Windows 8 cheat sheet

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

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It's context-sensitive, so you can share what you're currently viewing as long as the app has been written to take advantage of the Share feature. For example, the Photo app can share via Mail and SkyDrive, and the Music app lets you share via Mail and the People app.

At this point, not many apps support the Share feature, and of those that do share, not all can share in all ways -- it's up to the app developer to decide. Desktop apps can't use the Share feature at all. Pressing the Windows key + H activates this individual charm.

Start. Clicking this charm sends you back to the Start screen. If you're already on the Start screen, you'll return to wherever you were before you headed to the Start screen -- an app or the Desktop. Pressing the Windows key by itself accomplishes the same thing as clicking the Start charm.

Windows 8's Devices charm, accessed from the Photo app.Click to view larger image.

Devices. This charm is context-sensitive, so what appears when you click it depends on what you're doing at the time and what kind of devices you've connected to your Windows 8 computer or tablet.

Generally, you use the Devices charm to print from a Windows 8 app and to manage your printers and other connected devices. For instance, if you've got two or more displays connected to your device, Devices lets you control how the screens work.

Pressing the Windows key + K activates the Devices charm.

Settings. This charm, which you can also launch by pressing the Windows key + I on your keyboard, gives you access to a wide variety of application-specific and systemwide settings. When you click it, you'll see that it's divided into two parts.

The top part is context sensitive, showing settings related to what you're currently doing in Windows 8. If you click the Settings charm while you're in the Windows 8 Photo app, for example, you can designate which folders, computers and websites (such as Facebook and Flickr) you want photos displayed from, among other options. From the Start screen, you can change settings related to tiles, such as whether to show tiles for administrative tools like the Control Panel.

The Settings charm, as activated from the Start screen. Click to view larger image.

The bottom part of Settings is the same no matter where you are; it lets you change global Windows 8 settings for your network, sounds, screen, notifications, power and keyboard. Click the "Change PC settings" link at the bottom of the screen to get to the new "PC settings" screen, which lets you customize how the most important features of Windows 8 work from a single location.

For example, its Personalize section lets you change your account picture and the background images for your lock screen and Start screen, and choose which Windows 8 apps -- Weather, Mail and so on -- should deliver information to the lock screen. (Desktop apps can't send information to the lock screen.)

The PC settings screen: one-stop shopping for customizing how Windows 8 works.Click to view larger image.

If you're signed into Windows with a non-Microsoft ID account, here's where you can change that. Click Users, then click "Switch to a Microsoft account" and you'll be able to sign in with an existing Microsoft ID, or else create a new one and sign in with that.

You can also change myriad other system settings, including app notifications, search preferences, privacy options and more. The settings are all straightforward and self-explanatory. Just click the one you want to change and get to work.

One noteworthy section in the PC settings screen is "Sync your settings." Microsoft built Windows 8 assuming that people would be using it with multiple devices. This feature lets you sync some of your settings among them.

You can sync your lock screen; account picture; Desktop personalizations; passwords for apps, websites and networks; app, browser and mouse settings; and so on. Simply turn on or off which items you want to sync or not sync.

You can customize how your settings sync among multiple devices. Click to view larger image.

More systemwide navigation

When you first start using Windows 8, the navigation will probably confuse you -- particularly because Windows 8's two interfaces coexist uneasily. To help ameliorate that, Windows 8 has a number of systemwide navigational features that are available wherever you are -- on the Start screen, the Desktop, inside a Windows 8 app or in a Desktop app. The Charms bar is one of them, but there are others as well.

One is a longtime Windows favorite: the Alt-Tab key combination. Press it, and as with previous versions of Windows, a strip of thumbnails of your running programs appears. While holding down the Alt key, keep pressing the Tab key until you come to the thumbnail of the program you want to run. Release the keys, and you'll switch to that program.

The old standby, Alt-Tab, works in Windows 8. Click to view larger image.

Another way to switch among your running apps is to move your mouse pointer to the upper-left corner of the screen (called a "hot corner"). A small thumbnail appears of the last app you were running, or where you last were. Click it to switch there. Keep clicking, and you'll cycle through all your apps and open locations.

There's a caveat, though: You won't cycle through all your Desktop apps. If you've got three Desktop-related items running, only the last app that was opened full screen, or else the Desktop itself, will appear in the upper-left corner. It's just one more example of the Desktop's afterthought status in Windows 8. (See "Meet the Start screen" for the differences between Desktop apps and Windows 8 apps.)

Here's another navigation trick to try: Move your mouse pointer to the upper-left hot corner until the thumbnail of your previous location appears, then move the mouse pointer down. You'll see thumbnails of all of your running apps. Click any to switch to it. However, the same caveat holds here about Desktop apps. Even if you've got multiple Desktop apps running, you'll see only a single Desktop-related thumbnail, either the last full-screen Desktop app you were running on the Desktop itself.

Viewing thumbnails of open apps in Windows 8. Click to view larger image.

As I've mentioned before, pressing the Windows key acts as a location toggle between the Start screen and the place you last were before going there. If you're a fan of the mouse rather than the keyboard, you can do the same thing by moving your cursor to the lower-left corner of the screen. A small thumbnail of the Start screen appears (or if you're at the Start screen, of where you were previously). Click it to go there.

Touch-screen navigation

Windows 8 supports a whole host of touch-screen gestures, including the swiping, pinching and rotating motions familiar to smartphone and tablet users. Tapping an item opens it; pressing and holding an item pops up a menu to display more information about it. Note, however, that these gestures often don't work in Desktop apps. (See "Meet the Start screen" for the differences between Desktop apps and Windows 8 apps.)

