Feeling More Comfortable in Windows 8’s Desktop View

By the time you read this, Windows 8 will have been made available for your general consumption, and pleasure. But, as will be the case with most of us who have been wanting to upgrade, but are fearful of the new ModernUI, how much of a shock will it be to all you future users, when you find yourselves amidst the strange waters of the Modern UI?

Well, I’ve been a guinea-pig of sorts, subjecting myself to the the likes of Windows 8 as my primary operating system for quite a while now.

Think of the ModernUI as an exquisitely woven velvet tarpaulin that has been draped over the inner workings of your desktop. The man behind the curtain, so to speak, is still there, in all its desktop-y glory. You didn’t think they would get rid of the desktop altogether, right?

I’ve had quite the daring experience of using Windows 8 (consumer previews) as my main OS for a good while now. That’s right, no Windows 7 to be seen. However, I still do occasionally forget that I’m running Windows 8. Why’s that? Well, I just stay in the desktop mode. It’s really that simple.

But the start menu!

I know I know, I miss the start menu as well, but not as much as I thought I would. I’ve slowly weaned myself off of it (with the help of a few select apps, more on those below) to the extent that I’m really using Windows just as I normally would have Windows 7, just with the added benefit of Windows 8’s performance improvements (I dare say you’ve already read up about what else Windows 8 has to offer) and added features and streamlining.

Today I’ll give you a little insight in to how I operate with the likes of Windows 8’s desktop view, and after that I’ll give you a couple of examples of some fine apps that pretty much negate the experience of not having a Start menu.

Sound good? Let’s go.

The Windows 8 desktop

Of course, the first thing you’ll see when you log on to your computer is the Modern UI, full of squares, information and the like. Let’s just ignore this bit. Sure, it looks a little odd, but we’re not here for that. The one to look for is of course the desktop button, which will bring you to something familiar. The only thing missing? The start button.

Launching Your Apps

Well, there used to be three ways of getting things done in terms of running your programs: the taskbar, the start menu, and the desktop. With the start menu gone, we’ll have to rely more on the other two. It’s no fuss, really, it’s quite simple to keep your favourite apps always on hand, you can just pin them to the taskbar.

The apps I use most frequently don’t differ very much, so there’s not much of an issue with finding those apps if they are either on my desktop or on the task bar. Any new apps installed usually place a shortcut to themselves on the desktop anyway, so it’s a small issue of re-arranging to best fit the frequency of use.

The only thing missing is really a list of recent apps/documents used, which used to be found on the start menu. Alas, there’s not much to be done about that. It’s one of the only things I have not found a workaround for.


One of Windows 7’s most useful features was the search function which has returned in the guise of Windows 8’s new search function. It’s still provides the same searching features as windows 7’s search, but this time it’s frustratingly split in to three sections: Apps, settings and files. You’ll be able to switch between these 3 sections fairly easily, though, so it’s just another simple step to take.

WIN-Q Will bring you to the (full-screen) global search. Don’t worry, once you’ve used it, it’ll head back to the desktop. From here you can type as you see fit. For instance, to load up Spotify, I merely quickly WIN-Q’d, typed in “spo” and hit enter without waiting for the search to even finish. It knows what I wanted anyhow, and it loaded up Spotify smoothly and quickly. The same went for any other searches. If there’s more than one result, the first would be selected upon hitting enter.

Searching for files? All you need to do is the same as above, but hit the down arrow until ‘Files’ is selected. In this way, the searching is just as speedy and useful as what was in Windows 7. Alternatively, you can also hit WIN-F to head straight to the file search, rather than global.

There is one thing that the file search function has over the one in Windows 7, as the full-screen view means it’s actually easier to see more results at once. Fantastic.

So all-in-all, although it seems to be a little weird at first, searching in full-screen mode, it’s rather easy to get used to. Frankly, the same goes for most of the other differing methods of the functions and features of Windows 8.

The Control Panel, shutting down, and accessing your other

Just like the search function, it may be counter-intuitive at first to get to the control panel. Of course, because there’s not start-menu, there’s no control panel option. However, a quick WIN-I and enter will bring you to the control panel. This is, in fact, much faster than doing it the old way, so surely that says something for windows 8? Don’t forget to change the Control Panel options to ‘Small Icons’ to get the classic, and far more useful view.

As with the control panel, you’ll find the power options on the WIN-I menu as well. One of the biggest complaints about the new Windows 8 UI was how difficult it actually was to be able to shut-down the computer, but frankly once you know how where to go, it’s just as fast as in 7.

Like I mentioned before, getting to the file search is easy as pie, with just a quick WIN-F. But, to access your documents, it’s probably better to have an icon on hand. A quick right-click on the already-existing folder icon on your task bar will bring you to all you need. Again, there’s an existing shortcut you can use to do this as well, just hit WIN-E to bring up Windows Explorer!

