Windows 8′s graphical overhaul is a big leap from the traditional desktop interface that started in Windows 95. In anticipation of tablets becoming mainstream, Microsoft has adopted the Metro interface for its next operating system.
If you’ve never seen Windows 8, let me show you some screenshots below, comparing with Windows7. Some of them are significantly different that those found in Windows 7. If you thought the Aero upgrade of Windows Vista and 7 from Windows XP was radical, then prepare to be amazed (or shocked).
Note that the screen shots below were taken from Windows Developer Preview, a pre-beta release that comes with features that may or may not arrive in the full retail version of Windows 8. Furthermore, a laptop was used to check for new features with the traditional mouse and keyboard as input. Some features may have been different had Win 8 been installed in a different platform such as tablets.
The first major change you will encounter when you boot Windows 8 is the welcome screen. Like the lock screen for Android tablets, the time and date are displayed along with other status indicators such as network and sound. More notifications and status badges for apps can also be added.
As shown previously, the default background image is a mountain range. Unlike the permanent cutesy background we got for Windows 7 , the image can be easily changed via settings or control panel.
In order to log on to a user account, simply click and drag the mouse upwards. Available user accounts are then displayed side by side on a plain greenish background. To improve the rather uninteresting second welcome screen (which I’m hoping Microsoft manages to work on), you can at least change the user portait with your own picture.
With the old Start menu gone, the Search bar remains hidden until you type to search while at the Metro desktop. The new search will find results in apps, settings, and files, or you can limit the scope of searching on a particular app. Results appear instantly to the left as you type.
On the other hand, the old search bar resides in the old Start menu and results depends which locations are included in the search index.
Windows 8 is sporting a new desktop look that it borrowed from Windows Phone. Called the Metro interface, it makes use of interactive tiles instead of lifeless icons. In an attempt to appease those who prefer the traditional keyboard and mouse, the old desktop is still present with just a click of its tile.
The old desktop in Windows 8 visually differs only in its use of a square Start button which lists four menus and displays status indicators when hovered and returns your to Metro desktop when clicked or tapped.
With the classic Start menu gone, I’m having a hard time to navigate to the common programs like Notepad, Sticky Notes, and others without using Search. New Windows users will most likely won’t even know that these programs exist if they won’t be placed elsewhere.
Whereas Windows 8 adopted Metro from WPhone for its new desktop, it has adopted the Ribbon interface — originally found in Microsoft Office 2007 — for its Explorer menus. The title bar now also bears the name of your current location in Explorer.
Different tabs and buttons appear depending on where you are right now. When you are in My Computer, for instance, there are buttons to open the control panel and uninstall or change a program. If you find Ribbon too wasteful of space or simply want to revert to the old menus found in Windows 7, simply click the Minimize Ribbon button near the red Close button.
Windows now have jagged corners with larger title names. Personally, I like the smoother corners and small title text of Windows 7.
Microsoft’s popular Internet browser is also having a complete makeover, yet again optimized for tablet and touch input. The new appearance reminds me of the simplistic style heavily implemented in Google Chrome. However, the new Internet Explorer takes minimalistic design to a whole new level: the whole screen is devoted for the webpage, while tabs, buttons, and the address bar are only shown if needed.
Internet Explorer 9 still resides in the old desktop though, if you find the new design a big reminder of how Microsoft is aggressively adopting touch input while somewhat leaving us keyboard-and-mouse traditionalists in the dust.
The new Control Panel found in the Metro desktop is simpler and does not intimidate the user with a horde of settings. The most significant settings like lock screen and user tile personalization are categorized while you will be directed to the old Control Panel — with exactly the same Windows 7 feel — if you want an even more control of your computer.
The classic Control Panel found in Windows 8 looks exactly like its predecessor.
The task manager has also went a major face lift, now with the option to display only the End Task button and a list of apps and programs currently running or suspended. After all, we mostly launch the task manager just to force close an unresponsive program, right?
Nonetheless, there is a More Details button to see all the technical jargon. Still, the new interface is arguably cleaner and more presentable. Two new tabs are added: App History and Startup for Metro apps that were recently launched and for programs that automatically launch when the computer starts up, respectively.
Blue Screen of Death
That blue screen showing error information that befuddles and scares the average user is gone. In its place is still a blue screen of death but with lighter touch and bundled with a sad smiley face for a charming effect. The error is summarized into one line, which Windows tells you to search on the Internet if you want to know what it is and how it was triggered.
The change is timely, since the classic text-heavy BSOD has been with us since time unknown.
The antispyware software that’s included in Windows 8 is wearing a new guise while still having the same features of its older brother found in Windows 7. The home and scan tabs are now merged into one, while a new tab called Update displays which virus and spyware definition versions you currently have as well as the option to keep them up-to-date.
Tasks and links found in the former Tools tab are now separated into History and Settings.
User Account Control
It seems the User Account Control is set to the highest intervention level, notifying you whenever a program attempts to make changes to Windows and even when you make these changes yourself. While it does provide a safer Windows experience, it can be at times annoying and reminds us of the old Vista days.
And if the UAC decides to intervene, it will now ask for a password even if you are already logged into an administrator account. Maybe adding a password, while more annoying, increases the likelihood of users to read before confirming.
In Windows 7, all you had to do was click Yes to confirm the change. It does however encourage you to ignore the message and simply confirm without hesitation.
The Remote Desktop Connection — a feature in Windows that lets you control a computer remotely from another computer — has been blessed with a Metro app equivalent. The experience when you’re logged into the controlled computer is very similar from previous versions although the Metro app allows a straightforward connection: simply type the PC name and user credentials and you’re in!
An old desktop version is still present with all the settings you can customize for an optimal remote desktop experience.
The new dialog box that appears when you move or copy multiple large files will not only tell you how much time is remaining for the file transfer to complete but also lets you pause the process anytime. This is especially useful if you want to focus on finishing a particular transfer before the others.
When a conflict of filenames is found (in other words, when you’re about to copy a file whose name is also the name of another file in the destination folder), you are given three options: replace, skip, or choose which files to keep in the destination folder.
Choosing which files to keep will open yet another dialog box where you can do said option.
Selecting an operating system during boot was merely black and white before Windows 8. Now, we have a slight improvement.
Aside from the list of OS’s, you can also choose defaults and other options such as refreshing the PC (reset it to factory settings without losing important documents), determining how long before the computer automatically chooses the default OS, and many more.
The on-screen keyboard of Windows 7 was useful for keys that don’t function when pressed on your aging keyboard.
On the other hand, the on-screen keyboard for Windows 8 has become a necessity for the tablet form factor. There are different types available, each best for different positions. For instance, the standard keyboard is ideal when the tablet is placed at an inclined angle.
If you are carrying the tablet with both hands however, you only have two thumbs for controlling the keyboard. It would be very hard to reach the keys at the center. That’s why it’s best to use the thumb keyboard instead.
Windows 7 had a feature to split the screen equally for two windows. While this is still available in Windows 8, the upcoming OS also lets you snap an app or program as a sidebar, taking about a quarter of the screen.
Did the screen shots just caused you to yearn for Windows 8? You’ll have to wait until next year (and I’m not even certain about that). Fortunately, you can do two things about it: either dual boot the upcoming OS’s developer preview build with your main OS or run it virtually using VirtualBox.
If you find another graphically overhauled feature that was imported from Windows 7, don’t hesitate to point it out at the comments.