Windows 8.1 with a Mouse and Keyboard

Yes, Windows 8.1 works great with mouse and keyboard! However, I’m sure you’ve heard otherwise from your techie friends and comments on websites. But the truth is the new Start Screen is easy to use, fun, and powerful!

As someone who has been used every single version of Windows, I believe the new Start Screen is a great improvement on the decades old Start Menu.  This article, and it’s videos, will help you learn not only how to use Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard, but also several tips & tricks you’ll love!

Here’s What’s in this Article:

  • Tip #1:  Mouse and Keyboard Work Just Fine
  • Tip #2:  Start in the Familiar Windows 7 Desktop
  • Tip #3:  Find Anything…Fast!
  • Tip #4:  The Start Screen is the New Start Menu
  • Tip #5:  Shutting Down Your Computer is Easy
  • Tip #6:  Pin Programs to Your Taskbar
  • Tip #7:  Desktop Wallpaper on Your Start Screen
  • Tip #8:  You can “Refresh” Your PC
  • Tip #9:  Get Help When You Need It

Tip #1:  Mouse and Keyboard Work Just Fine

One of the biggest complaints you will likely hear is that Windows 8.1 is designed for “tablets” and “touch”.  I don’t have a touchscreen computer, and found it very easy to use Windows 8.1 (you’ll see how in my video above).

A big plus is your Windows 8.1 “desktop” works  the same as Windows 7 (more on that later)…thus it’s made for mouse and keyboard.  But what about the “Start Screen”?  Yes, it was originally designed for ‘touch’, but Windows 8.1 knows when you have a mouse and reveals scroll-bars and allows you to use the features of your mouse just like you would expect (right mouse-click, etc.).

If you are a heavy “keyboard command” user, there are a lot of new ones you can use, and Microsoft has a list here:

Update:  Windows 8.1, “Update 1”, is now out (as of 08 April 2014) and includes many mouse & keyboard friendly updates.  You will find a new “window title bar” in all Modern Experience (MX) apps that open full screen.  It allows you to “minimize”, “close”, or snap right/left easily.  Watch a video about all the new updates here (and I’ve included updates throughout this article):

Tip #2:  Start in the Familiar Windows 7 Desktop

Do you work in the traditional “desktop” environment in Windows a lot?  Use desktop programs like Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, or iTunes?  Hey, so do I!

If you prefer, you can ‘sign in’ right to the desktop and skip the start screen. It’s fast and easy to do. Right mouse-click your taskbar in desktop mode, select ‘properties’, go to ‘navigation’ tab, and you’ll find options to boot to desktop and other things you can customize (like turning off hot-corners).

Here’s something good to know:  Windows 8.1 is actually Windows 7 at its core.  Really.  So don’t be fooled by anyone trying to make you pay to have Windows 8.1 removed, and Windows 7 installed.  Microsoft’s engineers were able to learn from the mistakes of Windows 7, and make Windows 8 and 8.1 faster and better to use (power users will like some new features made just for them):

  • Faster:  Microsoft programmers were able to take the Windows 7 “code” and make it more “lightweight” (or “efficient”) than Windows 7, making things like “boot” times (the time from when you start your computer, to the point you can log-in to Windows) and other processes much faster.  In-fact, it made my old computer faster!
  • Run Your Old Programs:  You can still run your old Windows 7 programs in Windows 8, because, it’s still Windows 7 at it’s core!  But for “older” programs (let’s say you are upgrading from Windows XP), you can enable a “compatibility mode” to run older software.  Windows 7 had this feature as well.
  • New Features: There are a few cool new features, however, such as being able to “snap” Windows 8 apps next to your desktop (the larger your screen size, the more you can snap). This is highly convenient (for students, you can snap OneNote to take notes while in Office, or have email open, web, etc.).

Update April 2014:  With Windows 8.1 “Update 1”, mouse & keyboard users are booted directly to the desktop by default (you can still change this to boot to the start screen, if you wish)

Tip #3:  Find Anything…FAST!

Your first question (or concern) typically is:  how can I find anything?!   Windows 8.1 makes finding things easy, and after you learn how you’ll love it.  The Windows team took the ‘quick search’ feature from Windows 7, and kept it with Windows 8, but made it better:

  • From the “Start Screen”, just start typing what you’re looking for.  This can be a program (such as Microsoft “Word”) or a file.
  • From the “Desktop”, you can search for anything using the WIN+S key combination on your keyboard, or if you are just looking for files, use the WIN+F key combination on your keyboard.
    • Tip:  When you hear about “key combinations” this means press and hold down the “WIN” key on your keyboard (typically in the lower left-hand corner that looks like a windows logo) and then press another letter (such as “S” for search or “F” for files).
  • A new “hero” search in Windows 8.1 shows you a mixture of results from your computer, and from the web (via Bing).  So if you are looking for something like “London”, it will show you photos, songs, etc., from your computer but also web results in a beautiful format.

