Fun with Windows 8

I’ve been using Windows 8 now on my new laptop for about a couple of weeks.  I *love* it!  What baffles me is the sheer volume of blogs and articles I run into that are crapping all over this new operating system… it’s hilarious really.  “How to make windows 8 look like windows 7”??  Are you serious?  Why bother upgrading if you’re going to do that?

Enough of that.  Part of the learning curve has fortunately been handled by reading other users’ experiences and searching out tips and tricks to understand how to get things to work for you.  None of what I’m putting in here is new or revolutionary, but hopefully it helps someone out!

Key note for all of these tips: I am not using a touch device so these tips are 100% for keyboard and mouse users… some might work for touch too, I have no idea!

What I love about Windows 8

I really love the overall look and feel, the UI itself.  Others hate the metro tile home screen but that is the single biggest thing I love.  My home page has been turned into my start menu.  Remove some app tiles, add some new app tiles, move the things I use most frequently to the far left side, and voilà!

Playing with Tiles

The first thing I did, after doing a clean install of Windows 8 (to remove the typical new computer bloatware), was to customize the tiles & my home page.

Windows 8 puts a lot of default apps on there that I have no interest in.  I tried some of the default apps like Windows Mail, found them too limiting, so I uninstalled them.  Others I simply removed from “Start” (unpin them).

  • Right click on most app tiles on the home page and you see options like “Uninstall”, “Unpin from Start” and with some apps (seems to be limited to Microsoft apps) options to make the tile smaller (one square) or larger (two squares).
  • Not all apps have an uninstall link - like the App “Store” for instance, but most do.
  • If you right click on several apps, you are actually selecting multiple app tiles - and your selections will differ.  Look for the checkmark in the right hand corner of the app tile to identify what is selected.  This is how you select multiple items, but it’s not quite as obvious as holding down a CTRL key which is what most users are used to.  I use this to unpin a bunch of apps I don’t want, all at once.
  • Moving tiles is as simple as click and drag to a new spot.

Adding new tiles

To see the list of all of the apps installed on your computer, you can right click on an empty portion of the home page and select All Apps.  This shows tiny tiles of all of your apps.  Then right click on what you want, and select Pin To Start to create a tile/shortcut for it.  This is the equivalent of modifying or editing your old start menu.

Things like the specific items in your control panel are also right clickable - there is a shortcut on the context menu to Pin To Start.  Personally I like to have a shortcut on my desktop for Windows Update so in this case, I put a shortcut on my home page for it.  I also put a shortcut to the Control Panel since I tend to use that a lot.

I have not yet figured out if you can put a tile shortcut to a specific document on the start menu; I’m sure there is a way but I haven’t looked into that yet.

Handy Shortcuts

There are tons of articles on shortcuts for Windows 8… simply google (or bing!) Windows 8 shortcuts and you’ll get tons of hits.  Here are the things I use a lot, and a few new ones I just started to use.

  • Windows Key = toggle between start page and your last app.  This is awesomely simple - I used to use the Windows key once in a while on Windows 7 to hit the start menu, but this is even better.  I use this constantly to see my “home page start menu”.
  • Multiple Monitors? Move the home page to the right monitor using Windows key + Page Up or Page Down.  I only (only! ha!) have two monitors so I haven’t tied this with 3 … apparently you just keep hitting Win + PgUp (or PgDown) and it cycles through your monitors.
  • Want to add multiple monitors or are hooking up to a projector?  Windows + P opens the project charm.
  • Tired of mousing over to the corner to open the Charms sidebar?  Windows + C opens the charms and even better, Windows + I opens the Settings if all you want is to quickly shutdown your computer or do other things in the Settings section of the Charms bar.
  • Did you know there’s a poweruser / Administrator menu?  I knew about Administrative Tools but this was completely new to me: Windows + X opens a special poweruser menu with all sorts of toys for managing your computer. (Not new apps, but shortcuts to the most commonly used admin apps).  Way cool.
  • Looking to lock your screen when you go to a meeting?  Windows + L is quicker than CTRL-ALT-DEL + enter.
  • The new “open apps” bar on the left side you can scroll through with Windows + Tab.  Kind of like ALT-TAB to scroll through open items, this scrolls through open apps on the Windows 8 bar.

Some Search tips

  • Want to search quickly?  One quick way to search is simply press Windows to get to your home screen and just start typing.  Seriously, this is cool.  Doesn’t matter where you are searching, just get to the home menu and start typing.  No mousing to the Charms or shortcuts.
  • You can also edit the search apps to either hide an area you don’t want to search results in, or pin it to move it to the top.  It does appear that only the first three “apps” show instant results but the other apps are there if you want to search there.  For instance, I use Evernote, so if I am searching for something that is in Evernote, I click Evernote in my search bar and it then passes your search phrase to that application.
  • A second way to search quickly for when you really want to search specific areas: WIndows + Q is to search Apps; Windows + F is to search Files; Windows + W is to search Settings.

I’m quite sure there are tons more handy tips and tricks… my favourites?  X for the admin menu & Windows key simply to get back to the home page and facilitate easy search.

I think this is a fantastic step forward in Windows operating systems and I encourage new users to try the play with the new tools instead of instantly looking to make it look like Windows 7 or earlier!  Have fun with it…

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