Having used Windows 8 since its release about a month ago, I am giving it the thumbs up from a user’s perspective – me being a user who would spends most of my time in the desktop rather than the Modern UI (aka Metro). Here’s why:
No Start Button
Initially, I thought that I’d miss the start button, and at first, I felt a bit lost without it. But now I don’t miss it at all. I find that the Start Screen is far easier to navigate than the Start Menu was. And it’s quicker. Why?
The action to invoke the Start Screen (which replaces the Start Menu) is still primarily the same – you move your mouse to the bottom left of the screen (in desktop view), and click the left mouse button. Of course, you don’t then just get a menu of your applications; instead you get taken to a new screen full of tiles. It sounds clumsy, but it’s actually quite slick because the application tile is a much larger target than a menu entry. This is primarily because it’s designed with touch screen use in mind, but it makes it less fiddly and more direct for mouse use also. When I jump back on my Windows 7 machine, the Start Menu seems clunky in comparison.
Each user’s experience will be a little different, and getting the best experience requires configuring your start screen to suit your needs, as was the case with the Start Menu.
It’s Faster (mostly)
It just is. Boot time is extremely quick. I installed Windows 8 as an upgrade on a Windows 7 machine, so it wasn’t a fresh install. The boot experience under Windows 7 was starting to get into the painful realm, as tends to happen over time. It was taking minutes before it was usable. I haven’t timed Windows 8, but it takes seconds before it’s usable.
Most other things seem to happen without delay, particularly with desktop applications. For some reason though, I’ve found that starting a number of Modern UI apps seems to take a while. I don’t know if that’s actually the case, but you’re presented with a loading screen which contains an animation before opening. It may be that this loading screen just makes it seem to take longer.
The Modern UI is nice. The live tiles are a good innovation. It’s an interface that’s been built for touchscreen, but has had to avail itself to keyboard and mouse use also. The big fear was that the UI would treat mouse users as second class citizens, but so far, I’m pretty comfortable with it. It does take some getting used to, but then things just start to flow.
With no taskbar in the Modern UI, switching between applications isn’t as direct as under Windows 7. The running applications aren’t visible until you move your mouse to the left edge of the screen. But for those who prefer to auto-hide their task bar anyway, there’s not a big difference.
There’s no window frame (sometimes referred to as chrome) for applications in the Modern UI. That means that the minimise, maximise and close (X) boxes don’t appear in the top right corner. They don’t exist at all outside of the desktop. Closing the active application requires grabbing the top of the application with the mouse (the cursor changes to a grab symbol when in the right place), and dragging it down to the bottom of the screen. It’s almost like grabbing it and throwing it out to close it.
Another new feature in Windows 8 is the Charms Bar. And the key is to remember that it’s there. In short, the Charms Bar is available in both the Modern UI and Desktop, and is a shortcut menu to the Search and Share Features, the Start Screen, Devices, and Settings. These ‘charms’ are mostly context driven, so the Settings charm, for example, will take you to the settings for the current application. So instead of being built into the ‘chrome’ as it is in a desktop application, it’s displayed as an overlay when you move the mouse to the right edge of the screen.
I’ve found myself wondering how to change the settings of a particular Modern UI app at times, before remembering that it’s done via the charms bar.
Windows 8 has the potential to frustrate users who approach it looking for a strict continuation of Windows 7. It’s Windows 7 (the Desktop) wrapped in Windows 8. And Windows 8 brings a new faster, smoother world of features
Microsoft has released the next generation of its web based email interface that will replace Hotmail. It is called Outlook.com.
Hotmail is the largest web-based email system in the world with over 350 million distinct active users.
The new web interface of Outlook.com looks clean and fresh and is more consistent with the new interface of the new Outlook 2013 full client application. Of course the new design is all about touch screen devices.
Anyone with an existing Hotmail account (@hotmail.com, @live.com, @live.com.au, @msn.com, etc.) can very simply and quickly upgrade to the new Outlook.com web interface. Log into Live in the usual way and go to you old Hotmail interface. Drop-down the Options command and choose the command to upgrade to Outlook.com.
