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Navigating Windows 8 on a PC

Written on August 2, 2012 by Matt Bach


With the introduction of Windows 8, Microsoft is moving to an entirely new system of navigation. The familiar Start button is no more, and is replaced with the new tile-based interface. While this interface is primarily designed with touch interfaces in mind, it can be used with a traditional keyboard and mouse.

Windows 8 is not being released until October 26, 2012; but already there are plenty of guides available online about how to use this new interface. However, most of these guides focus on using touch-enabled device such as tablets or touch screen monitors. Here at Puget Systems, we understand that there are many PC users who exclusively use keyboards and mice, so we wanted to provide a Windows 8 navigation guide specifically for those users.

So whether you are using Windows 8 already, or simply curious about how navigation works with the new interface, our hope is that this guide will help you gain the knowledge needed to successfully navigate Windows 8 with a keyboard and mouse.

Quick Links:


Shutdown, Restart, Sleep

While certainly one of the least exciting bits of navigation, knowing how to properly shut down your computer is easily one of the more important. You can always push the physical power button on your computer, but often this button is set to put the system to sleep rather than actually shut down the computer. 

Since there is no longer a Start menu, the buttons to put the computer to sleep, or to shut down/restart the computer have been moved to a location that is a at first a bit unintuitive. To access them from the Metro Start screen, move the mouse to the upper-right corner of the screen, click on "Settings", then "Power".

With a little bit of work, you can also add shutdown, restart, and sleep tiles directly to the Metro Start page. All you have to do is create a shortcut that sends the computer the appropriate command. The commands for shutdown, restart, and sleep are:

Shut down: shutdown.exe -s -t 00
Restart: shutdown.exe -r -t 00
Sleep: rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState 0,1,0

For a step-by-step guide on how to create these shortcuts and pin them to the Metro Start page, just follow the instructions below:

Navigate to the Desktop by either clicking on the Desktop tile or with the hotkey combination "WinKey+B" Right-click on the desktop, select "New" then "Shortcut" Enter the command for either shutdown, restart, or sleep
Name the command according to your preference To set the icon, right click on the shortcut you just made and select "Properties" On the window that comes up, click on the "Change Icon" button
A warning message will come up which you can just click OK on, then you can choose whichever icon you want With the icon set, right-click on the shortcut again and select "Pin to Start" The shortcut will now be on the Metro interface. You can move it around just like any other Metro tile.

Once the shortcuts are pinned to Metro, you can delete the originals from the desktop. Since they were just shortcuts to begin with, you do not need the original to be in place in order for the shortcuts on the Metro Start page to function.

Basic Navigation

For those familiar with the prior Windows interface, the biggest change is the move from vertical scrolling to horizontal scrolling. While some apps like Internet Explorer still scroll vertically, the majority of Metro apps are intended to scroll left and right. To actually scroll across the Metro screen, you can use the mouse wheel, move the mouse cursor to the far left/right side of the screen, or click and drag the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard arrow keys to navigate to different applications on the Metro interface.

Launching an app has not changed and is still accomplished by either left-clicking it with the mouse, or hitting "Enter" when the app in question is highlighted. If you right-click on the app, you are given some additional options such as unpinning it from Start or uninstalling the app. If you want to run an app that is not already on the metro interface, right-click anywhere on the Metro interface and click on the "All apps" button that comes up at the bottom-right of the screen. Alternatively, you can search for the application using the Windows Search feature. Once you have found the app you want, you can either run it directly by left-clicking on it, or you can pin it to the Metro Start screen by right-clicking on the app and selecting "Pin to Start".

Left-Click to launch an app, Right-click to view additional options Right-Click anywhere to view all apps Via either all apps or searching, left-click an app to launch it, or right click for additional options including "Pin to Start"

If you are already in an app and want to return to the Metro Start screen, you can either press the Windows Key on the keyboard, or move the mouse cursor to one of three different areas of the screen. The first, and easier options, is to move the mouse cursor to the bottom-left corner of the screen and left-click with the mouse. You can also move the mouse to the top-left of the screen - which shows all currently running apps - and then click on the Start icon that comes up at the bottom-left corner of the screen. Lastly, if you move the mouse to either the top-right or bottom-right of the screen, you can click on the Start icon that comes up at the right-middle of the screen.

