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Windows 8.1 Preview - user interface enhancements

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Preview, the future upgrade to Windows 8. Some of the changes are subtitle and are quite easily over looked, others are not. Changes included in Windows 8.1 are B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device), mobility, security and user interface enhancements. With the promise of better user interaction on personal computers, Microsoft made some tweaks to both Windows RT and Windows 8. Let's take a closer look into the user interface changes inside of Windows 8.1 Preview.

The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview
The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview

The first thing you'll notice is that nothing appears to have changed. Right out-of-the-box the only thing that caught my eye was the return of the Start button on the Desktop. You no longer have to hover your cursor in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. If you left-click on the Start button, it brings up the Start screen, not the Start menu from previous versions of Windows. If you right-click on it, the power user command menu appears without keyboard shortcuts. Pressing the Windows logo key Windows logo key + X does the same thing, but has the keyboard shortcuts (the underlined letter in the name of the program). If you want and/or need a Start menu, you'll need a third party app like Start8.

Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

The Start screen has also under gone some changes. The tiles can now be resized smaller for non-touch devices like personal computers. You now have four different tile sizes to choose from: large (8x8), wide (8x4), medium (4x4) and small (1x1). There is now a button at the bottom of the Start screen to toggle in between it and the Apps screen. You no longer have to right-click the Start screen to bring up the Apps command bar. Now when you right-click on the Start screen, you get a customize button for adding names to groups of tiles. You no longer have to zoom out to do it. And now if you zoom out, all you can do is select a group of tiles to zoom in on.

The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview
The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview

The customization options for the Start screen have also been expanded. You can now use one of your own images for the lock screen or play a slide show on it. You can now also change the accent color along with the background color. Not as many options as some third party programs like Decor8, but it's an improvement compared to Windows 8.

Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

One the most anticipated changes is the boot to Desktop option. It took a little hunting, but I did find it under Personalization > Taskbar and Navigation properties. It's there you can make Windows 8.1 go to the Desktop when you sign in. You can also have the Desktop background on the Start screen and set the Apps screen as the default when you left-click on the Start button.

The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

Another program that got a face lift was PC Settings. Microsoft redesigned it with expanded categories and sub-menus to include more settings. It's still not as complete as the Control Panel, but it's getting better. The new layout seems more proportionate on a computer screen, with the menu titles smaller. Overall, I would say the user interface inside of Windows 8.1 is an improvement over Windows 8. But without a Start menu, it will still be a hard sell to die hard Windows users.

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Preview, just follow the links below:

Windows 8.1 Preview
Windows 8.1 Preview FAQ

Run Windows RT apps on the Windows 8 desktop with ModernMix

As many of you know, I've been using two monitors on my personal workstation for over ten years. I like being able to view two or more programs all at the same time. So when Windows 8 came out, I was happy to see better multiple monitor support, but I didn't like running Windows RT / Metro apps, as they took up the full display area. They are nice, but with a screen size of 2560 x 1024, it was just too much for me. Then the folks at Stardock came out with a program to run Windows RT / Metro apps in a window on the desktop called ModernMix.

Two Windows RT apps running on a desktop with two monitors using ModernMix in Windows 8
Two Windows RT apps running on a desktop with two monitors using ModernMix in Windows 8

ModernMix allows almost any Windows RT / Metro app to run inside a window on the desktop in Windows 8. It remembers the settings of all of the Windows RT apps you have run and you can manually modify them if needed. I came across a couple of apps that would only run in full screen. It also has a screen overlay you can enable in the upper right-hand corner that allows you to switch between modes (full screen, maximized and windowed) and bring up the Settings charm for that app. You can even Pin a program to the Taskbar with ModernMix.

Application settings page inside of ModernMix
Application settings page inside of ModernMix

Here's a quote from the ModernMix website:

What is ModernMix?

ModernMix is a revolutionary new program that lets you run Windows 8 "Modern" apps in a window on the desktop. Windows 8 Modern apps, also known as Metro or RT apps, will use the full screen on your display regardless of how much of the screen they really need. As a result, that weather app, mail program or stock ticker is going to use the entirety of your computer display.

