Like the mobile platforms that inspired it, Windows 8 and RT offer integrated and centralized support for notifications, ways in which apps and the OS itself can alert the user to important events without interrupting what they’re doing. And while Windows 8 falls short of offering a true notification hub, like many mobile systems, it does offer a variety of features that help you manage these notifications.

You don’t have to have used Windows for too long to realize that the OS, Microsoft applications, and third party applications all have their own way of alerting the user. Microsoft first tried to rein this in with the aborted Sidebar system from Longhorn, and the resulting Action Center interface, which at least tied many system-level notifications into a central location.

But with the move to the Metro environment in Windows 8, Microsoft is finally providing an integrated notification system that works across both the OS and apps. And while there is no Notification Center in Windows 8 that collects and lists past notifications, virtually everything else users will need and want is available in this OS.

The following interfaces are available for managing notifications in Windows 8.

Settings pane: A temporary on/off switch

If you bring the Settings pane, which is available from anywhere in Windows 8—the desktop, the Start screen, or any Metro-style app—you will see always see the same set of capabilities, arranged as a grid of icons, in the bottom of the pane. (The upper half of the pane is reserved for settings related to the currently-viewed experience and is thus context sensitive.) Among these capabilities is a Notifications item.

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If you tap this icon, you’ll see three options—Hide for 1 hour, Hide for 3 hours, and Hide for 8 hours—providing you with the opportunity to hide, or “sleep,” all notifications, globally, for the set time. This is handy if you’re busy on a project, or whatever, and don’t want to be disturbed.

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Notifications settings

As with other system-level features, you configure notifications in PC Settings. This interface lets you configure global features across all notifications—Show app notifications (On/Off), Show app notifications on the lock screen (On/Off), and Play notification sounds (On/Off)—and determine whether to use notifications on an app-by-app basis. If an app provides notifications, you can determine whether to allow them to appear using this interface.

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Lock screen settings

In the Personalize, Lock screen interface in PC Settings, you can configure up to seven apps to run in the background and provide quick status and notification updates (unread emails, pending calendar events, and the like) as well as on app that can display detailed status.

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An obvious choice for this latter capability is the Calendar app, so you can see the details about your next event right on the lock screen.

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App settings

Most Metro-style apps that support notifications will include an interface in the app’s settings interface for controlling whether the app can show notifications and run in the background in order to display lock screen notifications. You will typically find this interface in Settings, Permissions while running the app in question.

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Some account-based apps will also provide a way to determine whether individual accounts can provide notifications, giving you more granular control over when you’re interrupted. Consider the Mail app, for example. You may configure it for home and work accounts, for only want your work account to trigger notifications. This can be set in Settings, Accounts, [Account Name], by toggling the option “Show email notifications for this account.”

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Understanding notification types

Once you've signed in to the system, Windows 8 provides two basic notification types, a full-screen, basically modal notification and a pop-up notification “toast” that disappears on its own if you ignore it. The former, full-screen notification type is available only from the OS and generally involves a serious incident such as a SmartScreen or mandatory reboot warning.

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Pop-up notification toasts are more common, especially if you configure them using the methods noted above. They slide in near the top right of the screen, will disappear if ignored, and take you directly to the experience in question—the Messaging app when you’re pinged, the email message when a new email arrives, and so on—when clicked.

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Other ways you can get notified in Windows 8

In addition to these system, app, and lock screen notifications, Windows 8 does provide other ways for apps to keep you up to date. App live tiles, for example, can be configured to work in two sizes, Larger and Smaller, with the former offering a larger canvas for more detailed information. And for those that prefer their computing experience to be less noisy—visually or otherwise—you can also disable the live tile effect, changing the tile to a static, non-animated display.

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