Windows

Navigate Windows 8 like a pro with the Windows Key

Greg Shultz shares some very useful keyboard shortcuts involving the Windows key that can help you navigate Windows 8.

We all know that Microsoft Windows 8, with its Metro user interface, is primarily designed for use on a touch-screen tablet. However, Microsoft has said that they also had the mouse and keyboard user in mind when they reimagined the operating system. While using Windows 8 in a touch paradigm will take some getting used to, it will probably be easier than getting used to navigating Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard -- regardless of what the folks at Microsoft say.

As one who has been working with Windows 8 on a desktop system, I can definitely attest to that. Sure there are all kinds of nice features in Windows 8 that are intended to make it easy to use a mouse and keyboard -- I don't deny that -- but the problem is that they are essentially in unfamiliar territory.

All over again

When I first began working with Microsoft Windows 8, I definitely had déjà vu moments where I felt like I was back in 1987 fumbling around with my first mouse -- a boxy Logitech model C7 with serial connector, which I still have in a box somewhere. It was tricky in the beginning, but after playing Reversi in Windows 2.0 for hours on end I finally got the hang of it.

Of course, using a mouse and keyboard in Windows 8 isn't as nearly as troublesome as back then, but it is still tricky. However, time and perseverance have paid off and I've adapted -- the nuances associated with Windows 8's mouse and keyboard tricks are slowly but surely becoming second nature.

One set of keyboard tricks that I've found extremely useful in Windows 8 revolve around the Windows key. Over time Microsoft has added more and more features to the operating system that make use of the Windows key, and Windows 8 is no exception. Of course, the majority of the Windows key shortcuts that were found in previous versions of Windows still exist in Windows 8. However, there are several new Windows key shortcuts designed specifically for Windows 8.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'm going to share some of the Windows key tricks I have found most useful in Windows 8.

Keep up with all the Windows 8 news:

Task switching

As you know, when you start Windows 8 and log in, the first thing you see is the Metro Interface. You can then launch an app or the Desktop. Once you launch something, the Windows key can be used as a quick task switcher that allows you to quickly move between Metro and whatever you accessed.

For example, if you launch the Desktop, pressing the Windows key will allow you to quickly switch between Metro and the Desktop. If you then launch the Photos app, pressing the Windows key will allow you to quickly switch between Metro and the Photos app. By itself the Windows key will allow you to swiftly switch between two things -- Metro and whatever you accessed last.

Now, if you have more than two things running at the same time, you can, of course, still use the old CoolSwitch feature -- [Alt]+[Tab]. If you press [Windows]+[Tab], instead of the Windows Flip 3D, you will now see a thumbnail view of running tasks that is very similar to the Live Taskbar Thumbnail feature in Windows 7, but it is anchored to the left edge of the screen, as shown in Figure A. If you continue pressing [Windows]+[Tab], you will cycle through all the running apps just like in previous versions of Windows.

Figure A

Pressing [Windows]+[Tab] brings up a thumbnail view of running tasks anchored to the left edge of the screen.
Now, here is a trick that I picked up. As you may have discovered, unlike traditional Windows applications, Windows 8 apps do not have a Close button in the upper-right corner. So people wondered how you close an app. Well, if you right-click on an app's thumbnail, a Close button will appear, as shown in Figure B. Just click the button and the app closes down.

Figure B

Right-clicking on an app's thumbnail displays a Close button that you can use to close an app.

Charms

Pressing [Windows]+[C] brings up the Charms bar. The Windows 8 Charms are a set of five icons that appear on the right edge of the screen, as shown in Figure C. Via the five icons (titled: Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings) you can access a host of controls in Windows 8. On a tablet, the Charms are accessed with a swipe of your thumb. On a desktop, if you press [Windows]+[C] the Charms panel instantly appears.

Figure C

The Charms bar allows you to access a host of controls in Windows 8.

