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Understanding the Devious Devices Charm in Windows 8.1

Most people go to the Windows 8.1 Metro Start screen, bring up the Devices charm, click on one of the offered entries, get an error message — You Can Only Play from Apps, for example — and figure the Devices charm is broken.

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Not so.

Unlike most of the other Charms, the Devices charm shows options that aren’t even remotely applicable in the specific context: Clicking or tapping Devices/Play will only play media if you’re in one of the tiled Metro media apps.

And, of course, if you’re in one of the Metro media apps, you don’t need a Devices charm to play a song or a video clip. Duh.

If you bring up a tiled app — say, the tiled, full-screen Metro Internet Explorer — you’re likely to see printer(s) attached to your computer, or your network, and more devices accessible to the app. In the case of IE, you can access all your printing devices: printers and other sorta-printer-like things, possibly including OneNote and Microsoft’s XPS Document writer (don’t ask — it isn’t worth your effort trying to figure out XPS).

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The tiled Internet Explorer is designed to work with the Devices list to print a web page. Similarly, Windows 8.1’s Photos app works with Devices to print photos. The precise procedure isn’t exactly obvious, but here’s how to print a picture in Photos:

  1. Open the tiled Photos app. Navigate to the photo you want to print and select it (tap or click it).

    If you forget to select a specific photo, the Device charm’s Printer option will tell you “This app can’t print right now,” instead of saying something like, “Choose a photo or photos for printing.” Really great human interface design, eh?

  2. Swipe from the right or hover your mouse in the upper-right corner of the screen (or hold down the Windows key and press C).

    The black carpet and the Charms bar appear.

  3. Choose the Devices charm.

    You see an abbreviated list of recently available printers, plus a few odds ’n ends.

  4. Choose the device you want to use to print.

    Windows shows you the print options screen, which can vary depending on the printer.

    image2.jpg
  5. Make any changes you like and then tap or click Print.

    The entire page prints.

As of this writing, with a few small exceptions — for example, setting up a second screen — the Devices charm doesn’t work with anything on the old-fashioned desktop.

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