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Using the Windows 8 Interface : Taking a Tour of the Windows 8 Interface (part 1)

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3/18/2014 2:12:40 AM

When Microsoft was designing Windows 8, one of their guiding principles was “content before chrome.” That is, Windows 8’s new interface gives top priority to content—apps and app data—and either hides or eliminates chrome—menus, tabs, controls, icons, and so on. That way, when most new users first come face-to-face with the Windows 8 interface, whether it’s the Start screen or a Windows 8 app, they usually don’t have a clue how to proceed. The lack of chrome makes for a pleasing, uncluttered screen, but it also means that you get no clues that tell you how to proceed. The most common scenario we’ve seen is for a new user to click a Start screen tile to open an app (which seems like the obvious thing to do), and then have no idea how to get back to the Start screen. Veteran Windows users try pressing Alt+Tab, but that doesn’t work. Esc? No, sorry. Alt+F4? Ah, that does it!

Let’s begin with a tour of the Windows 8 interface. Figure 1 shows the Windows 8 Start screen. Note that, for technical reasons, we shot this screen at 1,024×768, so the entire Start screen doesn’t quite fit. If you’re running Windows 8 at a higher resolution, your Start screen will not only fit, but will have a much different arrangement.

Image

Figure 1. The Windows 8 Start screen.

The default Start screen has four main features:

Tiles—The rectangles you see each represent an app on your PC, and you click a tile to open that app. With the exception of the Desktop tile (discussed in this list), all the default Start screen tiles represent Windows 8 apps.

Live tiles—Many of the Start screen tiles are “live” in the sense that they display often-updated information instead of the app icon. For example, the Weather tile shows the current weather for your default location; the Mail and Messaging tiles display recent email and instant messages; and the Calendar tile shows your upcoming events.

Desktop—Arguably one of the biggest controversies surrounding Windows 8 is the relegation of the desktop to just another app, represented on the Start screen by the Desktop tile. This is controversial because most Windows users will still use desktop programs most of the time, so getting to the desktop not only requires an extra step, but it’s also harder to work with because the Start button is gone.

User account tile—Clicking this tile gives you access to several account-related tasks (see Figure 2), such as locking your PC, signing out of your account, and switching users.

Image

Figure 2. Click your user account tile for quick access to some account features and commands.

The Start screen certainly demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to content over chrome, because there’s nary a menu, button, or command to be seen. Obviously, however, there’s not much you can do with a computer without such interface elements (just ask any new Windows 8 user!), so where’s the chrome? For the most part, it resides in two hidden interface elements: the app bar and the Charms menu, which we discuss in the next two sections.

 
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