If you didn't start testing Windows 8 yet, then this guide is a must-read. This text is also a must-read if you already played with Windows 8 and started whining because everything is so different and strange.
Latest posts by Michael Pietroforte (see all)

As expected, there is lots of buzz about Windows 8. Not surprisingly, many are complaining about the huge changes in the user interface. Considering the large user base of Windows, there are always some people who don't like the changes and some who do like them. The ones who don't are usually louder.

Windows 8 Lock Screen

Windows 8 Lock Screen

Before reading the reviews and making up your mind, I recommend testing Windows 8 yourself. If you have problems in finding your way, don't condemn Windows 8 prematurely. It usually takes some time until one gets used to a new user interface, especially if you have been working with a system for so many years. Suddenly many of your practiced habits and shortcuts no longer work. Of course, the first reaction is to wonder why all those changes were necessary. Is it just because Microsoft wants to appear as an innovative company, making changes just for the sake of changing things? And is it really necessary to completely change a successful operating system because of a handful of iPad sales?

I feel you should suppress your anger and seriously give the new user interface a chance. Once you are sure that you really know all about Windows 8, you can then proudly tell the world that you downgraded again to Windows XP.

The purpose of this post is to help you a little with your first steps in the first 8 minutes or so. The list of tips here is by no means complete. In my experience, it takes weeks, sometimes months, of daily work with an operating system (and the willingness to learn) to appreciate a new OS user interface.

Testing Windows 8

The best way to test Windows 8 is on a dedicated machine and, if possible, on a tablet. But if this testing gear is not available, you can try Windows 8 with virtualization software. For this post, I assume that you are trying Windows 8 with an old-fashioned mouse and a keyboard in a VirtualBox VM.

Windows 8 works with Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V, VMware Workstation 8.0, or Oracle VirtualBox 4.1.2 (or greater). VirtualBox is free and very easy to use. Thus, if you don't already work with one of the other two virtualization products, I suggest you follow Tim Warner's guide for how to install Windows 8 on VirtualBox. The guide was written for the Developer Preview, but it is still correct.

I'd just like to add that you should select the Intel PRO/1000 MT Desktop (82540EM) network interface instead of the default PCNet nic. When I tested the Consumer Preview on VirtualBox 4.1.7, Windows 8 wasn't able to install the driver for the virtual PCNet interface. You can find the corresponding settings under the Advanced tab of the virtual machine's network settings.

Windows 8 - VirtualBox network interface

Windows 8 VirtualBox network interface

Log on to Windows 8

After Windows 8 boots up for the first time, you will see this beautiful tree with no hint on how to proceed. You just have to hit the space bar and the logon screen will appear. After you log in with the password you configured during the installation procedure, the new Metro start screen appears. This is the point where you will wonder if you accidentally installed Windows Phone. To assure you that you are really working with Windows 8, I suggest you immediately switch to Windows Desktop mode by clicking the "Desktop tile" in the lower left corner.

Windows 8 logon screen

Windows 8 Logon screen

You can also use the key combination WIN+D or hover the mouse over the upper left or lower left corner of the desktop. To switch back to Metro mode, you just have to hit the WIN key. The strange thing is that you can now switch back and forth between Desktop mode and Metro mode by only hitting the WIN key (without D). If you do this right after you logged in, you will open the so-called Charms Bar. Is this a bug or perhaps a VirtualBox issue?

Windows 8 Metro Start screenWindows 8 Desktop Mode

Windows 8 Metro mode | Windows 8 Desktop mode

Windows 8 Start button

Anyway, since I already mentioned the Charms Bar, you can always open it with WIN+C or by hovering the mouse over the lower right desktop corner. The Charms Bar contains the Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings charms. As you can see, all rumors that Windows 8 no longer features a Start button were hopelessly exaggerated. Click the Start charm, et voilà, you are at the Metro start screen which is the new Start menu.

Windows 8 Start Menu

Windows 8 Start Menu

You see, this is one of the things you have to figure out first before you start whining about missing features. There is even the old Start Search field that allows you to find applications quickly. If you ask me, Start Search was the only thing that was helpful in the old Windows Start menu. You don't want to tell me that you really started applications by clicking your way through the Programs menu, do you?

So what is the first Windows 8 application you want to start? Notepad, of course! Just start typing "n...". Ah, you see, not so difficult, right? And you know what? Notepad didn't change at all. This is good news, isn't it? Yeah, now we all feel at home again.

