The Inquirer-Home

Microsoft goes on a charm offensive

As Windows waves goodbye to ease of use
Fri Mar 09 2012, 16:48

SOFTWARE HOUSE Microsoft has gone into some detail about some of the most obvious changes in the look and feel of the Windows 8 user interface.

A long Microsoft blog post goes into some detail about the apparently subtle changes that are supposed to speed things up and make things easier to do in Windows 8. We are not convinced.


"A common thread we've seen in the feedback so far about Windows 8, on this blog or elsewhere, positive or negative, is that people using Windows 8 for the first time might need a little help getting their bearings," says the firm's Kent Walter of the Windows team in a blog post that starts by explaining what happened to the missing Start button, the cornerstone of the Windows PC experience, in Windows 8.

"The Start button has been one of the best known images in Windows for over sixteen years now," says Walter. "I'll admit, when I look in the corner of my screen and just see an icon for Outlook, it's still a little jarring. And I've been using Windows 8 for months now. So where did the Start button go? The short answer: it's still there, it's just on the right, and it looks a little different now."

So, it's there okay, it's just moved, and remember, it's even better than before. The Start button has turned into what Microsoft calls a charm, which is another way of saying icon. If you can't picture this, imagine a user interface designed for a child that has just discovered apps. microsoft-charm-buttons

Charms are everywhere in the new Windows Metro interface, and have turned up to replace features that you would find on the Start menu, like Search. This is supposed to simplify things, but we have to say, we have used the existing Search and found it good.

"There are two ways to use the Search charm. The first is to search from the Start screen, and the second is to search within apps," says Walter as he introduces us to something that sounds less good.

"When you use the Search charm, the first view you'll see is a list of all of the apps on your PC. That's because by default, the search is set to Apps, and since you haven't entered anything yet, all (or none) of the apps match your search criteria. As you begin typing, the view changes in real time to include only the things that match what you've entered," he adds.

"On the upper right are options to filter your search to Settings or Files, so you can quickly find what you need. The Settings filter (go straight to it with Windows logo + W) shows results for tasks (like 'Change display settings') as well the names of parts of Control Panel (like Windows Mobility Center), and the Files filter (Windows logo + F) contains further controls to narrow your search by file type."

Got it? Well don't put your pens down yet because Settings has also fallen under a charm spell, and it too includes things that you would have found under the Windows 7 Start menu.

Now, since this is an apps world, clicking settings will bring up options unique to the app that you are using at the time, whether it be the control panel or an email application. To be fair, this sounds handy, but will be jarring at the start.

Also new to the experience is an apps bar that reminds you constantly about your applications. It is new to Windows but it has more than an air of the Apple experience about it.

"Just right-click a tile or swipe down to select it, or right-click an empty space or swipe in from the bottom or top of your screen to bring up the app bar with commands for the context you're in," adds Waters.

It goes on, delving so deep into talk about swipes and charms that we thought that we were reading a very boring Harry Potter sequel. Fear not though, as apparently there is a he who cannot be named start menu.


In a note to power users, or "nerds like us,", Waters introduces this information. 

"I mentioned the lower-left corner as another way to get to the Start screen, but it does another cool thing in Windows 8. If you're using a mouse, you can right-click down in the corner to bring up a menu with quick links to some common administrative and power user tasks."

This clear, simple to understand and easy to use option looks better than the existing option, and it makes us wonder why Microsoft bothered turning Windows into a childrens' picture book. µ


Share this:

blog comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to INQ newsletters

Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ

INQ Poll

Happy new year!

What tech are you most looking forward to in 2015