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.
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.