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Windows 8 drops Aero Glass

Windows 8 will signal a move away from the transparent UI of Windows Vista and 7 to a design based on their new “clean and crisp” design direction.

Jensen Harris from the Windows 8 team said that the new design was “chromeless” on the Building Windows blog and:

Gone are the glass and reflections. We squared off the edges of windows and the taskbar. We removed all the glows and gradients found on buttons within the chrome. We made the appearance of windows crisper by removing unnecessary shadows and transparency. The default window chrome is white, creating an airy and premium look.

The new look aims to concentrate focus on the apps. The team are also focussing on the touch user interface. Harris said “we resisted the temptation to make people choose between using mouse and keyboard or touch”.

The Building Windows blog post includes an interesting look-back at the past user interfaces of Windows since Windows 1.

Microsoft Releases Windows 8 Consumer Preview

The Windows team have released a landmark version of Windows 8 in a new downloadable Windows 8 Consumer Preview, suitable for daily use to test out the upcoming iteration of Windows.

Differences from the developer release include “over 100,000 code changes” according to Steven Sinofsky on the Windows 8 blog. The changes from this release includes the opening of the Windows Store for new apps, cloud file storage integration and a new Internet Explorer 10 preview. Sinofsky said “today’s Consumer Preview is focused on a broader audience, and along with improvements to the WinRT APIs based on developer feedback, we are introducing the full user experience, the Windows Store for apps, and early previews of some first- and third-party apps”.

Grant George, vice president of Windows Test, announced lightweight preliminary system specifications for the preview of :

  • 1 GHz or faster processor
  • 1 GB RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Full specifications are available on the Windows blog.

Microsoft Previews ‘Windows Store’ for Metro Apps

Windows Store, previously announced in September 2011, has been previewed today with details on inner-workings released for developers in the new Windows Store blog. The Windows Store will distribute “metro-style” apps, which are vetted by Microsoft’s certification policies.

Ted Dworkin, Partner Program Manager for Windows Store, said “we use minimal chrome … and complement the apps with a series of way-finding and promotion mechanisms—search, category browse, ranking lists, editorial curation”. The Windows Store will be indexed by search engines, such as Bing, which point to a internet listing, similar to the web version of App Store, and tied in Internet Explorer 10 which will display an app button on website that have produced a metro-style app.

Developers are able to select their advertising platform, including from third parties. The individual registration fee will be $49 and $99 for companies. The revenue share will be 70% until it reaches $25,000 in revenue when the share changes to 80%. The move undercuts Apple who offer 70% revenue sharing in the iOS Developer Program. Dworkin said “we expect an entirely new scale of economic opportunity to be realized for app developers”.

Windows Store will “reach customers with free and paid apps in 231 markets worldwide”, said Dworkin. The store will support more than 100 languages and the market will be localized to the market. Dworkin added that RenRen, a Chinese social network, “created a rich, Metro style app in XAML and C#”.

IT administrators will be able to control what employees see and install using Group Policy and deploy apps to all computers.

Microsoft has announced a Windows 8 First Apps competition to be one of the first eight apps to be in Windows Store

Windows 8 Includes Simplified Task Manager

Windows 8 will include a redesigned task manager, that on default view will simply display program names and the “end process” button. New features include user-friendly process names, grouping, heatmaps to visualize performance of processes as well as the user interface improvements.

In terms of simplification gone are the services, performance, networking and users tabs and in is a simple list of processes with a button to end processes. Microsoft research showed that the other tabs were only used 15% of the time. The notification to confirm that you wish to end processes was also removed, meaning the job is done in one click. Also, users will no longer see the cryptic process names such as igfxpers.exe (that’s the Intel Common User Interface Module), these are replaced with a user-friendly name that is often the title of the application.

However, one of the goals of the new task manager was to not remove features.  “explicitly set a goal to not remove functionality, but rather to augment, enhance, and improve” said Ryan Haveson, a group program manager, in a post on the Building Windows 8 blog.

The new task manager with its simplified look doesn’t forget power users. Haveson said “we know from many third-party tools (or tools like Sysinternals Process Explorer [Microsoft acquired Sysinternals in 2006]) there are many things we could add to Task Manager for power users”. Microsoft have hidden these features under a “more details” view which brings up a redesigned tab interface.

In the “more details” view, processes are grouped by applications, background and Windows processes. CPU, memory and the new categories of network and disk counters are included on the same page with a heatmap visualization which allows users to identify which processes are hogging memory.

Users of Process Explorer will be familiar with the feature which allows searching for a process on the internet, this has been brought over to let power users quickly research what processes are running on the computer.

To get statistics to help redesign task manager, Microsoft combined information from the Windows Feedback Process, research lab observation and customer interviews. Haveson said the task manager was “a unique opportunity for user experience designers and researchers working together with technical program managers and engineers to create a clean, organized, and efficient design.”

Windows 8 To Include Sign-In with Windows Live Accounts

Windows 8 will include an optional sign-in using Windows Live which will sync user settings, customization options, Metro-style apps, store passwords to other websites and files stored online using Windows Live, according to the latest Building Windows 8 post.

Users don’t necessarily have to sign-up to the Windows Live service to create a new account as the service is able to use your own email provider address as the username to sign-in. Katie Frigon, Microsoft Program Manager for the “You-Centered Experience team”, said “the someone@example.com address is just a convenient way of identifying you, since most Internet users these days have email addresses”.

By allowing the Metro-style apps to be kept in sync, users will only have to buy an app once to use it across their devices such as tablets or desktop computers and when using public computers. Frigon saying “you can pick up on the same page of a book, the same level of a game, or the same place in the movie you were watching as you switch between your Windows 8 PCs.”

All services which connect to the Windows Live ID, which Microsoft say will include apps and websites, will not require further authentication. However, the automatically authenticated apps will not get further access to personal data unless allowed.

Passwords can be reset using the Windows Live account and when accounts are compromised, accounts will have features limited. “First, we do not roam data over WWAN by default. Second, all user data is encrypted on the client before it is sent to the cloud” said Frigon, in relation to securing data.

Statistics released on Building Windows 8 showed that shared PC usage occurs in 72% of desktops and 49% of laptop. They also found that 25% of people shared one account and 35% had one account for each user.