With Microsoft's big BUILD conference right around the corner on Sept. 12, people are buzzing about the Windows 8 news that's sure to come, and for the last couple of weeks, Microsoft has been parceling out information. So far, the features we've seen look colorful, fast, flashy, and flexible -- but how much of a difference will they make for small-business users?
Let's take a look at the Windows 8 features that have already been revealed and see what kind of an impact they could make -- for better or for worse.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Woody Leonhard shares Microsoft's teases about Windows 8. | Get all the details you need on deploying and using Windows 7 in the InfoWorld editors' 21-page Windows 7 Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]
1. That Metro experience
The first thing you're likely to notice in a Windows 8 demo is the new Metro style and the fluid movement on the screen. Designed to be similar to the beautiful Windows Phone 7 interface, Windows 8 uses live tiles to surface need-to-know information right from the start. Live tiles are small, tap-able color blocks that display specific information -- such as how many email messages are waiting for you or what your next appointment in town is about.
To launch a program, you can tap the tile that represents it, or flick from the right edit of the screen to display the controls, then tap a button to launch the program you want to use. Once you're finished with that task, flick it away -- or move it up to the corner of the screen out of the way -- and tap a different program tile to open it. This means you can open and close and rearrange pieces of information on your desktop in much the same way you would on your physical desk.
A Windows 7 feature called Snap enables a side-by-side workspace experience. For example, you can add new customers to your contact list while watching a demo of a new sales training video, all using the same simple gestures as on your touchscreen smartphone.
2. It's keyboard- and mouse-friendly, too
If you're a holdout with a mobile phone without touch capability or using a notebook that doesn't support touch, you may worry that Windows 8 won't work for you. The design of Windows 8 is driven by an OS that's supposed to run seamlessly on touchscreens and smart devices -- with a fluid design for ultraportables, easy adaptability to mobile technologies, and an always-on, always-connected approach.
However, your keyboard and mouse should still work the way they always have. Familiar keys like PageDown and PageUp will work; the Windows key still brings up the Start menu; and you'll be able to navigate through programs and apps using the same point-and-click method as in Windows 7.
The flexibility of Windows 8 should enable you to switch easily back and forth between the Metro and the desktop views, so the way you interact with your PC will depend on what you want to do and what feels most natural. You might, for example, use Metro while you browse the Web, watch media, preview a presentation, or check email -- but switch to Desktop view when you want more precise control of files, folders, or data.