15-Minute Beginner’s Guide to Windows 8

Introduction

Windows 8 has been released to manufacturing, and is available to developers on MSDN.  It’s quite disorientating for people who’ve worked with Windows for a while.  I’ve been playing with it and wrote some notes for myself, so I thought I’d turn them into a quick guide to navigating your way around it.

I’m going to assume you’re experienced with previous versions of Windows, you’ve managed to get Windows 8 installed, and have got past the logon screen to the start screen.  I’m also going to assume you’re a developer and therefore don’t like to reach for the mouse too much whilst working: there will be a lot of shortcut keys in this.  I’m also assuming you don’t have a touch screen.

Philosophy

The first thing to realize is that Windows 8 is intended to be both a desktop operating system (OS) and a tablet operating system.  This is logical: Microsoft need a version of Windows that can run on low-powered tablets, so they either had to write a new OS or make Windows itself capable of doing it.  They went for the latter.

However, desktop and tablet operating systems are inevitably slightly different.  Windows 8  on a PC is effectively a desktop operating system with a tablet operating system embedded in it.

Windows 8 Style User Interface (previously ‘Metro’)

The tablet part of the new OS has a new tiled user interface design, currently called the ‘Windows 8 style user interface’.  It also has tablet-style apps that run full screen.  There’s a store for the apps: it looks like Microsoft is going to pursue the proprietary locked-in approach to tablet software that other companies are using.  Apple fanboys might want to think about the effects of Apple’s approach on the industry.

Of course Windows 8 still has a full old Windows 7 style desktop within it, including all of the old desktop applications that don’t have to run full screen.

Start Screen

The start screen is the one you see in all the screenshots.

Think of the start screen as a fullscreen and more sophisticated version of the start menu in Windows 7.  It even starts in a similar way: you go to far bottom left of the screen and click.

Obviously you can click on any of the tiles to launch the new apps.  You can also click on tiles for old desktop apps, although you may need to set them up.  You can also navigate and launch apps by using the arrow keys and Enter.

You can get back to the start screen once you’ve launched an app if  you hit the Windows key, or, as already mentioned, if you move your mouse to the far bottom left and click.  Hitting the Windows key again will take you back to where you were.

Rearranging the Start Screen

You can drag tiles around on the start screen to rearrange them.  You can move the mouse to the far left or far right to scroll.  If you right-click the background to the start screen an option for ‘All Apps’ appears, and you can right-click one of these to add it to the main start screen.

You can zoom out by clicking the little minus sign in the bottom right of the screen.  This is useful if you’ve set up a lot of tiles.  It allows you to move groups of tiles around by dragging, and to name them, by right-clicking.

Search

You can just start typing the name of your application with the start screen visible.  It will immediately show a search screen and filter down to your application in a few keystrokes, after which you can just hit ‘enter’.  Again this is very similar to starting an application with the keyboard in Windows 7 via the Start menu, except it’s faster and far more powerful.

You can also bring up the search screen from the charms menu (see below), or with Windows+q.

You can search for files or settings; just use the options underneath the search box. You can also search WITHIN an app in the same way.  For example, the way to search in the Wikipedia app is to use the Windows 8 search menu: there’s no visible search functionality in the apps own screens.

You can add applications to the start screen from the search screen as well.  Find the item you want to add with the search features and right-click it.

Windows 7 Style Desktop

You can get to the old style desktop by clicking on the desktop tile on the start screen, or by hitting Windows+d.  If the desktop is already running there are other ways of getting to it: more on this later.

The only really noticeable change in the new desktop is that the Start button has disappeared, to be replaced by the start screen as discussed above.  There are a few minor improvements to the desktop as well: for example, Task Manager is far more powerful, and if you do a large file copy you get a little chart of the speed over time in the copy dialog.  Also Windows Explorer now has a ribbon interface.

Missing from the Windows 8 desktop are the gadgets that you could set up on the desktop, and the Aero glass look for the title bars of the windows.  They aren’t available.  Window title bars don’t even have a gradient, they are just solid blocks of colour.  This is the new ‘chromeless’ look: it also affects things like scrollbars and buttons.

