An Introduction to Metro Style Apps

The next version of Windows (codenamed Windows 8) is designed to build on what is great about Windows 7. It extends the fundamental features of Windows 7 with a new touch-optimized interface. Windows 8 introduces a new Metro style interface, which shows the information important to you, embodies simplicity, and gives you control. The interface is optimized for fluid and intuitive interaction and navigation with either a finger, or a mouse and keyboard. Windows 8 provides a platform to create a new generation of full-screen apps that are based on modern web standards and provide an immersive experience. These Metro style apps are tailored to users’ needs and to the device they run on.

Windows 8 Start Screen

Immersive and Fluid

Your Metro style apps fill the entire screen for an engaging experience and saving you from any distraction. Apps can adapt to a variety of form factors and screen resolutions, and can work on x86, x64, and ARM platforms.

Engaging

Metro style apps engage users with the info they are interested in and the people they care about. Live tiles present activity updates to users at a glance and the Start screen shows off what apps are great at.

Everywhere

Your apps are ready for you on any Windows 8 PC you use. When   you sign in with your connected Microsoft account to a PC running Windows 8, your Metro style apps and settings go with you. You’ll also be signed in to all of the websites you were signed in to.

Work Together

Metro style apps can communicate with each other in Windows 8, making it easier to search, share, and send content between them. So, if you want to send pictures in email, and they’re in different places like Facebook or on your hard drive, you can easily pick and send the ones you want.

Always On

Metro style apps run and stay up to date even when the PC is on standby. When Windows comes out of standby, your apps don’t need time to catch up.

Multitasking

While apps immerse your users in a full screen environment, Windows also makes it possible for them to multitask. The Snapped view allows users to do more than one thing at once while the Filled view allows users to snap one app and keep another app in the fill space.

Disable Metro Interface and Enable Start Menu in Windows 8

I am sure most of you have already read aplenty about Windows 8. In fact, some of you have probably already tried the developer preview, which is available for download from dev.windows.com.

Windows 8 is the most significant release of Microsoft’s venerable operating system since Windows 95. It introduces sweeping changes for both users and developers. For example, Windows 8 does away with the Start menu, and focuses on a touch-first Metro interface. However, changes always tend to be polarizing. I am sure there are some of you who prefer the old interface over Metro. Fortunately, it’s rather simple to disable the Windows 8 features that you don’t like.

As mentioned earlier, Windows 8 replaces the traditional Start menu with a full screen launcher featuring interactive tiles. However, the old Windows 7 style Start menu. is still included. Microsoft has just locked it away. To unlock it you need to make a few simple Registry modifications. Even better, you can use the Start Menu Toggle utility developed by Deviant-Art member Solo-Dev to unlock the Start menu with a single click.

Metro-Controller

If you want, you can get rid of the entire Metro interface with the help of Metro Controller application discovered by IntoWindows. This utility even allows you to disable most of the features introduced in Windows 8. However, you will probably be better off using Windows 7 rather than a crippled version of Windows 8 developer preview, if you don’t find any of the new features useful.

A Sneak Peak at New Windows 8 Security Features

Security has always been a challenge to Microsoft. Being the most used Operating System, Windows also holds the position of being the most targeted Operating System. With Vista and Windows 7, Microsoft had done an excellent job in making  Windows  secure by adding features such as the UAC, Windows Defender, Bit locker drive encryption, etc. Now they have gone one step further to improve upon the existing features and have added new ones as well.

Here are some of the major security improvements in Windows 8.

Windows Secure Boot

Windows Secure Boot is a new feature that protects users against malware that affects the boot path. Common malware affecting boot path include boot loader viruses, boot sector viruses and rootkits that try to load as malware. Windows Secure Boot relies on allowing only signed and validated code to load during the boot process  in order to the secure the boot path. If the code is unsigned, then the Windows Recovery Environment will be started which will try to fix the problem.

This service will require UEFI based Secure Boot feature to function. A point to note is that, even though the code is validated during the boot process, Microsoft has managed to reduce the boot time in Windows 8 significantly.

Improved Windows Defender

Windows Defender is Microsoft’s anti-spyware program that first debuted with Vista. They have now jazzed it up to add protection against all types of malware such as virus, worms, trojans and rootkits. It will be using the same malware engine as that of Microsoft Security Essentials and has a similar interface. The definition updates will be rolled out through the Windows Update as usual. Windows defender will also have a new file system filter to provide real time protection against malware.

