First Looks: Windows 8 Metro Interface

Metro, the new Windows 8 interface, is causing an equal measure of excitement and consternation across the Web. The new tablet-style interface that uses tiles to launch your favorite applications — including the old familiar desktop — will be unfamiliar territory for many people.

If you’re planning to upgrade to Windows 8, there’s no getting around Metro, and you’ll need to train your employees how to work with it. In this column, we’ll take a close look at how the Metro interface works, what makes it so different, and we’ll give you 12 Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts, too.

Welcome to Metro

Metro is the first thing you see when you launch Windows 8; you can’t by-pass it. Even the desktop, where you will launch most of your small business software, is just another Metro application. Metro is designed for tablets, and it will be great when — on touch-screen devices — you can flick and pinch and tap your finger to get places with it.

Metro is optimized for touch screens, so for use on an office desktop PC without a touch screen you’ll navigate the old-fashioned way — with a mouse. Luckily, the new Windows 8 Consumer Preview version includes some small but significant improvements over the Developer Preview that we first covered in our story Windows 8: First Looks for Small Business.

New Navigation Options

One early complaint about Windows 8 was the absence of the Start menu. It isn’t back per se, but Windows 8 now includes a small fly-out image that you can click to return to Start — you’ll find it in the bottom left corner of the screen.

How to access Windows 8 Metro Start function

Figure 1: A small Start window appears when you hover over the bottom- left corner of the Windows 8 screen.

In fact, the corners of your screen are hot spots in Metro. Mouse over the top-left corner of the screen to see the most recently used app, and click on it to launch it. You can also move down from there to reveal a task-switching panel where you can scroll through all your currently open apps and click one to return to it. The bottom-right and top-right corners of the screen are hot spots for launching the Charms: icons that take you to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings.

The Windows 8 Metro Task panel

Figure 2: You can drag a narrow task-switching panel down from the top-left corner of the screen.

Technically the apps run full-screen size, and you can’t size them down. This might be fine for a tablet screen, but on a 24-inch monitor it will look a little silly. Fortunately, you can now have two apps open side-by-side using the new Snap feature.

To use Snap, open both apps so they’re running, or open an app and the desktop application for example, and then view one of them on the screen. Display the second app using the thumbnail in the top-left of the screen, and then drag it onto the screen.

This is not an intuitive process by any means, but once you’ve done it a few times it is easy to do. You can also right-click an app in the task-switching panel and choose Snap Left or Snap Right. When you have two apps snapped on the screen, one will be slim and the other will be larger. However you should note that this Snap feature is only available if the screen is large enough to accommodate both apps –otherwise it doesn’t work.

Windows 8 metro Snap feature.

Figure 3: You can snap two apps — or an app and the desktop — so they share the monitor.

You can also close apps now — you couldn’t in the Developer Preview version. Lots of people really struggled with the concept of leaving applications open and allowing the operating system to close them if necessary to free resources.

In the current Consumer Preview version, when you hover your mouse over the very top of the screen the cursor changes into a hand. You can then click and drag the application off the screen to close it. You can also right-click an app in the task-switching panel and choose Close to close it.

You can zoom in and out of the start screen a number of ways. You can use the Zoom icon in the bottom-right of the screen; click once to zoom out and again to zoom in. You can also hold down the Control key as you zoom with the scroll wheel of the mouse, or Control + – and Control + + work too.

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