TWT Newsletter, Issue#058 – Windows 8 – Terrific for tablets, disappointing for desktops.
Welcome to our March 2012 TWT Newsletter. The big news for this issue is, of course, the launch of the Windows 8 consumer preview. We’ve had a few days to look at this new version of Windows and while we like a lot of what we see, we’re equally baffled by a lot of it too. Of course we won’t neglect our other regular features, so let’s get things started!
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In this months issue:-
1) What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
2) Thinking of reinstalling Windows on your PC? Reimage provides an effective alternative.
3) Windows 7 Superguide now available on Amazon Kindle.
4) Windows 8 – Our thoughts so far – Terrific for tablets, disappointing for desktops.
5) Tip of the Month – Sharing files on your home network? Use the “Map network drive” function to make it quicker.
6) Free Utility of the Month – Qatapult.
7) Office 15 preview – Does this hint at where the Windows desktop might be going?
What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
Several great new tutorials in February for our readers. We kicked off with three tutorials for the superb free Evernote utility. Evernote is a note taking and organising application that uses the power of the cloud to help you remember everything. Working across your smartphone, computers and on the web, this poweful tool can change how you organise your life. Check out our tutorials by visiting this page.
Also in February, we brought you two tutorials for a great new PC repair utility. If you’re thinking of reinstalling your PC, you may want to consider Reimage first. You can find out more about this great new tool by reading the next section.
Thinking of reinstalling Windows on your PC? Reimage provides an effective alternative
At Top-Windows-Tutorials.com, we get a lot of offers to review and promote PC repair software. However, typically we refuse the offer because we find that most such software rarely delivers on its promises. Registry cleaners have no noticeable impact on system performance and PC tune-up utilities rarely make any difference. So when Reimage contacted us and asked us to promote their product, we were naturally cynical.
However, Reimage is vastly different from other PC repair utilities. Rather than try to repair any damage it finds, Reimage will actually replace damaged files with fresh copies downloaded from a secure location on the internet. It’s like reinstalling your computer without the hassle of reinstalling!
Windows 7 Superguide now available on Amazon Kindle
Some more exciting news for this months newsletter. Our best selling Windows 7 Superguide is now available as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle marketplace. Now if you own a Kindle, or compatible device, you can download the Superguide directly to your e-reader. Although the e-book version does not contain the video content (since unfortunately the Kindle doesn’t support that) it still provides a fantastic tutorial and reference from the convenience of your Kindle reader! The Windows 7 Superguide is available now on Amazon for just $4.11/£2.61. Click here to find out more or to buy your own copy. Windows 7 Superguide 2 will also be available on Kindle in the near future.
Windows 8 – Our thoughts so far – Terrific for tablets, disappointing for desktops
The eagerly awaited Windows 8 consumer preview was finally released at the very end of February. Of course, here at TWT HQ we were extremely excited to get our hands on the new version and have a play with it. Having used the operating system for a few days, here are our thoughts…
Using Windows 8 for the first time comes as something of a shock after Windows 7. The new Metro interface, which consists of tiles, is certainly hard to ignore considering it’s pushed at you from the very start. When you first log into Windows 8, the desktop isn’t even displayed, instead you’re sent directly to this new tiled interface. Fortunately there’s no over-abundance of adverts unlike the Xbox 360 version, at least not yet!
The all new Metro Start screen in Windows 8. Can’t see the picture? Click here.
Metro works great on computers with a touch screen or even a stylus. Although there’s a learning curve to getting used to all the gestures, many are natural and all are quickly mastered. Microsoft have clearly put a lot of thought into how to get the most out of touch. Swipe from the right edge of the screen and you get a new interface called the “Charm Bar”. This bar has five icons representing Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. The idea is that these functions will work across Metro apps, making common operations easy. At the moment, searching works but sharing doesn’t seem to be supported across any of the apps we tried, although we can certainly see the potential for the future.
The Metro interface really comes alive when you have more of your data in it. Most tiles on the interface are live and update in real time. Photo tiles will display pictures, weather and stock tiles will show relevant data. To really appreciate Windows 8 you need to let it at your data. Many of the applications didn’t yet work in the UK, which prevented us from getting a better feel for the new OS. Those that did work offered only basic functionality, but some gave a tantalising glimpse at how great a Windows 8 tablet might look. My personal favourite was iCookbook (presumably named after an iPad version), which is available to download for free in the new Windows Metro store. Browsing recipes in this app was a joy, with big, bold tiles showing the kinds of results you might expect to get if you master them. Although, like every Metro app we tried it still felt very basic, with no video or multimedia content just yet.
