Windows 8's user interface a touching experience

Don't let demos of Windows 8's new touchscreen interface scare you -- you'll be able to revert back to a UI that looks and works much like Windows 7's

Admit it. You're getting used to Windows 7 -- if not the features, at least the inevitability of it -- and the last thing you want to think about is moving your organization to Windows 8.

Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that Win8 has a completely revamped touch-friendly phonelike live tile interface that you're going to have to support.

The good news is that you can (and probably will) fall back on a Windows 7-clone desktop that looks and acts a lot like the Win7 you've come to know and love.

If you haven't yet seen Julie Larson-Green's demo at the All Things Digital's D9 conference -- the one with Steve Sinofsky adroitly playing straight man -- hop over to the official AllThingsD site and take a gander. Wallow in the eye candy, if you can call it that.

Before you hit the roof or run screaming out of the room, keep a few things in mind.

First and foremost: It's a demo. The final product will look different from what you see here. The sequences Larson-Green showed so adeptly have been scripted and run a hundred million times, to make sure they don't crash the system. Windows 8 isn't anywhere near as fully baked as the demo would have you believe. Interface design specs have been locked down for ages, but some of it will change before you and I see a working version of Windows 8.

Second, the focus is on generating buzz for the new operating system. You're seeing the sizzle, not the steak, and it's well-tread sizzle. If Larson-Green had popped up Word and started writing a letter to Mom, we all would've started snoring. So if your immediate reaction is, "I don't need to slide and snap a video of a parasailer next to the local weather," realize that Microsoft's trying very, very hard to be hip.

Third, the technology behind a lot of what you see in the demo has been in Windows for years. Microsoft's just emphasizing things differently and building a lot of glitz around the technology to show it off. Touchscreens in Windows are nothing new. The floating taskbar on the right and Alt+Tab style app switching on the left merely rearrange old features.

If you're wondering how this is going to play on your corporate desktops, take a close look at the 8:30 mark into the clip. Larson-Green punches a Word icon -- er, floating tile -- and Word appears, sitting on top of a Windows 7 desktop. That desktop works exactly the same way as the desktop you're using right now. You can open and close apps, stick things on the taskbar, and so on. The desktop behaves as if it's a separate application, one among equals in the Windows Phone-like tiled interface.

More importantly for you and me, the fancy new eye candy seems to work great with a touch interface. But the staid old Windows 7 desktop looks like it was designed for a mouse and keyboard -- which isn't too surprising because it was designed for a mouse and keyboard. I get the impression that the Windows 7-like desktop works as a compatibility box for older applications, including Office.

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