The Missing Windows 8 Guide

After reading a review of Windows 8 it occurred to me that a big problem for Microsoft is that they have failed to explain why they’ve made the changes they have. This is my version of a guide I hope they will write. My views in this document are not necessarily those that I agree with, but they are what I imagine Microsoft are trying to aim for – if people like it I can spend a bit more time and add some pictures, we’ll see 🙂

NB. I am not an employee of Microsoft, any views or expression in the following text that indicate that I am are fictional.

Welcome to the Why’s of Window 8

Hello, my name is Paul, today I shall be explaining to you why we’ve made some exciting changes to Windows. We know you liked Windows 7 but we know that once you see how your Windows life will improve, we feel sure you’ll love Windows 8 too.

Where is my Start Button?

This is a big change for existing Windows users, but don’t fear we’ll explain how we’ve improved the ‘start’ experience. Since Windows 95 we’ve wanted you to press the big start button to then locate the application or task you want to carry out. This has a few problems that we wanted to improve;

1. When you install an application is easy for it to become lost in the existing menus. We added a ‘just installed’ link in the menu but once selected you didn’t see it again

2. It can be a slow process to locate applications you use a lot, so we helped by allowing you to ‘pin’ to the start menu or by automatically showing your most frequent applications. But that just isn’t enough; often there is not enough space in the menu to show those applications, especially for you netbook owners

3. To help speed up the ‘start’ process of finding and launching your applications we introduced ‘pinning’ to the task bar. But that proved to be a little confusing. Also we still have the same problem with space

4. Launching every application to, “just see if”. Launching your news reader to see if a new article was in, launching the email application to see if you have new email, etc., etc. The more sources of information you have, often meant the more application you had to go around opening.

Those problems are not necessarily big problems and not everyone would suffer them, but we felt we could do better. The answer is the ‘Windows Start Screen’. Here you not only can you pin your favourite applications to be, “front and centre” when your machine starts, they now also have the opportunity to show you important information without even having to open the applications. That’s all good but once you move away from the Start Screen how can you find it again? For new machines you have a dedicated Windows button that will bring the screen back. If you have a keyboard just press the Windows key. The final way is to you use your ‘Charm’ bracelet. Yes honestly. Ok, it is cheesy but one of our goals it to ensure the start screen can be used by people holding devices. When you hold the device your right wrist will be next to the edge of the screen, imagine you were wearing a charm bracelet, the charms would fall next to the screen. These charms would be available whenever you flicked your wrist around. Yes stay with me, I said it was silly. Back to Windows 8, with your right hand you can flick out the right side of the screen and the Windows 8 charms appear. If you don’t have a touch device you can point your mouse to the top right of the screen or use Windows Key + C and they’ll appear. One of the charms is the Windows logo which, yes you guessed it, will also take you to the Start Screen.

How do I Search?

In Windows 7 when you wanted to search for an application you had to learn that you needed to press start and enter the search into the box that appeared at the bottom of the menu. That wasn’t obvious. If you wanted to search for files then you used File Explorer or Windows Key + F. That wasn’t as nice I we’d liked either. Then if you wanted to search in a specific context, such as within an application or on the internet then you had to discover how to do that too. It just didn’t feel like a consistent or easy way to carry out a search. In Windows 8 we’ve decided to fix this. In the Charms there is a Search charm, this charm shows you the best search sources for the application you are currently using. For example, if you select Search and you were looking at the Mail tool, then the Search will default to looking into your emails. However, the alternative search sources are also shown, allowing you to easily search for other items, such as applications. Windows 8 is also smart enough to gather results from multiple sources if that makes sense for the current application, it will show the results of your search term against each source as you type. Also note that Windows key + F still works, this will set the default search source to be Files, but again it’s easy to select a different source.

How do I use Multiple Windows?

Windows gets its name from the ability to show many application Windows at once, so it would appear that we have moved away from that with Windows 8. What we’ve realised is many people share the following experience;

When I use Windows I usually carry out one task at a time, and I like to have that application maximised. When I need to quickly carry out a secondary task I can launch that application and simply move back to the main one when I’m ready. However, sometimes I want to keep an eye on another task whilst still working in my main application. Officially that is responding to an important conversation in Skype but occasionally I also like keep my catch-up TV Netflix shows streaming whilst I work. The problem with the way I work is that it is often difficult to get the right size for the applications. When I put two applications side-by-side Windows 7 tried to help by snapping them to each edge. This has a couple of problems;

1. The screen is shared equally between my main and secondary applications when I want to concentrate on the main one

2. The secondary application is often designed to work as a primary application with lots of screen space. It is often difficult to get the size small enough to allow room for my application whilst remaining large enough to be useful. This leads to constant, “scrollbar nudging” as I try to read parts of the secondary application that are not in view

Windows 8 addresses these problems with the idea of Snap-View. The screen is partitioned into one of two basic layouts;

a) Full screen – your application has all the screen space

b) Snap view left or right – your main application has the majority of the screen whilst the secondary application is provided a smaller portion

This is important because Windows 8 can now understand which of the applications is your primary or main and which one is your secondary. Therefore the application is now told which view it should be showing. This is great because the application understands how best to adapt itself for the smaller view, so no more “scrollbar nudging” – hurray.

How do I close an Application?

