Windows 8

17 obscure Windows tools and tricks too powerful to overlook

Windows is chock full of handy-dandy power tools, but most of them are hidden from everyday view. These are the ones you need to know about.

Peering deep inside Windows
The beauty of Windows lies in its flexibility and depth. In fact, Windows is so deep and flexible that many of us never touch its more powerful tools, whether from unawareness or sheer forgetfulness. But beneath Internet Explorer and the Start button hides a universe of tools and tricks that are positively brimming with potential.

With that in mind, let’s brush the cobwebs off some classic Windows power tips that you’re likely to have forgotten about. Dig in, enjoy, and don’t forget to bookmark this article. You don’t want these tips and tricks to fade from memory once again.

GodMode
Let’s get the party started by dragging some of Windows’ hidden customization options into the light. GodMode is a developer tool that collates the operating system’s far-flung customization options into a single location, an Easter Egg that makes it far easier to exert your will over Windows.

Just right-click the Windows desktop and select New > Folder. Name it GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C} —you can actually switch out “GodMode” for any other name, but the period and all the jumble afterwards have to be exact. If you did it right, the folder icon will switch to the Control Panel icon. Start exploring, and dive into this tutorial for even deeper GodMode tricks.

Problem Steps Recorder
This little-known tool creates an HTML slideshow of your actions, recording your moves step-by-step so that you can show your IT admin or resident PC geek exactly what you’re doing when you run into a problem. It’s a huge boon during especially tricky troubleshooting situations.

To open the Problem Steps Recorder, simply search for psr in the Windows 7 Start menu or Windows 8’s Start screen. The tool should pop right up and is very straightforward to use.

Windows Reliability Monitor
Your PC may be behaving badly, even if it doesn’t appear so outwardly. But fear not: Windows Reliability Monitor is a tattle-tale who isn’t afraid to spill the beans. It shows all problems that Windows has encountered in a chronological chart, which you can sort and click through for more information on a day-by-day and case-by-case basis. The tool’s especially handy while you’re tracking down trouble programs that could be the cause of weird crashes.

To open the Reliability Monitor, open the Control Panel and head to System and Security > Review your computer’s status and resolve issues (under Action Center) > Maintenance > View reliability history (under “Check for solutions to problem reports”). Presto!

Get a power efficiency report
Windows can give you a detailed report on your laptop’s power efficiency, if you know where to look for it. Search for Command Prompt via the Start menu (Win7) or Start screen (Win8), then right-click on the Command Prompt result and select Run as administrator. Then enter powercfg -energy -output FolderEnergy_Report.html into the Command Prompt, replacing “Folder” with a file path to the folder of your choice.

Windows will analyze things for a while, then spit out the Energy Report in your desired location, which you’ll be able to read in a browser. It can be a bit technical, but it also includes suggestions for optimizing your notebook’s power performance.

Shake and shrink
Here’s a fun yet handy trick: Click and hold the title bar of the program you’re working in, then shake it back and forth rapidly. All other open windows will minimize to the task bar, leaving your desktop nice and clutter-free. Sure, you can do the same by pressing Windows key + Home, but where’s the fun in that?

Encrypt your files
Encrypting your data is a great way to make sure your files stay safe even if your PC is stolen or hacked. Microsoft’s BitLocker—built into Windows Vista or 7 Ultimate, Windows Vista or 7 Enterprise, and Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise—can encrypt your entire drive.

BitLocker has some specialized hardware requirements as well as some notable caveats to be aware of, however—most notably, you don’t want to lose the recovery key that lets you decrypt all your data. You can read all about those crucial tidbits and how to set up BitLocker in PCWorld’s beginner’s guide to BitLocker.

Calibrate your display
Third-party display calibration software can cost an arm and a leg, but fortunately, Windows includes a calibration tool that can meet the demands of all but the most demanding graphics professionals. It’s tucked into a corner of the Control Panel that doesn’t see action often.

Head into the Control Panel again, then select Display. You want the Calibrate color option in the left-hand options pane. Diving into the tool is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find full step-by-step details on using Windows’ calibration tool in this guide.

Make Windows play nice with high-DPI displays
Super-high-resolution displays are becoming the norm these days, with a slew of laptops, tablets, and monitors packing eye candy far in excess of the common 1080p resolution. Unfortunately, Windows still suffers from scaling issues with pixel-packed displays, often making text appear small or blurry.

The easiest way to fix this is by tinkering with Windows’ global scaling options, which you can find by opening the Control Panel and heading to Display > Custom Sizing Options. Here, you can change scaling by a percentage or via a tool that resembles a ruler. The Display page also offers scaling options for text alone. You may need to do more manual tinkering in individual programs to get everything just right—this article can help.

Schedule tasks to automate your digital life
Task Scheduler does exactly what you’d think: It helps you set schedules for running specific Windows applications, such as backups or a maintenance tool like CCleaner. Task Scheduler also lets you create complex scripts of tasks, which can run in order and at particular times. You can find it by searching for Task Scheduler via the Start menu or Windows 8 Start screen, then selecting Schedule tasks when the option appears.

Be warned: This powerful tool is designed for power users, complete with an obscure interface. You can get a feel for creating basic tasks by reading up on the Check Disk and Disk Cleanup sections of this task automation guide, while this superb How-to Geek piece by frequent PCWorld contributor Chris Hoffman really delves into nitty-gritty advanced tasks.

Tweak the programs that start at boot
Many of the programs you install run at startup by default, and that’s bound to eat up your memory and slow down the boot process over time. Fortunately, Windows includes tools that lets you manually select which programs are allowed to boot up alongside the operating system.

Windows 8 makes it easy with a helpful Startup tab in the Task Manager. You have to jump through more hoops in previous versions of the OS. Press Win + R to bring up the Run command, then search for msconfig and open the Startup tab in the window that opens. Don’t kill anything if you’re not sure what it does, but feel free to get rid of common offenders like Steam or iTunes.

Force Windows to show all your drives
Windows’ File Explorer won’t show any drives that are completely empty by default, which can be a hassle when you’re fiddling with SD cards or flash drives. You can force the issue, though.

First, open File Explorer. In Windows 7, press Alt to bring up the top menu, then head to Tools > Folder Options > View. Under Advanced Settings, uncheck the box next to “Hide empty drives in the Computer folder” and hit OK. In Windows 8, open File Explorer’s View tab and open Options > Change folder and search options. Here, look for the same option under Advanced Settings. This list of advanced view settings also lets you opt to show hidden files and folders.

Handy hotkeys
Speaking of keyboard shortcuts, here are some lesser-known gems. You can find a comprehensive list here.
-Win + (left or right arrow) to pin current window to respective screen edge
-Win + m to minimize all desktop windows
-Win + R to open the run command
-Win + X to open Windows 8’s powerful Quick Access Menu
-Alt + Tab to switch between open programs
-Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open the Task Manager

I heard you like Windows in your Windows
Sometimes, your standard Windows installation just doesn’t cut it. Virtual machines—which allow you to run sandboxed, virtualized instances of operating systems in a standard window in Windows—are great for when you need to use a separate OS for software security, compatibility, or testing reasons.

The Pro and Enterprise versions of Windows 8 support Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtual machine manager, though you have to install it. Open the Control Panel and head to Programs > Turn Windows Features on or off, then check the Hyper-V box and click OK. Reboot after the install. Check out this guide to learn how to use Hyper-V, or the free VirtualBox tool if you want to run virtual machines on the standard version of Windows 8 (or any previous version of Windows).

Shut up User Account Control
The User Account Control baked into Windows 7, 8, and Vista—the box that pops up asking you express permission to allow certain programs and processes to run—is ostensibly there to protect everyday users from security threats, but it’s more annoyance than assistance for seasoned users. Tweak its settings or turn it off completely by heading to Control Panel > User Accounts and Family Safety > User Accounts > Change User Account Control Settings. You’ll be glad you did.

