Chapter 2: Using the mouse and keyboard to navigate Windows 8

The Windows 8 interface has been designed with touchscreens in mind, but it's also possible to navigate it effectively using a keyboard and a mouse. In fact, if you don't have a touchscreen computer, and even if you never plan on getting one, you can still access all of the main functions of the new operating system easily using a mouse or keyboard shortcuts (we've listed the new Windows 8 shortcuts at the end of the chapter).

To open an app from the Start screen, simply click on it with the left mouse button. If you can't see the app that you want to launch, then use the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard to scroll through the Start screen, or simply drag the slider with the mouse. Alternatively, you can just start typing the name of the application that you want to launch, and it will either show up in a list for you to click on, or you will be able to search for it. This is an effective way to search your computer for files as well. Indeed, you don't have to bring up a search box before you start typing your search string -- just start typing while you are in the Start screen and the search will appear.

Searching for files and programs in Windows 8 is simple: just start typing from within the Start screen in order to bring up the search box.
Searching for files and programs in Windows 8 is simple: just start typing from within the Start screen in order to bring up the search box.

You can right-click on tiles to bring up their available commands and you can right-click anywhere outside of the tiles on the Start screen in order to bring up the 'All apps' bar. While you are inside an app, right-clicking will bring up its context menu.

In order to get to the Desktop, you have to click on the Desktop tile on the Start screen. Windows 8 treats the Desktop like an app, which means it is not open by default, and it is treated like any other open app when you navigate the system. Once the Desktop is open, you can use it normally. Applications will appear windowed and you will be able to organise Desktop shortcuts and program windows easily.

The Desktop is treated like another app. Click its icon on the Start screen in order to get to it. It is usually located in the bottom-left corner.
The Desktop is treated like another app. Click its icon on the Start screen in order to get to it. It is usually located in the bottom-left corner.

The Switcher

There are a few different features that you need to be aware of while using Windows 8. The first is the Switcher. The Switcher is the part of the screen that holds a list of open Windows 8-style apps and the Desktop (when it's open). It's what allows you to very easily switch between the Desktop and any Windows 8-style apps that you have open in the background. It can be invoked by moving the mouse pointer to the bottom-left corner of the screen and then moving the pointer slightly upwards to see all open apps.

In this screenshot we have moved the mouse pointer to the bottom-left corner of the screen in order to bring up the Start screen icon.
In this screenshot we have moved the mouse pointer to the bottom-left corner of the screen in order to bring up the Start screen icon.

Once the Start icon has appeared, we have moved the mouse pointer up in order to show the Switcher bar.
Once the Start icon has appeared, we have moved the mouse pointer up in order to show the Switcher bar.

The Charms bar

The bottom-left corner can be used to go back to the Start screen if you are on the Desktop, and back to the Desktop if you are in the Start screen. Likewise, the Windows key can be used to bring up the Start screen or Desktop. If you move the mouse pointer deep into the top-right or bottom-right corners of the screen (until the mouse pointer disappears), you can bring up a new set of icons that are called Charms.

In this screenshot we have moved the mouse pointer to the bottom corner of the screen and then upwards in order to bring up the Charms bar.
In this screenshot we have moved the mouse pointer to the bottom corner of the screen and then upwards in order to bring up the Charms bar.

There are five charms present, with the one in the middle being the Windows charm. The Windows charm can also be used to go back to the Start screen. There is a Search charm, which can be used to find files and apps; there is a Share charm, which can be used, for example, to Tweet or email links to contacts in your People app; there is a Devices charm, which can be used to access printers or secondary screens; there is a Settings charm, which can be used to change different settings and which allows you to access the Control Panel and personalisation settings. All of these Charms also display information in context depending on the app you are in. For example, if you access the Settings charm from within an app, you will get settings specific to that app.