Update April 2014:  With Windows 8.1 “Update 1”, you will now have a “search” button icon in the Start Screen in the upper right-hand corner for easy access

Tip #4:  The Start Screen is the New Start Menu

I think for those who have used Windows before, relating the new “Start Screen” as a replacement to the “Start Menu” helps a lot.  Microsoft got rid of the Start Menu because in Windows 7, people stopped using it!  They often just pinned their most used programs to the taskbar (that’s the thing at the bottom of your desktop with the start button, time, date, etc).

When organized and used correctly, it’s even faster than the Start menu. You can even pin “people” and “websites” to your Start screen for regularly updated content (convenient!). When I organize my Start Screen, I don’t put every program on there (because it’s easy to find them other ways), which means I don’t have to “scroll” to the right like you see on commercials.  Everything I need is right there, and if I need to find anything else I just “start typing” and the search feature finds me the program/app or file that I’m looking for. It’s fast and easy.  (Tip:  If you work in Information Technologies, click here for an article and video on how to organize the Start Screen for employees in your business)

You can pin a lot of things to the Start Screen that you could never have done with the old Start Menu, making it much more customizable…and efficient.  One thing I found very beneficial as a power user is pinning “folders” to my Start Screen.  You’ll notice I pinned a relevant folder next to a program shortcut.  So I can easily open up Microsoft Word, or use the pinned folder next to it to find all my documents.  It also doesn’t matter if it is a local (C drive on your computer) folder, network folder, or even a “cloud” folder like OneDrive…you can pin them!

Pin your folders next to the relevant app/program icon for ease of access to those files.

Pin your folders next to the relevant app/program icon for ease of access to those files.

To help with organizing your Start Screen so it’s easy to use, produtive, and efficient, please take a look at my full article about 8 tips and tricks for your Start Screen as well as some layout tips below:

Click the image to view larger

Click the image to view larger

Update April 2014:  With Windows 8.1 “Update 1”, the desktop’s “taskbar” is now prevalent throughout all of Windows 8.1.  Move your mouse cursor to the bottom of the start screen or any modern experience (MX) app, and the taskbar will “roll up” and appear allowing you easy access to desktop or MX programs.

Tip #5:  Shutting Down Your Computer is EASY

Are you perplexed about how to “turn off” or “shut down” your computer?  For many of us who have used Windows for years, we went to the “Start Menu” then “Shut Down”.  But now with Windows 8, that option is hidden a bit (there is a new update coming out in 2014 that will add a “power button” to your Start Screen).  But there is a VERY EASY way to shut down your computer that you may not know about.

Ever since Windows Vista and Windows 7, you can just press the “power” button on your computer/laptop to shut down (or put your computer to sleep).  But for many Windows XP users, they only know that they have to use the Start menu to do this.  Make life easier by deciding what you want the power button to do (and then all you have to do is “press the power button”.  I recommend enabling “Shut Down”, but you may prefer something different).  Think about it:  how do you “shut down” anything else in your life?  You press the power button to your TV, your smartphone, your tablet, your radio, etc.  Why should your computer be any different?

Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Start Screen (or press WIN+S if you are on the desktop to bring up the search pane)
  2. Type in “power options” and you’ll see the Power Options appear in the list.  Click it (or press your enter key)
  3. Select the “choose what the power buttons do”
  4. From here, you can select under the “When I press the power button:” what your power button does.  As you can see, I have mine selected for “Shut down”.

Imagine that, you can shut down your computer just by pressing the power button…just like your TV or anything else :)

Update April 2014:  With Windows 8.1 “Update 1”, based on user feedback Microsoft has included a “Power” button in the Start Screen in the upper right-hand corner.  Click it to reveal “sleep”, “shut down”, and “restart” options.

Tip #6:  Pin Programs to Your Taskbar

Don’t like the new “Start Screen” that much?  That’s ok, because a feature from Windows 7 still exists with Windows 8 where you can “pin” programs to your taskbar.  Didn’t know about this?  Well ever since Microsoft rolled out this feature with Windows Vista, and later Windows 7, people have largely stopped using that old Start Menu (which is the main reason it doesn’t exist in Windows 8 anymore).  This is because people had their most frequently used (“favorite”) programs right on the taskbar…so why use a Start Menu when your program shortcut is right there in front of you?

