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Not another rant on Windows 8

by Nico

So Windows 8 consumer preview is available for a couple of weeks now and I see a lot of different reactions. Most negative reactions I’m seeing is about the Metro UI. I don’t understand why people don’t like it, personally I love the Metro UI and here’s why.

First of all, stop begging Microsoft to bring back the old Start menu. This is called innovation people, if Microsoft never changed the UI of Windows we would all still be working on this:

So nothing wrong with some good innovation. Yes I know that change can be scary, but just really how different is Windows 8 from Windows 7? When you take a closer look at it Windows 8 takes features from Windows 7 that have proven their worth and improves on them.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take the Start menu for example. The Windows 7 start menu has this really great feature that is the search box. Hit the Windows key on the keyboard, type the name or part of the name of the application you want to open and Windows performs a real-time search with the results being displayed inside of the start menu.

You can do the same in Windows 8, when on the Metro UI just start typing and Windows starts the same real-time search with the results being displayed in the Metro UI. So more space for the results and you can even specify where you want to search, on your pc, in your mails, on the web, etc. all from the same feature that we’ve come to know and love in Windows 7.

The Start menu in Windows 7 has a great way of showing your most used applications so you can easily access them. The Start screen in Windows 8 lets you organise and order every application in the way you prefer and makes you feel most comfortable. Another good concept made great.


The Windows 7 Start menu has some links to administrative tools like the Control Panel, Devices and Printers, Computer, … stuff that is only used by those who know what they’re for, so it’s mostly wasted space. In Windows 8 all these options and a lot more are hidden behind a right-click context menu, something the power users will definitly find and won’t bug the “normal” users.

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Next on the list of big improvements is the “All Programs” option in the Windows 7 Start menu, this just lists all folders inside of the Program Files and Program Files (x86) directories, it should be called “All Directories” instead of All Programs. Also due to the rather small nature of the Start menu only about 20 items can be seen without scrolling and they are really tiny. In Windows 8 I can place up to 60 items on one screen without scrolling, even when I divide them all into groups I get way more apps in my Start screen and it’s the shortcuts to the app themselves, not their installation folder.

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Enough about the Start menu and the Start screen. Let’s take a look at Windows explorer. The explorer in Windows 7 had some nice shortcuts depending on where you are. For example when you open “Computer” you get this:

Really cool way to get to System Properties, Control Panel, map a network drive, etc. Now in Windows 8 they’ve implemented the Ribbon like it exists in Office 2007 and 2010. However since some people out there don’t like the Ribbon for some obscure reason it starts collapsed.

After a click on the small white arrow in the upper right corner it turns into this:

Same options but more visually. The fact that they are bigger and have an icon makes them more accessible.

Now let’s take a look at some features that are new to Windows 8. For example, when you right click on the metro UI there’s an option to show all apps. On this overview when you click the zoom button in the bottom right corner you can select a letter or a group to quickly jump the applist to your selection.

Another new feature is the charms bar. This appears when you place the mouse cursor in the upper right corner of the screen, or on a touchscreen you can draw the bar in from the right. This bar contains a Start button that will take you to the Start screen. It has a Search button which does the obvious. The devices button shows all plugged in devices like printers, scanners, secondary monitors, etc. The Settings button shows options like volume, wireless networks, etc. Most of these are also available on the Desktop, just like on Windows 7.

The most impressive feature however is the Share button. The function of this button differs depending on what you’re doing. Let’s say for example that you’re reading a cool article on your favorite blog. Click the Share button and you can immediately share the article with some friends using the Mail application

At the moment this Share option only works on Metro apps, developers can build in the Share possibilities themselves.

Another feature of the Start screen that is completely new is the Store. Windows now has an online store where you can download apps. These apps are called Metro application and can only run in full screen or snapped next to another app. When you download an app from the store you can rest assure that the app is thoroughly tested on performance and capabilities. No viruses, spyware or other scary stuff in those apps, only clean good running apps.

A side note on Metro apps: a bunch of them has a so called App bar, just right-click in the app to bring it up. Since those applications run in full screen there is no close button. The apps can be closed by pressing Alt-F4 or by dragging the app from the top of the screen (where the titlebar would be in a normal app) to the bottom of the screen.

Now pay attention class, the next part could be important. The Metro applications can be closed if you want to but why would you? Windows 8 Metro apps work a lot like iOS and WP7 apps. When you press the Windows button on your keyboard you go back to the Start screen and the application itself stays in memory in a so called Tombstoned state. This means that it utilizes a bit of memory to keep alive but uses no CPU. If Windows notices that it doesn’t have enough free memory it will start closing the oldest tombstoned apps. I’ve told you that all Metro apps are tested by Microsoft, this includes a memory test that makes sure that an app doesn’t utilize more memory then is allowed. So please consider using the tombstoned state, Metro is designed this way and stop ranting that Metro apps can’t be closed because they can but they shouldn’t.

With that I would like to conclude this post. I hope I’ve shown you that Windows 8 is really worth looking into and that it’s a huge step forward. Microsoft is going for unity among platforms, the so called 3-screen strategy where phone, pc and television (Xbox360) all work in the same way. If you ask me why I like Windows 8 so much the answer would be because it changes everything and nothing at the same time. Everyone can keep working like they always have but the changes they’ve made are all made to make everyone more productive. And it works.

My final message: Stop saying that Windows 8 sucks. Install it on a VHD, second partition or second hard drive and use it for at least 2 weeks for all your daily work. That is the ONLY way to get a decent view on how it works. And please, do not install it in a virtual machine, make 2 clicks and rant on every forum you can find about how you don’t want the Metro UI.


Tags:

Windows 8 | Devices | Metro

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About the author

Hi,

My name is Nico, I’m an MVP Windows Platform Development living in Belgium.
I’m currently employed as a .NET consultant at RealDolmen, one of Belgium’s leading IT single source providers.

I'm also founding member and board member of the Belgian Metro App Developer Network, a user group focussed on Windows 8 and Windows Phone development. If you're in Belgium feel free to drop by if we're doing an event. http://www.madn.be

Since June 2012 I'm a proud member of Microsoft's Extended Experts Team Belgium. And in February 2013 I became a member of DZone's Most Valuable Bloggers family.

In 2013 I became a book author and wrote "Windows 8 app projects, XAML & C# edition".

In 2014 I received the MVP award for the very first time.

I hope to get feedback from my readers either through comments, mail (nico_vermeir@hotmail.com), twitter, facebook, …

 

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