Today our Senior Windows Correspondent, Drew gives is the low down based on a recent video released by Microsoft.
Windows 8 Lock Screen
The Windows 8 lock screen isn’t going to be seen by many more users than the Windows 7 lock screen is. Essentially, the lock screen appears when the computer wakes from sleep, when it wakes from the lid being closed, or when the users manually locks the computer if the user is going away for a while and doesn’t want passerby to see or mess with the computer in that time. But until Windows 8, the lock screen was simply a password-protected barrier leading back to the desktop.
In Windows 8, the lock screen is inheriting the feature set of the lock screen from Windows Phone. It will show a user-customized image, the date and time, and beneath the large print of the date and time, it will show small icons with numbers next to them representing to the user what was missed while he or she was getting a coffee refill. It will show a small mail icon and a number next to it showing how many emails have come in since the lock screen was engaged. This same formula applies to things like instant messages, missed voice or video calls, and generally, other forms of social media you may care to know that you have missed. It’s nice to see some added functionality, and to have those icons as guides for what you need to do once you sit back down.
Windows Phone also lends the developers the luxury of live tiles which Microsoft has re-appropriated onto what they are calling the Start screen. Live tiles are like widgets that also serve the function of icons. For example, the live tile that represents the calendar applications shows the date and the next appointment (be it that same day or the next day). It is meant to provide an at a glance view of the calendar, perhaps saving you the trouble of having to actually open the calendar application. However, you can open the full application by clicking the live tile.
The presenter of the video didn’t go into great depth on the tiles as tiles, instead he used them to jump into the applications. I was able to extrapolate some information from the live tiles by pausing the high definition video and looking them over. Having experience with Windows Phone, I have a general idea of how Microsoft expects these to work.
The above-mentioned calendar live tile appears just as it does on Windows Phone and as I explained above. New tiles included an email tile that included a three-line preview of your most recent message; it’s worth as a tile is questionable. A third-party Twitter application was running with a live tile and the tile showed the avatar of the user as well as the user’s most recent status update. Again, it would be better to show a number next to the tile to see how many new tweets have appeared since the last view, but that is up to the third-party developer, not Microsoft. There was a tile that showed live stock feeds; if you are in the market for that sort of information, I imagine it would be useful to see your stocks at a glance. A useful-looking weather live tile was present which I always find handy in that at a glance situation. Finally, there was an RSS reader that had a live tile showing the most recent article title and the accompanying image.
It’s important to note that all of these tiles lead into full-fledged applications. The weather tile leads into an application that shows a 7-day forecast. The RSS reader leads into an application with all of your feeds in one place that looks very well thought out. The live tile is just an icon for these application, only a more useful icon.
Navigating new terrain
This panoramic view of tiles that lead into full-screen applications is a drastic departure from an operating system that has depended on a bottom-located toolbar and start button since 1995. But this shouldn’t be considered a complete departure from the old way; in typical Microsoft fashion, this is going to be a long and gentle (in my opinion, it’s probably going to be too long) transition. One of the live tiles you see on the Start screen is Desktop. This icon will take you back to the traditional Windows 7 desktop. There is also a tile for Windows Explorer, the file manager. So these things haven’t been pushed out of the new interface. Older applications, not designed for the big, touch-oriented Start screen still run and look the same as they have in previous versions of Windows.
But what is important is learning to navigate the Start screen environment. It has a new set of rules that could involve a bit of a learning curve for those that aren’t adept at switching desktops often. Microsoft has put all of the functions of the Start screen into the left and right sides of the screen.
Reach off to the right side of the screen and you can pull out a small bar with the options Search, Start, Settings, Connect. From the video, these functions aren’t clearly designed. Only Start is shown; it will take you out of your existing application and back to the Start home screen full of live tiles. The others we can only speculate about now.
Reach off to the left side of the screen and you pull out the applications that are open. This is the form of multitasking in Windows 8. From the video, it is very unclear how this works. It seems as if you are grabbing randomly from the applications you have open; if there is any rhyme or reason to it, it is not apparent in the video.
A final feature worth mentioning is the docking of applications. If you have Internet Explorer and a video playing at the same time, for example, you can grab Internet Explorer and dock it to the left 65% of your screen and let your video remain in the other 35%. This would be great for larger screens where you want to keep a handful of applications in your view all at once.
All I can say right now is that I’ve watched the video a few times, paused it several more times, and used my combined might and knowledge of Microsoft to extrapolate as much as I can without speculating too much. It’s interesting to know that this all started with the Zune HD which was the inspiration for the Windows Phone interface which is now the inspiration for the Windows 8 interface. But Windows 8 is still over a year from release, and I’m sure we’ll see more before then. Microsoft has confirmed that there will be a public beta, so eventually everyone will have a chance to use it or throw it into a virtual machine. As some say, KDE does Microsoft better than Microsoft, so at least they have some new material to work with now than they’ve had since Windows 7 has slowed down.