Read more on the official blog.
Remember that organisations with Exchange Server, either in-house or via Office 360, have access to the much richer Outlook Web Access that provides all of the features you may be used to with an in-house Outlook client connected to Exchange Server.
Microsoft have released a preview of Office 2013. At first look there is not a lot of difference in the actual functionality within each of the Office programs, Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, PowerPoint and Publisher. However the free preview is of the Office 365 Cloud-centric package.
What is very obvious is the readiness for touch screens and the integration with SkyDrive and other online services.
It is extremely easy to sign up and install via the Internet, but you need a Live ID. On a business-grade ADSL link it was very fast to install and coexists fine with Office 2010 or 2007. Each account may install Office 2013 on up to 5 devices, and all settings and customisations are carried across to each device.
No versioning, pricing or release dates are yet available, except for the four Office 365 Editions that are available for previewing.
More on this as Microsoft reveal more.
Anyone who buys a new computer with any version of Windows 7 installed during the period 2nd June 2012 to 31st January2013 will be able to purchase Windows 8 Pro, the higher-priced of the two retail editions, for $14.99. The upgrade to Pro will be available after the official launch of Windows 8.
Conditions do apply, including:
· Limit of 5 such upgrades per person
· Offer must be claimed by 28th February 2013 via a Microsoft web site.
Users of Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 on machines purchased before 2nd June will be able to download an upgrade from the Microsoft site for $39.99.
Hot on the heels of their Surface tablet announcement, Microsoft has also shown a preview of Windows Phone 8 to developers at a conference in San Francisco.
There will be an update (7.8) to the existing phones that will include some of the features of 8, but that is expected to be the last update to Phone 7 from Microsoft. Users of the Nokia Lumia range of phones can expect other updates from Nokia in the coming weeks.
Four hardware manufacturers are releasing new handsets with this release of Phone 8; Nokia, HTC, Samsung and Huawei (the emerging Chinese communications company).
This promises tight integration and similar user experience across the range of platforms: phones, tablets, netbooks, laptops and desktops.
Phone 8 will support removable storage in the form of microSD cards, Internet Explorer 10 web browser, NFC (Near Field Communications) and a new wallet feature.
The only information about timing is that it will be available before the end of the calendar year.
The number of apps for the Windows Phone now exceeds 100,000.
Two versions of the Surface have been announced so far.
The first is a 26.9cm (10.6 inch) device running on an NVidia ARM processor (used widely in mobile phones and other tablets) and with Windows 8 RT (no desktop applications, only apps).
It weighs 676 grams, is 9.3mm thick and includes a microSD card slot, USB 2.0 port and a micro HDMI video out port. You may choose between 32GB or 64GB of storage. One cover accessory has a built-in keyboard that attaches magnetically, but a more traditional keyboard is also available.
An app version of Office 2012 will be available to run on this device. This model will be released at the same time as Windows 8, in October.
The second model is thicker (13.5mm) and heavier (903 grams) running on an Intel Corei5 processor with either 64 or 128GB of storage. It has a microSDXC slot, USB 3.0 port and a mini Display port. It comes with Windows 8 Pro. It will give us the power of Windows desktop applications in a very portable form factor.
This second model will not be available until 90 days after the release of Windows 8. Both versions include WiFi of course, but there is no word on built-in 3G or 4G mobile phone system access.
Pricing is still to be announced, though Microsoft said that they will be competitive with other similar devices.
Those who have had a Windows Live account for some time have always had 25GB of Cloud Storage space for free in SkyDrive.
Microsoft has recently reduced this to 7GB for free per account. This is still more free space than Google (5GB) and way less expensive than DropBox and similar services.
When you log into your SkyDrive via a web browser you can check your current storage allocation in the bottom-left corner:
If this indicates that you have 7GB of space but you had your Windows Live account before the recent change, just click on the “Manage Storage” link to claim your 25GB back.
If it indicates that you may claim 25GB for free in the first row, just click on it to claim your extra allocation.
Note that the prices for additional space, should it be required, is very reasonably priced.