As a Start Menu replacement, the new Metro Start screen begins to make some sense when given some information to work with, allowing you to see more ‘at a glance’ than the original Start Menu. Having said this, we’re still not sure that power users will take to it, particularly if they are used to opening the Start Menu while working with other windows, since the new Metro screen takes over the entire screen.
In fact, all new Metro applications are full-screen. There’s no choice here, gone are the maximise, minimise and restore controls on Metro applications, even when a keyboard and mouse are connected. Of course this makes sense on a Tablet PC, where you’d rarely be working with more than one or two applications at once and where screen space is at a premium, but on a Desktop?
Speaking of desktops, the same old desktop is still available in Windows 8. To access it, you simply click “Desktop” from the Start screen or open a desktop application. From here, all your traditional desktop applications can run just like they did in previous versions of Windows. There are a few key differences even on the desktop however. Microsoft has tried to accommodate keyboard and mouse users in certain ways in their bold new ecosystem. First of all there are “Hot Corners”. Instead of trying to replicate sweeping gestures with your mouse, you can leave your mouse pointer in the corners of the screen. Leaving the mouse in the bottom left corner, for instance, allows you to access the Start screen. Controversially and, in our opinion detrimentally, the original Windows Start button is gone altogether. We found clicking the new smart-corner Start button to be much more awkward, particularly on multi monitor systems. Fundamentally, removing the Start button simply confuses long-time Windows users who are likely to stare baffled at the bottom corner of their desktops. Removing this key visual clue just seems cruel when Windows 8 already has enough new elements to get used to.
We found clicking the new Start button replacement to be a needlessly fiddly experience. Can’t see the picture? Click here.
Of course, Metro apps work with a keyboard and mouse now too. Microsoft claims this is a “no compromise solution” but working with Metro using a mouse and performing actions such as dragging a window downwards to close it and fumbling to click the Start button replacement just didn’t gel with us. As stated before, Metro apps cannot be minimised and maximised and sized like regular Windows. We’d have preferred it if these traditional Windows controls were simply restored when the machine detected a keyboard and mouse, it would have made working with Metro apps as easy on a traditional PC as it is on a touch device, though we understand Microsoft rejecting this idea out of fear of making Metro an inconsistent experience.
Although there’s no resizing of Metro apps allowed, if your PC has a high enough resolution, then there is a split-screen mode available. Two applications can be shown at one time. One takes up the majority of the screen, the other is constrained to a narrow (“snapped”) sidebar. Again, this is useful on larger tablets but generally too inflexible for desktops. Our desktop PC has two monitors attached, many users now even use three, but Metro applications didn’t seem to be multi-monitor aware at all, even at times responding to mouse clicks while we were working on a desktop application on the second monitor.
Metro apps can run snapped to the side of the desktop like this, but we’d hoped for more flexibility. Can’t see the picture? Click here.
It’s still unclear if Metro versions of applications can offer the kinds of power and flexibility that business and professional users will demand. We downloaded the Metro version of Evernote, for instance, and it only offered a tiny fraction of the functionality of the desktop version. Of course, users of Desktop PC’s can switch back to the desktop at any time, but we have to wonder why they would bother with Metro at all. The Metro applications that are currently available are all only previews and desktop users are free to ignore Metro for the most part, but we still can’t help wishing there were more ways for Metro applications to adapt to the desktop. It would be unrealistic to expect every application to have two versions, one for Metro and one for desktop, perhaps third party utilities will emerge that allow Metro applications to run in a more desktop friendly manner.
In an effort to make Windows more cloud-centric, Windows 8 now allows you to log in with your Windows Live account. Doing this synchronises data between your PC and Microsoft’s cloud services and allows you to use the new Windows app store and other online services. However, we would have preferred a system where the Windows live password was stored separately, as we believe the new system will simply lead to people using weaker passwords and facilitate a range of new exploits based on stolen Windows Live passwords. It is possible to log onto a local-only account, but in this setup several of the apps would not allow us to login to Windows Live at all.
So, in conclusion we can certainly give Windows 8 the thumbs up for touchscreen devices, but for laptops and desktops we’re unconvinced that it would make a compelling upgrade. We don’t for one instant believe the hype that touch devices will replace laptops and/or desktops in the future. Tablets make wonderful devices for browsing media and maybe light web surfing, but they cannot replace traditional PC’s for productivity. Artists, writers, programmers, musicians, gamers and serious computer users will always want a PC with a keyboard and mouse. It’s hard not to feel like Microsoft is neglecting its most important customers with this version of Windows. Let’s not forget, Microsoft originally failed on the Tablet PC market by making their version of the OS too desktop centric, let’s hope they don’t now fail on the desktop by making Windows 8 too tablet centric!
