June 29, 2014, 8:33 PM — You've finally made the leap to Windows 8 (or, more probably, Windows 8.1), and a pretty big leap it was. Everything looks different. Everything acts differently. Even a simple task like shutting down your PC suddenly becomes a challenge.
We know. We've lived through Windows 8, too, and we've received many, many questions about it. Here are the 10 most common ones we hear about Microsoft's latest operating system. With these answers under your belt, you can consider yourself well past the beginner stage.
1. What's the differences between Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and the Windows 8.1 Update?
To start the confusion, there are three versions of Windows 8:
· The original Windows 8
· The much-improved Windows 8.1
· The even-better Windows 8.1 Update, though saddled with an idiotic name
How do you tell which you have? Go to the Desktop environment and look in the lower-left corner. If there's no Start button, you've got the original Windows 8.
If there's a Start button, click or tap it to go to the Start screen. Look in the upper-right corner. If there's a magnifying-glass icon, you have Windows 8.1 Update.
If you have the Start button, but not the magnifying glass, you have Windows 8.1, without the Update. In that case, you need update KB2919355. Microsoft is patching Windows 8 and the Windows 8.1 Update, but not Windows 8.1 without the Update. Without patches, Windows becomes less secure.
Besides, the Windows 8.1 Update is by far the easiest and friendliest version of Windows 8 so far. Finally, the two user interfaces--Modern and Desktop--appear to be cooperating.
The good news: If you have a new computer, it's almost certainly running Windows 8.1 with the Update.
2. What about the Start menu?
From the very birth of Windows 8, this was the biggest complaint: "Where's the Start menu?"
Even with the improvements of 8.1 and the 8.1 Update, which brought back the Start button, there's still no Start menu.
One could argue that the Start screen--which is what you get when you click the 8.1 Start button--can do everything that the Start menu can. Except that it can't. You can't hover the mouse over a Modern tile and get a submenu of files recently opened in that application. And the Start screen just doesn't feel right. When you're working in a windowing environment like the Desktop, you don't want to be thrown into a bad-imitation iPad just to launch a program.
Luckily, where Microsoft fails, others provide. You can find plenty of third-party Start menus for Windows 8, and many of them are free.
My favorite, Classic Shell, is one of the free ones. It's capable of giving you, with no trouble at all, a close facsimile to the Windows 7 Start menu. But you can change that look with additional skins, add separate Programs and Apps menus in place of the traditional All Programs, and pick an image for the Start button. You can also control what happens when you left-click and shift-click the Start button.
3. What's that screen with all the little tiles?
You may have stumbled upon it accidentally. You're at the Start screen, you do something (you're not sure what), and suddenly you have a screen filled with tiny tiles instead of big tiles.
That's the Apps screen, which Microsoft added with Windows 8.1. It lists every program and app installed on your PC. Think of it as the equivalent of the Windows 7 Start Menu's All Programs submenu. Or Android's All Apps screen.
You get to it through the Start screen. If you're using a touchscreen, swipe up. If you're using a mouse, move that mouse, and a little arrow icon will appear near the lower left corner of the screen. Click it.
Unlike Windows 7's All Programs, you can sort this list. The default is to sort by name, but you can also sort by date installed, most used (which makes it a bit like the Windows 7 Start menu's left pane), and category. Note, however, that it lacks All Program's ability to use submenus.
One other important point: If you sort by name or category, it lists apps first, and traditional desktop programs after them.
4. How do I do some of the simple tasks that should be obvious to anyone?
The Windows 8 learning curve isn't just about the big stuff. Here are three minor issues that vex new users.
Right-click in a touch interface
Your index finger lacks left and right buttons, and the touchscreen doesn't know one finger from another.
To bring up a context menu on a touchscreen, touch the object and keep your finger there until a square appears around the object. Then release, and the menu will pop up.
Windows 8's equivalent to Windows 7's "Search programs and files" field is the Search charm. There are a lot of ways to bring it up, so I'll just give you the most convenient:
· On the desktop, press Winkey-S.
· On the home screen, just start typing.
Relearn more seemingly simple tasks in Windows 8 on the next page...
Sleep or shut down Windows
This is the one that puzzled a lot of people when Windows 8 first came out.
On the Home screen, swipe from the right edge inward, or move the mouse pointer to the right-top or right-bottom corner and then off the right edge of the screen. Select Settings>Power, and make the appropriate choice.
On the desktop, right-click or touch-and-hold the Start button. From the resulting menu, select Shut down or sign out and the appropriate option. This trick requires Windows 8.1.
5. What's happened to Windows Explorer?
Windows' built-in file manager got a facelift and a new name, and both are an improvement (I thought so even when I hated Windows 8).
Windows Explorer is now called File Explorer. While I usually don't approve of renaming common features in a popular OS, I'll make an exception here: It actually describes what the program does.
