Hidden commands of Windows 8

The Windows 7 UI has some interesting quirks, too. In Windows Explorer, what looks like a very simple menu at the top of the window is actually a toolbar that has words on the left and buttons on the right; the real menu is hidden until you press the Alt key, but even then you won’t see commands such as “Add current location to Favorites”, since that’s hidden under a right-click menu on the word Favorites at the top of the navigation bar.

Hidden commands of Windows 8

Unless you right-click, you can’t see that command, so the only way to add a location to Favorites is to go up to that location’s parent folder and then drag the folder into Favorites. How would you know to do that? You’d have to guess, or else notice by accident that you got a drop icon/placeholder whenever you dragged a folder over the Favorites list.

When Steven Sinofsky moved from the Office team over to Windows it was almost inevitable that Windows 8 would get a ribbon interface

So when Steven Sinofsky moved from the Office team over to Windows, and took Julie Larson-Green and Jensen Harris with him – the two people most prominent in the development of the ribbon interface – it was almost inevitable that Windows 8 would get a ribbon interface.

In Windows 8 Explorer (which is still in beta, so this may change), you can find out how to add a folder to the Favourites list – it’s Home | New | Easy Access | Add to Favourites – and you’ll also see that there are now methods to “Pin to Start” and “Include in Library”. (Notice how “Favourites” is spelled in British English fashion in Windows 8, which has a British English version for the first time.)

The Windows 8 ribbon is collapsed by default, so it doesn’t take up any more screen space than the previous toolbar, but Microsoft’s telemetry studies have revealed that power users generally leave it showing, and both power and novice users use more commands from the ribbon than they used the equivalent, hidden, commands in Windows 7. That has to be because they’re more discoverable.

Hidden commands

Hidden commands aren’t easily discoverable. In Windows Phone 7, many people have a problem editing entered text, because it can be difficult to place the insertion point in exactly the right position. After tapping three times to try to position it between the desired two letters, most people give up and just tap to select the whole word and then type over it.

There is, of course, a hidden UI trick: if you tap and hold in the text, an I-beam cursor will appear that you can then steer to the place you want to edit. You have to hold for a few seconds before this I-beam appears, so the chance of you activating it by accident is slim. Since there are practically no manuals from which to learn such tricks, they’re very effectively hidden.

Windows (and Windows 8, in particular) has a lot of commands that hide under the Windows key on the keyboard. There are many people out there who have no idea what that key between Ctrl and Alt on the left of the spacebar is actually for.

Windows 8 has a lot of commands that hide under the Windows key on the keyboard

They have no idea how useful it is because they’ve never been shown, and they’re not sufficiently confident to experiment on their own – why would they press a key when they don’t know what it does? It might break their computer or delete all their files.

Why would they try pressing it in combination with another key if they do discover what it does when pressed on its own? There are actually more than 30 Windows key combinations in Windows 8, many of which work in previous versions, too (see table, above).

If you’ve been working with computers as long as I have, you may possibly remember when each application used to come with not only a printed manual – so you could learn what it could do, and how to do it – but also a keyboard overlay.

This was a cardboard strip printed with all the key combinations available, to be placed at the top of your keyboard as a quick reference guide. You could even buy better, more comprehensive overlays from third-party suppliers, and overlay flippers that would allow you to have the overlays for five or more applications all stuck to your keyboard at once, and to flip between them like pages of a book according to which application you were running.

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