Features

    Run modern apps in windows
  • ModernMix enables you to run multiple Modern apps in individual separate windows on the desktop as well as launch them from the desktop.
    Apply custom settings
  • Modern app window sizes are remembered the next time you launch them.
    Pin modern apps to the taskbar
  • Active Modern apps will also appear on your taskbar where they can be pinned for quick access later. Also create desktop shortcuts for Modern apps.
    Bring back the familiar Windows look
  • Standard Windows 8 title bar is enabled for Modern apps.
  • Explicitly close Modern apps by clicking its close button.

The price of ModernMix is $4.99 (at the time this article was written). For more information on ModernMix and Stardock, just follow the links below:

ModernMix
Stardock

How to organize the Start screen in Windows 8

Being organized is a necessity when you are an IT consultant. You have to know where things are, so when you need them, you can find them. The same is true for the Windows 8 Start screen. If you can't find it, you can't use it. So here's how to organize the Start screen in Windows 8.

Here's a video on how to organize the tiles on the Windows 8 Start screen. The complete instructions are below.

How to pin tiles to the Start screen in Windows 8

Windows 8 Start screen with tiles and groups organized
Windows 8 Start screen with tiles and groups organized

Using a mouse

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Right click the Start screen background to bring up the app commands.
  3. Select All apps.
  4. Scroll to and right-click the app tile you want to pin to the Start screen.
  5. On the app command bar at the bottom of the screen, left-click Pin to Start.

Using a keyboard

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + Z to open the app commands.
  3. Press Enter to select All apps.
  4. Use the arrow keys to navigate to the app tile you want to pin to the Start screen.
  5. Press the Application key Application key to bring up the app commands.
  6. On the app command bar at the bottom of the screen, use the arrow keys to navigate to Pin to Start and press Enter.

Using touch

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Swipe up from the bottom of the Start menu to bring up the app commands.
  3. Select All apps.
  4. Scroll to the app tile you want to pin to the Start screen and press and hold it to bring up the app commands.
  5. On the app command bar at the bottom of the screen, tap Pin to Start.

How to unpin tiles from the Start screen in Windows 8

Using a mouse

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Scroll to and right-click the app tile you want to unpin from the Start screen.
  3. On the app command bar at the bottom of the screen, left-click Unpin from Start.

Using a keyboard

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Use the arrow keys to navigate to the app tile you want to unpin from the Start screen.
  3. Press the Application key Application key to bring up the app commands.
  4. On the app command bar at the bottom of the screen, use the arrow keys to navigate to Unpin from Start and press Enter.

Using touch

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Scroll to the app tile you want to unpin from the Start screen and press and hold it to bring up the app commands.
  3. On the app command bar at the bottom of the screen, tap Unpin from Start.

Moving tiles on the start screen in Windows 8

Using a mouse

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Click and hold the left mouse button on the tile you want move and drag it to the location you want.

Using touch

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Press and hold the tile you want move and drag it to the location you want.

Move groups on the start screen in Windows 8

Windows 8 Start screen zoomed out with tiles and groups organized
Windows 8 Start screen zoomed out with tiles and groups organized

Using a mouse / keyboard

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Hold down the Control key (CTRL) on the keyboard while using the mouse wheel and zoom out to view all of the groups on the Start screen.
  3. Press and hold the left mouse button on the group you want move and drag it to the location you want.

Using touch

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Pinch two fingers on the screen and zoom out to view all of the groups on the Start screen.
  3. Press the group you want move and drag it to the location you want.

Rename groups on the start screen in Windows 8

Using a mouse / keyboard

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Hold down the Control key (CTRL) on the keyboard while using the mouse wheel and zoom out to view all of the groups on the Start screen.
  3. Right-click on the group you want to rename and select Name group from the app command bar.

Using touch

  1. Go to the Start screen.
  2. Pinch two fingers on the screen and zoom out to view all of the groups on the Start screen.
  3. Press and hold the group you want rename and select Name group from the app command bar.

Other related articles:

How to create a shortcut on the Desktop and Start menu in Windows 8
How to create log-off restart and shutdown shortcuts on the Start screen in Windows 8

Hear text read aloud in Windows 8 with Narrator

Windows 8 comes with a basic screen reader called Narrator that reads text on the screen aloud and describes events like error messages so you can use your PC without a display.

