Introduction

I’ve been reading lots of feedback people are giving online, about how they want the Start Menu back.

I’ll be honest, when I first started using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I felt the same way. I would have something I needed to do, go into the Desktop, and then sit there for a minute or two trying to figure out what to do – because I couldn’t click on the Start menu and start looking around. Where’s my Control Panel? Where are my programs? It was frustrating.

But then things started to change…

I played and learned, wrote this Win8 Shortcut Guide, and played some more. Eventually, I started to realize that the Win8 Start page has some fantastic improvements that are far better than the old Start Menu – zooming out in particular I find quite a bit faster for managing and seeking through a large number of apps and shortcuts, and Charms make it easy to find and do other things.

A Charming Start screen

Shortly thereafter, the Start Menu started to look old and clunky to me. Why do I have to click on all of these folders to get someplace? Needless to say, I was a little shocked when this shift started to happen!

The Start Menu now reminds me of this. Tons of people yelled and complained when Windows lost Program Manager:

Windows 3.1 Program Manager

I also remember teaching my mother in law how to use Windows 7 and how challenging and finicky the Start Menu was for her. Could it be that there is a better alternative for a power user like me that also works for the “digitally un-inclined”?

I believe there is.

Don’t get me wrong here, there are definitely things that can be improved, and there is a new learning curve for a billion Windows users ahead – but after playing around a bit and getting over the initial hump, I can honestly say that the new Start page is making me more productive for my common tasks, and even my not-so-common ones.

Incidentally, I use Windows in three primary environments today – on a desktop (HP), a laptop (Lenovo), and a new tablet (Samsung), which is often docked with keyboard and mouse.

I use the keyboard and mouse far more than I use touch today. Throughout this walkthrough, I’ll explain how to do things with the keyboard, the mouse, and touch. If you want to know even more Shortcuts beyond those in this walkthrough, please see the Windows 8 – Ultimate Shortcuts Guide.

I hope you learn something, and begin to find the Start page as useful as I now do. Enjoy!

Feedback

I’m open to feedback, suggestions, and questions:

· https://twitter.com/derickatms @DerickAtMS

· https://www.facebook.com/derickc

Disclosure: I work for Microsoft (currently in Microsoft Research), but I have not been involved in shipping Windows or Metro design.

“Start”ing Principles

After working with the Start page and the Apps page within it and understanding their differences, this has led me to notice some guiding principles in play. Understanding them will help you take better advantage of the Start page. If you can make this leap ahead, you won’t miss the Start Menu anymore.

But first, there are two group introductory videos you should watch. Go check them out if you haven’t already seen them:

Start is all about you. What do you want to see first? What apps do you want to have handy? What tiles have useful information you want to see at a glance? How might you group things together to find them quickly and be more productive?

Start is the most important subset of your former Start Menu – it’s the stuff that matters to you most. It provides access to your Apps, important shortcuts, and live tiles that bring useful information right up front for you.

Apps is about the PC. What Metro Apps and Desktop Apps are installed? What Start Menu folders did your Desktop Apps create? It provides an alphabetical listing of all main applications, followed by shortcuts grouped into their Start Menu folders.

Apps are a superset of the Start page. Apps are what used to be on your Start Menu. You pin items in Apps to Start to make them easier to reach. You unpin them from Start, but they are still waiting for you in Apps if you need them later.

This means we’re going to use Apps to store all of the Desktop Apps, Metro Apps, and Shortcuts that you ever might need – everything – and then pin some of them to Start for easy access.

Yes, even shortcuts to your Desktop environment that you need should be in Apps, and on Start as you see fit. This gives you fast access to everything you care about, regardless if it is Metro or an app from your rich Windows past.

We won’t store files in Apps – they belong in a Library, the Documents folder, on Skydrive, or similar – but we will create shortcuts to files and folders that are important to us, put them in Apps, and pin some of them to the Start page.

Both Start and Apps use side-to-side, zooming, and grouping metaphors rather than a vertical files and folders metaphor for navigation. It takes a while to get used to, but once you do you’ll find that your programs aren’t hidden behind a cascading wall of Start Menu folders anymore. They’re really easy to see and find.

Moving through the Start and Apps pages with your mouse and keyboard is really fast – much faster than hunting around through the Start Menu ever was.

Start

To get to the Start page, use one of the following options.

Keyboard

  • Press the Windows key, which I will call Win, or
  • Ctrl + Esc.

Mouse

  • Click the bottom-left corner, or
  • Hover to the top-right corner -> move down -> click Start, or
  • Hover to the bottom-right corner -> move up -> click Start.

Touch

  • Swipe from right edge -> tap Start, or
  • Press the hardware Win key on a tablet.

When you are already on the Start page, the above step will take you to your last running app.

The Start screen looks something like this:

Start Screen

Tip: If you have a laptop or tablet that you dock with a second monitor, you will notice that when your screen resolution changes the Start page automatically adjusts to it. This means that top-to-bottom tile placement may look different (with more or less room for tiles). Your groups will still be in the same left-to-right order.

In the previous screenshot, I’m using the native resolution of a Samsung Slate. In the following screenshot, I’m using a higher resolution monitor with the same Slate.

