The next version of the Windows operating system will mark a drastic departure from fundamentals that Windows users have been familiar with since about 1995.
Windows 8 will give users a new core interface and design standards by including the Metro interface, a design spec initially deployed to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 system, to its main screen. Instead of icons sitting on a desktop, applications purchased through Microsoft’s upcoming online store as well as some system-level programs will appear in an easily arrangeable array of tiles. It’s very reminiscent of the manner in which organization is done on a device like the iPad.
Windows 8 is a rather daunting advancement for PC users, and even to a reasonably experiences Windows 7 user, there might be a bit too much experimenting required for a firm grasp on the operating system is apparent. Tablet users might enjoy the gestures that Microsoft have developed for the system software, but there are no hints to what these operations are right out of the box, per se.
Ultimately, the interface has been redesigned for information efficiency, rethought for the always-connected nature of the PC, and reorganized to simplify common tasks using the software. When this modernized vision of Windows is combined with how app development has evolved, a significant new battleground emerges: the Windows 8 Start menu.
Seeing the Start menu in action makes the design decisions of the Metro interface clear: information is the new icon. A nice-looking sprite that represents a program does nothing but identify itself. Windows 8 allows for the entire tile space to be used to not only identify an application, but quickly convey a summary of relevant information.
Comparatively, a standard Apple motif allows for icons to have overlays with pretty universal numerical indicators which simply note how many notifications the app have for the user to review.
With its focus on displaying information, requests can be made to services like Facebook to get updates on the latest news in your feed directly on the tile itself, serving to alert the user that something has changed and needs the user’s attention–a call to action that entices the user to check his social responsibilities to respond to a message or notification on the service.
Social networking apps, in particular, might have to fight to do some heavy fighting and innovating to succeed with staying on the first page of the Start menu. Simply pulling details to publish on the tile from a timeline or a news feed might be standard fare, in the new Windows environment.
The operating system seems to be, at heart, designed for some manner of tablet deployment. Menus and toolbars in integral applications such as Internet Explorer and Mail applications are hidden in the top and bottom edges of the screen, requiring a swipe from the edge gesture to activate. Otherwise, a user might not know they were there.
For all of this, Windows 8 still has a ways to go, and many more improvements will be made to the system as time edges closer to its intended release date, most likely calendar Q3 2012.