The main screen for Narrator in Windows 8
The main screen for Narrator in Windows 8

Starting Narrator
There are different ways to start Narrator. These are the three shortcuts many people prefer:

  • On a keyboard, press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + Enter.
  • On a tablet, press the Windows logo button Windows logo key + Volume Up button together.
  • On the sign-in screen, press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + U or click the Ease of access Ease of Access button button in the lower-left corner and choose Narrator.

Note:
If you want to quickly exit Narrator, press Caps Lock+Esc.

Another way to get to Narrator is to use search:

  1. 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, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search.)
  2. Enter Narrator in the search box, tap or click Apps, and then tap or click Narrator.
    Notes:
  • If you want to get started right away, after you open Narrator, press the Caps Lock key + F1. This keyboard combination will show you all of the Narrator commands.
  • If you want to use Caps Lock to capitalize letters while you're using Narrator, press the Caps Lock key twice in quick succession.

New touch gestures
Windows 8 and Windows RT have new actions and new locations for common commands. Here are a few important gestures to get you started.

Use this touch gesture To do this
Swipe in from the right edge with one finger Open the charms (Search, Share, Start, Devices, Settings)
Swipe in from the left edge with one finger Switch apps, snap them to the side, and close them
Swipe in from the top or bottom edge with one finger Show app commands like Save, Edit, and Delete

New keyboard shortcuts
Windows 8 and Windows RT have new keyboard shortcuts too. Here are a few helpful ones.

Use this keyboard shortcut To do this
Windows logo key Windows logo key + C Open the charms (Search, Share, Start, Devices, Settings)
Windows logo key Windows logo key + Z Show app commands like Save, Edit, and Delete
Windows logo key Windows logo key + period Snap apps to the side
Windows logo key Windows logo key +Tab or Alt+Tab Switch apps

Narrator settings
Here are some of the main settings you might want to use:

