Windows 8 is coming. Are you ready? Part I

If you follow technology news as much as I do, you’ll know that a day does not go by that an article about Microsoft‘s upcoming Windows 8 stirs debate.  Some articles are positive, others are negative.  It has become painfully obvious that much of the negativity surrounding Windows 8’s new user interface comes from those who fear change. Lets look back at some previous versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

A look back…

Pictured is Windows 3.1, not 1.0

Windows 1.0 was Microsoft’s foray into a graphical user interface for the desktop computer.  This was a drastic change from command line operating systems like MS-DOS.  No longer did you have to memorize and type commands for locating, moving and running programs on your computer.  With Windows, a mouse and on-screen pointer was all you needed to accomplish these same tasks.  Open a window, double-click your application, and get to work.  You could also customize how it looked, but there was a limited amount of options to do so.  For those who were only familiar with command line operating systems, some learning was required on how to use this operating system.

Windows 95 desktop

Then along came Windows 95.  Like previous versions of Windows, applications ran in a box or window.  However, at the bottom of the screen sat a “taskbar”.  The taskbar made switching between open applications extremely easy.  Simply click the tab on the taskbar of the application you wanted to use.  Something more important than the taskbar was also introduced in Windows 95; the Start button.  The Start button is your hub for accessing the settings, documents and programs on your computer.  After clicking on Start, a menu would pop up with various options, including shutting down your computer.  Yes, a bit odd to put that in a place called “Start”, but hey, it had to go somewhere.

Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista and 7 may differ slightly in their appearance, but the user interfaces are similar.  If a Windows 95 user was thrown onto Windows 7, that user would be able to find their way around the operating system.  Like Windows 1.0 and 95, Windows 8 will need a tutorial to help the user find their way around.

Am I supposed to touch the screen or use the mouse? Do either.

Windows 8 Start screen

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s answer to the future of computing which includes tablets also known as  slates.  Microsoft has been involved in tablet computing for a long time, but they have not been very successful in that market.  Perhaps too much emphasis was put on stylus/pen input, but more importantly, they tried putting a desktop operating system on a tablet.  With Windows 8, you have a touch enabled OS that can work with your fingers as well as a mouse.

Once you get past the lock screen on Windows 8, you’re presented with the “Start Screen”.  With Windows 8, we don’t see the elimination of the Start button, as so many bloggers have written, but the transformation of it.  Instead of a button that gives you access to your programs, the user is given a full screen layout of your applications.  Instead of icons, used as shortcuts to your applications, we are presented with square & rectangle tiles, arranged in rows and columns.  Unlike the icons from previous versions of Windows, these tiles display information from within the application.  If it is an email application, you’ll see the number of unread emails and a preview of those unread emails including which email account it is for, the subject and first line of the email.  If it is a news app, you’ll see some recent headlines and possibly some photos from those stories.  A weather application will display the current weather conditions on the tile and possibly a graphical representation as well.

Windows 8’s One Note MX

Another interesting aspect of Windows 8 is that the applications are presented in full screen.  There is no border, no tool bar, no status bar or taskbar.  In other words, a true full screen experience.  If you have ever used Windows Media Center, you will have experienced what that looks like.

If you are using a touch screen device, swiping from the right edge onto the screen will bring up what is called the “Charms Bar” (the time & date as well).  These Charms are used throughout the entire operating system and within applications.  For example, from the Start screen, the Charms allows you  to search your computer or tablet for files, apps, settings, etc..  From within an application, you can search, adjust settings or share what is on-screen.  By the way, if you are using a mouse, slide the cursor into the upper right hand corner of the screen and slide down to access the Charms.

Use the corners with the mouse

To get back to the Start screen in a hurry, slide the cursor into the lower left corner of the screen; basically where the Start button used to be.  As for accessing open applications i.e. multitasking, slide the cursor to the upper left corner of the screen and slide down.  By now, you should have noticed that when you are using a mouse, the corners of the screen are your tickets to operating Windows 8. Swiping in from the sides and top would be the way to do it by touch.  The drawback to using the mouse is the amount of real estate you have to cover to access the basic functions of the operating system.  I’m sure as Windows 8 evolves, Microsoft will make improvements for more efficient use of the mouse.

I miss the Desktop.  DON’T!  It’s still there.

Is the new Start screen a bit intimidating?  Do you need more time to understand the full screen Windows 8 apps?  That’s fine.  The desktop that you come to love in Windows 7 is still in Windows 8, the difference is, it is better!  Almost ALL of your applications that work in Windows 7, will work in Windows 8, but you’ll find that the software is faster.  Windows 8 has eliminated unessential code to give you a streamlined operating system, especially in the desktop mode.

Desktop without and with open applications

How do you get to the desktop?  Tap or click on the tile that says, “Desktop”.

So while there is a lot to learn and love about the new interface in Windows 8, relax and remember the desktop is there as well.

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About Justin M. Salvato

I'm Justin M. Salvato, a semi-tech-savvy guy that uses Microsoft products on a daily basis. I enjoy boxing, vintage computing, Archie comics and reading about tech news & gadgets.
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