Microsoft is delivering a whole new feel to their operating system with Windows 8 in the shape of the Metro UI. Tile-based, with an elegant typeface, the very future of Windows could ride on the success or failure of this next release.
Naturally there is some resistance to swapping the traditional desktop with this new user interface. After all, things just work as they are with the point and click of a mouse. Yet Microsoft is trying something different and attempting to pioneer a new direction for desktop operating systems. For that at least they should be applauded.
Ignoring questions about exactly how anyone without a touchscreen monitor is going to get the most out of Metro, there are ways in which the interface can be sampled without installing Windows 8 on your computer.
View Internet Explorer With MetroIE
One of the main uses for any computer is to browse the web and Windows 8 features a new version of Internet Explorer. While this isn’t yet available for Windows 7 you can sample its likely user interface by visitingand downloading the astonishingly small 64KB file.
After unzipping and running MetroIE.exe you will find that the file is a very convincing overlay for the Internet Explorer browser, which means that it behaves just as any browser should. Note however that it takes a little time to open webpages.
Like Windows Phone, Windows 8 features an integrated Twitter app. While MetroTwit doesn’t deliver quite the same feel, it is still worth trying if you’re interested in seeing how the Metro UI stands up to repeated or consistent use. After all, it’s all very well looking good, but would you want to look at the Segoe font all day long? This is the way to find out.
You can download MetroTwit from here. Installation requires an Internet connection, but be aware that this app isn’t suitable for accessing multiple Twitter accounts.
Less experimental and a whole lot easier to use is the Zune media player and sync client, available from this link. This is essentially the Microsoft version of iTunes, used for buying MP3s, syncing with a Windows Phone and managing updates, but it is also an excellent media player, far better than the surely-end-of-life Windows Media Player.
If you already have Zune on your PC you have already sampled the beauty and versatility of Metro.
Transform Your Full Desktop
The tile-based interface is arguably the least imaginative use for Metro when it comes to powerful desktop and laptop computers. It is very similar to the design seen on a Windows Phone (where it is of course more appropriate) and far less striking than on Xbox 360 or even in the Zune media player.
To try it out for yourself you can download the beta version from Microsoft and install it to your hard drive or into a virtual machine.
Alternatively you can try the Windows 8 Transformation Pack, a 58MB download from this page. After downloading, simply unzip and run the Windows 8 Transformation Pack 2.0.exe file, set the options that you want and install it. You’ll then need to apply it as a theme (right-click desktop > Personalize) before rebooting, whereupon you will find that your current version of Windows has suddenly turned square, elegant and colourful.
Windows Phone Metro Demo
If you’re using an Android or iPhone device you might also like to get an idea of how Windows Phone works or at least sample Metro in mobile form. This can be done by visiting this page on your phone’s browser, where you will find a virtualised mobile phone version of the Metro UI as found on various devices from Samsung, LG, HTC and Nokia.
All you need to do to interact is tap the tiles with your thumb or fingers, swiping left and right to explore what’s on offer.
As we move ever closer to the launch of Metro as a desktop user interface, more and more tools and apps are being made available for users to get an idea of how easy it is to use.
People want to know that they can use an operating system long-term, rather than just for a few moments at a time as with a mobile phone. As such, before spending money on Windows 8 or even downloading the developer preview or beta, try a few of these apps and see what you think. Meanwhile if you have any of your own suggestions, let us know.