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Posted on September 13th, 2011 by Barry Collins

Windows 8: the new interface

Start Screen

The new Metro interface for Windows 8 is one of the most significant – and riskiest – decisions in Microsoft’s history. The familiar desktop that has been the cornerstone of the operating system since Windows 95 has been elbowed out of the way in favour of a touch interface. On this there is no compromise: even if you intend to run Windows 8 on a desktop PC with a conventional monitor, the Metro interface remains the default, with the traditional Windows Desktop relegated to mere “app” status.

So how does this new interface work?

The Lock screen

The first screen Windows 8 users will encounter is the Lock Screen. This comprises nothing more than a customisable photo, the time and date and, optionally, notifications from one key app: your next calendar, appointment, for example.

Lock Screen

An upwards swish of the finger unlocks the screen, where you’ll either be prompted for a traditional password or asked to enter a “picture password”. This new security feature allows you to pick a photo of your choice, and then create a password based on gestures. You might, say, choose a picture of your kids, and then create a gesture by which you move from the youngest child to the eldest in the photo. Alternatively, you might choose a group of friends and tap on them in alphabetical order. It’s a quirky alternative to entering a text password, which is of course more cumbersome with an onscreen keyboard.

The Start Screen

Once you’ve unlocked the PC, you’re thrown straight into the new Start Screen that Microsoft first unveiled earlier this year. Its Metro interface will be instantly recognisable to anyone with a Windows Phone 7 handset. Instead of a traditional desktop with Start button, taskbar and icons, the Start Screen now comprises a series of interactive tiles.

These tiles don’t only display the name of the app: they display snippets of data from those applications. Your Twitter app, for example, will scroll through the latest tweets from your friends; the Weather app displays the forecast for your current location; Email shows how many unread messages are waiting in your inbox. “The idea is you’re always up to date with what’s going on,” said Jensen Harris, Microsoft’s director of program management. “The app is expressing itself on the Start Screen.”

Interactiv tiles

To scroll through the apps, you simply flick your finger from left to right – or use the scroll wheel on the mouse or the cursor keys if you haven’t got a touchscreen. Even on the early preview build, this feels incredibly slick: there’s no slowdown or waiting for app icons to redraw as you swish from one end of the Start Screen to the other.

Tiles can be resized by clicking on them and dragging down, where you’re presented with the option to make them bigger (rectangular) or smaller (square). Only the larger, rectangular tiles are capable of displaying data. It’s also possible to drag and drop app tiles into a new position by shoving them to the top of the screen with one hand, scrolling the Start screen to the desired position with the other, and then dropping the tile into the desired place. It’s certainly less cumbersome than shifting apps to a new home in either iOS or Android.

Windows 8 in depth:
Find out about the new interfaceapps and the storeperformance and Windows 8 on ARM

Tiles can also be grouped together – the Windows 8 alternative to folders. All your games can be clustered together, for example, or all of your productivity apps. Zoom right out on the Start Screen using a pinch-to-zoom motion, and you can re-order these Groups however you wish.

Finally, on the far right-hand side of the Start Screen, you can drag out a selection of five buttons which Microsoft rather sickeningly dubs Charms. There are five Charm buttons: Search (which allows you to search for files, apps or even data contained within apps), Share (which allows you to share photos via a social networking app, for example, or send a link to an email contact), Devices (for connecting to printers, digital cameras etc), Settings (to change screen brightness, volume, wireless networks and other controls) and the Start button (which simply throws you back to the Start Screen). The Charms are also available within apps.

Full-screen Metro apps

Windows now has two different types of app. There’s the new Metro Style apps, which are designed primarily for touch, and the old-style desktop apps.

All of the Metro Style apps are run full screen. There’s no Taskbar along the bottom, no minimise or close buttons along the top. The whole of the screen is handed over to the app. To flick from one full-screen app to the next, you flick your finger from the left-hand side of the screen.

Windows 8 weather app

In Internet Explorer 10, for example, all you see when you first open the app is the webpage. Only when you flick upwards from the bottom of the screen are you presented with the more familiar page furniture, such as the address bar, browser tabs and the back button.

Internet Explorer 10

Unlike other tablet OSes, Windows 8 offers true app multitasking. This means there’s the option to run apps side-by-side. You can, for example, snap your Twitter app open in a narrow strip on the left-hand side of the screen, with a browser window open on the right. You can even have a video playing in the smaller left-hand panel, while you continue to browse on the right – although such demanding multitasking will doubtless wreak havoc with your battery life.

Split screen apps

However, these windows aren’t resizable in the traditional Windows fashion. There are only four fixed window configurations: full-screen landscape, split-screen landscape (with the thinner app window on either the left- or right-hand side of the screen) or full-screen portrait. Metro App developers are being encouraged to redesign their apps for each of these configurations. (See more on Apps and the new App Store here).