By the way, you don't even need to switch to the Metro Start screen to invoke Start Search. You can just start typing when you are in Metro mode. Note that this doesn't work in Desktop mode. However, the key combination WIN+R still allows you to run programs in Desktop mode and Metro mode.

8 useful Windows 8 shortcuts

Windows 8 offers myriad keyboard shortcuts, and you probably will know many of them from Windows 7. I noticed that keyboard shortcuts are quite popular in Windows 8 beginner's guides. The reason is that Windows 8 was partly designed for touch. But if your old LCD screen is somewhat insensitive to your patting approaches, you are often faster with a keyboard shortcut than with the mouse.

Below are the shortcuts you might need during your first 8-minute tour of Windows 8. I already mentioned some of them above, but rehearsal is everything when it comes to learning how to deal with a new user interface.

WIN: Switch between Metro and Desktop mode

WIN+M: Show Desktop (minimize all windows in Desktop mode)

WIN+C: Show Charms Bar

WIN+R: Run programs

WIN+E: Start Windows Explorer

WIN+F: Search file

Alt+Tab: Switch between Metro apps and desktop apps

Alt+F4: Close an app

Shut down Windows 8

The last combination (Alt+F4) might be the most important one in your first 8 minutes with Windows 8. After you start your first Metro app, you will most certainly wonder how to get rid of it because Metro apps have no close button. You can also close a Metro app by dragging the app from the top of the screen to the bottom (see Jack's comment).  Again, reports that you can't shut down Metro apps were exaggerated.

I also read that Windows 8 can't be shut down. Don't think that Microsoft steals every so-called innovation from Apple. They just hid the shutdown button to prevent you from stopping to use of Windows 8. You are lucky that you are reading a Windows 8 guide from a PC veteran with 30 years of experience. So I know the fastest way to shut down a PC: Press Ctrl+Alt+Del and then click the power button. If you are testing with VirtualBox, you have to press Right-Ctrl+Del instead of Ctrl+Alt-Del.


Shut down Windows 8Windows 8 Settings Shutdown

Shut down Windows 8

The official way appears to be to open the Charms Bar (WIN+C), click "Settings," and then click the power button. It makes sense somehow. Turning off a computer is just changing the "On" setting to "Off," right? Well, okay, I’m just trying my best to give you a good "user experience" during your first 8 minutes with Windows 8.

  1. Brian 11 years ago

    I’ve been using Windows 8 on my home computer as my primary OS now since just after the consumer preview came out. I absolutely love the performance of the OS — things do legitimately feel snappier, especially moving large numbers of giant files around my various internal hard drives. I do have a few gripes, though:

    1. I work in IT, specifically the help desk. My users will not even know where to begin with Windows 8.
    2. The multi-monitor experience is tough. I love the multiple task bars, but getting to those right side “hot-corners” is much harder than it used to be.
    3. I miss my start menu folders — starting in my user profile folder, or My Computer, for example, is a lot more useful to me than having a single entry point (using the Windows Explorer button).
    4. Closing Metro apps with a mouse. Why, oh why can I not exclusively use my mouse to do this?

    Personally, I wish they would have forked things for the Desktop and the tablet experience. I see a lot of these features being great on a tablet. They’re not so great for those of us running 2x 30″ monitors on a desktop. I feel crippled.

  2. Wayne 11 years ago

    Wow, these “don’t whine” articles are all the rage these days. I’m seeing them on all the windows-centric blogs.

  3. Ron007 11 years ago

    I’m in total agreement with your article. A dedicated machine is the best approach. NOT your primary machine, I’ve been seeing lots of cries for help after people make the mistake of installing Win8 on their main machine. They haven’t read the fine print, primarily that “legacy” Win7 style apps will have to be re-installed. Oops, they don’t have the registration keys.

    Yes, Metro is designed for tablets, and desktops are included as an after thought. I hope they change that (I’ve seen a good suggestion on a simple approach to do that). I tested in VirtualBox because I don’t have a machine to dedicate. I wasn’t happy with the experience. Having an article like this would have helped greatly ease the pain of the totally different “OOB”.

