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Win8: A beginner's guide to FondleWindows

Tiles for fat fingers, drag 'n' snap, but no meta-widget ambitions...

Windows 8

Microsoft has unveiled the biggest design changes to Windows in the past 15 years, and probably the biggest redesign in its 26-year life. There are also implications for Windows developers – many of you will soon be obliged to learn the Ways of the Script Kiddie. These are huge changes and you should have a look yourself.

What follows is an opinionated summary of the most important bits. Microsoft's codename for Windows 8 is er ... "Windows 8", which gives Redmond the option of calling it "Windows Mayan Apocalypse Edition", or some other brainstorm from their strategy boutique. But it's unavoidably going to be called, now and forever, FondleWindows.

The new start screen is exactly what you'd expect: a Windows Phone7-style finger UI, with more tiles, as befits a slate or laptop with a touch screen. And extensive use of that OVERLARGESegoe font.

What Microsoft has done with its new look 'n' feel is add a new windows manager, which encapsulates old-style applications. New applications are designed for a direct manipulation touch UI, and can be written using HTML and Javascript. The design borrows heavily from the iPhone's system, iOS, also used for the iPad. Cue grumblings that Microsoft has ripped off Apple again. These are justifiable, and I can imagine Apple placing a "Welcome, FondleWindows. Seriously." ad in the papers, just as it welcomed IBM in 1981 and Windows 95 14 years later. It looks peevish, though.

Once you have a decided to create a direct manipulation UI, there just aren't a lot of different ways of do things. You can have different gestures, and put the buttons in different places – but they're going to look 'n' feel pretty similar – just as what were once called WIMP (Windows Icons Pull-down Menus) user interfaces were all really fairly similar.

"Tiles are better than icons," insists Microsoft's Jensen Harris in the introductory video, which you can skip to below. But that's only true for some things some of the time. It's true for things you need to monitor. But there are many other times, for example when you just want to import and review some photos, or crank up a music program, where this information is superfluous. All you want is a nice big icon to slap. The rest is superfluous, information-for-the-sake-of-it stuff that's a sign of social-media-itis.

Task switching is achieved by dragging from the edge to the middle of the screen, which is nice and simple. An equally simple gesture snaps windows next to each other.

What world+dog currently recognises as a Windows app effectively becomes a "WINOLDAP" – which if you remember, was Microsoft's cute term for DOS apps running under Windows. It runs alongside the new style apps and can share screen space with them, as we see here.

This immediately raises some questions. While Microsoft insisted this week that "it's not two shells", it is still two radically different input methods and designs. Input methods and applications are still things that come between you and your data.

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