Earlier today, Microsoft released the Windows 8 Consumer Preview (Beta) and stated that there were over 100,000 code changes, as well as the inclusion of the Windows Store and other updated features. Lets see what Windows 8 Consumer Preview brings to the table.
When Microsoft released Windows 7, the clear goal was to clean the mess and bitterness that came with Windows Vista. Windows 7 was fast, fluid and introduced new features that people; so far, seem to really like. Indeed, by all account, Windows 7 was successful and became the fastest selling operating system. With Windows 8, Microsoft is steering towards a whole new direction. When Microsoft first introduced the Windows 8 Developer Preview to the public, people were stunned with the amount of changes the software giant implemented with the version of its operating system. From a drastic change to the user interface, the cloud-connected dependency of the OS, the level of system protection, and to the improvement of the touch-interface, it becomes clear that that Windows 8 was not a mere iteration of Windows operating system. But to really have a sense of how Windows will change, let’s start where everything begins.
The Start Screen
With previous version of Windows, from Windows 95 all the way to Windows 7, the user experience begins with the start button, taskbar and the desktop. On the desktop, a user was able to have shortcuts to launch frequently-used applications as well as the ability to have customized wallpapers. With the taskbar, a user was able to quickly switch between running application. And the start button, besides being an application launcher, allowed a user to search files and control settings. With Windows 8, everything changes. The Start Screen is where everything begins. With the omission of the start button and the taskbar, a user will now launch applications from the Start Screen. And to search for applications, a user will use the new Charm’s bar feature, which we will discuss later on the post. And like the old desktop, a user will still be able to have shortcuts using live tiles. Live tiles is a new kind of desktop application shortcut that can be used to launch an app. Unlike icons, the tiles can display live information. Microsoft’s Kent Walter spoke about the live tile and its ability to display “real-time updates — news, sports, and what your friends are up to. You can check your schedule or get the latest weather forecast without searching for information— no need to open an app to see your next appointment or find out if you have any new email. This design style is great on a phone for getting you to the content you want easily and quickly, and extended to the whole screen of a PC, it’s even better.” And, unlike icons, a user can group the a set of tiles based on specific need. Another part of the Start Screen is the Charm’s bar.
The Charm’s bar
One new feature of Windows 8 is the Charm’s bar that replicates lots of functionality of the Start button as well as the taskbar. The Charm’s bar is part of the Start Screen that gives the user functionality that is system wide. With the Charm’s bar, a user can search for files and applications, share information, have access to system settings as well as app settings, and control the devices that are connected to the operating system. Unlike the taskbar, the Charm’s bar is not always present on the screen but it can be easily activated through touch gesture, a mouse or keyboard shortcut. With the Search charm, a user can search a file, an app, or a system setting. What makes Search particular interesting is that the user can search within apps such as mail, people, and music or applications installed by the user from the Windows Store. “Apps designed specifically for Windows 8 can use the Search charm easily, so as you install more apps, you can find movie reviews or show times, opinions on restaurants, or even stock prices (just to name a few), without having to hunt around,” Kant explains. Share is another function available from the Charm’s bar. Like the Search charm, a user can use the Share charm to share information between apps. Just imagine how a user can try to share information between applications on Windows 7; while this is possible, it is not as simple and intuitive as it is with the new Windows 8 Share charm. Devices charm gives the user access to devices that are connected to the system. And finally Setting Charm is akin to control panel that will give the user system-wide settings as well as single app setting. On what makes Charm particular useful is that settings and searching were rooted deep underneath layers of the system interface and is available right on the desktop with one touch gesture, one keyboard shortcut and one mouse move. But with Windows 8, things get even better.
With Windows 8, Microsoft is working to make its desktop operating system act more like a mobile operating system like Windows Phone 7. And with every great mobile system, comes a store full of applications. In Windows 8, Microsoft will make available the Window Store where users can get free and paid applications. The applications available will be Metro-based as well as classic applications (although one will need to have an Intel-based PC to run classic applications). “With the new Windows Store, you’ll be able to discover a variety of apps, all grouped in easy-to-find categories. We highlight apps we love, provide quick access to frequently downloaded, high-quality apps, and show you how other people have rated apps,” Kant stated. The Window Store will be integrated to Windows 8 and only applications that are certified by Microsoft will be available so the process is made secure for all users. Although the number of applications currently available is pale, Microsoft hopes to change that soon with the support of developers, especially those that are familiar with Microsoft Integrated Developing Environment tool, Visual Studio.
Switching Between apps
With the plethora of apps that Microsoft promises to be available soon, switching between apps will be as important as ever. With Window 7, the taskbar was available to allow users to switch between running applications. With Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft is making available a variety of touch-gestures as well as keyboard shortcuts to switch between applications. “If you’re using touch, just swipe in from the left edge to go back to your last app, or keep swiping to go back through several apps. If you’re using a mouse, just move it to the upper-left corner to see your last app. You can also move your mouse down from the corner to see more recently used apps. Or you can try one of my favorite features: swipe in from the left, and then slide your last app out to the left or right side of the screen to snap it in place,” Kant explained about switching apps and snapping them.
Hardware Options and What’s next
As well as the variety of hardware on which Windows 7 is available, Windows 8 will not be any different. As a matter of fact, Windows 8 will on all form of factor including tablets which is becoming more and more popular among computer users that are fond of touch devices. Since the release of the iPad, Apple has dominated the tablet market. With Windows 8, Microsoft finally has an operating system that is suitable for light devices like tablets. And for people with PC computers, they will still able to have an enhanced experience that will come with Windows 8.
With this new version of Windows, users will re-imagine a new way to interact with their operating system as we knew it because Microsoft has truly re-imagined Windows, the operation system that all users have learned to use and love.Further reading: Microsoft, Windows 8