Archive for January 2013

How to add Media Center – and DVD playback – to Windows 8 Pro for free   Leave a comment

Windows Media Center on Windows 8 Pro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you own Windows 8 Pro, you have precisely six days to claim your free Media Center upgrade – the main advantage of this is that it allows you to watch DVDs on your PC, because a DVD codec is part of the package.

Plus, if you have a TV tuner already installed or fancy buying one in the future, you can also watch and record live TV.

But – and it’s a big but – this free upgrade offer expires as of 31 January 2013.

Claiming it is relatively simple: head to the Microsoft Media Center feature pack page, enter your email address in the field provided and sit back.

Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search.
(If you’re using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, and then click Search.)
Enter add features in the search box, and then tap or click Settings .
Tap or click Add features to Windows 8 and then do one of the following:
If you need to purchase a product key, tap or click I want to buy a product key online.
You will be prompted through the steps to buy a product key from there and it will be entered for you.
If you already have a product key, tap or click I already have a product key.
Enter your product key and click Next.
Read the license terms, select the check box to accept the license terms, and then click Add features.

You’ll be told that it could take up to 72 hours to receive your key, but when I followed the process today it only took around 15 minutes to arrive.

Adding Media Center to Windows 8 Pro

Once you have the key, you need to search for “Add features” in Windows 8, and then click on “Add features to Windows 8″. Follow the steps, pressing “I already have a product key” at the appropriate moment, and then follow the very straightforward steps.

When you reboot, Media Center will be installed in all its TV-recording, DVD-playing glory (see the proof below! I wasn’t watching this in work time, honest). If you want to watch a Blu-ray movie, you’ll have to buy a codec separately.

If you just want to benefit from DVD playback on your Windows 8 PC, and don’t want to download and install the relatively heavyweight Media Center, the VLC media playeris a free, lightweight alternative.

Watching a DVD movie on Windows 8 Pro

 

18 best Windows 8 apps   1 comment

We run through the 18 best Windows 8 apps to arrive on Microsoft’s platform since its October launch

Whether you’ve got your mitts on the Surface or a 20in all-in-one from Sony, you’ll want some pointers to the best Windows 8 apps.

That’s where we come in. We’ve trawled a store that isn’t the best at surfacing good content, and rounded up a selection of apps that you should download.

Wordament

 

Wordament, Windows 8

Need one killer reason to buy a Windows Phone? Then meet Wordament, the horrendously addictive word game that you may well spend the rest of your life playing. The idea will be familiar to anyone who’s played Boggle: from a 16-letter grid of letters, you have two minutes to form words using vertical, horizontal or diagonal moves. You compete against the rest of the world in real-time, with the biggest challenge being to break into the top ten in a given round – something no-one from the PC Pro team has managed to do. Yet. (Free)

 

Khan Academy

 

Khan Academy, Windows 8

If you haven’t heard of Khan Academy, it’s a global not-for-profit organisation that aims to educate the world for free. The iPad app gives access to its library of over 3,200 teaching videos, covering all the branches of maths, the sciences (including its foray into computing, which is still in its early stages), history and even finance and economics. It also has a section for talks, similar to the TED app. The quality of the teaching varies by topic and teacher, but it’s a free resource that’s designed specifically to engage and explain rather than simply talk at students. (Free)

 

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

Encyclopaedia Britannica

There have been Britannica apps on iOS for a while, but it’s the new Windows 8 app that stood out from a relatively meagre crowd in the Windows Store before launch. It’s well designed, making full use of a large monitor to bring you detailed information, loads of images and other interactive elements, and a search for one topic quickly leads to several more. The bad news? Beyond the top 100 articles, you’ll need to subscribe to view more, so don’t go expecting the app to be a free way into this wealth of knowledge. (Free, then £10.99 to subscribe)

 

Netflix

 

Netflix, Windows 8

Although on other platforms we could have gone for LoveFilm Instant, the Netflix alternative is a lot better designed, and it’s currently the only option on Windows 8. Categories drill down into subcategories with more creativity, and the scrollable cover-flow layout makes spotting your favourites much simpler. (From £5.99/mth)

 

Plex

 

Plex, Windows 8

Streaming your music and video to mobile devices is made easy by Plex, which works on a wide range of phones and tablets – including windows Phone handsets as of earlier this year. Set up the client on your home Windows or Linux PC, or Mac, and you’ll be able to access its content on the move, as well as taking advantage of a wide range of internet channels. Just watch your 3G data usage if you’re not on an unlimited contract. (From £2.99)

 

Skyscanner

 

Skyscanner, Windows 8

Flying is almost as unenjoyable as actually paying for the tickets, so anything that improves the latter process is welcome. Skyscanner already enjoys a reputation for finding some of the keenest prices around, and the app makes navigating them easy and quick. It’s intuitive considering the wealth of information it manages, and we especially love the Explore feature, which allows you to circle the globe finding prices to virtually anywhere from your home airport. (Free)

 

Fresh Paint

 

Fresh Paint, Windows 8

This app emulates the joy of slapping paint on canvas like no other. Paint in one colour and then brush over that same area with another and watch as the colours bleed authentically together. When you’re ready, you can switch on the dryer and stop the colours merging. The option to paint over your digital photos is another feather in this terrific app’s cap. (Free)

