Windows 8 In-Depth, Part 1: The Metro UI

We’ve taken a first look at Windows 8, but this week, we’ll be going in depth on some of the big, new changes coming in Microsoft’s next version of Windows. Today, we’re looking at the new, spiffy Metro UI.Instead of loading the traditional Windows desktop at startup, you’ll see the new, Windows Phone-like Metro UI. This is by far the biggest change in Windows 8, and can be the most confusing to use at first — especially for desktop users. Here’s how to get around the Metro UI like a pro.

The Lock Screen

The first thing you’ll see when you start up is the lock screen — a simple screen that shows the time, date, Wi-Fi connectivity, battery power (where applicable), and more. Just tap and drag it up to unlock it on a touch device. Desktop users can click and drag up, but that isn’t exactly “natural” — you can also double-click the mouse or tap any key on your keyboard to unlock it. From there, you’ll be taken to the login screen, where you can type in your password to gain access to your system.

By default, it’ll use your regular old Windows password, though you can change this to use a PIN number or a gesture-based password from the Control Panel, which we’ll talk about later. Note that when you first install Windows 8, you can opt to use your Windows Live ID and password to log in instead of a regular local username — this allows you to sync your preferences between Windows 8 machines, which is really nice.

The Home Screen

Next you’ll see the home screen (also known as the new Start menu), complete with tiles that take you to Internet Explorer, your news feeds, games and the new Microsoft App Store. If you’re on a touch device, you can swipe to the right or the left to move through the main menu; if you’re on a desktop machine, you can scroll up and down with the scroll wheel. If you prefer, you can also drag the auto-hiding scrollbar at the bottom of the screen, or use the Page Up and Page Down keys on your keyboard. Tablet users can pinch out to see a zoomed-out view of all the tiles on their home screen.

Any time you install a new app, whether it’s a Metro app or a desktop app, it’ll show up at the end of this Start menu. You can move apps by tapping, holding, and dragging them somewhere else on the screen. You can also right-click on an app’s tile to resize it, uninstall it, or unpin it from the Start menu (touch users should get this menu just by tapping and holding on a tile). Some apps will have other options, like running it as an administrator.

Your user tile in the upper right-hand corner will let you lock and log off your machine, as well as customise your user profile (which we’ll talk about in a minute).

Using Metro Apps

To launch an app, just tap or click on it. When you want to leave an app, just hit the Windows button — think of it as the “Home” button on an iPhone or Android device. Once you’ve left an app, it’ll be suspended, meaning it won’t be sucking up any CPU cycles or making your machine slower. Think of the Metro UI as you’d think of an iPhone, Android or Windows Phone device and less like you would a desktop machine.

Within any app, you can right-click to bring up the “app bar”, which is basically that app’s menu. For example, right-clicking in the Feeds app will let you add feeds, refresh, or remove all your feeds. In Internet Explorer, it brings up the navigation and tab bar.

You can quickly switch between apps by dragging your mouse to the left side of the screen. You’ll see a thumbnail of your most recently used app, and if you click, it’ll open it up. If you want to see other recently used apps, you can scroll up with your mouse’s scroll wheel to see thumbnails of other recent apps. You can also use Win+Tab and Alt+Tab to switch between open apps.

To run two apps side-by-side, touch users can drag the purple bar on the left hand side of the screen to the right. If you’re on a desktop, mouse to the left side of the screen to get that thumbnail, then click and drag it to the right. You’ll be able to prop them up next to each other, and drag the middle bar to resize the two panes. One app will take up most of the screen while the other will be a “sidebar” of sorts; you can’t adjust them to split the screen evenly like you can with Aero Snap on the desktop.

The Search Menu

To search for apps, settings, or files from the Metro UI, just start typing on your keyboard. By default, this will search for apps, though if you want to search for files, you can hit Ctrl+F from the home screen instead. Once the search bar pops up on the right, you can choose what you want to search: apps, settings, files, or within one of your apps (like the App Store, Twitter, or just the internet). Clicking on Apps will also give you an alphabetical listing of your apps, which is a nice touch.

From the search screen, you can once again right-click on an app to pin it to the start menu, or open up an advanced menu that will let you run it as an administrator, among other things.

The Share Menu

From any given app, you can share text, images and other content through Windows 8’s universal Share menu. To bring it up, tap the right side of the screen and swipe to the left. If you’re using a mouse, either hit Win+C or mouse to the bottom-right side of the screen. Hit Share, and you’ll see a bar pop up on the right side, showing the apps you can send that information too — like Twitter, Email, and so on. Another bar will pop up on the right side from which you can tweet, email, or otherwise share that info without ever leaving the app you’re in.

The Control Panel

Last but not least is the Control Panel, where you can tweak all sorts of settings related to the Metro Interface. Hit the Control Panel button on the home screen. Most of the stuff in here is self-explanatory, but here are the general categories you have to choose from and what’s inside:

  • Personalize: From here you can change the picture on your lock screen, add small notification tiles to your lock screen, and change your user picture.
  • Users: If you want to add a new account, or change your password (including adding a PIN or gesture-based “picture password”), this is where you’ll do it.
  • Wireless: If your device has wireless capabilities, you can turn them on and off here, as well as enable aeroplane Mode with the flip of a switch.
  • Notifications: If you want to turn notifications on or off for different apps (or turn notifications off entirely), you can head to this pane. It lists all your notification-compatible apps with an on/off switch for each. You can also mute notification sounds from here.
  • Privacy: Here is where you tell Windows whether you want apps to be able to access your location, name and account picture, or other information about what you’re using. You can also edit the number of apps in your “App History”, which are those thumbnails on the left side of the screen we talked about earlier.
  • General: On the General pane, you can change your time zone, touch keyboard preferences, and refresh or reset your PC, which either give it a one-click clean install of Windows (without losing your files) or wiping your PC entirely and starting from scratch.
  • Search: You can clear your search history and remove apps from the search menu here.
  • Share: This pane helps you make the Share bar easier to use, by adding and removing apps, as well as tweaking your “share history” which give you quick access to oft-used Share-enabled apps.
  • Send: This is where you can adjust the apps you use to send stuff to other devices, like attached TVs.
  • Ease of Access: This lets you edit settings for those that are hard of hearing, have poor vision, etc.
  • Devices: This is where you manage your other devices, like printers, webcams, mice, and other hardware.
  • Sync PC Settings: This is one of the cooler features of Windows 8, that lets you sync your settings to other Windows 8 devices through a Windows Live ID. Here, you can choose what to sync, like background and lock screen, themes, app settings, browser bookmarks and history, passwords, and more.
  • Homegroup: If you’re running your machine on a homegroup for sharing files, you can enter your password and connect it here.
  • Windows Update: This is where you’ll see if you have any pending updates for Windows, and when your last update was.
  • More Settings: This takes you to the desktop Control Panel we all know and love, for any settings not covered in the above categories.

This should help you get an easier hang of the vastly different Metro UI. There are likely some other hidden or new features on the way, as we’re still a year away from launch, but the basics are definitely in there, and it’s sure to make Windows 8 tablets pretty sweet. Got any likes, dislikes or features we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments.

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