Navigating Windows 10
Touchscreens might represent the future of computing, but the present is still ruled by more-or-less conventional desktop and laptop PCs, each equipped with a keyboard and a mouse or touchpad.
For that type of device, the desktop is where you’ll likely spend most of your time, and it’s what we concentrate on in this section. Tablet Mode has its own set of rules and gets its own section, immediately after this one.
Using and customizing the Start menu
The Windows 10 Start menu, like its Windows 7 counterpart, is divided into two vertical segments. On the left side is a comparatively thin column, with the current user’s name and picture at the top. Below that identifying iconography is a list of installed programs, with dedicated shortcuts for File Explorer, Settings, and Power below that.
At the very bottom of the list, you can click or tap All Apps to change the contents of the Start menu’s left side so that it looks like Figure 3-3.
Figure 3-3 Clicking All Apps changes the left column in the Start menu to an alphabetical list of available programs.
The scrolling All Apps list is arranged in alphabetical order, in a fashion that’s similar to its Windows 7 predecessor. One noteworthy difference: program groups, such as the Windows Accessories folder, slide downward to open instead of flying out to the right in cascading menus.
On a lightly used system, you can probably find what you’re looking for by scrolling through the list of shortcuts on the All Apps menu. Swipe directly on a touchscreen, use two-finger scrolling gestures on a touchpad, or use the scroll wheel with a mouse.
For larger lists of programs, using the search box is the fastest way to find a specific program. For an alternative to scrolling, try this time-saving shortcut: Click or tap any of the letter headings in the list to see the entire alphabet, as shown in Figure 3-4. Then click or tap a letter to jump to the section of the list beginning with that letter.
Figure 3-4 Clicking or tapping any heading in the alphabetical list takes you to this index, where tapping a letter takes you to the programs whose names begin with that letter.
You can change the size and shape of the Start menu by dragging it up (to a maximum height that is 100 pixels below the top of the display), to the right, or both ways. Resizing the Start menu doesn’t change the width of the left column, and making the menu wider can be done only in increments corresponding to the width of two Wide tiles. (More on that shortly.)
Customizing the contents of the Start menu
If you’re accustomed to the extensive array of customization options for items on the Start menu in earlier Windows versions, you’ll need to make some adjustments.
You can remove programs from the Most Used section, but you can’t pin program shortcuts to the left side of the Start menu.
You can add or remove shortcuts from the group of options just above the All Apps shortcut and the Power button. Besides the default File Explorer and Settings menu items, locations available for this section include your personal folder, the default folders from your user profile (Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos), and the Network folder. You can also add a HomeGroup shortcut. To see the entire list, open Settings, open Personalization, click or tap Start, and then click or tap Choose Which Folders Appear On Start.
Adding and arranging tiles
Anything that appears on the All Apps menu can be dragged to the right side of the Start menu and placed as a tile. Tiles, which were found on a separate Start screen in Windows 8.1, behave much the same way in Windows 10, but they are constrained to the Start menu.
Clicking a tile has the same effect as clicking a Start menu program shortcut or a pinned taskbar button. What makes tiles different is the variety of sizes and their ability to display information or notifications from the app, making a tile live.
To pin a program as a tile to the right side of the Start menu, drag it into position. As an alternative, right-click its entry in All Apps or the Most Used list on the left side of the Start menu, and then click or tap Pin To Start. The item will take up residence as a medium size tile in the first available empty space on the right side of the menu, from where you can move and resize it as needed.
To remove a program from the right side of the Start menu, right-click it and then click Unpin From Start.
You can adjust the size of any tile by right-clicking the tile to see the menu shown in Figure 3-5.
Figure 3-5 These options are available for most programs acquired from the Windows Store. Not all apps support this full list of sizes.
Note that not all tiles support the full range of sizes shown in this figure. Windows desktop programs, for example, offer only the Small and Medium options.
On a touchscreen, you can accomplish the same tile customization tasks with a long press on the tile. That produces the two options shown in white circles on the right side of the tile in Figure 3-6. Tapping the top option unpins the tile, while tapping the ellipsis in the bottom right reveals a menu with Resize and Live Tile items.
Figure 3-6 On a touchscreen, a long press on any tile produces these controls, which lead to options identical to those on the right-click menu.
Right-clicking the tile for a Windows desktop program produces a menu with an extra set of options: Run As Administrator, for example.
Tiles can be arranged into groups, with or without custom group names. Drag tiles, one at a time, into the position you prefer. If the position you choose is sufficiently far from the edge of an existing group, your tile ends up in a new group of its own. You can move it back to an existing group or add other tiles to the new group.
