By Josh Gong
Finally! After years of beta testing and developer previews, Microsoft released the official Windows 8 OS on October 26th. Designed using the (non-metro) modern user interface, Windows 8 is available on tablets, ultra books, and on your good ol’ PC. You can also download the OS directly from Microsoft with a small fee of $39.99, which is an affordable price for an upgrade from Windows 7! Windows 8 in some ways is like a rebirth of the original windows experience since its day one in 1985. The result? A completely new operating system optimized for touch and new windows applications.
The single most polarizing feature on Windows 8 from Windows 7 is in the User Interface (UI). Tacking the visual elements from the Windows Phone design, the start screen is the first thing users will experience after logging into Windows 8. The start screen is composed of rows of colorful, constantly changing tiles. The interface can be customized with backgrounds and colors for those of you wanting to dig a little deeper. Gone are the start button, and the familiar desktop.
Another new aspect of multi-tasking introduced in Windows 8 is the touched- and mouse-based switcher. Making use of the top left and bottom left corners in Windows 8, switcher works as a basic application switcher, you can use it to close the app or you can snap or pin them to the left or right portions of your screen and utilize two or more apps at the same time.
The Charms Bar
The Charms are also an important aspect about Windows 8. If you are using Windows 8 on a touch-screen device, swiping from the right, or placing your mouse on the right edge of the screen if you’re using a normal PC, will reveal the Charms Bar- a set of five icons that surface the most common tasks in Windows 8. The “Charms Bar” can be accessed from anywhere in the Windows environment, Microsoft created hot-corners on the screen, or accessed via the mouse and keyboard. The “Search” charm is context aware, meaning that you can search while you’re in an app or to trigger searches across files and settings. The “Share” charm acts as a mailman between apps in your device, for example you can share a link to the mail app from the browser and the charm automatically formats your email and sends it on its way. “Devices” is another charm that is easy to understand. It gives an overview of the devices (i.e. Printers or a second screen) that you can send content to. Finally the “settings” charm allows you to access system wide settings such as volume, brightness, network, power, and notifications.
If you configure a Microsoft account that uses Hotmail or Outlook, you will notice that email, calendar, and contacts will automatically appear. If your Microsoft account is linked to Facebook, your contacts list will also appear in the People app and its associated tiles. Immediately, this unfamiliar interface already looks like it’s customized to you, with friends’ faces ticking away on the Live Tiles. On the other hand both the weather app and the stock app are always live with the Internet so you are always updated.
Full Screen Application
The newly designed UI allows for a new type of full screen applications on Windows 8, similar to apps on iOS and Android devices. Thanks to the new Windows 8 style-apps, Internet Explorer and many other applications can be download from the Windows Market, and run full screen as part of the Metro Modern UI. They are mainly with touch in mind; however this poses a difficult task for developers to make application that not only works well on the touch-tablets but also other platforms such as the desktops and laptops. For example, Internet Explorer 10 features an all new large navigation bar and tabs, those disappears seamlessly as you surf the web. You can also flick backwards and forwards between tabs on a touch screen. The performance is commendable, compared to previous versions of Internet Explorer, and the ability to sync favorites and history across your Windows 8 devices is definitely an impressive feature to look out for.
Windows App Store
The Microsoft App store, a place to download apps especially curated and design to work full screen and part of the Metro Modern UI, is more or less “Microsoft-Take” on the ever popular Mac App store that is world renowned for having the best designed applications out there. However at this point, it has nowhere near the number of apps that are available through the Apple store, but the key difference here is that Microsoft has substantially more developers than Apple does, so it is a matter of time before the store will be flooded.
Notification Screen and Lock Screen
One last fundamental change that Windows 8 introduces is the new lock screen. This is the screen that will first greet you as you turn on your device, or wake it from sleep. On it Microsoft displays your time, date, calendar entries, network status, and battery levels as default. However you can customize and add up to 7 lock screen applications such as Facebook that will give quick status updates and notifications when your device is locked. Another neat feature of the lock screen is the “picture-password” option. This will allow you to log in with taps on specific area of the log on screen, instead of entering your password.
The Desktop Experience
Once you tap on the Desktop tile on the Metro Modern UI, you are then taken back to using original Windows desktop again. The big change, however, is the removal of the start button that used to be in the bottom left corner of the screen. Windows Explorer is also improved and renamed File Explorer. The new File Explorer features a brand new ribbon interface , which is collapse by default, which helps accomplish day-to-day file management with buttons instead (i.e. Rename, Open, etc.). Now Windows also allows you to pause and resume file transfers as well to help manage your system’s tasks and monitor your file operations.
Unlike its predecessor, Windows 8 offers a totally awesome new user interface. The metro style interface is not only sleek and smooth in design, but also fun to use. Although it is far more touchscreen-oriented, you will be able to enjoy the extremely responsive OS on your traditional PC without compromising the features or functions you will experience on a tablet or ultra-book. Windows 8 can truly become a very personal computing experience, when fully customized by the use. However, at the same time you also have to accept the fact that moving on to Windows 8 can be a large learning curve, and may or may not be more difficult to first use with the traditional mouse and keyboard. However, we can assure that if you can overcome these small hurdles, Windows 8 truly offers a newer and more unusual user experience than any other operating system.