 

Xbox SmartGlass

 

Xbox SmartGlass, Windows 8

SmartGlass turns a Windows 8 tablet into a touchscreen controller for the Xbox console, allowing you to access the non-gaming aspects of Microsoft’s console. The SmartGlass interface includes tiles for the apps – such as BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Sky etc – that you may have installed on your Xbox, although navigating through those apps can be a little tough. But swiping around the homescreen is perfectly intuitive, and it’s a godsend when your Xbox controller batteries have died. (Free)

 

Cocktail Flow

 

Cocktail Flow, Windows 8

Cocktail apps aren’t rare on iOS and Android, but this early Windows 8 app is a fine example of the genre. Select cocktail recipes by name, type and even colour, or – we like this bit – select all the spirits, mixers and liqueurs you have in your kitchen and the My Bar section will scan its database for cocktails it can create from them. Alas, it’s not yet adventurous enough to create something drinkable out of eggnog, champagne and beer. (Free)

 

ESPN FC

 

ESPN FC, Windows 8

With no sign of a Sky Sports app on Windows 8 devices, it’s up to rival ESPN to bring us our football news and scores, and this quickly improving app does a fantastic job. You can select favourite teams for quick updates, view the latest results and tables from pretty much every major league of interest around the world, as well as European competitions, and it also has some nice feature articles from the ESPN writers. (Free)

 

Skype

 

Skype, Windows 8

It’s no surprise that some of the best-designed apps to hit the Windows Store have come from within Microsoft. The Skype app was built from the ground up to be ideal for use on a tablet such as the Surface, able to run silently in the background at all times, ready to burst into action when a call or instant message comes in. It’s also one of the few apps we’ve seen that remains genuinely useful when snapped side-by-side with other apps. (Free)

 

Star Chart

 

Star Chart, Windows 8

One of the early showcases for Windows 8’s full-screen style, Star Chart takes a familiar app idea – using your tablet’s camera to explore the night sky – and executes it with tremendous panache. Use it as an augmented reality star finder, or simply as an educational tool if you’re indoors – and it has a neat Night Mode to make it easier to see what’s going on in the dark. (£4.49)

 

Armed

 

Armed

A real-time strategy game in the ilk of PC classic Starcraft, Armed is proof that Modern Windows 8 apps won’t lack substance. Equally manageable with a touchscreen tablet or a mouse, Armed requires you to build a base, harvest resources, defend against attack and explore new territories. It’s a little complicated to wade straight into either single or multiplayer gameplay, but the excellent tutorial shows you the ropes. (Free)

 

Ministry of Sound

 

Ministry of Sound

A must-have app for fans of the legendary dance club, Ministry of Sound provides a wealth of free music sessions for clubbers. The Live From The Club section provides a five-hour set from the past Saturday night, giving you a feel for the atmosphere of the London venue. There’s also pre-recorded sets from well-known DJs such as Sister Bliss. If you like the free music on offer, there’s also an opportunity to preview and download the club’s huge back catalogue of albums via the app. (Free)

 

Wikipedia

 

Wikipedia

The Wikipedia app provides a more convenient way to browse the people’s encyclopedia, particularly on tablet devices. The app’s homescreen highlights featured images and articles of the day, which provide a fun way to dip into a completely random topic. However, to search for articles, you’ll need to use the Search charm – activated by swiping a finger from the right of the screen on tablets. You’ll also need a live net connection to perform searches. (Free)

 

Pinball FX2

 

Pinball FX2

Touchscreen tablets are perfect for pinball games, allowing you to merely tap on either side of the screen to operate the flippers. Pinball FX 2 isn’t the most impressive pinball app we’ve ever seen but it has some great features, not least the ability to see how your scores compare to other friends on Xbox Live, and the online tournaments. (From free)

 

Music Maker Jam

 

Music Maker Jam

A terrific little tmusicimewaster, Music Maker Jam allows you to blend together your own Dubstep, Jazz or House music, simply by playing with a range sliders and effects. You get to choose which instruments and vocals appear on your tracks and how much emphasis to afford to each, and once you’ve got the balance right you can start experimenting with key changes and writing your own loops. The resulting soundtracks are awesome, especially when played back through proper speakers. (Free)

 

Growth Tracker

 

Growth Tracker

A smart little utility for parents of babies and young children, Growth Tracker allows you to monitor the height and weight of your child at regular intervals, and see how they compare to the averages for their age. The Height Predictor feature will even take a stab at how tall they’re going to be in adulthood. There’s a one-child trial version of the app available; it’s a mere £1.39 if you like what you see. (£1.39)

Windows 8: 15 tips and tricks   Leave a comment

Looking for Windows 8 tips? Paras Malik runs through 15 ways to ease the upgrade transition

We’ve spent more than a year immersed in Microsoft’s multiple Windows 8 beta and final releases, so we feel we know it better than we know our own mothers.

Windows 8 brings countless small improvements to the operating system we’re all used to, but it also introduces bigger changes that can only be fully appreciated after a period of adjustment.