‘Charms’ Menu

Windows+c, or move mouse to bottom right or top left brings up the so-called ‘charms’ menu from anywhere.  It slides out from the right side of the screen.  This has icons for Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings.  Search and Start bring up the relevant screens discussed above.

Settings

The Settings icon on the charms menu lets you access the full tablet settings screen by clicking on ‘Change PC Settings’ at the very bottom.  Here you can do things like change the picture on the lock screen or change the background to the Start screen (under ‘Personalize’), or change your password (under ‘Users’).

Tablet Apps

The tablet apps need work, although some of them are already pretty good.  Obviously you visit the Store app from the start screen to browse and install additional apps.  Here’s the default weather app, which has a lot more detail if you scroll to the right:

Many of the apps have menus in them.  To bring these up right-click on the background, or use Windows+z.

You can close an app with Alt + F4 or by moving the mouse to the top middle of the screen and dragging all the way to the bottom.  You can also right-click in the left-hand slideout menu mentioned above.

You usually have to scroll in an app by moving to the bottom of the screen and using the scrollbar that appears.  There don’t appear to be any mouse gestures to scroll.

Moving Between Apps

If you move the mouse to the bottom left and then move up, or to the top left and then move down, then a slideout menu appears on the left side of the screen with all the tablet apps previewed apart from the one you are currently in.  You can click on one to go to it.  This menu treats the entire desktop as one tablet app.

You can also bring up the slideout menu and tab between apps with Windows+Tab.  This is actually a bit annoying as it doesn’t include the current app so you can’t change your mind and stay where you are.

You can move to the last tablet app you were in by moving the mouse to the top left and clicking.

You can move between all open applications, desktop plus tablet, with Alt-Tab.

Tiling Tablet Apps

You can’t actually fully tile tablet apps, but you can show a main app and have a second one in a sidebar at the left- or right-hand side of the screen.  This is called the ‘Snap’ feature.  The sidebar will stay there as you show different apps in the main window area, including if you bring up the desktop.

By default this only works on fairly high resolution screens, 1366×768 or higher, which means it won’t work on most laptops or corporate desktops unfortunately.

To set this up bring up the lefthand slideout menu (bottom left and move up with the mouse), leftclick the open app that you want in a sidebar, and drag it into the sidebar position.

You can make the desktop itself into a sidebar, in which case it shows the open desktop applications.  You can also drag the sidebar divider to the right or left, which will close the sidebar or make it the main app.

Browsers

There are actually two versions of Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8: the tablet app version and the version that runs on the desktop.  The app version has a less easy interface, but more significantly it will only run Adobe Flash on certain websites that Microsoft has vetted as safe.  The desktop version has no such restrictions.

Old Windows Keys Combinations

Most of the useful old Windows keys combinations still work from anywhere, including in tablet apps.  So Windows+e will bring up a Windows Explorer window on the desktop from anywhere, Windows+m will go to the desktop and minimize all applications.

Start Screen Right Click Menu

If you move your mouse to the bottom left to bring up the start screen icon and then right-click instead of left-clicking you get a handy power user menu for desktop functionality.  This works from anywhere.  The menu includes options to go directly to the Explorer, Task Manager, Event Viewer, Control Panel, Search, Desktop or an admin Command Prompt.

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Running Visual Studio as an Administrator under Windows Vista

Introduction

This article discusses why we should run Visual Studio as an administrator, and examines the easiest way to do that under Windows Vista.

Visual Studio and Administrator Rights

As .Net developers we need to be able to run Visual Studio as a Windows administrator.

Visual Studio 2005 actually warns you at start up if you are not running it as an administrator under Vista, and Microsoft recommends that you always run it with administrator privileges.  In fact MSDN gives a list of scenarios where Visual Studio 2005 will have ‘issues’ if it is not running with these privileges:

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/vstudio/aa972193.aspx

For other versions of Visual Studio and operating systems there are fewer issues about not running Visual Studio as an administrator.  However there are a number of scenarios where you need administrative privileges.  These include needing to install or reinstall anything, or to do any kind of Office add-in work, or to use ActiveX controls, or even just to register a library for COM Interop.

