Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Part 2

windows-8-logo
The Windows 8 Logo. Click on the picture to read Part 1 of this article.

Windows 8 is a revolutionary operating system. It is based on a new shell called WinRT, which enables the Metro interface with the beautiful, full screen apps and the Start Screen. So, as I promised, I would talk about the new Windows logo. So here goes!

As you can see, the Windows 8 logo has radically changed. Microsoft, which worked with Pentagram to design the logo, has decided to make it an actual window, not a flag. Microsoft said that it went back and looked at the logo from Windows 1.0, which is shown here:

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft designed it to reflect the new tile UI and to be consistent with the new Metro design. It was also designed to be minimalistic, with one solid color across the entire logo. According to Microsoft, when you change your background color, the logo changes to match that color. The one thing that I don’t like about it is the weird tilt/angle of the window. It gets smaller as it goes to the left, leading your eye away from the text which is on the right. It makes it look like the text and the windows are two separate logos.

Optimized for Touch
Windows 8 is built from the ground up to support touch-based systems like tablets. Windows 8 was actually designed for touch, not just an OS built for keyboard/mouse and can be used with touch. Microsoft has tried all these years to make Windows work on tablets. They started with the Windows XP Tablet PC edition, in which the only difference to the Pro edition was that it supported pen input. And that was the same with Windows Vista. With Windows 7, the story was the same, except you could finally touch the screen with your finger, and the ‘show desktop’ button at the right edge of the taskbar got just a little fatter. All of these were just desktop operating systems ported onto tablet PCs with pen inputs.

That is not the case in Windows 8. Microsoft officially abandoned the ‘pen’ in the tablet metaphor, and fully optimized the OS for touch. I mean, seriously. Who wants to use a pen input anymore? Microsoft fully optimized Windows for the tablet or touchscreen, with the big, colorful tiles which fill up the screen that can be easily tapped by one’s fingers. They used the very successful UI from their Windows Phone and ported it onto the desktop, improving it along the way. Metro, Metro, Metro!

Works with Keyboard & Mouse
Yes, yes, Windows 8 also works with the keyboard and mouse, and the experience is no less functional than on touch. Scrollbars appear on the Start Screen and on all the Metro apps. You can push on the edges of the Start Screen to move around. A bunch of new keyboard shortcuts have been added to access the new UI elements, and of course, the old ones are all still there. (Press the Windows key to get to the Start Screen, for example.) For a full list of keyboard shortcuts, see Paul Thurrott’s article about the topic.

Charms
imageAs I explained in detail before, the biggest change in Windows 8 is the Start Screen. But that’s not all of it. There are many, many other little goodies added into the Windows experience. First of all, if you bump your mouse into one of the right corners and then slide down, or if you swipe in from the right on a touchscreen, or if you press WINKEY+C, five icons slide in. What are they? They are the Charms.

Charms are probably the replacement to the utilities of the Start Menu. Sure, you can go into the start screen and start typing to search your computer, but you can get to the search functionality by summoning the Charms bar and hitting Search. If you’re at the Start Screen, you can choose whether you want to search your apps, settings, or files. If you’re at the desktop, it brings you back to a full-screen, metro-style app which shows you your search results, the same thing that you would see by using Start Search. But the best thing about the Search charm is that you can search within an app. For example, you can search the Mail app for an email message, or the USA Today app for an article.

The second charm is “share.” I find it really useful. For example, if you’re in the browser and you find a really cool website that you want to send your friends via email, you can just press the Share charm, click the Mail button, and a little sidebar slides in. There, you can type the contact that you want to send it to (or an email address), and hit send.

The third charm is Start. I don’t really need to explain that. The fourth is Devices, where you can change the settings for devices that you have hooked up to your computer. Finally, the Settings charm can show you app-specific settings, as well as the new control panel.

Switcher
imageFinally, I will talk about the Switcher. The Switcher is a little bar on the opposite side of the screen, accessed the same way with the mouse as Charms (except on the left corners, not the right ones), accessed by swiping in from the left and the swiping back out on a touchscreen, or by pressing WINKEY+TAB on the keyboard. From there, you can get a full list of running apps on your computer. (Yes, the entire desktop is considered one app.) You can take one app and pin it to the left or right of another app, and it will automatically resize itself to make use of about one-third of the screen.You can change which app is larger or smaller, and you can click on the top of the app and drag it to the bottom to close it.

Final Thoughts
So, I hope all of you have gotten that digested. I really think that Windows 8 will be a huge success. Microsoft has dramatically changed the way we think of a desktop operating system, but at the same time made it so that it maintains compatibility with legacy desktop programs. Let me give you an example.

An ordinary American walks into a Best Buy and sees a whole isle of ultrabooks (super-thin laptops) running Windows 8. They are all on the Start Screen, and the customer is surprised at the colorful tiles in the beautiful operating system. They play around with it for a while, and they think, “What is this new thing?” They call over the employee and he explains: this is Windows 8. It has the entirely new shell called Metro. The customer is impressed. Then the employee says that it still has the desktop, and all of their old programs can run on Windows 8. The customer asks, “Really?”, goes into the Desktop, and is won over. He buys the computer on the spot.

So, I wouldn’t really recommend downloading the Windows 8 Consumer Preview right now if you aren’t exactly a geek, but Windows 8 is estimated to be released during late summer or early fall. If you do jump in, remember: the Windows 8 CP can NOT be upgraded to the RTM. Try dual-booting or running it on a virtual machine.

I do believe that this is will be big for Microsoft. It will appeal to many people because it sports the new interface as well as the desktop, and it also has many new improvements that I didn’t get to in my articles. I hope you like it!

-Stephen-

P. S. Also check out Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows for some great articles on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

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