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The Windows 8.1 preview is here. If you’ve been holding off upgrading from an earlier version of the operating system this could be the release to tempt you, because the update fixes many things that were wrong with Windows 8.

Windows 8.1 also introduces a bunch of new apps – and a load of new gestures for good measure. Gestures are central to using Windows 8 and 8.1 with a touchscreen, so to work efficiently you really need to know everything that can be achieved with fingertip controls. Many gestures can also be performed on a notebook’s touchpad, so even if you don’t have a touchscreen you might still be able to benefit from the gesture controls in Windows 8 and 8.1.

Before proceeding, we should say that while the preview edition of Windows 8.1 is available for anyone to download free of charge, you should understand that it is not yet a finished product. As such, we would not recommend installing the preview on your main PC – use a second computer or a virtual PC instead, or wait until the final version is released later this year.

Swipe up for apps

Perhaps the most useful – and simplest – new gesture in Windows 8.1 the ability to swipe up from the bottom of the Start screen to immediately open the Apps screen. Previously a tap of the All apps button was required, so this is a useful time-saver.

Swipe up in Windows 8.1 to access the Apps page immediately

Slide to select

Another far-from-obvious gesture that has been added to Windows 8.1 relates to the on-screen keyboard’s new auto-suggest feature. When typing on the keyboard displayed on a touch-sensitive screen Windows 8.1 will try to guess what you’re typing, showing its suggestions above the keyboard. You can choose a suggestion simply by tapping but there’s a hidden gesture too – just slide a thumb left and right across the spacebar.

In Windows 8.1, you can slide a thumb along the spacebar to choose a suggested word

Press long, swipe short

Incidentally, don’t forget that the Windows 8 keyboard supports long-press gestures – and this ability has been significantly extended in Windows 8.1. For example, long-pressing the question-mark key will reveal an exclamation mark. But that’s not all. Once you’ve learned that fact, an exclamation mark can be typed simply by performing a short swipe up on the question-mark key. This trick works on many other keys by the way, so do experiment.

Smile, you’re on camera

Windows 8.1 brings with it a new app called Food & Drink. That’s good news in itself but even more interesting is the fact that Food & Drink can be controlled by a new type of Windows gesture – waving at a webcam.

The idea is that because Food & Drink is essentially a recipe book, its users may well have messy hands. So, instead of smearing sticky fingers all over your Windows 8.1 screen, you can control the app by moving your hands in front of the webcam. To try it, launch Food & Drink and open a recipe. To turn the page, use your hand to make a sweeping motion across the webcam’s field of view.

And the rest…

Of course, Windows 8 was already stuffed with touch gestures. All of these remain but, as before, some are easy to discover, while others are less so.

For example, you probably know by now that to open the Charms bar using a touchscreen you need to swipe left from the right-hand side of the screen. Similarly, you might have discovered that swiping right from the left-hand side of the screen will switch between open apps, while pinching to zoom in and out is pretty much second-nature to anyone who’s ever used a touchscreen device, Windows 8 or otherwise. But how about all of these?

Just pinch two fingers together to zoom in and out in Windows 8.1

View recently-used apps

Tricky one to remember this, but it’s handy for quickly flitting between numerous apps. Swipe right from the left-hand side of the screen, then – without lifting your finger – swipe back left. When the apps lists appears on the left-hand side of the screen, just tap to switch apps.

To view recent apps, swipe in from the left and then back

Quickly close apps

Windows 8.1 does a very good job of managing memory so there’s no need to close apps to free up resources. However, if you want to do a bit of housekeeping, a swipe from the top to the bottom of the screen will shut down the current app.

Twist to rotate

In some apps, performing a two-fingered twist gesture on the touchscreen will rotate the selected item. This is great for rotating photos, for instance.

Open app controls

Some apps will have controls that can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Do this in Internet Explorer 10, for example, to access the URL bar and open websites.

Just swipe up in any app to view app-specific controls

Press, hold, drag and drop

We’ve already mentioned that the long-press gesture offers access to different keys on the on-screen keyboard. However, do try the same gesture in other areas of Windows 8.1. On the Start screen, for instance, it can be used for moving tiles around – just long-press a tile and then drag and drop it to a new position.



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