A Brief Guide To The Secrets Of The Windows 8 User Interface

Christian Cawley 30-03-2012

windows 8 user interfaceFor most users, Windows 8 will come as something of a surprise when it is released, thanks to the unusual implementation of the Metro UI. If you’re not inclined to make use of whatever methods are available to disable Metro, you will be left with attempting to understand the tile-based user interface.


Whether you’re using Windows 8 on a keyboard-and-mouse device such as a desktop or laptop or enjoying it on touch-based hardware such as a hybrid or slate, Windows 8 takes some getting used to. Don’t forget to check out our Windows 8 Guide to learn everything you can.

There are swipes and gestures for touchscreen users which have to be replicated by mouse on standard computers, while the controversial Start screen itself is full of secrets…

Swipes and Gestures

If you have any familiarity with Windows Phone, you might already be aware of the finger gestures required to use Metro UI on a touchscreen device.

The most basic is the tap, employed to select items to launch from the Start screen, open menus and type. Following this is the tap and hold, or long tap, which on the Start screen can be used to rearrange the tiles by simultaneously dragging them to the preferred position.

Using a mouse, this process is tricky, requiring you to left-click and hold. While the motor aspects of that are simple enough, the user interface is geared to respond to a finger.


Fortunately there is a better option for scrolling left to right on the Start screen and other wide Metro screens, in the shape of a scroll bar at the bottom. Meanwhile, touchscreen users can simply swipe a finger left to right across the display.

Understanding the Start Screen

The Start screen itself is something of an enigma on Windows 8. While it does a good job in presenting the main apps that are installed on the system, it fails to allow users to see what other options are available, and this could be described as true in all screens, certainly in the Consumer Preview release.

windows 8 user interface

An example is the “quick return” button, found in the lower left corner of all screens except Start. This is only available by tapping or dragging your mouse into the corner, and unless you know it is there it might be completely overlooked.


windows 8 secrets

On the Start screen itself there are a couple of other useful but hidden features. Right-clicking your mouse, for instance, will display the All Apps button, which is currently hidden away at the bottom of the screen. There is a strong argument for placing this in its own tile, however.

windows 8 secrets

Similarly, by dragging the mouse into or tapping the lower right corner of the display, you can watch as the Start screen falls back, Mac OS X style, so that the groups of app tiles can be rearranged.


windows 8 secrets

You’ll also find that there is a hidden menu on the right edge of the screen, found by tapping and holding or leaving your mouse over that side of the screen for a few moments. Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings can all be accessed from here.

Metro Conventions

The Settings screen introduces some other conventions of the Metro UI – that of switches. Our previous guide on downloading and purchasing apps and games will give you an idea of the clarity of the new user interface, and this is clearly demonstrated in the Settings screen, where various options can be enabled and disabled at the swipe of a finger or click of a mouse.

windows 8 user interface


For instance, if you tapped Settings – Notifications you would be able to alter how notifications are displayed, which apps display them and whether or not they should be accompanied by sounds or display on the lock screen.

Clearly these are useful features, but long-term Windows users will notice that there is an absence of an OK or Apply button. Instead, graphical switches must be flicked in order for you to specify your preference.


Remember, of course, that Metro is largely an overlay for an operating system that bears a strong similarity in all other ways to Windows 7. The Desktop view is a clear giveaway for this, as is the presence of Windows Explorer, complete with a strangely anachronistic ribbon toolbar.

We all know that Windows 8 is going to be a big deal, one way or another. It will either be warmly received when released later this year, or cast aside with derision after failing to convince reviewers that Metro UI is a useful implementation.

Whichever way it goes, the Start screen will remain tile-based and the user interface optimized for fingers and thumbs rather than a mouse. As easy as it is to use, Metro UI is going to represent a considerable culture shock for many users.

Of course, let’s not forget Xbox 360 in all of this, where a working implementation of Metro UI can already be found, one that can be controlled either via a controller or Kinect. Along with Windows Phone, Xbox 360 represents a success story for Metro, so don’t be discouraged – this user interface can be mastered and enjoyed.

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  1. Maxi3w
    July 3, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    The more I read about Win8 the better it sounds, marginally only ;-) , so maybe as the final release draws closer they may have a good shot at success.

