Get More Out of Windows 8 or RT: 4 Tips
Maybe you're thinking of moving to Windows 8, or perhaps you're in the market for a new PC or notebook that could come with the operating system. There are also some interesting new form factors that combine tablet and notebook operating modes. Whichever path you take, there are a few things that will not only help with the migration, but make you more productive.
Windows 8 or RT?
There are two major types of Windows now: Windows RT and Windows 8. The former is meant for tablets and highly mobile devices, not for desktops or traditional laptops. The name is unfortunate because it might make you think that it should run Windows 7 and 8 applications. It won't any more than an iPad will run software written for a Mac.
Windows 8, on the other hand, will run both RT-type apps and regular applications. I went with Windows 8 because I have some big software packages--full Photoshop and specialty software for writing plays--that I want available when traveling. Were that not the case, I'd definitely have opted for RT, because the devices run on ARM architecture chips, which means lower power consumption and, probably, longer battery life.
The number of RT apps is still relatively low, but I'd expect that to change pretty quickly. It's too big a market opportunity and companies will want their software on desktops and laptops as well as Windows-based tablets.
Consider new form factors
Manufacturers have upped their innovation game, introducing new form factors to increase sales, given the general lethargy that has descended upon the PC market. Now is the time to consider what is available and might best suit your needs.
If you need to do a lot of work with writing, spreadsheets, or some other activity that isn't well suited to a tablet, you might consider an Ultrabook or notebook. But also look at one of the tablet and notebook convertibles. Tablet functions are great for many things, like reading news sites. Try the Wall Street Journal's Windows RT app and you'll swear off the paper's website.
There are a number of attempts at machines that convert between a notebook and a tablet. I chose a Lenovo Twist ThinkPad, largely because the price available on Black Friday was too tempting. Dell, HP, Asus, and others have their own approaches.
Get in the dual-operation mindset
There are two distinct worlds in Windows 8 or RT. There is the don't-call-it-Metro tile interface and the desktop. Each has its advantages. The tile interface lets you flip through a collection of apps, while the desktop is what you have been used to for years.
Get a sense of what works best in each environment and use the right UI for the task. It's easy to switch back and forth, or even to move from one application to another, regardless of where you started it. (The old Alt-Tab shortcut to move through the list of running software still works.) I now regularly start with tiles and then open Outlook, which gets me to the desktop. Need an RT app rather than application? Either push the Windows button or flick in from the right side of either the touch screen or touchpad to get to some visual shortcuts to services that include the tiled start screen.
Learn the shortcuts
I've been mentioning shortcuts, and there are many that will speed your work. Literally while writing this I realized that the Windows button will not only bring up the tiles if I'm in the desktop, but if pressed again will return me to the desktop.
There are all sorts of shortcuts that work with combinations of the Windows key and letters. Here's a list of them, though I can't guarantee this to be an exhaustive compendium.
For that matter, consider picking up a book of tips and flipping through to find things that will be useful. You don't have to master everything, just pick up a few pointers that will start adding extra time to your day. It's an investment, the same as you would have to make when switching to a Mac or an iPad. But you might as well make it pay off as much as possible.
ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist
Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.