HowTo figure out Windows 8

Windows 8's new UI is elegant, minimalist and, for those used to the older versions, utterly baffling. Sean Hollister's lengthy guide to the new OS will have you figuring it out in no time. tl;dr just hover the mouse in the corners.


  1. “If you’ve got multiple apps open, why not view two side by side? Drag an app from the left edge and hold it over the left or right side of the screen to snap a smaller version alongside. Or, drag down from the top of the screen, as if you were going to close an app, then snap it to the left or right. Mouse or touchpad: click and drag from the top-left corner, or right-click on an item in the app switcher.”

    Soooooo much easier than “drag the two windows to the locations you want then grab a corner of each and resize them the way you want.”

    I’ll stick with usability over the asinine attempt to shoehorn a touchscreen interface into my non-touchscreen PC, thanks.

          1. Funny-Key — What?

            Keyboard Commands are not the way most average users interact with their computers. Even the simple ones like Cut and Paste are often as not only accessed via File or Right Click menus. (I see this every day)

            At least some of the hidden aspects of the Win8 interface announce themselves to you when you accidentally do something. Keyboard commands do not do that.

          2. You should be able to do everything in the core OS *without* a mouse. Anything else is poor interface design for a *desktop system*.

            Also, ‘features’ accidentally announcing themselves is what I call a bug. Properly implemented hints are just one more part of UI design that many vendors don’t get (mainly because these days we are stuck with ‘designers’ who generally have no engineering qualifications at all. Good UI design is *hard*).

  2. I have been playing with Windows 8 recently. The bottom line is that it will be another Windows Vista. Production and power users will be waiting for the next version that acknowledges their needs over the needs of people who want a tablet or touch screen interface. Microsoft is chasing the wrong market because they apparently forgot which side their bread is buttered on. Those who do adopt it will be applying third party fixes to make it like Windows 7 again.

    1.  You didn’t play with it well enough it seems. Windows Vista was buggy and slow. Windows 8 is faster than a well configured Win7 or WinXP. The old desktop is still there and very easily accessible. You still can run programs from WinXP or Win7 without any problem. If you can’t work on this OS which does all of what the older OS did and more, then, you are a very easily confused person.

      1.  You make a lot of assumptions.

        I’m a power user who also provides tech support to a large swath of tech un-savvy people to whom I am going to have to be explaining the annoying details of Windows 8 for the next year or so. They won’t understand why there aren’t visual clues to the corner hotspots. They’ll be clicking like crazy instead of hovering and waiting for menus to appear. They won’t understand why it doesn’t just boot to the desktop instead of treating the desktop like another app. They won’t understand where the old start menu went. And Microsoft doesn’t seem to want to let its users make those decisions for themselves by having features as options instead of doing away with them.

        I actually didn’t have a problem with Vista since it’s most annoying features could be turned off, like the UAC. I had a new machine running Vista and it wasn’t slow to me. But that’s not what I was referring to about Vista. 8 will be like Vista because a large group of people, especially companies, will be sticking with the previous product (especially since a lot of companies are just now upgrading to 7).

        We expect 8 to be faster. They’d be stupid to release a new OS that was slower than the last. That’s not surprising or special, and 7 isn’t slow on good hardware, so it’s not even a concern. 8 is just a bad compromise between tablets/touchscreens and production machines. The UI is chasing Apple and Android and betraying the people who used Windows to do real work.

      2. Of course you can figure it out. But believe it or not, some people actually used Windows because bugs aside, they liked how the OS worked. Microsoft is making sure they have less and less reason not to just switch to Mac, tablets, etc.

    2. I dunno about another Vista. I reserve judgement till I get a change to play with it properly. But yes some folks in the development/business area are not going to be happy. I would like to see how well it does with dual monitors. For work I have IE, my employer email and IM client, customer email and IM client, notepad, ticket system, command prompt and between 2 to 5 remote desktops be it RDP or vsphere depending on where I am in the build process.
      Also I am usually referring to the ticket, and scratch notes on one screen while doing actual work on the other. Every thing I have seen about windows 8 so far says this kind of set up is going to be a PITA. It may not be but all the demos I have see are geared at the home user which is cool for my personal laptop but not for the work machine.

      Heck where I work is big enough they are still in the last stages of moving from XP to win7, and there will be at least a year of testing win8 (Provided they are going to move to it) before it gets deployed in any fashion.

