Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stepping into the Windows 8 pool part 1

This is the first post in a series of posts on what I call "stepping into the Windows 8 pool." The water is a little cold, but once you get in slowly, move around the shallow end for a little bit, eventually you'll wade out into the deep end and appreciate the Windows 8 pool. I promise the water isn't as murky as what your Windows 8 naysayer friends tell you. It's fresh. It's clean. Hey, there's even a guy up on the side of the pool grilling a few hot dogs and hamburgers for you when you get hungry after a few laps of swimming. So suit up (or suit down if you're frisky) and step into the pool. I'll be there holding your hand as you step in, well, maybe I won't hold your hand, but rest assure I'll be there to laugh at--er--help you if you fall in on your way down the steps.

First Look 

You're looking around the pool. You see the people splashing, laughing, and having a good time. The entire scene at first glance looks fun and it's drawing you in, but after a longer stare you do notice a few things that look, well, odd like the overweight lady wearing the g-string bikini (not that there's anything wrong with that), that "one" guy wearing a thong, and the two-headed dog (what? How is that possible?); that's Windows 8 my friend. At first glance it looks beautiful, fun, and the Siren's song is luring you in. I'm not saying Windows 8 isn't beautiful and fun, but after a longer look there are few things that some folks might find odd for a Windows system. Just like the odd sights at the pool, the odd things with Windows 8 are indeed odd at first, however, after a while they're fun, entertaining and you want to keep them around. What do you notice first about Windows 8? If you're like me, you notice the funky screen with tiles all over the place! What's up with that? Well, that's the "start" screen. The Start screen has replaced the traditional start button. It's true, it's true. The Start button is no more. In Windows 8 the Start button has transformed into the Start screen. Love it or hate it, the Start screen is here and it's actually not that bad of an idea considering most people are used to a tile screen of some flavor because of smartphones. Whatever smartphone you use (Windows phone, Android, Apple) you're "home" screen or "start" screen is a collection of your apps represented as some kind of icon or tile, which is what Microsoft has done with their start screen. I think of it as an approach at integrating the user's devices which is something I'll go over later on in this series.

The Start Screen 

When Windows 8 has booted to the start screen for the first time you're looking at the default tile arrangement. The tiles can be customized, but before I go into the steps of deleting and adding tiles and the basics of the Start Screen I want to go over some of the tiles that are there by default.

The Mail App

When first clicked, you'll be asked to type in your Microsoft account (hotmail/live email and password). This is the account Windows 8 will use to sync your email, calendar, and people data with its Mail, Calendar, and People apps. After setup, you'll be taken to the Mail app. The design and feel is the same kind of design and feel that runs through all of Windows 8: simple, functional and stylish. Microsoft took a simplistic approach with this OS and I like it. The layout is traditional of most Mail apps: mail folders on the left, collection of mail in the selected folder in the middle, then the opened email on the right. When an email is selected, you have three options in the top right: new (a plus sign), respond (a left arrow and enveolope), and delete (a trash can). If you right-click the bottom of the screen some options emerge: move (move the selected email to another folder), pin-to-start, sync, and mark as unread.

The People App

I personally think this app is very cool. I first used it on my Windows Phone and fell in love with it. Once in the app, you'll see a listing of your "people," i.e. your collected contacts from email and social sites. Depending on how you're synced, there will be different data visible. There are three headings: people, what's new, and me. At the far left is a sidebar with different accounts that you're connected to and/or you can connect to, e.g. facebook, twitter, outlook. I want to stop talking specifically about the people app here and note that if you want to go back to an app screen hover your mouse in the very top left of the app screen you're in until you see a small square of the previous app and then click on it; you'll be taken to the previous app. Cool huh? OK, back to the people app. Clicking on a person's name/picture will bring up their profile. Depending on your synced is what you'll see. You'll have options such as: send email, write on wall, etc. Whatever the person shares on social sites will be visible here in the profile, which is interesting. Wondering when person a's birthday is? Well if said person has shared it on a social site and you have 8 synced with that social site you'll be able to find out by going to the People App. Right-clicking the People App will bring up options down south like add a new contact and an option to show contacts who are online only, which means just show contacts who've been added from your synced accounts instead of contacts you've added manually and locally.

The What's New section displays a newsfeed of all the latest and greatest from your people's updates from all of the social feeds you're synced and they're synced with. It's good stuff indeed. The Me section is your profile. Whatever you've shared on social sites or on your Microsoft Account will appear here. The right-click function is an edit feature which will take you to Windows Live for editing.

Messaging App

This App will sync whatever communication apps you allow it too, e.g. Facebook chat, Messenger, etc. This is where you can chat with your pals about the new stuff in whatever it is you and your pals chat about. The right-click function here gives the following options: set chat status, invite, and new message.

Calendar App

This tile is an excellent tool. Windows 8's calendar is an above average calendar tool to say the least. The default view is of course the month view. To maneuver around the calender you can scroll and right click to change from month, to day, or to week. Also, right clicking returns the option to add a new event. When "new" is clicked you're taken to a new screen where you can make the details of the new event.

Photos App

The Photos Tile is, obviously, a hub for all of your pictures locally and online (Facebook, skydrive, Flickr, etc.). The right-click function for this app is simple: import. The default tiles in this app for accessing photos are: pictures library (photos stored locally on your PC), Skydrive photos, Facebook photos, Flickr photos, and a tile called Device (add laptop, phone, TV).

I really like the photo viewer in Windows 8. Want to see all of your photos in a slideshow? 8 does that well. I really like 8's thumbnail view. Since Windows 8 is designed for landscape, the thumbnail viewer is oriented that way too, but 8 doesn't make each thumbnail a square, instead it displays the picture in the orientation it was taken which is very cool. The Photos app is a powerful app in Windows 8. You can sit back and watch your vacation photos on your TV if you want (this also works for movie maker).

Video and Music Apps

If you're used to the Xbox 360 then you'll be comfortable with these apps on windows 8. The right-click function on the home screen of the video/music app gives you "media player" controls and a open file option to open media files. If you have your Microsoft/Live account synced then you can watch videos you've purchased and preview videos. You don't need an account to watch video previews.

The far left sidebar is the hub for your videos stored locally on your PC or storage device.

...And the Rest

The rest of the apps available by default are: weather, Internet Explorer, Maps, Store (the Windows Marketplace), Skydrive, Xbox live games, camera (webcam), Finance, Sports, Travel, and News. Yes, these apps are interesting, but they're mostly self-explanatory and function much like the apps I described above. Right-clicking almost always provides further options. So, click on these apps, explore and enjoy.

The next post is going to be much more interesting as we inch a little further in the pool to learn the basics of the start screen.

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