Windows has had a long history with the Minimize, Maximize and Close buttons. We’ve seen why we no longer need the Min/Max buttons so that leaves us with the Close. But why do we have a Close button? Now we have our main task application in full-screen (or at least predominate) the other application can’t get in the way. Perhaps we are worried those applications we are not using are hogging our systems? Windows 8 knows what your main application is, it keeps track of the applications that you have not used for a while. When you move away from an application Windows 8 will do its best to stop any application hogging the system. However, should you move back to the application it will be ready faster than opening the application from scratch. If your application hasn’t been used for a long time then Windows may place it into a deeper sleep which may take a little longer to start, but you’ll never have to wait a long time. So why close an application? If you really want to you can drag the application down and off the machine, but this should rarely be needed. Windows 8 just makes life easier, don’t worry about the applications you are not using, let Windows make the best choices for you.

How do I find an application that is already running?

In previous version of Windows you had a few choices of how to see what other applications are running. Windows Key + Tab or ALT + Tab still work on Windows 8 too. However we really wanted to make it easy to not only see what was running but also make it easy to select on a hand held device. So, like the Charms on the right hand side, the running applications can be found by flicking the left hand edge of the screen (or top left with the mouse). So for you touch users it’s left for running applications, right for contextual choices and main settings. For mouse users it’s the top left or top right.

How do I shut-down my machine?

We often heard how confusing it was to press Start in order to Stop. We agree. To shut your system down, go to the charms and select System. You can then choose how you want to shut the system down, easy.

Where do I find the settings for my Application?

In previous versions of Windows finding the options depended entirely on the application you were using. This could prove to be difficult. Was it tools->options, file->preferences, where are they? In Windows 8 we keep contextual information in the Charms, so you guessed it, the settings for your application is the Settings Charm. No need to for that frustrating search in the menus, just straight to the Charms.

Where’s my menu gone?

In all previous versions of Windows you application menu was found at the top of the main Window (with a few exceptions). Menus have some problems; they start to clutter up the screen space, they are really difficult to select for touch screen users, they are not always good at clearly separating the tasks you want to carry out, and often show menus that are not the relevant to your current task. Windows 8 introduces two separate ‘application bars’; one for navigating choices, and one for carrying out actions. These application bars are usually hidden until the user requires them, thus freeing up the screen space. Whilst we’ve seen you can access your running applications from the left and Charms from the right, the application bars are accessed from the top and bottom. By flicking from the top or bottom will display the contextual application bars. The top application bar will contain your navigation choices such as accessing a specific page, returning home, etc. The bottom application bar will contain contextual actions, add contact, accept holiday request, etc. We believe this will greatly simplify the old menu experience.

You can feel safe to install new applications from the Windows Store

The success of Windows has a dark side to it. Many people wanted to exploit the ease of installing applications on Windows by installing their own ‘bad’ applications. It became such a worry that lots of people lost faith in applications, and many 3rd party developers simply could not provide applications because of a lack of user trust. Windows 8 introduces a number of security features and mechanisms that all mean that if you install an application from the Windows Store you can do so without worry that it will infect the whole of your machine. So go an install as many applications as you can, there is wide array of choices to try without fear.

Can I still run my old Applications in Windows 8?

We know you’ve invested in software and whilst there are a lot of new and exciting applications that are specific for Windows 8 you may still wish to continue with an older purchase. Now for a little bit of honesty…there are a number of versions of Windows 8, the one you choose can affect your ability to run older applications. Essentially there is Windows 8 for every device, and Windows 8 for smaller devices, I say smaller but that is also blurred. The more accurate statement is to say WinRT only devices. If you have a WinRT only device it means you can run all the lovely Windows 8 applications but none of your old applications can be installed, sorry. If you use what is termed a ‘Windows Pro’ device or any existing Windows capable desktop/laptop/netbook then using Windows 8 on these devices will happily run your old applications. So do a little bit of research when choosing your device.

Can I use my existing devices; printers, external disks, etc?

This is really the same questions as, ‘Can I still run my old Applications?’. Check the type of device you have and the device you intend to install Windows 8 on. You can also run the Windows 8 Compatibility Assistant before upgrading your machine. This will provide a report about any known issues you may encounter before you attempt to install Windows 8.

Sometimes I just want a bit of entertainment when I travel, can Windows 8 help?

We know you like using your iPad, it’s not as heavy as most netbooks, no real need for a keyboard. Just good battery, and big enough to watch films and play games. This is where you probably want to choose a WinRT device, such as the ‘Surface’. These devices are built to specifically run Windows 8 and no more. Therefore they can be trimmed to just what is needed which often means lighter devices and better battery life. Of course this isWindows 8, if you want to use your lovely Ultra-book to do a bit of older application work and then switch to a fanatically smooth game in Windows 8, that options is still there, that’s why Windows 8 is so good.

I like to have a lot of short cuts on my desktop, but I’ve no desktop?

The way people use Windows often mirror the physical world. Some people love to have a very clean desk, and ensure that it’s clean and empty at the end of the day. Others prefer organised chaos and have lots of items, in their correct places, scattered around their desk. In Windows some people like to create lots of desktop shortcuts. Why do they do that? To easily find them again. However, in Windows 8 you can pin items to your start screen, if they are ‘tile aware’ then they can start providing useful information without you having to open them. No more chaos, just everything you need is one Windows Screen selection away.

How do I share the information I’m looking at?

Windows 8 understands that in today’s world applications need to be able share information with your friends and colleagues. But rather than every application having to understand all the different possible destinations (people you know, other applications, etc.) Windows 8 offers applications the chance to talk to each other and therefore share information. Since this should be common, and contextual, Windows 8 provides a Share…yes a Share Charm. With the information on the screen, simply select the Share Charm and send the information to the destination of your choice.


Thanks for reading, we hope you can now appreciate all the great new changes to Windows.


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