Tailor your taskbar
The basic Windows taskbar works well enough, but it offers a wealth of customization options for power users. Simply right-click on it and select Properties, then spend some time digging around: You’re able to adjust the taskbar’s position, auto-hide it if desired, tinker with what appears in the Notification Area, add additional toolbars, and more. Ian Paul detailed a few of the most useful tweaks in a Hassle-Free PC column.

Windows 8’s Quick Access Menu
Windows 8 may have killed the Start menu, but it didn’t leave power users wanting completely: Right-clicking in the lower-left corner of the operating system, whether you’re on the desktop or the Live Tile’d Start screen, reveals a long menu technically dubbed the Quick Access Menu, but I call it the power user’s delight.

The Quick Access Menu provides—you guessed it—quick access to a slew of helpful power tools, including the Command Prompt, Network Connections, Device Manager, Event Viewer, and the Computer Management interface. Don’t miss this easy-to-overlook gem.

Restore lost options to Windows 8
Windows 8 and 8.1 shook up Microsoft’s classic OS, but it removed some helpful legacy desktop options—most notably, the Start menu and, in Windows 8.1, Library quick-links in File Explorer.

Microsoft plans to bring the Start menu back to Windows 8, but for now, you’ll have to resort to using a third-party Start menu replacement tool if you miss your menu. Returning Libraries to Windows 8.1 is easier. Just open File Explorer, then head to View > Navigation pane and select View Libraries. Microsoft ripped some other features out of Windows 8.1, too, which you can read all about here. (Bonus: Windows 8.1 now includes Library support for removable media like flash drives and SD cards.)


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10 Windows Start menus for Windows 8.1

Although Windows 8’s Start menu is still MIA in Windows ‘Blue,’ a smorgasbord of replacements can fill the void

Start here
Seems Microsoft really has put its Windows Start menu out to pasture, alongside Bob, Clippy, and Rover. Sure, the forthcoming 8.1 update to Windows 8 has a shiny new Start button, but clicking it doesn’t cause a familiar menu to pop up, providing users quick access to their preferred apps and files. Why’d Microsoft retire the menu in the first place? It was a design choice made by Steven Sinofsky, former head of Microsoft’s Windows division.

If you fall into the category of users who don’t share Sinofsky’s vision of a menu-less Windows 8, take heart. Several third-party developers have built menus for the operating systems — and some are arguably superior to any that Microsoft has ever made.

Classic Shell
Classic Shell was originally designed to replace the Windows 7 Start menu with the XP-style Start menu. Now it brings a Windows 7 Start experience to Windows 8 users. Apps can be pinned to the menu area via drag and drop. A pair of flyout menus provides access to classic Desktop programs and Metro apps, respectively. The program also supports starting directly in the Desktop and disabling Windows 8 hot corners.

Classic Shell adds changes to File Explorer, too, such as an icon ribbon populated with commonly used file commands (cut, copy, paste, and so on) and the ability to shut off the “breadcrumb” trail in the address bar and replace it with the full folder path.

Author: Ivo Beltchev
Cost: Free (open source)

Pokki Menu
Pokki Menu is a more ambitious program than many of the others shown here. SweetLabs hasn’t so much restored the original Start menu as provided an enhanced replacement for it. Beyond delivering familiar Start menu functionality, for example, it also serves as a source for notifications. It does this via various apps available in Pokki’s own app store, which include clients for common social networks.

The Pokki Menu has undergone a significant facelift since InfoWorld looked at it last year. Aside from such aesthetic changes as new colors and layout, the app has improved search and the ability to set files and apps as favorites from File Explorer.

Author: SweetLabs
Cost: Free

Power8
Another open source option, Power8 provides a self-sorting menu of commonly used applications, a set of flyouts for the main Start menu app hierarchy, and flyouts for Computer, Libraries, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, and Network shortcuts. The old search functionality is also replicated, Metro features (charms, hot corners, etc.) are disabled, and — one very nice touch — Windows 7 taskbar jump lists are retained. Among the drawbacks, Power8 is short on configurable features.

Since InfoWorld last dabbled with Power8, its developers have made several upgrades and fixes, including boosting the file-system event watching and a more flexible updater.

Author: Power8 Team
Cost: Free (open source)

RetroUI Pro
RetroUI isn’t designed to be more than a strict replacement for the traditional Start menu. Clicking the RetroUI Taskbar icon brings up a tile grid that’s reminiscent of the Windows 8 Start screen, but outfitted with flyouts that borrow from the original Start menu (Libraries, Computer, Control Panel). Also included are handy shortcuts to the Metro task switcher and Charms bar. Another taskbar icon opens an icon-grid view that displays Metro apps and major system locations.

Thinix has continually updated RetroUI since InfoWorld’s last review, adding features such as optimized file searches, the ability to set default shutdown actions, and caching technology to speed up the Start menu.

Author: Thinix
Cost: Starts at $5 per seat

Start8
Stardock Software has created a Start menu replacement that behaves uncannily like the original. From its accordion-style opening of folders to its subcategorized type-to-search results, Start8 delivers all the familiar functionality, alongside considerable configurability.

Apps can be pinned to the Start8 menu via a right-click contextual menu option in File Explorer. Even the system shortcuts (Control Panel, Computer, etc.) can be toggled as needed. Better yet, the bottom-left hot corner can take you straight to Start8, even from within a Metro app. Hot keys can bring up Windows 8’s own Start screen, hot corners can be selectively disabled, and Metro apps can be hidden from Start8 if you don’t want them there.

Author: Stardock Software
Cost: $5 for a single-user license

StartIsBack
StartIsBack is a startlingly precise recreation of the Windows 7 Start menu, orb and all, although a good deal more tweakable than the original. Each Windows 8 hot corner can be selectively toggled. The Start screen can be skipped on login, invoked with a dedicated hot key, and reserved only for Metro programs. Just right-click a program in Explorer to pin it to the StartIsBack menu.

Since InfoWorld last tested StartIsBack, developer Tihiy has made numerous upgrades. For instance, you’ll find a new shortcut to the Start screen in the Start menu, the option to display all programs in a multicolumn flyout menu, and the option to enable the Start screen hot corner on the Desktop.

Author: Tihiy
Cost: $3 for two-PC license

StartMenu8
Launch StartMenu8 and you’re greeted with the familiar Windows 7 Start menu orb, along with a fairly spot-on reconstruction of the rest of the classic Start menu. The StartMenu8 interface wasn’t as customizable as its competitors when InfoWorld tried it out last December. There was no way to toggle things like the links to the games folder or the Control Panel, and most of the program’s behaviors appear to be hard-wired. Users can log in directly to the Desktop, and StartMenu8 can deactivate the Windows 8 hot corners and the Metro Charms bar. The latest version includes a key for opening Metro, a new Settings interface, and some aesthetic improvements.

Author: IObit
Cost: Free

Start Menu Reviver
Start Menu Reviver brings the Metro look, fat-finger friendliness, and lots of customizability to a Start menu for either Windows 8 or Windows 7. Like a mini Windows 8 Start screen, Reviver presents buttons and tiles (large or small, as you like) that give you direct access to literally anything on your PC — documents, folders, desktop apps, Metro apps, favorite URLs, you name it. A flyout menu provides speedy access to everything else. Along with the tiles, menus, colors, text, and tile icons, a few other settings are configurable. You can boot directly to the Desktop or have the Windows key open the Start menu.