Of course we should state again, everything here is still a preview. We really hope that Microsoft continue to improve Windows 8 for the desktop as well as for tablet PCs. The new Metro interface can really be beautiful when it comes alive, it would be a real shame if desktop PC users end up ignoring it simply because it was too fiddly and inflexible to use compared to normal desktop applications. Time will tell of course, and later in the year we are expecting the final release candidate of the OS which will tell us for sure just how far down the Metro rabbit hole Microsoft wants to take us all!
If you want to check out Windows 8 for yourself, you can find all the information on downloading the preview here. Remember that this version of Windows is not finished, we do not recommend using it on your main PC, or any PC you rely on, there are still plenty of bugs you may encounter!
Stop press – Fancy a peek at Windows 8 Consumer Preview in action, but don’t want to go through the hassle of downloading and installing it yourself? If so, head on over to our Youtube channel where you can view a ten minute video showing you some of the new features of the operating system. Click here to go directly to the video.
Tip of the Month – Sharing files on your home network? Use the “Map network drive” function to make it quicker
It’s great how easy it is these days to share files between computers or across Network storage devices or media streamers. If you regularly find yourself browsing the network on your PC, looking for a particular computer or device to share files to, did you know about the Map Network Drive function? Using this function, a network location will always appear when you access Computer/My Computer, saving you the bother of having to browse for the network location manually.
Mapping a network drive is easy. In Windows XP, open “My Computer” and then click the “Tools” menu. Choose “Map Network Drive”. A window will then appear letting you choose the drive letter to use (you can use any letter that is not already in use) and the path to your network device. You can type this in manually or use the Browse button to find the location. To map a network drive in Windows Vista or Windows 7, you simply need to open “Computer” and then click “Map network drive”. The procedure is then exactly the same as it is in Windows XP.
Free Utility of the Month – Qatapult
If all that talk of touch screen computing leaves you cold, how about this free utility that works entirely using the keyboard? Qatapult is similar to one of our favourite desktop enhancements from the XP days, namely “Launchy”. If you need a way of quickly launching applications, download Quatapult and run it. Then, simply hold down shift and press the space bar. A window will appear that lets you quickly type the name of your program, or a location on your computer and then press enter to open that location or run the program.
We can’t help feeling utilities like this are set to make a comeback for Windows 8 users, so if you’re testing Windows 8 too and still can’t get used to that darned hidden Start button, give this little app a try. You can download it by visiting this link.
Office 15 preview – Does this hint at where the Windows desktop might be going?
There was certainly little in the new Windows 8 consumer preview for business and enterprise users to get excited about. As we said earlier in the newsletter, power users and professionals might feel a little hard done by this sneak peek at Windows, that seems to relegate desktop applications to play second fiddle to Microsoft’s new iPad beating ambitions. However, Microsoft is clearly not abandoning the desktop altogether, and we could even see a whole new look for newer Microsoft desktop apps that makes them more consistent with the new Metro look and feel without sacrificing the power and flexibility desktop users need.
The recently released screenshots of the new Office 15 technical preview show a simple, uncluttered and distinctly metro-like front on an application that still delivers all the power and advanced functionality Office users require. To put to bed any fears that Office 15 might turn into a simplistic, tablet friendly edition, we can confirm that all Office 15 applications run as standard desktop applications. Microsoft clearly realises that Office users aren’t going to sacrifice functionality!
Take a look at the Office 15 preview for yourselves by visiting this link.
Apart from a new look, Office users can expect greater integration and use of cloud computing features, with an extensive suite of sharing tools that work across Microsoft’s Windows Live service. There’s also a new feature allowing users to run online Powerpoint presentations directly from Office 15. With high speed internet connections making collaborative and cloud computing easier, these new features are likely to be a boon to lots of users.
Could this new visual style in Office hint at a new direction for other desktop applications? Perhaps in the next release of Windows 8 we’ll see programs like notepad, paint and others take on this distinctive visual style. We’re rather fond of Windows Aero, but we’re sure that Aero will stick around as a “classic” option for some time to come.
It’s certainly an interesting time for Windows users and one that hints at a sea of change for us over the next few years. At least we’ll certainly have no shortage of work here at Top-windows-tutorials.com!
That rounds off our newsletter for March. On behalf of everyone here at Top-Windows-Tutorials, I’d like to thank you all for your continuing support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th April 2012 and will bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7! We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page or by leaving us feedback in our forum. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com, and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!