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How to find and use the Windows 8 start menu and admin tools

Users who miss Windows 7's interface shouldn't despair; the Windows 8 start menu can still be found. Get help tracking down Windows admin tools.

As OEMs market Microsoft's latest desktop operating system, many users and IT professionals still have questions about the Windows 8 user interface. Is it a winner or a loser? Do we really want to be thinking outside the box for enterprise desktops?

When Windows 7 came out, I was its biggest fan. I could not get the beta on my laptop fast enough and suffered being on the bleeding edge with my employer's IT department, but it was worth it. Windows 7 had better performance, a more organized desktop and cool Aero features.

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The OS also included native virtual hard disk boot, new BitLocker features, and the many enterprise-level features of DirectAccess and BranchCache. All that, combined with Windows Server 2008 R2, made a powerful reason to make the move to Windows 7. Window 8 is another story. Obviously, Microsoft is betting the farm on touchscreens and mobile devices, which is probably not all that bad of a bet. There are those who are saying your phone is the new laptop.

I had played with Windows 8 and was unimpressed. I even had to ask a colleague how to get to the command prompt. Then I listened to a presentation by Microsoft at the TechMentor 2012 conference. When Windows 8 is viewed in the context of mobile devices, including the Microsoft Surface tablet, it really does make sense.

But what about the period of time before tablets become the primary enterprise desktop -- if ever? How will users get their work done in Windows 8? Let's look at the flashy new Windows 8 start menu and user interface (UI) from an old techie's point of view.

The Windows 8 start menu

Figure 1: The Windows 8 Start menu splash screen
Figure 1: The Windows 8 Start menu splash screen

Click somewhere on this screen or hit any key to wake it up and log in. You'll then see the interface formerly known as "Metro" (Figure 1), which is similar to the Start button from Windows 7. I'll refer to this as the "Windows 8 start menu splash screen."

This UI is not intuitive. I've been using Microsoft's OS since Windows 3.1 -- yes, I have grandchildren -- and I've never had to get training for a Windows upgrade until now. As you can see, the start screen has cool "tiles" for photos, maps, music, messaging, email, and even Xbox and the Microsoft Store.

But what if you want to do some real work? It took me a while to navigate, but I eventually found the bare-bones desktop. No Start button, no search, no programs. I also found the Control Panel, but still could not find the command window or useful stuff -- until I discovered the Windows key.

All you need to know: Use the Windows key

This is truly the key to the kingdom. To get back to the Start screen, hit the Windows button on the keyboard. The Windows key is also the shortcut to all your favorite commands that you can't find anymore. Pressing the Windows key plus another key will produce the results as listed here. First, you'll want to use a couple to overcome the Start screen, which has nothing to do with real work.

Figure 2: The Windows 8 settings "charm"
Figure 2: The Windows 8 settings "charm"

Getting to admin tools

Figure 3: The iSCSI Initiator tile
Figure 3: The iSCSI Initiator tile

Open the settings "charm," as shown in Figure 2. Click on the Tiles link, and then click on the button "Show Administrative Tools" to see a nice display of all the nice Windows admin tools. Of course, you may not care about stuff such as iSCSI Initiator. You can clean it up by right-clicking on the iSCSI Initiator tile, which opens the familiar "unpin from Start" options from Windows 7 (Figure 3).

Clicking on Event Viewer switches to the Desktop and opens Event Viewer. How cool is that? Just a few minutes of setup, and you can open what used to take a single click! Anyway, you get the idea.

Windows Z

Figure 4: Finding apps using Windows Z
Figure 4: Finding apps using Windows Z

Using this key combination or a mouse right-click opens the App bar. Look carefully at the lower right corner of the screen, and you'll see the All Apps icon. Click, and voila! (See Figure 4.) We have solved the mystery of "Where are my apps?"

Now you can right-click on these just as for the Windows administrative tools apps. Pin apps to the Start menu, and they will show up on the Windows 8 start menu. Very cool. It took me only two weeks to find this without the benefit of the Windows shortcut keys.

So now, with the App bar and the admin tools, you can spend a few hours and get the Start screen configured. Of course, you still have to switch to the desktop for these to execute, but at least you found them:

  1. Windows K Devices shows connected devices. This is where you can configure multiple displays.
  2. Windows , (that's a comma) provides a temporary peek at the desktop, like Windows 7 Aero.
  3. Windows D goes to the desktop (nice).
  4. Windows F Search is much easier than that cumbersome Windows Start button and a single click.
  5. Windows PgUp moves the start screen to the left monitor. PgDn moves it to the right monitor
  6. Figure 5: Windows 8’s Charms bar
    Figure 5: Windows 8’s Charms bar
    Windows C opens the "Charms bar" (Figure 5). Here you have Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. You can also get to these by hovering over the small Minimize icon in the lower right of the screen. Handy if you can't remember the Windows key shortcuts.
  7. Windows J switches focus among apps.
  8. Windows R is Run.
  9. Windows Q will search charms.
  10. Windows E opens Windows Explorer.
  11. Windows Break displays system properties.