We’ve covered the merits or otherwise of those changes before, notably in the best features of Windows 8 and our full Windows 8 review; now let’s leave the debate behind. In this feature, we look at how you can make the transition to Windows 8 as smooth as possible, whether it’s by introducing hidden or non-existent options and utilities, or simply by making proper use of the tools that are already present. From keyboard shortcuts and layout changes to Registry hacks and God Mode, there’s plenty to get started on.

 

1. Take charge of the Start screen

 

15 tips to improve Windows 8

Microsoft understandably gives its own apps due prominence on the Start screen, but you’re free to change that. You can drag tiles around the grid, and a right-click on certain tiles brings up options to make them larger or uninstall them completely.

You should make good use of Windows 8’s tile groups. You can drag any tile to a blank space on the Start screen to create a new group, but for some baffling reason you can’t name those groups immediately. Instead, you have to use Semantic Zoom – pinch to zoom out on a tablet, hold Ctrl and scroll the mouse wheel, or click the tiny minus symbol in the bottom-right corner. Then, when in the zoomed-out view, just right-click or swipe a finger upwards on a group to give it a name. It might not sound like much, but when you have a lot of applications installed, it makes a significant difference to usability.

As for the grid layout, there’s also a way to change the number of tile rows on the Start screen – but don’t get your hopes up. The highest supported row count is six and the maximum for any given device is determined by screen size and resolution, so if your tablet boots with three rows then you probably won’t be able to increase that number. Still, it can be useful for lowering the row count on a big monitor – perhaps to match the layout of a smaller tablet or laptop for consistency.

To tweak this, search for and run “Regedit”, and before you do anything, click File | Export and save the Registry in case anything goes wrong. Then navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionImmersive-ShellGrid and look for an entry named Layout_MaximumRowCount. If it isn’t there, right-click on an empty space and create a new DWORD value, and give it that name. Then edit that entry, enter the number of tile rows you’d like and reboot your system.

 

2. Add a proper Shutdown button

 

We know it’s only three clicks to shut down a PC in Windows 8, but it’s the location of the power controls that’s annoying. Instead of them being hidden away in a charm, it’s easy to create your own power buttons for both the desktop and the Start screen.

Right-click on the desktop and select New | Shortcut. In the box, type “shutdown /s /t 0” (replace the /s with /r for a Restart button), and name it. To give it an icon, right-click your new shortcut and select Properties, then click Change Icon and choose the big power button. That’s your desktop Shutdown button. To add that to your Start screen tiles, right-click the icon and choose Pin To Start.

15 tips to improve Windows 8

Of course, the Windows-I key combination takes you directly to the Settings charm for a saving of one click, or you could use Ctrl-Alt-Del and the power button that pops up in the bottom-right of the screen, but many people – including several here at PC Pro – still prefer a single-feature button in plain sight.

 

3. Customise the lockscreen

 

On a home PC you may not see the lockscreen often, but on a tablet it pays to set it up properly. In the Personalise menu, choose a lockscreen picture and a selection of apps, which will show quick status updates without the need to unlock the system. By default, you get Messaging, Mail, Calendar and Weather, and even if you intend to use other apps for these tasks, it makes sense to set up each with your accounts, if only for this purpose. You can also choose one app to push more detailed data, although right now the choice is limited.

 

4. Use a picture password

 

Although it works reasonably well with a mouse, this option is intended to take away the pain of logging into Windows 8 on a tablet. Rather than going through the hassle of bringing up the onscreen keyboard and tapping out a password, Windows 8 lets you log in by tracing lines or shapes onto a photo. You choose the image and the three distinct lines or shapes drawn on it in order, so it’s important to create your “password” carefully, using the objects in the picture as pointers. Unless you do something incredibly unimaginative, such as drawing the three sides of a triangle on a picture of a pyramid, it’s secure – and easier to remember than a traditional password.

 

5. Install DVD software

 

15 tips to improve Windows 8

Microsoft has opted to remove the DVD codec from Windows 8 – every licence costs money, and a large number of people will never use it – so you’ll want to download a free player instead. The best supported is VLC media player, which plays back DVDs and CDs along with a range of other file types.

Alternatively, if you’re running Windows 8 Pro, until 31 January you can add the Media Center pack for nothing.

 

6. Make full use of multiple displays

 

The “Modern” UI has proved divisive among PC users, but in our experience, those with a second display find it far less annoying. Since those big tiles appear only on one screen, you can nip into Modern to open an application without disturbing the document or browser that’s open on the other monitor.

However, there’s more you can do to improve the experience, including a tweak to make your taskbar more useful. Right-click on the taskbar and select Properties, then in the Multiple Displays section, set Windows 8 to show buttons on the “Taskbar where the window is open”. This lets you see at a glance – and interact with – only the applications running on that monitor.

 

7. Bring back the file delete confirmation

 

The first thing that struck us when we started with Windows 8 was how easily files vanish. Whether it’s a right-click and Delete when you intended to click Rename, or an accidental tap of the Delete key, Windows 8 no longer seeks permission before consigning that vital document to the Recycle Bin. It’s not hard to search through the bin to retrieve a file, but that extra layer of protection can be reinstated.

