Windows 8 survival guide for touch and tablet users

Many features of Microsoft’s new Windows are designed for touch control on tablets – or perhaps a touch screen on your desktop or laptop. If you have one of those, congratulations: you are set to get the best from Windows 8. Even so, finding your way around does take a bit of time to learn, thanks to some non-obvious features. Here is a brief survival guide for tablet and touch users – if you only have keyboard and mouse see here. If you have a hybrid with both, I suggest reading both survival guides; some things are easier with a keyboard and mouse.

That said, I have found that almost anything can be accomplished with touch alone; and it is worth persevering since it gets easier with practice. A slate without a keyboard is smaller and more convenient that a laptop or slate with loose keyboard. The exception: if I need to type a lengthy piece, a keyboard is worth the inconvenience.

I am mostly avoiding third-party utilities. This is for out-of-the-box Windows 8.

Options are shown a, b , c etc where they are alternatives. Steps are shown as 1, 2, 3 where needed.

How do you right-click an icon without a mouse?

In the Desktop, you can do the equivalent of a right-click by tapping and holding an item until a rectangle outline appears under your finger. Release to show the right-click menu (context menu).

How do you type in a desktop app when the keyboard does not appear?

Tap the Touch keyboard icon in the notification area at bottom right of the screen.


How do I stop the keyboard covering what I am typing in a desktop app?

Very annoying and I do not have a perfect solution. One option is to dock the on-screen keyboard by tapping the dock icon at top right of the keyboard:


In this mode, it will not overlap any apps. I find it annoying though since you now have a short screen, and when you hide the keyboard apps remain in the position the keyboard pushed them to, so I have to resize them.

Tap the icon when docked to undock.

My tip: try typing in portrait mode. Docked or undocked, this gives you a better chance of not having to type into the void.

How do you get back to the Start screen?

a. The Start menu is a now a full-screen Metro application. You can find it in several ways. Press the Windows key, which is present even on tablets as the solitary key under the display.

b. You can also swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, then tap Start.


c. A third way is to swipe in from the left and then immediately out again. This brings up the app history bar. Tap the Start tile at the bottom.

How do I organize the Start screen into groups?

The new Start screen is not hierarchical, but does support named groups. Two things you need to know:

1. To create a group, tap on a tile and drag up slightly as if you were going to flick to select, but don’t lift your finger. An outline appears on the tile and you can drag a tile right or left until it passes a grey vertical bar. Release to start the new group, or drag further to add to a different group. You can drag past the end of the screen to have further groups scroll into view.


Add further tiles to a new group by dragging them under one of the existing tiles in the group.

2. To name and/or move the group, put two fingers on the screen and pinch inwards. This will zoom out. Now, flick up on the group you want to name. This selects the group. Then you can tap Name group to name or rename it.image_thumb4

3. To move a group, use the same technique you used to move a tile – flick up, but do not lift your finger. Now you can drag the whole group to a new position.

I turned my tablet on and the logon screen comes up, but it does not respond to touch.

I hope this never happens to you, but I have seen it regularly on a Samsung Slate and guess it may happen on other models too. The only solution I have found is to reset the machine. To do this:

1. Hold down the power button until the unit turns off.

2. Now hold does the power button again. When the unit seems to be turning on, keep the button held down. Eventually it will turn off again. Now it is completely off. Turn on again in the normal way, and your touch control should be OK again.

I have the Start screen or a Metro app running. How do I get to the desktop?

You can go back to the Start screen and tap the Desktop tile. There is a better way though. Unless you are already at the Start screen, it is quicker to raise the app history bar by swiping in from the left and then out again. Then tap the Desktop tile.


I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. Where are the menus and settings?

There are two places to look. To get menus, like the tabs and address bar in Metro Internet Explorer, swipe in from the top or bottom of the screen. To get settings, swipe in from the right to show the Charms bar, and tap Settings. The settings are contextual, so you will get the settings for the current app.

I’m in a Metro app. Where is the search function?

I was surprised to see reviews of the Wikipedia app bemoaning the lack of a search function. How could an encyclopaedia app not have search?

It does of course. It is just that it is not obvious where to find it.

The reason is that Windows 8 has a system search feature. You summon by displaying the Charms bar (swipe from the right) and tapping Search. Search defaults to the current app, but you can search elsewhere by tapping another option.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How I can see the on-screen clock?

This annoys me as well. However, swiping in from the right will show it temporarily.

I’m in a Metro app running full-screen. How do I close it?

The idea is that you don’t normally need to close an app. Rather, you switch away from it, which you can do using techniques already described: swipe in from the left and immediately out again, to show the app history bar.

Metro apps may be hibernated when not in use, so they do not grab system resources in the way desktop apps sometimes do.

