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Windows 8 UI Basics

The Definitive Windows 8 Review And User Guide

The way in which you navigate the Windows 8 UI is completely different from any other version of Windows in history. Let's go over the major on-screen elements as well as basic control mechanics (arguably the most non-obvious aspect to Windows 8).

Navigating The Windows 8 UI

Since Windows 8 was designed with touch-based devices in mind, and a taskbar crams in too much information to be finger-friendly, the Windows 8 UI employs four different tool bars, one for each edge of the screen. The screenshot below is a map of the Windows 8 UI from the Start screen.

Windows 8 UI MapWindows 8 UI Map

The right-hand bar is called the Charms bar. Below is a shot of the Windows 8 Start screen with the Charms bar active.

Charms BarCharms Bar

The bar that spawns from the left side of the screen is called the Switcher, and the following image is of the Windows 8 Start screen with the Switcher visible.


The bottom bar is called the App bar, and the screenshot below shows the App bar on the Windows 8 Start screen.

The last bar appears from up top and is called the Navigation bar. Only a few apps make use of the navigation bar, and it does not appear on the Start screen. The screenshot below is of the Navigation and App bars in Internet Explorer 10.

Navigation & App BarsNavigation & App Bars

Controlling The Windows 8 UI

There are no maximize or minimize buttons in the Windows 8 UI. Instead, the active window appears full-screen by default, and inactive applications are simply hidden from sight. This is very much how mobile operating systems like Google's Android, Apple's iOS, and HP's WebOS are organized.

That's not to say that Windows 8 takes us back to the dark ages of single-tasking. Rather, Windows 8 lets you Snap apps, somewhat similarly to Windows 7. In fact, window management (really, app management in Windows 8), is accomplished entirely through Snap. When you move the mouse cursor to the top of the screen in an app (including the Desktop), the familiar pointer becomes a hand.

You can Snap any app to either side of the screen. Unlike Aero Snap in Windows 7, Snap in the Windows 8 UI doesn't split the screen into equal halves. Instead, one app becomes a small sidebar, while the other monopolizes most of the screen.

Once an app is snapped, you can go back to the Start screen and open another app to populate what desktop real estate remains. Alternatively, you can also select an app that is already open from the Switcher on the left side of the screen.

Windows 8 UI SnapWindows 8 UI Snap

A thick vertical slider bar separates the two applications. Dragging the slider toward the larger window turns it into the sidebar-sized app, thereby enlarging the app that was previously the sidebar.

Moving the slider all of the way off either side of the screen causes the window occupying that side to disappear, and the other app returns to full-screen mode.

You can also take an app and swap it over to the other side of the screen by clicking and dragging it over. This swaps the position of two open applications, but does not change their size.

Finally, you close Windows 8 apps by dragging them down to the bottom of the screen. They'll resist at about the halfway point, but quickly accelerate once your cursor gets close to the bottom edge. Ostensibly, this is to reduce unintended closures on touchscreens. However, the action is more of an issue on some older-style trackpads. Successfully closing an app on Toshiba's Satellite S955 using double-tap and drag (not the physical buttons) is a challenge. The clickpad-equipped Toshiba Satellite P845t, on the other hand, was much easier to use.

Now that we're better-acquainted with the basics, let's dig deeper into the Windows 8 UI, starting with the, er, Start screen.

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