You may be thinking of buying a new PC and be wondering how you will get on with Windows 8

Windows 95 Start Button

Window 95 Start Button

In particular, you may have heard that Microsoft have done a strange thing by removing the “Start” button. This has been a part of Windows since the introduction of Windows 95 (was that really 18 years ago?) I remember the first time I encountered Windows 95 and my irritation at not being able to find any way of closing it nicely. Surely I can not be the only person who found it completely ridiculous that the option to “close” would be found within a button marked “start”! Anyway, we all got used to the Start button and a lot of users are rather upset that it’s gone.

It appears that people are missing two main things:

  • The ability to launch programs and system items from the Start menu
  • The ability to switch off the computer from the Start menu

So let’s deal with the first of these:

After a couple of weeks of “real” use of Windows 8, I find the tiled “Start Screen” irritating and pointless. If I want “apps” I’ll reach for my beautiful, light, well-behaved iPad Mini or maybe even my iPhone. So, the first thing I always do when I start Windows 8 is to click on the “Desktop” tile and get back to familiar territory.

If, however, I think of the Start Screen as being a replacement and evolution of the Start Menu (instead of a “re-imagining of Windows ” as Microsoft would like us to think), then things get better. Remember, for instance, the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7? Well, just click on the Windows key to go to the Start Screen and you can just type in the first few characters of any installed program to launch it. Once you get used to it, this is far quicker than searching through the old “desktop” for a particular icon. It works just like the “search” box in the Start menu of Windows 7. The key is to think of the “Start Screen” as being a replacement for the “Start Menu”. Just get used to accessing it with the Windows key instead of clicking on a Start button.

To illustrate, I am writing this blog in OneNote. If I now wish to launch, for instance, Adobe Acrobat (assuming that there’s no shortcut pinned to the taskbar) then I just hit the Windows key, type “acr” and the Enter key. That’s just five keystrokes. Let’s try another one. I can launch Opera by hitting the Windows key followed by “op” and the Enter key. Just four keystrokes. No Start button needed and no hunting through an insane confusion of desktop icons.

What about system utilities? No problem: the good old Control Panel is accessible by just typing the Windows key, “co”, and Enter.

Windows 8 Start Screen Icon

Start Screen Tile

There is an alternative way to access the Start Screen and that is to aim your mouse cursor at the bottom lefthand corner of the screen and click when a little “Start Screen Tile” appears. Don’t make the mistake of trying to move your cursor over the top of the tile before clicking as that will just make the tile disappear. Very annoying. So, just head for the corner of the screen and click as soon as the tile appears.

Directing search results to installed apps

When you start typing anything from the Start Screen you will see that the Windows search options that pop up are far more sophisticated than I suggest here. You can type your search term and then choose to narrow your results to “Apps”, “Settings” or “Files”. There are also a host of other places whither you can direct your search. For instance, I typed “cla” into the search box and then clicked on an app I have installed called “London Tube Map”. My search was then directed specifically to that app and the results returned were Clapham Common, Clapham North, etc. Clicking on one of these then displayed the tube map with the chosen station bleeping away at me. This was just for the purpose of illustration, of course. I’m afraid my mind really has decided that “apps” are for an iPad or Android tablet, and that “applications” are “proper” programs for a laptop or desktop.

Windows Key

Windows key – aka “winkey”

Maybe I can be lured away in time by Microsoft’s attempts to get us to view both “desktop” and “smartphone/tablet” app(lication)s on one device, but I must agree with what seems to be the prevailing opinion so far – Windows 8 is a bit clunky as a result of merging a desktop operating system with a mobile/tablet one. For the time being at least, I am choosing to view Windows 8 as being “desktop based” and the new “tiled apps” as a bit of nonsense. And I’m not going to be seduced by Microsoft’s (presumably intentional) use of the word “apps” to include both proper “applications” and mobile “apps”.

But, to return to the main topic of the missing Start button, I found that as soon as I started to think of the Start Screen as a very big replacement for the Start menu (instead of being the main way to use my computer) then I started to progress in using Windows 8. I’m still “desktop focused” and I’ve quickly learned to access the Start Screen with the Windows key (aka “winkey”) instead of aiming for a missing Start button.

Next week I’ll look at the other main gripe about the lack of a Start button in Windows 8 – and that is the lack of a “shutdown” button within it. And just in case I can’t convince you that you don’t need it, I’ll show you how to create a shortcut for your desktop that will let you shut the computer down with a single click.

© 2011-2014 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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