Search for and open “Regedit”, back up your Registry with the Export option before you begin, then navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionPolicies. Create a new Key within Policies called Explorer, which should appear as a further nested folder in the tree. Within that folder, create a new DWORD value called ConfirmFileDelete, and change its value to 1. You can disable the change by reverting it to 0.

 

8. Set up Storage Spaces

 

One of Windows 8’s rarely discussed but most interesting features, a storage space is essentially a group of physical disks that the system views as one logical storage location. It’s mainly a business feature, but in the home it’s a little like a less complex way to set up a RAID-like array. Just plug in any spare hard disks you have – it doesn’t matter if you mix models and capacities – and search for Manage Storage Spaces. The wizard helps you to set up your extra drives as one simple lump of storage, or in various mirrored modes for added data resilience.

Better still, the storage space you create is flexible. If you have two spare 250GB disks lying around, you could set up a 500GB space; when you fill that, just plug in a third disk and extend the capacity. Windows 8 handles all the behind-the-scenes stuff so that to the user, it just looks like one big drive. You can’t do any of this to your main system disk, so storage spaces make most sense on PCs with a relatively small disk hosting the OS and several large hard disks set up solely for data.

 

9. Use the Task Manager

 

It’s one of our favourite improvements, but it’s still one many people never use – or even know about. Press Ctrl-Shift-Esc to open the Task Manager, and use it regularly to keep an eye on resource-hungry apps, especially if you’re on a metered 3G connection. The handy new App History tab tells you all you need to know, and it’s now easier to disable apps if they’re unreliable.

 

10. Use the admin menu

 

Another feature that Microsoft should make more obvious is the admin menu that gives quick access to the Device Manager, Command Prompt, Control Panel and much more. It’s right there on the desktop if you know where to look. Move your mouse to the bottom-left corner and the Start screen icon will appear, but ignore that and instead right-click to bring up the closest thing Windows 8 has to the traditional Start menu. Alternatively, quickly open the menu by pressing Windows-X.

 

11. Make use of child accounts

 

The Windows Store brings a new complication to PCs. Apps are tied to the user profile under which they were purchased, which confuses matters on a family PC. Of course, you want the kids to access that expensive Encyclopaedia Britannica app, but you don’t necessarily want them to play with your financial files or other apps you’ve accumulated.

 

Child accounts – which you should really be using for the latter reason – offer a clumsy way around the purchasing problem. Set up a child account in the Users tab of Settings, then configure it by searching for Family Safety. If you have a paid-for app on your parent account and want to allow your child to use it too, you can temporarily sign into your Microsoft account from within the Store on his or her user profile, download the purchased app, then sign yourself back out to make sure no further purchases can be made once you’re gone. The app will remain usable on the child account, saving you the expense of buying it twice.

It goes without saying that you should look through the extensive range of settings in Family Safety, which allow you to set time limits on your child’s PC usage and block age-restricted games from the Windows Store. We’re less enamoured by the rather over-the-top child-tracking tools Microsoft has included.

 

12. Enable God Mode

 

No, it doesn’t give you infinite ammo and health, but this long-time favourite of power users provides quick access to every setting and maintenance utility in Windows 8 in one place. Just create a new folder on the desktop and call it “GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}” (omit the quote marks). The OS will automatically tidy up the name and the symbol will change to show that it’s now a system folder. Double-click it and enjoy the power.

God Mode

 

13. Create a locked-down guest account

 

On a similar topic to number 11, it’s also useful to have a special account with restrictions for visitors. Once you’ve set it up and installed a few of the most commonly used apps, you can prevent guests from uninstalling anything from the Start screen. Search for and run “Regedit”, run an Export to back up your Registry, then navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwarePoliciesMicrosoftWindows. Once there, create a new Key under Windows called Explorer, and within that, create a new DWORD value called NoUninstallFromStart. Change its value to 1, reboot, and right-clicking on an app in the Start screen will no longer offer Uninstall as an option. This can also be a useful setting on shared accounts.

 

14. Buy touch accessories

 

Learning the new keyboard shortcuts and pinning your most frequently used applications to the desktop taskbar can make the transition to Windows 8 much smoother, as can spending a little more cash on the right accessories.

Microsoft has produced a range of gesture-based touch mice and keyboards that have their own charm shortcut keys – we’ve previously reviewed the Wedge Touch Mouse and Mobile Keyboard. Logitech has also released its own range of Windows 8 accessories, and more manufacturers will certainly follow as the OS gains traction. The new Start screen is really designed for touch and gestures, so don’t underestimate how much more intuitive the Windows 8 experience can be when you look beyond a traditional mouse and keyboard – even on a desktop PC.

 

15. Bring back the Start menu

 

This one was glued to the top of a lot of wishlists as each beta version of Windows 8 came and went, but there’s a good reason why this is the final option we mention. Yes, you can bring back the Start menu easily enough and carry on working as you were in Windows 7, but we strongly urge you to give Windows 8 a fair crack before taking that step. That’s because few of the drastic changes are as nonsensical as they seem on first boot, and you simply can’t appreciate this without fully immersing yourself in the OS. You might even find you like a new way of doing things.

