PART I IN A SERIES REVIEWING THE LATEST OPERATING SYSTEM FROM MICROSOFT
I like Windows 8. There. I said it. I've seen numerous negative reviews of the interface and read several complaints about the lack of a "start menu" on the desktop, and yet, I haven't found either of those to be an issue at all. Personally, I like the new start screen. After customizing it, I can find my apps faster than I could under the old start menu. Windows 8 feels faster to me as well. After a brief adjustment period, I have found it very easy to use.
Before upgrading my work computer, I first upgraded at home. Both my wife and 9 year old daughter have found it easy to use. "Cool!" was my daughter's first response when I showed her the new start screen. As I showed her how to customize it, she pushed me aside and said "I want to do it". I haven't had to show her anything since then.
WINDOWS 8 OVERVIEW
Conceptually, Windows 8 isn't that different from Windows 7. There is a desktop and a way to start applications. The difference being that the Start Menu is now its own screen, the "Start Screen".
In addition, Windows 8 adds a new class of "tablet" or "multiple device" applications (Windows 8 Apps or "W8Apps" formerly named "Metro Apps"). These are the new "Metro" applications about which everyone seems to have differing opinions. These applications are designed to work on multiple devices (tablets, phones and computers), and sync all their settings via an online Microsoft Account. What this implies is that you could be using an application on your tablet, pause it, log into your computer and pick up right where you left off. This is a pretty bold vision of the future of computing, and one I think is pretty exciting.
However, it is important to note that you are not required to use these in Windows 8 (but you may want to).
TRANSITIONING FROM WINDOW 7 TO WINDOWS 8
In my opinion, the process of transitioning from Window 7 to Windows 8 reduces down to three main concepts:
(1) The desktop has several improvements over Windows 7 but works pretty much the same as the Windows 7 desktop (i.e. you're generally not going to notice anything significantly different other than the start menu, how you access the control panel and how you shut down);
(2) The Windows 7 start menu has been replaced by a customizable Start Screen in Windows 8, which you activate by clicking in the lower left corner of the Window OR pressing the Windows key on the keyboard; and
(3) There is a whole new class of applications: the new "W8Apps" Multi-device applications that are cloud enabled.
As always, before upgrading, you should ensure that the application you absolutely need to use are compatible with Windows 8.
(1) DESKTOP IMPROVEMENTS, BUT OTHERWISE FUNCTIONALLY THE SAME AS WINDOWS 7
The Windows 8 desktop has numerous improvements over Windows 7:
• It runs faster than the Windows 7 Desktop
• It boots faster than Windows 7 (in as little at 8 to 15 seconds)
• Improved Task Manager
• Improved File Manager (it was also renamed from "Windows Explorer" to "File Explorer")
• Faster file copy (file copy dialogs also have more information and you can pause/resume)
• Multiple file copy operations now all show in the same window
• Support for mounting disk images (iso and vhd)
• Improved security
• Improved support for multiple monitors:
o Taskbar can now be displayed on all monitors
o Window snap now works on multiple monitors
• IE10 - which is the best browser Microsoft has put out yet (Yes, you can still run Chrome, and no I'm not kidding, IE10 is pretty good. At the very least IE10 sucks less)
Plus many more improvements that are too numerous to list.
So with all these new improvements, the desktop must be totally different and will prevent people from getting regular work done, right? Wrong. Here is a picture of Word 2010 running under Windows 8. It looks and works exactly the same as it did in Windows 7:
I would venture to guess that the majority of users out there wouldn't be able to tell the difference between running Word on Windows 7 vs. Windows 8. Almost all applications that ran under Windows 7 will run under Windows 8, and you will use them exactly the same under either system.
However, there is a different way to get to the control panel. To open the control panel, push your mouse into the lower left corner of the desktop and right-click. This will bring up a menu for different system options, including the control panel:
Shutting down windows also requires a different procedure. To shut down the computer press ALT+F4 in desktop mode, and select the correct option (you can also do this from the Desktop or Start Screen by using Charms Bar->Settings->Power - more on the Charms Bar later).
With the exception of the Start Menu (see below), control panel and the shutdown command, the Windows 8 desktop works virtually the same as the Windows 7 desktop. All the programs I use look and function exactly the same under either system. With the improvements in speed, multi-monitor support and file copy operations, I have found Windows 8 to be a useful upgrade.
(2) MOVING FROM THE "START MENU" TO THE "START SCREEN"
One of the major user interface changes in Windows 8 is that the Windows 7 Start Menu has been replaced by the Windows 8 Start Screen. Windows 8 boots into the Start Screen automatically. Clicking on a desktop application from the start screen automatically opens that application on the desktop. So in that sense it works the same as the start menu. The key to Start Screen happiness requires 3 things (1) knowing how to navigate to/from the Start Screen; (2) understanding the 2 different Start Screens - a customizable Main Screen and an "All Apps" Screen; and (3) knowing how to search for applications.