A slim bar sits above every group of tiles. By default, this bar is blank. Click (as we have in Figure 3-7) to display a text box where you can type a group name of your choosing. (We created a group named Microsoft Office here.) Click the horizontal line to the right of the name box to drag the entire group to a new location.
Figure 3-7 Click above any group of tiles to give that group a descriptive label.
Using and customizing the taskbar
The taskbar is that strip of real estate along one screen edge (bottom by default) that contains, from left to right, the Start button, the search box, program buttons, notification icons, and a clock. The taskbar made its first appearance in Windows 95. In the years since, it has slowly evolved without changing its basic shape
The Windows 10 taskbar continues to serve the same basic functions as its progenitors—launching programs, switching between programs, and providing notifications—with only subtle changes in functionality.
Every running program with a user interface has a corresponding taskbar button. When you close that program, the button vanishes as well, unless it’s been pinned to the taskbar. A faint line appears underneath the icon for a running program, and the program with the current focus has a subtle but noticeable transparent shadow to identify it.
The Windows 10 taskbar offers a limited selection of customization options, most of which are available through the Taskbar And Start Menu Properties dialog box (see Figure 3-8). Open it by right-clicking an unoccupied area of the taskbar (if the taskbar is full, right-click the Task View button) and then clicking Properties.
Figure 3-8 For most people, the default options here will be acceptable, especially Lock The Taskbar, which prevents you from accidentally dragging the taskbar to the side of the monitor.
Two items on the Taskbar tab of the Taskbar And Start Menu Properties dialog box control the size and appearance of taskbar buttons:
- Use Small Taskbar Buttons. Select this option if you want to reduce the height of taskbar buttons, making them similar in size to buttons in earlier Windows versions. In our experience, buttons of this size are too small for practical use. If you have the eyesight of a hawk, you might beg to differ.
Taskbar Buttons. The default setting for Taskbar Buttons is Always Combine, Hide Labels. This setting instructs Windows to always group multiple windows from a single application (such as Microsoft Word documents) into a single taskbar button. The Hide Labels setting for this option is left over from an old Windows version; Windows 10 does not display labels (window titles) for taskbar buttons.
With either of the other settings (Combine When Taskbar Is Full or Never Combine), Windows gives each window its own separate taskbar button. It groups windows only when the taskbar becomes too crowded or continues to shrink the size of taskbar buttons as you open more windows. We recommend the default setting here.
- If you have more than one display attached to a Windows 10 PC, some extra customization options are available for the taskbar. See “Configuring the taskbar with multiple displays” in Chapter 4 for details.
Pinning programs to the taskbar
Pinning a taskbar button makes it easy to find and run favorite programs without the need to open the Start menu or use the search box to find the program’s shortcut. To pin a program to the taskbar, simply drag its icon or a shortcut (from the Start menu, from the desktop, or from any other folder) to the taskbar. Alternatively, right-click a program icon wherever you find it and then click Pin To Taskbar.
To remove a pinned program from the taskbar, right-click the pinned icon and then click Unpin This Program From Taskbar. This command also appears on other shortcuts to the program, including those on the desktop and on the Start menu.
You can use task buttons to launch a program that’s not currently running or to switch from one running program to another. You can also click a task button to minimize an open window or to restore a minimized window. If those features sound too obvious, here’s a trick you might not know: you can open a new instance of a program that’s already running—a new Microsoft Word document, for example, or a fresh File Explorer window—by right-clicking the taskbar button and then clicking the program name.
Using Jump Lists for quick access to documents and folders
A Jump List is the official name of the menu that appears when you right-click a taskbar button. Each taskbar Jump List includes commands to open the program, to pin the program to the taskbar (or unpin it), and to close all open windows represented by the button.
In addition, for programs that have been developed to take advantage of this feature, Jump Lists can include shortcuts to common tasks that can be performed with that program, such as Open New Tab on a browser window. For Microsoft Office programs, Adobe Acrobat, and other, similarly document-centric programs, Jump Lists also typically include links to recently opened files.
Figure 3-9 shows the default Jump List for File Explorer.
Figure 3-9 Right-click an icon, such as File Explorer, to see a Jump List showing recently opened files and folders with the option to pin items for quick access.
Individual files and folders can’t be pinned directly to the taskbar, but you can add them to Jump Lists by using the following techniques.
- To pin a document to the taskbar, drag its icon or a shortcut to any empty space on the taskbar. If the taskbar already has a button for the program associated with the document, Windows adds the document to the Pinned section of the program’s Jump List. If the document’s program is not on the taskbar, Windows pins the program to the taskbar and adds the document to the program’s Jump List.