It also now sports Office-like tabbed ribbons, which you can show and hide by clicking the little chevron icon just below the top-right corner. The main ribbons are self-explanatory: Home, Share, View, and Search.
Other ribbons pop up when appropriate. For instance, go to the Pictures library, and you'll see additional Library and Picture tabs. You'll also see the Pictures tab when you've selected a picture.
You can configure the interface. Right-click any option on any ribbon and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar. That toolbar is always available, even when you've hidden the ribbon.
One more nice touch: Copy a big file to another drive. The familiar dialog box comes up to show you the progress. While it's still going, start copying another big file. The existing dialog box will expand and show you progress on both files.
6. Where are my libraries?
Now that you've found File Explorer, you might notice something is missing. The left pane lists Favorites, This PC (the location formerly known as My Computer), and Network. But it apparently doesn't have Libraries.
Libraries--configurable pointers to Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos--help you organize your data files. They're one of the best features added with Windows 7.
For instance, the Documents library by default contains both the My Documents and Shared Documents folder, and you can add or remove other folders as you wish. The folders aren't actually in the library, but they appear to be.
The good news: Microsoft didn't remove libraries; it just hid them. But why?
Probably because the company doesn't really want you to store data locally. Microsoft would rather you stored everything in its cloud-based service, OneDrive, and pay for that privilege.
If that doesn't sound like a good plan to you, restore those libraries. In File Explorer, go to the View tab and select Navigation pane>Show libraries.
7. What's with the Task Manager?
Big improvements. That's what's with the Task Manager. Like File Explorer, it's one of the few things about Windows 8 that Microsoft got right from the start.
You launch it the same way as before: right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager. But when it opens, it looks rather minimalist. All you get is a list of running programs and apps, an End task button, and a More details option.
Click More details.
Now you've got most of the information you had in earlier versions, except that it's well-spaced, clearer, and easier to read. If you explore the various tabs, you'll find all the information from the Windows 7 version, plus more. For instance, the User column is now on the Details one.
One very useful new tab is Startup, which replaces the Startup tab that used to reside in MSCONFIG. This is the place to go to trim down the list of programs that load automatically when you boot.
This version is far easier to read than the old MSCONFIG tab. And it gives more information, including Startup impact--how much each autoloading program slows down the boot.
On the other hand, it lacks checkboxes. To disable an autoloader, right-click Enabled and select Disable. That right-click, by the way, also offers useful options like Open file location and Search online.
How do I find my Product ID number? Find out on the next page...
8. Where do I find my product ID number?
Every legally-sold copy of Windows comes with a unique, 25-character code that acts as a proof of purchase. If you buy a copy of Windows, the code is printed inside the packaging. If you bought a PC with Windows pre-installed, it's printed on a label on the computer.
Unless your computer came with Windows 8. With the new OS, Microsoft eliminated the requirement that pre-installed PCs come with their Product ID (PID) numbers visible on the case.
In theory, you don't need them anymore. A unique, Microsoft-approved PID is built into your computer's hardware. If you have to reinstall Windows, the installation routine should not ask for your PID; it already has it.
Nevertheless, you may feel uncomfortable not having access to your PID. I know I do. And there is a solution.
NirSoft's ProduKey will display your PID (and other ID numbers, as well). The program is free, and portable--meaning you don't have to install it. Once the information is displayed, you can copy it to the clipboard and paste it into another program. Then you can save the file, back it up, or print it and tape the printout to the outside of your computer.
9. How do I switch users?
If you share a computer with someone else, or use separate Administrator and Regular User accounts, you know the routine of switching users.
At least you knew that routine before you took on the challenge of Windows 8. Now it's entirely different.
Once again, Microsoft has changed the terminology. Remember your old options, either to log off or switch users? (Switching users was faster, but leaves the previous account running in the background. Logging off shuts down the previous account entirely.) Now you don't log off, you sign out. And while you can still switch users, there's no longer any name for that action.
You'll find your name, and your picture if you've bothered to set one up, in the upper-right corner of the Start screen. Tap or click the name or the picture. To log off, tap or click Sign out. You'll come to a logon page where you can select an account.
To switch users, simply tap the appropriate user name.
10. Do I have to log on with a Microsoft account?
Just as Microsoft really, truly wants you to use OneDrive, they also want you to use a Microsoft account. After all, without one, you can't use OneDrive.
In fact, when you set up Windows 8 for first time, the preparation wizard won't let you create a local account. You have to create one connected to Microsoft.
But you don't have to keep it that way. Windows 8 has something called a local account, which doesn't have to be tied with anything on Microsoft's cloud. You can convert your current account to a local one.
1. In the Search charm, type account and select Manage your account.
2. On the Accounts screen, select your account, then click Disconnect right below your name and email address.
3. Follow the wizard. You'll have to enter your current password, then fill in a few fields, including Name and Password. You'll have to use a new login name, but you can keep the old password.
When you're done, you'll see your old settings, programs, and files. But you'll have a different logon and won't be connected to Microsoft.