An Introduction to Windows 8, Or How to Survive Without the Start Button

By Dr. Greg Jorgensen
Rio Rancho, NM –


As you recently read in a post on this blog by Steve McEvoy of our technology committee, Windows XP is on its last leg. If you have any XP machines in your office, you really need to plan to replace those soon, not just because they are using software technology a decade old, but because the stuff out there now is just so much better. For those who are comfortable with Windows 7, get ready because your next machine will probably come with Windows 8. After hearing nothing but complaints, I was scared to get my first Windows 8 machine. The transition however wasn’t as bad as I thought. Here are some things I’ve learned that will help make your first experience a little easier.

The first thing you’ll notice when you boot up your Windows 8 computer is that you won’t end up on the familiar Windows desktop. The desktop has now been replaced by what Microsoft calls the “Metro Interface.” Next, the Start Button which has been the “go to” point for most Windows functions for over a decade is conspicuously missing. This was where you would go if you wanted to start an app, search your computer, change computer settings, or even shut down. All of these features have now been replaced by tiles on the Metro start screen representing the apps you want to open or the settings you need to access. The inspiration for this change was the industry-wide shift to mobile computing on smartphones and tablets. The tile structure is more convenient when selecting options with your finger. It also works just fine on a laptop or desktop computer once you understand where everything is. So to open Word or Excel, you will now just click on a tile representing the program rather than select it from the start menu or from the taskbar.

Many of the other features previously found on the Start Button have now been moved to a pop-out menu on the right side of the screen that can be accessed by moving your mouse pointer to the upper or lower right-hand corners. The icons that appear on that pop-out toolbar are called “charms.” The top charm takes you to the search function that used to be located on the start menu. To search for apps, settings, or files, just click on the magnifying glass charm and type what you are looking for into the search box. A useful feature of the Metro Interface is that you can just start typing what you want and the search box will automatically appear.

The second charm is the Share function. When inside of an app, you can use the share function to share pictures or documents with someone else without leaving the app. The third charm is the Start Charm which is merely a link to the Metro Interface start screen. The fourth charm is labeled Devices and gives you the same options as the old Devices and Printers link on the Windows 7 start menu. Finally, the last charm is a link to the Settings of your computer and your apps. The Shutdown, Restart, and Sleep commands that were previously found on the Start Menu are now associated with the Power icon found when you select the Settings charm.

Once you get past the start screen and launch your familiar programs (Word, Excel, Chrome, etc.) you will feel right at home. Most apps run in the Windows 8 “desktop” environment which looks and feels exactly like the desktop in Windows 7. You can also get to the desktop by clicking the Desktop Tile on the Metro Interface screen. This desktop can be customized to look exactly like the desktop you now use in Windows 7 including the same icons and colors or picture schemes. Anytime you need to launch a new program or make changes to the settings however, you’ll probably be redirected back to the Metro Interface.

Although this is not an exhaustive tutorial for Windows 8, it should at least help you survive the loss of your familiar Start Button. Once you get used to starting programs by clicking tiles rather than icons and looking to the pop-out menu on the right to search and shut down, you’ll be on your way. I actually like Windows 8. Remember that technology always keeps moving forward, so you can either climb aboard or get left behind. Good luck!

2 thoughts on “An Introduction to Windows 8, Or How to Survive Without the Start Button

  1. Nice try Burt, but its still a pain in the neck. Why make changes just for the sake of change. This improves nothing and shows why Ballmer is receiving a well deserved boot in his hiney. Funny, when I typed his name, spellchecker instead suggested “embalmer.”

  2. One thing that may help people make the transition without a start button: use the windows key to cycle between the desktop and the Metro/Tiles. The windows key is found on most keyboards and will appear to be a little flag (usually between the CTRL and the ALT) button.

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