typing the name of a program or command. It really is one of those “I can’t believe it’s this easy” features.

A lot of the demos at BUILD last week were tailored to show off the capabilities of tablet hardware, and specifically the Samsung hardware given to conference attendees. Touchscreens have a great vocabulary of gestures that will serve you well in Windows 8. In most cases, the same actions are possible using a keyboard, but the optimal technique isn’t obvious until you learn it.

So here’s a quick tutorial on getting around in Windows 8.

With a touch screen, you need to learn three gestures:

  • Swipe from the left edge to the center to flip through open apps.
  • Swipe from the right edge to the center to display the menu of Windows 8 “charms”: Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. Start always takes you back to the Start screen.
  • Swipe from the top or bottom of the screen to open an app bar on the bottom, with commands relevant to the app you’re using. In the Metro-style Internet Explorer, tabs appear at the top of the window when you swipe

Sometimes a mouse gesture is the most obvious alternative to a touch gesture. But keyboard shortcuts, especially those that involve the Windows key, can be much faster and make you more productive.

  • Tap the Windows key to toggle between the Start screen and the program you used most recently.
  • To go to the Windows desktop (aka “classic Windows”) press Windows key+M.
  • To switch between running apps (treating the entire Windows desktop as a single “app”), use Windows key+Tab.
  • To switch between running programs, where each Windows desktop app is on a par with Metro-style apps, use Alt+Tab. This is the same as Windows 7 and earlier.
  • In any window, you can aim the mouse pointer at the lower left corner of the screen to bring up a hidden Start menu with the same choices as the Charms menu on the right side of a touchscreen.
  • You can enter any command in the Run menu, which is available when you press Windows key+R.
  • Press Windows key+E to bring up Windows Explorer with the Computer window selected. From here, you can click commands on the ribbon to bring up the System Properties dialog box, open Control Panel, or add or remove a program.

One thing that puzzles many first-time Windows 8 users is the lack of a Close command on full-screen Metro-style apps. That’s by design: these apps suspend themselves within five seconds when you switch away, and they’ll close automatically if you need the resources. But if an app becomes unresponsive, it’s handy to know that you can use Task Manager to kill it. (See the details and learn the Task Manager keyboard shortcut.)

I’ll have a lot more to share later, including how to create and use Windows virtual machines (first you have to enable Hyper-V, which is off by default). I’m also impressed by the new File History feature, which combines the Backup program and the Previous Versions feature into a simpler package. It should be easier to find deleted files and old versions using this new Restore interface.

Are you among the first million people to use Windows 8? What do you think so far, and do you have any hands-on questions or tips for my next installment?

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Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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131 comments
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  • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

    Based on the kludgy mechanisms on using mouse and keyboard to perform basic tasks, Win-8 is truly an "incomplete operating system that hasn???t been polished for a mainstream audience yet." Microsoft really needs to "get on the stick" and start telling/showing mouse/keyboard users how the new OS is going to work for them. While all this tablet-centric "flash and sizzle" is all well and good; where is the new stuff for the mouse/keyboard users?
    TsarNikky
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @TsarNikky : Right!
      EricDeBerg
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

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        adijoy
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @TsarNikky If it requires a user manual/ guide/ training/ instructions, then it is not intuitive. I have seen many 2 and 3 year old kids using iPhones, iPads and iPods. One of my friend's daughters who is not yet 2 years old is able to pick the same app on an iPhone and an iPad without any hesitation. None of these kids were "trained" or "instructed" how to use an iPhone/iPad. Would they be able to use Windows8 the same way? Or even Windows Phone 7? I am techie who does low level Win32 stuff for a living, but I will have to admit Windows8 is still ugly under the hood for a child to understand.
      GoForTheBest
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

        @iRMX

        The issue isn't whether its easy to use on a touch pad - it is . The issue he mentioned is how to use it well with a mouse on a desktop.
        bklooste
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

