Last Thursday, we announced the availability of the Windows 8 Release Preview. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been living with the Windows 8 Release Preview on all my devices – from my laptop, to a tablet, to my All-in-One PC at home, and my desktop PC here in my office at work. Windows 8 brings together all these devices and has changed the way I use these devices and PCs. I wanted to share these experiences with you. If you have the Windows 8 Release Preview installed, most of what is in my post are things you can do yourself today with the Windows 8 Release Preview. And if you haven’t installed the Windows 8 Release Preview, perhaps this might change your mind! Or if you are simply not comfortable running a pre-release OS on your PC, then hopefully this post serves as a sort of “sneak peek” for you on what is to come with Windows 8 later this year.
To begin, I thought it was only natural to begin with the “heart” of the new user experience in Windows 8 – the Start screen…
The Start screen is the dashboard to everything important to me
I love the Start screen in Windows 8. The Start screen serves as the dashboard to everything that is important to me on my device. On the Start screen, I have all my favorite apps pinned. Many of these apps have tiles that change and update in real-time (live tiles) and all these tiles together “light up” the Start screen with all kinds of content and information. For example with the Weather app, I am able to constantly see the latest weather for my area. Or with the People app, I can see when people leave comments on my Facebook Timeline or replies to me on Twitter.
Another great example is the CW app. If you have the CW app pinned to your Start screen, it will show you the evening’s schedule of shows.
It’s not just apps you can pin to your Start screen.
I have many of my favorite websites I visit regularly throughout the day in Internet Explorer 10, such as Techmeme and TrekMovie.com, pinned to my Start screen as well. I have Project Prometheus pinned too.
You can also pin content from within apps too! I have stocks that I am tracking pinned from my Watchlist in the Finance app (one of the Bing-powered apps in Windows 8 today) whose tiles update throughout the day with the latest stock information. I also have my favorite sports teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Mariners pinned from the Sports app whose tiles update with the latest news and scores (the NBA season is over so the Blazers tile just gives me the latest news for the team).
I’ve also got my mom pinned to my Start screen from the People app. Yes… my mom is on my Start screen. And her tile updates with whatever she posts to Facebook.
What the Start screen has done is it has enabled me to see everything I want to see in one view really quickly. I don’t have to flip through multiple apps or open windows or a variety of different menus. The Start screen exposes just the right amount of content I want to see. And I love this. And this works out great regardless of form factor. I wrote this blog post in Microsoft Word on my desktop PC here in my office at work (multiple monitors FTW!) and with the press of the Start button on my keyboard, the Start screen comes up super-fast and I can quickly see if my mom has posted embarrassing photos of me as a kid before proceeding to press the Start button on my keyboard again to go back to writing in Microsoft Word. I do this on my laptop too. It really is fast and fluid. Start screen = everything I want in one spot on all my devices.
Windows 8 is personalized just the way I want it
I just wrote about all the things you can pin on your Start screen. But how about making the Start screen look just the way you want it? You can. In Windows 8, you can choose from a variety of different colors for your Start screen and designs for its background. I like blue so blue is the color of my Start screen with the circles design on the background.
In choosing colors for your Start screen, you’ll notice each color has a middle square color and then a border color that surrounds it. The middle square represents the color of text and selected items in menus while the border color will be the color of your Start screen.
Aside from colors and designs – you can arrange your apps and other items pinned to your Start screen in any way you want including into their own groups. Then with Semantic Zoom, you can zoom out on your Start screen for an all-encompassing view of everything on your Start screen and name those groups. Then you can move and arrange those groups into whatever order you want!
I have everything arranged in a variety of groups beginning with “Favorite Apps”. These are apps I use most often with live tiles of information I want to see first when I go to my Start screen. Then I have my Entertainment apps grouped together, Games, etc.
My Start screen looks different on each of my devices because the screen sizes are different. And Windows 8 is designed to work great on large range of screen sizes and resolutions. I customize my Start screen based on the device.
[Screenshots above from left to right: Start screen on my All-in-One PC, Start screen on my tablet, and Start screen on my laptop]
For example, I have tiles for some apps displayed as large tiles on some devices, while the tile for the same app is displayed as small tiles on others. On my tablet – because the screen size is a bit smaller than my laptop or my All-in-One PC, I am particular about what app tiles are large size because they take up more space on my screen. But on my All-in-One or desktop PC here at work – I have plenty of screen space for apps to be displayed as large tiles. Again, it is important for me to see certain things up-front when I first hit my Start screen and I optimize my Start screen on all my devices for this.
