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Using Windows 8 and the Metro Interface

Using keyboard shortcuts and mouse instead of touch

The Windows 8 desktop works surprisingly well with touch – even for tiny icons like the volume control in the notification bar or the close button on a window. That’s because Windows is very good at guessing what you were trying to press (and because the close button is just a little bit bigger than it used to be). But perhaps equally surprising is that the Start menu is very easy to use with a keyboard.

The Windows button on your keyboard opens the Start screen, so you can quickly go look at live tiles. But it also jumps you back to where you were, so you can use it to flip from the desktop to the Start screen – and back again, without having to hunt through the Alt-Tab list or move windows around.

The keyboard is also great for navigating the Start screen, as long as your PC has a full set of navigation keys laid out efficiently. Home and End take you to the beginning and end of the Start menu. Page Up and Page Down jump through the Start menu a screenful at a time. The arrow keys move you up down or sideways one tile at a time, but Ctrl-right arrow and Ctrl-left arrow move you to the next or previous group. The better your keyboard layout is the better that works. If you have to press a function key to get End or Page Up, it can be far too fiddly.

Moving one tile at a time with the arrow keys is slow; the scroll bar disappears when you stop moving the mouse.

Moving one tile at a time with the arrow keys is slow; the scroll bar disappears when you stop moving the mouse.

With a mouse, the Start screen is slow and tedious to use. You can’t swipe sideways, you just have to click painfully through a huge horizontal scrollbar. Hopefully, we’ll soon see drivers to enable horizontal scrolling by swiping along the bottom of a touch pad.

Navigating on the desktop is best done with a mouse, just like it is in Windows 7 (although all your keyboard shortcuts still work in the same way – unless you’re searching). With a mouse the new Charm bar is more of a cut-down new Start menu. Hover the mouse in the very bottom left corner of the screen to open the mouse version of the Charm bar  – which is fast and easy once you get into the habit of just roughly swiping your mouse into the corner rather than trying to position it precisely over a button.

Put the mouse bar in the bottom left to see the Charm menu.

Put the mouse bar in the bottom left to see the Charm menu.

If you’re used to other versions of Windows, it’s confusing that clicking the Start button in that corner of the taskbar doesn’t open the Charm bar. You have to get used to the fact that it’s the same as pressing the Windows button on the keyboard and it opens the Start screen. And the Charms open in a sidebar all the way over on the right side of the screen. That’s as far away as you can get from where your mouse pointer is.