Windows_defender

Apart from the new malware engine, Windows Defender will also interface with Windows Secured Boot in real time to check against infection in the boot path.

OS Level Smart Screen Filter

Social Engineering is one of the most dangerous weapons that the hackers have. Even the most tech savvy person can fall prey to these kinds of attacks if proper caution is not taken. IE9 already has a Smart Screen filter which will warn you when you try to visit a page with suspicious behaviour. With Windows 8, Microsoft is implementing this system wide. For this purpose, an application reputation database will be used. When you download a file, a reputation check is triggered and if the application that you downloaded is not rated, a message will be displayed warning the user.

smart_screen

 Microsoft has also made  many changes internally including changes to ASLR, Windows kernel and Windows heap. Stay tuned for more posts on them.

To see a demonstration of the above features, check out the Building Windows 8 blog.

Touch Me! Microsoft gets ready for BUILD

build

We were greeted to Windows 95’s launch by The Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up, a reminder of the new, but now iconic Start button in Windows. Maybe for Windows 8, Microsoft should use The Doors’ Touch Me.

//build/

We have been waiting anxiously for this day to arrive. Tomorrow, after months of keeping a tight leash (leaks notwithstanding) on the progress of or the details about Windows 8, Microsoft will reveal its newest operating system to the world at BUILD.

BUILD is Microsoft’s new developer-focused conference, a combination of PDC (Professional Developers’ Conference) and WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference). It is being held at the Anaheim Convention Center, Anaheim, CA.

What we know

Ever since Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green revealed Windows 8 at All Things D’s D9 conference in June this year, the anticipation and expectations have gone up for what Windows 8 will be. Windows 8 sports a brand new Metro style interface with its big tiles. This interface is obviously suited to touch gestures and along with the upcoming Xbox dashboard update, it completes the trifecta of Metro styled interfaces from phones (Windows Phone 7) where it started, to PCs and TVs. Recently, Microsoft started a new blog dubbed Building Windows 8, where they have revealed (or confirmed rumors regarding):

  • Support for ARM architecture
  • System requirements for Windows 8 will be the same or less than Windows 7 requirements which means the hundreds of millions of PC’s being used today can be upgraded to Windows 8 without the need for further investment
  • The teamswithin Windows 8, which in some ways confirmed rumors such as existence of Hyper-V in the Windows 8 client and an App Store for Windows.
  • USB 3.0 support
  • New file copy/move/delete experience in Windows Explorer, along with a new conflict resolution user experience
  • Ribbon-ized Windows Explorer
  • Native support for accessing ISO and VHD files
  • Hyper-V in Windows 8 client
  • Extremely fast boot times in Windows 8

From what is explicitly mentioned in the blog and what was demonstrated at D9, we also know that Windows 8 will have two user interfaces. The first being the Metro style, tile-based, interface and the other being the classicWindows 7-style interface. Both these interfaces, Microsoft claims, are an effort to have no compromise. By no compromise, they are implying that just because an interface has touch-first design, does not mean it will not support keyboard and mouse. Microsoft realizes that a large portion of its user base uses Windows in an enterprise where the tile-based, touch-first interface may not be the most optimum. Hence, instead of ditching the past and starting afresh with the new paradigm, Microsoft is now at a stage where it has to explain how the two interfaces will co-exist. This co-existence leads to many more questions, which brings me to my next topic.

Ribbonized Explorer in Windows 8 is Good News [Editorial]

Yesterday, Alex Simons from the program management team of Microsoft Windows shed some light on the planned enhancements for Explorer in Windows 8. I enthusiastically welcomed the new Ribbonized Explorer that Microsoft showed off. Minutes later, I was left scratching my head as negative responses begun pouring in from across the web.


Download

BetaNews compared the new Explorer with an overstuffed refrigerator” and dubbed it as “a maze only navigable by your home’s primary cook, while Laurie Voss concluded that Microsoft UI has officially entered the realm of self-parody. The overwhelming consensus is that the Ribbon for Explorer is a bad idea as its overly complicated, and plain unnecessary. Of course, my personal opinion is drastically different. I will try to tackle some of the most common complaints and offer my perspective in this op-ed.

