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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    February 01, 2013

    Technology: Windows 8: A New (and Improved?) Operating System

    Windows 8 gives a new “look and feel” to the experience of using computers and mobile devices. Learn how to navigate the new system now, even if you don’t plan to upgrade anytime soon.

    Nerino J. Petro Jr.

    Change is the only constant. – Diogenes Laertius

    windows 8Change. Almost everything in life changes, whether or not we want it to. However, this often comes as a surprise to law firms, at least in the context of the technology they use daily. Nowhere is this more evident than in the resistance some lawyers show to updating the operating systems of their office computers. Windows 8 represents a radical departure from any operating system you have used previously, with the exception of Windows Phone 7 or 8. The Start button is no more, there is a new Start Screen with a totally new look than the traditional desktop in Windows 7; even shutting down the system is done in a totally different way. The new interface has triggered a war of sorts between people who hate the new interface and people who love it or are at least ambivalent about it. A little history may help to understand this better.

    When Windows XP was launched (in August 2001), computer users thought in terms of Windows or Mac. Today, we need to think in terms of “ecosystems,” because there is no longer just a desktop operating system. Apple has OS X for the desktop and iOS for iPhone and iPads. Google has Chrome OS for the desktop and Android for smartphones and tablets. Before Windows 8, Microsoft had Windows 7 for the desktop and tablets and Windows Phone for smartphones. These sets of systems shared the idea of two separate environments, with one for the desktop and one for mobile devices. With Windows 8, Microsoft is seeking to create a new paradigm: one operating system for all devices.

    Windows 8 (released for general availability in October 2012) is intended to be one interface that works the same on all devices. Moving to Windows 8 for your computer or getting a new Windows 8 Tablet or smartphone means you will only need to learn how to navigate one new system because your desktop computer, tablet computer, and smartphone all share a common Windows 8 interface. If you sign in using a Microsoft online account, your settings are synchronized across PCs and your online access is the same on all devices. This commonality sounds great in concept, but does real-world experience live up to the promise?

    People whose computers are running Windows 7 (released in October 2009) and who are not replacing computers do not need to upgrade now. However, as time passes, getting a computer with Windows 7 installed by default will become more difficult, especially for laptops. Understanding how to navigate Windows 8 will be helpful whether you are an early adopter or a person who will not upgrade until your computer dies. So here is a look at some of the significant changes in Windows 8.

    Nerino J. Petro Jr.Nerino J. Petro Jr., Northern Illinois 1988, is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411).

    Start Screen

    The Windows 8 user interface (UI) is called the “Modern” UI. (Because Microsoft called the UI “Metro” until potential intellectual property issues arose, you might still see the UI referred to by that original name.) The Modern UI reflects a shift to a more graphical layout that works very well on touch-screen devices such as tablets and smartphones.

    The most significant change for many users will be the removal of the ubiquitous Start button from the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Many people cannot get beyond this point and refuse to delve further into Windows 8 because of this change. The Start button is not truly gone; it has just been updated to the Start screen shown in the accompanying illustration.

    Microsoft has replaced text links to programs and services with tiles. Tiles can be live, such as the Weather tile, which shows real-time local weather information; or static, such as the Internet Explorer tile that launches the program. Unfortunately, tiles take up more room than do text links on the old Start button, so you may have to scroll left or right to find the tile you are looking for. While this is easily accomplished on a touch screen, how do you do this on a traditional computer with a monitor and mouse? A mouse works very well with the Modern UI: moving the mouse pointer to the right or left edge of the screen moves the screen. You can also use the scroll wheel on your mouse to move the Start screen left or right. If your mouse has a scroll wheel that tilts, you can also move left or right by simply tilting the scroll wheel. But not all program tiles appear on your Start screen by default.

    In Windows 7, clicking the Start button allows you to then click on All Programs. You then can see all your programs by scrolling up and down the list. In Windows 8, you will need to invoke the All Apps screen found on the Options bar at the bottom of the screen. When you right click on the Start screen, the Options bar appears at the bottom of the screen.

    Next, click the All Apps link in the right-hand corner of the Options bar. You are now at the Apps screen, where all your programs are shown as scrollable tiles. An easier method is to simply search for the program you want to open. On the Windows 8 Start screen, just start typing the name of the program you want to open, and an Apps list appears. The list will become shorter (that is, options will disappear) as you type more letters.

