Windows 8 steps beyond the desktop

Windows' new Metro interface will allow users to interact with apps by using their fingers

By , IDG News Service |  Software

Metro-based apps, however, can run on either x86 or Arm processors. The Metro interface abstracts both of the hardware platforms into one set of OS system calls. To build Metro apps, developers can use either the XAML framework, or a set of Web standards, including HTML5, JavaScript and CSS.

The apps themselves will be "immersive," in that they can take up the entire screen, Harris said. The desktop "chrome" framing traditional applications has been eliminated, he added. A user can swipe a finger downward to get a listing of the application's commands to appear on the bottom half of the screen.

Users will also be able to access a set of common utilities available for Metro apps by swiping a finger to the left. This action will produce a ribbon along the right-hand side with a number of icons, or what Harris called "Charms." Charms cover common activities across all applications, such as sharing, searching or interacting with devices such as printers. Microsoft provides an interface for Metro developers to have their applications interact with these utilities.

For instance, with the "Sharing" charm, Harris showed how to share a Web page with a friend through a social networking site such as Facebook. The user swipes to get the Sharing Charm, which provides a list of applications the content can be shared through. Each application has a set of requirements for receiving shared data, called a contract, that allows other applications to provide data.

Despite its immersive interface, Windows 8 will offer the ability to run multiple applications at once. Applications can be moved to a sidebar and called up when needed. This version of Windows will offer the ability to place apps in a "suspended state," which saves their state and prevents them from making any additional OS calls, which will trim power usage.

Microsoft demonstrated a number of other new features as well. When the user first starts the device, the splash screen will show the current time, date and selected bits of personal information, such as the number of new emails, the user's next appointment and so on.

User verification can be done through a number of ways, by traditional password, by an all-numeric personal identification number, or by picture password. With a picture password, a user is presented with a familiar image, such as a loved one, and is asked to draw imaginary lines between different parts of the picture with a finger, much like a connect-the-dots puzzle. Access will be granted if the user replicates the correct sequence of moves.

The cloud will also play a pivotal role in Windows 8. Microsoft corporate vice president Chris Jones demonstrated some of the ways Windows 8 can be used in conjunction with Microsoft's Live and SkyDrive services.

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