Done that? Still not happy? Then we recommend an open source application by the name of Classic Shell. It not only brings back the Start button, but also the nested, fully customisable menus, complete with the old Shutdown controls within easy reach. It doesn’t actually dispose of the modern Start screen, so you can still try the Windows 8 way if the desire takes you, but let’s not kid ourselves: this is about keeping things usable for desktop PC owners, and it works.

Windows 8 stuns, amazes, and sometimes lets us down (review).   Leave a comment

Windows 8 stuns, amazes, and sometimes lets us down (review)

 

It seems like ages ago when Microsoft simultaneously dazzled and puzzled the hell out of the public when it showed off Windows 8 for the first time in June 2011. Since then, we’ve seen Windows 8 evolve and slowly change perceptions about how it works and what devices it’s meant for. Finally, the OS is now available for purchase.

Just like Windows 8 has evolved, so has my opinion of the operating system. After using prerelease versions of Windows 8 for several months, I still prefer Windows 7, but I have no doubt Windows 8 will be my Windows of choice at some point. Microsoft will likely tweak the heck out of the OS after receiving massive amounts of customer feedback (after revealing yesterday that Windows 8 has seen more than 1.24 billion hours of early testing from consumers). In addition, third-party developers will create software that improves the Windows 8 experience. Sweet Labs’ Pokki app, which re-creates the Start button on the desktop, is one such example. Windows 8 is still evolving, and it will continue to do so for some time.

The future of the PC

Windows 8 represents the future of Microsoft and the PC itself. Essentially, the desktop of old is fading away in favor of ultrabooks, tablets, and hybrid devices like Samsung’s Smart PCs. VentureBeat executive editor Dylan Tweney believes Windows 8 will be a “test of whether the company can successfully manage the transition to a new era of computing.” I agree, and I believe Microsoft has the experience and leadership to accomplish this.

But of course, Windows 8 also faces plenty of criticism. The brash cloud computing visionary Marc Benioff, the CEO of customer-relation management giant Salesforce, recently called Windows 8 “the end of Windows” and claimed Windows itself was irrelevant in the new age of powerful smartphones and tablets.

Benioff might have a point: Windows as we know it is over — but Windows 8 could easily sit alongside iOS and Android as another powerhouse in mobile computing. And its real strength is that it’s not just a mobile OS. Unlike iOS and Android, Windows 8 can also power traditional computers without a sweat.

Microsoft’s Surface tablet, which has lots of personality and some noticeable flaws, is one such device that shows Microsoft’s commitment to reshape Windows. Surface is simply a preview of what’s to come in a year (or less). New Windows 8 tablets will be more cooked and the app ecosystem will likely be populated with all kinds of great software soon.

Beautiful, forward-thinking design

Windows 8′s Start screen (see photo above) replaces the Start button on the desktop as the place in which you launch apps. The Start screen is colorful, fun, and useful, and it looks quite similar to the tile-based design found on the Xbox 360 dashboard and Windows Phone devices. The Start menu tiles are helpful because they show real-time information, such as how many emails are unread, stock market prices, headlines, and more.

While the Start screen is easy to customize and understand, many people will want to retreat into the “desktop” mode. The desktop mode does basically everything you’ve done for years in Windows. The most helpful thing to do in desktop mode is to pin all your important programs to the taskbar so you never have to search for desktop-focused apps.

The easiest way to get back to the Start screen when using a keyboard is to tap the Windows key in the bottom left corner. When using a tablet device, you get back by swiping the right side of the screen and tapping the Start icon. When using a laptop touchpad, you swipe the right edge.

If you need to find an app, simply start typing while on the Start screen and a full list of results will pop up. This search function has saved me time when using Windows 8 because it can often find what you’re looking for faster.

windows-8-devices

Different feel across devices

The worst experience I’ve had with Windows 8 is on a traditional desktop PC with a mouse and keyboard. I truly believe Windows 8 is meant for touch-based devices like tablets and laptops with touchpads (and touchscreens). So things are a bit more awkward using a mouse and keyboard.

Consider right-clicking, which is now completely different from what you’re used to in Windows outside of the desktop interface. Instead of a menu of options appearing right where you clicked, a limited number of options appear at the bottom of the screen, and you have to move your mouse there to select them. This gets incredibly tedious in Windows 8 apps and on the Start screen.

Laptops are another story. It’s not quite as awkward using a laptop with Windows 8 because you have a touchpad. If you have a fairly recent laptop, the touchpad lets you take advantage of cool gestures that speed up using Windows 8. Moving your finger from the left edge of a trackpad scrolls through all of your recently used programs. Or if you swipe down from the top edge of a touchpad, you get the same options you’d usually get from double-clicking a mouse. You can’t use these slick gestures on older laptops, unfortunately.

The best experience I’ve had with Windows 8 so far was on tablets and hybrid tablet/laptop devices. I’ve played with the Microsoft Surface, Samsung’s tablet hybrids, Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga, Dell’s convertible XPS 12, and many others. When you can touch the icons on the Start screen, the OS feels much more natural.