Start Screen, high-res

Navigating Start

While you are on the Start page, there are several options for navigation:

Keyboard

  • PgDn and PgUp will move you right and left a page at a time. Notice that one tile will always be active, with a box around it when you are using the keyboard.
  • Arrow keys will change the active selection.
  • Home and End will take you to the beginning and end.
  • Tab will change the focus between the tile area, items on the command bar (if it is showing), and your name and account picture.
  • Enter will launch the active tile’s App.
  • Space will select the active tile, show the Command bar, and make the Command bar active.
    • Caution: Pressing Space again will Unpin this tile from Start. This is super-handy if there are several tiles in a row that you want to unpin quickly.
  • You can select multiple tiles with Space, but you must Tab off of the Command bar after the first selection to do this.
  • Win + Z will show/hide the Command bar. Hiding the Command bar will deselect any selected tiles.
  • Ctrl + – will zoom out, allowing you to see more. From this view, you can move and name your Start groups
    • There are only two zoom levels: normal and out. You do not need to press this key combination more than once.
  • Ctrl + = will zoom back in
    • Caution: Win + = starts Magnifier, which offers a very different type of zooming that is less useful on the Start page.
  • Note: I still haven’t figured out how to move tiles with the keyboard. If you know, please ping me! (Not that I want to move tiles this way, I just want to be complete in this article.)

Mouse

  • Scroll wheel down and up moves you right and left quickly.
  • Pushing against the right edge and left edge of the screen will also move you right and left.
  • Click a tile to launch that App.
  • Right-click a tile to select it, and show the Command bar
    • You can right-click several tiles to Unpin then all at the same time.
  • Click the bottom-right corner (icon Mouse Magnify) of the screen to zoom out, or hold Ctrl and Scroll Down
    • Right-click a group to name it.
    • Drag and drop groups to move many tiles at once.
    • Click anywhere to zoom back in again.
  • Drag a tile to move it somewhere else
    • Navigate as usual if you like (scroll, left, right, up, down) to a new location.
    • Drag the tile to the top or bottom of the screen to zoom out, then drag back to the middle to move it quickly to a different group.
    • Drop to relocate the tile in the new location.

Touch

  • Slide left and right to move right and left.
  • Tap a tile to launch the App.
  • Swipe a tile down to select it and show the Command bar
    • Swipe several tiles to Unpin them together.
  • Drag a tile to move it somewhere else
    • Use a second finger to slide everything else left and right, or drag the tile to the edge of the screen.
    • Drag the tile to the top or bottom of the screen to zoom out, bringing it back into the middle exactly near the tiles you want.
    • Let go to place the tile in a new location.
  • Pinch to zoom out.
    • Drag and drop to move groups.
    • Swipe a group to name it.
  • Tap an open area or reverse-pinch to zoom back in.

The Start screen, zoomed out:

Start Screen, zoomed out

Grouping Tiles

Start groups are helpful ways to keep tiles together, and can each have a name if you like. If you have a growing Start page, groups can inject some helpful structure.

To create a new group, drag a tile to the left or right of the group it is in until a vertical shaded bar appears. Drop the tile in that area, and it is now part of a new group!

To name a group, zoom out, select the group and use the Name group feature on the Command bar.

Start Screen, name group

Apps

The Apps page is available from the Start page in several ways.

Keyboard

  • Just start typing, and this bring up the Apps page with a Search bar containing what you’ve typed
    • Press Esc once to clear your search. Press Esc again to leave you in Apps, without a Search bar. I’ve found this view of Apps quite helpful.
    • If you press Esc a third time, Start will close and you will return to your previous App.
  • Win + Q also brings up Apps with a Search bar. Note: Win + Q is app-sensitive. If you use it from a Metro App it will default to search that App.

Mouse

  • Right-click an empty part of Start, then click All Apps on the Command bar.

Touch

  • Swipe the right edge and touch Search. Tap outside of the Search bar area to remain in Apps, or
  • Swipe from the top or bottom and tap All Apps on the Command bar.

Now you should see a page called Apps, with lots of icons and App names. For purposes of the next exercise, I’ll be using Apps without the Search bar.

Apps

Navigating Apps

Use the same controls for navigating Apps as you do on Start. Remember that Apps are sorted alphabetically, followed by folders that exist on the Start Menu.

As you can see, there are far more Apps installed than you will likely include on your Start page.

This makes zooming really helpful on Apps. When I’m moving around with my mouse, I find it particularly helpful to zoom out, find the Start Menu folder I’m looking for, select it to zoom in, and then select the App I’m looking for.

Here’s a specific example. I have Visual Studio 11 installed, but I haven’t pinned it to my Start page. I go into Apps, zoom out, click on the Microsoft Visual Studio 11 group, and then start the app.

Apps, zoomed out

One of the cool things you’ll notice is that when you click on a letter or group (i.e. Start Menu folder name), the tile location will be in the exact same column as your mouse – a simple visual scan up and down will help you find exactly what you were looking for. I like it that Windows doesn’t move your mouse, but rather moves the page to you.

