Switch between the Windows 8.1 Start screen to the Old-Fashioned Desktop

By Woody Leonhard

Get your computer going. You’re looking at the Metro Start screen, right? To get your desktop back when you’re in the Metro Start screen, just click or tap the big Desktop tile.

Returning to the Metro Start screen is easy — just do one of the following:

  • Click the Windows button in the lower-left corner of the old-fashioned desktop.

  • Press the Windows key on your keyboard or tap the Windows button on your tablet computer.

  • Click the Start charm on the Charms bar. The Charms bar is a small pane with a handful of icons, on the right. You access it by swiping the right edge of the screen until the Charms bar appears: Put your finger off the screen on the right side and drag it toward the center. The Start charm is in the middle.


If you can get from the old desktop to the Metro Start screen by pressing the Windows key, you’d think that you could go the other way — get from the Start screen to the old desktop — by pressing the Windows key. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. There’s a reason why, but it’s a bit complicated.

To summarize, to get from the Metro Start screen to the old-fashioned desktop, tap or click the Desktop tile. To get from the old-fashioned desktop to the tiled Start screen, press the Windows button or tap the Windows key on your tablet, or click the Start button in the lower-left corner of the old-fashioned desktop.

It’s visually perturbing: One second you’re on the (old-fashioned) Windows desktop; and the next second you’re playing with telephone buttons. The old desktop Start menu’s gone, and in its place is a big black hole. The Metro Start screen doesn’t act anything like the venerable Start menu. But, from Microsoft’s point of view, that’s the point.