Windows 8 also uses something called edge UIs, in which you swipe from the edge of the screen toward the center. Swiping in from the right edge of the screen displays the Charms bar. Swiping quickly in and back out from the left edge of the screen cycles through your open apps.

While the previous edge UI gestures work universally, some are specific to Windows 8 apps. When you're in a Windows 8 app, swiping up from the bottom of the screen or swiping down from the top of the screen displays the App bar ( more on that in a moment). And you can close a Windows 8 app by pulling down from the top edge of the screen all the way to the bottom of the screen. The app shrinks to a thumbnail and then disappears.

Following is a list of useful Windows 8 gestures, including more edge UI gestures. Keep in mind that not all of the following gestures work in all places and apps. Typically, they don't work in Desktop apps.

Windows 8 touch gestures

Keyboard shortcuts

Not using a touch-screen device? Like previous versions of Windows, Windows 8 includes a host of keyboard shortcuts, so you don't need to spend your life clicking. Those earlier keyboard shortcuts -- for example, Ctrl-C to copy text -- still work. But Windows 8 also has keyboard shortcuts for many of its new features.

The following table shows some of the most useful shortcuts for Windows 8; it includes both new keyboard shortcuts and some that worked in previous versions of Windows.

Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts

Working with the new Windows 8 apps

As I mentioned above, Windows 8 ships with a complement of new Windows 8 apps including Mail, People, Weather, Music, Bing, Photos, Maps and others. You can also download third-party Windows 8 apps through the Windows Store, although there aren't a great many available yet.

Providing details about how each of these apps works is beyond the scope of this article. So instead, I'll show you how to work with Windows 8 apps in general. (See "Meet the Start screen" for the differences between Desktop apps and Windows 8 apps.)

One thing to keep in mind about most Windows 8 apps: They're generally not powerful. Some are downright anemic. They're more like tablet apps than they are full-blown applications written for traditional computers. In Mail, for example, you can't create new mail folders, read mail using threaded messaging or make rules to route incoming mail to specific folders. And the SkyDrive Windows 8 app doesn't sync files between your Windows 8 devices and your SkyDrive cloud-based storage (for that you'll have to download the SkyDrive Desktop app).

Most of the other Windows 8 apps have similar limitations. They're fine for tablets, but they're often not so fine for traditional computers.

Windows 8 apps are designed to run in full-screen mode, so you won't be able to resize them like Desktop apps. And there's no apparent way to close Windows 8 apps. It can be done, however: When you're in the app, press the Alt key + F4 -- or if you have a touch screen, drag from the top of the screen until the app shrinks to a small size in the middle of the screen, then keep dragging it to the bottom of the screen.

However, you can also just leave Windows 8 apps running and let Windows 8 handle closing them for you. If you've launched one and aren't using it any longer, Windows 8 will eventually close it down if you don't come back.

Windows 8 apps don't have visible menus or immediately obvious ways to control or customize them. To do so, right-click anywhere in the app or press the Windows key + Z; on a touch screen, swipe down from the top of the screen or up from the bottom of the screen. An App bar appears at either the top or the bottom of the screen, or both. The App bar is context-sensitive, so what it displays varies according to the app you're running, and even according to what you're currently doing in the app itself.

In the Weather app, the App bar appears at the top and bottom of the screen.Click to view larger image.

If you right-click when you're on the main screen of the Weather app, for instance, you'll be able to tell the app to refresh itself to check for the latest weather, change the degrees between Fahrenheit and Celsius, navigate to other places you've chosen to display weather, and so on.

If you display the App bar from the main screen of the People app, you can add a new contact or show which of your contacts are currently online. And if you display the App bar from the Notifications page of the People app, you can only refresh the page to check for the latest notifications.

Also, when you're in any app you can run the Settings charm and change the settings for that specific app.

The two Internet Explorers

In Windows 8, Microsoft introduces Internet Explorer 10. No, let me amend that slightly. It introduces two different versions of Internet Explorer 10: one a Windows 8 app and one a Desktop app.

The Windows 8 IE app, like many other Windows 8 apps, is somewhat underpowered. Its greatest shortcoming is that it doesn't have a Favorites manager. You can pin sites to the Start screen, but that's no substitute for a Favorites manager, because you won't be able to group the sites into folders -- and if you pin too many sites, your Start screen gets so cluttered it's barely usable. The Windows 8 version of IE also won't run add-ons, browser extensions or ActiveX controls.

What's more, the two versions of Internet Explorer don't always play well together. When you open a website in one version, that site doesn't open in the other version -- so you can have one set of sites open in the Windows 8 version and another set of sites opened in the Desktop version.

For these reasons, some traditional PC users will choose to forgo the Windows 8 version of IE in favor of the Desktop version. If you do want to try out the Windows 8 version, here are a few tips for using it.

Using the Windows 8 IE10 app

The Windows 8 version of Internet Explorer shows just a full-screen Web page.

When you launch the Windows 8 version of IE, at first all you see is a Web page, with no address bar or other controls. Right-click or press the Windows key + Z (or swipe down from the top or up from the bottom of a touch screen) to display the App bar, and two sets of controls appear.

The Windows 8 IE app with controls. Click to view larger image.

On the top are thumbnails for the most recent sites you've visited or tabs you've opened; click any to go there, or click the X at the top of any to close it.

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