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Windows 8 cheat sheet

Preston Gralla | Oct. 29, 2012
How to find your way around Microsoft's new OS and make the most of its features

To log into Windows, tap a key or click the mouse -- or, on a touch system, swipe from the bottom up -- and you'll come to a sign-in screen. Select an account if you've got multiple accounts, then type in your password and press Enter to sign into Windows 8.

Meet the Start screen

Once you've logged into Windows from the lock screen, you head directly to the new Start screen rather than the familiar Desktop interface. Like it or not, this is the new face of Windows.

Initially Microsoft called this design the "Metro" interface, but now it's just calling the new UI "Windows 8 design." Laptop and desktop PC users might dislike the Start screen's big tiles and horizontal orientation, but I've got some advice for you: Get used to it -- it's your new home. Here's what you need to know about it.

Tiles. The Start screen is made up of a grid of colorful tiles. Each tile represents an app; click (or tap) the tile to run the app.

Windows 8 Start screen with labels

To begin with, you'll find tiles for several simple new apps -- People, Mail, Calendar, Messaging and others -- that are built into Windows 8 and have the same look and feel as the Start screen. Formerly called Metro apps, they're now variously referred to as Windows 8 apps, Windows Store apps, Modern apps or Start apps by industry watchers. In this cheat sheet, I'll call them Windows 8 apps to distinguish them from Desktop apps (more about those in a moment).

Notifications. Some Windows 8 apps grab information from the Internet and show live updates known as notifications on their tiles. For example, the Calendar app displays upcoming events and friends' birthdays on its tile, the People app tile displays social media updates from friends, and the Mail app tile displays the sender and subject line of your most recently received emails. (Some notifications can also appear on the lock screen, depending on how you've configured Windows 8.)

By default, those apps that show notifications have larger Start screen tiles than those that don't.

You'll also find tiles for Desktop-based apps on the Start screen, and the Windows Desktop itself is now accessed via a Desktop tile. Desktop apps are traditional programs like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop; as a general rule, any application that you've run on previous versions of Windows is a Desktop-based app.

 

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