As soon as the setup process is finished, you’re presented with your first look at Windows 8’s primary innovation: Metro. This new UI, which originated in Windows Phone 7 and has since been extended to the Xbox 360, is the Wave of the Future at Microsoft, and it’s part and parcel of Windows 8. There is no classic Start menu to fall back on. There’s nothing built-in to the OS that allows you to disable it or boot to the desktop by default (though surely various hacks will enable this if they haven’t already). Metro is here, and if you use Windows 8 you’ll have to come to terms with it.

That’s because Microsoft is going a step further than Apple with regards to its operating systems: while Apple is busy porting iOS features and characteristics to a desktop operating system that is still recognizably OS X, Microsoft insists that the tablet is just another kind of PC, and to that end is building a unified OS for both tablets and traditional PCs. Microsoft tablets (whether running Windows 8 or Windows on ARM) will run the same core software as PCs, will be able to run many of the same apps as PCs, and (most importantly for Microsoft’s ecosystem of enterprise users) can be managed using the same tools as PCs. We’ve known for years that the traditional Windows desktop doesn’t work well on tablets, but does an interface designed for touch also work with a mouse and keyboard?

Metro, with its large fonts, bold colors, and large buttons was designed to be touched, and I think once we get some tablets designed for Windows 8 people are going to warm up to it. It’s well thought-out and with a little polishing will stand up well to iOS and Android in terms of features, and in terms of aesthetics it's already there—animations are fluid and attractive, and nice touches like a volume overlay (see right—finally!) bring an extra level of modern polish to Windows.

Brian Klug and Ryan Smith talked a bit about using Metro on a tablet in their piece on September’s Windows 8 Developer Preview, a process which is more or less the same in the Consumer Preview, so what I’ll be focusing on here is the general layout and function of Metro in the Consumer Preview, and my experience using it with a keyboard and mouse.

Introducing Metro

We’ll start with the entry point: the new login/lock screen. In previous Windows versions, this screen told you nothing about the computer—it was simply a gateway, and as such it either showed you a list of user accounts on the computer or displayed a CTRL + ALT + DELETE prompt with username and password fields. In Windows 8, the lock screen shows you the date and time and your current battery life and network connectivity status, set against a user-configurable background. Other Metro apps, like Mail and Messages, can also be configured to display status and notification messages on the lock screen. The look is reminiscent of most tablets and smartphones, but its big, high-resolution, striking images reminded me more of the Kindle Fire than anything. It’s a nice effect.

Press any key on your keyboard and the login image will slide upward, revealing the traditional Windows name and password fields. Authenticate, and you’ll be looking at the Metro-style Start screen.


Tiles for Metro-style apps are big and colorful, and can usually be set to two sizes, a smaller square that allows for two tiles to sit side by side in a column, and a longer rectangle that spans the entire column. Metro columns on the Start screen will expand or contract to fill all of the screen resolution available to them, as evidenced in the screenshots above and below, and your mouse or trackpad’s vertical scrolling function will let you move left and right (horizontally, I know) through all of your apps. You can also scroll by grabbing the scrollbar at the bottom of the screen, or by moving your mouse pointer all the way to the left or the right of the screen.

Displays with more pixels can display more items

Above, you can see most of what constitutes a Metro page: tiles of apps lined up into neat columns. Tiles can be moved around at will, and will try their best to rearrange themselves dynamically. The wider gap between two of the columns is a divider between “pages” of apps. There is no limit to the horizontal size of pages, and you can freely drag tiles to either side of these wider divides.

Right-clicking a Metro app will bring up a list of actions at the bottom of the screen—most Metro tiles will let you shorten or lengthen them, remove them from the Start screen, or uninstall them.

Standard desktop programs also show up on the Start screen as rather unglamorous-looking gray tiles that show the name of the program and its icon. Left clicking on it will dump you to the desktop and open the app as it would open in older versions of Windows, and right-clicking will bring up that app’s standard right-click menu in the Metro style across the bottom of the screen, with the added option to uninstall the program without going into the Programs and Features control panel.

To add and remove desktop app icons from the Start screen, right-click them and then click “pin to Start.” Desktop apps can be pinned to and unpinned from the desktop taskbar and the Start screen from the desktop or from Metro, the first of many ways in which the two interfaces are integrated.