Windows-8-Explorer-Ribbon-UI

It’s Useless: This argument couldn’t be any further from the truth. The tabbed interface makes it possible to expose a multitude of features in the GUI, without overburdening a novice user. Here are some of the neat little things that will be possible with the new Explorer:

  • Compressing multiple files into a single zip file and emailing it with a couple of clicks.
  • Single click sharing of files with networked users.
  • Contextual searching that is both simple and powerful.
  • Enhanced and simplified keyboard navigation.

The Ribbon interface also makes several nifty existing features more accessible and discoverable. Here’s a very brief list of stuff that’s easier to do with Windows 8.

  • View hidden files and folders with a single click.
  • Launch command prompt in admin mode directly from the Explorer.
  • Rollback documents to a previous version with a couple of clicks.

Some of the buttons such as Copy, Paste, and Delete are redundant as most users perform these operations through context-menu or keyboard shortcuts. However, not including them also would have been quite controversial as they do represent the most commonly performed tasks by a user. Hence, even though almost everyone other than novices wouldn’t find these buttons of much use, it makes sense to feature them prominently. Microsoft also probably went overboard with the various selection options. However, on the whole, the Ribbon UI adds plenty of value to the Explorer.

New Windows 8 Video Demonstrates a Significantly Enhanced Explorer

Thanks to the numerous leaked Windows 8 builds and Microsoft’s demo at D9, we already have a fair bit of idea regarding what to expect in Windows 8. We know that Windows 8 will feature a new Metro inspired full-screen interface, ribbon interface for Windows explorer, new touchscreen gestures, pattern logon, enhanced task manager, in-built PDF reader and webcam apps, and an app store. However, there is still a lot that Microsoft has managed to keep under wraps.

A few minutes back, Microsoft published a new video to demonstrate the enhanced new Explorer that will be shipped with Windows 8. We already knew that Microsoft will be using the Ribbon UI in the new Explorer. However, the real charm lies in the details.

Windows-8-Explorer-Ribbon-UI

Windows Explorer already includes plenty of nifty little features. However, most of these features are rarely used by users as they are hidden in obscure locations. Microsoft’s telemetry data suggests that the top 10 explorer commands form over 80% of the explorer usage. The new Ribbon interface will put these commonly used functionalities front and center. At the same time, the Microsoft is also attempting to reveal lesser known features through tabs in the Ribbon UI. Check out the video embedded below to see the new Explorer in action.


Download

At first glance the Windows 8 explorer seems to offer the perfect blend of simplicity and power. Advanced users will appreciate features like copy path, launch Command Prompt in Administrator mode, and context aware searching. However, the simple and logical organization of all of these features into tabs will ensure that novices aren’t scared away.

Windows Everywhere Just Doesn’t Seem Right

Yes, I would  like Windows Everywhere too on my phone, PC, and TV. Developers too. So will Microsoft. Although, I have my share of doubts. I think there are three tenants of the integrated vision: Brand, Technology, and Ecosystem. Let’s explore these in detail.

Windows

Brand

Make a cut on any of the old guard folks at Redmond HQ, and he will bleed Windows. (Please do not try this literally. Culpable homicide is an offence.) I’m sure Nilay Patel at This is my next knows what he’s saying when he talks about the end of Windows brand. Even if it is on the table, I’m not very sure this would happen. Microsoft may pursue two brands Windows for the operating system and Xbox for services. The recent indication of Zune service to be rebranded Xbox Music suggests the same. Although as of now, no definite name has been announced for Windows 8, but a strong push for the Windows Phone branding would mean that  Microsoft would not dump Windows’ easily. Along with Apple, Coca Cola, and the like, it is one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

Technology

This is primary reason that most believe in the vision of Windows Everywhere. Microsoft has demoed and announced that Windows 8 would run on system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures. This isn’t possible yet, and hence Windows Embedded was the platform for devices like PoS and set-top boxes, and formed the core for Windows Phone. Xbox 360 is a different deal altogether. In technical theory, all devices can then run Windows with a layer of customization on the top. Let’s see if that happens, and if the long-standing investment in Windows Embedded space and the legacy systems in place are pushed aside.