I finally decided to try out the Start screen (aka Metro) tiles for setting up Internet Explorer, photos, video, etc. It was fairly easy until I tried to connect my email to Windows 8. There were lots of security restrictions to identify my email with a particular machine. It seems pretty secure -- except I never could get it to work.

From the perspective of an enterprise desktop admin, getting to know the Windows 8 UI is no fun. I'm sure, in time, we'll get used to the desktop being an app and having our PCs trying to be tablets. Maybe it will all make sense when tablets and phones are the enterprise desktop. But until then, I think using Windows 8 will be a bumpy ride, especially when you determine how much it will cost to train users.

This was last published in February 2013

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Thanks for the key and the article. I think Windows 8 is another Vista. Tablets may be the future but for the present we're all using Laptops and Desktops. Windows 8 is a lead ballon. Microsoft could of went and made 2 versions of this product instead of one size fits all.
The proof that Windows 8 is a badly thought-out "game changer" is in the fact that essential functional screens on a touch-screen based OS are only easily accessible using... the keyboard!
I wonder if anybody at MS actually bothered to try a remote administration session with WIndows 8. I am, and it is driving me so insane that I am going to order Windows 7 for my clients until... Windows 9. It's Vista all over again, I am afraid.
There are several programs out there to restore a Start Button and all the Win 7 or XP features. It is also possible to run MS Win 7 Start Button!! Most everyone I know on Win 8 is using one of them. They not only give you a Start button but you can boot to the desktop with out going through the start page at all.
My biggest beef is the way the store access is screwed up when you try to configure the language you want while respecting the different country properties. My official Win 8 (paid for) metro interface only half works and none of the fixes offered seem to fix it. I also prefer a third party start option on the desktop.
Mirosoft messed up! They could have simply give the enduser a control panel choice, Windows 7 type of desktop and start menu or Metro. This way Corp. America would upgrade to Windows 8. The first thing I do is install IObit Windows menu. This gives me the Windows I want. Microsoft should have left in the choice! That's the American way!
I have used Win8 from day of release...

Yes MS could have done a way better job of providing guidance...

but I have found in most cases it takes LESS clicks to get the job done (even with switching to/from the Start Screen)...

There are keyboard and mouse equivalents for all of the touch gestures, so when I'm on a non touch platform (including non metro Remote Desktop) I have no real problem navigating...

Best of all - I have new ways of doing things and I don't have to unlearn the old way if I don't have to...

What's the problem with more choice?
Use the keyboard shortcut WINDOWS-X to get most admin tools you would use on a bad day. Now that's easy enough!
I think I learned that the "Windows 8 Settings 'charm' " is the "Right Hand Side Menu" in green color called "Settings".
Am I correct in assuming that I get to that "Windows 8 Settings 'charm' " by pressing the "Windows Key" (the key showing the "National flag of Microsoft" inside a circle), right ?

Apart from that, why are the colors of Windows 8 so terribly "clashing"? Green, purple and orange do not work well together. Were the programmers color blind?
So, Windows 8 was released August 1, 2012, and one would have to wait until Feb 2013 for Gary Olsen to provide "key knowledge" in "how to use Windows 8", in a "secret publicity stunt"? Ok! And is it really true that Microsoft was allegedly unwilling to post actually necessary user information on "Youtube" for free, because that would have validated an instrument of the "enemy Google"? Or is that all just a rumor ?
First question is "why bother", kind of like figuring out the best way to record on a betamax, or restoring a "Yugo" car. Much ado about NOTHING!
makes me laugh when people try to justify win8 claiming productivity and program 'app' switching.
dual screen applications oooo wow, have we all forgotten the alt+tab scenario and many apon many open application running and accessible and a click?
yeesh, shows me ms think people only do one or max 2 things at a time (although its a sad reality in a way)
The only thing holding the tablets or phones back from being the enterprise darling is the lack of docking stations for these devices.
WIN 8 is a waste. Created for tablets that come with keyboards? Who wants to use a touchscreen desktop? I get errors for media player, I access help to find the tools menu, but I get an article. I need to upgrade my PC's but will be looking at APPLE. I hope someone lost their job over this POS OS. I can't even post this comment using win 8.