- To pin a folder to the taskbar, drag its icon or a shortcut to the taskbar. Windows adds the folder to the Pinned section of the Jump List for File Explorer.
- To open a pinned document or folder, right-click the taskbar button and then click the name of the document or folder.
- To remove a pinned document or folder from the Jump List, right-click the taskbar button and point to the name of the document or folder to be removed. Click the pushpin icon that appears.
Changing the order of taskbar buttons
To change the order of buttons on the taskbar, simply drag them into position. Pinned program icons retain their order between sessions, allowing you to quickly find your most-used programs in their familiar (to you) location.
Changing the taskbar’s size and appearance
The default height of the taskbar is enough to display one button. (If you switch to small buttons, the taskbar automatically shrinks its height to fit.) You can enlarge it—and given the typical size and resolution of computer displays these days, enlarging it is often a great idea. Before you can change the taskbar’s dimensions, you need to unlock it. Right-click an unoccupied area of the taskbar; if a check mark appears next to the Lock The Taskbar command, click the command to clear the check mark. Then position the mouse along the border of the taskbar farthest from the edge of the screen. When the mouse pointer becomes a two-headed arrow, drag toward the center of the screen to expand the taskbar. Drag the same border in the opposite direction to restore the original size.
Getting the taskbar out of your way
By default, the taskbar remains visible at all times. If that’s inconvenient for any reason, you can tell it to get out of the way. In the Taskbar And Start Menu Properties dialog box, shown earlier in Figure 3-8, select Auto-Hide The Taskbar. With this option selected, the taskbar retreats into the edge of the desktop whenever any window has the focus. To display the taskbar, move the mouse pointer to the edge of the desktop where the taskbar is “hidden.”
Moving the taskbar
The taskbar docks by default at the bottom of the screen, but you can move it to any other edge, including any edge of a secondary screen. To move the taskbar, select a Taskbar Location On Screen option in the Taskbar And Start Menu Properties dialog box.
As an alternative, you can manipulate the taskbar directly: unlock it (right-click an unoccupied spot and then click Lock The Taskbar—unless no check mark appears beside that command, which means that the taskbar is already unlocked). Then drag any unoccupied part of the taskbar in the direction you want to go. (Don’t drag the edge of the taskbar closest to the center of the screen; doing that changes the taskbar’s size, not its position.)
Adding toolbars to the taskbar
A seldom-used feature of the taskbar is its ability to host other toolbars. Optional toolbars date back to much older versions of Windows, offering shortcuts to folders, documents, and applications. Third parties can also write add-ons that operate entirely within the confines of the taskbar. Built-in toolbars you can choose to install include the following:
- Address. The Address toolbar provides a place where you can type an Internet address or the name and path of a program, document, or folder. When you press Enter or click the Go button, Windows takes you to the Internet address, starts the program, opens the document, or displays the folder in a File Explorer window. The Address toolbar is functionally equivalent to the Start menu’s Run command or the address bar in File Explorer or the Microsoft Edge browser.
- Links. The Links toolbar provides shortcuts to Internet sites; it is equivalent to the Links toolbar in Internet Explorer.
- Desktop. The Desktop toolbar provides copies of all the icons currently displayed on your desktop. In addition, it includes links to your Libraries, Homegroup, This PC, Network, Control Panel, and other user profile folders. When you click the toolbar’s double arrow, a cascading menu of all the folders and files on your system appears.
To install a new toolbar or remove one you’re currently using, right-click any unoccupied part of the taskbar or any existing toolbar. Click Toolbars on the menu that appears, and then choose from the ensuing submenu. A check mark beside a toolbar’s name means that it is already displayed on the taskbar. Clicking a selected toolbar name removes that toolbar.
In addition, any folder on your system can become a toolbar. To create a new toolbar, right-click an existing toolbar or a spot on the taskbar, click Toolbars, and then click New Toolbar. In the next dialog box, navigate to a folder and click Select Folder.
The folder’s name becomes the name of the new toolbar, and each item within the folder becomes a tool.
Controlling how notifications appear
Windows apps are continually notifying you that things have happened: you’ve received a new message, someone has mentioned you on Twitter or Facebook, or a news app has a breaking news headline to share. Windows gets in the act occasionally as well.
This type of notification appears in Action Center, where each such alert can be dismissed individually or you can clear the entire list with a single click or tap.
Confusingly, these new Action Center notifications, found only in Windows 10, share a name with a classic Windows feature: the notification area, also sometimes called the system tray or the status area, which appears at the right side of the taskbar, just to the left of the clock.
