There I was, enjoying a game of Radiant on my new Windows 8 tablet this morning when it occurred to me that I should be keeping an eye on my incoming email messages.
But how could I? Normally I would use my phone, but the charge had recently run out. All I had to hand was the tablet, and I didn’t really want to stop playing.
The only way around this problem was with multitasking, something that has changed considerably in Windows 8.
If you’ve been keeping track of the various articles we’ve posted about Windows 8, you’ll be aware that it is capable of much, but perhaps hampered in some ways by the duality between the traditional desktop and the new touch-based Modern interface.
Windows 8 features two types of foreground application multitasking. The first is the traditional desktop application switching, while the second is a limited full-screen multitasking found only in the Modern applications launched via the Start screen.
Standard Desktop Multitasking
You probably know how to multitask on a traditional Windows PC; indeed, there is very little for you to actually “know”, as the operating system does all of the work.
Let’s take the example above. If the space invaders clone Radiant was a desktop app, I would launch it, alter the settings to display it in windowed mode, then launch my email client and view the two things side by side, or perhaps with the game window positioned so that I could see new emails drop into my inbox. I might even minimize the email client in order to see just the notification area alerts.
Using the Alt-Tab keyboard combination I would then be able to easily switch between the (paused) game and the email client to check and read any important mail. The same keyboard combination can be used across any number of open apps on the desktop,
Where It All Changes: Modern Multitasking in Windows 8
When it comes to the Modern apps (those launched from the tile-based Start screen) in Windows 8, however, things are a little different.
Here, although you can switch between many apps, only two can be displayed at any one time. Contrast this with the desktop, which is capable of displaying as many app windows as the system can handle!
Multitasking with Modern apps requires some finger-based work. In the example above, what I did was first launch the email application. Once open, I dragged my finger down from the top of the screen, then to the side slightly. This has the effect of reducing the size of the window and displaying a separator, the full height of the screen. At this stage, releasing your finger will then shift the app into a narrow segment of the display, 25% of the full width.
To run a second app in the remaining 75% of the screen, hit the Start button, find the app (in my case the game Radiant) and launch it. You can then control both apps without Alt-Tabbing between them!
Multitasking in Windows 8: Something to Get Used To!
As you can see, multitasking in Windows 8 isn’t that complicated – but it can prove confusing. This is because along with the split screen view, you can Alt-Tab through all open apps, thereby bringing the one you stop at into the main portion of the screen. Even the Desktop can be viewed as either the 25% or the 75% portion of the display, although selecting any apps open with this view will bring an end to the screen split until a Modern app is selected again.
With a little practice and a few minutes to get used to it, however, this aspect of Windows 8 can be quickly understood and appreciated for what it is – effective and simple multitasking that doesn’t rely on you to manually stop what you’re doing in order to switch between Start screen apps and the traditional desktop.
It’s fair to say, however, that the “Modern multitasking” isn’t something that you need to rely on if you choose to use the Windows 8 desktop mode. If you prefer to use Windows 8 as a traditional desktop OS, it is as robust as its predecessor, and just in case you’re missing things like the Start menu, you can easily restore it.