Select tiles (don’t launch them) on the Apps page to Pin or unpin them on the Start page using the Command bar – the same way you select them on the Start page.

Desktop Apps

Ok, now you know how to navigate the entire “Start Menu” made up of the Start and Apps pages.

In addition to some cool new Metro apps you’ve downloaded from the Store, you have “legacy” stuff all over the place (in the Desktop environment), and you want to get to it easily.

No problem – let’s pin some Apps! I say Apps, but really they can be shortcuts to anything you need to get to. I wanted to have Start tiles that get me to Minecraft, Skyrim, my old Internet Explorer Favorites, Recent Documents, and my Win8 Shortcuts Word document – none of these are Metro, and they are all going on my Start page.

But first – you should check if what you are looking for is already available on Apps. Everything that was in the Programs folder of your Start Menu is already there! Dive into Apps, zoom-out and in to the Start Menu folder that was created (or just type and search), and pin your App.

If there’s something else in your non-Metro environment that isn’t already in the Start Menu folder that you want in your Apps or pinned to Start, we’ll need to go find it the traditional “Windows 7 way”.

(Oh, and if you are looking for all of the Control Panel options, they are now called Settings in Windows 8. You can search Settings by typing, the same way you search Apps. You can also pin the Control Panel to Start if you like, or access it and other useful tools via the helpful Desktop shortcuts below.)

Getting to the Desktop

There are plenty of ways to get to the Desktop. Here are some of my favorites.

Keyboard

  • Win + D takes you to the Desktop. If you are already working on the Desktop, it alternates between minimizing and restoring running Desktop Apps.
  • Win + E runs Windows Explorer on the Desktop.
  • Win + X opens the Desktop quick menu, where you can arrow up/down to start Control Panel, Disk Management, and several other useful Desktop Apps.
  • Win + R opens the Run dialog on the Desktop, where you can type in the name of a specific program to run, folder to open, or even a web page to visit.

Mouse

  • Click the Desktop tile on Start or Apps.
  • Click the Windows Explorer tile on Start or Apps.
  • Right-click the bottom-left corner to pull up the Desktop quick menu. Without moving the mouse, left-click to open the Desktop.
  • Right-click a tile that runs a non-Metro App and select Open file location from the Command bar.

Touch

  • Touch the Desktop tile on Start or Apps.
  • Touch the Windows Explorer tile on Start or Apps.
  • Swipe down on a tile pointing to a Desktop App and select Open file location from the Command bar.

The Open file location command is a really handy way to get to the Desktop with Explorer running, already pointing to a Start Menu Programs folder, which we will use for adding Apps below.

Start Menu Programs Folders

As mentioned above, you can use the Open file location command to go directly to your Start Menu Programs folder. This is incredibly useful if you have lots of shortcuts that you want to add to Apps or you want to organize it a little with your own folders. Remember, top folders in the Start Menu Programs folder become groups in Apps.

Note: There are two Start Menu Programs folders that combine to create your Apps page (in addition to your installed Metro Apps). Open file location may take you to either one, depending on where the Shortcut for that tile is located:

  1. Your Start Menu Programs folder, usually at: C:\Users\<yourname>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
  2. The Start Menu Programs folder for Windows, usually at: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Program

Shortcuts in these root folders will appear in alphabetical order on your Apps page. Folders here will appear as groups on your Apps page.

If you want to browse to these folders without using the Open file location command, you’ll want to select Hidden items in the Show/hide section of the View ribbon in Windows Explorer, as these folders are normally hidden:

Explorer View ribbon

Pinning New Apps

Now you know how to get to the Desktop, and you know where to put Start Menu Shortcuts to have them show up on your Apps page.

Now we need to make some Shortcuts!

Use Windows Explorer (Win + E) on the Desktop and browse to the file, folder, or application you want as a tile.

Right-click it and select Create Shortcut. A shortcut will appear next to it in the same folder.

Rename the Shortcut to something meaningful, and then drag and drop it into one of the Start Menu Programs folders described above, as shown in the following picture:

Adding an App

(I like to use Aero-Snap from Win7 to put the two Windows Explorer windows next to each other, for easier drag-and-dropping between them. To use Aero-Snap, click and drag the title bar of a classic Window to the far right or left edge of the screen, and Snap, it fills half of the screen.)

Now you can visit the Apps page, where you’ll see your new Shortcut. Remember that it will be alphabetically located (if in the root folder), or in the group (top folder) you dropped it in.

Select the App (don’t launch it), and Pin it to the Start menu if you like. This will place it on the far right of the Start page (see following picture), where you can drag and drop it into exactly the right group.

New Pinned App

There are other ways to create Shortcuts, and Windows Explorer occasionally offers a menu option to pin items to the Start page directly, which will create a Shortcut for you, put it into your Start Menu Programs folder, and pin the App to your Start page.

(These didn’t work for me consistently, possibly Win8 CP bugs or user error, so I wrote the process above that worked repeatedly for me.)

Now it’s Your Turn!

I hope this walkthrough has given you enough information to be dangerous – and to really enjoy the new Start experience in Windows 8.

Have fun!

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