In previous versions of Windows, the taskbar often became crowded with tiny icons. Some of them supply notifications in the form of pop-up messages, but many don’t “notify” you of anything and simply offer shortcuts to the parent program.
To deal with notification-area congestion, Windows 10 keeps a few essential icons visible at all times but hides those you aren’t actually using. As a result, the notification area doesn’t consume an increasingly large chunk of the taskbar; new icons are corralled in a box that appears only when you click the arrow at the left end of the notification area to display the hidden items.
To make an icon visible on the taskbar, drag it from the pop-up box containing hidden icons onto the taskbar. To hide an icon, drag it into the corral.
You can also see a list of notification area icons and specify exactly which ones will appear on the taskbar. To see how many taskbar icons you have and manually switch each one on or off, use your search skills to locate the Select Which Icons Appear On The Taskbar option. (If you want to open this Settings page manually, you’ll find it in Settings under the System heading, on the Notifications & Actions tab.) That opens the Settings page shown in Figure 3-10.
Figure 3-10 This well-hidden Settings page allows you to see a full list of tray icons and decide which ones should appear on the taskbar.
For each notification area icon, you can choose whether to show it on the taskbar at all times or to keep it hidden.
The system icons (Clock, Volume, Network, and so on) can be remanded to the box of hidden icons as well. But if you’d rather banish one or more of them altogether, search for the Turn System Icons On Or Off option, which produces this Settings page. Note that the Power icon is available only on portable PCs.
As in previous Windows versions, you can switch to a different program by clicking its taskbar button. And if you’re not sure which icon your document is hidden under, hover the mouse pointer over a taskbar button to display a thumbnail image of the window above the button. If a taskbar button combines more than one window (representing multiple Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, for example), hovering the mouse pointer over the taskbar button displays a preview of each window.
If the live thumbnail isn’t enough to help you select the correct window, hover the mouse pointer over one of the preview images. Windows brings that window to the fore, temporarily masking out the contents of all other open windows.
The alternative to this manual hunt-and-click technique is a new feature in Windows 10 called Task View, which displays large, live thumbnails of running programs on the screen so that you can switch with confidence.
To begin, click the Task View button or use the Windows key+Tab shortcut. On a touchscreen-equipped device, you can swipe in from the left edge. Figure 3-11 shows the results on a system with seven running programs on a PC operating in Tablet Mode.
Figure 3-11 After you switch into Tablet Mode, opening Task View shows running programs using their windowed dimensions, but tapping any thumbnail opens it using the full screen.
Those thumbnails remain open until you do something, usually by clicking or tapping a thumbnail to switch to that window, or by pressing Esc to return to the current window.
If there are too many open windows to fit as thumbnails on the display, use the up and down arrows at the bottom of the screen to scroll through the full list.
The old-fashioned Alt+Tab task switcher, familiar to every Windows user of a certain age, is still available as well. The concept is similar, but the thumbnails are smaller and appear only as long as you continue to hold down the Alt key. Hold down Alt and tap the Tab key to cycle (left to right, top to bottom) through all open windows, with a display that looks like the one in Figure 3-12. When you’ve highlighted the window you want to bring to the fore, release the Alt and Tab keys.
Figure 3-12 Longtime Windows experts who have the Alt+Tab task-switching shortcut firmly ingrained will be relieved to know it still works in Windows 10.
When using Task View, you also have the option of closing a window by clicking the red X in the upper right corner of the preview or, if your mouse scroll wheel supports clicking, by middle-clicking anywhere in the preview image. Other basic window tasks are available on the shortcut menu that appears when you right-click the preview image.
Switching between virtual desktops
Virtual desktops have been reserved exclusively for power users in previous Windows versions, with the feature requiring the use of third-party utilities.
The idea is straightforward: instead of just a single desktop, you create a second, third, fourth, and so on. On each desktop, you arrange individual programs or combinations of apps you want to use for a specific task. Then, when it’s time to tackle one of those tasks, you switch to the virtual desktop and get right to work.
Virtual desktops show up along the bottom of the Task View window. Figure 3-13, for example, shows a Windows 10 system with three virtual desktops configured.
Figure 3-13 In Task View, choose any desktop from the list above the taskbar to see its contents and close programs or drag them to a different desktop.
To create a desktop, click New Desktop in the lower right corner of the Task View window.
And no, there’s no option to save virtual desktop configurations so that you can resume with your carefully constructed desktop layout after a restart. You have to start from scratch. We predict (perhaps from wishful thinking) that this feature will make it into a Windows 10 update in the near future.