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Windows 8 Consumer Preview Software Tour – MetroUI & Metro Apps

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview review on BYTE was an interesting journey for me. There's a lot to like, and there's a lot of stuff that will likely make you scratch your head.  It was clear, however as I was going through the review process that there was more than could be comfortably put in one of our reviews.  I still wanted to share it with everyone, though. In this second of two software tours, we're going to take a quick look at MetroUI and some of the key Metro Apps, which make up the new Windows Live Essentials for Windows 8.  The OS, while very stable and quite likely able to handle its own in a production desktop setting, isn't feature complete, and there are issues still left to resolve. Not every app ran for me on my Asus Eee PC T101MT netbook. Once released, however, I would expect them to run on any Windows 8 capable PC.

MetroUI - Hot Corners

As part of the touch-motif of Windows 8, Microsoft has removed the Start Button and replaced it with a Hot Corner. All four corners of the screen provide some level of new functionality. The bottom left corner displays the start menu. The only bad thing about all of this is that the mouse pointer seems to need to be buried in the corner before it will display. Windows 8's new task switcher is for Metro Apps only. Move the mouse pointer to the upper left corner and the most recent app will appear. Pulling the mouse pointer down the left edge of the screen will cause the edge to turn black and reveal additional running Metro Apps.

Legacy as well as Metro apps can still be switched to with an ALT-Tab key press, so you don’t lose the ability to switch through running legacy applications. Like their smartphone equivalents, Metro Apps never leave memory. They stay resident (or leave behind a stub) and reactivate as needed when called upon. If too much time has passed, they will auto-quit on their own. Pressing Alt-F4 also closes Metro apps.

When you need to get at computer settings outside of the Start Menu, simply slide the mouse cursor up to the top left corner. This will cause the Windows 8 Charms to appear. Windows recognizes that you may not necessarily wish to activate them when you push the mouse cursor to the right, as its default, “more information/data” action is to scroll to the right. If you wish to activate Charms, simply side the mouse down the right side of the screen after they are activated. Their background will turn black, like the Metro Task Switcher, and then you can click on them.

Metro Apps – Stocks & Mail

The Finance app does not pull the stock symbols from your MSN Money account; or if it does, it didn’t for me. The background that I got when viewing the standard Finance start screen was quite stunning. After this displayed, it auto quit. I couldn’t get it to display any other symbols or other detailed information about any specific symbol.

Windows 8’s new Mail app replaces Windows Live Mail. You can use it to send and receive not only Hotmail, but just about any other POP3 compatible web mail account, including Gmail and Yahoo! Mail, as well as connecting to Exchange servers. The first thing you’ll need to do is retype the password for your Windows Live account.

The Mail app has messages down the left side and the message body on the right. It’s very similar to Apple’s Mail app, in structure, but still very much a 1.0 app. As you can see, it doesn’t make very good use of screen real estate and the design is a bit flat.

Right-clicking the mouse button will bring up the context menu, visible along the bottom. Here you can view Folders or change accounts, as well as perform other mail actions – move messages, mark them read/unread or sync your account.

Metro Apps – Maps, People, Photos & Weather

Windows 8 includes a mapping application. Its implementation of Bing Maps is actually very good. With it, and Windows 8’s built-in Location Services, you can get directions from your current location to just about any location in the country.

Windows 8’s address book is maintained in its People application. Like Mail, it supports multiple accounts including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Hotmail, Google and Exchange. A unified address book is new to Windows, as it previously only supported contacts from its own services and/or applications.

Clicking on any individual contact card will display the details you have maintained on that individual, as well as a larger version of the picture you have for that contact. You can interact with that contact directly from their contact card.

Managing photos in Windows 8 is a lot easier than it used to be. The Photos app is much nicer than Windows Live Photo Gallery. You can pull in photos from a local library, SkyDrive, Facebook or Flickr, and it’s easy to connect your different accounts.

Windows Weather is perhaps my favorite Metro App in the bunch, although I had trouble at first getting it to use Windows 8’s Location Services, as I think it was down the first time I tried. Here, you see weather for Naperville, IL. (Weather finally decided to fetch data while I was on the train on my way into the office.)

Oddly, Weather only displays information for your “home” city on its Live Tile; it doesn’t cycle through your favorite places, like the way the Mail app tile cycles through all the messages in your inbox.

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