The PC Tech Guy's Blog

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A First Look - Windows 8 - Developer Preview

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It has been almost a year ago from the time Microsoft released Windows 7. Only a few weeks ago has the company released their developer version of their newest Windows OS -- this time with a redesigned, tablet-friendly, Start menu. This new user interface is called "Metro," similar to Windows Aero which defined the glassy windows and transitions, along with Flip 3D and other various eye candy. Although Windows Aero was introduced in Windows Vista, Windows 7 added some very useful features, such as Aero Snap. This improvement, along with the redesigned taskbar and jumplists, were to make Windows 7 more tablet-friendly. The new Metro UI in Windows 8 completes what Windows 7 lacks - a completely tablet-friendly design, separate from the traditional desktop, complete with Metro apps - apps designed to run on tablets. (Although they work quite well if you don't have one, either.)

In today's First Look, we will review the primary enhancement that the Windows Developer Preview has to offer - the Metro UI. Although there are at least 300 other enhancements, such as a free, included antivirus program (Windows Defender), this review will not cover such stuff, primarily because these new enhancements are in the works, and are much more likely to change. (Psst: Looking for the download? It's at the bottom of this review.)

The first thing you will notice when you boot up Windows 8 is that you have a lock screen, similar to a smartphone lock screen. Simply drag it up, double click it, or press any key to login.

The Metro UI

The Start Menu

After logging in, you will be presented with the Start menu - yes, that is the new Start menu. If you're looking for the Desktop, simply click it. However, contrary to what most might think, the Desktop code is not loaded until you decide to open the Desktop! If you happen to use Windows 8 on a tablet, you may never use the Desktop - if so, then it isn't loaded, leaving more system resources for the Metro Apps.

After you have opened an app, it may display some extra information about the app upon the next time you open the Start menu. For example, the News app will show various headlines after you have added some feeds to it. Games may tell you about your current progress or awards you have acquired so far.

You can access the Start menu at any time by moving your mouse all the way to the bottom left corner of your screen, from any program. You can also use this to check the time, battery life, network status, and adjust a few settings - for example, clicking the "Settings" submenu brings up options such as volume control, network, notifications, or to shutdown/restart/sleep, all without ever having to remove focus from the current program.

Metro apps

The Metro apps run at full screen, with a splash image a moment before it's opened. Although some of them appear to be similar to regular programs we use, such as Internet Explorer, the Metro version has a much-modified UI. For example, this image below shows the minimal UI elements, displayed at the bottom.

Despite the minimalistic look, this Internet Explorer app has not "lost" any features. (It in fact takes on the settings that can be set in the traditional Internet Explorer.) You can create and switch between tabs via right-clicking. Right-clicking will also show options in all the other apps.

There are two other useful features to note about Metro Apps - for one, you can snap them to the sides of another app (including the desktop). However, it isn't Aero snap, where you would have two windows split in half - instead, one app has more screen real estate, while the other sits on the right side. This can be useful, such as keeping an eye on a news feed or stocks, while doing some work/playing a game.

The Labyrinth and News app, with the News app "snapped" to the right.

To snap an app, simply move and hold your cursor toward the left edge of the screen. If another app is running, a little preview window of it will appear. Then, simply click and drag the app to the left or right of the current app.

The second useful feature is the quick switch - Simply hold the Windows key while pressing the Tab key to quickly switch between apps.


The Metro user interface is extremely easy to use. I personally never thought that Microsoft would have this - they're doing a very good job in making the user experience a much easier, time-saving experience. In addition, the new UI brings the power of Windows to the tablet, with tablet-designed apps. Before, Microsoft attempted to cram tablet features into the Windows desktop - now, it is completely independent of it, allowing for a complete, tablet-friendly experience, without scrapping the power of the Windows operating system.

Want to see for yourself?

The Microsoft Developer Network has provided three different variations of Windows Developer Preview that you may download and use for free. Please see their website for details and downloads.