Navigating your way around Windows 8


Ok, you’ve made a leap of faith. You’ve bought a new PC or upgraded to Windows 8. Now what? How do you accomplish the tasks you used to do in a previous operating system? Where is the desktop? Where is the Start Menu? What the heck are you looking at? What is this thingy over here. All good questions for someone looking at Windows 8 for the first time.

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers! I’d also like to point out that every image in this post is click-able. Click the image to see a full sized version for more detail.

The most important idea I can impress upon anyone using Windows 8 for the first time is the old familiar Start Menu is gone. It has been replaced by the Start Screen, or Metro if you followed Windows 8’s early development. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I believe the Windows 8 Start Screen is a huge improvement over the tried and true Start Menu of the past because it is not static. Programs can run within the Start Screen. It’s also highly customizable, and despite what many are saying it isn’t difficult to navigate between either the Desktop or the Start Screen.

Yes, there are differences in Windows 8, but they aren’t as drastic as you may have been led to believe. While things don’t appear as they did previously they are still there and in most cases easier to find and use. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is impossible to use. In my opinion it is the exact opposite – Windows 8 is easy to use, powerful, improved, and well thought out. I truly think you’ll feel the same after spending a short amount of time with Win8!

Windows 8 Navigation Glossary

It’s probably best that we are all on the same page as terms and names have changed, so let’s cover the basics…

Desktop – The classic Windows desktop we are used to, though now devoid of a Start Button and Start Menu. Legacy programs, along with system tools start and run from the desktop as they have in the past.


Screen corner – The areas of the device screen in far lower left, upper left, upper right, and lower right corners.

Start Screen – A dynamic replacement for the age old Start Menu and desktop gadgets. A place that functions as the starting point in Windows 8. The Start Screen is highly customizable and allows a user to install Apps and use those apps from within the Start Screen. Apps on the Start Screen can show live date such as weather, photos, emails, calendar events, CPU usage, etc.

Windows 8 Apps – programs designed to run within the new Start Screen.

Windows 8 Navigation

When you power up Windows 8 for the first time after setup you’ll be presented with a screen that looks similar to the one below. The exact layout may be slightly different as Windows 8 configures the screen for optimal viewing and function based on your display resolution.

Quite a bit different than what you are probably used to, but definitely more functional. Each box is called a Tile and each Tile represents a program. Tiles can be static or contain live information such as current weather, stock quotes, emails, etc. The Start Screen is also completely customizable, but we’ll save that for another article.


It’s all about the corners!

The main navigation method in Windows 8 involves the corners of the screen – each corner performs a different function or takes you to a different place – and these functions are consistent no matter where you are in the operating system or what you are doing.

The lower left corner in Windows 8

The most important of the corners for users of older Windows versions is the lower left. From the Start Screen moving your mouse to the lower left will cause a button representing the Desktop, unless you have a Metro Windows 8 app open, to appear and clicking that button will take you to the classic Desktop.

If you are at the Start Screen and have any other Metro Windows 8 Apps open moving your mouse to the lower left will cause a button representing the last App you used to appear and clicking it will return you to that App. In the image below I’ve returned to the Start Screen from the Photos App. Moving my mouse to the lower left corner brings up a button for the Photo App and clicking the button returns me to the Photos App.

If you find yourself using one of the Metro Windows 8 Apps you should know that they open full screen. This is a good thing – it allows you to have more screen real estate – and getting back to the Start Screen couldn’t be simpler.  Simply move your mouse to the lower left corner and the Start Screen button will appear allowing you to click it and return to the Start Screen!

You now know how the lower left corner “button” operates when on the Start Screen or in a Windows 8 App, but what about the Desktop? How do you get back to the Start Screen from there?

When you are at the classic Desktop there is obviously something missing. That something is the Start Orb, or button, we are all familiar with. It does not appear on the Taskbar in Windows 8, but remember I mentioned that the new Start Screen is a new and improved version of the old Start Menu?

So how do we get back to the Start Screen? Simply move your mouse to the lower left corner (where the old Start Orb would be) and the Start Screen button will appear allowing you to click it and return to the Start Screen! When on the Desktop the Start Screen button will always appear when you hover in the lower left corner no matter what programs you are running or what Apps are running on the Start Screen!

It sounds so much more complicated than it is in practice. Once you’ve spent a bit of time with Windows 8 you’ll be surprised at how truly simple it is.

The upper left corner in Windows 8

The upper left corner functions similarly to the lower left corner in that is shows a Desktop button if there are no Metro Windows 8 Apps running and if you have an open Windows 8 App(s) it will show the last one you accessed.

The image below shows me hovering my mouse in the upper left corner when no Windows 8 Apps are running.

This image shows me hovering my mouse in the upper left corner when the Windows 8 Weather App is running. Notice that when an App is running the button displays the last app you accessed.

 Windows 8 Actions common to both upper and lower left corners

As you can see the corners on the left offer the same functionality that the old Start button did, but now in multiple locations – no need to move the mouse as much to accomplish the same functions. There is, however, another action that can be performed anywhere but the classic Desktop. Simply move your mouse to either of the upper or lower left corners and after a button appears in your selected corner move the mouse toward the other corner (Up/Down). This will produce not only a Start Screen button at the bottom, but a list of every open Windows 8 App with the most recently accessed at the top. Very convenient if you go back and forth between apps or use multiple apps at the same time.

Windows 8 is Charming

That’s the basic knowledge you need to get around Windows 8 with ease, but there are four additional corner functions and first two are actually one and the same. Either right corner opens opens the Charms bar.

From the Charms Bar you can perform the following functions:

  • Search – Search Apps, Settings, and Files
  • Share – Use the built in sharing functions
  • Start – Return to the Start Screen
  • Devices – Control devices such as printers, monitors, and Bluetooth devices
  • Settings – Access the Control Panel, turn your computer off, or change basic computer settings

You may have asked yourself how do you get a Command Prompt or access other geeky tools – even if you haven’t it doesn’t hurt to know. Simply move your mouse to the lower left corner on either the Start Screen or Desktop and right click. You’ll get a nice little popup menu with a bevy of shortcuts to Command Prompt, Task Manager, Device Manager, etc.

The final handy shortcut that isn’t noticeable, or easily overlooked, is on the Desktop. If you remember back to the Vista and Windows 7 days Microsoft moved the Show Desktop button from the Quick Launch toolbar, which usually appeared to the left of the Taskbar in XP, to its’ own position on the far right of the Taskbar. It was obvious, but in Windows 8 there doesn’t appear to be a Show Desktop button to the right of the clock at all. Well it’s still there.

It still works as it did before (hover to peek at the Desktop and click to minimize everything and view the Desktop). An added benefit is the Charms Bar will open when you move your mouse to that area so you can easily move the mouse up and select an action from there also.

It all seems very complicated, but once you have Windows 8 it will make complete sense in a very short amount of time!

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About the Author

David Hartsock

Executive Editor/Owner/Admin of Daves Computer Tips and all-around good guy – Dave’s interest in computers began in the early 1980’s during the Apple II era. In the early 1990’s the PC began to replace proprietary and mainframe devices in Dave’s industry so he began to learn and experiment with the PC. Through DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and now Windows 10. Dave became the “go to” guy for friends, family, and coworkers with computer problems. Daves Computer Tips was born in 2006 in an effort to share these experiences with others in an easy to understand, plain English, form.

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