Turn Windows 8 into a powerful tool

Windows 8 is the least intuitive and the most controversial operating system released by Microsoft in years. In my review I said that Windows 8 is "more suited for early adopters rather than everyone" because of usability issues encountered during my time with it. However as with most problems there is a convenient solution and it involves the classic keyboard and mouse.

Windows 8 is still designed to be operated the old fashioned way, even though the focus is now on touch devices. Microsoft tried to please both desktop and tablet users, but the former are actually disadvantaged because of it. Instead of using a crippled operating system by always going to the desktop tile or shutting down via the power plug, I will present how to use some of the newly introduced features using the keyboard and mouse.

Start Menu

The start menu provides access to all apps, including the ones installed from the Windows Store. In order to open the new start menu users can press the Windows Key or use the mouse to click on the bottom left corner of the screen.

In order to help locate an app in the new start menu, CTRL + - (minus) gives a zoomed out look on all installed programs, while CTRL + + (plus) zooms in on the app group after it is selected using the arrow keys.

The same action can be performed with the mouse by pressing the CTRL key and zooming in and out using the scroll wheel. In order to select an app group just click on it.

Apps can be moved around and grouped. In order to name an app group just zoom out and right click on it. A button with "Name group" will then appear in the bottom left corner of the screen.


In order to search for an app simply type the name after pressing the Windows Key. For instance typing "word" brings a list of apps such as WordPad or Word 2010 (if installed).

Pressing Windows Key + W triggers a settings search that allows you to look up various computer settings or find items from Control Panel.

Searching for files can be performed by selecting "Files" in the search bar after typing the name or pressing Windows Key + F.

Charms Bar Menu

My colleague Wayne Williams suggests that you should "Disable the Windows 8 Charms bar", but you will miss out on essential functionality using the mouse. A number of operations such as search, share or go to the Start menu can be performed, all essential to take advantage of all the included features.

The Charms bar can be triggered by pressing Windows Key + C or simply moving the cursor to the upper or lower right corner of the screen. All available charms can be selected with the mouse after triggering the Charms bar, but it can be done using the keyboard as well.

If you are in an app and want to share a file or more with another app, like an attachment from SkyDrive that you want to email, pressing CTRL + H opens up the Share charm.

It's similar to Android in this respect, as if there is an appropriate program to use it files can be basically shared with the respective program.

The Settings charm, which can be triggered by pressing Windows Key + I, allows you to access various computer settings and to perform power operations among other features. In order to go to the Devices charm simply press Windows Key + K. It can be used to send items to a secondary screen.

App-and-File Operations

In order to perform app-and-file operations such as uninstall or unpin you have to press either Windows Key + Z or right click on the app. Other operations such as delete, manage or upload are available as well, depending on the app.

In order to cycle through apps designed for the new interface you can use the keyboard by pressing Windows Key + Tab or go to the upper left corner of the screen with the cursor and select the app from the bar. In order to cycle in reverse order just press Windows Key + Shift + Tab.

Apps can be snapped on the left or the right using Windows Key + Shift + . (period) and Windows Key + . (period), respectively. The same can be performed by using the mouse to drag the app from the top of the screen and place it on either side.

The Start screen and apps can also be moved to a secondary screen using Windows Key + Page Up and Windows Key + Page Down. The former combination will move either to a screen on the left, while the second will place them on a secondary one on the right.

The Learning Curve

The Windows 8 user interface will still require a learning curve, but using the above mentioned keyboard combinations and mouse gestures it will be much easier to navigate. From personal experience it feels more natural and intuitive after a longer period of time. The key is to forget how to use previous versions of Windows and to think less about navigating it like a desktop operating system.

 Photo Credit: studio online/Shutterstock

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