Windows 8 shortcuts and secrets (Developer Preview edition)

So, you've installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview and you're feeling a bit disoriented? You've come to the right place. Here's a collection of shortcuts and tips to help you navigate the "reimagined" Windows 8 interface.
1 of 16 Ed Bott/ZDNet

So, you've installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview and you're feeling a bit disoriented? You've got company. And you've come to the right place.

Windows 8 introduces some fundamental changes to the way familiar actions work, and the demos Microsoft has been offered are typically geared toward showing off new touchscreen devices. If you're like most people, you're trying Windows 8 on a conventional PC equipped with a keyboard and mouse.

On the next few pages, I've assembled a collection of shortcuts and tips to help you navigate the "reimagined" Windows 8 interface. In every case, you can accomplish the same results using a keyboard and mouse as you can with touch, but the optimal technique isn’t always obvious until you learn it.

So let's get started...

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This is the customizable Windows 8 lock screen. It appears when you power on your PC or resume from sleep. (You can also lock the screen manually by pressing  Windows key+L.

If you have a touch screen or a trackpad, you can swipe this screen up with a flick of your finger and get back to work.. If you are using a mouse and keyboard, you can imitate that gesture by swiping the mouse pointer up from the bottom of the display.

But there are two easier ways:

  • Double-click anywhere on the lock screen, OR
  • Just press Enter.

In either case, you're in. The lock screen slides up, allowing you to enter your password or PIN and then get to work.

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With a touch-enabled device, you use your finger to swipe in from the right side of the screen and open the Windows 8 charms. If you have a mouse and keyboard, it’s much easier to bump the mouse pointer into the lower left of the screen and expose the minimalist Start menu shown here. These charms are identical to the ones on the right side of a touch screen.

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This is one of those “I can’t believe it’s this easy” features. Yes, you click the Search charm or press Windows key+F to open this Search box and begin entering a search term or the name of an app or a Windows setting.

But those steps are not necessary. if you’re already at the Start screen, just start typing. As soon as you do, the Search pane opens and begins accepting your input. (If you’re at the classic Windows desktop, tap the Windows key to jump to the Start screen and then start typing.)

You can filter the results list on the left by choosing one of the options below your search term. And if you're wondering why the screen is so uncluttered and yours is filled with apps, click Next...

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By default, the Search menu includes every Metro app on the list, giving you the option to point a search to an app. So you can enter a term, click Internet Explorer, and have the query sent to your default search engine (Bing, unless you change it).

Because the Windows 8 Developer Preview ships with a large number of search-enabled apps, that initial search list is very cluttered. So clean it up as I've done here. Click Control Panel on the Start screen, choose Search, and then adjust the entries on the Apps list: move the slider to Off for apps you don't want to use for searches. Slide it to On for apps that you want on the list.

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This list of running apps includes both modern, Metro-style apps and apps that run on the classic Windows desktop. If you need to kill and unresponsive or unwanted program, this is the easiest place to do it.

Memorize this shortcut:


(The next best alternative is to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and then click Task Manager.)

No matter where you are in Windows 8, that shortcut will summon this list. Click More Details to expand the Task Manager window impressively, as shown on the next page...

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This is, as far as I can tell, the only classic Windows utility that will run on top of a Metro app. In fact, it's set by default to stay above other program windows—even the Start screen. To change that behavior, click the Options menu and clear the check mark next to Always On Top.

You'll notice that Metro-style apps running the background are automatically suspended. You can kill any app or close a window underneath a parent application, like either of the two web pages under Internet Explorer in this screen. Just make your selection and click End Task in the lower right corner.

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Sometimes the Explorer.exe process hangs. When that happens, parts of the Windows shell can be inaccessible. In Windows 7 and earlier versions, you can select this process and click End Task, then enter Explorer in the File, Run box to restart it.

The new Windows 8 Task Manager makes itr possible to restart this process with one click. When you click Windows Explorer from the  list under the Process heading, the button in the lower right corner is different from the one you see with any other process. Instead of End Task, it reads Restart. Click to kill the current Explorer.exe process and start a fresh instance.

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The Windows 8 Developer Preview edition includes its own hypervisor, which allows you to create virtual machines that can run other versions of Windows. You can install virtual copies of Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 for backward compatibility and testing. Or you can install a virtual copy of Windows 8 to experiment without putting your main Windows 8 installation at risk.

Hyper-V is turned off by default. To enable it, enter Features in the Search box, click Settings, and then click Turn Windows features on or off from the results list. That opens the dialog box shown here.

Click to select Hyper-V and its components, and then click OK. That installs the necessary components, and you can now use the Hyper-V Manager to create a new virtual machine or import an existing one and begin working with it.

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File History consolidates the Windows 7 backup program and the Previous Versions feature into a single tool that automatically keeps backups of your important files, typically on an external disk drive. If this feature is enabled, you can recover a deleted file or restore a previous version of a file very easily.

One of the options available when you plug in a new USB flash drive or external hard disk is Configure this drive for backup using File History. You can enable or disable these automatic backups and fine-tune what's backed up from this desktop Control Panel window.

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This Advanced Settings dialog box offers some very important backup options for the File History feature. In particular, you can change the amount of time for which old versions are saved and how often snapshots are taken.

By default, backed-up versions are saved forever, and fresh copies are snapped every hour. If you set up a network share as the default location for saving File History and then click Recommend this drive, anyone in your homegroup will be able to use that location as a backup target.

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From any file or folder in Windows Explorer, you can click History (in the Open group on the Home tab of the ribbon) to flip through the contents of each backup set.

This screen shows the two different views, list and icon, which you can choose using the buttons in the lower right corner of the dialog box.

Notice that the version on display is identified with a date and time stamp at the top of the contents window. Using a touch screen, you can swipe back and forth to choose a different version, or you can click the arrows at the bottom to move from version to version.

Right-click the big blue Restore button if you want the option to save a copy of a backed-up file to a different location than where it was originally saved. This option is especially useful if you're restoring an old version of a document so you can compare its contents with the current one.  


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Many backed-up files are saved with full thumbnails so you can see at a glance if you're restoring the right one instead of guessing from the file name. By choosing Icons view and then zooming the window contents, you can make these thumbnails big enough to read directly in the File History window.

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You can add any classic Windows app (the kind that run in a desktop session) to the Start screen. Those tiles look like the ones shown here, with a tiny icon and a big text label.

Swipe the tile down if you have a touch screen. If you're using a mouse, right-click to select a shortcut tile. In either case the result is shown by a check mark on the icon, as with the Windows PowerShell Modules tile here. Selecting the tile also opens the app bar at the bottom of the screen, with the commands and options shown here.

To pin an app to the Start screen, use search to find the app, then right-click its entry in the results list and click Pin on the app bar. From the Start screen, click Unpin to remove the shortcut tile.

Clicking Advanced opens the list of choices shown here, which include options to pin the selected app to the taskbar on the Windows desktop or run the program as an administrator.  

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The technique for managing shortcut tiles to Metro-style apps is similar to that used for Windows desktop programs. Swipe down or right-click to expose the app bar options shown here, Click Smaller (or Larger) to change a wide tile to a square one half its size or vice-versa. Both sizes are shown here.

You can also click Pin or Unpin to add or remove a program tile from the Start screen, or click Uninstall to remove the program completely. 

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