Top 10 tips for navigating Windows 8 Metro

Moving around Windows 8 Metro isn't intuitive, so here are some pointers

Microsoft's radically new Windows 8 Metro interface promises fast, fluid interactions with applications, but it's not always clear how to perform relatively simple tasks.

The classic example: How do you turn off a Windows 8 machine?

The answer: swipe out the Charm menu from the right side of the screen, choose Settings, touch the power button, and choose Shut Down. Simple, yes?

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Windows 8's Metro interface is anchored by the Start screen, a collection of colored rectangles called tiles that are labeled with text to explain what they are. So the mail application says Mail and has a stylized envelope displayed on it. The tile to access the Windows store says Store on it and features a stylized shopping bag.

The Start screen stretches out horizontally and may take up several screens that can be scrolled by sliding a finger on a touch screen or left-clicking the arrow buttons in the bottom corners.

Metro is distinguished by its use of the full screen to display current applications. All the chrome of the navigation bars and systems tray so familiar in earlier versions of Windows are gone. Tools that serve these functions are hidden off-screen.

Some of these comprise the charms bar, a set of buttons hidden to the right of the screen. They can be called out with the swipe of a finger on a touch screen. These charms are labeled Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings.

Swipe the left side, and you get the applications bar, which displays a thumbnail of each running application. Pressing any one of them brings it to fill the main screen.

Those are the basics, but there's still a lot to know. Here are 10 tips for performing useful tasks in Windows 8 that you might never discover on your own. Tasks can be carried out using touch or mouse and keyboard.

1. Returning to the Start screen: It's easy to lose your way in Windows 8 when you're just learning it, and finding the Start screen can help re-anchor you. To find it using a touch screen, swipe out the Charms bar on the right and press the Start charm. With a mouse, click the bottom-left corner screen. You'll know it's ready for the click when a tiny image of the Start screen pops up. On a keyboard, press the Windows key.

2. Organizing the Start screen: The Start screen is made up of a large number of tiles, so separating them into categories makes it easier to find the ones you want. Drag tiles either with a finger or using a mouse and dropping related tiles near each other.

3. Naming groups of tiles: Zoom out on the Start screen to get an overall view of the Start screen tiles. This can be done using a two-fingered pinching gesture or clicking on the minus button in the lower right. Find the group you want to name, right-click on it and choose Name Group, type the name and press Enter. Or touch the group, choose Name Group and type in the name.

4. Pinning tiles: Not all applications are displayed on the Start screen. To add one, right-click or touch a blank spot on the Start screen and click or touch All Apps when it appears on the bottom. Right-click or touch the app you want to pin, then click or touch Pin to Start.

5. Displaying administrative tools: Right-click the mouse in the lower left corner. Or press the Windows key + X and the tools menu appears in the lower left. Or, while on the Start screen, press the Windows key + I, select Tiles, press Enter, press the space bar to change Show Administrative Bar to Yes. Administrative tool tiles will be pinned to the extreme right of the Start screen. Or swipe out the Charms bar, touch Settings, touch Tiles, flip the switch to Yes.

6. Search: In Windows 8, the Search charm can be used to search the system or, if it is invoked while in an application, to search the application. To search, access the Charms bar, choose Search and type in the search term. If you want to search the Start screen, just start typing your search term on the Start Screen. After your first keystroke, a search window appears. It will be searching apps by default, so if you want to search something else, you have to press or click on it.

7. Switching from app to app: When you have more than one app open, click in the upper right to reveal thumbnails of all active apps and click on the one you want. With touch, swipe out from the left side of the screen then back to the left side again without lifting your finger. That will reveal the thumbnails (this display is called the Switcher). Press the one you want.

8. Snapping apps: Metro supports displaying two apps at once, one in a narrow strip at either the right or left and one occupying the rest of the screen. The smaller one is said to be snapped to the side. To do so, type Windows key + . and it snaps on the right; press them again and it snaps to the left; do it again and it becomes full-screen. To switch between the snapped app and the main app, drag the vertical dividing bar between the two toward the center until the main app snaps to the other side.

9. Closing a Metro app: Metro apps idle in a low-power state in the background when not in use, but to shut them down, swipe from the top of the screen and, without lifting your finger (or releasing the left key if you're using a mouse), drag to the bottom. The app will first shrink and, as it reaches the bottom, will disappear.

10. Getting out of Metro: Had enough Metro? Press Alt + Tab and release when you get to the desktop.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

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