    General
  • Lock the Narrator key so you don’t have to press it for each command (Caps Lock). When you choose this option, you won’t have to use the Caps Lock key with the Narrator keys. For example, instead of pressing Caps Lock key + F1, you can simply press F1.
  • Start Narrator minimized. This option keeps the Narrator window out of your way.
  • Echo keyboard keystrokes while typing. You can choose whether or not Narrator reads each key you type.
  • Read out voiced Narrator errors. Choose this option if you want Narrator to read the actual error in addition to playing an error tone.
  • Enable visual highlighting of Narrator cursor. This option lets you show or hide the box that highlights where Narrator is on your screen.
  • Play audio cues. This option lets you turn on or off the extra sounds that Narrator plays when you do certain actions.
  • Read hints for common items. This option controls whether Narrator will read hints about how to interact with common items such as buttons, links, list items, and sliders.
  • Lower the volume of other apps when Narrator is running. This option makes other apps quieter so it's easier to hear Narrator.
  • Retain notifications to be read for. This drop-down menu lets you control how long notifications will be retained for being read by Narrator.
  • Control whether Narrator starts automatically. This link takes you to the Ease of Access Center where you can choose to have Narrator on automatically.
    Navigation
  • Read and interact with the screen using the mouse. This option controls whether Narrator mouse mode is on. When mouse mode is on, Narrator will read what’s currently under your mouse cursor.
  • Activate keys on the touch keyboard when you lift your finger. If touch mode is on, you can turn on this setting so you can type faster using the touch keyboard. With this setting, you can drag to find the item you're looking for and lift your finger to press the key.
  • Enable the Narrator cursor to follow the keyboard focus. This adds a blue box to your screen that moves with the keyboard focus, so that if you tab through items the Narrator cursor will follow.
    Voice
  • Select the speed, volume, or pitch of the voice. You can customize the voice with these three sliders.
  • Select a different voice for Narrator. With this drop-down menu you can select different types of voices in Narrator, if they are available in your language.
    Commands
  • Click this option to see a list of existing shortcut keys for Narrator. You can always change these shortcuts if you like. The most important keyboard shortcut to know is Caps Lock + F1. Pressing this keyboard combination will show all Narrator commands. For reference, the following table lists the commands too.
Use this keyboard shortcut To do this
Ctrl Stop reading
Caps Lock + Esc Exit Narrator
Caps Lock + Space Do primary action
Caps Lock + Right arrow Move to next item
Caps Lock + Left Arrow Move to previous item
Caps Lock + Up arrow Change view
Caps Lock + Down arrow Change view
Caps Lock + F1 Show commands list
Caps Lock + F2 Show commands for current item
Caps Lock + F3 Jump to next cell in row
Caps Lock + Shift+F3 Jump to previous cell in row
Caps Lock + F4 Jump to next cell in column
Caps Lock + Shift+F4 Jump to previous cell in column
Caps Lock + F5 Read which row and column Narrator is in
Caps Lock + F6 Jump to table cell
Caps Lock + F7 Read current column
Caps Lock + F8 Read current row
Caps Lock + F9 Read current column header
Caps Lock + F10 Read current row header
Caps Lock + F11 Toggle touch mode on/off
Caps Lock + F12 Toggle keystroke announcements
Caps Lock + Z Lock Narrator Key
Caps Lock + X Pass keys to app
Caps Lock + V Repeat last phrase
Caps Lock + Page Up Increase voice volume
Caps Lock + Page Down Decrease voice volume
Caps Lock + Plus Increase voice speed
Caps Lock + Minus Decrease voice speed
Caps Lock + D Read item
Caps Lock + F Read item advanced
Caps Lock + S Read item spelled out
Caps Lock + W Read Window
Caps Lock + R Read all items in containing area
Caps Lock + Q Move to last item in containing area
Caps Lock + G Move Narrator cursor to system cursor
Caps Lock + T Move Narrator cursor to pointer
Caps Lock + Tilde Set focus to item
Caps Lock + Backspace Go back one item
Caps Lock + Insert Jump to linked item
Caps Lock + M Start reading
Caps Lock + Close bracket Read text from start to cursor
Caps Lock + O Read text attributes
Caps Lock + H Read document
Caps Lock + U Read next page
Caps Lock + Ctrl + U Read current page
Caps Lock + Shift + U Read previous page
Caps Lock + I Read next paragraph
Caps Lock + Ctrl + I Read current paragraph
Caps Lock + Shift + I Read previous paragraph
Caps Lock + O Read next line
Caps Lock + Ctrl + O Read current line
Caps Lock + Shift + O Read previous line
Caps Lock + P Read next word
Caps Lock + Ctrl + P Read current word
Caps Lock + Shift + P Read previous word
Caps Lock + Open bracket Read next character
Caps Lock + Ctrl + Open bracket Read current character
Caps Lock + Shift + Open bracket Read previous character
Caps Lock + J Jump to next heading
Caps Lock + Shift + J Jump to previous heading
Caps Lock + K Jump to next table
Caps Lock + Shift + K Jump to previous table
Caps Lock + L Jump to next link
Caps Lock + Shift + L Jump to previous link
Caps Lock + Y Move to beginning of text
Caps Lock + B Move to end of text
Caps Lock + N Rewind while reading a document
Caps Lock + Comma Fast-forward while reading a document
Caps Lock + C Read current date/time

If you have a new PC that supports four or more contact points, you can use touch commands to control your PC.

Use this touch command To do this
Tap once with two fingers Stop Narrator from reading
Tap three times with four fingers Show all Narrator commands (including ones not in this list)
Double-tap or hold with one finger and tap anywhere with a second Activate primary action
Triple-tap or hold with one finger and double-tap with a second Activate secondary action
Hold with one finger and tap with two others Start dragging or extra key options
Tap with three fingers Show/hide Narrator settings window
Tap with four fingers Show commands for current item
Tap or drag a single finger Read what's under your finger
Double-tap with four fingers Toggle search mode
Triple-tap with four fingers Show Narrator commands list
Flick left/right with one finger Move to next or previous item
Flick up/down with one finger Change move increment
Swipe left/right/up/down with two fingers Scroll
Swipe left/right with three fingers Tab forward and backward
Swipe down with three fingers Start reading explorable text
Swipe up with three fingers Read current window
    Notes:
  • Narrator provides basic screen-reading capabilities so you can use Windows when you don't have a more comprehensive screen reader. Narrator isn't designed to read content in all apps.
  • TTS support in Narrator is available in Cantonese, English (United States and United Kingdom), French, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish.

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