Author: Reviversoft
Cost: Free

StartW8
StartW8 is a good classic Start menu recreation, though it lacks much in the way of customization options, and pinning programs to the Start menu isn’t as straightforward as it could be. Options include the ability to switch to the desktop immediately after signing in; the ability to activate the menu with the Windows key; buttons for logging off, locking the system, and powering off; a traditional search field; and the ability to designate favorite apps. The latest update adds the option to ignore Hot corners, along with an automatic update feature.

Author: SodatSW
Cost: Free

ViStart
ViStart is a free Windows Start menu app that boasts a high level of customizability. The latest version comes with three Start Menu skins and four Start menu buttons, alongside a renewed skin manager. You can download 25 additional skins and 20 buttons from the developer’s site. A new control lets you configure Windows 8 to skip the Metro screen and boot directly to the Windows 8 Desktop. You can also disable features such as the Charms bar and start corners. ViStart even indexes the Start menu to speed up searches for files and programs.

Author: Lee-Soft
Cost: Free


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Windows 8 Update: Microsoft teams with Best Buy to boost Windows 8 sales

Also Surface software updates, HP pushing Windows 8, and a 7-inch Windows 8 tablet

Microsoft is placing Microsoft Stores within about half the U.S. Best Buy locations and creating a parallel online store on the Best Buy site in an effort to drum up more consumer business, it seems, for Windows 8.

These stores-within-a-store will range in size from 1,500 to 2,200 square feet and feature Windows-based PCs, ultrabooks, convertibles, detachables and all-in-ones. Microsoft Surface will have an area of its own within these Microsoft stores.

Windows 8
They will also stock Windows 8 applications, as well as Microsoft Office, Skype, Xbox music and games, the company says.

The Microsoft areas will be located in 500 U.S. Best Buy stores as well as more than 100 Best Buy and Future Shop stores in Canada, Microsoft says in a press statement.

Currently Best Buy sells a variety of Windows 8 devices including Surface tablets but they are jumbled in with other machines including those based on Linux, iOS and Mac OS.

Microsoft already has sales specialists working in Best Buy locations, but will train more than 1,200 Best Buy sales people to quickly scale up the force it needs to staff the stores.

By carving out its own clearly defined space within the stores Microsoft might be able to distinguish its Windows 8 gear more clearly among other alternatives. Well trained sales staff could also help customers clarify what Windows 8 offerings from competitors.

Surface updates
Update includes these firmware and performance improvements:
Surface RT: Surface Home Button driver update that improves the reliability of the devices waking up immediately on the first button press. Firmware update for Surface Type Cover and Surface Touch Cover that improves functionality for both accessories. Includes the ability to toggle function keys, new shortcuts, and helpful keyboard navigation improvements.
Surface Pro: LifeCam driver that enhances clarity for low light operation and improves reliability when switching between the integrated camera and an external camera.
Upgrade to Windows 8.1, reinstall apps
HP to push Windows 8

As businesses move from Windows XP to something newer, HP wants to be their guide, according to the company’s sales and services senior vice president Enrique Lores.

That means many will be upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8, and HP hopes it can turn that into sales of more hardware that businesses might buy to support new operating systems.

Does that mean the demise of XP is a bigger factor than the advent of Windows 8 for promoting PC sales? ‘Yes, significantly more, especially on the commercial side,’ he told Computer World.
A reference design for a 7-inch Windows 8 tablet

Inventec has come out with a reference design for a Windows 8 tablet with a 7-inch screen that runs on an Intel Atom Bay-Trail M system on a chip, an x86 processor.

That means the device can run a full version of Windows 8, not the ARM-based version called Windows RT that can’t run non-Windows 8 applications.

As a reference design it isn’t a commercial product, just a product that is engineered and that OEMs could pick up to create their own versions for consumer sales. Price estimates for the device are around $350.

IE 10 pinches power
When run on Windows 8 Internet Explorer 10 uses less power than competing browsers, at least according to Microsoft. Windows8

Checking IE 10 against Chrome and Firefox, the company found that its own browser used less power when accessing popular Web sites. It was the clear winner for all but one of the site tested – Craigslist – which looked like a three-way tie.


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How Windows Red can fix Windows 8: The right strategy for Microsoft

When Microsoft first outlined its strategy 32 months ago to bridge the old style of PC computing with the new world of tablet computing, we were optimistic. Although Apple had revolutionized computing with the iPad, creating the fastest-adopted technology ever, its approach walled off the tablet from the PC, with two different operating systems, user interfaces, and applications. Instead, Microsoft promised a unified, adaptive approach that would satisfy everyone.

But that’s not what Microsoft did. In fact, it did the opposite: It created a horribly awkward mashup of two fundamentally incompatible approaches that worked poorly on both PCs and tablets. Microsoft made a peanut butter and pickle sandwich, and the world has recoiled at the thought ever since, with Windows 8 falling behind even Microsoft’s other big failure, Windows Vista, in adoption. As InfoWorld’s Woody Leonhard famously wrote in his review of Windows 8, “Yes, it’s that bad.”

[ See Windows Red visualized in InfoWorld's slideshow and read Woody Leonhard's assessment of Microsoft's Windows "Blue" 8.1. | Windows 8, "Blue," and Red: The full coverage. | Windows 8 book authors dish on Windows 8. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

It doesn’t have to be that way. Despite its unworkable marriage of desktop and tablet, of traditional input and touch input, Windows 8 has many compelling notions that deserve widespread adoption.

The answer is not Windows “Blue,” aka Windows 8.1, which (based on what we’ve learned so far) offers only superficial changes. No, the answer is Windows Red, InfoWorld’s proposed redesign of Windows 8 that takes the best of Windows and Windows Phone, eliminates the unworkable aspects of the Desktop and Metro (aka Modern) mashup, and provides a road map for Microsoft to achieve its original Windows 8 aims.

A team of InfoWorld editors — Galen Gruman as project lead, Eric Knorr, and Doug Dineley — worked with Woody Leonhard, a noted Windows book author with unmatched experience in Windows, and illustrator Ben Barbante to conceptualize and design Windows Red. You can see our Windows Red results in the companion slideshow.

Here’s how Windows Red fixes the flaws in Windows 8 and accentuates its strengths.

The marriage of Windows 7 and Metro is annulled
Theoretically, creating a dual OS for use on legacy PCs, modern PCs, and tablets was a good idea. But Microsoft’s approach was fatally flawed, ignoring its own UI guidelines. It didn’t so much integrate the traditional PC with the modern tablet as slap both approaches onto both devices.

On a tablet, the Windows Desktop simply doesn’t work. All the controls are too small for gesture use — as Microsoft’s own UI guidelines make clear. Everything is too small to touch and often too hard to read.

We had assumed that the Windows 8 Desktop would provide contextual adjustment when apps were running on a tablet — essentially enlarging buttons, menu controls, and the like, as well as using the option of a simplified menu to reduce screen clutter, a more intelligent take of Microsoft’s “most recently used” menus that frustrated Office 2000 users. We didn’t expect that most traditional Windows applications would require users to manually invoke the onscreen keyboard when in text fields.

On a PC, the Metro environment is too big and too simplistic. We had assumed Metro would scale its density to take advantage of the larger screen and finer selection capabilities of mice. But that didn’t happen either.

Part of the challenge Microsoft faced in running traditional Windows applications in the Desktop on a tablet was that many Windows apps use very old code bases. Even if Microsoft had created contextual DLLs for UI elements and automatic onscreen keyboard display, many apps don’t use the Microsoft DLLs, or at least not current ones.

Microsoft prides itself on maintaining app compatibility for decades, which has let developers save effort. But that timeless legacy support has also created a ball and chain that keeps Windows from moving forward in the dramatic way that Metro was meant to do. Worse, the environment that Microsoft wants developers to switch to — Metro — provides a poor experience on traditional PCs, discouraging user adoption and thus developer investment.

