The Best Windows 8 Shortcuts And Tricks

Windows 8 sports a radical new interface, designed for both touch-enabled devices and the more traditional keyboard/mice combination. Like any new system, it takes time to learn and adapt to the new options, as well as find the more familiar Windows features. These are our top Windows 8 shortcuts and tips for getting around.

We’ve been covering Windows 8 since it was first announced, and if you’re a regular Lifehacker reader you’ll have seen our previous guides to the most useful Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts and the gestures Windows 8 uses. Some of those will also feature in this post, where we cover the major changes.

It’s worth saying up front: while the new Modern interface does look different (and works better with a touch screen than a mouse and keyboard), once you move into the Desktop environment Windows is very much as before, and all your existing apps work exactly as they did. The one notable change is the absence of a Start menu, but if you miss it, it’s easy to restore.

Logging In

The Windows 8 lock screen you see when your computer starts up doesn’t have any login options (though you can customise it to show upcoming appointments and other details). To get past the lock screen and log in, you can swipe up from the bottom or, with your mouse, click on the bottom edge and drag up. Better yet, use this time-saving trick: just click on any key on your keyboard. Voila! There’s the login screen.

Getting Around The New Start Screen

Now you’re in the new tile-based interface, which used to be called Metro. Think of the colourful start screen as the replacement for the traditional start menu in Windows 7 and earlier version, laid out in a grid.

Navigate the horizontal menu by swiping to the right or left, click and dragging with a mouse, or using the scroll wheel on your mouse.

These are the major features of the new start screen/interface and how to work with them:

Tiles: Shortcuts To All Your Apps

Both full-screen Windows 8 apps (either built-in to the system or acquired from the Windows Store) and desktop apps all have shortcuts here. The newer apps have customisable tiles which can update themselves automatically with relevant information; older desktop apps have static icons.

To manage tiles on the Start screen: Right-click, swipe down from the top of the tile, or press the little menu key on your keyboard with the app selected to bring up options like uninstalling the apps or unpinning them from the start screen.

The Charms Bar

If you remember just one keyboard shortcut, this should be it: Windows-C. This brings up Charms, which offers easy access to search, sharing and settings functions. The search function varies depending on what you’re doing; in the Store, for instance, it will default to searching for new apps.

Other ways to bring up the Charms panel include swiping from the right edge to the left on the touch screen, or pointing with your mouse to the top right or bottom right corner of the screen.

You can also use these keyboard shortcuts to quickly jump to:

  • Search: Windows-Q
  • Share: Windows-H
  • Settings: Windows-I
  • Devices: Windows-K

The App Switcher

To see all of your open applications and cycle between them hit Win+Tab. This brings up the App Switcher panel on the left with thumbnails of all the open apps. (Alt+Tab also still works if you’re used to that method.)

Alternatively, you can hover your mouse over the top left corner and drag down on the thumbnail to see the list of running apps. Then click the one you want to get to.

If you have a touch screen, you can also switch to the last-used app by swiping from left to right.

The Apps Bar

The Apps Bar is a menu that opens on the bottom of the screen to present other options. It’s the equivalent of the context menu you access via right-clicking in lder apps.

Open it by swiping down from the top or up from the bottom of the screen. You can also right-click anywhere with your mouse or hit Win+Z.

Working With Apps

To remove or unpin a tile from the start screen, either right-click to select it, press the menu key on the keyboard, or swipe down on the tile. This will bring up options for managing the tile.

By default, Windows leaves full-screen apps open. What if you want to close an app? The old Alt+F4 shortcut still works. Otherwise, drag the top of the screen (with your mouse or finger) and release the thumbnail on the bottom.

Getting To The Desktop

The familiar Windows desktop is still very much a feature. To get to it, hit Windows-D or tap/click the Desktop tile on the start screen.


You can snap full-screen apps to the left or right of the screen while working in the desktop. (This only works on screens with at least 1366 by 768 resolution.) To do so: Swipe in from the left edge of the screen, move your mouse cursor to the top left corner and swipe down to show the thumbnails of your open apps. Select one and drag its thumbnail to the right until you see a dark grey snap bar on either the left or right side. Then release the thumbnail there to snap the app. Windows-fullstop will also snap to the right (Windows-shift-fullstop snaps to the left). This is a useful way to have two apps visible at once.

For external monitor and projector options, hit Windows-P. Alternatively, on the Charms panel, select Devices, then Second Screen.

Printing And Taking Screenshots

To print from a Metro app, open the Charms panel (Win+C, hover your mouse on a right corner, or swipe in from the right). Then select the Devices charm and select your printer. For more print options, click the More settings link.

Windows 8 comes with a handy new screenshot shortcut: Hit Win+PrtSc and the system not only takes the screenshot, it automatically saves it as a PNG file in your pictures folder (under a new Screenshots folder). The existing PrtSc and Alt-PrtSc options continue to work.

Changing Settings

Hit Windows-I to get to open the settings menu (or open the Charms bar and select Settings). What’s on that menu will change depending on the app you’re in or if you’re on the start screen. The PC settings — which appear as a simplified version of the control panel — is under the “PC Settings” button.

Under the PC Settings screen, you can customise the lock screen with a background image and also choose the apps that show notifications/information when the screen is locked. For example, you can have the Mail app show new emails or the Weather app show a forecast.

Shutting Down

Finally, shutting down Windows 8 way requires a number of steps: Open the Charms Bar then click Settings (or hit Win+I), then the Power button, and select if you want to Sleep, Shut down, or Update and restart.

You can also press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and hit the power button in the bottom right. Or, better yet, add a shutdown button to your start screen with a shortcut.

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