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Windows 8 uncovered: a deep dive into Windows 8

UI, native apps, Windows 8 and hardware, and Windows 8 in the enterprise

Here's our deep dive into the features of Windows 8, with input from key figures atMicrosoft.

Windows 8: Start screen

Using a Windows 8 tablet, Sareen showed the now familar splash screen, replete with live data. He used a picture password to access his device, and showed off several live tiles - email, weather, appointments, photos (featuring images stored locally and in the cloud), news and sports. Each added information to what Sareen described as a 'digital dashboard' without him having to boot an app. He demonstrated what he called 'Semantic zoom', via which a user pinches down to zoom out, via which they can traverse the entire list of apps.

This is not just an optical zoom, as it reconstructs the data in such as way as to be useful to the user. The Start screen offers fast, instant customisation - you can drag and drop apps, users and more as live tiles. And the number of tiles adjusts to make best use of the screen real estate, Sareen said.

Windows 8: controls and search

The Windows 8 browser is, Sareen said: 'fast and fluid just like Start'. Again he said 'there's no 'Chrome'', using Microsoft's internal names for taskbars, add-ons and so forth: 'we think the web is better without Chrome', he said, in what may be a very thinly disguised attack on Google.

Describing Windows 8 Charms, Sareen said they represent a 'promise to customers and developers' that the controls will be the same everywhere. Demonstrating a Slate running Windows 8, he showed how the Start menu is the in the middle of the Charms bar under the users' right thumb, which certainly looks intuitive (to righthanded folk, anyway). Sareen demonstrated other touch controls: in the browser swiping from the top brings up controls, swiping from the bottom brings up controls, and address bar etc.

The Windows 8 Start screen

The Windows 8 browser, Sareen said, is a plugin free experience, with Adobe Flash built-in. He also demoes HTML 5, showing the way that five finger touchpoints can be registered. He also showed the way that recent pages are displayed as tiles, and showed how swiping back and forth replaced back and forward buttons in the Windows 8 browser. Intriguingly, where website editors have split up articles into multiple pages Windows 8 will allow users to swipe through to the next page - or Flip Forward.

Sareen cited the Share icons in the browser Charms as an example of what Microsot calls the 'Windows 8 contract'. By this he means that certain features can be put into all apps, third party or native, and will work in the same way from the same part of the interface. Thus simply adding in the code to share content from any app will mean the same 'Share' icon in the same place, in all apps. Back to the browser users can pin pages to the Start screen, as indeed they can pin aspects of apps. He described the ability to swipe through recently used apps from the left 'like alt-tab for the masses'. In Windows 8 you can pull up a list of recently used apps from the left of the screen, and apps are automatically suspended when you stop using them - you don't have to close apps they will ve automatically suspended. To close them, just swipe downwards.

You can take any app and snap it to the side of the screen by simply grabbing and moving it - the app will also relay itself so that it looks at its best. To this end app devs are given two optimal sizes, Sareen said: 'website' and 'phone'. Sareen demonstrated the native Mail app, showing how if you click an attached document, opens in the 'desktop' app. The desktop is, in effect, a Metro app - it can be snapped to the sides, resized and so on, but legacy apps running in the desktop run in windows in much the same way as they do in Windows 7.

Key to all this, Sareen said, was that Windows 8 is designed to be used by touch, keyboard and mouse - whatever is most appropriate to the task in hand. He said that in certain circumstances nothing beats the power of a keyboard, and that Microsoft was 'not going to design one UI, and force people to use it'. He said that the corners of screen are easy for mouse, which is why the Start 'button' has disappeard, and in order to get to the Start menu you simply mouse to the bottom left. Similarly, for mouse users 'back' is top left, and to get to 'Charms' you have to go to the right and swipe.

Keyboard navigation has been similarly adjusted. To get the 'Weather' app, for instance, you simply type 'weath...' and as you type the options will reduce until the Weather app appears. Meanwhile, page up, page down and so on work as they do now.

You can access search from anywhere, and the results are listed via the icons of the apps in which they appear. Simply click an app to choose results from that application. A search from anywhere combs the entire machine. Similarly, you can access all your files from every app, Sareen said.

He demonstrated using Windows 8 on a Samsung Series 9 laptop. This device doesn't have a touch screen, but does sport a touchpad. Sareen used the pad like a touchscreen, utilising gesture control. He also showed off a desktop system using multimonitor technology on which there were different wallpapers on each display - the taskbar span both displays, is duplicated by default,but can be adjusted to be contextual to what content you have on each screen.

NEXT: Windows 8 for business >>

For more on the changes in Windows 8 and how to use them visit Windows 8 Advisor. For detailed advice on installing Windows 8 Release Preview, read our article: How to install Windows 8.

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