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Windows 8 : Getting Around the Windows Desktop - Windows Start Screen, Using the Windows Desktop

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12/6/2014 8:21:43 PM

Windows Start Screen

After you log on, you’ll see the Windows 8 Start screen, shown in Figure 1. The Start screen serves much the same function as the Start menu in previous versions of Windows. Square or rectangular tiles give you quick access to apps, external resources such as SkyDrive, folders, and even the desktop. The Start screen shows the look of the new Windows 8 interface.

FIGURE 1 Windows Start screen


Using the Windows Desktop

As mentioned, the Windows desktop is the electronic equivalent of a real desktop. It’s the place where you keep stuff you’re working on right now. Every program that’s currently open is usually contained within some program window. When no programs are open, the desktop and all your desktop icons are plainly visible on the screen.

What’s on the desktop

Users upgrading from previous Windows versions are familiar with the Windows desktop, the primary place for users to start their work in earlier versions of Windows. The term “desktop” was used to describe computer environment that played the same role as a real work desktop. You worked with programs on the Windows desktop in much the same way as you work with paper on an office desktop. With Windows 8, the Start screen replaces the desktop as the primary work environment. However, the Windows desktop can still be used to launch pinned applications and applications that install icons to the desktop.

The desktop is accessed from the Start screen by clicking the Desktop tile. The desktop may get covered by program windows and other items, but the desktop is still under there no matter how much you clutter the screen. It’s the same as a real desk in that sense. Although your real desktop may be completely covered by random junk (as mine is right now), your desktop is still under there somewhere. You just have to dig through the mess to get to it.

The two main components of the Windows desktop are the desktop itself and the taskbar. The desktop is where everything that you open piles up. The taskbar’s main role is to make it easy to switch from one open item to another. Everything you’ll ever see on your screen has a name and a purpose. Virtually nothing on the screen is there purely for decoration (except the wallpaper). Figure 2 shows the main components of the Windows desktop and other items. Your desktop might not look exactly like the picture and might not show all of the components. But don’t worry about that. Right now, you want to focus on learning the names of the most frequently used elements.

FIGURE 2 The desktop, taskbar, and other items


Here’s a quick overview of what each component represents.

  • Desktop: The desktop itself is everything above the taskbar. Most programs you open appear in a window on the desktop.
  • Desktop icons: Icons on the desktop provide quick access to frequently used programs, folders, and documents. You can add and remove desktop icons as you see fit.
  • Power menu: The power menu displays at the bottom left of the desktop in the same place that the Start menu previously displayed. The power menu provides access to commonly used Windows programs and apps. To see it, right-click the bottom left side of the screen, or press Windows+X.
  • Taskbar: A task is an open program. The taskbar makes switching among all your open programs easy. Right-clicking the clock in the taskbar provides easy access to options for customizing the taskbar and organizing open program windows.
  • Notification area: Displays icons for programs running in the background, often referred to as processes and services. Messages coming from those programs appear in speech balloons just above the Notification area.
  • Clock: Shows the current time and date.

That’s the quick tour of items on and around the Windows 8 desktop. The sections that follow examine some of these items in detail.

About desktop icons

Desktop icons represent a closed object that you can open by double-clicking the icon. Most desktop icons are shortcuts to files and folders. They’re shortcuts in the sense that they duplicate icons that are available elsewhere, such as on the Start screen.

Rules always have exceptions. When it comes to desktop icons, the Recycle Bin is the exception. The Recycle Bin icon exists only on the desktop, and you won’t find it anywhere else. The role of the Recycle Bin is that of a safety net. Whenever you delete a file or folder from your hard drive, the item is actually just moved to the Recycle Bin. You can restore an accidentally deleted item from the Recycle Bin back to its original location.

In addition to the Recycle Bin, you have other built-in desktop icons from which to choose. If you want to take a shot at adding icons, you have to get to the Personalization page and make some selections. To get to the Personalization page, use one of the following methods:

  • Shows the Charms Bar, click Search, and type pers. Click Settings and then click Personalization on the Settings screen.
  • Right-click the desktop and choose Personalize.

If you don’t see Personalize when you right-click the desktop, that means you didn’t right-click the desktop. You right-clicked something that’s covering the desktop.

The Personalization Control Panel applet opens. In its left column, click Change Desktop Icons. You see a dialog box like the one in Figure 3. It’s called a “dialog” box because you carry on a sort of dialog with it. It shows you options from which you can pick and choose. You make your choices and click OK.

FIGURE 3 The Desktop Icon Settings dialog box


To make an icon visible on your desktop, select (click to put a checkmark in) the check box next to the icon’s name. To prevent an icon from appearing on the desktop, click the check box to the left of its name to deselect it (remove the checkmark). In the figure, I’ve opted to see all icons except the Network and Control Panel icons.

You can choose a different picture for any icon you’ve opted to show on the desktop. Click the icon’s picture in the middle of the dialog box. Then click the Change Icon button. Click the icon you want to show and then click OK. If you change your mind after the fact, click Restore Default.

Click OK after making your selections. The dialog box closes and the icons you choose appear on the desktop. However, you might not see them if that part of the desktop is covered by something that’s open. Don’t worry about that.

If nothing is covering the desktop, but you still don’t see any desktop icons, they might just be switched off. We cover this topic in the next section.

Arranging desktop icons

There are many ways to customize the Windows 8 desktop. But if you just want to make some quick, minor changes to your desktop icons, right-click the desktop to view its shortcut menu. Items on the menu that have a little arrow to the right show submenus. For example, if you right-click the desktop and point to View on the menu, you see the View menu, as shown in Figure 4.

FIGURE 4 Right-click the desktop.


The second to last item on the View menu, Show Desktop Items, needs to be selected (checked) for the icons to show at all. If no checkmark appears next to that item, click that item. The menu closes and the icons appear on the desktop. When you need to see the menu again, just right-click the desktop again.

The top three items on the menu — Large Icons, Medium Icons, and Small Icons — control the size of the icons. Click any option to see its effect. If you don’t like the result, right-click the desktop again, choose View, and choose a different size.

If your mouse has a wheel, you can also size icons by holding down the Ctrl key as you spin the mouse wheel. This gives you an almost endless range of icon sizes from which to choose. Use one of the three items in the View menu to get them back to one of the three default sizes.

The Sort By option on the desktop shortcut menu enables you to arrange desktop icons alphabetically by Name, Size, Item Type, or Date Modified. However, no matter how you choose to sort icons, the built-in icons are sorted separately from those you create.

- Windows 8 : Getting Around the Windows Desktop - Logging In
- Windows 8 : Getting Around the Windows Desktop - Terminology for Things You Do
- The Windows 8 Apps (part 3) - Mail, Maps
- The Windows 8 Apps (part 2) - Finance, Internet Explorer
- The Windows 8 Apps (part 1) - Calendar,Bing,Camera, Desktop
- Using the Windows 8 Interface : Bypassing the Start Screen (part 2) - Pinning a Program to the Taskbar, Using Desktop Programs as the Defaults
- Using the Windows 8 Interface : Bypassing the Start Screen (part 1) - Booting Directly to the Desktop, Accessing Start Menu Items from the Taskbar
- Windows 8 : Introducing Storage Spaces - Creating storage spaces
- Windows 8 : Working with file systems (part 5) - Working with quotas, Working with quotas for user accounts
- Windows 8 : Working with file systems (part 4) - Understanding Encrypting File System, BitLocker
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