Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Windows 8 Preview

Windows 8 is going to be officially launched in two days! If you haven’t yet taken a sneak peak at it, it’s time to prep yourself, because it is more different than any other upgrade of Windows since Windows 95. In some ways, there is some fundamental change in how you use Windows 8, since it is now designed to be more touchscreen -oriented.

So unlike any other upgrades with earlier versions of Windows, where you can easily ease into the new version quite immediately, with Windows 8 you might need to learn a couple of new things. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to use, but definitely it’s not something you can jump into right-away armed with only knowledge of Windows 7 and be able to figure out things instantly.

I’m currently using the final “release to manufacturing” version (i.e. it is not the preview version) of Windows 8, which was made available to various early-release channels about two months ago. To be honest, I haven’t actually installed it in a real physical PC yet, but what I have is an installation in VMware Fusion. One of the new features in Fusion 5 is the support for Windows 8 guest. Installation of Windows 8 is a breeze, and Fusion 5 not only has specific Windows 8 optimizations, but also includes a keyboard profile tailored for Windows 8.

Back to Windows 8 itself. After you login, your “main screen” is not the familiar Windows desktop anymore, but a new interface that has gone through some name changes. You’ve probably heard of the Metro interface? Well, it’s now officially called Modern UI. Does it remind you of the Windows Phone interface?

Modern UI is really optimized for a tablet/touchscreen environment. You can swipe the screen left to reveal the “Charms” bar. The Charms bar gives you access to search, settings, devices, and well, the classic desktop. What if you can’t swipe, like if you’re using a old notebook or desktop with no touchscreen interface? Well, then you move your mouse pointer to the top or bottom corners of the screen to reveal the Charms bar. Yeah, that’s lesson number one. Fortunately, Windows 8 runs a tutorial during setup so that you can learn these couple of important things. (If you’re going to have to use a Windows 8 PC that you didn’t setup… well, that’s where you’ve to go online to pick up some tutorials…)

Yes, yes, I hear you’re wondering about the old familiar desktop. It’s still there under this Modern UI. If you’re like me, you probably think Modern UI looks nice and pretty, but ultimately when it comes time to get real work done, we need the classic desktop. Luckily it’s still there. Just like in Windows 7. Uh, but with some changes. Like, for example, there is no Start button.

Oops. No, it’s not hidden somewhere. There’s no Start button anymore. You get the Modern UI start screen when you press the Windows key. That’s what Microsoft has replaced the Start button with.

Back to the Modern UI. When you launch Modern UI-styled apps, they always take over the whole screen. Mail, Calendar, Photos, Internet Explorer. Again, if you were like me the first time using Windows 8, I’d be wondering how to get out of those apps. Well, press the Windows key. Or mouse to the left bottom or top corners. You don’t actually close these apps. You just switch them away. Yes, yes, another one of those things that you’d need to know about.

Where’s the Control Panel? Go to the bottom left corner, right click, and there’s Control Panel listed there. Or you should try to search for it through Charm, because that’s going to be a useful way to find all your programs (now called “apps”). Go to the Charms bar (bottom or top right corner), click Search, and start typing “Control Panel”.

I hope this will help you get started.

Just wanted to share some thoughts about Windows 8. I’ve long given up on Windows as my primary operating system. Windows 8, however, seems to present a very interesting proposition. It provides seamless user experience integration between desktops, notebooks and tablets, then moving on via Windows Phone 8 to mobile phones as well. The new addition of touch makes Windows 8 very usable on a tablet. This is the role of Modern UI. You couldn’t just put a Windows 7 interface on a tablet and expect it to wow anyone. Modern UI is designed to be a tablet-type interface, great for consuming information.

Then, when the time comes to get some serious work done, there’s always the classic Windows desktop underneath. Sure, a smallish tablet screen might not be the most ideal platform, but at least there’s that opportunity available. Of course, with touchscreen notebook, you benefit from the two “modes”. It’s sort of like having two operating systems at once.

Have fun with Windows 8!

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