Feature: Charms
Availability: Windows 8 (all versions, x86/x64), Windows RT

Note: This article is an updated version of a previous article that has been thoroughly updated for the final, shipping version of Windows 8.

While befuddled new Windows 8 users certainly have a lot on their plate when it comes to using this operating system version, I have a few tips about getting up to speed quickly. Key among these is learning the new user interfaces that are available system-wide, in the Start screen, the desktop, and in all Metro-style apps. And the most important of these interfaces, by far, is the Charms.

The Charms, or the Charms bar as its often called, refers to an opaque overlay that appears on the right side of the screen (or, on a multi-screen PC, on one of the displays) when summoned. Its purpose is to provide quick access to several commonly-needed features, including search, sharing, the Start screen, hardware devices, and settings.

charms

Secret: Charms is so named because the icons it contains resemble the charms one would see on a charm bracelet. On that type of jewelry, charms are seen as signifying important things in one’s life. Not coincidentally, the Charms in Windows 8 signify important things in the operating system.

When you invoke the Charms, a separate overlay appears near the bottom left of the screen. This non-interactive interface provides the time, date, and notification icons for the network and, on a portable device, the battery state (plugged in/charging or draining).

overlay

Displaying the Charms

The Charms are hidden until the user needs them. There are methods for invoking the Charms using each of the three top-level supported input types. These include:

Touch: Swipe in from the right edge of the screen.

Keyboard: Type WINKEY + C (where “C” = “Charms”).

Mouse: Move the mouse cursor into the upper right or lower right corner of the screen. When you do, a transparent version of the Charms appear, giving you a chance to complete the Charms invocation action as described below or do something else.

transparent

Once the transparent version of the Charms appear, move the mouse cursor towards the middle right edge of the screen. As you do, the Charms will fully materialize in their normal, opaque version. You can now access any of the individual charms normally.

(Note: This transparency effect occurs because users will often mouse to the screen corner to close a maximized window, grab a scrollbar, or other action. So if you don’t continue the process of displaying the Charms, the transparent Charms will simply disappear.)

Understanding the individual Charms

The following Charms are available in Windows 8.

Search. This Charm provides a front-end for the system-wide Search functionality and the underlying Search contract. As a context-sensitive Charm, Search can be used to trigger a search for desktop applications and Metro-style apps, PC settings and control panels, or files. Or, it can be used to search within individual Metro-style apps. If you invoke the Search charm from within the Mail app, for example, Search will automatically search your email by default (though the resulting Search pane will allow you to re-target the same search to apps and applications, PC settings and control panels, files, or any other installed app that supports the Search contract.) This is, of course, the key benefit of making Search a centralized, system-level function.

search

You can invoke the Search charm directly by typing WINKEY + Q.

Share. The Share charm provides a front-end to the new system-wide Share contract, which lets two Metro-style apps share information. You might think of it as a “copy and paste on steroids,” since it is a logical successor to that type of functionality. Note that Share does not function from the Windows desktop or Start screen: This Charm is specific to Metro-style apps, and then only those that support the Share contract.

share

You can invoke the Share charm directly by typing WINKEY + H.

Start. This charm works like the Windows key on your keyboard or the Windows Key button on your Windows 8/RT device: It toggles the display between the Start screen and the previously-viewed experience (which could be the Windows desktop, a Metro-style app, or PC Settings).

Devices. This charm provides an always-available interface for interacting with the devices connected to your Windows 8 PC or Windows RT device. This is the place to go when you need to print (from a Metro-style app only), configure the displays attached to your PC (particularly in dual-display mode), use Play To for displaying PC- or device-based media on a compatible television or other device (from a Metro-style app only), and send files to portable devices using technologies such as NFC (from a Metro-style app only).

devices

You can invoke the Devices charm directly by typing WINKEY + K.

Settings. This important charm provides both context-sensitive settings—for the current Metro-style app, the desktop, or Start screen—as well as a grid of system-level settings, and a link to the Metro-style PC Settings interface. Key among the system-level settings, of course, is the Power icon, which lets you restart or shut down the PC.

settings

You can invoke the Settings charm directly by typing WINKEY + I.

Final thoughts

The Charms may be curiously named, but they provide a very important interface that spans the gap between the otherwise separate Metro and desktop experiences in Windows 8. Available from any interface—the Start screen, PC Settings, any Metro-style app, and even the desktop—the Charms consolidate many important system-level capabilities and often-needed features into an easily remembered and accessed user interface that otherwise isn’t taking up any valuable onscreen real estate. As such, it’s a great Metro user interface, and the embodiment of what this modern design style is trying to achieve.