Microsoft likes to say that Windows 8 is a “no compromise” version of Windows, but if you really want to feel that way, you need touch interactions. The emphasis on touch makes Windows 8 primed for the next decade of computing, but it also clearly signals the end of the mouse and keyboard as the ideal way to interact with Windows.

Under-the-hood improvements

One of the best things about Windows 8 is that it boots up and runs faster than Windows 7. An extensive study by PCMag indicates much faster boot-up times, higher benchmark scores, and speedier web browsing. Basically, Windows 8 can make a big difference in the performance department — even on some older computers.

This is one reason why I think some Windows XP and Vista users (yes, a ton of them are still out there) would enjoy the bump to Windows 8: Not only will you get a performance enhancement, but you’ll also get better security with software that’s getting many more updates from Microsoft. Make sure you meet the minimum requirements before even considering that upgrade though, because even “impossibly old” machines are beyond Windows 8′s help.

Apps

windows-8-store

One of the most important factors for Windows 8′s success, like every computing platform, are the apps that take advantage of all of its features. (Since Microsoft ditched the term “Metro,” let’s call these “Modern” apps.) Some great apps are already in the Windows Store, but it’s important that third parties pump out fantastic software to make Windows 8 more attractive than iOS and Android.

Some aspects of Modern apps for Windows 8 are problematic, especially for desktop users. As I’ve noted before, Modern apps have a serious screen-splitting problem. In Windows 8, you can only allocate roughly 25 percent of the screen to one app while the other 75 percent is taken up by another app. As you can imagine, this layout is not conducive to multitasking. Thankfully, you can still do a 50-50 split, or whatever tiling you’re used to, in the desktop mode.

Relearning Windows

Windows 8 will require some relearning and retraining. Dell has even been smart enough to feature its own Windows 8 tutorials on the Start screen to hand-hold those who might freak out over the changes.

Here’s the good news — even a 3-year-old can use Windows 8. I have faith that anyone reading this article can also relearn how to use Windows and use it effectively. The question is — will people be willing to upgrade and relearn or will you simply adapt only after being forced to with a new PC purchase?

Should I upgrade?

Windows 8 costs $40 to download and upgrade using Microsoft’s Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. Microsoft says the offer for a $40 upgrade expires on Jan. 31. (You can also purchase a physical copy of Windows 8 in stores for $70.) If you purchased a new non-Windows 8 PC after June 2 and before Jan. 31, 2013, you’re eligible to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for just $15.

So you’re asking yourself, “should I upgrade?” If you’re normally an early adopter and like the changes described here, yes, you absolutely should give it a shot. If you’re a casual user, I would not upgrade immediately. Try Windows 8 out at a retailer like Best Buy or the Microsoft Store and let Microsoft issue some patches to fix the biggest bugs. Once you’ve tried it and understand how it works, it very well might be worth your money to upgrade.

To truly get the most Windows 8 has to offer, consider waiting until you purchase a new PC. After all, the entire impetus behind Windows 8 is its touch-centric interface and its capability to power new computing devices like the Surface and laptop/tablet hybrids. Given that it’s such a radically different operating system, it makes sense to experience it first on radically new devices.

For more on how to decide if you should upgrade and other must-know things about Windows 8, check out our article 8 things you need to know about Windows 8.

Final thoughts

Windows 8 is vital to the future of Microsoft and the PC market because it blends a touch-centric interface with the Windows we’ve known for years. It’s not for everyone, especially casual Windows 7 users that refuse to relearn Windows. But power users and those who embrace change well will find a lot to like here.

Tips and tricks for getting started with Windows 8.   Leave a comment

Tips and tricks for getting started with Windows 8

You’ve read all the pre-release coverage and maybe a few reviews, and you’ve decided to take the plunge into Windows 8. You’ve got a freshly upgraded (or new) machine, and that Metro interface is just taunting you with its fancy tiles while you’re struggling to find all the options you’re used to. You click on Internet Explorer and everything looks different. Perhaps you start to wonder how you’re going to survive without a Start button.

Don’t start cursing and throwing things just yet. We’ve got a veritable smörgåsbord of tips below to help bend Windows 8 to your will … and possibly save your sanity.

Note: We’re presenting the instructions below from the perspective of a traditional PC user with a mouse and a keyboard. If you’re using Windows 8 on a touchscreen, the concepts are the same, but the execution may vary.

Where’s the desktop?

Do not panic. It’s still there. First, you may have noticed the tile labeled “Desktop” (which appears in the bottom left of the screen by default). You can go ahead and click that to return to more familiar territory. You can press the Windows-logo key at any time to return to the Metro interface as well. Go ahead and press it a few times to see what happens. Nothing bad will happen … I promise.

Who killed Internet Explorer?

When you click on the default tile that Windows 8 provides for Internet Explorer, it opens up something that looks like a bad science experiment. Everything is in the wrong place and, even worse, sometimes things don’t function properly. How do you even close this thing? It has no “X” in the upper-right corner.

Windows 8 Metro IE

Why is the address bar at the bottom?