There are also serious questions as to whether Metro can support more than widget-style lightweight apps. After all, Microsoft didn’t deliver Office for it, yet both iOS and Android have serious Office-like apps. Metro apps are so weak that users are avoiding them in droves.

Given these realities, the solution is to not mix the Desktop and Metro. In Windows Red, we don’t. Instead, we’ve split Windows Red into three versions: Pro, Mobile, and Duo.

Windows Red Pro is an enhanced version of Windows 7, and it runs only on desktop and laptop PCs. It includes the Desktop advances made in Windows 8, such as multiple copy threads, enhanced Task Manager, built-in Microsoft Security Essentials, improved system recovery, Hyper-V, and Windows to Go. Windows Red Pro also drops touch support. Touchscreen PCs are simply a terrible idea and ergonomically dangerous to users; they shouldn’t be enabled. Touch belongs on a horizontal surface in comfortable arm’s reach.
Windows Red Mobile is a Metro-only operating system that runs only on tablets. It’s a sibling to Windows Phone and a cousin to Windows Red Pro. In a sense, it’s an enhanced version of the current Metro-only Windows RT, though RT has a bunch of dumb limitations, such as the inability to be managed through Group Policy, that Windows Red Mobile fixes.
Because there are hybrid PC/tablet devices in the market, we felt we had to accommodate them. That’s our third version: Windows Red Duo. As the name implies, Duo delivers two Windows Reds on the same device.

But they do not operate simultaneously, as Windows Desktop and Metro do in Windows 8. When your hybrid’s screen is detached, making it a tablet, only Windows Red Mobile can run. When your hybrid is in its laptop configuration, only Windows Red Pro can run. A reboot is required when you switch configurations. Though inelegant, it’s necessary to prevent a repeat of the “Windows Frankenstein” mashup that is Windows 8. Nor is it as inconvenient as it might sound because Windows Red Pro still runs Metro apps — only you drive them with a mouse and physical keyboard, not via touch. (More on that below.)


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Windows 8.1 laptops with AMD’s new chips to support wireless display

AMD introduces faster and more power-efficient A4, A6, A8 and A10 chips for laptops

Advanced Micro Devices hopes to regain share in the PC processor market with its upcoming chips based on the Jaguar core, which will bring console-like gaming and wireless displays to laptops with Windows 8 and its successor, Windows Blue.

The A6, A8 and A10 chips, code-named Richland, will be up to 12 percent faster than the comparable previous-generation processors code-named Trinity, which were released last year. The chips will boast a 40 percent improvement in graphics processing speed.

The company on Thursday also introduced A4 and A6 chips code-named Kabini for low-end laptops. With the chips, the company is facilitating the introduction of inexpensive, low-power laptops with touchscreens and other features. Acer and Hewlett-Packard are expected to ship laptops based on Kabini.

The financially struggling AMD is hoping the new chips will spark a revival in the company’s PC business. PC shipments have been falling and AMD has been losing market share to Intel.

An interesting feature in the Richland chips is AMD Wireless Display, which will support wireless beaming of images from PCs to TVs. The feature will be supported on Windows Blue laptops this year, AMD said.

Microsoft is releasing a preview of the Windows 8.1 OS, code-named Blue, in June. The OS will be available as a free upgrade to existing Windows 8 users.

The Wireless Display feature will allow whatever is on the display to be wirelessly streamed to TVs. AMD’s Jaguar chips and graphics cores have already been selected for use in Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox, so the laptops could deliver a console-like gaming experience. Laptops will be able to display images on up to four external displays simultaneously.

The Richland chips are also more power efficient than their predecessors, which translates to more battery life on laptops. Laptops with a 55-watt-hour battery may be able to deliver power for up to 8.3 hours of Web browsing. That goes down to 4.3 hours for watching a 720p video.

The chip lineup includes the dual-core A6-5357M, which has a maximum clock speed of 3.5GHz; the quad-core A8-5557M, which has a maximum clock speed of 3.1GHz; and the quad-core A10-5757M, which clocks up to 3.5GHz. The chips draw 35 watts of power and are targeted at standard-sized laptops.

For ultrathin laptops, AMD also introduced four A4, A6, A8 and A10 chips that draw from 17 to 25 watts of power. The maximum clock speeds for the chips are from 2.6GHz to 2.9GHz.

The new low-power A4, A6 and E-series chips in the Kabini lineup deliver up to 66 percent better performance-per-watt than comparable chips released last year, AMD said.

The graphics capabilities are “console-like,” and 88 percent faster than the previous-generation chips, AMD said. The new chips are also up to 25 percent more power efficient.

Laptops will be able to deliver around six hours of battery life for watching high-definition video, and nine hours or more when browsing the Web, according to internal measurements by AMD.

The chips, which are based on the Jaguar core, will compete against Intel’s Core i3 and Pentium processors, which usually go into low-cost laptops. Intel is set to release new fourth-generation Core i3 processors code-named Haswell in June.

The Kabini lineup includes the A6-5200 chip, which runs at 2GHz and draws 25 watts of power, and the quad-core A4-5000, which runs at 1.5GHz and draws 15 watts of power. The company also announced dual-core E1 and E2 chips, which have clock speeds between 1GHz and 1.65GHz, and draw between 9 and 15 watts of power.

 


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Microsoft alum: Windows 8 “a much deadlier assault weapon” than Windows 7

Former Microsoft senior VP says Windows 8 on ARM tablets is a “scale 9 earthquake”

Windows 8 is just what Microsoft needs to take advantage of the ongoing irreversible shift from PCs to handheld devices including iPads, iPhones and other form factors yet to be designed, according to the company’s former OEM chief.

Just as Windows 7 won instant popularity after the debacle of Vista, Windows 8 is poised to capture business from phone and tablet leaders such as Apple, only to greater effect, says Joachim Kempin, former Microsoft senior vice president in charge of OEMs who worked for the company from 1983 to 2002.

“Windows 7 spearheaded a comparably small rejuvenation,” Kempin says in his just-released book “Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s Secret Power Broker Breaks his Silence”. “I predict Windows 8 is readied as a much deadlier assault weapon.”

[TEST YOURSELF: The Windows 8 quiz

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He says the main intent of Windows 8 is to push the operating system into low-powered mobile devices running ARM processors vs traditional x86 chips. He says that when Microsoft introduced Windows 8 nearly two years ago it “flabbergasted the IT world by running on a tablet powered by NVidia’s ARM-based CPU. I consider this move to ARM a scale 9 earthquake and wake-up call for MS’s longtime allies Intel and AMD.”

He says that shift potentially signals the end of notebooks and PCs, not just media tablets. A strength of Windows 8 is its common interface and navigation across all devices, he says.

“No need to bother with the annoyance of having to remember different key strokes or gestures when switching between devices or operating them with a mouse or a touch screen,” Kempin says. “Neither Apple nor Google have ever accomplished such uniformity.”

He praises the design of Microsoft’s two Surface tablet models but dooms them to failure.

He thinks they will anger OEMs that were working on their own Windows 8 tablets and notebooks and who now may be driven to make them with Linux or Google operating systems.

In addition, he doubts the devices themselves can be profitable. “MS does not own a factory and has a track record of having trouble with sourcing hardware components and producing devices as cheaply as her competitors,” he says. “I do not know who did the math on this project. The slim revenue gain with not much hope for real profits combined with losing partners’ trust and loyalties seems not worth that risk.”

Instead, Microsoft should spin off a startup with the mission of making Windows 8 devices, putting a distance between the devices and Microsoft itself and creating just another OEM that competes with current OEMs.

