Life after Windows+X
Microsoft has added a bunch of keyboard shortcuts to Windows 8 that make life easier, but by far the most important of these is Windows+X. In fact, alongside the new task manager and unified copy window, this is the one Windows 8 feature we miss when we go back to using Windows 7 machines. It is in many ways more useful to power users than the start menu ever was.
Hitting Windows+X while in the desktop opens up a small list of options. Not only does it provide quick access to things like the control panel and device manager, but it even makes getting to more deeply hidden functions like Disk Manager a breeze. Think of it as your one stop shop for tinkering with settings, and learning to use it has been a revelation for us, and one of the main ways we’ve been able to avoid the parts of Windows 8 that we find painful.
While Windows+X is, to our mind, the most important shortcut to know, it is worth learning the others that Microsoft has included. As time passes we are finding ourselves relying on keyboard shortcuts more and more. We do this because the operating system has been designed around touch gestures that move inwards from the screen borders. This can be replicated with the mouse, but it feels odd, especially on the large screen (or screens) that are plugged into most desktop systems.
Once you’ve trained yourself to live inside the Desktop App in Windows 8, the benefits of the new OS start becoming clear. We’ve already mentioned the much improved task manager, and the little touches like the much improved support for multiple file copies in Windows Explorer.
On the whole we have found the desktop experience to be slick and smooth, with no major compatibility issues with the software we use everyday.
For those used to Windows, there is no doubt that transitioning to Windows 8 will be a bit of a shock to the system. If you are currently running Windows 7 there isn’t really any burning need to upgrade to the new OS, but for those still running on Vista or XP, it is well worth the move (remembering that extended support for the 11 year old Windows XP ends in 2014).
As long as you train yourself to avoid the Modern UI, the desktop experience in Windows 8 is surprisingly good. It looks and feels solid, and there are a host of little improvements to pretty much every aspect of the experience that make it in many ways a better solution than Windows 7.
It does feel strange neglecting what is obviously a large part of Microsoft’s intended Windows 8 experience, but apart from some experimenting with the free on PC Xbox Music service (which is surprisingly comprehensive for a free streaming offering), we haven’t encountered any compelling reason to leave the desktop.
Ultimately this is the one thing that has redeemed Windows 8 in our eyes, and for those with desktops still running Windows XP, we really do see it as time to upgrade.