Old-style desktop apps

So what of the desktop apps that we run today? These can still be used on the old-school Windows Desktop which now – somewhat confusingly – has been demoted to an “app”. When you click on the Windows Desktop tile, you’re thrown back into the familiar Windows 7 desktop, with the Taskbar running along the bottom and the not-so-touch-friendly desktop icons of old.

This is where Microsoft wants you to run applications such as Office and Photoshop: apps that were designed for mouse and keyboard, not touch. Applications can still be pinned to the Taskbar, but infuriatingly the Windows Desktop Start button just throws you back to the touchscreen Start Menu. The Start Menu of old has completely disappeared. This makes it nigh-on impossible to quickly launch an application that isn’t already pinned to your Taskbar, let alone launch items such as the Control Panel.

Needless to say, the Windows 7 Desktop is also a hostile environment for tablet users. No matter what Microsoft claims, the Ribbon interface isn’t geared towards touch. We suspect pure tablet users will largely restrict themselves to the new Metro Style applications, while only those using an additional keyboard, mouse or stylus will brave going back into the old Windows desktop.

Initial verdict

For tablet users, the new Metro interface is superb: we’d go as far as to say it’s the best tablet interface we’ve seen yet. It’s slick, it’s customisable and it contains far more information than the home screen of an iPad or an Android tablet.

For desktop PC or laptop users, however, we’re struggling to see the appeal. The entire interface is so geared towards touch, that using a mouse or cursor keys to navigate around the Start screen just feels awkward. We suspect Windows 7 will remain the operating system of choice for conventional PC users.

Now click here for further details on:

Apps and the Store
Windows 8 on ARM

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41 Responses to “ Windows 8: the new interface ”

  1. Damian Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    “that using a mouse or cursor keys to navigate around the Start screen just feels awkward”

    I BET that if you placed the ui in front of someone who hasn’t used a computer they’d find zero issue.

  2. Damian Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    P.s. Apple has been moving in this direction with each new release with pretty colours and gigantic icons… the same could be said for osx

  3. StoneDeCroze Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Nice to see Microsoft releasing an updated version of Bob.

  4. Jeremy Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    I BET that if you placed the UI in front of a PC user over the age of 25, they’d start to get carpel tunnel syndrome from simple things like navigation. This is fine for handheld devices, but PCs? What are they on, crack? Thanks, Microsoft, for killing your own PC user base. Lamest UI, EVER. You actually could have learned something from Apple this time. I hate to admit, but even Apple wouldn’t have done something this stupid.

  5. xhrit Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Damian has it right – this thing feels like it was designed for someone who has never used a computer before.

  6. whoever Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    I suppose you’re right. With no other experience to compare this kludge with, such a user wouldn’t immediately notice how bad a fit metro is for desktop work.

  7. james Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    No thanks. I’ll be skipping this one. I’m a gamer and a network admin, I don’t give 2 craps about social media, and actually know how to use a computer. It’s a shame because I like windows 7 and was looking forward to what they could do with 8, but it seems they’re catering to a completely different crowd now that I want no part of.

    Luckily windows 7 will be good for a long time :/

  8. spo Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Jeremy is right. Click at the bottom of the screen and “flip” upward? I can feel my CTS acting up just thinking about it. I doubt I’d get CTS from this on my laptop’s trackpad, but it would be extremely annoying.

  9. AnonnyMuss Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    But you don’t have to use the touch at all! As Sinofsky demo’d they have keyboard and mouse alternatives for every touch action

  10. Zozo Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    So, I guess this will help M$ sell quite a few tablets. How about PCs? Can’t imagine software development without a mouse. I am all thumbs, you know… ;)

  11. Gennady Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    a) I LOVE the new look
    b) i will not be using it, and switching (considering there is a switch) to the old win7 look
    c) considering the future in portable devices is the tablet, this is a very strategic move by microsoft, but since more tech savvy people (most readers on pcpro) probably buy pc hardware separately and build their own pcs and love to tweak it in every way possible, and hoping that microsoft left everything else intact behind the scenes (like i can still play Starcraft 2 on it) we’ll be fine using it.

  12. gorillaarm Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    The whole UI approach is just too fatiguing for anything beyond web surfing and the typical crap you do on a phone. For serious production/gaming efforts this thing will be worthless: unergonomic and frustrating.

  13. gorillaarm Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Far as that goes even when I web surf I keep multiple browsers open with multiple tabs so I can reference multiple things simultaneously. On a big screen. I want multiple apps open sharing screen space, not screen swapping.

  14. gorillaarm Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Gate ought to start a new OS and smash MS – I am pretty sure he isn’t a fan of this sort of thing either.