        @iRMX I agree that an OS (or an app) should be intuitive. But on the other hand, I'm not waiting on an OS that can be handled by every 2-year old. That's just an indication of little capabilities
        belli_bettens@...
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @TsarNikky. Totally agreed - the Windows 8 UI just feels wrong if you have only a mouse and large screen - I tried Windows 8 on a 32 inch monitor with 2560*1600 resolution. Under this form factor, I find the UI really jarring and unpleasant, primarily because under the "classic" desktop the Windows 7 Start menu has disappeared and replaced with the Metro Style Start Screen. In addition, I can't imagine Metro apps being at all pleasant to use with the large screen and mouse combination frequently used by gamers, traders, graphic artists, and many business users. I'm sure that Windows 8 has every chance of becoming a wonderful tablet operating system, but it is a pity that (the current build of) Windows 8 appears to poorly serve users who use a large screen and mouse only.
      Ralph Purtscher-Wydenbruck
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @TsarNikky

      Why ? For mouse users you will just choose the install the old Desktop.
      bklooste
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

        @bklooste Why have so many people not gotten the message that the start screen is not optional, and that the desktop is now just an "app" not an alternative to it?
        jtimar
  • My problem with Windows 8...

    ...so far, in the development process, is the complete lack of support for anything below 1366x768 resolution. Any device below that has pretty limited compatibility with the new Metro UI (in fact, on one device I used apps wouldn't even start). They need to adequately support 1280x720 and 1280x800 resolution if they want to allow people to upgrade properly.

    Because of the limitation, I can't even use the preview yet. I like what I see and all, and I love the connection to my Windows Phone UI, but they were serious when they said this isn't beta-quality yet.
    GoodThings2Life
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @GoodThings2Life It doesn't seem to be optimised for "desktop" either.

      With dual 24" or 27" displays, I want to see 5 or 6 windows open next to each other, not "full screen" mode.

      It looks like a majority of my time will be spent in the Desktop "app".
      wright_is
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

        @wright_is For Sure!
        adinas
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

        @wright_is

        You can you just haven't learned how to dock Metro apps....
        bklooste
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @GoodThings2Life

      This is what happened to me, my tablet (Samsung Q1U) is 1024x600 and most things wouldn't even open.
      AudeKhatru
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @GoodThings2Life
      I saw nothing about this in the pre release hype. My Bad! But I've got an $800 piece of hardware running Win 7 Pro and Office 2010 Enterprise and it is an absolute pig with lousy touch screen implementation. So I had high hope that Win8 might render my HP Slate 500 useful. About the only thing it's useful for is as a paperweight. Unless MS upgrades the resolution in the future to include my "tiny" 1024x600 Slate's screen I might as well just chuck it. Even if Win8's final version is wonderful MS and HP have left the building as far as I'm concerned.
      Maybe I can trash Win7 and Win8 and install Android's Gingerbread?
      bunkport
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

        @bunkport Good God no. I don't know if the Slate even supports Android, but if it does the last thing you want on your tablet is Gingerbread. You'll need Honeycomb, maybe Ice Cream Sandwich if it is ported to your device. Not Gingerbread, because that's an outdated phone OS that will be underpowered and drastically underuse your screen real estate. Honeycomb is for tablets. ICS is for both phones and tablets.
        letssharetherainbow
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @GoodThings2Life Or -as said before- they just cutting of legacy hardware. Maybe they just think it's time to ditch those old monitors.
      belli_bettens@...
  • Not Really or the Desktop Anyway

    I don't think that MS will offer keyboard and mouse help that quickly because it is in my opinion tailoring Win8 to consumer tablets and touchscreens as a secondary market. The regular desktop user isn't being targeted here because I think this OS is completely in response to the iPad.
    k12IT
    • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

      @k12IT
      If this this OS is completely in response to the iPad, then is MS coming with another OS to replace Windows 7???
      Raju Das
      • RE: Windows 8: what you need to know to be productive now

        @Raju Das Yes it is a response to the iPad, no there is not another Windows OS coming. There is already an APP out to give you the old start menu if needed. I can see Win 8 as is, for tablets and most home users, but I cannot see it as a work place OS. Again it is incomplete, and I do like it overall. I have it installed on my Acer Iconia W500.
        Broggy69