The Windows 8 Release Preview download is out and available for all to install and, if you’re a regular here at Pocket-lint and of the non-Mac persuasion, it’s well worth doing. In fact, according to Microsoft, it’s even worth doing if you run a Mac.
Now, we’re not saying that Windows 8 is the best thing since sliced wafers. Indeed, according to our own Ian Morris, it’s more like the worst thing since fried Vista, but don’t let that put you off. What might be making you a little uncomfortable is the fact that you don’t have a touchscreen computer. No, most people don’t. Don’t worry. The trouble is, what with Windows 8 and that added Metro interface all built with touch in mind, being stuck with a mouse can be all too much of a drag.
Help is, very literally, at hand though. You have a keyboard and one that’s bursting with shortcuts, ready to get things done far quicker than either a touchscreen or a mouse could. Some are those that you might be familiar with from Windows 7 and some are entirely new, but here are a handful worth remembering to get you started on your journey of learning a new desktop OS.
Spacebar to unlock
There are a few different ways of getting through the lock screen but most of them involve dragging your mouse most of the way across your desk and off the other side if you’re not using a touch PC. Instead, save yourself the bother and a few broken coffee cups by thumping the spacebar instead. It’s also a wonderfully neolithic entrance to what is supposed to be a super-advanced piece of software.
Windows + L = Lock
You’ve unlocked with a swat of your palm, now lock back up again with hardly any more effort. As with the previous version of Windows, you’ll be relieved to see that a trusty Windows + L maneouvre will take you back to the lockscreen again. It certainly beats the mystery of trying to shut your machine down.
Hit the spacebar on the main view of the the Metro UI and you get something resembling a taskbar popping up at the bottom of the screen. It's not really a taskbar but it does give you some controls over your live tiles which are worth customising as to your needs.
Windows + X = Start Menu
To be fair, it’s not really the Start Menu that you’ll know and love from Windows 7 but it’s as close a thing as you’re going to get. Looking more like the grey, right-click kind of options, you’ll find yourself presented with control panel options, links to programs, task managers, power managers, device information and more. You know, a bit like the Start Menu but with all of the style, design and, yes, life sucked out of it.
Windows + Q = Apps
Naturally all that verve and elan from the Start Menu had to be put somewhere. Hit the Windows key and Q to find some of it. What you’ll see is a massive, scrollable and very pretty Metro look at all the apps you’ve installed.
Windows + W = Search
The search function on the old Start Menu may have been fun but now Windows 8 is getting all contextual with search instead. Hit the Windows + W shortcut in any app or screen to bring up a search menu from the right where you can dig away to your heart's content.
Windows + Z = Context
For even more contextual information, press Windows + Z at the same time. The effect is slightly different depending on which app you're in at the time but expect tabs and address bars to pop up when browsing and other options from the top and bottom in other areas.
Windows + F4 = Close
You know this, or you certainly should. If there’s two Windows shortcuts that you ever picked up, this should be the second and, yes, it still works. More to the point, it’s more important than ever. Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to dispense with that little X in the top right corner of windows that allows you to close them. In fairness, the idea is that the computer takes care of it all for you but, if you still find it unnerving that some bits and pieces might be open or running, then just hit that magic Windows + F4 combo to shut them down.
Windows + Tab = Fast Switching
Fast switching is your way to flick between open applications on Windows 8 and you can do that by either using Windows + Tab or Alt + Tab much like on Windows 7. The difference here is that the funky Aero look is lost, in the case of the former, and replaced with a dedicated bar that slides out of the left side of the screen. Fortunately, the Alt + Tab version is better on Windows 8 and cycles between full screen versions of your open applications very smoothly indeed.
Ctrl + Shift + Esc = Task Manager
Another classic from the Windows 7 days is the shortcut to the Task Manager that is Ctrl + Shift + Esc. It's not always easy to find the familiar parts of an OS that you're sure must exist when the UI has entirely changed, so it's good to know that keyboard navigation will still do you proud.
Windows + E = Computer
Feeling like you’ve lost control? Fear not, the Windows + E shortcut still works to snap you straight into the Computer (or what used to be My Computer) window. From there, you’ll be able to get the usual proper picture of how much storage you’ve got left, what devices are plugged into your machine and a decent starting place for exploring your files. E is for explore.
Windows + . = Cascade
One of the sexier look and feel touches of the Metro UI on Windows 8 is the cascade effect of the application windows. Pressing Windows + . allows you to switch around and cycle through a few of the looks which maximise and marginalise certain windows to present you with a different slant on multitasking.
Windows + H = Share
With social networking and the ever-popular sharing concept in technology, Microsoft has brought a direct sharing technique and shortcut to Windows 8 and the Metro UI. Hit Windows + H on a picture or other such file and a menu slides in from the right offering to share that item on whatever compatible service apps you have installed. Sadly, when we tried it, the only option we got was Mail. Nonetheless, the instant attachment and new message produced made things very quick and easy.
Windows + C = Charms
Another of the big push features and new terms of Windows 8 is the charms. Windows + C slides them in from the right where you can access the very fundamental areas that are Search, Settings, Devices, Sharing and Start. All very key bits and pieces.
Windows + , = Invisible
Aero isn't completely dead. That little corner rectangle which offered a way of seeing through your applications all the way to the desktop is now repeated by hitting Windows + ,. It's not wildly useful but it's a nice way of sticking your head up above the clouds for a moment before diving back into your work.
Let us know in the comments of any non-touch treasures that you did up on your travels