Much of the buzz around Microsoft’s upcoming release of Windows 8 surrounds the replacement of the Start menu with an entire page of tiles known as the Start screen. This new page presents your applications as tiles, giving you at-a-glance functionality with compatible programs, and quick startup with others.
For many Windows users, the experience of switching from one interface to another can be rather jarring, though perhaps there is a method to Microsoft’s supposed madness? For example, you can use the Start screen to quickly locate and launch apps, settings, individual files, and even specific components of various programs. You can even search a stock number and have it pull right up in the Finance app.
So, what are the advantages of the new Windows 8 interface, and how can we put them to work for us?
Accessing your system’s search feature used to be a matter of clicking the Start button and typing a search query in the field. Now, you can access the same (if not more powerful) search feature by doing little more than hitting the Windows key and typing the first few letters of whatever app it is you wish to launch. Pressing Enter will launch it right away.
If you want to check the weather in a specific city, just hit the Windows key, start typing the name of the city, and click on the Weather app as it appears in the sidebar to the right of the screen. In a sense, checking the weather forecast takes less than a few seconds as opposed to the longer and more drawn out process of opening a browser or entering the city’s information in a weather gadget.
Sorting your apps into columns and making them easier to see and select is another advantage of the Start screen. For example, the old Start menu had a limited number of programs which could be displayed (or pinned) to the Start menu. For everything else, you needed to navigate through the All Programs area and find the executable you were looking for. Yes, you could search, but that part is covered in the paragraph above.
Simply moving your mouse to the lower-left corner and clicking will reveal the Start screen, which features all of your apps in an easily navigable interface from which you can launch them. For a more detailed list, right-click and select All Apps for an entire listing of executable programs that you can choose. You can even pin these programs to the Start screen if they don’t already exist there.
It took more a few minutes to lay out all of my programs in columns that made the most sense to me. I have an area for games, productivity apps, news, and one dedicated to photo and image manipulation apps. Pretty much everything I need is accessible with a single click. While the experience may be a bit jarring at first, I’ve found navigation through the Start screen to be much faster and easier to work with.
Apps Vs. Programs
The Start screen gives you another advantage over Gadgets or quick links in the old Start menu. Apps on Windows 8 take advantage of the tiled interface to give you at-a-glance functionality. A news app may rotate photos from various stories pulled throughout the day while a weather app may give you a quick forecast, all without having to leave a single screen.
Accessing your system settings no longer requires you to navigate through menus to find the Control Panel. All you really need to do is move your mouse to the lower-right corner of the screen and slide the cursor up until you land on the “Charm” you wish to activate.
For example, if you want to personalize your Metro experience, you can select the Settings Charm and hit Personalize. You can also navigate through Network, Ease of Access, Privacy, Updates, and other general settings with only two clicks instead of opening each sub-program in Control Panel individually.
Again, this takes getting used to, but the end result is a faster overall experience.
While it’s hard to get past all the hate flying around the Internet (especially the angry messages posted by people who have never even tried Windows 8), the fact remains that Microsoft has big changes in store for its flagship product. Windows has been a majority cornerstone operating system for decades, and while the interface originally introduced in Windows 95 has grown on us, perhaps change is inevitable.
Windows 8 is intended to provide a seamless experience from the desktop to your smartphone, with tablets existing as that middle ground between the two. Whether or not Microsoft will succeed or fail with this recent initiative remains to be seen, though perhaps there really is something to Metro worth taking an optimistic look at.
After all, do we really want to continue with the same basic UI that we’ve been using for the past 20 years?
What is your opinion? Does the Metro UI help or hinder your productivity in Windows 8?