How-To Geek

How to Use the Mouse to Get Around in Windows 8

Windows 8 was clearly designed with touch screens in mind. Using Windows 8 with a mouse can be disorienting at first — many of the tried-and-true Windows interface conventions have changed.

You can still get around Windows 8 and use all its features with your mouse, although it feels a bit awkward at times. If you’re using Windows 8 on a PC instead of a tablet — like most users — you’ll need to get acquainted with its interface.

Lock Screen

Windows 8’s focus on touch input is obvious from the lock screen. There’s no unlock button to click on the screen.

If you were using a touch-screen device, you’d just swipe the lock screen away with your finger. With a mouse, you can drag it away. You can also press a single button on your keyboard or use the scroll wheel, but there’s no indication that this is possible.

Enter your password to unlock your computer after dragging the lock screen away.

The New Start Button

“Hot corners” are one of Windows 8’s most important new navigation features. Whether you’re using the desktop or Metro apps, hot corners are your new best friend.

At the bottom-left corner of the screen, a hot corner has replaced the Start button. Move your mouse to the corner and click to enter the Start screen.

If you’re already at the Start screen, the bottom-left corner functions as a back button that takes you back to the last app you were using.

Switching Between Apps

The top-left corner lets you switch between apps. Click once to switch to the last app that you used. If you look carefully, you can see the outline of other apps at the left side of the screen.

Move your mouse cursor down and you’ll see other recently used apps. Click one to go back to it.

Note that the entire traditional desktop appears as a single thumbnail in this task switcher. To switch between desktop applications, use Alt-Tab or the desktop taskbar.


Move your mouse cursor to either the top-right or bottom-right corners and you’ll see the “charms” fade into view.

Move the cursor up or down and the charms will become fully visible.

The Start charm accesses the Start screen, while the Search, Share, Devices, and Settings charms access other common functions. For example, from the desktop, you can click the Settings charm to access desktop settings.

Charms are context-sensitive. If you click the Settings charm in the Metro version of Internet Explorer, you’ll get Internet Explorer’s settings.

Other PC settings always appear on the Settings menu, including the power, network, and volume buttons.

App Bars

Metro-style apps use the majority of the screen real estate for their content. For example, in the Metro version of Internet Explorer, the current Web page takes up the entire screen. There are no toolbars or other interface elements visible.

Right-click to view the “app bar” for the current app. For example, in the Metro version of Internet Explorer, you’ll see tab thumbnails at the top of the screen and browser navigation tools at the bottom of the screen.

Split-Screen Apps

You can have two Metro-style apps on screen at the the same time. The smaller app will have a slimmed-down interface — you can’t have two full apps on screen at the same time. Your screen resolution must be at least 1366 pixels wide to run apps in split-screen mode.

Drag and drop a thumbnail from the task switcher to the right or left side of the screen to get started. You can also grab the top of an app and drag it to either side of the screen.

Drag the handle to change how much screen space is allocated to each app. You can allocate all screen space back to a single app by dragging the handle to the left or right side of the screen.

You can even use this method to display a Metro-style app and the traditional desktop at the same time.

Closing Metro Apps

Metro-style apps are different from traditional Windows applications. They’re designed to suspend when you stop using them, so they won’t use up system resources. Because of this, you don’t have to close them. If you want to close one, you can grab its title bar and drag it down. It’ll turn into a thumbnail image of itself.

Drag the application to the bottom of the screen and it will shrink, vanish, and close when you drop it.

You can also close an app from the task switcher at the left side of the screen. Right-click its thumbnail and select “Close” to close it.

Scrolling and Zooming

Metro and the Start screen are clearly designed for left-to-right swiping on a touch screen. If you only have a mouse, you can use the scroll bars, like the one you’ll find at the bottom of the screen. A better way is to scroll with your mouse wheel. The mouse wheel should work anywhere there’s a scroll bar.

As you’d expect, you can right-click on tiles to perform actions on them or drag them around to rearrange them on the Start screen.

On a touch screen, you can pinch to zoom and zoom out of the Start screen. To do this with a mouse, click the small button at the bottom-right corner of the Start screen.

From the zoomed-out screen, you can drag and drop groups of apps around to re-order your Start screen.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/9/12

Comments (20)

  1. tagyawat2003

    Windows 8 should have just gave an option for touchpad or desktop installation instead of jamming them together, or at least gave an option of having the much loved Windows 7 interface for those of us that tried and hated the Metro.

    Tried windows 8 for a week… and it feels like heaven reverting back to 7, but that’s just me.

  2. Enes

    And now make a “how to use the keyboard to get aroung in windows 8” .
    There are so many new windows+ commands that you don’t need your mouse anymore!

  3. RonV42

    From the lock screen you just have to hit any key on the keyboard. You don’t have to “swipe” with a mouse to dismiss it. I agree that with all the keyboard shortcuts you don’t really have to touch to mouse to interact with the start screen or metro apps.

  4. James Bruce

    Comprehensive article Chris, nice! Though, I still think it’s absolutely tragic we need a tutorial for “how to use the mouse in Windows 8”. Let’s talk about it tomorrow on Technophilia Podcast!

