Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On Windows 8 and why it's not so hard

I downloaded the developer preview of Windows 8.  I didn't like it, mainly because the laptop I loaded it on didn't have the suitable drivers.  I used it a fair bit but said to myself I'd wait and see.  I downloaded the consumer preview too.  It was much better, had more drivers, and felt snappier. It made me start to look forward to the full release.

When the full version of Windows 8 was released I installed it on my laptop and desktop.  I was really very pleased to discover that my desktop had a SLAT capable processor, so I was able to activate Hyper-V as well.  More on that soon.

It didn't take me long to get used to Windows 8 at all.  When I first played with the previews I was initially wondering how it would work for businesses.  How would they deal with the new Start screen?  How would people get past that first hurdle?  If someone was trying to get to the desktop to work, would it get in the way?

Then it hit me.  We still have a start menu.  It has a bunch of 'favourite items' pinned to it. It has shortcuts to the settings menus.  Here's what I mean.

Using Shortcuts

In Windows 7 when you open the Start Menu area you'll see a set of pinned programs at the bottom.  You can pin whatever you want there to speed up your productivity.  In addition you have a set of most used programs that will build up the more you use them.  You can also pin programs to this menu as well.

In Windows 8 you can do the same thing with Apps or Programs - you can pin them to a sideways-scrolling list, and arrange them how you want.  You can also pin programs to the desktop as well.

Using All Programs

 At the bottom of the Start Menu in Windows 7 is "All programs" which will show you a list of everything you have installed (that has created a start menu item).  It gives you the chance to find your program grouped alphabetically.

The same can be done in Windows 8 very easily.

If you right click or swipe down on the start menu you'll see "All apps", and if you select this you will see another sideways-scrolling menu.

The first part of the menu lists all the Apps you have installed, including any you haven't pinned to the start screen.

The second part, on the right ide, lists all the programs you have installed.  This list isn't very big on the above screenshot because it was taken from my Surface RT tablet.  Using these lists you can pin whatever you want to your shortcut screen.

Accessing Settings 

From the Windows 7 start menu you can access a set of settings and options.  The same is possible from the start menu in Windows 8,

Just swipe in from the side or hit Windows + C to access the Charms menu, and select Settings.

From there you can change a number of options (some context sensitive based on what screen is being displayed) and power off the system, but you can also access even more options.


Once I worked out how the old and new systems interacted, a fundamental truth popped into my head:

The Start Screen IS the Start Menu

It is one and the same thing.  Press the Windows key and it appears.  Move your mouse to the bottom left of the screen and it appears  Have it selected and start typing and it will search.  Need to go to the desktop when logging in?  Make "Desktop" the first App, and when you log in hold down Enter and it'll go straight there.  Want to switch straight to the Desktop from anywhere?  Just use Windows+ D.

In summary I realise that many users will still find it hard to adjust, some people hate change, and others will continue to have it in for Windows generally, but for my working practices and general productivity I am finding Windows 8 to be a breeze,

1 comment:

CJ said...

Key to Metros success or failure is this front screen, the tablet view. One issue that Metro gives a user, is its departure from expected user behaviour. That is : In most other operating systems, the user is given context to what they are doing or about to do, by what is current on screen. A typical user interaction starts with one window open, which prompts the user to do some other task. The user then selects the appropriate interface element that performs this task, and the new window opens, and the user continues to work with the new window open.

This expected behaviour is broken by metro. In Windows8 / Windows2012 Server, you have to go to the metro screen to choose your new application, rather than just typing its name in the bottom left hand corner.

In windows 7, the user's contextual cues ( "What was is it I'm meant to do??" ) is staring at them ( for example, that email from bob saying "did you check Clare's Agency figures yet" ) - this window is subtley reminding you that you need to type in "Excel" or Clare in the start menu.

These contextual cues are not present in windows8. In this case, you see the email from Bob. It reminds you that you need to check clare's agency figures. You go to the metro screen : the email is lost. Metro is telling you its 21 degrees. Its telling you Britney Lohan's Just gone to rehab. It pops up a "toast" notification to tell you the Nasdaq is falling and to call your broker. All great, interesting stuff. But wait a minute. Why did I come to the metro screen ? Wasn't I going to do something for Bob ? Staring in vain at the metro tiles, you can't see that original email. The context of why you are back at this screen is lost. You forget about Clare's agency altogether, and phone your broker.

Microsoft are reacting to the tablet UI in an interesting manner, and perhaps it will work. Perhaps the "Generation Y" and Generation 2.Y / Y++ can process all the additional information and still retain enough context to get the original work done without being side tracked.

Perhaps Generation X is confined to the dustbin along with stackable windows - applications that actually run one under the other !? instead of side by side? how 20th century.

Or perhaps everyone will be so sidetracked by the additional notifications and reduced user context, that they'll just not care about work anymore.