If you've been running the Windows 8 Developer Preview on a touchless PC, you know just how much fun it is to mimic simple touch gestures with a mouse. Bringing up the Charms Bar on the right, for example, is as simple as hovering your mouse over the Start button in the lower left, then making a mad dash to the right to click on the proffered charm before it disappears -- if you're lucky. On many touchless machines, that doesn't work and you have to press Windows Key+Shift+C to get the Charms Bar to appear at all.
Let's hear it for intuitive.
Now comes word that Microsoft will improve mouse support for the Metro interface in the forthcoming Windows 8 beta, apparently dubbed the "Windows 8 Consumer Preview," due at the end of February.
Windows enthusiast site TechRadar posted details about Windows 8 mouse-and-pointer substitutes for tap-and-pinch gestures that the touch-enabled universe will take for granted. Although TechRadar doesn't credit a Microsoft source by name and details about the next beta remain closely guarded state secrets, the report seems credible. They match up with screenshots of unreleased builds that leaked last month. Semantic Zoom with a mouse (see below) was part of Tami Reller's Windows 8 demo at CES a couple of weeks ago. How TechRadar found out about the rest of the mousabilities isn't clear.
With that caveat, here are the new, improved mouse-enabled gestures said to be upcoming in the Consumer Preview:
Semantic zoom: Windows 8's new pinch-to-zoom-out gesture for the entire Metro tile area can be replicated with a mouse click in the far-lower-right corner of the screen. (I'll rant about the phrase "semantic zoom" at a future date; suffice it to say that Windows 8 uses the well-defined UI terminology in a decidedly odd way.)
If you're using the Developer Preview, there's a right-scroll button at the far lower-right corner of the screen, to make it easier to scroll the Metro tiles right. Apparently the Consumer Preview will put a new button to the right of the right scroll button: Click on that button and you see all of your tiles lined up, ready to be clicked and dragged to new locations, or lassoed and given a group name.
Of course that's going to make it very difficult to hit the right scroll button with a mouse, but such is progress. At this point you can't click and drag the Metro background to make it scroll, so the only way to scroll right on a touchless PC (aside from using the left and right arrow keys and hopping from tile to tile) is to click the right scroll button or drag the lower window slider.
Scrollwheel navigation: No doubt sensing the impending hue and cry over the anticipated displacement of the lower-right scroll button, the Consumer Preview beta will let you scroll left and right on the Metro screen by nudging your mouse's scroll wheel. This mouse replacement should also help compensate for the fact that it's devilishly difficult to click the left scroll button at the bottom of the Metro screen, because the Start menu keeps getting in the way.
Don't know about you, but I tend to find myself scrolling left and right with the scroll wheel after I've accidentally clicked the wheel. But this won't require a click and may thus be less obtuse.
Charms Bar: Starting with the Consumer Preview, you can click the upper-right corner of the Metro area and the Charms Bar appears. That sure beats Windows Key+Shift+C.
There's also a new transparent-background version of the Charms Bar, which is accessible by mouse in the Consumer Preview if you hover the pointer over the far-right edge of the Metro screen.
Switch Apps: The Developer Preview lets you slide your mouse to the far left of the screen and, using the scroll wheel, view thumbnails of other running programs. (The legacy Windows Desktop counts as a single running program.) Click on a thumbnail and Windows switches to the app. One little problem: it doesn't work, at least on my Windows 8 test machines. I can see a few apps, but not all of them. TechRadar seems to think that the Consumer Preview will show all of them.
Kill Apps: Metro apps shut themselves down if you don't use them for a while, but you can proactively close an app in the Consumer Preview using the mouse. Click at the very top of the screen and drag down. When the mouse gets about halfway down the screen, the app will turn into a thumbnail. Keep dragging over the thumbnail, from top to bottom, and the app closes.
That's the latest from the rumor mill. While it won't change my opinion of Windows 8 more than a smidgen, having some additional mouse control over Metro is a welcome improvement.
The big question, though, is whether desktop users can turn off the obnoxious "Click Start and you're hurled into Metro" behavior. That question remains wide open.
This story, "Windows 8 Metro: Now with mouse support," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.