Here’s an example of my taskbar on the desktop.  You’ll see I have a few program pinned there that I use often such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, File Explorer, and a few Microsoft Office programs.  I don’t have to go digging in a menu, or go to a different screen, because it’s right there and easily clickable.  Nice huh?

To pin a program to the Start Screen go to your “Apps” list via the Start Screen:

  1. Click Start (button or the key on your keyboard)
  2. Click the “down arrow” that appears at the bottom of the Start Screen.  This will reveal all the programs on your computer.
  3. Find the program you wish to “pin” on the list and right-mouse click it.  You will be given the option to pin to your Start Screen and to your Taskbar.
  4. As soon as you pin a program, you’ll find it on your taskbar on the desktop.

And, yes, there are keyboard commands to use these pinned programs on your taskbar too.  Each “position” of these pinned programs is a number from 1 to 10 (for example).  In my screenshot, IE is #1, Chrome is #2, File Explorer #3, Word #4, etc.  Press the “Windows” button on your keyboard along with the number to open quickly!  Thus WIN+4 would open Microsoft Word on my taskbar (because Word is in position 4).  Personally, I use a mouse, but a lot of people like to do things with their keyboard only.

If you use Windows 7 at work or elsewhere, you can pin programs to your taskbar there too.  Just go to the Start Menu, All Programs, and right-mouse click any program and select “Pin to Taskbar”.  It looks and works EXACTLY the same as Windows 8.1.  Soon, even for Windows 7 users, you’ll forget that there is even a Start Menu (I haven’t used the Start Menu with any degree of frequency since Windows Vista).

Update April 2014:  With Windows 8.1 “Update 1”, you can now “pin” Modern Experience (MX) apps found in the Windows Store or via the Start Screen (such as your mail app, weather app, games, etc.).  They will still open “full screen”, but you can pin to the taskbar for easy access from the desktop (thus bypassing the start screen).

Tip #7:  Desktop Wallpaper on Your Start Screen

To make going back and forth between the desktop less jarring, turn on the desktop wallpaper!  Just like in the video, it looks beautiful and truly makes understanding the Start Screen as a Start Menu replacement more understandable.  Right mouse-click your taskbar in desktop mode, select ‘properties’, go to ‘navigation’ tab, and check “Show My Desktop Background in Start”.

You can also enable this from the Start Screen by showing your ‘charms bar’ (WIN+C with your keyboard), go to ‘settings’, then ‘personalize’.  The last tiny wallpaper icon will always be your desktop wallpaper.  Neat huh?

Tip #8:  You Can “Refresh” Your PC

We are used to “resetting” our tablets and smartphones nowadays, but when it comes to our PC’s, it was often a confusing and labor intensive procedure.  Not anymore with Windows 8.1.  Built right in to the “PC Settings” feature, you can easily “refresh” your PC if it isn’t working right, “reinstall”, and even “restore” your PC to a time before it was having any problems.  The new “refresh” feature is great, because it keeps all your files and apps, but helps make the operating system as a clean install…which can often resolve issues (perhaps you installed a program that caused an issue, etc.).

Microsoft has some more information here that can help:

Tip #9:  Get Help When You Need It

Screenshot (8)

Microsoft has a few different wants to help you with using Windows 8.1:

  • In Windows:  Built right in to Windows 8.1 is a “Help+Tips” app.  It has tutorials, videos, and more to help you use Windows 8.1.  By default, you should see this on your Start Screen,butifnothereishowto access:
    • From the Start Screen:  Just start typing “help” and you’ll see the “Help+Tips” app appear in the search results.  Just click it.
    • From the Desktop:  Press and hold your Windows key on the keyboard, then press “S” (Win+S) to bring up the search.  Type in “Help” and you’ll see the “Help+Tips” in the results.
  • Online:  Microsoft has a nice page that links you to all the videos and things you need to know about Windows 8.1.  This is a great place to start:   Windows 8.1 (and RT) Getting Started Tutorials
  • Product Guide:  The Windows 8.1 Product Guide is basically your “manual” for Windows 8.1.  It’s got everything in there, and can be a lot, so if you’re looking for something faster and easier to read, the Windows 8.1 Reference Guide may be more to your liking.
  • Microsoft Store:  If you have a Microsoft Retail store nearby, you can drop in for FREE help (even if you didn’t buy your PC there).  They also have free classes that teach you how to use Windows 8.1.  If you need more in-depth or technical help, that’s available too (for a fee).  More info here: 
  • Twitter:  Compared to Google and Apple (which have limited, or no support, on Twitter),you’llfindMicrosoftalloverTwitteractivelyhelpingpeople which is really impressive.  Someare shocked at how quickly Microsoft responds to their concerns!
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