Master Windows 8 gesture commands

Robert Cardin

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Windows 8 has a few new features (like the charms menu, the Start screen, and gesture commands) which may seem pointless or needlessly confusing at first blush. Experienced Windows users running a non-RT version of Windows 8 may be tempted to ignore these new features entirely in favor of working exclusively through the Desktop app.

That's a reasonable sentiment, and it's totally feasible because Windows 8 works equally well whether you stick exclusively to the new Windows 8 interface or the traditional Windows desktop. But Windows 8 really shines when you learn to use the charms and gestures to quickly swap back and forth between the Start screen and the desktop, multitasking and sharing data between new Windows 8 apps and your trusty desktop software.

Before you can do that, you need to get comfortable taking your hands off the keyboard. After a few weeks working and playing with Windows I'm starting to learn how the new control scheme, designed to work equally well on desktops, laptops and tablets, can help you work faster and more efficiently if you take a little time to learn and integrate it into your workflow. With that in mind I've put together a brief guide to helping you get more done in less time on your desktop or tablet by mastering Windows 8 touch controls and their keyboard/mouse equivalents.

Conjure Windows 8 charms to easily search and share

Get used to pulling the new charm menu in from the right, because you're going to be doing it an awful lot.

Swipe in from the right edge to bring up the Windows 8 charms menu, which lets you search, share, and change the settings of Windows 8 apps. There’s also a Start button to take you right back to the Start screen.

Keyboard: Hit the Windows + C keys together to bring up the charms bar.

Mouse: Move your mouse to the top or bottom right corners of your screen and leave it there for a moment to bring up the Charms menu.

Switch tasks quickly with the app sidebar

Windows 8 with sidebar
You can see what apps are currently running by swiping in from the left side of the screen.

Switch through open apps in Windows 8 by swiping your finger in from the left edge of the screen to bring up the last app you were using. If you want to pick and choose from a list of all apps currently open, simply swipe in from the left a bit and then back again to the edge.

Keyboard: Press the Windows + Tab keys together to switch through open apps.

Mouse: Move your mouse to the middle of the left edge, then click and drag to bring in the next app. To bring up a list of all running apps, just move your mouse to the top or bottom left corners of your screen and move it along the edge towards the center until your apps list appears.

Use two apps simultaneously

You can use two apps simultaneously in Windows 8, though you can't adjust the ratio of screen space between the two apps.

You can actually snap an open app into the right or left third of the screen by simply tapping and dragging it to the left or right edge of your screen until a thin vertical bar appears. You can do this from the top edge of an open app to make room for a second program, or drag an open app from the list along the left edge and snap it into the right or left edge of the screen.

Mouse: To snap an app to the right or left side of your screen, simply drag it to either edge (as though the mouse pointer were your finger) or just right-click on the app and select "Snap left" or "Snap right" from the context menu.

Keyboard: To snap an open app to the right side of your screen, press the Windows key + the period key. To snap it to the left, simply press the Windows key + Shift + the period key.

Close apps with a flick of the wrist

Click (or tap) and hold the top edge of an app to move it around the desktop, then drag it to the bottom of the screen to close it.

Close apps by dragging your finger down from the top of the screen until the app minimizes and begins to disappear into the bottom edge.

Mouse: Move your mouse to the top of the screen until the cursor morphs into a gnarled hand, then click and drag the app down until it begins to disappear into the bottom edge of the screen.

Keyboard: The classic ALT + F4 key combination still closes any open program; if you use it while no programs are open, it should trigger the Windows power management menu so you can shut down your PC.

Open your options menu with a swipe (or a right-click)

The options menu along the bottom edge is unique to every app.

Swipe your finger up from the bottom edge to bring up the options menu in any Windows 8 app.

Mouse: Simply right-click in the empty space of any Windows 8 app to bring up the options menu.

Keyboard: Hit the Windows key + Z to bring up the options menu.

Try out semantic zoom

Zoom out to quickly organize the data you store within an app, or even just to organize the apps themselves.

Pinch your fingers together to zoom out; zoom out far enough and you will eventually enter Semantic Zoom mode, which can be useful for moving files around or quickly creating groups of folders. It's sort of hard to explain, so the best thing to do is play around with semantic zoom yourself to see how it works.

Mouse: Hold down the CTRL key and use the scroll wheel on your mouse to scroll in and out of Windows 8 apps. Scroll out as far as you can to enter semantic zoom.

There are actually a few ways to move and organize your files in Windows 8. If you have a touchscreen handy, tap and hold an object in Windows 8 (like the live tiles in the Start screen, for example) to move it around and reorganize folders or menus. If you're using a mouse and keyboard you can move files and folders around in the Desktop app with the File Explorer utilty, just like every other version of Windows. If you need to shuffle things around in the Windows Start screen or a Windows 8 app, simply left-click on an object, then hold and drag it to reorganize your apps, files and folders. Use the mouse wheel to quickly scroll through lists while doing so.

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At a Glance
  • Windows 8 isn't for everyone. If you're mostly a desktop PC user comfortable with Windows 7, upgrading to Windows 8 is probably not worthwhile. If you're a mobile user who needs easy access to the complete Microsoft ecosystem, including SkyDrive, Windows 8 is definitely a good fit. If your needs lie somewhere between those two extremes, give Windows 8 a close look; the cost is low, but you'll need to learn your way around the new Start screen and make sure that your existing software runs well in the new OS.


    • New, improved file system
    • Easier recovery from system problems
    • Better integration with the cloud


    • The missing Start menu will drive some people nuts
    • Overly aggressive when it comes to selling apps and content
    • Some aspects of the OS are unnecessarily confusing
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