Still, he likes Surface RT. “Adding an innovative wireless keyboard makes it a hybrid located between today’s notebooks and tablets,” he says. “When combined with the slick design promises to totally obsolete notebooks in a few years when solid state drives will become cheap and small enough to replace traditional hard drive storage units.”

He admires the strategy of porting Office applications to Windows 8 tablets based on ARM, known as Windows RT. Other tablets can support Office but only via remote services, not locally. “Less need for constant connectivity for 8-powered tablets when running MS-Office applications means a further leg up over Google’s solution,” he writes.

Apparently the book was written before Microsoft’s Windows 8 leader Steven Sinofsky quit the company just after Windows 8 launched Oct. 26. Kempin says the company should tap Sinofsky to champion Surface as a product fanatic as focused as Steve Jobs was at Apple.

“Like others I always wait for a service pack to be released before trusting a new OS version,” Kempin says. “[Sinofsky] will need to correct this notion with product excellence right out of the chute to gain vital momentum. This is in particular important for changing MS’s fortune in the media tablet market where Apple, Google and Amazon are seen as leaders.

Blindly mimicking Apple in order to take sales from it is a mistake, and that means getting rid of its new brick and mortar Windows Stores. “The company needs to get rid of all distractions like her doomed retail stores,” he writes.

He says Microsoft’s investment in Barnes & Noble and its Nook e-reader represent an assault on Amazon and its Kindle tablets and e-readers. He says Microsoft miscalculated the market for them when it devoted research into the devices in 1998. “But the developers involved in this effort were told to shut down because their solution was not Windows centric enough,” he says.

That was the wrong way to look at it, though. “You do not need Windows to read a book – MS-DOS would have sufficed and could have easily been replaced with more advanced technology later,” he says.


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Why I abandoned Windows Phone 8

I recently acquired a Nokia Lumia 920 to experiment with Windows Phone 8. But a few weeks in, I’m already back to my Android-based device.

A few months ago, I forced myself to switch to Windows 8 on my desktop system (and laptop) and ended up liking the operating system very much. Once I got used to the quirks and garish look of the new Start screen and learned many of the shortcuts built into Windows 8, I found myself enjoying the operating system and was more than pleased by its myriad of enhancements and performance improvements.

I initially made the switch to Windows 8 because I wanted to fully immerse myself into the OS before formulating any strong opinions. Considering how much I ended up liking Windows 8 on my desktop, I thought I would conduct a similar experiment with my smartphone. For the last few years, I have been deeply entrenched in the Android ecosystem and have experience with a multitude of devices. I enjoy installing custom ROMs on the devices and have experimented with countless apps and utilities. At this point my smartphone is an integral part of my day-to-day computing, and I’ve grown fond of a handful of apps and the convenience of always having my inboxes and access to the web in my pocket.
I picked up a [Windows Phone 8-based Nokia Lumia 920 and was initially impressed. The hardware itself is excellent. The Lumia 920’s camera is top notch. The device is obviously well-built. The screen looks great, and navigating through Windows Phone 8 was smooth as silk. At first, my Android-based device (currently a Samsung Galaxy Note II) remained my daily driver. I kept the Lumia 920 handy until I felt I was comfortable using its email client, browsing the web. But eventually I customized the Start screen to my liking and got a good feel for what Microsoft and Nokia were trying to accomplish with the phone. I installed only a couple of apps and got comfortable with them too.

After a couple of weeks and a good initial impression, I decided to dive in head-first and make the Lumia 920 my daily device. At first, I was happy with the decision. I dug the Live Tiles and the Lumia 920 never lost its luster; it’s a great phone.

But as I started to install more and more apps and dig deeper into the Windows Phone App Store, I was regularly disappointed. There seemed to be three kinds of apps available for Windows Phone 8:

Apps specifically designed for the OS that showed signs of greatness
Quick-and-dirty ports of apps obviously designed for other platforms
Kludges that were nothing more than wrappers for mobile websites

The apps designed with Windows Phone 8 in mind were mostly great. I especially liked the IMDB app, which blows away its counterparts on other mobile platforms. The Facebook app was also very fast and responsive, but it wastes a TON of screen real estate with larger-than-necessary fonts in the navigation menu and wasted white space in the feed. There were times when I could only see a single post in my news feed because of all the wasted screen real estate. I’m not sure what the app developers were thinking with that one.

Then there were the obvious ports that just didn’t look right on Windows Phone 8. One in particular, Words with Friends, comes to mind. I know it’s an older title and games aren’t a necessity, but I enjoy playing Words with Friends; it’s a nice break in the day. Anyway, fonts (like the one used to display the score) were nearly illegible and the game is just plain broken. As of a couple of weeks ago, you couldn’t use words with the letter “Z” and the main screen wouldn’t update when it was your turn. You’d think with the amount of complaints logged in the app store someone at Microsoft would fix the game, but no such luck.

And then there’s apps like YouTube, which seem to be little more than wrappers for the YouTube mobile site. Minimal effort was put into optimizing the app for Windows Phone 8, and it shows.

As you probably guessed by now, my little experience was a failure. I’m back to my Android device and don’t plan to give Windows Phone 8 another try for a few months. If Microsoft wants people to give Windows Phone 8 serious consideration, they’ve got to get serious about offering quality apps for the platform. It’s not just about the number of available apps, it’s about the quality, and at this point in time Windows Phone 8 trails in both departments.


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Microsoft: What it did right and wrong in 2012

Windows 8: It is the best of Microsoft; it is the worst of Microsoft

At this writing Windows 8 could be the biggest thing Microsoft has done wrong — ever. But it could also wind up being one of the best things it has ever done.

By CEO Steve Ballmer’s own description it is the one of the top three major events in the company’s history, grouped with IBM PCs adopting MS-DOS and the advent of Windows 95.

By that measure, if it’s a flop it’s huge.

IN PICTURES: Top network and IT industry stories of 2012

NEWS: Dell’s acquisitions not yet paying dividends

MORE: Worst security snafus of 2012

Windows 8 drives users crazy. It’s a two-headed operating system that supports the traditional Windows keyboard-and-mouse interface as well as a touch-centric UI that many say is baffling, at least initially.

Then toss in a separate version of Windows 8 called Windows RT. It’s a hardware/software bundle based on ARM processors that doesn’t support traditional Windows x86 apps — only so-called Windows Store applications that rely mainly on touch. Confusion reigns.

A version of the traditional desktop remains in Windows 8, but it’s different enough to be uncomfortable. Users want an OS that builds on the past, not one that reinvents itself entirely. They lament the loss of the Start button and Start Menu upon which they relied.

When learning the Windows 8 touch interface they find it difficult to find and remember, say, how to turn the machine on and off, close applications, remove applications, switch among four or five apps running at the same time, find Charms, figure out what Charms are, etc., etc. It’s a near-perfect storm of consternation and frustration.

Meanwhile the company’s traditional PC market is being threatened by devices running Linux, Android and OS X even as sales growth of traditional PCs gets slower and slower, apparently headed for decline. That’s Microsoft’s bread and butter.

Compounding the problem, tablets and smartphones are gaining popularity as personal and business productivity platforms and arguably represent the main force undercutting traditional PCs. Microsoft comes in a distant third in both areas.

Windows 8 is supposed to help Microsoft make gains in these areas. But given its slow start so far and comparing it to the wild success of every version of iPad that ever launched, then Windows 8 is lining up to be a disaster.

So what was Microsoft thinking?

Windows 8 is designed to tap into the shift in demand away from traditional desktops and laptops and toward phones and tablets.

Core to this strategy is making a shift to mobility and creating an application environment transferrable from device to device. The advantage: Massive blocks of code from an application written for Windows 8 can be readily repurposed for apps written or Windows Phone 8 — making it feasible for these apps to be available on any Windows device.