    The move to Win8 will be almost as disruptive as the move from DOS to Windows. And don’t knock DOS. I had a better multitasking experience with DOS + QEMM (a Memory manager) than I did in Win 3.0 years later. A good introductory guide, using this type of article as a starting point, will help to ease the pain.

    I played with it for 5 hours and didn’t really see anything that would convince me to Pay to upgrade from my existing OS. I will certainly resist moving to it.

  4. Wayne, oh really? Seems we are reading different blogs because I only see “how-to shut down Windows” and “I want my Start Menu back” posts. 😉

  5. Brian, I agree many end users will have a hard time when they first try Windows 8. It already begins after Windows 8 booted up. No hint how to log on. Not good. I don’t envy you for working in help desk. The reason why you can’t close Metro apps with the mouse is because the OS is supposed to take care of this. It is the same with Android apps. I remains to be seen if this concept will prevail on desktops. I somehow doubt it.

    Ron, I think 5 hours are not enough to make such a decision. Wait until the RTM is out and then work with the OS for some weeks. Only then will you be able to decide whether Windows 8 improves your productivity or not. Most of the important features like the cloud integration will only start shining after Windows 8 is in the shops.

  6. Jack 11 years ago

    Actually you can close Metro apps with the mouse. Just click and hold with the mouse at the top of the app (you’ll see the mouse pointer change into a grabbing hand) and drag it down to the bottom of the screen.

  7. Jack, thanks! I added a note in the article. This is one of things that people can only find out if someone tells them. Not good for such important features.

  8. Greg Edwards 11 years ago

    I’ve found another way to close Metro apps is to hover over the upper left corner of the screen until the app thumbnails peek out (initially just the most recent app, but if you move your mouse down, you’ll see the others). You can right-click any app and there’s a Close command.

    Another question I have about the Metro UI is how do I force the on-screen keyboard to appear for data entry? To be fair, I’m running the Win 8 CP on a conventional HTPC without a touchscreen. I’d like to be able to navigate primarily using a wireless mouse and just pop-up the OSK when I need it. I have yet to see any trace of it, even when I click a text entry field, such as the Search box. Any ideas?

  9. Stefan 11 years ago

    Why did they mix two completely different usage and application concepts together? They just don’t fit together, it feels like switching between two different operating systems all the time.

    What’s the advantage? Half of the time the user experience is not optimal:
    – if you use a mouse you need to take longer distances to make the same actions and full-screen apps are annoying at best,
    – with touch-input most classic-applications are not usable.
    Additionally transparent aero-windows and colourful tiles just don’t mix well.

    It would have made some sense if the user would have the choice between the two concepts: Use only touch-UI + metro apps or just classic-window-apps. But there are not enough metro-apps available to just work with metro. And vice-versa suddenly some metro-app is starting full-screen because they are the standard program for a certain file type.

    Not to mention that every shortcut to an .exe-program (program itself, uninstaller, …) creates another metro tile. So imagine how many tile there are if someone really uses win8 over some time (months, years with dozens of installed apps).

    Do not get me wrong: Metro is not a bad UI, its just not made for the average computer and not even for the standard laptop. Even microsoft-fan-boys should recognize that fact.
    The shutdown-Button is a good example, of course its the basic idea of a smart-phone/tablet not to be turned off ever. But that does not make any sense at all with a standard computer (at least until energy consumption comparable low or energy costs nothing and all computer are 100% silent which i doubt will happen any time soon).

    So what will happen?
    Maybe Win8 is rejected like Vista (and win7 is the new XP) or (hopefully) there will be a way to set the UI mode to metro OR classic. Counting the (persistent) low numbers of metro apps i guess classic-mode wins.
    I doubt that situation will change in the next years (considering the low-market share of windows on mobiles/tablets and the effort already made by MS to get programmers on metro).

  10. Stefan, Microsoft mixed both UIs because they want to prove that there is no such thing as a post PC world. They think you can use the most popular PC operating system on all kind of devices. I think the power of this concept will only become obvious when and more and convertible tablet PCs become available. The advantage is that you don’t need two devices, a tablet and a PC. You only need one – a tablet PC.

  11. Greg Edwards 11 years ago

    I share some of your concerns Stefan, but I feel that Microsoft has done the right thing in pushing the Metro UI even on desktop users.

