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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gives his presentation at the launch of Microsoft Windows 8, in New York, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. Windows 8 is the most dramatic overhaul of the personal computer market's dominant operating system in 17 years. And while it’s ‘alive with activity,’ it’s missing some of the things Windows users are used to. (Richard Drew/AP)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gives his presentation at the launch of Microsoft Windows 8, in New York, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. Windows 8 is the most dramatic overhaul of the personal computer market's dominant operating system in 17 years. And while it’s ‘alive with activity,’ it’s missing some of the things Windows users are used to. (Richard Drew/AP)

Windows 8: Where’s the File menu? Add to ...

When you first dive into Windows 8, you could find – or rather, not find – a few things you’ve grown to know well in previous versions of Windows.

For example, while Desktop apps like Microsoft Word have all of the menu options you’d expect, allowing you to print and save and e-mail just as you would have in earlier versions of Windows, you won’t find those items in native Windows 8 apps.

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So does that mean you can’t print, or e-mail, or save, or search?

Nope. Windows 8 just does things very differently. Here’s how.

Charms and Contracts

It all comes down to the charms, those icons that appear down the right side of the screen when you swipe in on a touchscreen or put the mouse cursor in a corner on the right hand side of the display (slide it up once the charms appear as shadows to use them). (I also compiled a photo gallery of some of the things discussed here, which can help with the visual cues).

If, say, you’re in the Store and want to hunt for an app, all you need to do is bring up the charms, open the Search charm and type keywords into the search field. Click the magnifying glass at the end of the field, and you’ll get a list of all apps matching your criteria. If you’re in the Wikipedia app, that same Search charm will search within Wikipedia’s information, and in a Twitter app, it’ll search tweets.

It’s thanks to a concept called contracts. To make things easier for developers (and to ensure a consistent experience for users), Microsoft has created the plumbing for searching and other such functions and opened it to developers. Rather than having to write a search routine, or a print interface, the developer just needs to participate in a contract to use Microsoft’s functionality, by adding a few lines of code to the app.

The Share contract, as its name implies, lets you share content from apps over e-mail, or to your Facebook friends, or to another app that accepts input. Say, for example, you find a cool app in the Store and want to let your friends know about it. All you do, with the app’s entry open, is open the Share charm and choose how and with whom you want to share it.

Printing is a bit less intuitive. To print, you open the Devices charm, pick your printer, and then go through relatively familiar print dialogues.

You may find that some apps can’t print or share or search; that’s the developer’s choice. During the Windows 8 preview cycle, I’ve found that many developers have been adding contracts where appropriate as they’ve refined their apps, so if you don’t see what you want, ask.

How? Most apps in the Store have a link to the developer’s support for the app, so that’s a good place to start.

No saving

You won’t see Save dialogues in Windows 8 apps either. They save automatically. To delete a file, select it and swipe from the top or bottom (or right click) to bring up the app-specific menu. Because the menus differ by app, there’s no telling what you’ll see; in the SkyDrive app, for example, you’ll find, among other things, the Upload button that lets you shuffle files into your cloud space, while the Weather app lets you switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, and set your home location.

Windows Control Panel functionality is split between the PC Settings under the Settings charm in the Windows 8 interface, and the standard Windows 7-like Control Panel in Desktop (which you can find by, yes, using the Search charm).

Internet Explorer and Flash

Windows 8 also contains two versions of the Internet Explorer browser. One runs from the Start screen as a Windows 8 app. It does not support plug-ins of any sort, and contains a baked-in, limited subset of Flash. The other version runs on the legacy Desktop, and works like the IE we know.

This can lead to some irritating situations. Windows 8 apps, if they use the browser, use the native app, so if a Flash animation comes up that needs more functionality than what’s included, or you hit any other plug-in driven site, the app may just tell you to install a plug-in (which you can’t), or will display a dialogue offering to open the Desktop version of IE.

Do Not Start Button

There’s one more thing that just plain isn’t there: the Start button in Desktop. If you put the cursor in the bottom left where you’d expect that button, you get a link to the Windows 8 Start screen. If you right-click in that corner, you’ll see the closest you’ll get to a Start menu: a menu of common desktop functions like the command prompt, Task Manager, and other management functions. When you install a Windows 7 program, it’ll get a tile on the Windows 8 Start screen (and maybe a desktop icon). I’ve found the easiest way to get around this, if you really want to launch a program from within Desktop, is to run the app, then pin its icon to the Taskbar (right-click, choose “pin to taskbar”).

Third party developers have been creating hacks to get the Start button back, but proceed with caution if you plan to use one, so you don’t totally break Windows!

There are still keyboard shortcuts!

Ctrl-s still saves, and ctrl-c still copies, and so forth. There’s also a collection of Windows key (the key at the bottom left of the keyboard, usually between Fn and Alt keys, with the Windows logo on it) combinations, such as Windows-D to open Desktop, and Windows-I to open Settings; you can find lists online, like this one here.

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