Windows 8 In-Depth, Part 2: The Desktop

Windows 8 In-Depth, Part 2: The Desktop

While the Metro interface is certainly the biggest new feature in Windows 8, you can still access the desktop with the click of a button — it just works a little differently than previous versions of Windows. Here’s how to use Windows 8’s version of the desktop.

Accessing the Desktop


While Windows 8 boots up into the Metro UI by default, you can get to the traditional desktop just by clicking on the desktop tile. Alternatively, you can hit Win+M on your keyboard and it’ll take you straight there.

Windows 8 treats the desktop just like any other app, so if you’re Win+Tabbing or Alt+Tabbing through applications, your desktop will be one of them. Similarly, if you use the application history feature we talked about in our Metro overview, by dragging your mouse to the left side of the screen, the desktop will be one of the apps available in that history.

The Start Button, Settings and Search

The desktop and Metro UI interact via the new Start button. The Start menu is gone in Windows 8 by default; instead, hitting the Start button takes you back to the Metro UI (as does hitting the Windows button on your keyboard). Of course, if you want the old-style Start menu back, there’s a way to do that, but you’ll lose access to the Metro UI entirely (which is fine for some people).


If you hover your mouse over the bottom left-hand corner of the Start button, you’ll see the new “Charms” menu pop up. From there you can access a Metro-based Settings bar, the Devices bar, the Share bar, and the Search bar. The Settings pane, which you can also access by hitting Win+I, will let you adjust the brightness, volume, language, notifications and Wi-Fi settings.


The most important part of the Settings pane, however, is that this is where you shut down from the desktop — you have to hit Win+I to get to the settings bar and hit the shut down button from there. It’s annoying, but the only option if you want to keep Metro around.

To search your computer, you can hit Win+F or access Search from the Charms menu. It’ll open search up in the Metro UI, where you can search for apps, settings, files, and within Metro apps themselves. If you’d rather search for files from the desktop itself, you have to open up Windows Explorer and search from the search bar.

Multiple Monitors


We’ve briefly mentioned this before, but it’s worth noting how Windows 8 manages dual monitors. By default, when you boot up, it’ll show the Metro UI on one monitor, and the desktop on the other, which is pretty cool. If you want the desktop to show up on both monitors, just hit Win+M as you would on a single monitor. You’ll also see a new button in place of the Start button on the desktop monitor, which lets you swap the two screens with the click of a button — which is awesome if you’re working with Metro and the desktop at the same time and want to flip between them often.

The other cool thing you’ll notice is that Windows 8 now supports showing the taskbar on both monitors. This is enabled by default, but if you want to disable it and show the taskbar only on one monitor, just right click on the taskbar, go to Properties, and uncheck “Show Taskbar on All Displays”. And, lastly, Windows 8 now also supports dual monitor wallpapers under Appearance and personalisation in the Control Panel.

The new desktop can take a bit of getting used to, but you really only need to fix a few shortcuts that are probably in your muscle memory from Windows 7. Of course, remember — you can always disable Metro completely if you want to. Either way, the desktop has a few handy new features, and that’s not even including the new version of Windows Explorer — but we’ll talk more about that later.


  • Anyone using Windows 8 as there only OS? is it do’able with such an early build? Also, if i installed windows 8 would it overtime update and allow me to purchase the full version (next year) from this build or would i eventually need to reinstall?

    • Heh, I did that with 7, but I think I waited for a more robust build first. Used it for ages until the final release. Probably a good idea to wait, there’s a few little annoyances they need to fix first. Maybe the next build for me! #]

    • I am using it as a prime OS on one of my dev laptops, and it is OK, but i would not recomend it for everyday use – wait till the RC for that (or the Beta if you are game :))

      • im using it as the only os on my touch screen kitchen computer.
        i only use it for music, tv and surfing the net.
        video support is understandably lacking but xbmc fixes that right up.
        as for upgrades, it was possible with win 7 but i remember every now and again a major build came along and required a clean(or hack) install.

  • I’ve been using it on my HP tablet pc for a few days. The Internet Explorer 10 Metro browser has a lot of problems and very often causes Metro to freeze for awhile though I can usually get to the regular desktop and even launch the other IE 10 browser. I’ve had 1 of the cute bluescreens of death so far. Today I noticed an an odd improvement. When I rotate my screen around, the screen automatically flips itself upside down so it can be viewed the opposite way. Tonight, suddenly there’s no lag time between the screen flipping itself. Normally it takes a second or two. Now, it’s just instantly flipping itself. There was an update last night so maybe that did it. All of my regular programs seem to be working properly.

    The big problem I see with Metro is that it will make the Windows Key an even bigger hassle than it already was. That key (plus the stupid functioning Alt key) causes all kinds of problems when using heavy shortcut commands. I stumble a lot and press the Windows key when reaching for Control key. Before it would just pop up the Start “Menu”. Now it will pop up the “start SCREEN”. It’s will jump you completely out of whatever program you were using and you’ll have to jump back. That will become aggravating after the 2nd time it happens no doubt. Of course there’s already a way to disable this and bring back the normal start menu so that is definitely in the cards for me in terms of my desktop PC. I don’t use the tablet like that. I use the tablet for drawing mostly so I don’t expect to have that problem on the tablet. I’m still not sure if I will disable the Start Screen on the tablet or not. So far, it’s not showing me anything that I “need” or even much like. But i like the “newness” of it, otherwise, I would feel like I’m just using Windows 7.1.

  • At the end of the day it is a UI for the underlying O/S. I’m sure that from 0Day, there will be all manner of hacks and mods to make the UI more “suitable” for people who don’t like the default.. but in the end, it is just a UI… nothing more than that. If it does in fact make finding, running, using applications/programs easier and quicker.. then I don’t really care what form it takes because no matter what changes are made, it’s going to take a little while to get used to it.

    This is all provided it works as promised.. does not add another layer of nanny-state security and generally screw with the power-user.. and so on.

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