Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Making Windows 8 that little bit more usable



First of all, let me just say that I actually really quite like Windows 8, so don't expect this to deteriorate into a list of reasons why you shouldn't bother. I upgraded my home desktop almost as soon as I could get my mits on the upgrade, and it's been running on my work desktop for a little while now.

Once I'd got past the initial confusion everyone gets on seeing a new way of doing things, and focused instead on how I actually use my machine and the benefits available in this version, I was well and truly a convert. Yes TIFKAM (The Interface Formerly Known As Metro) jars a little at first, no I really don't like it, however and this is the important point, I hardly ever use it! Since Windows 7* introduced pinning your apps to the task bar I've generally had all my regularly used apps pinned, so I rarely needed to click start for anything other than shutting down. So if I didn't use the Start menu in 7, I probably won't use TIFKAM in 8, so it doesn't matter what it looks like!

All that said, there are a number of little tips and tricks I've discovered to resolve some of the little annoyances, and make Windows 8 far better (in my opinion) than it is out of the box. I figured I'd write about them here, if they help someone else then great, if not I've got a handy crib sheet if I need to set things up again in the future.**


  • For quick access to the desktop when starting Windows, drag the "Desktop" tile on the start menu to the top left hand corner. This then becomes the default tile and is already selected. When you login to Windows and are presented with the Start menu, simply hit return and you'll be at the desktop.
  • To start your applications without needing to use the Start menu the simplest way it to pin them to your task bar. Once they're running, simply right click the taskbar icon, and you'll see an option to "Pin this program to the taskbar". When the app is closed the icon remains without the box surrounding it, making it easy to start next time. You can also re-order them by dragging and dropping them into the order you prefer.
  • If you can't find an app, either type its name in the Start menu to search for it, or (and this isn't always obvious), right click in some empty space and you'll see an option for "All apps" which will being up a complete list of them.
  • Accessing the Shutdown/Restart menu can be done in multiple ways, moving the mouse to the bottom right and selecting settings, pressing Windows-C to access the Charms menu, or Windows-I to go direct to the Setting Charm, but if nothing is open or no applications are selected (eg you clicked on the desktop / taskbar) you can press ALT-F4 to go direct to the menu.
  • If you like having easy access to My Computer, documents, the Control Panel etc, you can get a measure of this functionality back via a taskbar toolbar. Right click on the taskbar, go to Toolbars and select Desktop. You'll now see on the right hand end of the task bar a new entry title "Desktop >>", clicking on the >>'s gives you access to many of those things you previously had through the start menu.
  • And finally, if / when you accidentally open something in Metro mode (it loads full screen, and the taskbar etc is no longer visible) it's simple enough to get back to the desktop, however you'll notice a lack of familiar x to close the application. In Metro mode, move the mouse to the top middle of the screen and the mouse changes to a hand icon, click and drag down until the application is gone (effectively dragging the application off your desktop).

Next post will be some of the useful changes you can make in Office 2013.

* It may have started in Vista, but I never used it and prefer to think of it as a beta version of Windows 7!

** Note, there are various add-ons and start bar replacements out there but I haven't touched them. I spend enough time supporting other peoples machines that I don't want mine moving too far from the default.

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