Getting your hands dirty with Windows 8

Inspiration to come up with this post is on the concerns found online on usability of Windows 8.

This post will help those

  • Who are looking forward to upgrade to Windows 8?
  • Anybody who has an impression as of now that a steep learning curve is involved.
Note : This article is prepared with users of non-touch Desktops/Laptops in mind. But applies to touch devices also leaving the Gestures.
  1. Let’s dissect the Windows 8 UI at high level
  2. Gestures and short cuts available on the Start Screen
  3. Gestures and short cuts available on a Modern App
  4. Customizing Windows 8(coming soon)
  5. Built-in Apps(coming soon)

Let’s dissect the Windows 8 UI at high level

The following two lines summarizes at high level how the Windows 8 UI is structured.

The Start Screen is nothing but your flattened Start Button.

See Windows 8 Desktop App as another Windows 8 app which acts as a workspace to run apps not designed in Modern UI.

Start Screen

It’s your point of contact for interacting with your Applications, also, acts as a dashboard giving you a snapshot of your interfaces with external world. That means it gives a quick snapshot of your mails, messages, news, weather, social media updates etc.

Windows 8 Desktop

As of now, not all available apps are ready for the new Modern UI. We may see some migrating to the new UI, but some may not. So your Windows needs an environment to run apps not designed for Modern UI. That is provided by the “Desktop”, which is nothing but your Win 95/98/Vista/7 Desktop, minus the Start Button.

Start Screen – In Detail

Let’s start with our new Start Screen. Once you boot up or login to  Windows 8 this is where you will land. It houses the new depiction of our old icons – called “Tiles”. On a newly installed Windows 8 this screen will be already populated by default tiles.


Each tile corresponds to an app, it could be either your legacy app or Windows 8 app. Tile can be static in nature or dynamic depending on the nature of app it relates to.
  • Live Tile – the tile is dynamic, it can show alerts or snapshot for the app.

For e.g., tile for your Windows 8 Calendar app can show the approaching appointments or events. If more than one alert is available, the alerts scrolls with in the tile. If you want you can turn off the dynamic behaviour of the tile.
  • Static Tile – behaves like our traditional icon. Tiles for your legacy app will end as a Static one on the Start Screen.

Whenever you install a new app, a tile for it is added to the Start screen. If the app is a legacy app, then your Windows 8 Desktop will also have a short cut for the same. In some instances installing a legacy app may add multiple tiles on the Start Screen. These are equivalent to Shortcuts added under the application group on prior versions of Windows Start Menu.

Currently there is no implementation of folders to put your related Tiles on the Start Screen.

When the Titles extends the available real estate of your monitor, a horizontal scroll bar appears to move around. Also you can Zoom Out the Start screen to have consolidated snapshot.

Gestures and short cuts available on the Start Screen

The power of Windows 8 navigation is better experienced on touch screen. But that doesn’t mean our traditional screen are useless.

You can quickly launch an app by simply typing the app name when you are on the Start Screen. Based on the characters typed, Windows 8 will display matching App Tiles.

Clicking on the Desktop Tile on the Start Screen launches or switches to Windows 8 Desktop App

The Start Screen has active or hot spots, when your mouse pointer is placed on those, depending on the location a context sensitive menu appears. The hot spots are on the four edges of your screen.

Top left hand corner

When mouse pointer is placed on this location, Windows 8 shows a thumbnail of the app which you have navigated away last. Move the mouse pointer down the left edge, you will thumbnails of other active apps if any. You can click on the thumbnail to switch to app.