Fret not, dear readers. The old Internet Explorer is still there, and you don’t have to use its genetically defective cousin. If you hit the Windows-logo key on your keyboard, you’ll see the familiar blue “e” waiting for you in the bottom-left where the start button used to be.

If you’d like to take this one step further and cull this mutation from the Windows gene pool for good, you can make your own tile for Internet Explorer that always launches the full version by following these steps:

  1. Click the tile labeled “Desktop.”
  2. Click the folder icon on the bottom-left corner of the screen to open the “Libraries” window.
  3. Use your mouse to click on the following folders: Local Disk (C:) -> Program Files -> Internet Explorer
  4. Right-click on the file named “iexplore,” and when the menu pops up, left-click on “Pin to Start.”
  5. Tap the Windows-logo key on your keyboard to switch back to your tiles.
  6. You’ll now see a new tile named “iexplore.”
  7. Find the original Internet Explorer link (probably near the upper-left) and right-click it.
  8. On the menu that appears at the bottom of the screen, left-click on “Unpin from Start.”
  9. Enjoy never again seeing the Metro-styled version of IE.

How the heck do I rename tiles?

Perhaps you followed the instructions above to replace your Internet Explorer tile, or you’re wondering why clicking on the text doesn’t work like it did with old desktop shortcuts.

The answer is slightly more complicated in Windows 8:

  1. Right-click on the tile you wish to rename.
  2. In the menu that appears at the bottom of the screen, left-click on “Open file location.”
  3. You will now see a traditional shortcut in a Windows Explorer window. If you rename this shortcut using any of the old methods (clicking on the text, right-clicking and selecting “rename”), the changes will reflect on the tile as well.

Windows 8 Rename

I can’t find accessories (calculator, notepad, paint) or system options (control panel, command prompt) without the start menu. Help!

We’ve got you covered there too. Windows 8 provides two easy ways to locate these items. First, on the main start screen with all the tiles, put your mouse cursor in a blank space (not over a tile) and right-click your mouse one time. You’ll see a little menu pop up at the bottom of the screen that has a single option: All apps. Go ahead and click this to see a list of just about everything you’d ever need.

If you’d really like Win 8 to blow your mind, however, try this: From the main tile screen, without clicking the mouse at all, just begin typing the name of the feature, accessory, or application you want to find and watch as Windows magically gives you a list of items that match what you’re typing. It even narrows the list down as you type more characters.

I can’t close this application. Argh!

With the streamlined interface, you may not always see the same options in every item you open, including that often helpful X that closes windows. Thankfully, many of the keyboard shortcuts that appeared in previous versions of Windows still work. To close something, simply hold the [Alt] key on your keyboard and press [F4].

For reference, here are some other helpful keyboard shortcuts (hold down the first key and press the second):

  • [Alt] + [Tab]: Switch between differrent applications running on your desktop
  • [Windows logo key] + [Tab]: Switch between differrent running Metro applications
  • [Windows logo key] + [Q]: Open the app list and search window
  • [Windows logo key] + [R]: Open a “Run” dialog box
  • [Windows logo key] + [I]: Open the Settings pane
  • [Windows logo key] + [X]: Pop-up a text-based menu of common system settings

How do I shut this damn thing off?

The old Start->Shut Down option is so ingrained in Windows users that they may be rightfully confused by the seeming lack of a visible power button. Microsoft just hid it this time around. The primary way to shut down from the Metro interface is to position your mouse cursor in the bottom-right corner of the screen (you’ll see a little box with a minus sign in it). When you do this, a small menu will expand from the right side. Simply click on the gear icon that’s labeled “Settings.” After that, you’ll see a “Power” button appear near the bottom.

Windows 8 Power

If you’re feeling more advanced, here’s a quicker way: From the main start screen, click the “Desktop” tile.  Assuming that you have no applications running on the desktop, use the keyboard shortcut you learned above to close an item: Pressing [Alt] and [F4] at the same time on an empty desktop will instantly bring up the shut down screen. Click to turn off the computer, take a break, stretch your legs, and realize that maybe Windows 8 isn’t so bad after all.

5 reasons you should buy Windows 8 now   Leave a comment

5 reasons you should buy Windows 8 now

While it’s easy to hate on Windows 8, it’s time to stop nagging about the changes and buy the upgrade before it gets way more expensive.

Windows 8 has sold more than 60 million licences to date, but Microsoft has not revealed how many of these copies have been activated. Still, these are generally good numbers, and it is keeping pace with initial Windows 7 sales. Microsoft has invested a lot of time and money into Windows 8 and will continue to update the software to make it run better.

Some of you have firmly made up your minds that you’re not upgrading to Windows 8. Fine — you’re stubborn, and you’re not doing it. Eventually, you’ll be like those people who are still running Windows XP, roughly 34 percent of the world.

But if you’re on the fence about Windows 8, here are several compelling reasons to buy it now.

And here are five reasons that could change your mind:

1. The base price of Windows 8 will jump 300 percent on Feb. 1

As noted in the intro, the cost of Windows 8 goes up substantially soon. On Feb. 1, a licence of Windows 8 Pro jumps from $40 to $200. Microsoft is also offering a less feature-packed version of Windows 8 on that date for $120. So you can get the best possible version of the software now for $40, or you can pay $120 later and get fewer features.

