Windows 8 Start Screen Offers Several Different Ways of Navigating PC

In a October 4, blog post authored by Alice Steinglass, the group program manager for the Core Experience Evolved team talks about designing the Windows 8 Start screen. Alice wites "We reimagined the role of Start in Windows 8. We knew that we already had a powerful launcher for desktop programs in the taskbar. The […]

In a October 4, blog post authored by Alice Steinglass, the group program manager for the Core Experience Evolved team talks about designing the Windows 8 Start screen. Alice wites "We reimagined the role of Start in Windows 8. We knew that we already had a powerful launcher for desktop programs in the taskbar. The Start screen is not just a replacement for the Start menu--it is designed to be a great launcher and switcher of apps, a place that is alive with notifications, customizable, powerful, and efficient. It brings together a set of solutions that today are disparate and poorly integrated."

"As we have said, some of these features, as well as the full scope of mouse and keyboard support, are not included in the Windows 8 Developer Preview, which was focused on building Metro style apps and the WinRT APIs," said Alice.

Live tiles on the Start screen

"We designed the Windows 8 Start screen so you can create a connected dashboard that keeps you in touch with all the apps, activities, places, and people you care about. The news app shows the latest headlines, the weather app shows the forecast, an RSS app tells you what's new, a social networking app displays your status, or a game can tell you when it is your turn--and when it isn't," he said. While these're just examples, it's "not hard to imagine the apps you use today (whether in the browser, on the desktop, gadgets, or notifications) being reimagined as Metro style apps that connect to the same exact data sources, but instead provide a rich, customizable, interactive "heads-up display.""

Alice notes "Start screen uses a single process to pull down notifications from the Windows Notification Service and keep the tiles up to date. The tiles are cached, so they can load instantly when you go to Start. The result is that the tiles aren't apps--they're a system-provided surface that can quickly tell you what's new with your app. They're an extension of the apps you use (or the apps you develop), providing instant access to relevant content without costing battery life or slowing down performance."

He said "With Windows 8, apps can provide deep links too, so that people can create their own powerful and customized Start experiences. This means that tiles for apps can live alongside tiles that represent links to web pages, albums, playlists, specific people, a level within a game, a particular stock, etc. Any of these secondary tiles can be small or large, and can be put anywhere on the Start screen. They're "live," just like app tiles, meaning that they are constantly updated with fresh and relevant content. This is a great way for app developers to provide differentiated functionality."

It's easy to customize Start by pinning deep links to apps wherever you want them

Zooming out in Start makes it easy to see groups of apps and target a specific section of the screen

"We enabled zoom as a way to step back, survey the landscape of the Start menu, and go directly to any group. We considered starting zoomed out and letting you dive into a group, but early usage data indicated that the vast majority of the time, people activate a tile that is on the first page. The standard zoomed-in view allows you to instantly glance at your dashboard just by hitting the Windows key on the keyboard, and then pressing it again to return to what you were doing. This means that checking anything on the Start screen is always just a single click or key press away," explain Alice.

Tiles may be grouped with or without group names

Adding, "We of course considered folders, but our experience with folders broadly and in the Start menu tells us that folders are a way of burying things, not organizing them. Folders also make it impossible to see the up-to-date information an app might present. Once the apps are organized into groups, zooming out provides an at-a-glance view of the groups (similar to looking at a folder list). From the zoomed out view, you can jump directly into any group just as you would open a folder. For those wishing to stash certain programs out of sight, you can always remove the pinned icon from Start and use search to access it, or just put the program at the far end of the Start page. This's by far the most efficient way to manage a large library of apps."

He notes that the "new Start screen has space to duplicate the 10-12 app links that you had pinned to the old Start menu, and still fit an additional 12 to 14 items on the first screen of a 1366 x 768 display. With a higher density display, obviously there's room to add even more apps that you can get to with a single click. As a reminder, Windows 8 requires a 1024 x 768 minimum resolution for Metro style apps, and as long as your screen is at least 1366px wide, you can use snap to show two apps at once."

At 1366x768, Start shows 24 custom shortcuts on the first screen

"By combining the new Start screen with Search you get an ever-narrowing scope and easy hit targets whether for keyboard, mouse, or touch," said Alice. For example, if you've only one app with the word Excel in the name, launching it works exactly the same as it always has. Hit Start. Start typing "Ex…" and watch it autocomplete. Hit Enter, and Excel launches, he said.

"For mouse people, the position of the Start button in the lower-left corner of Windows 8 makes it an easy click-target (even in a full-screen app). Once in Start, more items are directly accessible to the mouse without scrolling or opening menu flyouts. For keyboard people, pinning frequently used desktop apps on the desktop taskbar enables instant shortcuts: Win+1, Win+2, etc. And, getting to less frequently used apps through search follows the existing paradigm of hitting the Windows key and typing the search term. The larger search results improve speed (both for searching and browsing)."

The Start screen has plenty of room to show app search results

Start screen has more room to show you more detailed search results for files

Search isn't just restricted to the system--apps can display search results optimized for that app