    Here’s why:

    The classic Start menu sucks. It’s a dinosaur that just represents everything that’s wrong with Windows. Too many layers, too many options, too many mixed metaphors (you click Start to shut down your computer?). When displays have been getting horizontally wider for the last decade, it’s optimized to expand vertically. If you’re still burning time organizing your program shortcuts into neat little folders, then you have a lot more time than I do. These days, how many of us use – I mean really use – the Start menu for anything other than recent programs, search, and shut down? We only cling to it because it’s familiar, not because it’s particularly great. I could list a thousand utilities that replace the Start menu with a simpler task launcher that’s infinitely better.

    The Metro Start screen, by contrast, gives us all the important functionality from the Start menu, and then some. Live tiles are a bit scant at the moment, and they look god awful for classic programs, but when properly implemented, they rock. Getting quick updates from key apps saves me time and just looks sick. It’s flexible, which is important, because stuff that I want in my first group today may not be as relevant to what I’m doing tomorrow. When things are arranged into folders, suddenly I feel the need to alphabetize everything, and that’s not efficient when you’re talking about glance and go.

    Yes the experience of switching between the desktop and the Metro UI is a bit jarring, but the way the two environments compliment each other is a lot more elegant than most casual observers would realize. For instance, when you split the screen with a Metro app in 2/3 and the desktop in 1/3, the open desktop windows stack neatly as thumbnails so you can quickly jump to one. And even when you’re in the desktop, you’re still in Metro, as evidenced by the omnipresence of the Charms bar and Metro task switcher.

    There’s a part of me that thinks maybe they haven’t taken Metro far enough, that the entire desktop should be “Metro-fied.”

    You know, lose Aero, simplify icons, etc., just to make it better fit into Metro. But Microsoft has made a wise move in not changing the desktop experience too much. They’ve made improvements where it makes sense (ribbonizing Explorer, souping up the task manager, improving file operations, and stetching the taskbar across multiple desktops to name a few), but at the same time, they don’t want to devote a lot of resources putting lipstick on a pig (the classic desktop), which might end up breaking legacy apps in the process. And it would certainly be off-putting to IT departments, who usually aren’t too keen on “cutting edge” technology deployments. So why not make the whole Metro experience optional? Well, in my experience, the minute you do that, people switch it off and forget about it. So to some degree this is Microsoft’s way of saying, “This is the future of Windows. Get used to it.”

    We’re just in an awkward point in Windows’ evolution, where the OS is something of a platypus. As more Metro apps are created, people will get used to new paradigms, and the desktop will have a diminishing role, until eventually it doesn’t exist anymore – or at the very least, is relegated to “just-in-case-you-ever-need-it” status (much like the command prompt in the current incarnation of Windows). It’s a gamble to be sure, but I’m optimistic that Microsoft has found a strategy that will keep Windows relevant for years to come.

  12. Brian 11 years ago

    I have to disagree with you, Greg. I feel that the current start menu works just fine when used properly. I agree with you that there are too many layers — getting to applications by navigating a hierarchical structure of folders is inefficient. I would have loved to see the same start menu, but some reorganization there. Many people are trained already to click Start, then search directly for the app they are looking for. Also, the taskbar is great at pinning apps that I use regularly. I can’t honestly say that I use the start menu for may apps — I pin my most common 15-20 to the taskbar, group them together by use, and call it a day. I’ve done the exact same thing in Windows 8 and it seems a lot easier to navigate.

    The Metro start screen feels absolutely unnecessary for the desktop experience. I think it would be perfect if I were poking and prodding at a screen, but the reality is I use a 32″ and a 22″ monitor on my desktop — I don’t really need any of what Metro has to offer. Everything feels clunky to me. Right clicking, for example, opens up a menu at the bottom of the screen. What’s so wrong with a context menu that pops up where my mouse cursor already is?

    I really don’t see why Microsoft feels I spend so much time in my start menu, or even in cute little apps that do little more than emulate websites. I was perfectly efficient with a web browser and my standard apps running and readily accessible in a myriad of ways. I now feel like I’m using a giant toy instead of a several thousand dollar piece of machinery.

  13. Greg, I totally agree. However, for my taste the changes are not radical enough. For instance, dumping the Start Menu wasn’t enough. I would have preferred if the task bar disappeared as well. Actually, the whole Desktop mode is superfluous. Why not just use Metro to launch old fashioned Windows applications? Yes, the scream of horror of conservative Windows users would have been even louder. But Microsoft could have told those people that they can continue using Windows 7 and promise some nice service packs and a longer support cycle. After a while those people would have figured out that sticking with “what you know” too long reduces your competiveness in an ever faster moving world.

