Where to Find What You Need in Windows 8: Screenshots as a Visual Guide

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Sign in to Windows 8

Windows 8 is highly functional, easy to use and looks amazing.

But where is everything?!

In creating the most visually stunning operating system user interface yet, Microsoft has moved things around slightly in order to create an interactive touch experience that can also be used with a mouse and keyboard.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has followed Apple’s lead and offered users the added security of integrating their PC or laptop with cloud services provided by the operating system manufacturer.

The result of this is a choice of creating a new, local account or using a Windows Live ID to sign into your computer. When Windows 8 boots for the first time, this is the screen that you will see, inviting you to login with either a Windows Live email address (you might have one from Hotmail, or your Xbox LIVE account; if you’re using the Windows 8 Developer Preview you would have used a Windows Live account to download this) or create a local account.

The Windows 8 Start Screen

After signing in to Windows 8, the operating system presents you with a stunning mosaic of tiles, the new Start screen. The tile-based user interface known as Metro has already been introduced on the Windows Phone series and the great reaction to this has led to Microsoft introducing it on the next version of Windows.

Interacting with this UI is a case of using the arrow keys on your keyboard, left clicking and dragging your mouse or using your finger on either a trackpad or a touch screen tablet device.

Accessing the Start screen from anywhere in Windows is easily achieved simply by tapping the Start key on your keyboard.

Internet Explorer - Front and Center

As you will have seen in the previous slide, Internet Explorer is presented as a key element of Windows 8, present by default on the first column of tiles. While moving the tiles around is pretty simple, you probably won’t want to make too many changes to the positioning of your favorite apps.

Internet Explorer 10 is the version of the browser expected in Windows 8. It follows the Windows Phone version of Internet Explorer 9 by featuring the address bar at the foot of the screen (a remarkable means of increasing the available on-screen real estate) and of course the usual features such as tabbed browsing. Note that there is a drawing pin button in the lower right corner; this will create a shortcut tile to any web page on the Start screen.

The Traditional Windows Desktop

One of the key aspects of Windows since its very first incarnation is the desktop and Start menu. While these are largely hidden in Windows 8 they are both still present.

Retaining the classic desktop allows Windows 8 to be backwards compatible with applications designed for use with previous operating systems, notably Windows Vista and 7. While the classic Start menu is limited to just a few options, this should not discourage anyone from using Windows 8 since installed applications can be easily found via the Applications list.

Windows Control Panel

Among the many options in Windows 8 is a new version of the classic Control Panel. Reorganizing the familiar options into easy to use groups is an excellent way of making the new operating system instantly functional for new users looking for ways to enable and disable wireless, add new users, adjust the usual personalization options and even download a Windows Update.

If you’re finding all of this a little basic, however, the screen offers a More Settings option that allows you to access the classic Control Panel, where all of the usual options are organized much as they are in Windows Vista and 7.

Whither Windows Explorer?

Other classic elements of Windows can be found in Windows 8. Windows Explorer is initially launched via a Start screen tile, and presents itself in the familiar list of folders on the left and selected folder contents on the right.

What you might find particularly interesting is the addition of the Microsoft ribbon menu across the top. First introduced in Microsoft Office 2007, this feature has been quite divisive over the years, but works very well here, migrating options usually found in the folder properties screen to the ribbon menu so they can be accessed in just a couple of clicks.

Accessing the Command Prompt

Along with Windows Explorer, the command line is also available in Windows 8, if you know where to look.

Simply launch Windows Explorer and click the File menu to reveal the options to open a command prompt as the current user, or as an administrator.

Many of the Windows shortcuts also exist in the new version of the operating system. For instance, clicking WINDOWS+R will open the Run box, into which you might enter cmd to open the command prompt, which is potentially quicker than opening the tool via Windows Explorer.

Similarly, WINDOWS+E still opens Windows Explorer.

Launching Apps in Windows 8

As with Windows 7, Windows 8 makes the use of search a more important aspect of the user experience, enabling software to be easily launched if it doesn’t already exist on the Start screen.

Accessing Search is a case of opening the Start menu and selecting it. At this point, the screen above will appear, allowing you to then enter a search term which will be carried out based on whether you select apps, settings or files.

Browsing Apps in Windows 8

Rather than list your apps in the traditional way on the desktop or in the Start menu, the majority of your tools, apps and native utilities can be accessed via the Apps menu in Windows 8, where you will find them grouped alphabetically to make things easy to find.

Along with the options on the Start screen and any software that you install yourself, the Apps list will also feature some regularly used tools such as the command prompt or the desktop gadget gallery (and the desktop itself) so you can be sure that these “classic” tools remain a part of Windows despite the new look.

Advanced System Properties

While the My Computer option may no longer be available in Windows 8, there is still a way to find and run various advanced tools, such as adjusting the performance options on your PC or laptop.

This screen is now reached via Windows Explorer - select Computer, then Properties and in the System view choose Advanced System Settings. Note that selecting any of the attached drives before clicking the Properties option on the ribbon menu will display properties for that device, so you may need to check that Computer is selected in the left-hand column.

On-Screen Keyboard in Windows 8

Windows 8 is designed for desktops and laptops - and tablets. As a result, a software keyboard has been provided that will allow users of tablets and hybrid devices to enter text directly into the touch screen display with an easy to use and responsive software keyboard, again derived from the one seen on the Windows Phone platform.

Summoning the keyboard is simply a case of tapping a text entry point. This might be in a browser, in the operating system (as seen here) or in an app such as a word processor or a social networking tool.


  • Author’s own experience.