Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest operating system for desktops, tablets and laptops, can confuse people pretty easily. Part of that is due to the new Start Screen, but there’s another culprit that lurks just in front of user’s palms if they have a laptop: the touchpad.
Many Windows 7 laptops had multitouch trackpads that allowed them to perform specific tasks quickly. In Windows 8, Microsoft added a few commands of its own to the list of gestures laptop makers had included on their devices for a very long time. In theory, these gestures should have made Windows 8 more comfortable for laptop users. In practice, using a Windows 8 laptop with these gestures quickly becomes frustrating if you don’t know what they do or how not to trigger them.
Here’s everything you need to know about trackpads in Windows 8, so that you don’t get stuck swiping through apps and more.
Going to the Last App
Without a doubt, the gesture that gives Windows 8 laptop users the most trouble has to be the back gesture. Simply put, if you ever want to go back to the last application you had open, its the gesture you use.
Place your finger on the left edge of your display and slowly slide it to the right to switch between different Start Screen apps. In theory, the gesture keeps users from having to press the Start key on their keyboard and navigating back to an app they had open before. It does do that. On the other hand, it’s also incredibly easy to trigger if you’re not being careful.
Using the trackpad to go back to the last app you had open isn’t useful if you’re heavily into using Desktop apps like iTunes or Photoshop. Windows 8 treats the desktop environment as if it’s a single application on its own. As such, the gesture only works between different apps that use the Windows 8 Start Screen. It’ll take you back to the Desktop but then you have to find the app you’re looking for yourself.
Opening App Bars
Not a single Desktop application includes an App Bar, the small holders of more options that float out from the top and bottom of apps downloading from Microsoft’s Windows Store. If you only use Desktop apps, you’re never going to use this gesture, but if you ever need to open the Windows Store, or other Windows 8 apps you should know it.
Placing your finger on the top or bottom of your trackpad and drag it to the opposite edges reveals the App Bars. It’s entirely possible to use some apps without ever having to see these bars, but others use them to hold crucial features. What’s more, many apps don’t actually do anything to let the user know that they’re there.
Opening the Charms Bar
The final Windows 8 laptop trackpad gesture that you should know about is the one that brings up the Charms Bar.
Place your finger on the right edge of your screen and slowly slide it to the left to reveal this on-screen element. Again, if you’re on a laptop then it’s possible you have interact with the Charms Bar just yet. It allows you to dive into crucial options for connecting to other devices and getting back to the Start Screen.
The Search Charm can perform online searches for websites and images. Locally, it also allows users to search specific applications, like Netflix. It’s also the way users search for photos, documents and other files on their PC if they aren’t comfortable with diving into the Desktop interface.
Think of the Share Charm as a universal Twitter and Facebook client. Screenshots from apps, pictures and status updates can all be shared directly with those networks through the Share Charm. Other apps use it in unique ways. For example, Xbox Music uses the Share Charm to let users create playlists. OneNote MX uses the Share Charm to let users add websites directly to their OneNote notebooks.
If you’re looking to print something, the Devices Charm is how you do it. It’s also how you connect to monitors, displays and even Microsoft’s own Xbox One.
Finally, the Settings Charm allows you to change the settings inside Windows Store apps. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for Desktop apps like iTunes.
Sadly, there’s no way to activate any of the Charms with a gesture from a Windows 8 laptop’s trackpad. Once you’ve opened the Charms Bar, you’ll still need to move your mouse cursor around to open each Charm.
Hopefully, these tips help you master the gestures on Windows 8 laptops with trackpads a lot faster than early adopters did. The gestures are a great way to cut down on switching screens and doing other tasks, but for those who didn’t know about them early on they were a nasty shock.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal way to turn them off. That being said, some Windows 8 laptops do include options to disable the in their settings. It varies completely by laptop maker. You’ll need to consult the support site for your individual laptop to figure out if your laptop is one of the many that allow users to disable Windows 8 gestures.
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