Microsoft

The only thing you need to know to master Windows 8.1

Windows 8 / 8.1 is a dramatic departure from the traditional Windows interface, and it can be overwhelming to find what you're looking for unless you know this one trick.

Windows

Windows has been pretty much the same for decades... until Windows 8. With Windows 8 / 8.1, there was a very dramatic overhaul of the Windows user interface. Most of the familiar tools and features still exist, but they're buried in places that are hard to find, which can make Windows 8 a very frustrating experience. However, you only need to know one tip -- a simple trick that you can learn in about five seconds -- to master getting around in Windows 8.

The Holy Grail of Windows 8 navigation is the Search function. Search is king. You don't need to know where anything is, and you don't have to struggle to figure out where Microsoft hid it. A simple search will find anything you need as fast as you can type the query.

I'm old enough to remember thinking questions like, "Who was President of the United States in 1845?" and having to find a friend whose family had invested in a set of encyclopedias so I could look it up. Even with the reference material available, finding information was often tedious and difficult, because you had to know where to look for it without any way of knowing how the publisher choose to organize and categorize the information.

That was before the internet, and -- more importantly -- the evolution of search. When my children want to know the capital of Romania, or whether or not the Chicago Cubs have ever won a World Series, that information is accessible almost instantly through a web search using tools like Google or Bing. The best part is that search has matured to the point where you don't need to phrase the query based on a specific syntax. You can simply type the question in natural language, and your results will magically appear.

That same powerful capability is built into Windows 8 / 8.1. The Charms bar appears if you swipe from the right on a touchscreen device or hover the mouse pointer at the upper right corner of the display. At the top of the Charms bar is the Search charm. With Windows 8.1 Update 1, Microsoft added a Search icon directly on the Start Screen at the upper right corner so you don't even have to open the Charms bar. What many users don't realize is that you don't need either of those. When you're on the Windows 8 Start Screen, you can simply start typing, and it will automatically initiate the Search function.

For example, if you want to uninstall an application from Windows, you can right-click the Windows icon to find the Control Panel, and locate the option the old-fashioned way. The easier way, however, is to simply type "remove program" from the Start Screen (or in a Search query if you choose to open Search first). The first two results that appear will take you directly to where you need to be to either remove Windows 8 apps or uninstall traditional Windows software from the system.

What makes the Windows 8 Search functionality even better is that it's a universal search -- you aren't limited to Windows tools and features. You can type "What is the capital of Romania?" and Windows 8 Search will provide results that direct you to that information on the web. You can type the name of an Excel file or keywords from a Word document you know you saved, and those items will appear at the top of the results.

Search is the only tool you need to know to master Windows 8. Not only will it assist you when navigating Windows 8, but once you get comfortable using it as your default way of finding things, it will help you be more productive and work more efficiently.

How do you use Windows built-in Search function? What, if anything, do you think is more important to know about Windows 8 / 8.1? Share your experience and thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He...

133 comments
justanotheropinion1
justanotheropinion1

So many users are prefacing their comments with things like "I have been in IT for 10+, 25+ 35+ years..." which generally seems to be an underlying issue with many of the issues people have been having. Windows has been operating on a fairly consistent GUI for nearly 20 years, so of course there is going to be a fair amount of resistance to such a major overhaul. 

I find the truth is Win 8.1, if given the opportunity, offers a greater ease of use for all levels of users.

I work in the IT and also setting up and familiarizing people with home tech. (networking, home automation, etc.)

Many of the customers I have prefer the tradition UI, in which case, they are shown to use the classic desktop, create shortcuts to Control Panel, My Documents, etc. Even booting to bypass the start menu to make the experience extremely familiar.

Many others that I have are more...technologically illiterate. For those people, they LOVE the new Metro start menu. I show them how to search and install apps from the store, place large icons for their commonly used apps such as Facebook, Skype, Youtube, and the like.

For those looking for a more simple offering, W8/8.1 delivers. For those Looking for a more traditional offering, Win8/8.1 delivers.


For those looking for an objective view, don't listen to those who try to justify their opinion by stating their experience.  "I have been doing the same thing for over 25 years, and I hate that it's new" does not provide a very enticing argument. It is a change, no doubt about that. But change breeds innovation, and innovation breeds improvement. I think, given the chance, Windows8 will and has, proven to be an improvement.
hfeddema
hfeddema

I have been using Windows since 3.0, and 8.0./8.1 is the worst OS from Microsoft yet.  I have an iPad and an iPhone, and the Apple interface works fine there.  The Microsoft version of that type of interface is miserable to use on a desktop computer, though.  I use Classic Shell, which is the only thing that makes Windows 8.1 usable. I liked Vista, and the Ribbon in Microsoft Office, so I have no problem with new stuff -- so long as it works at least as well as the old stuff, preferably better after you get used to it.  I hope Microsoft will come to their senses and give us an OS that works for a computer the next time Windows is upgraded.