Because Windows Store apps are written primarily for touch, their navigation is similar from tablet to notebook to phone. Applications are available for phones, tablets and laptops, and if you master them on one category of device, you’ve mastered them for all.

These applications, called Windows Store apps, represent a new category optimized for touch and for running on lower powered mobile machines based on ARM processors to promote longer battery life.

In addition, Windows 8 heavily promotes use of cloud services. It comes with cloud-based music free and integrates SkyDrive, Microsoft’s 5-year-old cloud storage service that enables sharing data among devices and syncing them with each other. It comes with 7GB of free storage.

The bottom line is customers can access the latest versions of their data and all their stored files from whichever device they happen to have with them so long as they have Internet access.

The problem is that this elegant scheme is lost on customers, analysts and reviewers who don’t buy into this view. With education, customers could be won over, but not in the short-term, and particularly with RT. Business customers will have to adopt Windows Store apps or virtualize, and that takes time.

“It will take 10 or more years before most organizations completely transition to WinRT technology, which, if successful, will represent the next 20 to 30 years of Windows,” says Gartner in its report “Windows 8 Changes Windows as We Know It.”

Beyond Windows 8, Microsoft has scored some hits and some misses this year with new products acquisitions. Here are four of each.

RIGHT
Windows Server 2012

Microsoft’s latest version of Windows Server is to be applauded for how it simplifies many areas of virtualization, which leads Network World reviewer Tom Henderson to write, “What the Windows 2012 Server editions provide is a compelling reason to stick with Windows infrastructure, as many of the advances represent integration of management components that have no competitive parallels.”

The software streamlines live migration of virtual machines for reasons of preventing performance of one instance degrading because it is overwhelmed by demand. Windows Server 2012 removes the need for designating failover clustering ahead of time and a separate SAN to share storage among instances that were required in Windows Server 2008.

Windows Server 2012 also offers replication of virtual machines asynchronously. Called Hyper-V Replica, the feature is ideal for replicating VMs from site to site over limited WAN links.

A new feature called Storage Spaces treats hundreds of disks as a single logical storage reservoir and ensures resiliency by backing up data on at least two physical disks. The feature sets aside a designated storage area — called a space — for a defined category of data within the entire available disk capacity — called a pool.

Storage Spaces can allocate a space that is larger than the actual available physical capacity of the pool that the space is carved out of via thin provisioning. This keeps data from overflowing the space by freeing up capacity whenever files are deleted or an application decides that such capacity is no longer needed.

Windows Server 2012 also enables managing servers in groups and includes an automated tool to periodically check for proper server configuration.

System Center 2012
This management suite offers new tools to better handle closely related cloud environments and virtual data centers, and has expanded the products it can manage to include some of the virtual environments of rivals Citrix and VMware.

The platform includes broad support for managing smartphones based on Microsoft’s phone OS, but also those from Apple and from a range of vendors that base their phones on Android.

The Virtual Machine Manager, Orchestration Manager and Operations Manager can combine to make management of virtual environments simpler. For instance, the management suite streamlines configuring virtual machines to pick up the function of others when they go down so help desk workers can perform the task without escalating.

In a practical sense, System Center can give developers the capability to create and tear down virtual machines for their test environments within parameters set by network executives.

One downside is that upgrading to System Center 2012 requires a lot of network prep as well as education to learn what other Microsoft products are required in order for the various modules to work.

Buying Yammer
Microsoft spent $1.2 billion this year to buy Yammer as a way to beef up social networking and collaboration in its SharePoint, Office, Dynamics CRM, Lync and Skype platforms.

When its integration is completed over the next few years Yammer will add tracking of conversation threads and enterprise search to these applications, aggregate news feeds, manage documents and unify user identities.

Yammer is already available with Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud offering and will gradually permeate the company’s other collaboration and productivity platforms, the company says.

With the purchase Microsoft has bought the tools it needs to set itself up well in support of new ways corporations do business using tools that end users have become familiar with via their use of consumer social networks.

Targeting botnets
Microsoft did itself proud this year disrupting the Nitol botnet with a combination of technical and legal innovation, as well as seizing servers belonging to the worst instances of the Zeus botnet.

These efforts represent the fourth and fifth times Microsoft has intervened to shut down or a least temporarily cripple criminal malware enterprises.

The company’s Digital Crimes Unit started its aggressive action in 2010 and continued steadily since then. While its work won’t halt online abuses, its proven commitment to causing periodic significant damage to them does make criminal activity more difficult, and that steady opposition helps raise the bar for criminals hoping to enter the game.

The effort sends a message to other criminals that Microsoft might strike them at any time, says Richard Boscovich, assistant general counsel for the DCU.

WRONG
Euro browser flap

Microsoft failed to live up to an agreement that it would display a Windows screen giving users the option to pick Internet Explorer or some other browsers.

While Microsoft says the problem was caused by a technical glitch and has worked to correct it, it’s still facing down a possible $7 billion fine from European Union regulators. While Microsoft would likely survive the hefty penalty, it’s really a case of the company shooting itself in the foot. It is also damaging its reputation in not only Europe where customers were directly affected, but worldwide where end users heard about the case and adjusted their opinion of the company accordingly.

Windows Phone
The launch of Windows Phone 8 this fall revealed an operating system that met with generally good reviews and a phone — Nokia’s Lumia 920 — that shows it off to good advantage.

The problem here is that it comes so late after the iPhone and Android phones have dominated the market. The company must now dedicate itself to a long-term effort to scratch its way up from 2.6% of the market, according to IDC estimates, to something more significant.

IDC thinks Microsoft will succeed in that goal by claiming 11.4% of the market in 2016 — a terrific boost. But the company leaves a lot of smartphone money on the table by coming out so late with a compelling product.

Windows Phone 8 itself may pan out to be a winner, but the overall handling of Windows Phone to date racks up as a loss. And with Microsoft’s desire to link all its mobile platforms, a slow start for Windows phone hobbles that larger effort.

Licensing hikes
Microsoft boosted by 15% the fees it charges for licenses that allow users to access servers, squeezing more money out of customers while still giving them a better deal than the alternative.

This is likely good for Microsoft because it means more revenues, but it’s just another reason for business customers to carp about being gouged for software.

Corporate employees are moving toward use of multiple devices in the workplace, making licenses based on numbers of users attractive rather than licenses based on individual devices. Even with the price hike, many customers will wind up paying less for user client access licenses (CAL) than for device CALs. But that won’t eradicate the bad taste from their mouths.

Fanned Flame
The complex Flame espionage malware that infected Iranian government computers earlier this year was in part enabled by a Microsoft security snafu.

A key element of Flame called for exploiting weaknesses of the MD5 hashing algorithm. Microsoft had urged in 2008 that network administrators and certificate authorities stop using the hash because researchers had discovered how to exploit it.

Microsoft officially disallowed its use in 2009 but failed to weed it out of its own products, particularly Terminal Server Licensing Service. Researchers figured out how to compromise MD5 using what they call collision attacks to obtain fraudulent certificates that are accepted as real. This allowed attackers to send malware that victim machines accepted as authenticated Microsoft updates.


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Windows RT users happy with the device, so far

Despite an unending stream of FUD being hurled at the Surface tablet, people who have bought it seem pretty enamored with their purchase, according to reviews piling up on BestBuy.com and Staples.

Microsoft launched the Surface tablet in its retail stores, all 65 of them, before expanding to Best Buy (1,900 stores total) and Staples (1,400 stores) earlier this month.

So far, sentiments for the device are fairly positive. On Best Buy’s website, the Windows RT tablet sports a 4.7 out of 5 rating, based on 28 customer reviews. Only one customer was unhappy with the device and rated it one out of five stars.