Windows Search can be invoked automatically from the Start screen if you begin typing. In Windows 8, there are three distinct search categories: Apps, which will display most Metro and desktop programs; Settings, which will search through the Metro and desktop control panels; and Files, which is self-explanatory. You can also search through any Windows Search-enabled Metro app, which you can see listed below the three main headings. I’d love to see a unified search group like we had in the Windows 7 Start menu, especially given the sometimes-blurry line between what appears in Settings and what appears in Apps, but search in Windows 8 is powerful and it’s fast, even using slower processors and mechanical HDDs.

All Metro apps, including the desktop, can be “snapped” to the left or right edge of the screen, which lets one app use up about a fifth of the screen while another app uses the remaining space—I’ve seen this called “Metro Snap” and that’s how I’ll refer to it for the rest of the article. This is especially useful for things like Twitter or messaging clients that work well with a single vertical strip of screen space. Metro Snap will only work on panels that are 1366x768 or higher—anything smaller has too few horizontal pixels to make effective use of the feature—but the Windows desktop’s Aero Snap features will continue to work as they did in Windows 7.

Party Cat knows when it is time to party. Also, the app drawer is on the left.

Metro has a few menus that can always be brought up no matter what app you’re using: the left edge of the screen is for an application drawer (above), which serves a function similar to the application switchers in iOS and Android. It shows all of your currently running apps and allows you to either switch to them from the currently running app or close them. The desktop will show up in the application drawer as a single item regardless of how many programs you have running on it, and while you can “close” it, this only makes the tile vanish from the drawer, and won’t close any of the programs running on the desktop.

Update: Several readers have pointed out that right-clicking in the lower left corner of the screen brings up a mini-Start menu of sorts, where the Explorer, Search, the Run dialog box and several control panels can be accessed more easily. Thanks to all who sent this in!

The right edge of the screen is for Charms (above), Microsoft’s name for the buttons that let you access several high-level settings and features. The Charms are, from top to bottom:

  • Search, which brings up the Search menu (which, remember, can also be invoked by typing from the Start screen). The default search view is Apps.
  • Share. While in a Metro app like Photos, you could use this charm to send a picture to someone using another Metro app like Mail.
  • Start, which brings up the Start screen.
  • Devices, which brings up attached devices like printers and extra monitors and gives you some configuration options for them—for instance, it will allow you to change your display settings if you’ve got a second monitor or projector attached, and it will bring up a Print menu if you click an attached printer. This charm is context-sensitive—if there’s nothing in your app to print (or if the app doesn’t support it), for example, any printers attached to your computer won’t show up in the menu as a selectable option.
  • Settings. This brings up both general settings and options for the currently-running application as well as some system-wide settings like brightness, volume, notifications, language, network connectivity, and shutdown options. The “More PC Settings” link brings up the system-wide Metro control panel, where one can control things like the lock screen and Metro backgrounds, your PC’s refresh and reset functionality, and a few other settings.


Screen resolution requirements

As we’ve discussed, using Metro Snap requires a screen resolution of at least 1366x768, but there’s one more very important resolution requirement in Windows 8.

While working on my netbook, I quickly found that almost all Metro apps included in the Consumer Preview wouldn’t run on its 1024x600 display. After some research I found that, yes, Metro apps are only going to run on screens that are 1024x768 or higher. It’s important to give developers a minimum screen resolution to shoot for (and we may even see some tablets that use 1024x768 panels, given the precedent set by the iPad, the HP TouchPad, and others), but it means that users of PCs with smaller screens aren’t going to be able to use Windows 8’s defining feature (though the Start screen and system menus will still work just fine). This is too bad, since the limited amount of screen space on a netbook is a decent fit for Metro's simplified interface and full-screen apps.

Now that you know the basic features and layout of Metro, it’s time to teach you how to use it with a mouse and keyboard.


Windows Setup and OOBE Metro, cont'd: Mouse and Keyboard Usage and Conclusions
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  • yannigr - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    This is more of a funny post but.... do you hate AMD systems? Are AMD processors extinct? I mean 8 systems ALL with Intel cpus? Come on. Test an AMD system JUST FOR FUN..... We will not tell Intel. It will be a secret. :p
  • Gothmoth - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link


    who is still using AMD?
    except some poor in third world countrys?

    no.. im just joking... AMD is great and makes intel cheaper.. if only they would be a real competition.

    but what about ARM?
    that would be more interesting.. but i guess we have to wait for that.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    In defense of Andrew's choice of CPU, you'll note that there's only one desktop system and the rest are laptops. Sorry to break it to you, but Intel has been the superior laptop choice ever since Pentium M came to market. Llano and Brazos are the first really viable AMD-based laptops, and both of those are less than a year old. AFAIK, Andrew actually purchased (or received from some other job) the laptops he used for testing, and they're all at least a year old. Obviously, the MacBook stuff doesn't use AMD CPUs, so that's three of the systems.

