Windows 8 cheat sheet

How to find your way around Microsoft's new OS and make the most of its features

To go to a new site, click the + button to the far right of the thumbnails and a page appears with a blank address bar at the bottom, a list of sites you've visited frequently, and any sites you've pinned to the Start screen. Click a frequently visited site or pinned site to go there, or type an address into the Address bar.

Opening a new blank tab in the Windows 8 version of Internet Explorer: nothing on top, thumbnails and an address bar at the bottom. Click to view larger image.

Also at the top when you display the App bar is a button with three dots on it. Click it and you get two choices: Close all of your tabs or launch a new InPrivate Browsing tab that prevents IE from storing cookies, site history and other data about your browsing session.

Down at the bottom of the screen when you display the App bar in IE is an Address bar; forward, back and refresh buttons; a pin button that lets you pin the current site to the Start screen or add it to Favorites (which you will be able to use only in the Desktop version of IE); and a wrench button that, when clicked, lets you search for text on the current Web page, view the page in the Desktop version of Internet Explorer, or download a Windows 8 app associated with the site you're visiting, if it has one.

The Address bar does double duty as a way to go to websites and to perform searches: Just type a Web address or a search term into the bar. When you type in a search term, you'll see several kinds of results -- those from sites you've visited often, those from sites you've pinned, those from your Favorites, and those from the Web, via Bing.

Note that you don't have to make all the controls appear to use the back and forward buttons. When you're on a Web page, move your mouse cursor to the left edge of the screen and a back arrow appears; move it to the right edge and a forward arrow appears.

The bottom set of controls -- the Address Bar and various buttons -- also pops up from time to time without you having to display the App bar. For example, they appear when you click a link or when you use the back and forward arrows as described in the previous paragraph.

To make the controls go away, right-click, press the Windows key + Z or swipe down from the top on a touch screen.

Using the Desktop version of IE10

The changes to the Desktop version of IE are generally under the hood: notably, improved performance and an overhauled rendering engine. So just use the Desktop version of IE in the same way you've always used it.

Other new features

There have been plenty of other changes in Windows 8, too numerous to list in this article. Here are some of the more important ones.

File Explorer

The file management app once called Windows Explorer has been renamed File Explorer. The change is not just in name only. It has also been redesigned and now has a Ribbon interface. (New to the Ribbon interface? Check out our Word 2010 cheat sheet to get acquainted.)

Note that the first time you use File Explorer the Ribbon might be hidden. To expand the Ribbon (or collapse it if it's already expanded), either press Ctrl-F1 or click the small down arrow in the top right corner of the window. You can also leave the Ribbon collapsed and simply click on any tab to see its available commands.

File Explorer, with the Ribbon turned on. Click to view larger image.

The Ribbon's Home tab contains a grab bag of file-management commands, such as copy, paste, copy a path, move, rename and open. You can also create a new folder, select multiple files or folders, and more. The Share tab lets you share files and folders via email, by burning to disc, by printing and so on. The View tab lets you customize the overall File Explorer interface (by, for example, turning the left-side navigation pane on or off) or the display of files and folders (by showing hidden items or not, changing the icon size and configuration, and so on).

Clicking the File tab on the left pops up a small box that lets you open new File Explorer windows, shows you a list of your frequently visited places so you can navigate to them quickly, and includes several other features.

File History

This new feature, turned off by default, backs up files stored in your Libraries, Favorites, Contacts and Desktop. Keep in mind that your Libraries include many folders, including public and private Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos folders, so you can use this feature to back up plenty of files. And you can add other locations you want backed up as well. It's a vast improvement over the less-than-useful Windows 7 feature called Previous Versions.

Of course, you'll need storage media such as a USB drive to back up your files to, or you can back up to local network storage. File History uses compression to reduce the amount of disk space you'll need.

And File History does more than just back up files. It also keeps interim versions of them, so that you can see previous versions of a file.

To turn on File History, first run Control Panel by typing "Control Panel" at the Start screen and clicking the Control Panel icon that appears. Then, in the Control Panel search box, search for "file history" and click the File History link that appears. Click the "Turn on" button and make any selections necessary, such as which drive you want to back up your data to.

Turning on Windows 8's new File History feature. Click to view larger image.

Three tips for getting more out of Windows 8

It may take you a little while to become comfortable with Windows 8, so I've put together three tips to help you get up to speed. The first two will help you make the most of the new interface, and the third will bring back an old friend: the Start button.

1. Customize the Start screen

The Start screen that appears by default is not necessarily the Start screen that's best for you. There are many ways to customize it, though. Here I'll show you how to add, remove, rearrange and otherwise tweak the tiles on your screen.

To remove a tile from the Start screen, right-click it and select "Unpin from Start" from the bar that appears at the bottom of the screen. You can select multiple apps by holding down the Ctrl key as you right-click them, and then unpin them in one fell swoop.