Stiff9x
Stiff9x

25 years in IT and the only Windows OS I usually have are those that come with new systems I buy, I don't build anymore.  I have a few friends who've  phoned and  to complain about Windows 8 even after I told them when they buy, insist on the Windows 7 OS and now their lost.  I won't support it, I've been advising others to go with Linux based OS's and I'll support them.  Maybe Microsoft will wise up with Windows 9 and I'll look at it.  I'm all for change, but good change, it should still be intuitive.  I know a lot that were resistant to Ubuntu, etc are now willing to look at it and try it after seeing Windows 8 so those complaining about Windows 8/8.1 can't be to far wrong.  I also don't think we can just chalk it up to resistance to change.  I'm willing to give anything a try but a Crappy (to be nice) interface is a crappy interface.  I've seen 3.1 to 3.11 (for workgroups), to 95, 98, NT/3.51, 2000/Me, Vista,  2003, etc.  Windows 8/81 will get my gold star, but for the worst OS they've put out yet.  This is another Vista to Windows 7 (save the day) scenario.  At least Vista was usable, with not too many headaches.  Definitely an opportunity for Free OS's to capitalize on, and  I believe deep down Microsoft is feeling it.

Jiggy Gaton
Jiggy Gaton

No, the only thing you need to know is to install Classic Shell, then everything works like it did since XP. I've been using 8.1 pro since the beta, and I have used search less than a dozen times... 

terrypeck
terrypeck

It's a good article Tony. It's exactly what people need to know to get the most out of the Windows 8.1 experience. People will always whinge. If it was left to most commenters here, we'd never have gotten beyond XP. Resistance to change is when you know it's time to get out of IT. And I wish most of the critics would. They should just get out of the way. I'm no Microsoft luvvie, but I'm happier having them behind my OS than, say Google - who incidentally still don't allow you to login to TechRepublic on Chrome. Or is that TechRepublic's programming? Anyhow, Windows 8.1 is neat, and if you just hate it, why not use Mavericks? It's simple and dumb enough for most old-timers.

brp250
brp250

Windows 8.1 is the best OS on the market. It's new it takes some time to realise what you have but when you do the others aren't anywhere near it. Thanks Microsoft it took a while but it's well worth the wait. 

sheevalazar
sheevalazar

Search is okay. But when the words are too generic a whole list of stuff is displayed and it's not very clear whether it's on the local PC, the network, the internet, etc. When using it, I've clicked on something that was not even close to what I wanted. But then, it is Bing and only average as a search engine.

Jorge Martinez
Jorge Martinez

Win 8 is the future....get used to it. It's stable, fast, and I enjoy the whole experience. Win 7 is good too but the gui is old and outdated.

yawningdogge
yawningdogge

That is, assuming you can remember the name of every item you need to search for.

PatriotPC
PatriotPC

It's something I have tried to teach my end users over and over again. So many people still have the belief that if the icon isn't on the desktop they don't have the software application. 

s.t
s.t

Every day i use many server without grafic interface so the command line it's not a problem for me but i really don't understand how you can say that on a desktop it's an "easier way" type "remove program" (15 chars and at least two mouse click or two finger touch) vs three click (Start, Control Panel, Remove program) of the old way !!


BTW also on W7, the first task that i do is to remove the windows search (bloatware) and disable disk indexing vs installing the "old way" search like Agent Ransack !

radiogeorge
radiogeorge

Sounds like it's time to add to what spawnywhippet mentioned: if you hate the WIn8 OS, GET "Classic Shell." www.classicshell.net

You can get the hang of it quickly and then tweak it a little further so that (are you ready?) you can boot up to a DESKTOP instead of a screenful of moron apps! Add your favorite familiar desktop shortcuts/icons, and reduce that stress, like I did. Yeah, you'll still have to dope out the illogical locations MS seems to put stuff in, but Classic Shell really is the hot ticket to get your usability back pretty much to where it was before the designers at Microsoft lost their minds.

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

I don't ever use Search on my own machine, and have a number of very good reasons why not.


Firstly, and most importantly, I usually don't know the name of the specific document or PHOTOGRAPH that I am looking for. 

