Sorry, I couldn’t resist, Lucky Charms was on the tip of my tongue the first day I learned about that new feature in Windows 8.  But this post isn't to pick on the new kid on the block.

If you aren't familiar, Charms are the 5 items on the right fly-out of the new Windows 8 interface. They are Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings and they appear if you mouse over to the right edge of the screen or slide your finger from edge in toward the center of the screen, or hit Windows-C:

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I’ve used Windows 8 for a while now at work but I mainly stick to the desktop and find I rarely used the Charms.  But with the Surface, I’ve found that they come in very handy when used with Apps and the Start screen.  With typical desktop use, I had honestly forgotten that the Charms were there but I’m happily rediscovering them. I’m also using them more on my non Touch systems as I bounce between work and home computer use.

I’m not going to tout all 5 Charms.  I’m going to call out the two that are key if you want to get the most out of the Start Screen and Apps: Search and Settings.

Taking a step back to the launch of Windows Phone 7… I (if you’ve seen my previous Why W8? posts, you know this) never read the manual.  So it took a few weeks for me to realize that the Search button on the phone wasn’t exclusive to bringing up Bing.  The Search functionality changes depending on which application is running.  That behavior follows to Windows 8.  Search behavior is contextual.

My top 5 places for Search are:

The Start screen for applications (Yes, I should know the keyboard shortcut for Calc, or at least have it hot-keyed… but I find hitting Start and just type what I need is pretty darn fast, no digging through layers of menus or trying to find the file on disk.)

The Start – Settings search.  Again, much faster for me to find the Add Remove programs and other things I used to find in Control Panel

Search  - Xbox Music.  Artist?  Album? Hit the Search Charm while in the Xbox Music app and Bam! that just happened!

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Search – App Store.  Even a general keyword will quickly filter down to the App or related.

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Search and….. well I lied, I have mainly only explored the Search for the above 4 things. But Wait, there’s more!  I do want to give a shout out to a few apps I just tested with happy results: Bing, Weather, Kindle, OneNote and AllRecipies… and so on.

The key is, if you’re anything like me, Search has previously had a smaller focus (files, possibly settings) but it now has an unlimited potential in Windows 8 while being incredibly easy to access and simple to use. And that’s yummy like when they added blue diamonds and purple horseshoes to the original pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, and green clovers!

My second favorite Charm that I also had previously under looked is the Settings Charm.  This is the place to customize downloaded Apps.  I’m going to focus on Xbox Music for this example.  Way back when Zune was alive, I signed up for the ZunePass and managed my music between three computers, two Zunes and eventually a phone.  The biggest…aggravation…is when I would get a new computer and end up rebuilding more than one of my three systems at the same time.  The best example of this is clean installing Windows 8 on all my computer in the same week. Three computers, three resets of my ZunePass devices.  Now, I know the rules: You can only remove and add a device to ZunePass once a month.   The same hold true for Xbox Music. 

 

So where does the Setting Charm play into this? Previously, in the Zune software, I would manage my systems and remove and add devices carefully. But I did it rarely and could never remember where the setting were located… but I eventually got used to it.  When Xbox Music went live, I couldn’t find where to control settings and initially went back to the Zune software to manage my computers and devices.  I had forgotten about Settings Charm!  Now that I’ve found it though, it is much easier and faster to access than where it was buried in the Zune interface.

Old Zune Interface (Settings –>Account –> Computers and Devices):

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New Xbox Music Settings (Settings Charm –> Account –> Manage Xbox Music and Devices):

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Both still take 3 hops to get the same place but what you did not see in Zune is that (even for this blog screenshot!) I clicked on three other entries incorrectly before I found Computers and Devices.  And this is for just one application.  Having the Settings Charm be the uniform starting point for all application configuration makes setup and maintenance pretty darn easy.

Fair warning: If you use Xbox Live Music Pass (which is awesome!) and you have multiple systems and devices, configure your main music device with the Music Pass first and put in a calendar reminder if you want to add more later. (Yea, I’m not a fan the time restrictions, Sorry!)

Settings and Search Charms: I’ve been slow to give you guys the love. But you’ve started to grow on me, making actions fast and simple, and I’ve only just begun to discover your potential!