Windows 8: a call to charms

Features David Hayward Dec 15, 2012

David Hayward jangles his Windows 8 Charm bracelet, and comes up with many a bad Charm-related pun

Of the many features paraded about with the release of Windows 8, one that was supposed to have had a significant amount of attention, but was overshadowed by the new UI, was the universal toolbar, dubbed the Charm Bar or Charms (and so-named because it resembles the trinkets on a charm bracelet). Really, who comes up with these things?

Twinned with these Charms, are the side-bar, and other informational pop-ups, that appear as an overlay on the right-side of the screen, or along the bottom. Together they can be thought of as Microsoft’s attempt to create some kind of menu system, by way of replacement for the now-absent Start Menu so essential to previous versions of Windows. The aim is to provide you with quick access to several commonly used features, and shortcuts to other areas of the system that, on the face of it, are generally hidden from normal view.

Charmed, I’m sure

We can access the Charms by pressing the Windows key + C. This will bring up a menu along the right-hand of the screen, and an informational box towards the bottom left, which will display the time, date, battery power and network strength, depending on whether you’re using a laptop/tablet, or not.

The right-hand bar contains the actual Charms themselves, which are: a Search function, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. Let’s have a look at each one in turn.

Search

The Search Charm, when clicked, will bring up an extended UI-based desktop, based on your default UI look and feel. It will list all the available Windows 8 Store Apps, and installed programs by default in the main side of the desktop, and along the right-hand side, another Charm (which isn’t a Charm, but Microsoft still call it one for the time being) containing a search box, Apps, Settings and Files, followed by a list of the Windows 8 Store-based apps (again).

Start typing into the search box and the Charm will dynamically offer results in the left-hand main part of the desktop. These results are, by default, based on the installed Apps and programs as represented by the Apps icon under the search box. So, if you start to type ‘s’, all the available programs and Apps that begin with that letter will appear. You’ll also see a value next to the Apps, Settings and Files icons indicating the number of found items beginning with the letter ‘s’. In the case of the attached screenshot, Fig 1, typing in ‘s’ has revealed 11 Apps, 314 Settings and 0 Files from our test machine.

Clicking on the Settings icon, below Apps, will reveal the aforementioned 314 items that either beginning with, or containing ‘s’ In the case of the Settings icon, we can fine tune the search Charm to display any setting that has something to do with Users, for example – which, when typed in, displays 18 results.

Share

Just invoking the Charms, and clicking on Share will display the following message: ‘There’s nothing to share at the moment. Select an App and try again’. Which is, at least, semi-helpful. Basically, the Share Charm works along the lines of similar functions you find on smartphones or tablets. For instance, if you open up the Internet Explorer 10 App, from the UI, and navigate to a particular page, then call up the Charms and click Share, you’ll end up with a list on the right-hand side that contains all the available methods by which you can share that particular website. Mail and People are always the first, until you install more social media/networking applications, such as Twitter, Facebook or Outlook.

This makes sense when one sees Windows 8 is a tablet-centric operating system of sorts but, unfortunately, you can’t share anything from the desktop. Share will only work with Apps from the Windows 8 Store at present, so that Word document you’ve just typed out will have to be sent in the traditional manner. Whether or not it will remain that way is currently unknown, but it depends on how many people demand it of Microsoft.

Start

In the grand scheme of things, this next Charm is actually pretty dull. The Start Charm will, when clicked, launch the Desktop from the new UI. Or, when in the Desktop view, bring you back to the new UI.

Devices

The Devices Charm allows you to send information from the Windows 8 Store Apps to any of the devices you have installed on your system. For example, opening the Maps App, calling up the Charms and clicking on Devices will open up a right-hand bar listing all the available printers, second monitors, projectors, Office One Note, Microsoft XPS Writer and anything else that can be classed as some kind of output device.

At the moment that’s all it will do, but there is talk of extending the Charm Devices function in the future to include sending to an Xbox, Windows 8 Phone, Windows 8 Tablet and so on; including sending items from the Windows 8 Store to other Windows 8 devices.

Settings

The final item on the Charm Bar is Settings, the location of the reboot and shutdown functions of Windows 8. There is a little more to it than that, though. Obviously, being called Settings, you’ll find most back-end options Windows 8 has to offer. Items such as Network configuration, Volume, Brightness, Notifications and the Keyboard layout are all available via the icons from the Settings Charm.

But, in addition, you can also turn the Administrative Tiles - a batch of tiles that would otherwise have to be accessed from the Control Panel - on or off, call up Windows Help, access the support site or enter the PC Settings page. There, you can tinker with the Users, Personalisation, Privacy, HomeGroup and all sorts of other wonderful elements designed to help a novice comprehensively break their machine.

Lucky Charms?

So there you have it, an introduction to the Microsoft’s Charms, or more accurately, Windows 8 Charms. Seriously, though, if Microsoft do extend the usefulness of the Charms, they will eventually come into their own and provide a nice method of sharing, accessing and sending information from one device to another, or to any number of people who you know and share information with. For now though, they are another aspect of Windows 8 that users have to train themselves to become aware of. It’s not all that hard and, as with most new things within Windows 8, it just takes a few minutes of your time to get used to them.