Settings

Pressing [Windows]+[I] brings up the Settings bar. The Settings bar (as I am calling it since I am not sure what its official name is) contains a set of standard icons as well as a context list of settings or options that specifically pertain to whatever you currently have on-screen. As you can see in Figure D, the context section of the Desktop Settings bar provides access to Control Panel, Personalization, PC Info, and Help. At the bottom are the standard icons that appear on every Settings bar: Network, Volume, Brightness, Notifications, Power, and Language.

Figure D

The context section of the Desktop Settings bar provides access to Control Panel, Personalization, PC Info, and Help.

Now, if you were to bring up the Settings bar with a different app on the screen, the context section of the Settings bar would contain different options. For example, if you press [Windows]+[I] when the Photos app is on the screen, you'll see that the context section of the Photos Settings bar lists Settings, About, Help, Permissions, and Rate and Review.

Apps/File Search

Pressing [Windows]+[Q] brings up the Apps Search feature. If you are looking for the Windows 8 equivalent of the Start menu, then as far as I'm concerned, this is it!

No matter where you are, just press [Windows]+[Q] and you'll see the Apps Menu/Search tool. Like the Start Search box on the Windows 7 Start menu, you can begin typing the name of the app or application that you want to run and it will appear in the Results list. For example, need Notepad? Just start typing as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

For me, the Apps Search feature is essentially the Windows 8 equivalent of the Start menu.
Pressing [Windows]+[F] brings up the Files Search feature. Simply start typing the name of the file or folder that you want to access and it will appear in the Results list, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Searching for files seems easy enough.

Apps bar

Pressing [Windows]+[Z] when you have a Metro App running brings up the App bar. The options that appear on the Apps bar will depend on the app you are running. For example, pressing [Windows]+[Z] when you have the PDF/XPS Reader app running will display the Apps bar shown in Figure G.

Figure G

The Apps bar provides access to app-specific features and options.

Screen Capture

Pressing [Windows]+[PrtScn] takes a screen shot of the screen. This is a very cool feature to have; in fact I used it to take the majority of the screen shots for this article. When you press [Windows]+[PrtScn], Windows 8 take a picture of the entire screen and then automatically saves the image in the Pictures folder and increments the file name: Screenshot (1), Screenshot (2), etc.

What's your take?

Getting used to navigating in Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard can be a tricky. Fortunately, I've discovered that the Windows key is a big help when navigating in Windows 8. What do you think about the power of the Windows key in Windows 8? Have you used any of these Windows key shortcuts? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

Also read:

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

23 comments
Gremeleon
Gremeleon

I have finally switched to Windows 8 and have come to grips with the new Metro interface. I am using a desktop (can't afford touch screen yet) and with the help of Greg's tips about mousing and WInKeys I am comfortable moving around. My only gripe is that almost all my apps open in the Desktop UI, which is OK, but will Office and others ever appear as REAL Win 8 apps (that stay in the Metro UI like Metro Apps)?? Here's a strange quirk with the Adobe Reader app, there doesn't seem to be a tool to print documents while viewing them in the App???

eboyhan
eboyhan

I've been doing this for a very long time -- way before even Win 1.0. Every time a vendor comes out with a new OS, some are excited, and others are upset that they have to learn new ways of doing things, and that some old ways no longer work. Just to give one example every change to the UI (and the "start" button -- or "start" button analog) in recent Windows releases has give rise to cries for the old way to be put back, and rants that the new mechanisms will never work, and will never be used. Roll the clock forward a year or so past RTM, and most of the complaining has died down: old muscle memories have been replaced with new; new shortcuts and tricks have been discovered -- we move on. MS is rigorously sandboxing WOA, Metro, and legacy apps from each other IMO to keep the complexity under control. With the memory of Vista fresh in their minds, they want to keep strict control over all the W8 components -- especially all the hardware and apps coming from non-Microsoft sources. Flying my airplane above 60,000 feet, the ability to do everything on a W8 device that I can do on my iPad, and yet still have access to the full panoply of Windows features is immensely compelling. I'm interested in all these early reviews, but I won't put much credence in negative ones until 6 months to a year after initial release

jrnewman
jrnewman

I Tried it but did not like it, seems taking two steps backward. Especially with no start even though it can be added, I think I will wait on Win 9 or 10!

hcober
hcober

As a 68 yr old user I had some ups and downs over the 4 weeks I tried Win8. I went back to Win7, since I could not get Skype to recognise my microphone, from built in web cam on laptop, could not get drivers for it. Works fine back in Win7. For us older folks it will be best to stay with 7, but I'm sure the younger crowd will catch on fast,They don't need to unlearn old ways. I will give it another go later on But yes keyboard short cuts are a must to find your way around.