Invariably the photograph is named automatically by the date it was taken and I dump it into a relevant photo folder, eg 'Pictures\UK\Trip to London 2013'.

Likewise, I will have about 100 spreadsheets under a certain Project folder that could have very similar but not identical names, like Timesheet June13 or Timesheet 0613 which I can find instantly by browsing, but would not show up with a search unless I knew the correct and exact name.


Secondly, Search will usually not find the app that is installed. I have VLC player for Desktop on my 8.1 machine and Search can never find it. I have to either double click on a movie or manually open it from Start Menu (thank you Classic Shell!!!)


Summary - my Windows 8 machine was a doorstop until I put Classic Shell on it.

ilcane
ilcane

BOO I hate Windows.

BOO I hate Apple.

BOO I hate Linux.

BOO I hate PICS.

BOO I hate Pearl.

BOO I hate UNIX system 3 and 5.

BOO I hate Dnix.

Grow up people, let user decide what is more convenient for them.

How can anybody hate an OS?.

I have been in IT for 30 years and cannot find anything in windows 8, Guy find another job!!!!

I am 72 years old started with Cobol. RPG, Fortran, etc.

Windows 8, Linux, OS X, what is the difference?.

Geoffrey Hughes
Geoffrey Hughes

I think it's more important to learn "How do we get back to XP?"

albayaaabc
albayaaabc

mastering the MS Window is so versatil manner to education and the hope of use 8.1 is so huge matter to succed in masterd and learner the hugo body of lot of Micsosoft.Yah

programit
programit

The whole problem with going back to command type UI is the end user has to know what that actual command is! This is the biggest problem people have with linux in the command line scares people off.

Microsoft have made things harder for most people.  Search is fine if you know exactly what your looking for like netplwiz or "control userpasswords2" etc but most people don't.

And to make it worse microsoft has the tendency to change names and locations with every iteration.

Windows 8 itself is a good OS but the actual Modern UI is crap!  Hence the reason most windows 8 setups have a start menu installed or loads of short cuts on the desktop.


Paul Williamson
Paul Williamson

As bad as Windows 8/8.1 is compared to Windows 7, get to know the keyboard shortcuts and commands. For Eg a mate of mine once presented me with a challenge to get to the control panel on a Windows 8 machine. Being used to Windows 7, I took too long to find it in Windows 8 using the traditional GUI and mouse method (stop laughing - it was horrible). Then I thought - Just use WIN+R and type "control" like you can in Windows 7.... and viola! there it was.... I am sure there are plenty of other keyboard shortcuts that work in Windows 7 and Windows 8. Don't get me wrong - this would only be in a pinch. There is no way I am going to downgrade to Windows 8 from Windows 7 any time soon....

winglover1
winglover1

Why the hell didn't they give you a boot up option?
 

A: Windows 7 like Desktop

B: Stupid ass block mode designed for stupid morons that can't figure out how to operate a freaking computer!


Just curious!!??


Pierre-Luc Delisle
Pierre-Luc Delisle

Worst Windows OS ever, but Server 2012R2 is by far the best server OS from Microsoft.

gdm40
gdm40

I mastered 8.1 in 3 steps:

Insert DVD 

Reboot

Installed 7


Mastered.....

Brigitte David
Brigitte David

wrong. The search does not return all possible results but only some of them. I hate having to relearn everything again because of MS. I have turn one laptop into a Ubuntu and a destop from 8.1 to 7 and I am waiting for the next generation to see if the next O/S will be better... and I AM a techy

winddrift03
winddrift03

Who ever had the bright Idea that searching for your stuff was the way to go??? The whole idea of icons and menus is:...........so you don't need to search!  WE don't want to search, WE want our stuff were we can find it ALWAYS.

radiogeorge
radiogeorge

Wrong, Wrong, WRONG! 


Sorry, Tony, but "Trash Bucket" rather than "Holy Grail" describes the search function in Windows 8.1,


I know because because yesterday, I spent a very frustrating day trying to find a working program, and the search function simply could not or would not find it.


Backstory: I needed to know the exact location of a program on the computer, so I could specify it in a macro, having just installed MacroExpress on my Lenovo ideapad P400Touch laptop. I 've been using the same macro for years without any problem on a Toshiba laptop running XP Pro.


When I test ran the macro, it crashed immediately with the error "The specified file was not found. The macro will be aborted." So I turned to the search function to find it. The search returned "No items match your search." Every variation I entered returned the same thing.


The file in question was winword.exe. That is, in fact, Microsoft Word 2000 from MS Office 2000.  [MS says you can't run that version in Windows 8, but I was able to install it easily and have been using it for months without problems--but that's another story.]

