There's a lot to like about Windows 8--and a lot that will make you scratch your head. I hit the highlights in BYTE's Windows 8 Consumer Preview review, but the new operating system is too big to cover in one review. This time let's drill down a bit and take a closer look at Windows 8's lock, login, and Start Menu screens. Each are completely redesigned. They also make a large contribution to Windows 8's new Metro user interface.
The lock screen is completely new. The icons at the bottom of the screen, in the Metro apps notification area, change as system events trigger notifications, in real time.
The login screen has been redesigned, too. The first time you log in, you enter your Windows 8 user account password. After that, you will log into your Windows Live Account. Windows 8 uses Live Account to sync your key account attributes--settings, favorites, etc.--so that any Windows 8 computer you log into will have the same look and feel.
Those familiar with Windows Phone will recognize the new Start Menu and Windows Live Tiles. Each tile is a shortcut to the associated program and is updated with notification information as new or updated data is received by the connected program. For instance, you can see continually updated weather information on the Weather Live Tile.
Getting Metro Apps to run can be a bit of a challenge on older or low-powered equipment, especially if you're using a netbook, or a screen that isn't set up for a resolution of at least 1024 pixels by 768 pixels. Metro App screens are static and not resizable below 1024 x 768, so if your screen is smaller than that and you can't force the resolution change, as I did, you might be out of luck. The Start Menu above is at 1024 x 768. The one below is at 1024 x 600.
If you're looking for the rest of your installed programs, and don't see them in a Live Tile, don't worry. The Start Menu can still get you there. Simply bring up the Start Menu and start typing the name of the application. Windows 8 will search your entire computer, matching all the executables to the characters you've typed. The count of the different matches will be displayed on the categories under the search field.
Related settings can be found by moving your cursor to the lower right corner while the Start Menu is displayed. This gives you access to specific Start Menu settings, help, and screen and volume settings. To access the Metro-styled Control Panel, click More PC settings.
I like the new lock and login screens, and the fact that Windows 8 now synchronizes its experience via your Windows Live account. The latter is going to make moving from one PC to another, even temporarily, a lot smoother and a lot more familiar. I'm not keen on the Start button being replaced by a hot corner. Microsoft has had a Start button on its task bar since Windows 95. Changing this universal computing paradigm might not be the best of ideas.
BYTE technologist Serdar Yegulalp had this to say about Windows 8's new universal toolbar, called Charms: "I suspect on a desktop with multiple monitors they're going to be a lot less easy to work with. Multiple monitor setups often mean the corner or edge of a screen isn't in fact a corner or edge at all, but simply the gap between one display and the next. Proof positive that this is for tablets, not for desktops."
Serdar is right. Multiple monitors as currently implemented in Windows 7 and earlier extend the "edge" of the monitor screen over more than one physical display. This means that you have to move your cursor over to the right-most screen edge of the last monitor in your multi-display setup (or press Windows Key - C) in order to get Charms to display.
The Start Menu itself works very well on tablets, but fails miserably on the desktop. The tiles are touch-computing objects. Yes, you can click on them, but the experience doesn't translate well on non-touch-capable hardware. But I do like what Microsoft did with the Apps screen, and search. It makes finding the document, app or computing element, as well as interacting with your PC, a lot easier. Top marks there.
Come back tomorrow for a mini-tour of Windows 8's Metro UI and Metro Apps.