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If it’s about time you purchase a new computer, that computer is probably going to come with Windows 8 (unless you buy a Mac). Microsoft hasn’t included a tutorial with Windows 8 — aside from the cryptic “move your mouse into any corner” line — so you’ll need to do a bit of research to get up to speed with the latest version of Windows.
Ask anyone who uses Windows 8 on a standard laptop or desktop (not a tablet), and they’ll tell you the key to getting along with Windows 8 is ignoring as much of the new interface as possible. The standard desktop is still there under all that “Modern” interface.
Where’s the Desktop?
When you first log in to Windows 8, you’ll see the new full-screen Start screen. New “Modern” apps that you can install from the Windows Store only run in this full-screen environment.
We’ll get to that later, though. For now, the most important thing you need to know is that the traditional Windows desktop is still there and can still run all your old software. To get to the desktop, all you have to do is click the Desktop tile on your Start screen. You can also press Windows key + D to launch the desktop.
Note that, if you purchased a Windows RT device, the desktop can’t run all your old desktop software — but you probably purchased a Windows 8 device. Windows RT devices are very unpopular, with the exception of Microsoft’s Surface RT.
Where’s My Start Button?
Now you’re at the desktop, which should look very familiar. It’s the Windows 7 desktop, but with a variety of improvements like a better task manager, improved file copy dialog, and built-in time machine backup. However, you’ll notice that there’s no Start button anymore.
The Start button is actually present, but hidden. You can make it appear by moving your mouse to the bottom-left corner of the screen and clicking. This opens the Start screen you were at earlier. You can also easily launch the Start screen by pressing the Windows key on your keyboard.
To launch an application from the Start screen, click its shortcut like you normally would — desktop apps appear here, too. You can also start typing at the Start screen to search your installed applications, just like on the Windows 7 start menu. To view all your installed applications, right-click somewhere on the start screen (not on a tile), click All apps at the bottom of the screen, and you’ll see your installed programs.
The Start screen is essentially the successor to the Start menu — think of it as a full-screen start menu. Applications you install will gain shortcuts on your Start screen, so you can arrange these shortcuts as you like. You can also use the search feature to quickly launch apps.
To make things easier, you should pin applications you use to the desktop taskbar — when they’re running, right-click their taskbar icons and select the Pin option. You can then easily launch the applications from your taskbar without opening the full-screen Start screen and leaving your desktop.
How Do I Shut Down?
Note that the hidden Start button isn’t the only special “hot corner.” You can also move your mouse cursor to the top or bottom right corners of the screen and then move it towards the center edge of the screen to access the “charms.” For the most part, you shouldn’t need to access these charms unless you use Modern applications. However, the Shut Down and Restart options are located under the Settings charm.
Don’t worry — there are many other ways to shut down your Windows 8 computer, including with its physical power button.
Move your mouse cursor to the top-left corner of your screen and you’ll access an app switcher that only works for “Modern” apps, not desktop ones — you don’t need to use that unless you’re using the new, Modern-style apps.
Do I Have to Use All This New Stuff?
As far as the Start screen and Modern apps go, you only have to see the Start screen when you log in. You can then use your computer normally, avoiding it as much as possible and using desktop applications. Pin application shortcuts to your taskbar and you won’t need to use it for launching apps. Modern apps are more suited to tablets than typical desktops and laptops.
Microsoft doesn’t give us an option to boot to the desktop or use a traditional start menu, but you can do this anyway. Install a third-party Start menu like the popular Start8 and you’ll have a traditional desktop that appears when you log in. There will be a delay before your desktop appears, however. These Start menus can also easily disable the hot corners for you, allowing to have a more traditional-style desktop.
Windows 8 makes much more sense on a touch-enabled computer, but you probably haven’t purchased a touch-enabled machine as they’re much more expensive — most people are still buying computers without touch support. If you have a touch-enabled Windows 8 machine, check out our printable cheat sheet to Windows 8’s touch and mouse gestures.
For more in-depth information on getting to grips with Windows 8 — including how to use the new Modern environment with all those Windows Store apps — check out our free Windows 8 guide.
Do you have any other questions? Feel free to ask! And in case you have already mastered Windows 8, share your own tips for upgrading to Windows 8. what was your greatest challenge?