2. You don’t have to install it now

Another compelling reason to spend that $40 now? Purchasing the Windows 8 update doesn’t mean you actually have to install it. Windows 8 is a 2GB download, and you can simply leave it on your desktop for whenever you feel like updating. But since the price jump happens on Feb. 1, you have an incentive to at least buy it now and upgrade it later after more updates are added.

3. Windows 8 will make your computer faster

Microsoft hasn’t done an amazing job of communicating this, but Windows 8 has a lot of under-the-hood improvements that will make your laptop or desktop run faster. An extensive study by PCMag indicated much faster bootup times, higher benchmark scores, and speedier web browsing. Basically, Windows 8 can make a big difference in the performance department — even on some old PCs.

4. Windows 8 is not the monster you think it is

We’ve been a little harsh on Windows 8 at times. We have a few misgivings about the OS as a whole and think some average users will hate the changes. But while the OS is clearly designed with touch in mind, you can use the OS on a desktop PC or laptop as long as you mostly work out of the desktop. You can also install a Start button replacement like Pokki or RetroUI.

Another thing to consider — if you’re a Windows 7 power user, you just use the desktop to work anyway. If you continue to use the desktop on Windows 8 and avoid the new Start menu, your experience will be pretty similar. Heck, even a 3-year-old can use Windows 8.

5. Windows 8 apps have a ton of potential

Although it might be good to avoid the Start screen much of the time and work out of the desktop, eventually Windows 8 will have lots of compelling full-screen apps. Some great apps are already in the store, and more will be coming down the pipeline as more people use Windows 8.

Make Windows 8 Sexier With These Background & Theme Tweaks   Leave a comment

Does your Windows 8 system look too bland with the default settings? You can customize it in a variety of ways, changing a variety of backgrounds and colors — whether on the Start screen, lock screen, or desktop. Your Windows 8 system can be a subdued interface with dark colors and muted backgrounds, a tableau of bright colors and colorful flowers, or anything in between.Microsoft has omitted some customization settings – most notably for the Start screen – but there are third-party tools that can give us access to these settings. Just as with the missing Start menu, third-party utilities give us the options Microsoft didn’t.

windows 8 background

Change The Start Screen Background & Colors

Windows 8’s start screen is customizable. If you don’t like the default Windows 8 background and colors, you can change them to something more to your liking. Just open the Settingscharm (use the Ctrl+I shortcut to quickly open the Settings charm) and select Change PC settings. In the PC settings screen that appears, select the Personalize category, select Start screen, and choose a background image and color.

Windows 8 includes a number of different Start screen backgrounds and color schemes that can be mixed and matched – you can have everything from a solid-colored dark background to a bight pink background with flowers.

windows 8 background

Set a Custom Start Screen Background & Colors

While customizing your Start screen, you’ll notice that you can’t select a custom background or color scheme. You can only select the ones Microsoft included. Luckily, some third party tools have come to the rescue. However, bear in mind that they only work on Windows 8, notWindows RT (which can’t run non-Microsoft desktop applications).

The slickest, easiest utility to use is probably Stardock’s Decor8, from the same Stardock that created the popular Start8 start menu replacement for Windows 8. It’s free for 30 days, after which it will cost you $5 – just like Start8.

Decor8 allows you to set custom background images and color schemes for your Start screen, breaking free from Microsoft’s limitations and tweaking it to your liking. You can even have the background automatically change and customize other parts of the Start screen, such as the number of rows of tiles and styles of animations.

windows 8 background wallpaper

If you’re looking for a free alternative, you might want to try something like Windows 8 Start Screen Customizer, although it’s still in beta and isn’t as well tested – it may not be as polished and stable.

Change The Lock Screen Background

Windows 8′s lock screen appears when you start your computer, log out, or lock it. Unlike the start screen, the lock screen’s background image is completely customizable out-of-the-box.

From the same Personalize pane in the PC settings application above, select Lock screenand select a custom background image. You can use one of the preinstalled ones or click the Browse button and select your own background image. You can also customize the applications that show quick status alerts on the lock screen – particularly useful for Windows 8 tablets.

windows 8 background wallpaper

Customize Desktop Window Border Colors

By default, Windows 8 automatically chooses a solid window border and taskbar color based on the color of your desktop wallpaper. However, you can also choose a custom color that will be used instead..

To choose a window border color, right-click your desktop and select Personalize. Click theColor option at the bottom of the Personalization window and select your preferred color. You can tweak a selected color’s intensity to get it just how you like it.

windows 8 background wallpaper

As with Windows 7,  you can also choose a custom desktop background – even set up a slideshow of desktop backgrounds – from the Personalization window.

Set Custom Desktop Window Border Colors

If you want to set a window border color that isn’t mentioned in this list, try Aero8Tuner. It allows you to select any color for your window borders, even ones that Microsoft didn’t provide in the list of colors you can choose.

windows 8 background

For more information about Windows 8, be sure to download our Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet and full guide to Windows 8!

How have you customized Windows 8′s interface to your liking? Leave a comment and share your favorite tips and tricks.