    3. “I have been playing with Windows 8 recently. The bottom line is that it will be another Windows Vista.”

      The latter doesn’t follow the former.

    1. Well, it sort of is.  A lot of the money has always come from Office… and users of other OSs tend to use one of the alternatives.  When people move off Windows, the loss of direct revenue isn’t a big deal for MS, but the loss of platform control hurts.

  3. Guess how you get the address bar to appear in Metro IE10. Hint: It’s not by jamming the mouse into the screen corners.

    Also bonus points if you can guess how to switch the PC off.

    (Basically the interface is an annoying mess of nonsensical hierarchy, hidden options and inconsistent actions)

    1. Mouse over to the left and click on the arrow that shows up (it shows up even if you “jam” your mouse into any of the left hand corners.

      To shut down bring up the charms bar, click on settings and then power. Not a big deal really. Alternatively you could close the lid on your laptop or push the power button.

      1. The point isn’t finding out how to do these things. It’s the fact that it’s not intuitive to do them in the first place and it’s more laborious than the previous interface of Windows 7. Anyone can read the manual, but it’d be nice if they had designed the interface in such a way that it wouldn’t be necessary to do so to do simple tasks like turning it off.

        Turning off Windows 8 takes 4 steps instead of the 2 that it takes me in Windows 7. That doesn’t seem like much, but multiplied by several times over almost every day of the year over several years and that’s a lot of wasted time and attention.

        1. I pretty much made that same argument about the scrolling start menu in 7…and now i use Classic Shell.

  4. You can pry Windows 7 out of my cold, dead, mouse-clicky-and-draggy hands. Despite all the people bitching about Windows in general (including myself) in the past, I have nearly nothing to complain about in 7.  I don’t knock Microsoft for trying to improve their product, but if I can’t see why an ‘improvement’ is such, well, back to the drawing board. And take your Office ‘ribbon’ with you, guys. Yeeg.

    1. Oh God, the ribbon! I don’t know who they designed that abomination for, but I do know that they didn’t design it for me.

      If I have to move to 8, not only am I going to have to use a replacement to deal with the start menu fiasco, I’m going to have to replace explorer too.

    1. Until your machine is so bogged down by viruses and trojans that it’s useless. I think Microsoft is going to keep patching it for about one more year.

      1.  XP since it came out. Zero trojans or viruses, never rebuilt or reinstalled. Works great. Familiar, fast and stable.

  5. If you have to go to the hassle of learning a new OS you might as well make it a better one. Assuming you don’t have a handful of genuinely must-have windows-only programs then familiarity should be the only thing holding you back.

      1. I was hinting toward any Unix/Linux OS to be honest. OSX is an obvious choice, but all the linux distros out there too.

        If you *have* to use MS Office, or use your PC as a games console, then these of course are not great options – but I’m sure this kind of big shift will lose MS more customers than it will gain – it’s certainly not going to convert a Mac user, and Linux users are a different breed altogether; and for users waiting to try something new MS have given them the perfect opportunity to do just that.

        I actually quite like MS’s approach to mobile, it’s different, innovative. But the desktop OS feels like a right frankenstein job for a complete non-market.

    1. As an electrical engineer, I have a lot of Windows-only programs that I earn a living with. Some of them are ten years old; therefore the XP.

      1.  So far, I got no problem to run my XP programs on Win8. From what I see, I am fairly sure it has less problems than Vista to run XP programs.

  6. I hold to the opinion that there would be little to no furor over Win8 if they had provided the option to maintain what you’re used to, but allowed you to dabble in Metro/Modern/TIKFAM at your leisure. (a quick How To as you went in the first time would help a lot too)

    1. Windows 8 isn’t about giving customers what they want, it’s about “fixing” the Windows ecosystem so that Microsoft can become relevant to consumers again.

      1. The two features I was most interested in – the ZFS like features under Storage Spaces and Portable Win8 on USB – look to be busts. Without those incentives, no I am not interested in the annoyance of learning a new interface for old tasks.

        * ZFS like features – the marketing blurbs indicated a few features under Storage Spaces that looked an awful lot like the data resilency features of ZFS. When I went to play with it, I found that you only got on the fly data protection and repair with mirroring. It is not available for Raid-5.

        * Win8 on USB – This is limited to Win8  Enterprise. I cannot take advantage of it.

