Explained: getting to grips with Windows 8

Explained: getting to grips with Windows 8

Use this handy guide to learn all you need to know - and get up and running quickly

Whether you’ve just bought a new Advent PC with Window 8 pre-installed, or have used our guides to upgrade your existing PC to Windows 8, this is for you.

Windows 8 is the best version of Windows yet. It’s stuffed with new, exciting and useful features to help you get the most out of your computer. But it also looks and works a little differently to previous versions.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to get to grips with the new Modern UI (user interface), the exciting new features to look out for, and how to navigate - whether you have a touchscreen, touchpad , or standard mouse and keyboard.

The Start screen

After Windows 8 loads and you log on to your user account, you will see the new Windows Start screen. It’s designed to act as a quick launch pad for other parts of Windows 8. The clean, minimalist look has a touch-friendly interface that works on tablets and phones as well as PCs.

The Start screen is made up of tiles, most of which point to Windows 8 Apps, programs designed specifically for the new Modern UI. Some tiles display additional information related to the App, such as thumbnails of your photos or updated news headlines. To open an App, simply touch or click on its tile.

Apps are designed to run full screen, so you can concentrate fully on the program you’re using without getting distracted. But what do you do when you want to switch to another App, or return to the Start menu?

The Windows 8 Start screen showcases the new 'Modern UI' tile-based interface


Windows 8 uses ‘gestures’ to access hidden features, such as a shortcut to the Start menu or a special ‘charms bar’ that reveals configuration and sharing options. Gestures can be performed using your fingers on a touch-screen by swiping in from special hotspots found at the corners and edges of the screen, but you can also access these features via supported gestures on your new Advent laptop’s touchpad , by rolling the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen or via keyboard shortcuts.

Here’s what features are available, and how to access them:

  • Start screen
    Return quickly to the Start screen by either rolling your mouse to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen or by pressing the [Windows] key.

  • App History Sidebar
    This allows you to easily switch between open Apps as well as the classic Windows desktop (see below). Access it with the mouse by placing the cursor in the top left-hand corner of the screen, or by pressing [Win] + [Tab] on the keyboard. You can also access it by swiping in from the left edge of the screen or your touchpad .

  • The charms bar
    This gives you quick access to key parts of your system via five shortcuts, known as ‘charms’ (see below). Place the mouse in either corner on the right of the screen or press [Win] + [C] on your keyboard. Alternatively, swipe in from the right-hand edge of the screen or touchpad .

  • App or Start screen options
    These are hidden by default, but can be revealed by clicking the right mouse button or swiping in from the top or bottom edge of the screen or touchpad .

The corners and edges of the screen hide useful features like the App History Sidebar

The charms bar

The charms bar gives you five options: Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. Use Search in an App to search that App, or access it from the Start screen to find programs and settings. The Share option allows you to share content from the current App using other compatible Apps, such as Mail and Twitter.

Start offers another route back to the Start screen, while Devices gives you access to connected devices such as printers and cameras. Finally, choose Settings to configure options for the current App or your PC, and to access power options including shutdown and restart.

Use the charms bar to access your PC’s settings as well as other features

The classic desktop

If all of this sounds a little overwhelming, don’t worry. Go back to the Start screen, and you’ll see a Desktop tile. Click on this to go back to the traditional Windows desktop, which works in practically the same way it did in previous versions of Windows. Most programs that can run in Windows 7 will launch into their own window in the Windows Desktop.

Hotspots work in exactly the same way on the desktop – you can even run an App side-by-side with the desktop. One thing that’s missing is the traditional Start button. Also, look out for the new ribbon-based interface found in later versions of Microsoft Office, which appears when you use File Explorer to open folder windows.

The classic Windows desktop stays the same – with some nifty improvements

Tips and tricks

Use our favourite tips and tricks to get more from Windows 8:

  • Shut down my computer: Open the charm bar and choose ‘Settings’. Click on ‘Power’ and select ‘Shut down’ from the pop-up menu. You can restart or put your PC to sleep from here too.
  • Access system settings: Open the Settings charm and click on ‘Change PC Settings’. More settings can be found in the Control Panel. Press [Windows] + [X] in the classic Windows desktop, then select ‘Control Panel’ from the pop-up menu to access it.
  • Manage the Start screen: You can customise the Start screen to suit you: click and drag tiles to rearrange them, or right-click a tile to reveal more options, such as changing the tile’s size, uninstalling the App or disabling live previews.
  • Display two Windows 8 Apps side-by-side: With both Apps open, switch to the first App. Press [Windows] + [Tab] to open the App History sidebar, then click and drag the other App tile over to the right-hand edge of the screen to display it in its own sidebar.

Display two Apps side-by-side with the help of our useful tips


  • Close a full-screen App: Apps are suspended when you switch to another one, but you can manually close one by moving the mouse to the top of the screen. The cursor will change to a hand. Click and drag it all the way down to close the App in question. Alternatively, press [Alt] + [F4].
  • Print from a Windows 8 application: If your full-screen App supports it, open the charm bar and select ‘Devices’. Click on your printer from the list to display print options.
  • Get help and support: If you need extra assistance in Windows 8, press [Windows] + [F1] at any time to open the Windows Help and Support tool.