However, there is a technically fallacy to this vision as well. Even if the platform across devices would be same, application development can’t be unified. Code once, run everywhere does not work in practice. Each device has its strengths and weaknesses. An app which consumes too much data is okay on my work PC connected to DSL, but would not work for my phone with a metered data plan. Network traffic, screen estate, battery constraints, and other factors define app preference on diverse devices apart from the usage scenarios. Consider this: the iTunes app store serves both iPad and iPhone, but several publishers offer different editions of their apps for the two. Ask a Silverlight developer if developing for Windows Phone 7 devices and a Web experience is similar. Even with the HTML5 enthusiasm around, a Web service would prefer to develop a mobile Web site separately.

Ecosystem

While Windows 8 is expected to have an application marketplace, it may well be integrated with the Windows Phone Marketplace and the Xbox Live Marketplace.   A unified application marketplace makes all sense for ISVs and consumers.

For hardware manufacturers and OEM partners, an integrated platform streamlines innovation. Working on a single platform for phones, tablet computers, and PCs, makes it easy in research and product development.

Social Network Integration in Windows Makes Sense

Click a photo on your Windows Phone 7 device and with a tap you can share it with your Facebook friends or save it to Windows Live SkyDrive. In the People hub, check out updates of your friends on Facebook and Windows Live. In the upcoming release, Twitter will also be integrated natively  within the Windows Phone platform.

Clearly, the need to integrate social networking activity is a key design point in Windows Phone 7, and in most other mobile platforms and devices. This gives me a random thought, “Would a  stronger social network integration within Windows, maybe in Windows 8, make sense?”

social-networking

Imagine video from your laptop’s integrated webcam streaming live on Qik. Imagine photos from your Facebook or Flickr friends and their updates displaying on the desktop dynamically like Active Desktop in Windows XP. Imagine a Twitter mention notification coming to you as a traditional balloon notification onTaskbar. Of course, all this is possible with various applications on the desktop today. Windows has the biggest developer ecosystem, fuelled by the humongous number of users. Native functionality will make it seamless, and allow optimization of network and processor usage as well.

There can be two arguments to such functionality. These features might be overkill, might hamper productivity, and may not be preferred on enterprise desktops. Secondly, with this always on’ kind of social activity, security and privacy are of paramount importance.

Windows 8 attempts to come close, but with the underpinning of applications. Live Tiles on the redesigned Start screen on Windows 8 show constant updates from applications like weather information, social network updates, or unread email. Applets on the Start screen are programmed in HTML5 and JavaScript, and are essentially web pages. With the new Start screen, one-click access to social networks could be possible without firing up any application.

Although, the early previews of Windows 8 and the Start screen are impressive, lets see how it evolves over the traditional Windows approach. Also, Windows Live suite of applications are critical bridges between Windows and Windows Live web services and other social networks, and their next iteration will be something to look forward to.

Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper Heals Virus Infected Systems

Windows-System-SweeperMicrosoft has quietly released a new security tool called Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper. The product is currently in beta, and is meant to complement Microsoft Security Essentials, which by itself is an excellent antivirus software.

Microsoft has never been good at naming things, and Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper only reinforces that fact. However, Microsoft does have a reputation of developing stellar Windows applications. According to most third party tests, Microsoft Security Essentials is as good as (or even better than) most other antimalware software available in the market. System Sweeper could turn out to be another extremely handy tool from the software giant.

Microsoft-System-Sweeper

System Sweeper creates a bootable rescue disk that can be used for scanning systems without booting into Windows. This can be helpful in getting rid of hard to remove malware, or detecting advanced rootkits. It also makes it possible to run a scan even when Windows has been rendered unusable by malware infections.

System Sweeper is available in both 32 bit and 64 bit flavors, and supports Windows XP (SP3), Vista and 7. It is capable of creating bootable CDs, DVDs, and USB devices. The latest definitions are downloaded from the web; hence, an internet connection is required for creating the bootable image.

Microsoft-System-Sweeper-Create-Rescue-Disk

Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper isn’t a revolutionary product. Most other antivirus vendors have been offering system rescue disks for a long time. However, it’s nice to see Microsoft stepping up its game, and getting serious about offering a comprehensive set of tools for tackling malware infections.

[ Download Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper ]

Thumbnail via OpenClipArt