So I had the program in the computer, I have been been using it almost daily, and I know it's there. But search said ( and still says) it isn't there.

I had to do some manual digging and finally located the program. The location was:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office\WINWORD.EXE

 I'll be interested in hearing your reply, Tony. I'm not challenging you, just want to know what I might not know about this snafu.

 

Obviously, I'm not a techie.This is now the fifth or sixth screwup which is clearly Microsoft's fault. I have been dragged kicking and screaming into using Windows 8 because of MS's decision that all users MUST use the Metro screen and not have the choice of a familiar environment to work in. The thinking that everything show include multiple graphics and that your computer should simply be an extension of your smartphone is poor. Thank God Microsoft doesn't make automobiles!





Jeff_D_Programmer
Jeff_D_Programmer

But I WANT to know (and control) where everything is. If I didn't, I'd just buy Apple products.

jzatovich
jzatovich

Yes search is powerful. But you have to know what Microsoft has decided to call it today. In windows 3.1 we installed programs, now we use apps. Functions you used with windows 98 have migrated to new names. Pity the poor fool that doesn't keep up with the jargon.

Tim Murray
Tim Murray

Just hit start button and start typing.... start menu is now full screen and pretending to be something else

M Wagner
M Wagner

Why search?  There us a 99% chance that if you don't know where some obscure Windows XP function is found, you will find it in the Control Panel.  If it is not there, you can always search but the Control Panel is a great place to start.

thejokker
thejokker

@Stiff9x 23 years in IT...  I have Windows 8 on my workstation and I can do anything as fast in Windows 8 that I can do in Windows 7.  Do you really think your users will find Ubuntu easier than Windows 8?  I don't think so...  Do you really think 3.1, 95, 98, ME were more stable than Windows 8?  I don't think so...


I don't think you know what you are talking about.

terrypeck
terrypeck

@Jiggy Gaton  ..if you want to go backwards. Why not try to go forwards? Want to be part of the past? Why?

n5sli
n5sli

@terrypeck Not all old timers, dumb. lol The first computer I ever used was a TRS-80 4k ram expandable to 16k, DOS 1.0 and the programs were written in gwbasic loaded onto the computer from a cassette player. I love my windows 8.1 it is more stable than XP. Unfortunately at work I have to use older machines to program 2-way radios. Windows 98 and XP.  I agree, Tony this was a good article. Fortunately for me I had already figured this out within a week of  purchasing windows 8.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Funny, that's exactly why I taught them to use the Start Menu.  You know, the one MS took away...

PatriotPC
PatriotPC

@spawnywhippet  Most people don't search for a PHOTOGRAPH. So this post is pretty useless except to belly ache -- besides that's what Photo Gallery is for --- duh!

orendon
orendon

@ilcane In Linux, Freedom, Open source OS plus many other things

thebaldguy
thebaldguy

@ilcane Well, in the case of the first OS you mentioned, you have professional Microsoft pitchmen posing as regular Joes pouncing on boards like this to preach the gospel. And I don't know about you, but I find that as annoying as being forced to sit through an Adam Sandler movie. ;-)

clint.hanna
clint.hanna

Even better and more hip is to just do WIN and type "control" as soon as you see the Metro screen.

Gisabun
Gisabun

@gdm40  Don't forget the drivers, massive amounts of updates.

georgetracey
georgetracey

@radiogeorge I don't know if this will solve your problem, but 2 thoughts.

1. Use File explorer to locate your file.

2. I had a problem with a bat file that wouldn't work, looked at properties and chose run as administrator, worked a treat

M Wagner
M Wagner

@jzatovich  And "the jargon" is one reason why desktop Linux has struggled for it's dismal market share (under 2%).  

PatriotPC
PatriotPC

@M Wagner  OK now this post makes no sense what-so-ever ... someone didn't read the article.

Gisabun
Gisabun

@thebaldguy You got any proof of these "pitchmen" or just into conspiracies?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I disagree.  At least a Sandler movie ends after a couple of hours.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...more hip..."


Seriously?  Do you really use hipness as a criteria when you evaluate methods of accomplishing a task?

thebaldguy
thebaldguy

@M Wagner Well, thanks for outing yourself. An unsolicited jab at Linux. What we have here, folks, is a shill. 

ericpeszko
ericpeszko

@PatriotPC @M Wagner She can't read, just look at some of her other posts.  She is copying and pasting from post on other articles.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't know about a shill, but the Linux remark is definitely an attempt to change the topic.

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