The diehard's guide to making the most of Windows 8

You may need to break many old habits to get the most out of Windows 8, but it doesn't have to be a cataclysmic event

Windows 8 represents a strategic shift for Microsoft in favor of mobility. But for those of us who rely on Windows to sit down at a keyboard to do real work, the early returns on Windows 8 are cause for concern.

"Windows Frankenstein," "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde OS" -- much has been made of the inconsistencies of Microsoft's two-faced UI. If there's one consistent element to all the talk about Windows 8, it's about what's missing: the Start menu, the Aero transparencies, the many details people take for granted that make Windows, well, Windows. It's little wonder then that many folks are seriously considering skipping Windows 8 altogether.

[7 days with a Windows 8 tablet: Not quite the best of both worlds]

[ See our in-depth Test Center review of Windows 8 and how Windows 8 stacks up against Apple's OS X Mountain Lion in our deathmatch comparison review. | InfoWorld can help you get ready for Windows 8 with the Windows 8 Deep Dive PDF special report, which explains Microsoft's bold new direction for Windows, the new Metro interface for tablet and desktop apps, the transition from Windows 7, and more. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

But what if you can't? Or what if you've decided to take the Windows 8 plunge and want to know not just how to get by but to thrive in this brave new Windows world? Here we discuss how to do just that: how a legacy Windows user, with existing hardware, can make the best of Windows 8, focusing on the most immediate and pressing changes that will impact your moment-to-moment Windows use.

Coping with Windows 8 StartThe biggest change in Windows 8 is the one you almost certainly already know about: The legacy Start menu is gone for keeps. In its place is the full-page Metro-powered Start screen.

Because the new Start menu takes up the whole screen, it's bound to be jarring. One way to get around this is to move the Start screen to a secondary monitor, if you have one; another way is to use the taskbar that much more.

Apps can be pinned to the taskbar and accessed with a single click, just as in Windows 7. To pin an app, right-click on it on the new Start screen and click Pin to Taskbar in the App bar that appears. (On a touchscreen, drag it to the bottom and then release.) Your average taskbar has space for quite a few apps, with Explorer and IE (which you can replace with the browser of your choice) pinned by default. You probably already do this with Windows 7 for commonly used apps, so there's all the more reason to continue this practice now that Microsoft has scuttled legacy Start.

Right-click on legacy Windows items on the Metro Start screen to pin them to the taskbar, as a way to avoid having to traverse the Start screen to launch them. The taskbar should have enough space on most systems for several commonly used applications. (Click for larger version.)

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