Four Tips for Navigating the Windows 8 Start Screen and Desktop Interfaces

By Woody Leonhard

Part of Windows 8 All-in-One For Dummies Cheat Sheet

If you’ve ever used Windows (like, oh, a billion other people on the planet), you’ll be confused by Windows 8’s Jekyll and Hyde interface. On the one hand, Dr. Jekyll’s old-fashioned desktop looks and acts like all the other Windows desktops you’ve ever seen. On the other hand, Mr. Hyde’s Start screen goes great with fingers but looks a lot like a telephone screen. Intentionally.

When you start Windows 8, you end up staring at the Start screen, which looks completely different from any kind of Windows that’s come before.

Getting around is harder than it should be, but you can solve almost all of your navigational problems by remembering four little points:

  • With a few exceptions, the desktop and the Start screen are completely separate. They work differently and act differently.

  • If you’re inside a Windows 8 app (you can tell because it takes up the whole screen), or on the old-fashioned desktop, you can get to the Start screen by pressing the Windows button on your tablet or the Windows key on your keyboard.

  • If you’re on the Start screen, you can get to the desktop by tapping or clicking the Desktop tile.

  • There’s a handful of moderately useful shortcuts on the right side of the screen (both the Start screen and the desktop) called the Charms bar — who knows why. To bring up the Charms bar with your fingers, swipe from the right. To bring up the Charms bar with your keyboard, hold down the Windows key and press C.

If you can’t find a program but know that it’s there, go to the Start screen and just type the name of the program. Windows brings up a list of programs that match what you type.