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Windows 8 - Navigation, Tiles, Apps and Charm Bar

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers



  • Recommended by TR
Windows 8 16


Our Score:


Windows 8 Navigation: the Start Screen

Remember the Start menu you know and love? For Windows 8, it’s now the home screen. Like any mobile OS, Windows 8 has a ‘home screen’, which is the default when you start up, and which the Windows key on your keyboard or Windows button on your tablet drops you straight back to.

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Mind you, those are far from the only ways to get there. You can also move your cursor to the bottom-left corner and click the resulting popup, or call up a sort of universal task bar called the (retch) Charm Bar by swiping out from the side with touch or moving your cursor to the top or bottom right corners when using a mouse, where it’s the middle ‘button’. And that’s not even talking keyboard shortcuts.

From the Start screen, you’ll see your most commonly used tiles, panning to the right. Similar to Android, you can (two-finger) swipe to move between sections of this panoramic home screen. Or, if you don’t have touch, just move the mouse to the screen’s side to pan, use the scroll bar at the bottom, or use your mouse’s scroll wheel.

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If you instead wish to see all your tiles on a single screen, you can simply pinch out using touch, or click in the lower right corner with the mouse. This leads to a minimised view of all Groups/tiles on the Start screen, which Microsoft calls Semantic Zoom.

Windows 8 Navigation: Tiles

Just like on competing mobile operating systems, you can re-arrange Win8 tiles to your liking. Simply click/touch and hold to then drag the tile where you like. Drag it down to the top or bottom of the screen and you’ll get the same minimised view just described, handy for moving a tile to a far-flung Group. One nice little touch is that you can leave ‘gaps’ where there is no tile, or even isolate a single tile from its peers.

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Tiles can of course be added and removed from the Windows 8 Start screen. To do this, open All Apps by right-clicking (to ‘right-click using touch, simply press until the circle appears) anywhere on the Start screen or two-finger swiping up from the bottom. This brings you to a list of all available apps, shortcuts, and accessories. Here you’ll find many Windows 7 stalwarts like NotePad, Calculator, and Paint. Now right-click on any of these to pin/unpin the from the Start screen.

Tiles on the Start screen are arranged in blocks called Groups. Groups can be a single tile or up to four small tiles/three large rectangular tiles wide. You start off with two Groups by default but can add more by simply dragging a tile to a blank area to the side of an existing Group.Windows 8 11

You can name groups, making them a bit like wide-open, humongous folders. To do this, simply right-click while in the zoomed-out view.

Windows 8 Navigation: Apps

Again much like Android or iOS, you don’t actually need to close Windows 8 apps the way you would regular X86 programs. When you exit a running app or open a new one, they suspend in the background, ready to pick up from where you left off at a moment’s notice.

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To switch between ‘active’ apps, you can either click/touch the Start screen’s top left-hand corner, which will switch between apps sequentially - or simply move down from this corner with the mouse (swipe out and back in without breaking contact using a finger) to call up a switching panel that’s very reminiscent of the one found in Android Ice Cream Sandwich and up. From here you can 'pull apps out' to maximise them.

Classic Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts, such as Alt plus Tab or F4, will also still work to switch between or permanently close apps. Remember when wanting to get more options from an app: just like in Windows 7, right-click/touch is your friend.

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Searching for a program or app is as easy as ever in Windows 8. Simply call up the Charm Bar (by swiping out from the side with touch or moving your cursor to the top or bottom right corners when using a mouse) and press the familiar magnifying glass to get started.

Windows 8 Navigation: Controls

Most of the controls for Windows 8, such as volume, screen brightness, keyboard launguage and the like, can be accessed from the Charm Bar. Merely go to its Settings icon to alter almost anything.


March 1, 2012, 2:26 am

Oh dear god, it looks like something from a primary school or creche. Simplistic and childish. How is this supposed to garner support from business users?


March 1, 2012, 11:03 am

"How is this supposed to garner support from business users?"

By continuing to offer a desktop environment just like Windows 7. While the Metro interface is the default interface, there is an option to switch to desktop view.

Microsoft aren't entirely stupid - they know that there are advanced users and casual/novice users. Casual users will love the simple interface, and the fact that all the complicated stuff is hidden (and so will a few tech support agents too I imagine...). Power users (and businesses) can use the desktop view instead, just like they always used to. Everyone's a winner.


March 1, 2012, 2:41 pm

Although the desktop still lives in Windows 8, Microsoft have no problem forcing changes loathed by their business customer base.

