What’s New in Windows 8?
If you’re a typical computer user, you may not care what Microsoft thinks about smartphones and tablets. What interests you is how you do all the things you do on your home or work PC.
To that end, the changes to Windows 8 are bound to generate some controversy. They’re not minor changes; Windows 8 will force you to rethink just about everything you do on your personal computer.
Here is just a short list of what’s new or changed in Windows 8:
- Metro user interface. Forget the traditional Windows desktop, with its icons and Start menu; when you boot up a Windows 8 computer, you’ll now see Microsoft’s Metro interface. Metro consists of a series of live tiles, each tile representing a separate app or program. The Start screen, shown in Figure 1, is essentially the “home” desktop, but you can create multiple screens with different sets of tiles, just as you do with multiple screens on an iPhone, and scroll left or right through the screens as necessary. While Metro will probably require a steep learning curve, once you get to know it the tile approach is actually a little more intuitive than the traditional Windows desktop. (Don’t despair, however; the traditional desktop – or at least Windows 8’s version of such – is still there. You just have to click or tap your way through Metro to get to it.)
- Touch first. The Metro interface comes from Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s operating system for smartphones. As such, many operations are optimized for touch-screen use. (Microsoft calls this “touch first” operation.) There are lots of unique gestures you can use to perform various activities, such as pinching the Start screen to view display all the tile screens in condensed mode (it’s called “semantic zoom”), or swiping in and down from the left side of the screen to view all running apps. With Windows 8, it’s all about tapping and pinching instead of clicking and dragging. (If you don’t have a touch-screen computer – and who does? – most operations can still be done with a mouse.)
- No Start button or taskbar. The most-clicked parts of the current Windows desktop are the Start button and the taskbar, where all your applications can be found. In Windows 8, however, there’s no Start button, Start menu, or taskbar; all you get is that tiled Start screen we discussed previously. There’s no one go-to place where all your apps are organized, just a series of tiled screens. Definitely a different approach to app and file organization.
- Apps and the Windows Store. When you think of Windows 8, think smartphones and their apps. To that end, Windows 8 lets you run all manner of these small apps, some of them as live tiles on the desktop. Instead of installing big and expensive computer programs, you download small and inexpensive apps from Microsoft’s Windows Store, shown in Figure 2. Microsoft promises apps from its own developers and from numerous third-party developers. (And you can still run traditional software programs on that hidden Windows 8 desktop, if you so wish.)
- Cloud computing. Many of these Windows 8 apps work via the cloud – that is, they’re web-based instead of device-based. In fact, Windows 8 fully embraces cloud computing, to the extent of creating a personalized Metro experience that you can access from any Windows 8 device, just by signing into the cloud.
- Internet Explorer 10. Perhaps the best example of a Windows 8 app is the new version of Microsoft’s web browser. As you can see in Figure 3, Internet Explorer 10 looks and works much different than previous versions, with the address bar on the bottom and tiles for each open tab along the top. It’s actually pretty neat, once you get used to it.
Figure 1 The Start screen of Windows 8’s Metro interface.
Figure 2 Browsing for Windows 8 apps in the Windows Store.
Figure 3 The new Internet Explorer 10 browser in Windows 8.
That’s a lot of changes. If you decide to shift to Windows 8, you’ll have to learn a completely new way of doing things – which isn’t necessarily bad, but it is different.