Getting used to Windows 8

The hottest topic in the computing world right now is Microsoft’s new, recently launched operating system Windows 8.  It always takes time to get used to a new operating system, and many of us are so attached to the ones we are used to, we can be quite reluctant to change.

The effect is multiplied in the case of Windows 8, which sees the biggest changes between operating systems since Windows 3.1 was usurped by Windows 95; many things we have learnt to take for granted, such as the taskbar and the start menu, are missing.  It’s a disorientating prospect.

But with so many new laptop and tablet designs incorporating – and even having been built around – Windows 8, it’s worth getting to know the new operating system sooner, rather than later, especially with Cyber Monday laptop deals right around the corner.

So, here’s the critical info and some tips for getting used to Windows 8.

Now, most people know that the start menu has been replaced with a start screen, which features tiles through which you access your applications.  Like shortcuts on the old operating systems, you can customize these to suit you, removing those you hardly ever use and adding personal favorites.

You can even group tiles together as you see fit, allowing for easier navigation, especially when your start screen gets cluttered.

Generally, then, very convenient.

But without a start menu you lose the obvious way to find access any application.  Instead, holding the Windows key and Q (keyboard), right-clicking an empty part of the start screen (mouse/touchpad), or swiping your finger up the screen from the bottom (touchscreen) gives you access to ‘All Apps’, meaning you can always easily find the app you need (as long as it’s installed, obviously).

Navigation itself is geared around touch – swiping your way around in the manner we have all become accustomed to – though rolling the mouse wheel or using the arrow keys also works for those who prefer that.

What might be baffling for people to begin with is that Windows 8 lacks a taskbar at the bottom, showing what applications are open and providing instant access to them.  Alt+Tab still works for navigating through programs, but still it will seem odd at first.

Instead, hold the Windows key and Tab and a pane on the left-hand side will appear showing all open apps and providing instant access to them.

On this side of things, Windows 8 does away with close buttons in apps, encouraging the user to leave programs running while not using them.  This isn’t the problem it would be on older operating systems: there’s obviously no taskbar to get clogged, and apps are ‘suspended’ when not being used, meaning there’s very little power consumption.  In fact, if the computer realizes it needs more power, it will close the applications altogether while saving the context, so you can carry on from where you left off if you do return to it.

Nonetheless, if you do want to shut a program down, it’s still possible: move your cursor to the top of the window, wait for it to become a hand; click and drag down, turning the app into a thumbnail that can be dragged off-screen, where it presumably falls into the void.

Oh, and don’t panic.  If all else fails Ctrl+Alt+Del is still there, and Ctrl+Shift+Esc opens the task manager.

These handy hints should let you take advantage of Windows 8’s improved convenience while reassuring you that there’s access to everything you should require, albeit in new ways that require getting used to.

Learn more the author of this post:

Daniel Moeller
I was born in Berlin, Germany, studied Engineering in London and wrote my thesis on emergent computer technology. I now work as an engineer and freelance writer for London-based firms. My interests include blogging about technology, computer science, social media and design in my spare time.