If you don't want a live tile such as the Weather app to display changing information, right-click it and select "Turn live tile off." To make a large tile smaller or a small tile larger, right-click it and select "Smaller" or "Larger."

Adding tiles to the Start screen takes a little more work than unpinning them, but not a lot. If you're on the Start screen and you know the name of the app you want to add, type its name. You'll be sent to the Search charm, and the app will show up on the left. Right-click it, and from the bar that appears at the bottom of the screen, select "Pin to Start." If you search for a Desktop app and right-click it, you'll also be able to pin it to the Desktop taskbar. If it's already pinned to the taskbar, you can unpin it.

To browse a list of your apps (or many of them, at least), you can right-click any tile on the Start screen and select "All apps" on the far right of the bar at the bottom -- or just press the Windows key + Z. You'll see a list of every Windows 8 app on your PC, and some -- but not all -- of your Desktop apps. (I have yet to figure out how Windows decides which Desktop apps to list under "All apps.") Right-click any apps you want to pin and proceed as above.

By default, the tiles on the Start screen seem to be randomly placed into groups, but you can group them however you like. To move a tile to a different group, just drag and drop it wherever you want it, including in the middle of a group -- the other tiles in the group will automatically rearrange themselves to accommodate it.

To create a new group, drag a tile away from an existing group. When you drag it far enough away from the group, and also far enough away from other groups, a vertical bar appears. That means you can drop the tile, and a new group will be formed with the app in it. Now drag other tiles into the group.

To name the new group, hover your mouse over the bottom right corner of the Start screen and click the (minus) icon. All of your groups and tiles will minimize to small thumbnails. Right-click a group, and a "Name group" icon appears in the bar at the bottom of the screen. Click the icon, type in the group's name, click the Name button and you're done. You can also move the group to a different location on the Start screen: Right-click its thumbnail, drag it where you want it to be and drop it there.

Customizing the Windows 8 Start screen. Click to view larger image.

2. Run apps side by side

Windows 8 apps normally run full screen -- unlike Desktop apps, they don't appear in resizable windows, and at first glance, it appears that you can't run them side by side. However, using a feature that Microsoft calls Snap, you can run two Windows 8 apps, two Desktop apps, or one of each side by side. (Note that Snap works only if you have a minimum screen resolution of 1366 x 768.)

First, make sure you're running both apps. When you're in one of the apps, move your mouse to the upper-left hot corner. When a thumbnail of your last location appears, move your mouse down, and thumbnails of your currently running apps will appear. Click and hold the thumbnail of the app you want to run side by side with the current one, and then drag the thumbnail to the right and drop it. The two apps will now be running side by side, with the one you just dragged appearing in a sidebar on the left.

Running apps side by side in Windows 8. Click to view larger image.

You can use each app as you would normally. There's a border with three dots on it running on the right side of the app running in the sidebar, separating the apps. Drag it to the left or right to resize the app so it takes up more or less of the screen. To go back to running just one app, drag the dotted bar to the edge of the screen.

3. Bring back the Start button

One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 is that Microsoft killed the very useful Start button on the Desktop. However, I've found two downloads that bring back some of the Start button features. One of them even lets you bypass the Start screen entirely and go directly to the Desktop when you log into Windows 8.

StartFinity Starter Edition from WinAbility Software adds a Start button to the Desktop. Click it, and up pops a list that looks quite similar to the old Windows 7 Start menu, with links to Documents, Pictures, Music, Control Panel and so on. You can also click Programs to see and run all your Desktop apps. The Starter Edition is free, but if you want to customize the program, you'll have to pay $14.95 for the full version.

StartFinity adds its own Start button and menu to the Windows 8 Desktop.Click to view larger image.

Another option is Start8 from Stardock. It offers a menu that's much like the old Windows 7 Start menu, with links to programs, Control Panel, Documents and so on; it also includes a search bar for finding programs and files.

In addition to offering a menu like Windows 7's Start menu, Start8 lets you bypass the Start screen and head straight to the Desktop when you sign into Windows 8. Click to view larger image.

It may be slightly confusing to use at first, though, because in order to pop up the menu, you press the Windows key instead of clicking a Start button. (In place of the Start button at the left edge of the taskbar is a Windows button; if you click that you'll go to the Windows 8 Start screen.)

Start8 also lets you boot directly to the Desktop, bypassing the Windows 8 Start screen. It offers some other extras as well, such as letting you disable the Charms bar when you're using the Desktop and disabling top-left hot corner on the Desktop. Start8 costs $4.99, but you can try it for 30 days for free.

See more Computerworld Windows 8 launch coverage including news, reviews and blogs.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 40 books, including Windows 8 Hacks (O'Reilly, 2012). See more by Preston Gralla on Computerworld.com.

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.

This story, "Windows 8 cheat sheet" was originally published by Computerworld.

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