  15. Joe Urioste Says:
    September 13th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    “Its Metro interface will be instantly recognisable to anyone with a Windows Phone 7 handset.”

    So, about five people on the planet, then…

  16. MikeKulls Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 12:38 am

    People, give it a chance. Why is everyone so negative every time something new is release. Everyone afraid of change? The windows start menu has long been an source of complaint and now they finally get rid of the stupid thing and no one is happy.

  17. LukeCage Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 4:54 am

    I just love how everyone gets their panties in a bunch when something is “changed” in the windows os. The metaphors for things may change the initial presentation may change the underlying guts are still the same. I bet by release time there will be a magical way for explorer to be the shell. I wouldn’t freak out just yet. When Microsoft finally decides to ditch ALL the legacy stuff like some other tech company did and your current software will only work in a vm. Then get worried.

  18. Alan B Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 9:29 am

    I guarantee you that at release you will be able to make the conventional desktop the default – I can’t see the server variant of Windows 8 having the touchy feely UI, for example.

  19. David Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Time will tell, but I don’t like the look of this! Apple have got it right – same basic OS underneath, but with what the user sees tailored for the device type – iPhone, iPad, Mac. Microsoft seem to be trying to create one OS that will work on all device types, and the danger of this is that it will end up working well on none of them.

  20. Robin White Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 10:15 am

    This is the bit that is worrying.

    The Start Menu of old has completely disappeared. This makes it nigh-on impossible to quickly launch an application that isn’t already pinned to your Taskbar, let alone launch items such as the Control Panel.

  21. Adrian B Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    The designers must all have shiny new toys. Why can’t they live in the real world?

    How on earth do they expect to sell this in the corporate environment? No menu system? (c.f. “infuriatingly the Windows Desktop Start button just throws you back to the touch-screen Start Menu”) Just tiles? Have they seen how many icons people have on their desktops in the real world? Yes it may be easy to whizz between things but if it’s off the screen it will be lost.

    And the bit about the Lock screen being the first can’t be true – where do you login on a multi-user PC?

    If they had any real commitment to the desktop, they’d allow a choice between modes to be made on entry.

  22. nicl Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 11:52 am

    This is the first time I have been excited by a Microsoft release for a while.

    The taskbar and start menu is way too cumbersome for the modern age. Computers should and could be much simpler and fun to use. And Microsoft seem to be going for that with Windows 8.

    Whether they succeed or not, I salute their bravery!

  23. rdxyne Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Looks like they copied Meego Harmattan OS from Nokia N9

  24. nick allison Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    All looks good to me, the only thing that (IMO) MS need to do is allow the traditional W7 Desktop to be set as the Default start screen for PC/Notebook users, if they so wish. With all the complaints about having to go Metro on all devices washing around the place, I cannot imagine MS ignoring this and failing to build it into the final release

  25. james016 Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    I have the developers build running. Not found a way to close programs in the Metro UI yet.

  26. Adrian Bruce Says:
    September 14th, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    “With all the complaints about having to go Metro on all devices washing around the place, I cannot imagine MS ignoring this and failing to build it into the final release”

    Like they listened and allowed the option to swap between Classic and Ribbon interfaces, you mean?

  27. Josh Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 6:49 am

    This is simply terrifying and feel like crying. I’ve been using PCs since Windows 3.1 and it’s taken nearly 20 years to have an operating system that is now wonderful to use and doesn’t crash. In the business environment Windows 7 works and largely there are a few gripes from anyone.

    So… What does Microsoft do? Risk blowing the whole thing! Unbelievable. As other users have commented, touch screens and social media have their place. But not in the workplace. It’s a no brainer.

    I cant believe that after these years of progress and finally being a true Windows fanboy, they’re going to risk it all.

    Yes, I can see Win 7 is definitely going to be the new Win XP.

    I’m so disappointed…

  28. David Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Wow, this is really going to work on my Dell 27″ monitor, Even if it was touch screen, (which it isnt)I now get to sit so close everything is blurred and smudged with greasy finger prints and all because MS are so desperate to try and gain a foothold in the iPad market, massive fail Microsoft!

  29. Gindylow Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 11:43 am

    You’d have to think this part of the release cycle is marketing hype, akin to the “wow” campaign for vista?

    At some point soon they will reveal a control panel setting that allows you to decide if you want touch or mouse enhancements to the fore, like tweakui of old.

    A bit of tinkering and voila! there’s windows 7 gui with a few nice enhancements?

    If this is not the case, then win 8 will be better known as w8t-1 (wait for the next one)

  30. BillB Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    W8 NO Classic Interfce = No sale to my company! We are tired of the kiddy screens and toy interfaces. We work for a living!
    God I miss W2000!