“No Outlook so not full MS Office, all other tablets have version of word, excel, and powerpoint, so very disappointing,” wrote customer gates77. He liked screen customization, but also noted “Battery life wasn’t to [sic] good and typecover isn’t as good as some logitech keyboards. Can’t load any of my windows 7 programs.”

The most popular feature about Surface RT seems to be Windows 8. “Windows 8 runs like a charm, the Windows Apps Store is growing by the day and I am able to use all my favorite apps such as iHeartRadio, NY Times, USA Today, Kayak, Netflix, Endgadget, eBay, ESPN…” wrote Cricketer from New York on Staples.com.

“The live tiles are a great innovation,” wrote Philipm785 of Atlanta. “They provide genuinely useful information without having to launch the apps and the multiple sizes and custom groupings that can be easily scrolled and zoomed are way easier to get around than the multiple screens of tiny uniform icons you get on iOS.”

The hardware is also receiving kudos. “It’s a perfect laptop replacement for those who don’t need lot of processing power. Don’t wait for the surface pro. The battery life is all day,” wrote desiboy of New York on BestBuy.com.

“I gave away my Android tablet after using this for a while,” wrote MZach of NC. “The keyboard and touchpad are unobtrusive but there when you need them and the keyboard has cursor keys!”

Even people giving 5-star reviews have complaints, include volume output, the “primitive” email app, lack of apps and x86 support, Flash support in IE10, and the price itself.

It’s encouraging to see, but I’m actually not totally surprised. Early adopters tend to be enthusiasts. As it moves beyond the early adopter stage and away from Microsoft enthusiasts into the mass market, that score will drop as more cons pile up. We’ll see what people say when the much more expensive x86 models arrive next year.

 


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Tutorial on Using Windows 8

The first time I sat in front of the Windows 8 interface, I have to admit I was not thrilled; no Start button, I couldn’t find the control panel, things just weren’t what I was used to. That was over two years ago in the early adopter program for Windows 8, and now when I use Windows XP or Windows 7, I find it very inefficient to “have to click through so many menus” to find and do basic stuff.

The focus of this article is to share with you not simply how to make Windows 8 work like Windows XP/Windows 7 “the old way” (which I will go through and give you tips on how to find stuff and configure stuff to work the old way), but instead to really focus on how to do things better and more easily, effectively helping you shortcut the learning process that makes Windows 8 actually extremely easy and efficient to use.

First of all, some basic terminology and “old way” of finding things so that I can take you through Windows 8 in a way you have learned how to use Windows. As I’m sure you are aware, Windows 8 no longer has the “Start Button” at the bottom left of the screen. Instead, Microsoft has the “Windows 8 Style Menu” (that they formally called the Metro style menu, until Microsoft was informed Metro Style was copyrighted, so they’re just calling it the Windows 8 Style menu). This is the menu that Windows comes up with.

If you are in the middle of an application (browser, Word, or any other app) and you want to get back to the menu, on a tablet, you press the “Home” button (usually a physical button on the bottom middle of the tablet device) or from a keyboard system, you press the “Windows-key.”

The “start button” for the most part (the thing that gives you access to the Control Panel, shutdown/restart, etc) is called the “Charm” and it pops up on a touchscreen tablet when you swipe your thumb from right to left on the right side of the screen (basically swiping the charm menu out from the right edge and into your screen of view). On a keyboard system, the charm menu pops up when you move the move cursor all the way to the right bottom of the screen.

From the charm menu, you can click on the top most icon (“search”) and it shows you all of your applications installed (this would be similar to doing a Start/All Programs in Windows 7). You’ll see the search bar (circled in red) and on the left you can scroll through all of your apps.

When you search/find the app you want or simply just scroll through the apps off this Charm/Search view, you can right-click the application, and at the bottom of the screen you are given options to Pin to Start, which adds the app to your Windows 8 Style Menu (THIS is a good idea as it puts a shortcut on your main menu screen so that every time you press the Home button or press the Windows-key, your apps show up on the main menu). You can also Pin to Start things like Control Panel, Command Prompt, Run, etc. I usually Pin everything I usually use/access to the Start which makes it easy for me to just go back to the main Windows 8 style menu to launch my apps!

Note: You’ll also see when you right click an app, you can also Pin to Taskbar (this pins to the old Windows 7 style taskbar at the bottom of the “Desktop” screen). I used to Pin stuff to the Taskbar, but now that more and more apps are coming out with Windows 8 menu icons (like Office 2013, SkyDrive, Box.net, Real Player, etc), I no longer find myself working from the older Win7 “taskbar.” This is one of those crutches you can continue to use, or just move into the 21st Century and start using the native Windows 8 menu.

Note: You’ll also see when you right click an app, at the bottom of the screen you can choose to run the app as an Administrator, uninstall the app, find the file/application location. These are helpful “things” we used occasionally in Win7 in the past that you now have shortcuts to run.

Another option off the Charm Menu (when you move your mouse cursor to the bottom right, or swipe your thumb right to left off the right edge of a tablet) is the Settings options (the bottom-most option on the charm) when you click on Settings…

…this is where a LOT of common things are found, such as Control Panel…

…Power (where you choose to shutdown/restart the computer/device), Network (where you select the WiFi connection you want to connect to), Change PC Settings (where you can change other things that are not in the Control Panel like desktop background, the photo you associate to your logon…

…add printers, etc).

Basically click on this Settings place and you’ll get to a lot of things you may normally access for configuration.

Okay, so with the basics under your belt, here’s where you learn to be a Windows 8 person and not a WinXP/Win7 person trying to run Windows 8. Instead of moving your cursor to pop up the charm to then click on Search to then find your application, or instead of moving your cursor to pop up the charm to then click Settings to then go to the Control Panel…you would do one of two things. If you are on a Tablet (or a keyboard-based Win8 device), ADD all of your apps, control panel, etc. to your Windows 8 style menu. It’ll take you a couple minutes to right click and “Pin to Start” all of your apps and utilities, but once they are pinned, you will almost never have to go fiddle with the charm thing. You’ll just press the Home button (on a tablet) or press the Windows key (on a keyboard-based system) and from the menu, click/tap the app and you run the app. To “switch” to another app, press the Home button or press the Windows key and click/tap the other app you want to run. All apps stay in memory; you just “toggle” between apps by simply pressing the Home button or pressing the Windows key to get to your apps.

Note: On a keyboard system, you can still Alt-Tab between apps, so toggling between apps is really easy. No more Start/Programs to get to applications. No need to Charm/Settings/Control Panel to get to the Control Panel if you simply pinned the Control Panel onto your Windows 8 style main menu!

So what happens if you want to access an app that you did not pin to your menu? On a keyboard-based system, at the Windows 8 Menu, just start typing a few letters of the app or function you want to do, and the “search” starts working immediately. For example, at the Windows 8 menu, if I start typing the letters n-o-t-e-p, the search bar will appear in the upper right and it’ll zero in on the Notepad application on the left.

Assuming the app is highlighted on the left, just press the Enter key any time and it’ll launch that app, no key clicking, nothing extra. If it pops up several apps with n-o-t-e-p, then either keep typing to zero in on “the app” you want and press Enter to launch, or you can arrow around/tap-touch/click on the app name on the left side to select “the app” you want. Fiddle with this, but effectively this is a very quick way to launch apps that may not be on your Windows 8 menu (yet).

If I start typing w-o-r-d, if I have Microsoft Word on the system, it’ll show me Word, or e-x-c-e-l will give me the option of launching Excel. Or even things like p-r-i-n-t-e-r will pop up under Settings the option for me to “Add a Printer,” or n-e-t under search settings will show me options like “Connect to a Network.”