  5. rsimpson64

    You can also spin the mouse wheel to get to the user/password challenge screen.

    You can also zoom in/out with CTRL + mouse scroll wheel

  6. Mike

    Awesome. Thanks for the write-up. It looks like there will be a learning curve, but it looks pretty powerful and easy to navigate once learned. :)

  7. Craig S

    I know this article is about the mouse, but it’s important to note that as was said above, you can tap any key to dismiss the lock screen.

    On the Start Screen, you can mouse to the edge of the screen to scroll. Move the mouse fast, you’ll scroll faster. The app previews don’t work like this yet.

  8. JJB

    So does this mean that Metro will obscure wallpaper – is computer wallpaper dead? If so, what a bummer.

  9. beergas

    First impression of all this is it blows. Right now I have 13 tabs for apps across bottom of Win 7 x64 and can easily switch. Hotkeyboard settings and those of Intellimouse for kb & mouse allow for common actions, launches, etc. Now would have to find apps that maybe work on Win 8?
    Furgetaboutit. Play time in the kiddies sandbox with crayons, nah, Thanks for pointers & commons for keeping if forced to change. Hard to see navigating among 3 stock quote trackers, broker site, ToSwim, IE9, CNBC, some sites, and Mail using tiles…. Even on a 24″ screen I’d need 3 screens. Or a tablet dedicated to a single function then tap away at it? Suppose could since floor traders use tablets to tap thru but that’s their sole input for the moment. Can’t see Win 8 for multi-tasking.

  10. Artur

    “Windows 8 was clearly designed with touch screens in mind.”
    I think this sentence says it all. This smells awfully like WinME/Vista…

  11. dg27

    This looks like real garbage if you use high-end applications such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or something like Pro Tools. I think they are making a huge mistake trying to force this Metro crap down everyone’s throat. I’ll stick with Win 7 Pro, which I am very happy with (I skipped Vista and hung on to XP as long as I could).

  12. Chris Hoffman

    @RonV42, Craig S

    Thanks; I hadn’t noticed that. Still, it’s not at all obvious that you can press a key — at least it wasn’t to me.

    @James Bruce

    Thanks, looking forward to it!

  13. Alanh79

    I’m a desktop support tech at a major university, so the ability to configure software is vital to me. I installed Win8 Consumer Preview, just to familiarize myself with it, on an old Dell Optiplex 270 (Pentium 4, 1 GB RAM, onboard graphics). Where the XP that had been installed on it was sluggish, Win 8 is surprisingly fast. The major issue I found was that the display adapter is listed as Microsoft Basic Display Adapter, and it displays what looks like 8-bit color. The system tells me that the best driver software for my device is already installed. I’m not surprised.

    The mouse pointer didn’t show up, so I hit CTRL+ALT+DEL to get the options screen, then ALT+F4 to go back, and the pointer appeared. After a reboot, I had the same problem. Eventually, I ran MSCONFIG. It was set to Selective Startup. I changed it to Normal and rebooted. Now the pointer doesn’t disappear any longer. Checked MSCONFIG and it was set to Selective again, but the pointer still shows up. Weird.

    Finding any way to configure the system properly was very difficult. But here’s a tip:

    Move the mouse pointer to the lower left corner and right-click. An awesome menu pops up with most of the administrative configuration submenus you’ll ever want.

    Windows 8 is almost as different from Windows 7 as the first GUI was to the command line environment. It’ll take some getting used to.

  14. Slowonmypc

    Win 8 seems very slow on my pc with intel 2500k, 4 cpu’s and 12 gb ram. I don’t see why I would want to run this on my desktop, maybe a tablet would work but I have an Android tablet already and it’s beautiful compared to Windows 8. Just a bunch of little boxes on the screen doesn’t do anything for me. And who was the guru at Microsoft that decided to call icons “charms”? Geeeeeee……..

  15. kenedy123

    Good to know about the How to Use the Mouse to Get Around in Windows 8

  16. Paul

    Windows 8 is simply s–t. There’s no polite or other way to say it. It’s pure s–t. I can’t believe Microsoft are serious about it. OMG. I just don’t get it.

  17. martin

    Thanks for giving the more information about the How to Use the Mouse to Get Around in Windows 8

  18. sukey

    so cool~~

  19. Fantasm

    I have a 40″ monitor as my main one… 2 smaller screens beside it…
    Having to scroll the width or height of my screen with a mouse is a joke… it simply is too far and takes too long…
    I like my desktop wallpaper… I do not like Postcard sized squares and rectangles on my screen…
    I tried Windows 8 and HATED the Metro UI. It looks like it was designed for toddlers by the guys who design road signs to the illiterate can drive…
    My computer can display millions of colours… now they want us to use a desktop that only shows about 8 colors…???????
    I stomached Windows 8 for a few hours… Unless it changes drastically for the better by release, I’ll stick with Windows 7… I see no compelling reason to change so far…

  20. clodderes

    Should have more option to work with multitouch touchpad. like pinch on zoom should work, or maybe three fingers swipe should be able to navigate in metro … etc

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