  31. Stiggy Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Everyone is over-reacting.

    The current Windows Explorer is just an ‘app’. You can remove or replace it if you want, and the same will be true of Metro. It’s just a layer on top of the standard Windows UI.

    There is NO WAY Microsoft are going to upset business users by forcing them to use Metro. The core Office applications are what professional are interested in.

  32. squirreldancer Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    What about those of us who are still clever enough to use a mouse and keybooard, and not so lazy that we work sitting up at a desk and not lying on the sofa?

  33. Charles Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Win8 isn’t ditching the old desktop completely it’s still there. If you have a tablet, then use the new UI. If you have a desktop PC, then don’t.

    But… If you have a very powerful tablet, then use both. Drop your tablet into a dock on your desk and then switch to mouse/keyboard on ‘normal’ windows.

  34. squirrelsmasher Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    “Its Metro interface will be instantly recognisable to anyone with a Windows Phone 7 handset.”
    So, about five people on the planet, then…

    It’s worse than that mate, the people in my company who we’ve given WP7 devices ALL hate them – myself included. I have over a hundred of the sodding things in use and on a recent client satisfaction survey by our helpdesk, a whopping 0% of WP7 users preferred it to an iPhone, HTC HD2 with Sense, or unsupported device (we support wimo 6.5 and iPhones, but allow other devices at user discretion).

    The interface is quite poor for a mobile device, and now they’ve brought it to a device that’s completely alien to it’s origins. A fact made worse by the fact that mobile device UIs have spent a lot of time growing away from PC interfaces especially because they have not got keyboards, mice or large screens. To get around these restrictions they have touch screens. Now, how many people do you know who prefer working on their mobile device to using their laptop or PC? Not one of my users complains they can’t work if their phone is dead, but cut them off from their PC for 5 minutes and their manager’s on the phone finding out what’s holding them up.

    This interface is completely insane for desktop PCs. It adds no features we want, cuts features we liked (Vista’s ONLY saving grace was the improved start menu, which is now gone in Windows 8) and expects us to finger our screens. Sitting where you are, I invite you to rub your fingertips across your screen a bit, imagining yourself moving icons about. Play a game of solitaire, maybe. Once you’re done, note the smudged screen, the uncomfortable strain in your arm and, if you’re sitting a sensible distance from your two 30″ screens away, backache from leaning forward all the time.

  35. wittgenfrog Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Oh Dear, Oh dear
    What a bunch of fogeys (young & old).

    Before too many toys are tossed let’s remember that this is a ‘Developer Preview’. There are clues in this nomenclature.

    A LOT but I’m pretty sure not ALL – they too can play the ‘just one more thing’ gambit of the new stuff is here. Of course it is, so that DEVELOPERS can play with it, learn it and design great new App(lication)s based on the new features.

    Please stop all the carping. MS has designed & delivered something that makes IOS \ OSX look like what it is: first to market and scared to innovate.

    Just to settle all the trauma in the posts above, I’ll bet good money that in Corporate environments a few well-chosen GPs will remove all that terrifying newness, but leave all the under-the skin upgrades.

  36. In Trouble Says:
    September 17th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Heading towards a time where the only thing you do with any device is social media. /sigh Thanks for dumbing the world down even lower Microsoft.

  37. John McCormack Says:
    September 18th, 2011 at 3:30 am

    W7 was the first Windows I actually bought (as opposed to coming pre-installed). I was looking forward to buying W8… not any more.
    I’ll stick with W7 until I need to replace my desktop and laptop, then I’m getting a Macbook Pro and a Mac Mini.

  38. Aurelian Says:
    September 18th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    For many, the laptop has replaced the tower.Its portability, though useful, is incidental.
    Tablets and touch are a different mission.
    On laptop screens, touch offers no benefit and is unwanted.

    Last week’s podcast voiced a key insight that the use of gesture on a MacBook Air’s glidepad is analogous to touch on tablets.
    I’m not a Mac user, but that seemed remarkably astute.

  39. David Amos Says:
    September 20th, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Well, I have the development preview in hand, and have just spent a grand total of £168 on a 22″ 1080p touchscreen, will let you know how I get on once I have it up and running. The screen itself works fine in Win 7, looking forward to getting to grips with it in the new Metro UI

  40. deadendwaterfall Says:
    September 30th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I can see Windows 8 turning out to be a Windows ME Third Edition. Windows Vista was Windows ME Second Edition and whoever said that Windows 7 is the new Windows XP, I totally agree with them.

  41. smiley Says:
    October 21st, 2011 at 10:10 am

    As a long time CAD user I can see the advantages of touch gestures but on a 27″ screen I’d need big hands and a long reach. I wonder if a mobile phone could be interbred with a mouse, combining the precision of the mouse with a touch interface for gesture use. Maybe put the Metro interface on the top of the mouse.


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