If you have multiple applications running and want to switch to a different app, you can use either the keyboard or the mouse to bring up one of the other already running programs. With the mouse, first move the cursor to the top-left corner of the screen. A single app will show up which is the most recent app that was viewed. If you want to view all of the currently running apps, move the mouse down to display all of the other running apps. With a keyboard, use the hotkey combination "WinKey+Tab" to show the list of all the running apps. You can either click on an app with the mouse, or if you hold down the Windows Key and keep tapping the Tab key, you will cycle through the apps. Releasing the Windows Key will bring up whichever app is currently being highlighted. The familiar "Alt-Tab" still works to switch between applications like previous versions of Windows, but it will switch between all programs running on the computer, including those on the desktop, and not just Metro applications.

Move the mouse to the top-left to display the most recent app Moving the mouse down will display all currently running apps


Split Screen

As long as you are using a screen resolution that is at least 1366 pixels wide, you can run any two Metro apps in split screen (where two apps are open on the screen at the same time). Unlike how split screen works on the desktop where you can set the dimensions of applications to any size you want, running two apps in split screen on Metro is limited to either a 25/75 or a 75/25 split depending on which side you want the smaller application on. The reason these values are hard set is that when an app is smaller, it is actually showing completely different information than when it is larger. For example, the "Sport" app shows news, scores, schedules, and standings when larger, but only scores when smaller. Some apps don't show completely different information, such as how Internet Explorer just shrinks the current webpage or Desktop only shows icons representing the running desktop programs, but because Metro-specific apps are coded for these exact ratios, you are not able to do things such as split the screen 50/50.

To run two apps in split screen, first make sure both apps are running, and have one of them displayed on the screen. Next, move the mouse to the upper-left of the screen so that the list of running apps shows up. From here, click and drag an application to either the left or right portion of the screen. As you move the app across the screen, the display will show you a preview of how the apps will be displayed if you were to let go of the mouse button. Alternatively, you can right-click on the app and select "Snap left" or "Snap right" to automatically snap it to the left or the right of the currently running app.

If you are already running two apps in split screen, you can move the dividing bar between them to choose which app you want to be smaller or larger. You can also replace either the larger of smaller app by moving the mouse to the upper-left of the screen and dragging a different app into the area currently being taken up by the one you want to replace. To move an app to the other side of the screen, move the mouse to the very top of the screen above the app in question, then click and drag the app to the side of the screen you want it to be on.

Using just the keyboard, you can also use the hotkey "WinKey+," to move a Metro app to the right, or "WinKey+Shift+," to move it to the left.

Searching for Programs and Settings

To search for an application, simply start typing your search string from the Metro interface. By default, it will show the applications that fit that search term, but you can also switch the method to search for either settings or files by clicking on the appropriate icon below the search field. Alternatively, you can use the following hotkeys before you begin typing your search string to search designate a search for either applications, settings or files.

Applications: WinKey+Q
Settings: WinKey+W
Files: WinKey+F

After searching, you can click on the appropriate icon to launch the application or open the file depending on the file type. Additionally, for applications you can right-click the icon which brings up additional options such as pinning it to Start or the taskbar or running it as an administrator.

Application Search Settings Search File Search


Common App Navigation

Depending on who created the program, Metro apps may have slightly different forms of navigation. There are usually a few common points, however, that should apply to the majority of Metro applications.

Scrolling on some apps like Internet Explorer will use the familiar vertical scrolling found on most webpages, but many other Metro apps will utilize horizontal scrolling just like the Metro Start interface. In these apps, scrolling is just a bit different than the Metro Start interface as you can only either use the mouse wheel or click and drag the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen with the mouse. Moving the mouse to the edge of the screen will not scroll the page in most Metro apps. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard arrow keys to scroll.

Forward and Back buttons may not be available on all apps, and the location will depend completely on the app developer, but most apps will at least have a back button in some form. On most of the apps that come pre-installed in Windows 8, the back button is available on most pages and is located near the top-left of the screen. In Internet Explorer, the back and forward buttons are located on the far left and right sides of the screen towards the vertical center of the screen.