CORDFrank
CORDFrank

Enjoy your content, but noticed your column layout was clipping your images in some browsers (couldn't see the charms bar in Fig C. in FF, but shows in IE)

hondocrouch
hondocrouch

It is obvious that W8 is for consumers with touch devices, which is the current cool thing. It is also a bold departure in design, appearance and usability from the current Windows gen. I'm glad to see MS taking chances with it and can easily imagine it being successful on smart phones, tablets and touch screen PCs. I'm not so thrilled about administering it in a business environment and training users how to be productive with it. Since this is still a beta, I'm hoping they will add many of the features we all are currently missing when it gets polished up some more. "Change is good" - that's what I've been telling myself since DOS 1.0.

kburrows
kburrows

Thanks Ed! I have been so frustrated trying to navigate through Windows 8 and these tips have to best the best so far! This makes it so much easier and really makes sense now that I know where all the 'traditional' shortcuts and start menu items have gone. Everyone has been trying to sell quick fixes to use it like Windows 7 (including too many TechRepublic articles). People resist change and want to do it the way they have always done it. This article really opened my eyes to using it as it was developed and not trying to force it to be something it isn't.

eye4bear
eye4bear

Win key + B takes your back to where you started, a HUGE thing in Win 8 as there is NO real back button in the Metro apps, the back button that some of the apps have is NOT back to where you started, but Win key + B is.

eye4bear
eye4bear

For years we have been able to navigate in Windows without having to EVER use the keyboard, at least for the most part. I would use Win key+E to bring up Windows Explorer, but otherwise I NEVER used the keyboard for navigation, now in Win 8 we are forced to, so overall it is LESS convent to navigate in, at least on a desktop PC.That is where all the griping is coming from. It "feels" like a step backwards to us long time PC users.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Like how to bring a lot of these features up for my mouse-oriented users? Gracias.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I think it is more that Metro is designed for tablets and we are all trying to use Windows 8 on desktops and notebooks (i.e. no touch interface). I think Microsoft is going to have to accept the fact that Metro should just be suppressed if the device has no touch interface.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Is it because Metro sucks? Windows + E, Because you can't access explorer Windows + R, Because you can't access the run menu Windows Key alone, Because the start menu is in between monitors Windows + Tab, Because the taskbar doesn't show metro apps Windows + L, Because its difficult to get to the shutdown menu. Windows + F, Because File search is the only way to access your files through Metro.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Did you know about these Windows key tricks in Windows 8? Can you see yourself using them when you start using Windows 8?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm sure by the time W8 is officially released, microphone and camera drivers will be available, along with updated Skype software. I've got reasons to be leery of W8, but I think it's a bit earlier to expect full compatibility from a beta version.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"I think it is more that Metro is designed for tablets and we are all trying to use Windows 8 on desktops and notebooks" I'm not trying to USE it on anything. I'm TESTING it on desktops and notebooks. The more I test it, the less likely I am to try USING it on those devices.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I suggest a physical button on the device.

GreyTech
GreyTech

I have always used keyboard shortcuts in windows since ver. 1.0, W8 is no different. How about Alt-F4 to close a Metro App or shutdown/switch user/log off/restart/sleep from the desktop

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...show people how to defeat Metro but rather to learn how to harmoniously co-exist with it in a desktop/laptop keyboard and mouse environment.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

But by the time I expect to look at W8 seriously, I'll probably have forgotten the new ones.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Containing all the keyboard shortcuts. I guarantee the first thing someone will say to you is "Why, I used to just have to click here?"