Running Visual Studio as an Administrator

Under earlier versions of Windows developers usually just made themselves local administrators on their development computers to ensure Visual Studio had sufficient privileges.   Under Vista however, this is not enough (it is still necessary to be an administrator, but not sufficient).

This is because if you run an application under Vista by default it does not have administrative privileges unless specifically given them.  This is true even if the user running the application has administrative privileges.

Granting Visual Studio Administrative Privileges

There are (at least) three ways of starting Visual Studio with administrative privileges in Vista.

Note that for all three you need access to an administrator account.  It’s easiest if you are logged in as an administrator, in which case you will simply get a User Account Control warning saying ‘A program needs your permission to continue’ (and you can just click ‘OK’).  If you are not logged in as an administrator the User Account Control will ask you for an administrator’s ID and password before it will launch the program.

The three ways of running Visual Studio with administrative privileges are:

  1. Right-click on the shortcut to Visual Studio and select ‘Run as administrator’ from the context menu.
  2. Type ‘devenv’ into the Start Search box (at the bottom of the Vista Start menu: just hit the Windows key and you are in it).  Then hit Control-Shift-Enter, rather than just Enter.  Control-Shift-Enter tells Windows to start the program with administrative privileges.  This one is for those of you who don’t like reaching for a mouse.
  3. Right-click a shortcut to Visual Studio, select the Compatibility tab, and check the ‘Run this program as an administrator’ checkbox at the bottom.

Always Running Visual Studio as an Administrator

The last of the items above (item 3) is the one to use if you always want to run Visual Studio as an administrator.  Once the checkbox is checked in future you will be able to click on any shortcut to Visual Studio and it will run with elevated privileges.

Note that setting the ‘Run this program as an administrator’ property on a shortcut actually sets it on the underlying executable itself (in this case devenv.exe).  It isn’t possible as far as I can see to have one shortcut that will run the program as an administrator, and another one that will run it with normal privileges.

User Account Control

If you always run Visual Studio as an administrator you are going to get the User Access Control warning every time you start it, even if you are logged in as an administrator to Windows.  Obviously you can just click ‘OK’ to dismiss this warning, but it may tempt you to turn User Access Control off.

Note that this is true only if Vista’s User Account Control (UAC) is turned on.  Many developers turn UAC off, and in this case Vista behaves in the same way as earlier versions of Windows with regard to starting Visual Studio: if you are logged in as an administrator then Visual Studio will by default run with administrative privileges.

The Administrator Account

Vista also has an account called ‘Administrator’ which behaves differently from other administrator accounts.  In fact it behaves like administrator accounts in earlier versions of Windows, in that all programs launched when using it run with administrator privileges by default.  There’s no need to specifically set up the program as described above.

As a developer your really shouldn’t need to use this account: you can develop with administrator privileges using the techniques described in this article.

However you may have occasions when you aren’t sure whether a program is failing because of some coding error or simply because a process is being launched with insufficient privileges.  In these cases it may be useful to use the Administrator account temporarily to simply rule out a problem with privileges.  Note that if you work for a large organization they are almost certainly not going to let you near this account, however: this is really only useful for those developing at home.

Using the Administrator Account

To enable the Administrator account start a command prompt with administrator privileges as described above (type ‘cmd’ in the Start Search box and hit Control-Shift-Enter).  Then enter:

net user Administrator /active:yes

This has a blank password by default.  To set a password use:

net user Administrator {password}

You can now log off and log on as the Administrator.  Once you are done with any testing you should disable this account again as below

net user Administrator /active:no

Note that disabling the account does not clear the password.  However if you forget it you can always set it again as above when you come to use the account again (provided you have access to at least one account with administrator privileges).

Aside: Administrator Account on Windows XP

The Administrator account discussed above is the main default administrator account for a computer.  Previous versions of Windows had this account as well, although other accounts with administrator rights behaved in the same way.

In particular it existed under XP.  Not only that it was enabled by default, and had a blank password.  If you’ve got an XP computer at home try hitting Ctrl-Alt-Del twice on the screen that shows your accounts, and then enter ‘Administrator’ and a blank password.  If that logs you on with admin rights you may want to consider disabling the account as described above.