Between Pinning things to Start and simply typing a few letters of something, I can launch apps, run utils, add printers, and do things on a Win8 system FASTER than what I thought was super efficient in WinXP or Win7. This was the trick to making Windows 8 easy to use.

Now that you have the navigation thing figured out, go to the Windows Store and download “apps” for your most common things you do, so things like there are Box.com apps, Acrobat reader apps, Picture viewers, Real Media Player app, etc.

Note: When you are in the store looking for apps, as much as you can scroll through the “Popular” apps or “Top free” apps it shows you on screen, if you wanted to “search” for an app to download, it’s not intuitive how to search for an app. The way to search for an app is when you are in the Store, pull up the “charm” thing (move mouse to the bottom right, or on a tablet, swipe your right thumb right to left to have the “charm” menu on the right side pop out and then use the “search” function in the charm). So just as you “searched” your apps earlier in this blog to find stuff on your local computer, when you are in the Store app and do a search, it’ll now search for apps in the Store (ie: searching for Acrobat, or Box, or Alarm Clock, or USA Today or the like).

When you install the app, it shows up on your Windows 8 Style menu. Simply clicking the app launches the application. However, from your Windows 8 Style menu, you might want to move your most commonly used apps to the left side of your menu so they are visible to you more frequently when you pop up the Windows 8 menu. To move the app with a mouse/keyboard, just click and hold down the mouse button down and “drag” the app to the left. On a touch tablet, you touch the app with your finger and then slide the app “down” and then to the left. This took me a while to figure out as I logically tried to push the app with my finger and immediately drag to the left which would tend to just launch the app. The trick is to touch the app with your finger, drag down a bit, then to the left to move it around! Move any non-commonly used apps from the left side over to the right side so they are out of your way.

Many times apps take up two spaces on the menu. I hate that. I’d rather have all of my apps as the small 1-square wide icon. All you do is right-click the app icon and at the bottom it’ll show you “larger” or “smaller” to make the icon a different size. Some have this option to make small icons larger. Oddly, you cannot tag multiple icons and make them all “Smaller” at the same time, you have to right click and “make smaller” one by one. It takes a few seconds to do, but buys you back more real estate on your Windows 8 menu to get more apps 1 click away to run. (Note: if you have a touch tablet, some of these first time configurations are BEST off doing with a mouse. I would usually plug a USB mouse into my tablet and run through some of these basic right-click configuration things, or drag/drop icon things as it is a LOT faster with a mouse. Everything “can” be done with your finger on a touch screen; it’s just not as efficient if you have a lot to configure/setup).

When you are in a Windows 8 app, you likely find there are no application configuration options, settings, things you can do with the app that you have in Windows XP or Windows 7 apps might have found as Tools/Options, or Options/Settings. With Windows 8, apps typically DO have configuration settings, you just have to know how to find them. Here’s the trick, app settings are in the Charm/Settings on Windows 8. Launch and sit in the Windows 8 application, and then with a touch tablet, swipe your right thumb from right to left off the left edge of the tablet screen, and press Settings; with a keyboard system, move your mouse cursor to the bottom right to pull up the Charm menu, then click Settings. With the Charm/Settings exposed, you’ll see configuration settings for that app!

Also, when you are in a Windows 8 application, there are frequently more options when you “swipe down” from the top of the tablet, or “swipe up” from the bottom of the tablet screen (or on a keyboard-based system, you position your mouse cursor at the top of the screen where a bar appears, or you move the mouse cursor at the top of the screen and right-click). As an example, when I’m in the Internet Explorer in Windows 8 and want to have the Address Bar appear, or I want to switch between IE “tabs”, things like the below pop up and give you additional application options…

For applications on your Windows 8 menu, there’s also this thing called “Live Tile,” in which the icon changes screens, like the way the CNN news live tile shows you the latest news and flips through things, or the Photos “Live Tile” flips through your pictures. You can turn Live Tile off (again, right click the icon, choose to turn Live Tile on/off). I find it annoying to have the thing flip through stuff when I don’t remember what icon is what, but it’s really your call.

To flip through running apps, you can Alt-Tab from a keyboard-based system, or from either a mouse or touch tablet, move the cursor to the upper left hand corner and little tiles of the running apps show in the left margin of the screen. You can right-click and “close” any of those running apps. I used to close apps all the time as I’m old school and after running an app and don’t need it anymore, I close it. But after a while, I just leave the apps running. They don’t take up processing power and with 4-8GB of RAM in my systems these days I have plenty of memory. Every now and then I reboot my device/tablet/system but on occasion, and I will run my finger to the upper left and choose apps to close.

And a hidden thing in the bottom left corner of the screen is a “start”-type button thing that when right clicked will show you a list of common tasks like Event Viewer, Disk Management, Command Prompt, Task Manager, Control Panel, Windows Explorer, Run, etc. It’s sometimes helpful to use that, although these days with most stuff on my Windows 8 Menu or I just type a few letters, I don’t bother with these various other menu things, but just FYI…

Logging Out of a system is done by click on your name from the Windows 8 Style menu as shown in the Figure here:

To shutdown or restart the computer, you can navigate the menus (like Charm, Settings, Shutdown), or what I did was create a Windows 8 style menu “app” that I simply click that’ll shut down my computer. You effectively create a “shortcut” on the “desktop” and then you “Pin to Start.” That’ll add the shortcut to your Windows 8 menu. Here’s what it looks like:

1) From the Windows 8 menu, click Desktop to switch to the old Windows 7 style desktop
2) Right click on the desktop and choose New | Shortcut
3) When prompted for the Location of the item, enter in c:\windows\system32\shutdown.exe /p as shown below, then click Next

4) For the name of the Shortcut, type in something like Shutdown, then click Finish
5) Right click on the shortcut that is on your desktop and choose Pin to Start

You now have an icon on your Windows 8 menu that allows you to shutdown your system with a single click.

You can change the command syntax in #3 above to restart the computer by making that c:\windows\system32\shutdown.exe /r or /h at the end (instead of /r) will hibernate a system.

Oh, and one more thing – so once I tricked out my Windows 8 menu with all of the icons I wanted, how do I transfer my icons, menu items, etc. to other systems? Microsoft came out with this thing called the User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) that is the new generation of “roaming profiles.” However, unlike roaming profiles of the past where EVERYTHING was moved from system to system whether you wanted it or not (ie: registry settings, apps, icons, junk on your desktop, etc), with UE-V profiles, you can specifically just note to “roam” your Windows 8 menu. Microsoft did a case study on my organization’s experience with UE-V [link download].

More information on UE-V is available on the Microsoft site. UE-V isn’t free; it’s part of what Microsoft calls its Desktop Optmization Pack (MDOP) that includes a bunch of other tools like RemoteApp, App-V (application virtualization), VDI, etc. Any case, you might find your organization owns MDOP as part of the Software Assurance for Windows client licensing, and if so, explore UE-V where you can roam your Win8 menu from your desktop, to your laptop, to your tablet, to your VDI guest session, to your Remote Desktop (terminal server) guest session, etc.

Hopefully, this is a place to start. I REALLY fought the whole Windows 8 menu thing for a long time, even filed several “bug reports” during the early adopter program noting that the whole Windows 8 menu was a major “bug,” although with a bunch of these tips and tricks I’ve noted in this article, I think you’ll find this whole Windows 8 menu thing to actually be a LOT easier to use and definitely faster than having to fiddle through a bunch of menus.

Several other postings I’ve done on Windows Server 2012, Exchange 2013, Intune, System Center, etc. Just click the Next Article or Previous Article buttons on this blog post to get to other articles I’ve covered, or click here to see a listing of all of the various blog posts I’ve done over the years. Hopefully this information is helpful!


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