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Windows 8: 12 'charming' new looks and features

Microsoft's new operating system has some unique features that take some getting used to: Here's our guided tour of the new "charms" pop-up options, the lack of a "file menu", as well as the multiple ways to access and use new and old apps.

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Windows 8, launching October 26, is a horse of a different colour for users. It looks nothing like the Windows we've been used to for the past decade-plus. Here's a visual tour to start our coverage of the shiny new OS that Microsoft (and others ) are hanging their future on. You are looking at the Start Screen, the first thing you'll see after you log in. Each of those colourful tiles launches something.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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Those icons in the black column on the right side of the screen (which only appears when you mouse over that area) are called Charms. They're available to all Windows 8 apps, and are context-sensitive. On the Start screen, for example, Settings gets you to more general PC settings, while in an app like Quick Note, you find app-specific options.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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At the bottom of the main Settings display, you're able to view and alter network connections, volume, brightness and language, define what notifications you want to see, and shutdown or restart the computer. The Shutdown tile you see (lower right) on this Start screen is actually a user-defined shortcut, not part of the default setup. You can easily add the shortcuts of your choice. More settings are available by clicking the Change PC Settings link.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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You may have noticed these pretty daisies in a tile on the Start screen. They're the default wallpaper for the Windows 8 Desktop app. From Desktop, you can run most Windows 7 software. It's almost the same as the Windows 7 desktop, with the exception of the missing Start button in the bottom left corner.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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If you run Internet Explorer from the new Start screen, you may have a surprise: it does not support add-ins such as the full version of Flash (it does have partial functionality), so you may see a message like this at the bottom of the screen. Fortunately, the version IE that runs on the old Desktop (for Windows 7 software) can handle add-ins. Click the Open button and it will be fired up for you.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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All Windows 8 apps run full-screen. Any menus are accessed by right-clicking or swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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Here’s a good example of how those fullscreen apps look: Tweetro is one of the better Windows 8 Twitter apps.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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Printing from Windows 8 apps such as Quick Note is non-intuitive. There's no "File" menu, instead, you bring up the Charms, click the Devices Charm, and pick your printer. It will then let you choose all of the usual options, like number of copies.Printing from Windows 7 apps on the Desktop works in the same way it always has. Using the Share Charm instead of the Devices Charm lets you send the output to your chosen destination: e-mail, or Facebook, or wherever.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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While you can get the Windows 7 software that runs on the Desktop virtually anywhere, for Windows 8 apps, you're restricted to the Store. It's the place to find new apps, and to receive updates for existing ones. Unlike Windows 7 software, which usually needs Administrator rights for installation, Windows 8 apps can be installed by any user, unless your corporate administrator has blocked the function.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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When you choose an app in the store, you see information about its requirements, the permissions it needs, its price, and what it does. If there are user reviews, you can view them, and add your own.The dashes under the screenshot indicate how many screenshots of the app that the vendor has provided. In any app (including the Store), the arrow at the top left takes you back to the previous screen.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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If you need to find an app on your system, use the Search Charm. You see a list of all installed apps and can find what you need. To discover an app in the Store, just use the Search Charm there and enter the functionality you need (eg: screen capture) into the Search field; it will discover any apps in the store that fulfill your criteria. Note that if vendors have chosen to add them, it'll also show you Desktop apps that you have to retrieve from the vendor site and install on Desktop.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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And yes, there's Solitaire.

Here's one of the payoff animations when you win at Klondike Solitaire.

Lynn Greiner/Screengrab

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