  2. ?????????
    April 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    To my mind Windows 8 will be somehow a failure. Of course I base this assumption after checking out the available version. Of course where touch screen is available it might do the trick but let's be honest, it will take some time foe everyone or most of us to own such a screen instead of traditional LCD. As stragne, even for me as it sounds I think that most of people who are using Windows as a work system and that's a pretty large prrcentage, upgrade to Windows 8 would be at the least counterproductive. Sure it look's nice and it is futuristic. Microsoft at last started to move forward but they seem to, for some time now be a bit lost of what they are doing and where they want to go. It's a bit like with a drunk man, who is thinking to go right but his legs are taking him left. Microsoft should develop the idea of Metro UI but for a starter only on strictly touch devices like tablets etc. leaving the PC system UI alone at least for some time. Getting the Windows more stable and reliable. Windows 7 as we all agree has been a great jump forward after XP and failure of Vista. Why not use the idea of Apple on this field and just taking small steps into merging two systems into one? Seamlessly the Metro UI and traditional Windows 7 would become one, without the shock, without big leap forward. It also would give time to develop and rething many solutions.

    • Christian Cawley
      April 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm

      As far as I know, M$ aim to combine Windows Phone with Windows 8 at some juncture in the future, resulting in a single cross-platform OS.

      Given the stark differences between the user experience on each, a lot of work needs to be done before this can be considered workable.

  3. Rudyanto Liang
    April 1, 2012 at 6:34 am

    It looked like WIndows 8 is optimized for touch screen devices..
    I'll skip this one I think..

  4. marx
    March 31, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    have you noticed the share icon in win8, seems to be similar to ubuntu logo
    looks like windows (microsoft) is using makeuseof too.

  5. James Bruce
    March 31, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    dont. want. secrets.

    Want an OS that doesn't need extensive tutorials for the most basic of functionality!

    • Christian Cawley
      April 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      It is remarkable how intuitive Windows Phone is, more so when compared to Windows 8

      Similarly, the Xbox application of the Metro UI is just as successful as WP7, which begs the question, I think, of why Metro - which is otherwise ideal - is not correctly designed on Windows 8.

      Now some of the things I've raised in this tutorial might be tablet-specific, and have particular hardware buttons assigned for their eventual use. But that doesn't cover everything, I don't think.

      The situation, such as it is, is baffling. More clarity about the full plan for Windows 8 would be good.

      • James Bruce
        April 2, 2012 at 9:05 am

        To be honest, I don't feel like the Xbox has any resemblance at all to the "Metro" I'm seeing today. The Xbox is a series of tabs with big buttons, that's all. There's only so much you can do using a controller or waving your arms, and the use case is completely different to a desktop. Call it Metro if you will, but I certainly don't think of it as metro, just as a shiny new way of pushing big buttons.

        MS confirmed over the weekend that the start button wont be coming back, in an interview with Nomura investment firm. They're clearly ignoring customer feedback, and pushing this crap out anyway regardless. The real hilarity will ensue when the Win8 tablets, upon which this entire strategy is based, fail to sell even as badly as Android efforts. We'll be left with a crippled desktop and vast swatches of corporate customers migrating to OSX.

        Buy Apple shares dude, seriously.

        • Christian Cawley
          April 2, 2012 at 9:44 am

          Firstly, I'm not a believer in share trading, and secondly I couldn't afford it.


          I don't think you can call a beta of an unfinished OS "crap" without a good reason, can you? That's like calling a partly made car "undriveable". It's a flipping beta!

          We don't know what M$ are doing, really, regardless of what they "leak" or "confirm". They confirmed various things about Windows Phone before that launched and much of that was dubious. The truth is we won't know until launch day.

          But if M$ are ignoring customer feedback then they will risk undoing the improved image they've enjoyed over the past couple of years via Xbox, Kinect and the situation with the Windows Phone homebrew community.

          (And when did you last use an Xbox? 2007?! Get it updated! It's clearly Metro, and I will call it that, for that is its name.)

        • James Bruce
          April 2, 2012 at 9:52 am

          My Xbox is using the latest dashboard, it just doesn't resemble Metro as I see it on the Windows 8 preview. I know that's what it's called, and I love using it, I just don't see any similarities. It doesn't have useless task switching; it doesn't have an untouchable start menu; it doesn't have any of the ridiculous 'features' that make Windows 8 preview the failure that it is.

          Anyway, you're right of course about calling things before it's released, but I would lay money on very little changing. And I think it's very sad that they will ignore the customer feedback - because their other products have been very much on a scale of awesome that I didn't expect.

          Even sadder for me is that they're ignoring their unique and loved niche products of Media Center and HomeServer. Maybe 99% of Windows users don't use media centre, but those that are do are the most vocal supporters; same with homeserver. They had an awesome product that people freaking love - even if there is only a few of them - don't abandon those products!

        • Chris Hoffman
          April 6, 2012 at 7:33 am

          Do bear in mind that Microsoft has said the consumer preview represents the complete vision for Windows 8.

          It's going to be such a trainwreck on PCs, I think. The more I use Metro on my PC, the more I think Microsoft has gone insane.

          I tried hard to like it -- I really did.