Back Button in Metro App Back Button in Internet Explorer Forward Button in Internet Explorer


Additional Options can be found on most apps by right-clicking with the mouse on any blank space or with the keyboard hotkey "WinKey+z". On most apps, this will bring up a menu that functions like a table of contents. On other apps like Internet Explorer, this brings up the option to change tabs, input a web address manually, or to pin the current page to the Metro Start page (similar to bookmarking).

Right-clicking in a Metro App Right-clicking in Internet Explorer


Closing Metro Applications

Unlike a standard Windows application, there is no red X at the top-right of Metro apps to easily close them. Whenever an app is not being actively displayed, it automatically goes into a low power state which allows it to take up the bare minimal of system resources. If you still want to close an app, there are two easy methods to do so depending on if the application is currently being displayed or not.

To close a Metro application in Windows 8 that is currently being displayed, either move the mouse to the top of the screen, then click and drag the app to the very bottom of the screen, or simply use the hotkey "Alt-F4". To close an app that is not currently being displayed, move the mouse to the top-left of the screen to display the list of running apps, then right-clicking the app in question and select "Close".

Tile Organization

Since the Metro Start screen is intended to both replace the desktop and taskbar as well as function as a place for booking webpages, it can become cluttered and disorganized over time. To help with this, Microsoft has made it very easy to organize the tiles on the Metro Start page.

Starting with the basics, to add a program to the Metro Start page, first locate the program (see the Searching for Programs and Settings section of this article), right-click on the icon and select "Pin to Start". To remove a program from the Metro Start page, once again right-click on the icon but this time click the "Unpin from Start" button.

To add a program to the Metro Start page, right-click the icon and select "Pin to Start" To remove a program from the Metro Start page, right-click the icon and select "Unpin from Start"


To move a tile around the Metro Start page, simply left-click on the tile, then while holding down the left mouse button drag the tile to the location you want.

Left-click and drag a tile to move it to another location

Tiles can also be organized into groups, each of which can be given a name. First, simply move the tiles by following the directions above into groups. You will be able to tell the groups apart as each group will be separated by a larger space than normal. In the image below, there are three full groups shown. One you have the tiles in their groups, click on the "-" icon at the bottom-right of the screen to go to the group overview screen.

Tile Groups Click here to go to the tile group overview screen

On the tile group overview screen, you can click and drag whole groups of tiles just like individual tiles on the Metro Start page if you want to move whole groups at a time. To assign a name to the group of tiles, simply right-click on the group and click the "Name group" button that comes up.

Moving a group of tiles Right-click on a group to assign a name to that group Named groups on the Metro Start Page


Accessing Advanced System Utilities

In previous versions of Windows, the advanced system utilities (or power user commands) such as Control Panel, Disk Management and Device Manager were accessed from a number of different locations. In Windows 8, however, there are two quick and easy ways to access the majority of the advanced system utilities. The first way is to perform a Settings search for the utility you want. Note that in the Release Preview, not all utilities come up by their actual name. For example, searching for "Disk Management" returns a result called "Create and format hard disk partitions". Clicking on this result does actually bring us to the Disk Management utility, even though the name is different. It is unknown if this behavior will continue with the full launch version of Windows 8.

The second method to access some of the power user commands is to either move the mouse cursor to the bottom-left corner of the screen, then right-click with the mouse; or to use the hotkey "WinKey+x". This bring up a basic menu with some of the most common system utilities.

Running an Settings search for Device Manager "WinKey+x" or right-clicking on the bottom-left corner of the screen brings up a list of some common advanced system utilities


Keyboard Shortcuts

There are a huge number of keyboard shortcuts in Windows 8, so we will only go over ones that we feel will be the most useful for the average user. We will however also skip over the very basic hotkeys such as "Ctrl + c" to copy a selection. If you want to see the full list of keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8, you can view them in PDF form here.
WinKey - Switches between the Metro Start page and the last opened app.
WinKey + B - Displays the Desktop
WinKey + D - Minimizes/maximizes everything on the Desktop
WinKey + E - Launches Windows Explorer
WinKey + R - Launched Run...
WinKey + I - Opens the settings menu 
WinKey + X - Opens the power user commands (advanced system utilities)
WinKey + Tab - Cycle through Metro app history
WinKey + F - Search for files
WinKey + Q - Search for applications
WinKey + W - Search for settings


Tags: Advice, Technology, Windows 8, Microsoft