Starting with Windows 8
Most people are expecting Windows 8 to be released in 2012, and this striking departure from previous releases owes a lot to the success of the Metro user interface seen on the Windows Phone platform.
Above is the Window 8 start screen, a collection of fully configurable tiles that can be added, removed and rearranged as required. In the view here you can see a notification for a new email message in the top left, buttons for launching Internet Explorer and Windows Messenger as well as calendar, information, weather and business news even pictures.
Like Windows Phone, Windows 8 aims to display all of the information and data that is relevant to you, the user, on the start screen, making things very simple when it comes to finding what you need to know as quickly as possible.
More options are available scrolling along to the right, something that can be done on touch-screen devices such as hybrid laptops and smaller-scale tablets via your fingers or on a desktop computer via the mouse or keyboard.
Log on to Windows 8
In order to access the start screen, you will need to log on to your Windows 8 computer. There are two ways in which you can do this.
The first is to sign in with a Windows Live account. If you don’t already own one of these then you will be given the option to create one. Alternatively you can create and use a local account.
So what is the benefit of a Windows Live account to sign into your computer? Well, it depends on what you expect to gain from Windows 8. The operating system is designed to connect to the cloud, and as Windows Live users already have 25 GB of storage this space is put to good use. Common Windows settings as well as Metro UI settings for your wallpaper, lock screen image, tile configuration, favorites and history will all be stored in your SkyDrive account, allowing you to transfer your account from one Windows 8 machine to another!
Photo Management in Windows 8
Many different types of files can be viewed in screens such as this, but naturally the best results come from media files such as images and videos. The Metro UI is perfectly optimized to browse this type of content and allow you to view it while still searching for other files.
In the view above, the selection of images on show is ready to be imported into a collection. With no mouse to do the pointing and clicking you will need to use your finger and the interface is really very simple. All you will need to do is tap an image to select it, tap it again to deselect and then when your selection is made and you’re happy, tap the Import button. If for any reason you wish to change anything, hit Cancel!
Searching and Loading Apps
Viewing your installed applications is a simple case of tapping the appropriate tile on the Windows 8 interface. This will display both full software (such as office applications and games) and the optimized apps that will be available for the platform.
Like Apple’s Mac OS X Lion, Windows 8 will be able to host apps that can be downloaded and run from the Metro UI. These apps will prove key in providing a universal user experience for Windows 8. Due to the cross-processor support that Microsoft are providing with this platform, standard Windows applications and games naturally will not work on tablet devices equipped with ARM processors.
The apps available from the Windows Store, however, are expected to be universally compatible.
Internet Explorer 10
Windows Phone 7.5 Mango has already featured a version of Internet Explorer 9 with the address bar at the foot of the window, and this unusual trend looks set to continue in Windows 8 with Internet Explorer 10.
Let’s face it, moving the address bar and buttons south appears to afford a lot more desktop real estate to the browser window, much like using the full-screen option in current browsers. As you would expect of any modern browser, you can open several tabs, all of which can be accessed via the top of the screen by dragging the menu into view.
New-Look Control Panel
If you’re wondering how things look in the background, they’re not too different to what you might expect, although Windows Explorer has a new ribbon-based interface much like Microsoft Office.
Most settings, however, can be easily activated and deactivated via simple switches and drop-down menus, as seen above. These screens make configuring various Windows options extremely simple for tablet and desktop users alike.
That’s the real focus of Windows 8 – usability. Regardless of what type of device you’re planning to run this operating system on, you will not have come across a more usable example of Windows ever.
How’s the Weather?
Using either GPS, network triangulation or inputted settings, various services can be provided to a Windows 8 computer, from news feeds of particular information types (stocks and shares, for example) to providing weather reports.
As you can see, this sort of information sits perfectly on the display, providing summaries and allowing the user to scroll across and view maps displaying further information. This is generally how displayed data is managed for users in Windows 8, with the key summaries on the first screen and any supporting information available by scrolling to the right.
High Definition Video and Multimedia
Viewing videos and photos in Windows 8 is a great experience, with astonishing full screen views possible. Controls can be summoned by touching the screen and the film itself can be resized as required.
You might be thinking that multi-tasking in Windows 8 is a little tougher than it needs to be, but in actual fact it works really well. For instance the video above can be docked into the side of the display while you browse through a list of other files or read a web page. Several apps can be run at the same time in this way, each taking up a portion of the screen that you determine until you decide to close or minimize the window.
Social Networking in Windows 8
Like Windows Phone, Windows 8 is offering various options for improved social networking and this includes a Twitter app, Tweet@rama. Signing into this is simple, and the user interface is clear and attractive, just like the rest of the Metro UI.
Final details aren’t known as yet but it seems likely that if full integration with Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live and LinkedIn aren’t provided natively in Windows 8 (as with Windows Phone) that they will be available as apps via the Windows Store.
- Author's own experience with Windows 8 Developer Preview