Microsoft teases more Windows 8 details

Microsoft continues to unveil small pieces of Windows 8 while coyly demonstrating the new tiled Start menu

Microsoft has posted a detailed explanation of the new, improved, ribbonized Windows Explorer in Windows 8. In a nutshell, Microsoft is grafting a ribbon onto the top of the Windows Explorer window -- no surprise -- that closely resembles the ribbons in Office and a handful of Windows 7 applets.

Here's the part that surprises me. Microsoft relies on "telemetry data," which is collected and automatically forwarded by people who participate in the Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program. The telemetry data for earlier versions of Windows Explorer "shows that 54.5 percent of commands are invoked using a right-click context menu, and another 32.2 percent are invoked using keyboard shortcuts... while only 10.9 percent come from the Command bar, the most visible UI element in Explorer in Windows 7 and Vista."

From that observation, Microsoft deduces that making the command bar more accessible -- with a ribbon -- will improve Windows Explorer.

That same telemetry data shows that roughly 50 percent of the commands carried out in Windows Explorer are Cut, Copy, Paste, or Delete, and that Properties and Rename account for another 20 percent. Call me a heretic, but my conclusion is that Microsoft should make it easier to cut, copy, and paste files -- and the best way I know to do that is to make it easy to put two copies of Windows Explorer up on the screen at the same time, side by side. But I readily confess that I don't like the ribbon in Office and positively detest it in small apps such as Paint. I guess that makes me a Luddite, but ribbons waste so much room, especially on wide monitors, and (at least in my experience) they don't make it any easier to locate commands that you already know about -- quite the contrary.

One of the benefits of a ribbon -- in this case, I have to agree with Microsoft -- is that it makes commands more discoverable. That's a noble goal. I've often wondered how to make keyboard shortcuts more discoverable, too, but there doesn't seem to be an easy way to do it.

Fortunately, much to Microsoft's credit, it's easy to turn the ribbon off. By reclaiming the space wasted in Windows 7's Explorer at the bottom of the screen for file details, Win8 Explorer can actually list more files. Also, much to Microsoft's credit (as noted in my earlier post), the up-one-level arrow icon is now prominently located on the navigation bar. And I see with great elation that it's (finally!) easy to have Explorer show file name extensions.

The screenshots in that article contain all sorts of hints about new functionality: Copy Path, Paste Shortcut, Easy Access, History. Details to come.

The video at the end of the blog post talks about using the Alt key to bring up keyboard shortcuts, but that's been a feature of Windows Explorer for many generations. At 3:17 into the video, you can see a screenshot that's been circulating on the Internet, branded on the screen as Windows 8 Build 8050 "Windows Developer Preview." Any bets as to whether that's the version we'll see at the Build conference in two weeks.

The second blog post, dated Aug. 30, talks about accessing ISO and VHD files directly in Windows Explorer. It's largely unremarkable, showing that Windows 8 will finally catch up with features that have been in 7Zip for years. "The VHD format is used by Hyper-V to store information for Virtual Machines. In Windows7 & Windows Server 2008 r2 we have the ability to boot the system off a VHD file, and we had command line and MMC plugins for managing them. VHDs are handy for portability of system settings or to play back what has been saved as a snapshot of a system." I take that as a first-class tease about virtual technology yet to be announced.

The most interesting part of this blog comes in the video at the end of the post. Starting around 2:23, Rajeev Nagar is shown sitting in front of a laptop that's clearly running an interface that looks a lot like the Windows Phone 7 interface.

Of course, nothing in these videos happens by accident. Microsoft is teasing once again, showing a flat Metro tiled screen, with square tiles and a gadget to the left of the squares.

Could this be the Windows 8 tiled Start screen? We should know in a couple of weeks.

This story, "Microsoft teases more Windows 8 details," was originally published at 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 on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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