        1. ZFS is what I’m interested in also. The bigger drives get, the higher the probability of silent data corruption (along with the usual kinds of issues one encounters in computing that ZFS would help mitigate).

          1. If you are OK with mirroring (and trusting the new Storage Spaces pre-SP1) then Win8/Server12 seem to give enough ZFS functionality to be useful. I’m not willing to give up that many drives to redundancy, and am recalling how Vista ate a 4tb array on me…

            In my instance, it just means I’m going to be scrapping the plans for one 2012 server to handle storage in favor of FreeNAS 8. It appears to give me everything I want, including proper RaidZ. Free is a nice pricepoint too. :-)  If you want storage local to your machine though, it will not be as useful to you.

          2. I’m currently tinkering with freenas also. I already run a mirror locally, I am wanting the increased data safety of ZFS.

            As for losing arrays, been there, done that. Arrays are not a substitute for proper backups.

  7. i love how they hide the shut down button now. Makes absolutely no sense. People keep praising their UI but all I see is a mess.

    1. I think it’s the result of watching how people use their computers. Most people don’t turn off their computers anymore. IMHO, an uncluttered interface is better than a cluttered interface. “Hiding” non-essential stuff like shutdown is a good idea.

      1. IMHO, an interface that is natively customizable and adaptable to the preferences of the individual user is preferable to a prescribed user experience that assumes one setting fits all. 

    2. I’ll bet good money they are counting on that functionality being taken over by a hardware button on the mobile/tablet.

  8. “Hover the mouse”?  What do I do if all I have are fingers?  Can’t hover in what is supposed to be a touch-friendly UI.

    1. I think you swipe in that case. The mouse hover is a compromise for those poor people who are stuck with real PCs.

  9. The missing word in this comment thread is “keyboard”. If you’re accustomed to pressing [Window key] N O [Enter] to get Notepad, or [Window key] C O [Enter] to get Control Panel, you’re not going to notice much difference in Windows 8. It’s exactly the same as the last few versions of Windows if you make proper use of the keyboard.

    Same goes for arranging windows in halves of your monitor(s): [Window key] [Left arrow], etc.

    1. I wasn’t even accustomed to opening programs that way before testing 8 for deployment suitability but I quickly found it was the only sane way to interact with Metro – every single program I installed seemed to automatically add a dozen completely unsorted tiles for everything from help files to alternate launch modes so it was either Search Charm the shit out of my programs or spend considerable time manually pruning my start menu down to actual programs.

      Fast as hell though – I’d upgrade straight away if they made a version that didn’t require me to fuck around with mods to get rid of the touchscreen interface and apps.

  10. The real test for Windows 8 will be:  can a 2 year old use it?

    I have a 1-1/2 year old niece who uses an iPad like a jaded 14 year old, swiping, clicking, using the home button to begin a new app.  No one taught her this.  It is mysterious and amazing to see a UI that is arguably intuitive to all extant human beings.

    Compare this ease of use to Microsoft’s consistently terrible UIs.

  11. The real way to use Win8 on a desktop is just ditch the Metro crap. Use Start8 or RetroUI to get your start menu back and hide Metro and now you’ve got Win7 with a couple improvements.

    Now I’m not saying this is worth your time and money to ‘upgrade’ from 7… but if you end up with it on a new PC it’s certainly salvageable.

  12. I find this whole thing bizzare. On any given day on public transport in Beijing I see people using Symbian, WP7, Android, iOS, Windows, OSX, Windows Mobile, and a multitude of random badly designed UIs for all the mp3 players, book readers, cellphones and other mobile devices that are out there. (In China those last categories have a huge amount of variety). 

    Regardless of how good or bad windows 8 is, people are not that stupid, they may complain a bit but they will quickly work things out and get on with their lives. Like they did every other time. 

  13. What ever happened to adding *real features* to a new OS?

    I’m sick of dealing with latest bit of wankery for wankery’s sake from ‘designers’ (not programmers, and certainly nobody with any sort of engineering qualifications) when the OS still doesn’t have an updated file system. Where’s my ZFS on Windows (or clone)?

    Microsoft could have added features, and they’ve chosen (yet again) to add *annoyances*. What a disappointment.

  14. My TL;DR – Find the apps you actually use, right click, pin to taskbar, then click “desktop” and carry on.  I have been running W8 on this machine for 3 weeks now and I see Metro/Modern maybe once a week.

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