Microsoft Shows Off Windows 8: New Start Menu, New Media Center

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Part of a continuing series on the ins and outs of Microsoft’s coming Windows 8 operating system.

The Wait for 8

It hit the rounds recently that Microsoft would not include the critically favorable Windows Media Center in the upcoming version of their insanely popular operating system. Microsoft exec Stephen Sinofsky was quick to point out that Media Center would be included in Windows 8; just not in the first test builds. What else can we expect to see?

Fall is rapidly approaching, and with it comes the promise of a public pre-release trial period for Windows 8. The final version is expected to hit retail sometime in the first four months of 2012. While many features, such as the touch-friendly interface, have already been shown off, there are several new ones the come to light every day.

The ribbon: Microsoft’s Ribbon interface was met with skepticism, critical acclaim, and finally grudging acceptance; the UI paradigm was first introduced in its Office software.  The ribbon provides users with an easy to access, information-dense system, and it’s going to be in a lot of places in Windows 8.  Windows 7 actually uses it with some applications now, such as the popular Paint program.  With Win8, Microsoft is taking the opportunity to rewrite how the Explorer interface is accessed – new usability studies show just how often most Windows users actually execute various commands.

Windows 8 Explorer Ribbon UI

The Start menu: Win8’s new Start menu has been kept secret so far, but a recent video put out by none other than Microsoft itself might hold the keys to the new version. Design decisions such as the new UI are often held very close, and so the public typically doesn’t get to see them until right before the new software is released.

winRumors snagged a screengrab of the teaser video that shows off the new menu. As with the rest of Windows 8, the new Start menu has been clearly influenced by Microsoft’s Metro design language. Metro is the UI style first seen in early Windows Media Center builds, evolving through the Zune line of media players and software, popping up in Windows Phone 7 and later, Xbox 360, and now finding a home in the desktop operating system.

Windows 8 Start Menu Metro UI

The new Start menu is curiously compact, recalling older Windows versions like 2000 and XP rather than the powerful Start menus found in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Listings include options such as Settings, Devices, Share and Search. Obviously, no one can tell whether this sneak-peek will look anything like the shipping version, but it’s important to remember that Microsoft has previously hinted that much of the traditional Start menu functionality will be replaced by the active tiles touch-friendly interface.




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