    Brian, I suggest you re-read the first paragraph of your comment. Don’t you think that there are some contradictions? On the one hand you want to keep the Start Menu, but on the other hand you tell us that you are not really using it. And how could the Start Menu have been improved? Isn’t silly to use just such a small part of the screen for an important task as finding an application? What Microsoft just moved he Start Menu to the desktop and this will call Metro. The main reason why this was necessary was because the Start Menu is too small for touch. However, I also think it makes a lot of sense for mouse users. There is nothing what you can’t do with a mouse pointer that you can do with a finger. But we need an united user interface that works on all kind of devices . The argument, “but I have 32″” monitor ” is like saying “But I love my fat pickup, so why don’t they build bigger nozzles so I can fill my big fat tank faster?”

  14. Stefan 11 years ago

    Michael, Metro is not just a new start-menu, its a new UI designed for touch-input. Of course you can emulate a touching finger with a mouse to some degree, but thats just not efficient. In many of your windows-acticles you talk about productivity and business users. Where is the gain for the average windows user?

    And where is the need for one “united user interface”?
    By the way: There is no united user interface in Win8 (in case you haven`t noticed or read my last comment):
    – there is the “classic”-UI (which has nearly all the programs and the taskbar but not the start menu)
    – and metro (which has almost no apps but the start-menu).

    What would you say if apple decides to put their ipad-UI on the average Mac-Computer? Right: It makes no sense at all.

    The startmenu and the taskbar has been improved over the time (it is searchable and you can stick programs to the taskbar) where is the improvement if you reduce metro to a simple launcher (like you did in you last post)? life tiles?

    Putting metro an the average desktop (with mouse and keyboard-input) makes sense for microsoft: They want more metro apps, the (little) market share of windows mobile and the lack of metro-programmers is something microsoft (and Nokia) cannot afford much longer. Additionally metro is their only chance of getting apps on the ARM-Architecture in the future. Its only logical to use your flagship product to reach that goal.
    I guess microsoft is day-dreaming about being no.1 on computers, laptop, tablets and smartphones but i doubt that day will come ever.

  15. Stefan 11 years ago

    It seems by your other article about win8 you see the problem clearly, so here are your quotes:

    “I think, the biggest danger for Windows is that two different kinds of user interfaces will have to live in harmony on the same machine.”

    “We will see similar incompatibilities between Windows and Metro in Windows 8 as we saw with Windows 95. For instance, if you want to run an old-fashioned Windows desktop application on a tablet, you will suddenly realize a design breach and the user experience will be significantly reduced.”

    “So will Windows 8 make our hearts sing? Hard to believe. It depends mostly on Samsung and company and whether they can build devices that will support both worlds—the Windows world and the Metro world—harmoniously and productively.”

    taken from:


  16. Stefan, of course I didn’t say that Metro is just a Start Menu. There is a need for a united interface because people prefer to work with “what they know”. One of the main reasons why Microsoft introduced Metro in Windows is because they want to push Windows Phone. But you are right, it remains to be seen if this strategy will work. The downside is indeed that it is difficult to build an UI that is perfect for both device types. The other question if it has to be perfect. Perhaps good enough is just good enough. Windows 95 wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to create a monopoly. Don’t get me wrong, this is not what I hope for. I am just an observer, I have no Microsoft stocks. But if I had Apple stocks, I would sell them now.

  17. Errol 11 years ago

    I really enjoy this version! Actually, given where the mobile world has gone with touch screen, I think this interface is probably long overdue.

    I do have a question: When you join a win8 machine to AD the lock screen stays on img100.jpg on matter what changes you make using other wallpapers. Usually this would be easy enough to edit in the registry but not in win8. Any clue how to resolve this??

  18. Errol, maybe this helps.

  19. Errol 11 years ago

    Mmm… am I missing something? That link was about screensavers. My issue is about a lock screen wallpaper… in win8. Like the one shown at the top of this page. You don’t get a lock screen wallpaper in win7.

  20. Errol, sorry I misunderstood you. Perhaps the “Prevent changing lock screen image” Group Policy setting is enabled? (Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Control Panel\Personalization)

    If not, what happens if you disable this setting?

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