Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest operating system for desktops, tablets and laptops, can easily confuse people. Part of this is due to the new Start Screen, but there’s another culprit lurking right in front of the user’s palm if they have a laptop: the touchpad.
Many Windows 7 laptops have multi-touch trackpads that allow them to quickly perform certain tasks. In Windows 8, Microsoft added a few commands of its own to the list of gestures that laptop manufacturers have included in 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 are doing or how to trigger it.
Here’s everything you need to know about trackpads in Windows 8 so you don’t get stuck scrolling through apps and more.
Go to Last App
Undoubtedly, the gesture that annoys Windows 8 laptop users the most is the back gesture. Simply put, this is the gesture you use if you want to go back to the last app you opened.
Put your finger on the left edge of your screen and swipe right slowly to switch between different Start Screen apps. Theoretically, this gesture prevents users from pressing the Start key on their keyboard and navigating back to an app they previously opened. It does this. On the other hand, it’s also incredibly easy to trigger if you’re not careful.
If you use Desktop apps like iTunes or Photoshop heavily, using the trackpad to go back to the last app you opened isn’t useful. Windows 8 treats the desktop environment as if it were a single application on its own. So the gesture only works between different apps using the Windows 8 Start Screen. It will 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 app includes an App Bar, with little owners of more options popping up above and below apps downloaded from Microsoft’s Windows Store. If you only use Desktop apps, you will never use this gesture, but if you need to open the Windows Store or other Windows 8 apps, you should know about it.
Placing your finger on the top or bottom of your trackpad and dragging it to opposite sides will reveal the App Bars. It’s entirely possible to use some apps without having to see these bars, but others use them to keep important features. Moreover, many apps do nothing to let the user know they are there.
Opening the Charms Bar
The last Windows 8 laptop trackpad gesture you should know is the one that brings up the Charms Bar.
Put your finger on the right edge of your screen and swipe left slowly to reveal this screen element. Again, if you’re using a laptop, you may have just interacted with the Charms Bar. It lets you dive into important options for connecting to other devices and returning to the Start Screen.
The Search Charm can search online for websites and images. Natively, it also allows users to search for specific apps like Netflix. It’s also the way users search for photos, documents, and other files on their computers if they’re not happy with entering the Desktop interface.
Think of Share Charm as a universal Twitter and Facebook client. Screenshots from apps, images, and status updates can be directly shared with these networks via the Sharing Charm. Other apps use it in unique ways. For example, Xbox Music uses Share Charm to allow users to create playlists. OneNote MX uses the Sharing Charm to allow users to add websites directly to OneNote notebooks.
If you want to print something, Device Charm is how to do it. It’s also how you connect to monitors, displays, and even Microsoft’s own Xbox One.
Finally, the Settings Charm lets you change settings within Windows Store apps. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for Desktop apps like iTunes.
Unfortunately, there is no way to activate any of the Charms with a flick of the trackpad of a Windows 8 laptop. After opening the Charms Bar, you need to move your mouse cursor to open each Charm.
I hope these tips help you master gestures on Windows 8 laptops with trackpads much faster than early adopters. Gestures are a great way to reduce screen switching and performing other tasks, but it was a nasty shock for those who didn’t know about them early on.
Unfortunately, there is no universal way to turn them off. However, some Windows 8 laptops include disable options in their settings. It totally depends on the laptop manufacturer. You’ll need to consult your individual laptop’s support site to see if your laptop is one of those that allow users to disable Windows 8 gestures.