    Several applications (some free, some paid) will put a Start button back in its usual lower-left-hand-corner position. Free options include StartW8 ( and Pokki Menu ( Two very popular paid options are Start8 ( and RetroUI (

    Charms Bar

    Windows 8 introduces the Charms bar, as shown in the illustration, which is available system wide in Windows 8. The Charms bar is located on the right side of the screen and when invoked gives you access to buttons for Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. Accessing the Charms bar is as simple as dragging your finger from the right side to the left side of the screen on a touch-screen device or moving your mouse into the upper or lower right-hand screen corner and then moving your mouse pointer either up or down.

    Although the Charms bar is available system wide, the Charms are contextual: that is, the function is tied to the program you are in at that time but only if the program supports Charms. Invoking the Charms bar from the Start screen and using the Search Charm will search programs, while using Search with the Mail app open allows you to search your email. Click Settings from the Start screen and you will have options to work with Tiles, get Help or access Network settings, Volume control, Brightness, Notifications Power, and Keyboard options. You can also Change PC Settings as well. However, if you invoke Settings inside a program that supports Charms such as Calendar, the options change to those that affect just that program.

    The Power button under the Settings Charm is used to put the system into sleep mode or to shut it down. Hibernate mode is not turned on by default. If there are updates to install, you will also have the option to Restart and Update.


    The desktop that we are familiar with from Windows 7 still exists; however, Windows 8 does not open directly to it. Applications not written specifically for Windows 8 run in the desktop. When you click on a tile from the Start screen for a program such as Word 2010, two things happen: first, the desktop opens, and second, Word 2010 opens. Closing Word 2010 returns you to the desktop. You can also access the desktop by clicking the Desktop tile from the Start screen. Your desktop wallpaper is used as the background image for the Start screen tile.

    If you upgraded to Windows 8 from Windows 7 (versus from another operating system), the icons from your Windows 7 desktop appear in the Windows 8 desktop and your taskbar items, such as Internet Explorer, Folders, and any other programs you pinned to the taskbar in Windows 7, also remain. However, the Start button is still missing. Moving your cursor to the lower-left corner will bring up a thumbnail image of the Start screen. You can also pin to the taskbar any program that has an icon on the desktop.

    Split Screen

    Screen splitting is very easy with Windows 7 – just pull a programs title bar to the left or top right of the screen and the program window will occupy one-half of the screen. You can then resize the main window or pull it to the opposite side of the screen to split the screen equally between the two programs.

    Windows 8 allows you to quickly split your screen by dragging an open app thumbnail from the top left corner to the right. When the split bar appears, release the thumbnail, and that app will snap to occupy one-third of the screen, with the previously open app resizing to two-thirds of the screen. However, you cannot resize the screens further; you are limited to the one-third/two-thirds screen split.

    Other Changes

    Windows 8 uses a less graphically intensive appearance by eliminating the almost Aero Glass effects of Windows 7, including translucent borders and transparency, that allow you to see the program underneath the open window. Testing by several technology review sites indicates that Windows 8 starts more quickly than does Windows 7 and even runs better on some older hardware. The Windows 8 Task Manager is improved, providing information in a more useful and understandable format so you can quickly see what programs are using resources. You can also now disable, directly from the Task Manager, applications that you do not want to run when you start up your computer.

    One change that is not an improvement is the way new program tiles are handled. When you install a new program and it appears on the Start screen, if the program has multiple parts, each part appears as a separate tile on the Start screen. For example, Microsoft Office appears as individual tiles for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and so on. Although you can group tiles, this is time consuming; Microsoft should address the issue. Consistency between how things like the Share Charm act from screen to screen or program to program also needs to be improved.

    Although Microsoft has reduced the number of versions of Windows 8 that it sells, people looking for a mobile tablet will need to decide between WindowsRT and Windows 8 Pro. WindowsRT is designed for low-power processors similar to those used by Android tablets and Apple’s iPads. Windows 8 Pro tablets use a more powerful laptop processor, but these tablets are heavier. WindowsRT tablets will only run apps that are specifically designed for WindowsRT and purchased from the Windows 8 app store. Windows 8 Pro tablets will run any Windows programs, subject to memory and storage requirements of the tablet hardware. Users who want to run software they already have will need to purchase Windows 8 Pro tablets.


    Windows 8 represents a huge risk for Microsoft as it attempts to make a major change to the way people interact with their computers, tablets, and smartphones. Although it might be easy to ignore Windows 8 on grounds its adoption requires a steep learning curve, once you actually start using Windows 8, you will rapidly become proficient. While Windows 8 does not contain any enhancements that themselves justify an upgrade, you should consider purchasing the system if you are buying a new notebook or tablet device or a replacement computer for personal use.

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