Friday, March 2, 2012

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Start Menu brouhaha

Much has been made about the removal of the Start Menu from the upcoming Windows 8 and the new Metro desktop. Many who got used to pressing the Start Button and navigating around the pop-up menu with a keyboard controls or mouse are lamenting the loss of this feature. I have used the Developer Preview a few months back and have been on the Consumer Preview for a day on a laptop with using the touch pad and not a mouse. I really do understand is different, but not necessarily harder to use, subject to a few caveats.

Windows now starts up with a lock screen, which probably should be removed from a desktop. It really just make sense to maintain the lock screen on a PC or laptop. Even if you are trying to maintain uniformity of the interface among devices, I do think the absence of the lock screen would confuse anybody. It is a small matter and there are ways to disable it.

So after you boot up your PC and login to your Microsoft account this is what you will see. 

This is your new start menu which you can customize by adding tiles, which are basically icons or widgets depending on the application they are linked too. If you press the Windows Key from anywhere you go back here.

You can navigate around this screen by touch, mouse or even using your keyboard arrow keys and enter to activate. Nothing really hard about it. 

There is a hot zone on the on the top left of the screen where you can place a finger or a mouse pointer followed by a downward motion to reveal all open applications. 

You can also do it the old familiar way via keyboard by pressing Alt-Tab.

If you ask me, the real issues are the way the All Applications menu is buried away in a pop-up panel on the button. Using the keyboard I need to right click on an empty portion of the page to bring it up. A simply All Applications button or tile would make it easier.

Bringing up the the menu to shutdown means is activating a hot zone on the top or bottom right of the screen and selecting settings.

A power  button on the Start screen or a Power tile would make it easier to access.

I am pretty much operating system agnostic, and on single day may go from a Linux PC to a Max OS X device and a Windows powered machine on the same day. While there are complaints about the change, it really is not a change for many.

While I keep may desktop pretty clean with a few icons in quick launchers, most people I see using Windows have a desktop crammed with shortcuts, files and folders. If you are that type of user, than the new Metro style interface will work for you, in a more elegant and informative manner.  

If you are a "power user", keyboard navigation works fine on Windows 8. It is pretty easy to get around the new system. What was more important to me is that it is fast and stable. Running it on a laptop with an Intel Core2 Duo T7100, 1 GB of RAM and an old 80 GB 5400 rpm hard drive, I am impressed at how fast and snappy this new operating system is. Ironically, it runs faster than my Linux installs which I use on this laptop since it had mediocre specifications.

There will be complaints. This will be the most major change in the Windows interface since Windows 95. A few years down the road, what Microsoft is counting on, is that you will being happy using the same apps on your Windows phone, tablets and desktop, on a single unified interface. I think they are probably right.

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