    As for the two laptops I tested, they're also Intel-based, but I only have one laptop with an AMD processor right now, and it's a bit of a weirdo (it's the Llano sample I received from AMD). I wouldn't want to test that with a beta OS, simply because it's likely to have driver issues and potentially other wonkiness. Rest assured we'll be looking at AMD systems and laptops when Win8 is final, but in the meantime the only thing likely to be different is performance, and that's a well-trod path.
  • DiscoWade - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Last year, I needed to buy a new laptop. I wanted a Blu-Ray drive and a video card. I thought I would have to settle for a $1000 computer with an Intel processor. I had narrowed my choices down to a few all with the Intel i-series CPU. When I went to test some out at Best Buy, because I wanted to play with the computer to see if I liked it, I saw a discontinued HP laptop on sale for $550. It was marked down from $700. It had the AMD A8 Fusion CPU and a video card and a Blu-Ray drive. So I got a quad-core CPU with 4 hour actual battery life that runs like a dream very cheap. I was a little apprehensive at first with buying the AMD CPU, but a few days of use allayed my fears.

    If you say Intel makes better laptop CPU's, you haven't used the AMD A series CPU. It has great battery life and it runs great. How often will I use my laptop for encoding video and music? The dual-AMD graphics is really nice. Whenever I run a new program, it prompts which graphic card to use, the discrete for power savings or the video card for maximum performance. I like that.

    Yes if I wanted more power, the Intel is the way to go. But my laptop isn't meant for that. And most people don't need the extra performance from an Intel CPU. Every AMD A8 and A6 I've used runs just as good for my customers and friends who don't need the extra performance of an Intel.

    However, I haven't yet been successful installing my TechNet copy of W8CP on this laptop. I'm going to try again this weekend while watching lots of college basketball. (I love March Madness!) If anybody can help, I would appreciate if you let me know at this link:
  • MrSpadge - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    You do realize that Jared explicitely excluded Llano and Brazos from his comment? A8, A6, A4 - they're all Llano.
  • Samus - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I'm actually shocked he didn't use an AMD E-series laptop (HP DM1z, Lenovo x120/x130, etc) as they have sold hundreds of thousands in the last 12 months. I see a DM1z every time I'm in an airport, and x120's are very commonplace in education.

    Remembering the Sandybridge chipset recall last year, this really gave AMD a head start selling low power, long battery life laptops, and they have sold very well, and belong in this review when you consider the only laptops you can buy new for <$400 are AMD laptops, and that is a huge market.
  • silverblue - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    This isn't a review. Also, he didn't have one.

    Quite open to somebody benching a DM1z on W8CP, though. ;)
  • phoenix_rizzen - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    While Intel may have the better performance CPU in laptops, they have the *worst* (integrated) graphics possible in laptops, and have 0 presence in the sub-$500 CDN market.

    You'd be surprised how many people actually use AMD-based laptops, especially up here in Canada, mainly for three reasons:
    - CPU is "good enough"
    - good quality graphics are more important than uber-fast CPU
    - you can't beat the price (17" and 19" laptops with HD4000+ graphics for under $500 CDN, when the least expensive Intel-based laptop has crap graphics and starts at over $700 CDN)
  • frozentundra123456 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    A bit confused by your post. What is HD 4000 graphics? Granted Llano is superior to SB, but Llano is 66xx series isnt it? I though AMD 4000 series was a motherboard integrated graphics solution that is very weak. Intel SB graphics will be far superior to any integrated solution except Llano.

    I agree for my use, I would buy Llano in a laptop ( and only in a laptop) because I want to do some light gaming, but I dont understand your post. I would also not really call SB graphics "crap" unless you want to play games.
  • inighthawki - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    HD 4000 is referring to the intel integrated graphics on the new ivy bridge chips - nothing to do with AMD chips

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