Take the ribbon bar, which lowered the barrier to new and casual users, while leaving lost and frustrated many corporate users with a decade of experience making old Excel do what they wanted.

The ribbon bar is bad design from a human interaction standpoint: the 2-dimensional pattern of icons and text is more difficult to quickly scan than a menu's simple and static vertical list of words (a kind of 'speed reading' we are mostly very good at), and furthermore the ribbon layout changes with the width of the window (in sometimes quite surprising ways), so we tend to end up having to search for the function each time rather than developing muscle memory. And the old, efficient Alt-I + R type shortcuts - while they still work - now lack underlying logic so are hard to learn and remember.

Not yet met a corporate user who liked it (home users, yes; reviewers, yes... but then it looks nice, and makes more of the functionality immediately visible, and reviewers tend to work through the features and play around (going 'with the grain'), in contrast to a task-focused corporate Excel user who might find accomplishing complex project X suddenly got harder).

Nevertheless MS persists and offers no alternative.

Jon Williamson

March 1, 2012, 3:54 pm

@simonm: I am a corporate user of Office who likes the ribbon bar ...
Frequently used functions are obviously easy to find and as you said keyboard shortcuts work. Less frequently used features are now much easier to find and use...

Interfaces develop. Users lag, but we do follow...


March 2, 2012, 4:38 pm

One word comes to mind - schizophrenic. Is this O/S trying to do too much, trying to be too many things for too many types of users and for both PC and tablet? It will take something pretty spectacular to pull me away from Win 7 at the moment and I just don't see it yet.


October 17, 2012, 10:09 pm

I know this probably falls outside the remit of this review, but is there any chance you could give us some numbers like boot time before and after installing Windows 8, file copy time before and after and maybe a single game to compare fps before and after? I know some other sites have done this and I would find it quite useful.

Also, thanks for the in-depth review too.


October 17, 2012, 10:17 pm

I think what they have attempted to do is a step forward. A universal UI across a range of devices, Xbox, tablet, phone and PC is great, it creates a distinct eco-system.

However, the vast majority of desktop users don't have or want touch control. Traditional win7 desktop mode is preferable for desktop computing. This should have been the default UI for windows 8 on a desktop PC, complete with the start button in the bottom left. By all means the option to switch to the metro shell could have been included within the task bar, giving the user choice and complete control, but to force it on a desktop is poor.

Bottom line, the metro UI for desktops is far to basic, a waste of screen space, un-intuitive - a step backwards in key areas and nothing else I use my PC for, be that web pages, photoshop or word will match this blocky, oversized, shallow UI they are forcing upon us. I think they got it right with win7. I predict Win8 with metro as the lead UI (on desktops) will fail like vista did, although at least Vista became good a few years in.

Metro is good for phones, tablets, and lean back entertainment (Xbox) but not lean forward detailed work we use desktops for.


October 17, 2012, 11:39 pm

Your con: "The cohesion is broken when running older software"

Surely this needs to be a 'pro' - this is the whole concept of W8!

Wake up and smell the coffee ;)


October 18, 2012, 1:03 am

@ Bahkti: I agree entirely...it does an air of 'Fisher Price' about it, doesn't it?

Whilst I appreciate & understand the move to touch interfaces on mobile devices, I am at a loss as to how anyone would want such an interface on a desktop machine. I'm a bit OCD when it comes to fingerprints on my desktop monitor, but I doubt many people would want a touch interface in the long term (once the initial novelty has worn off).

Perhaps my scepticism stems from the fact that I'm physically disabled & don't actually have the use of my hands; I can use a keyboard & trackball using a mouth-stick, I can't use a capacitive touchscreen. Although Windows 8 doesn't preclude the use of a keyboard and mouse (yet), Microsoft are definitely taking the OS & programs in another direction.

Windows 8 & its 'Modern' interface is a thinly veiled attempt by Microsoft to push their customers towards Microsoft mobile devices, & it really shouldn't be tolerated. I'm sure MS see Apple raking in the cash from their 'walled garden' ecosystem, and just want the lever their way into a similar revenue stream, any way they can! I'll be staying with Windows 7 for as long as I possibly can! At the moment my only reason for stick with any version of Windows it its support for games. Lets hope Valve succeed in stimulating the Linux gaming market!

Chris01 1

October 18, 2012, 2:21 am

I agree that users usually lag behind new interfaces, but this lag translates to million$. What if some users lag past Windows 8, like some did with Vista or other OSs. I for one, feel really comfortable with Win7 for now. I can hardly find a reason to change to something that different right now.