Settings

Importantly, the Settings charm offers many easy-to-access system settings, which are especially convenient if you use touch, but also useful if you use a mouse or touchpad. You can easily click or tap on icons to manipulate the system volume, screen brightness, to access wireless networks and even to power down the system. From here, you can also access the 'Change PC settings' option, which allows you to manage many online settings for your account, along with search settings, privacy settings and much more.

Settings can be accessed easily from the Charms bar and contain useful functions such as brightness and volume controls, which are especially handy when using touch.
Settings can be accessed easily from the Charms bar and contain useful functions such as brightness and volume controls, which are especially handy when using touch.

Show Desktop

Just like in Windows 7, the bottom-right corner can be used to show the Desktop when you place the mouse just to the right side of the clock while you are in the Desktop app; you won't be able to use this method to show the Desktop if you are in a new-style Windows 8 app. To see the Desktop while in a new-style app, simply press the Windows logo + D keyboard combination or move the mouse pointer to the top-left corner of the screen and get to the Desktop via the Switcher.

Closing new-style apps

If you want to close any new-style apps that are currently open, then you can move the mouse pointer up towards the top of the screen until it becomes a hand, click the left mouse button, and then drag the app all the way down to the bottom of the screen. It's worth noting that you can leave new-style apps open in the background and they won't slow down your computer. They are designed to use minimal resources and to give up memory when they are not actively being used.

The Snap feature

Using a similar action, you can drag new-style apps to the left or the right to make them appear side-by-side with other apps — this is the Snap feature. For example, you can open up a news app, drag it towards the right until it snaps into place along the side of the screen, then click on the blue space to launch another app next to it (or press the Windows logo key + D to bring up the Desktop next to it). This is a particularly useful feature if you want to use both a Desktop application and a new-style app at the same time and it offers a quick way to switch between the two types of apps. You will need a screen with a minimum resolution of 1366x768 in order to use this Snap feature.

Here you can see that we have used the Snap feature to place the SBS On Demand app on the right side of the screen, while the left side of the screen shows the Desktop, where we are browsing the Web in Firefox.
Here you can see that we have used the Snap feature to place the SBS On Demand app on the right side of the screen, while the left side of the screen shows the Desktop, where we are browsing the Web in Firefox.

The roles have been reversed in the above screenshot, with the Desktop (and all open windows on the Desktop) present on the left side, and the SBS On Demand app on the right, showing a video called 'Go Back or Go Home'.
The roles have been reversed in the above screenshot, with the Desktop (and all open windows on the Desktop) present on the left side, and the SBS On Demand app on the right, showing a video called 'Go Back or Go Home'.

Keyboard shortcuts

If you learn to use keyboard shortcuts, you can improve your efficiency when navigating around Windows 8. Below is a list of the new keyboard shortcuts and the functions they perform.

Windows logo key: This brings up the Start screen and can also take you back to the Desktop.
Windows logo key + C: This brings up the Charms bar.
Windows logo key + Q: This brings up the Search charm.
Windows logo key + H: This brings up the Share charm.
Windows logo key + K: This brings up the Devices charm.
Windows logo key + I: This brings up the Settings charm.
Windows logo key + W: This allows you to search the Windows Settings.
Windows logo key + F: This allows you to search for files.
Windows logo key + Z: This brings up the All Apps bar on the Start screen and it brings up context menus within an app.
Windows logo key + Tab: This brings up the app Switcher so you can easily switch to other recently used or open apps. It's is the equivalent of Alt-Tab for app switching.
Windows logo key + . (period): This allows you to snap an app to the side of the screen.
Windows logo key + D: This brings up the Desktop, whether you are on the Start screen or in an app.
Alt + F4: This will close an app.
Control + Alt + Delete: This will bring up the screen from which you can lock your computer, switch users, access the Task Manager or shut down your computer or tablet.

Proudly sponsored by Trend Micro

Previous chapter: The Windows 8 Start screen

Next chapter: Using a touchpad to get the most out of Windows 8

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Elias Plastiras

Elias Plastiras

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