Except for the omission of a Start menu, the desktop mostly behaves the same in Windows 8 as it did in Windows 7. So how do you reach commonly used features such as the Control Panel, the file explorer, and the Run command? Move your pointer to the lower-left corner and right-click, ignoring the Start-screen peek that pops up. This is the simplified Start menu; you can also bring it up by pressing Windows-X. Or you might prefer to use the search function, entering "Control Panel" or "Run" as the search terms.
Microsoft has chosen to leave the Windows 8 desktop bare, as it did with Windows 7. Given the absence of the old-style Start menu, you may wish to add the system and user-file icons by right-clicking the desktop and selecting the Personalize menu. After you have added those two icons, you can pin them to the Windows 8 Start screen.
Connecting to networks is easier than ever, once you have installed the right drivers. Windows 8 enumerates and displays all of your networked devices--including DLNA devices, network folders you've set up, and other computers residing on the network--in any file manager window.
The appearance of individual windows has changed. Gone are the faux transparency and the fake beveled edges, replaced by a completely flat appearance. If you click one of the menu items (such as 'File'), each window will show a Ribbon similar to the Office 2010 Ribbon. (The Ribbon isn't sticky, though; it shows up only when you click one of the top-menu items.) The Ribbon contains, in one location, all the information that previous versions displayed in a series of menus and submenus.
Ultimately, navigating the new desktop is similar to getting around the old version, but the absence of a full Start menu may throw you off at first. Using hotkeys, and customizing the desktop and Start screen, might help you become more comfortable in the short run. Once you get used to navigating the system, it's as transparent as the old one--just different.
The touch experience
The PC you own today almost certainly lacks a touchscreen. You may have a laptop with a touchpad, but most existing touchpads can't take full advantage of the touch capabilities inherent in Windows 8, since they lack the edge detection that is built into recent touchpad hardware.
On the other hand, your next PC may very well have full ten-point multitouch support, even if it's a stock desktop PC. Manufacturers are starting to ship desktop displays with touch capability; the first touch-enabled displays have built-in capacitive touch sensors, which work via a USB connection to the PC. Future touch displays might communicate through some flavor of wireless, including Bluetooth.