Martin Daler

October 18, 2012, 2:35 am

"By continuing to offer a desktop environment just like Windows 7"

So if I understand, the thing which will persuade business to move from Windows 7 to 8 is that the latter can emulate the former, make it like they never made the switch?

I'm missing something here, I just know it, but can't quite place my finger on it!

Martin Daler

October 18, 2012, 2:48 am

I thought icons were supposed to replace words; intuitive enough to comprehend at a glance, international, and language-free. And yet, ever since, icons all have to have words stuck next to them to, er, tell us what the icons stand for - kind of defeats the point?


October 18, 2012, 3:34 pm

just tell me one thing:

when will MS backport DirectX 11.1 to Windows 7?

that is all i need to know.


October 18, 2012, 5:48 pm

Thanks for the comment Pbryanw, glad you liked the review.

There is a very good chance, as I was planning to do a lot more features and comparisons in the near future, including a little more in-depth number diving :)
Cheers for the feedback!


October 18, 2012, 5:51 pm

Agree completely J4cK1505 - as I mention in the review, Win8's desktop mode should have been more traditional. But at least with a little modding/fiddling/app-ing it comes close...


October 18, 2012, 5:51 pm

No thanks, I prefer hot chocolate ;)


October 18, 2012, 5:53 pm

Apple has patents on all the intuitive icons ;)


October 18, 2012, 10:11 pm

I don't think it's going to happen straight away as it's a way to 'sell' Windows 8 to gamers... Down the line? Probably, but maybe Direct3D 12 will be a Windows 8/RT/Server 2012 exclusive.


October 26, 2012, 1:57 pm

Installing now. I think this is a real game changer. I have been using iPhone and iTunes for about three years now and cant wait to get away from them. Yes the iphone is great but I use a PC for work and home. And now I am not limited to one hardware manufacturer. All I need now is a new touch-screen monitor for my old PC, any recomendations? Under £150 would be good. Set yourself free!


October 27, 2012, 12:30 am

@J4cK1505 - completely agree on all counts and couldn't put it better myself.

Even if it runs faster on the same hardware (and quite frankly, power-saving isn't a concern on my mains-powered desktop, nor is graphics processing, so I'm quite happy to use Aero - the exclusion of which seems to be given as a major plus in reviews), I wouldn't be interested until there's a patch that allows the user to disable the "Modern UI" and just live with a desktop and Start button, Windows 7 style. Like the saying goes: "The customer is always right".

I can see and applaud Microsoft's effort at a convergent OS, and trying to really attempt something new....but I still won't be purchasing! W7 works just fine thanks. Even if I had a touchscreen monitor (no doubt it'd be 16:9 unlike my Dell U2410) I wouldn't be wanting to stop and wipe oily fingerprints off it every 2 minutes! What's fine for a tablet isn't necessarily fine for a desktop PC.


October 27, 2012, 12:45 am

I'll stick with Windows 7...it's free enough for me (and literally free since I don't have to pay anything since I already have it).

It won't stop me from buying an Android phone.

Not sure you'd get a decent IPS monitor for under £150 (and if you don't want an IPS monitor....once you've had one you never go back to crappy old TN!)


November 3, 2012, 9:39 pm

I need to be familiar with Windows 8 so I can offer support to my customers who, if they upgrade their hardware, may find themselves with Windows 8 on their new machines. I tried using the release preview on an old desktop with an AMD Radeon graphics card. I eventually got everything else working bar the graphics card. Even the old soundblaster worked using the Windows XP original software (after all else failed!) but without a driver for the graphics card the resolution on the 22" HD monitor is terrible. How do I know if the retail version will have a native HD driver? AMD don't have one available yet. Ubuntu recognises everything (except the scanner) no problem and it's free!


December 14, 2012, 8:24 pm

I really want to like Windows 8 but I just can't. The desktop mode works pretty well but the lack of start button and the charms detract from the experience. The Metro interface is a big disappointment. The apps are all painfully slow to load and underpowered. They need to separate out the two faces of windows so you can sit comfortably in one or the other at your choice.


January 23, 2013, 8:15 am

i was struggling to identify the new features in windows 8 at once. It was so annoying to use it when you have no idea of new short keys and tricks to make your work easy. but once you know the short keys and other short cuts its has no many drawbacks in the Win 8 OS..
this is useful to get the short keys and some tips to use in windows 8


October 7, 2013, 7:16 pm

good article but please check your spelling. i got got confused on the third paragraph

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