Ok, Windows 8.1 is out for a preview version, prior to land on the digital shelves. One of the most anticipated big stuff is the new Start Menu, and there one or two things worth to be noticed here…
Ok, you cannot have not seen those brand new tiles. Two more sizes. Now you have a complete 4 tiles set. A very square and little one (70×70 px), not dynamic, only with an icon. The Small one (150×150 px). Square, and possibly dynamic. The long one (310×150 px), rectangular and possibly dynamic, and finally the very big one (310×310 px), square and dynamic. Use them as you do with your Windows Phone, meaning that this is the perfect tool to make this version of Windows yours. This is your Dashboard, with different point of interest, and locations with different weights, depending of your usage.
Selecting and moving tiles
To select or move a tile, you can show up the Application Bar (swipe from the bottom edge, or right click on the Star Menu), and click on the Customize button, and then select the tile or all the tiles you need to move. This is a new feature that saves time, really. Alternatively, you can do a long tap (you tap on the item and you stay on it for 1 second), and it will turn to the customization mode. This is also a new way to do that action. Additionally, you can simply right-click on tile to enter the customization mode. For memories, with Windows 8, you had to swipe down a item to select it. But a lot of users complained about the fact that doing so,, and while selecting it, the tile was moving to the wrong place. Now, you have an well-identified mode to set up your tile set. When a tile or a group of tiles is selected, you can grab them and move them around, and you can change their size, depending on the system the apps were build for (for Windows 8 generation, you cannot have a very big one). For desktop apps, you simply have medium or small sizes available, but you still have specific actions, such as “pin to taskbar”, “Open file location”, or “Run as administrator”). And, of course, you can easily “Unpin from Start” an undesired tile, without uninstalling the application. From here, you can do a “Pinch” gesture to access to the Semantic Zoom, to have a better overview of the app on your Start Menu.
You can now, with much more ease than before, rename a group of tiles, simply by fingering or aiming the mouse cursor to the title of the group and rename it.
By the way, with 8.1, when you install a new app, from the desktop or from the Windows Store, the related tile is not automatically laid down your Start Menu. You will have to do it yourself, in the same way you do that with your Windows Phone. That decision had been made to emphasize a” two way” role for your Start menu, but we will see that later on. And this is just a logical choice. Why let you customize your Start Menu the way you want if you are forced to clean up the mess after each installation?
Selecting in Windows 8.1
The start sub-menu
But then, how can I access my application, if it is not displayed on the Start menu ? This is where a brand new paradigm in the Windows Modern UI is revealed. You can swipe the entire Start Menu from the bottom edge to access to the complete listing of all the applications installed on your PC or tablet. Or click on the down Arrow nearby the left bottom of the Start Screen. And in fact, this is a truly brilliant idea. Even if the behavior is very similar to the “Windows Phone 8” one, it assumes a logical proposition. Remember Windows 7 ? You have at that time a desktop with specific icons on it, and most of the time, those icons were shortcuts to the applications. On the other hand, you had a Start Menu with the complete list of all your apps (Start –>All programs,…). Well, it is exactly the same behavior here. You have a Start Menu with specific and organized applications shortcuts, and a much more complete view of all your apps, on second hand. From the sub start menu, you can select an item using the gestures we’ve seen previously, and find it on the main Start menu, if you have already pinned it, or pin it. Then, it will appear on the last position, letting you move it to your preferred slot.
The Start sub menu.
Form there, you can sort your apps by filtering the content by name, by date installed, and so on…And of course, you can quickly find a tile by using the brand new search tool (and the brand new search box), but that specific part will be explained in another article.
The Start Screen, we already have seen that, has a semantic zoom view, to gain access (pinch) to a “Section-oriented-view”. In that layout, rather than select items, you will select groups of items in order to move them together easily. Different screen, same logic. In the Start sub-menu, you have a specific Semantic Zoom to access quickly to the app you’re looking for.
The Semantic Zoom for the Start Screen
There, following the same paradigms of the Windows Phone State of the Art, you can quickly jump to the app you’re looking, just by clicking on the first letter of the app (as in any other long list selector).
The Semantic Zoom for the Start sub-menu.
Pimp my Start Screen
You now have more setting to tweak to personalize your Start Screen. To do that, simply swipe from the right edge to show the charm bar, choose Settings, and then choose Personalize. The major feature is to choose a background image, and this can be the same image as the one you’re using for your desktop, easing the transition between the classic and the ModernUI modes of Windows 8.1. Then, you can choose the main and accent colors of your modernUI appearance.
Modifying your experience.
Once more, these options improve the user’s feeling to actually create the system that represents what he is, and add a valuable sensation of continuity between the desktop and the Start Menu experience.
The Start button.
Hey, it’s back ! The Microsoft staff spent hours listening to the users advices around the world. And early, just after the release of the Windows 8 consumer preview, one of the most “missing” feature users were looking for was the Start Button. This is no secret. So, the Start button is back for good this time, in the taskbar of the classic desktop. If you click on it, you will turn back to the new Start Screen. And that Start Button leverage a new scenario in this generation of Windows products : You can now start your session directly on the classic desktop !