Conclusion, and Alternatives

Though many of these workarounds may take a little while to get used to, it’s sometimes no replacement to actually getting your start-menu back. Thankfully, the internet is always on hand, and even before the release of Windows 8 proper we’ve got several worthwhile alternatives to keep you satisfied. Look out for reviews of these over the next couple of weeks.

It’s odd, really, that most of these workarounds had already existed in Windows 7 in the first place. That is, most of the hotkeys available to you. I guess we just didn’t really need them. Who knows what Microsoft thought when they decided to get rid of the start menu in Windows 8, but that sure isn’t going to stop us.

  • Leonick

    If apps is what you want to be searching for pressing Win+Q is just extra work, just press the Win key alone and start typing, it’ll do the same thing.

    Really wish they hadn’t split searches in to Apps, Files and Settings, well they could have split them but serve results for all three in separate columns if there is space which will be the case on most computers. It’s a bit annoying when you want to get to some things classed as settings, then again, I mostly use the Win+X menu for that now.

  • ozaz

    Agree with Leonick, There’s really no need to remember Win+Q, Win+F, and Win+W which gives the impression things are more complicated than they are. Just hit Win and start typing.

    After that it’s quick enough to use touch, mouse, or tab and arrow keys to switch between the apps, settings, and files search results.

    One thing I really like about the start screen vs the old start menu is the ability to group apps into categories that make sense to me (e.g. groupings of graphic apps, office apps, music apps etc).

    • john trenouth

      You know you could group applications in your old Start button by creating folders and putting you app icons into them.

      • ozaz

        No, I didn’t know that. But I’ve just spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out how to do it in Windows XP (without resorting to google) to no avail. In contrast, I just started dragging things around and grouping them on the Windows 8 start screen. It was intuitive.

  • Richard

    I’m sorry, but this sounds really apologetic and doesn’t encourage me one bit. Lots of little annoyaces that you’ve found workarounds for, and other stuff that requires remembering new keyboard shortcuts instead of being findable by mouse. Not the best for people who are just learning how to use it, imo.

    • ozaz

      But you don’t need keyboard shortcuts for anything (they’re just shortcuts). Everything in this article is accessible by found by mouse via the charms bar.

      In fact, for anyone who does not like keyboard shortcuts I would only recommend them to learn to press the Win to bring up the start screen and show how to bring up charms and switcher by mouse.

  • Steve

    Finally! It took 20 years, but Microsoft finally acknowledges that using the mouse is an incredible waste of time and effort. I’ve been using these shortcuts for years, and you know the folks at MS have been as well. What I find interesting is that a company that was afraid we couldn’t remember WIN-E or Alt-f4 now expects us to remember the name of that obscure little utility we installed a year and a half ago in order to find and run it.

    • Jonnie

      Hey Steve, take this lightly, but people go overboard and just generally hate change to begin with. Now, you of course use a mouse and they are anything but a waste of time or they would have been replaced by whatever it is your thinking that is more efficient. Like I said take it lightly, I can be super opinionated and forget that we are addressing a group of people in most forums with heavily varying degrees of knowledge /technical abilities. You like I are touch typists who can use these shortcuts with great benefit. My mother, is not only not a touch typist, but rarely remembers where obscure or not so often used keys are and trust me these aren’t ever going to be shortcuts. I have used a trackman marble and now the wireless variant, the m570. Ocasionally I’ll get, “oh, you’re one of those”. If your used to using a mouse there is going to be at least a one month learning curve before you are proficient. After that, and although this is just my opinion but I really don’t think so, that as far as pinpoint accuracy and speed of input I would put myself against anyone with any kind of ir, laser, blue laser any day, anytime. Knowing the world we’re in there probably is such a contest. Then you put touch into the mix and although I’ll put up with it on a tablet I’m not putting my finger grease on my 2560×1440 27″. And there are guards that cut back on this, there’s no way I’m putting a smudge on that screen. I’ve been using windows 8, a little begrudgingly, I did put the start menu back and it boots directly to the desktop. Is that because it’s better, probably just because I like it more. Everyone always thinks if only everyone else did it like me, what a wonderful world, :). I will say from almost every technical point of view windows 8 outperforms Win 7 and is better technically if only because it’s roots are in 7 and they didn’t mess that up. Or we can be like Congress and swear off every one who isn’t our ideological equal, and it’s all of them. The president won’t compromise l, the dems in the house /Senate, right along and no better. And you know what, no one says you have to or that it’s even good to compromise but when it gets to the point where there is no longer real communication and no desire to have things work unless its exact the way I want it, are you getting the picture of a bunch of spoiled brats, :)

  • Kraudi

    Can you post that Wallpaper? Looks nice =)

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