Right hand corner

Displays the Charms bar. The action of shortcuts selected in this menu bar are context based. This menu bar appears irrespective of whether you are on Start Screen or with in an App
Search – provides search functionality. Depending on the context, the search output varies. If you are on Start Screen, basically you are searching an App by its name. If you are on Music app, you are searching a song based on title, artist etc. When you are on the People app, you are searching somebody with in your Contacts
Share – includes short cuts of app which can be used for Sharing. Mail app, Twitter etc. If you are viewing a Video on Video App, you can use this short cut to share the video with your Social Contacts.
Start – To Switch to the Start Screen
Devices – list the Devices applicable on where you are now. If you are on your Photo app, the Device list may include installed Devices which are of interest to Photo app. For example, it may list your Printer if a printer is installed. If you are on Music or Video app, you may find your Devices which supports Play-To feature.
Settings – Customization of your Windows 8 machine. Includes shortcut which was visible on earlier windows versions. Volume Control, Network, Shutdown shortcuts, a short cut to go to a detailed Settings page.

Your Shutdown shortcut appears under the “Settings” shortcut on the Charms Bar

Right hand bottom corner

Clicking on this will give you a bird’s-eye view of your Start Screen. Use this mode to rearrange your Tiles or Tiles Group

Gestures and short cuts available on Modern App

The beauty of Modern UI is minimum clutter and maximum screen real estate for your active map. A designed on Modern UI, when running will not display your App’s menu and icons. Then how will you interact with your App? Menu Items available to an app are available on the Features Bar.

Right Clicking with-in a Modern App displays the Features Bar at the bottom of the Screen.

Below screen shot appears on the Music App

Move the mouse pointer to the top edge of the UI, the pointer changes to a Palm icon, Drag Down the mouse to close the current App.

Moving the mouse pointer to the right hand edge of the UI displays the Charms Bar. The Shortcuts available works in context to the current App.

In some apps, like Internet Explorer Modern App, a Menu bar appear of the Top also when you right-click with in the app. Depending on the app active, the Menu Items , Shortcuts available varies.

Will be continued

Windows 8 – another Vista?

Windows 8 Start Screen

Windows 8 Start Screen

I couldn’t find a better title for this post as that’s the comparison Windows 8 is receiving after its introduction by Microsoft.

So will it be another Vista?

It’s a fact that Vista was a failure – but mainly due to its notorious support for hardware drivers. Users had issues with the existing drivers and devices they had, on Windows Vista, leading to frustration due to their devices not supported on the new OS at that time. The new kind of UI that was introduced doesn’t seems to be of an issue. If that was case then Windows 7 could be marked as a failure.

The timing of Windows 8 also is in favour. Its launch coincides with the majority of Windows XP users who are without any active support from Microsoft, Third parties and Device manufactures.

Whether that’s the case with Windows 8?

Certainly not. I have been using Windows 8 RC and then Enterprise Version in the past two months. Installation of both the Releases on my Desktop which houses a 4-year-old Motherboard and Intel Core 2 Duo was pretty smooth barring the head ache of getting my existing Programs and Settings from old Windows XP.

All the hardware worked out of the box

  • Device ListExisting on-board Sound and Video chips
  • A not so well-known FireWire PCI card
  • Benq LCD monitor
  • Canon Pixma Wi-Fi Printer
  • A not so well-known 3-year-old web-cam, which worked after loading the Drivers that came with the product

I would say the hardware integration including your networked devices is pretty good in this Version. Your networked Blu-ray Players, Media Players, TV etc. can be brought into your Desktop environment without any additional efforts. Sharing Media across the devices is easy.

So my experience on that front as captured above rules out that Windows 8 will be another Vista (from my view-point).

So what else, as per the analysts will make Windows 8 a failure?

UI !!! – This is the major culprit as per them.

I’m bored with the existing UI I find in earlier Windows versions and other OS that exist today. The same icons, bordered windows. The restriction of your programs with in a specific area on your screen space etc. We started with plain flat icons, over a period of time we moved to colourful three-dimensional ones. But the underlying interface by which you interacted with your OS remained the same. Main menu to Sub Menu…Icons… Dialog boxes…Windows…

Windows Phone Metro UI was a treat. I don’t own a Windows Phone 7 device. But based on my interaction with my friend’s devices and that at show rooms, I can say it’s refreshing. You move away from your legacy UI to more Dynamic UI where information or Alerts are presented on tiles. Each application or alert occupies its own space without any clutter. Your current application occupies the entire screen space, no restriction or borders of any nature. Microsoft is finally embracing Cloud and Social Networking. The integration with the OS is flawless. You don’t need to visit multiple apps to see you social updates.