I recently went on an Alaskan cruise and for the trip – I only brought my tablet. Before heading on the trip, I created a special group on my Start screen with guides for each of the ports we would be stopping at from the Travel app and weather for each of those ports from the Weather app. I had all the information I needed for these ports during my trip in this group on my Start screen.
You can also customize the Lock screen in Windows 8 too.
I currently have a photo I took of my parents’ new dog Dexter as my Lock screen background. The Lock screen in Windows 8 will show you the date and time but you can also customize which apps can show a quick status on your Lock screen and what app can give more detailed status. On my work laptop, I have the Calendar app showing a more detailed status (e.g. what’s next on my calendar) but at home on my All-in-One it shows the weather.
I have all the apps I want
The Mail, Calendar, SkyDrive, Photos, People, and Messaging apps all come with Windows 8. And these apps are connected to services that I use daily like Hotmail, Facebook, and Twitter simply just by adding them to my Microsoft account. I use the People app regularly to see what is happening with my friends and family on Facebook. And of course I use the Mail app quite a bit for emails and the Calendar app helps me keep track of what I have coming up on my schedule.
Those of you who have read my blog posts regularly know I love taking photos. The Photos app provides an immersive experience into all my photos. I can set any of my photos at the background image for the app for example and see photos not just from the device I am on, but also from my connected services such as Facebook and Flickr. On any device running the SkyDrive client, the Photos app will also fetch photos from those devices as too.
So what about entertainment such as music, video and games?
This week at E3, our friends over on Xbox made some announcements about Xbox on Windows 8 that are very exciting. Xbox on Windows 8 will launch with 4 apps: Music, Video, Games and Xbox SmartGlass.
The Music, Video, and Games apps will be included with Windows 8 while Xbox SmartGlass will be available to download in the Windows Store. The Music and Video apps will be powered by Xbox Music (a brand new service from Xbox) and Xbox Video and provide Windows 8 users with the ability to listen to music or enjoy their favorite movies and TV shows in Windows 8. And the Games app will allow you to download Xbox LIVE enabled games and play those games with your friends and earn achievements on Windows 8.
Xbox SmartGlass will allow you to start a movie or TV show on your Windows 8 device and finish it on your TV through your Xbox 360 console. It will also enable you to discover more fun things to do by showing new content and rich interactive activities related to what you’re watching.
In the Windows 8 Release Preview today, you can check out the Music, Video, and Games apps which are just previews of the apps to come when Windows 8 is generally available. As I write this, I am listening to the Foo Fighters through the Music app and just yesterday I watched the season finale of Fringe in the Videos app.
There are also other apps I use pretty regularly from the Windows Store today. I am a pretty regular Twitter user so I use the Twitter app Rowi quite a bit (which recently got updated to 0.6!). I love the games Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja. And I have my collection of books I like to read on my tablet through the Kindle app.
Tweeting and reading a book at the same time?
All my stuff syncs and roams with me amongst my devices
Windows 8 connects me to my people and my files but it also connects all my devices together. I absolutely love how my device settings will roam with me from one device to another through my Microsoft account.
Settings such as the color and design for my Start screen for example will roam to all of my Windows 8 devices. My Start screen looks the same on all my devices but as I mentioned above, customized a bit differently depending on what device I’m on.
My desktop personalization also roams with me. So whatever background I have on my desktop will in Windows 8 will be the same on all my devices.
And app settings! Whatever stocks I have on my Watchlist in the Finance app or whatever locations I have saved in the Weather app – they all roam so I have the same settings for these apps on all my Windows 8 devices. I’m never left having to add the same thing into these apps.
Doing the things I want
Windows 8 allows me to do all the things I want to do without compromise on any device. Whether it is writing a blog post in Microsoft Word to reading my email in the Mail app or showing off photos I’ve taken on a recent vacation from the Photos app.
I have never had to move to another device to do something as basic as, say, opening an email attachment. I can do everything I used to do with my PC with Windows 7 plus a ton more.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences with Windows 8. I encourage you to download and explore the Windows 8 Release Preview for yourself!
Updated November 7, 2014 8:37 pm