However, you might want to close an app because it is misbehaving, or just because you have a tidy mind. Swipe in from the left and out again to show the app history bar, then press on an app, do not lift your finger but drag it down and off the bottom of the screen to close it (throw it away).

I hate the “live tiles” in the start menu, how can you turn off all the flickering activity?

Yes, I’m not sure about them either. In the Start screen, flick up on a live tile so a tick appears in the top right corner. Then tap Turn live tile off at the foot of the screen.


There is also an option to remove personal data from live tiles. To get this, display the Start screen, move the mouse to the bottom right corner of the screen, then tap Settings – Tiles. Tap Clear.


How do I start an application when I can’t even see it in the Start screen?

Can be a problem. Before you give up though, there are a few things to try:

a. The quickest way to find an application is by typing a search. Display the Start screen. Swipe in from the right to display the Charms bar, and tap Search. Then type a few letters on the on-screen keyboard; all the matching applications are listed.

b. Swipe up in the Start screen and tap the  All Apps button that appears in the app bar. Swipe through the entire list to find an app.

c. Still can’t see it? Try showing Administrative tools. From the Start screen, swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu. Tap Settings, then Tiles, Show administrative tools.

d. If you are really stuck, you might need to use Explorer in the desktop to find the application in Program Files or Program Files (x86).

How do I switch between applications, since Metro apps do not appear in the taskbar?

Swipe in from the left and then immediately out to show the app history bar. This shows all the running Metro apps as well as the current Desktop app. It is not ideal because it does not show all the Desktop apps. Then again, you can use the taskbar as your switcher for Desktop apps so it is just about viable.

How do I shut down or restart the computer?

Swipe in from the right to show the Charms menu, then tap Settings and then Power.


This is somewhat hidden because Microsoft intends that normally power management, or shutting the lid on a laptop, or the soft power-off on a tablet, will be enough. Still, some of us like to turn the PC off completely.

How do I log off or switch user?

Go to the Start screen and tap the user name at top right to display a menu, including Lock, Sign out, and Switch account.


Having two versions of IE is confusing. I keep losing track of which sites are open in which browser.

Agreed. One solution is to make Metro IE the default, so that Desktop IE rarely opens, though this is not ideal since some web sites only work properly in Desktop IE.

If you do want to do this. go to Control Panel, type Internet in the search box, and tap on Internet Options. Tap the Programs tab, and under Choose how you open links, select Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop. Finally, make sure Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop is NOT checked.


How can I avoid going back to the Start screen when I am working in the Desktop?

a. Make sure your usual applications are pinned to the taskbar and start them from there. If you use lots of applications, you can make it double-height to fit more on, or it will scroll.

b. Put more shortcuts on the Desktop and use Windows – D to bring up the desktop when you need it.

Where is control panel? The real one, that is.

If you have read this far, you should know several ways to find it.

a. Start screen, search apps, type “control”, tap Control Panel

b. On the desktop, swipe from right for Charms, tap Settings, Control Panel.

How do I play a DVD?

Windows 8 does not include a DVD player. However your PC may come with DVD playing software bundled by the PC manufacturer. If not, download Videolan (VLC) from here. It’s free, and DVDs will play fine.

How can I stop PDF documents opening in Metro?

Windows 8 is set up to open PDF documents in the Metro-style Windows Reader. It is not too bad, but can be annoying and does not have the range of features in the Adobe reader. To fix this, make sure that the latest Adobe reader is installed by downloading it from here. Once installed, tap and hold a PDF file until a rectangle outline appears, and release to show the context menu. Tap Open With and then Choose Default program.


In the dialog that appears, tap Adobe Reader:


Now PDF documents will open on the desktop in Adobe Reader.

Where has backup gone in Windows 8?

It’s still there, but for reasons best known to Microsoft it is now called Windows 7 File Recovery. Open desktop Control Panel, type recovery top right and tap Enter. Tap Windows 7 File Recovery.


How do you run an application as administrator?

Go to the Start screen find the application icon and flick up to select. Then tap Run as administrator from the menu bar at the foot of the screen.


How do you capture a screenshot without a keyboard?

Use the Snipping tool by searching the Start screen. Tap New to capture all or part of the screen.


Where is the alt key on the touch keyboard?

Microsoft has made every effort to prevent you finding the alt key (and a few other useful things like function keys) if you are using the touch keyboard.

Enabling these is a two-stage process. First, show the Charms menu, tap Settings, and then Change PC Settings. Tap General. and then under the heading Touch keyboard, select Make the standard keyboard layout available.


Now tap to show the touch keyboard and tap the keyboard icon at bottom right. This lets you select a keyboard mode such as the split keyboard. Select the full keyboard, second icon from the right in the screen grab below.


The touch keyboard now shows Alt, Fn and other useful keys.