So what’s the issue in migrating the same UI to desktop??

“I don’t have my Start button” “Windows 8 have dual character – Windows 8 UI and the legacy Desktop”

See Also : How to add a Start Menu without any third-party add-ons in Windows 8

The complaints contradict each other. You hate the Windows 8 UI but on top you complain it still has the Desktop environment.

“I miss the Start button” “Navigation is painful” “No clue how to switch between open applications” “How do I shut down my Desktop?” “UI works best on touch enabled devices

Let’s rewind. DOS to Windows 3.1, Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. Did we (applicable only for those who have used these versions ) completely boycott these versions? Let History answer that.

Microsoft is readying Windows for the new touch enabled devices that are launching in coming years. Change always is painful and frustrating. But change is inevitable in moving forward and embracing the new. Apple said we will not support Flash, we made noise, competitors advertised, with Flash support their devices have an edge on Apple’s. But, where are we now? Adobe itself have decided no more mobile flash releases. All major vendors and mobile OS now are moving to HTML5. Will we stop there? No. Something more appealing and innovative will come and we will move to that.

For those complain about missing ‘Start button’ and ‘confusing navigation’

I’ll take the “adaptability” behaviour of human beings to counter that. We are better known for our adaptability. People have switched from Symbian OS to Android. Android to iOS. iOS to Android(inviting criticism ). Those who have done that switch knows that we struggled for the first 5 days or max 10 days in getting ourselves to adapt to the new environment. By this time frame we would have mastered all that is required to accomplish our day-to-day activities. Later, we stumble upon on few occasions when we use a new feature on the Device. But did we stopped there and dumped the new Device complaining about that? We have spent our hard money on that purchase. We moved on, until we find our next craze!! .

On usability of Windows 8 – My below 10-year-old kid uses the new Windows environment with as ease as Ubuntu …occasional Windows XP…. and iOS. Yes the kid didn’t have an easy time on first usage, but learned when I demonstrated.

Now let’s take two groups of users who may migrate to Windows 8

Existing Users

The numbers depend heavily on this category. Anybody on a Windows XP/Vista will definitely switch to Windows 8 without any complaints. Those who are on Windows 7 are the ones who think twice, but ultimately switch when the “use the latest” syndrome grows over them.

Users who are purchasing their next device – a Desktop or a Tablet or a Mobile

On multiple instances I have seen on show rooms people insisting on getting new Versions of Software on their Desktops or Laptops when they are making a purchase. They seems to be complaining or ignoring those which were shipping with an old version when a new version is already available or have announced. So with this mentality this category will definitely ask for Windows 8 to be available on their potential devices.

But how many of the customers opt for a new Desktop is a different question. As people are more inclined to go for a Laptop/netbook or a tablet now a days. The latter is the most preferred one. So when Windows 8 tablets launches that area is covered.

So Windows 8 will be a failure?

In my viewpoint and the facts that I have analysed it will not be a failure. People will adapt with their new OS.

  • The timing of Windows 8 also is in favour. Its launch coincides with the majority of Windows XP users who are without any active support from Microsoft, Third parties and Device manufactures.
  • The UI as such is ready for Touch enabled devices which will be the ones you see in future.
  • Also for the content consuming user base which are in majority. Windows 8 is covered well in those areas.
  • Enterprise users will go for it, as naturally all the new Desktops & Laptops will come pre-loaded with Windows 8. Integration into existing IT Infrastructure also favours them. But Enterprises don’t jump to a new Version as soon as it is launched, it takes almost near to a year when they migrate. Some may still stick to Windows 7 until it phases out.

Windows 8 if it fails it will not be because of the new UI, but it depends on the numbers that will sell.

So all those who are wasting their energy complaining about Windows 8 – options left are either switch to a Mac or be more productive and come together and a design a new OS itself. Ultimately, necessity or frustration is the trigger for innovation or invention.