Navigating to and from the Start Screen
There are two main ways to activate the Start Screen from the desktop:
(a) press the windows key on the keyboard
(b) push the mouse all the way into the lower left hand corner of the screen and left click.
Method B took me a few minutes to get used to. When you push the mouse in the corner, a little picture of the start screen appears. Initially, I kept trying to move my mouse to try to click on the picture. *Don't do this*. Just push your mouse all the way into the lower left corner and click. Once I got used to this, I found it to be just as easy (or easier) than clicking on the Windows 7 Start menu.
There are at least four (4) different ways to get back to the desktop from the Start Screen:
(a) Launch a desktop application
(b) Click the desktop icon on the start screen
(c) Press the windows key; or
(d) Push the mouse in the lower left hand corner and click
Windows 8 Start Screen vs. Windows 7 Start Menu
So how does launching an application in Windows 8 compare to Windows 7? Here's how I do it:
Click Windows button (start) -> Program Files -> Navigate Folders -> Click Application
Press Windows key on keyboard-> Type name of application in search box->Press enter
Click bottom left corner of Desktop -> Click Icon of Program on Start Screen
Press Windows key -> Type name of application to search -> Press enter
It really isn't that different. That said, I like the Start Screen better because it is easier to customize than the Start Menu. The Start Screen is really comprised of two different screens: (i) The Main (favorites) Screen, and (ii) an "All Apps" screen. There is also a "zoom view" for each screen.
(i) The Main (favorites) Screen.
The main Start Screen is really more like a "Favorites" screen or a full page task bar. You "pin" your programs to the Start Screen, just like you would on the task bar. To change the way an icon is displayed, or to pin it to the taskbar on the desktop (in addition to having it on the start screen), right click on the icon to see all the additional options.
Selecting "Unpin from Start" from the options will remove it from the Start Screen.
To move an icon, just click and drag it to a new location.
There is also a horizontal scroll bar on the bottom to scroll through start page, and a "Zoom Out" button in the lower right hand corner of the screen:
Clicking this button will "zoom out" and show your Start Screen in one page. You can also move groups of icons (or name them) from this view:
Click any empty space on the screen to zoom back to the normal view.
(ii) The "All Apps" Screen"
The "All Apps" screen shows all the applications that are installed in Windows. To get to this screen, right click anywhere on the Main Start Screen and then click the "All Apps" button in the lower right hand corner.
This will then display every Application installed in the system:
Use the horizontal scroll bar on the bottom of the screen to scroll through the list of Apps. Use the Zoom Button to get an simplified view of the "All Apps" screen. Clicking on a box will zoom into that app section on the "All Apps" screen.
Searching for Applications
The Start Screen also has built in search capability. To search from the Start Screen, just start typing the name of the application (no search box required, just start typing). Windows 8 will display the search results as you type. To launch the app, just click on it, or, if it is highlighted, press enter.
This can be one of the fastest ways to launch an application from the desktop using the keyboard. Just press the Windows key, start typing the name of the application, and press enter when it appears.
My Typical Workflow:
I find that the start screen is really fast and easy to use. When I need to start an application, I just slam my mouse into the lower left hand corner of the desktop, click, and click on the icon of the application when the start screen appears. This launches the application and automatically takes me back to the desktop (if it is a desktop app).
If I'm looking for an application that is not on my start screen, I either slam my mouse in the lower left corner and click or hit the windows key. When the start screen appears, I just start typing the name of the application. Windows 8 will automatically search for the app, and when it appears, I first right click on it and add it to my start screen (or to the desktop task bar), and then launch it. (If I don't want it on my start screen, then I will just launch it by clicking on it or pressing enter).
The whole process is really fast and I actually like it better than the Windows 7 start menu.
CONCLUSION OF PART 1
In Part I of this article, we have looked at the overview of Windows 8 and how to use the desktop and the new Start Screen. Desktop applications look and function the same on Windows 8 as they did in Windows 7. However, there are some navigation changes:
Launching Applications: Use the Windows 8 Start Screen instead of the Windows 7 Start Menu. Access the Start Screen with either the Windows Key or by left clicking in the lower left hand corner of the desktop.
Control Panel: Right click in the lower left corner to access the control panel.
Shut Down: Press ALT+F4 in the desktop or Charms Bar-> Settings -> Power
When transitioning from Windows 7 to Windows 8, first make sure all your applications are compatible, install your applications, and then customize your Start Screen so that you can quickly launch whatever application you need. If you don't see the application you need, search for it by typing the name while the Start Screen is showing (just start typing). Windows 8 will find the application, at which point you can launch it or add it to the Start Screen, or both.
In Part 2, we will look at the new W8Apps that seem to be so controversial.