Chapter 5: Desktop improvements

While the biggest new feature in Windows 8 is the Start screen, some changes have also been implemented on the Desktop. In particular, the menus in File Explorer (formerly called Windows Explorer) now use the Ribbon interface (which was first introduced in Microsoft Office 2007) rather than the conventional menus of previous Windows operating systems.

The Ribbon interface essentially makes all of the most regularly-used options visible along the top bar of the window, rather than making you go through a menu for them. Think of each tab at the top of the window as being a ribbon.

The context of the ribbon changes depending on the file type that you have clicked on in the Explorer window. For example, if you have clicked on a media file, you will get options that will allow you to either play that file in your default media player, or to add it to a playlist.

You can see that commands are grouped on the menu bar and organised via tabs. Clicking on the tabs (or ribbons) shows you the commands that are contained within those ribbons. Likewise, clicking on files in your folders will change the context of the ribbon interface depending on the file type. In our screenshot you can see it is showing us 'Picture Tools' as we have clicked on an image file.
You can see that commands are grouped on the menu bar and organised via tabs. Clicking on the tabs (or ribbons) shows you the commands that are contained within those ribbons. Likewise, clicking on files in your folders will change the context of the ribbon interface depending on the file type. In our screenshot you can see it is showing us 'Picture Tools' as we have clicked on an image file.

If you haven't used the Ribbon interface before, it will take some time before you get used to it, but it can be a more convenient way of accessing regularly-used features without having to click through a menu.

As far as navigating the Desktop is concerned, it remains largely the same as previous versions of Windows, but without the Start Menu button, of course. Any programs you wish to run will have to be through the Start screen that we have previously described, although program shortcuts can still be created on the Desktop manually.

Those of you who use keyboard shortcuts to be more productive will be pleased to learn that most regular key combinations that you are accustomed to are still valid under the new operating system and there are few new ones that help navigate the new features in Windows 8, which we mentioned in chapter two.

Windows Aero has been re-imagined in Windows 8. That means there are no more fancy application-switching animations and the interface looks a lot more flat than usual. For example, pressing Windows + Tab to get a 3D window switching effect (which is present in Windows 7) instead presents the flat Switcher feature on the left side of the screen. This Switcher shows thumbnails of the applications that are open.

You still get features such as Aero Snap, which allows you to easily place two windows side-by-side in a split-screen view, and Aero Shake is still supported, too. You can shake a window to make all the windows behind it drop to the Taskbar in order to make the Desktop more visible.

The Aero Peek feature is still supported, so you can hover your mouse pointer over open applications in the Taskbar to get a small preview icon. In Windows 7, if you place the mouse pointer just to the right of the clock, all windows will turn fully transparent so that you can see the Desktop. This is not supported in Windows 8. Transparency is only supported for the Taskbar. The Aero Glass theme is not available, which gives Windows 8 a flat look that is in line with the new Windows 8-style user interface and this has been done in order to optimise the interface for touch.

Top: Pressing the Windows key + Tab in Windows 7 brings up a fancy animation and allows you to flick through all your open applications. Bottom: Pressing the same key combination in Windows 8 brings up the flat-looking Switcher.
Top: Pressing the Windows key + Tab in Windows 7 brings up a fancy animation and allows you to flick through all your open applications. Bottom: Pressing the same key combination in Windows 8 brings up the flat-looking Switcher.

The file copying interface has been improved in Windows 8. If copying duplicate or updated files to a folder, Windows 8 will now bring up a comparison dialog box showing you the details of the files that are going to be copied. You can compare files based on the thumbnails provided, the date and the file size, and you can select to copy only files that have been changed.

A new file copying action has been added, which allows you to compared files visually and via details before copying.
A new file copying action has been added, which allows you to compared files visually and via details before copying.

Not only that, the transfer window now gives you a graphical representation of the speed, rather than just an average rate, so you can see how fast your files have gone throughout the course of the transfer.

It's now easier to observe the performance of your file transfers.
It's now easier to observe the performance of your file transfers.

The Task Manager also gets a major facelift in Windows 8. It now shows a lot more information, giving crucial details on the resources that individual applications are using. It can be particularly useful for applications that use the Internet, as you can see at a glance which applications are using your network connection. As per usual, memory usage and CPU usage are also shown, with disk access and network access added in as well. Windows 8 apps that have been downloaded from the Microsoft store also get their own tab in the Task Manager, so you can keep an eye on the resources that they are consuming as well.

The new Task Manager now shows disk and network usage.
The new Task Manager now shows disk and network usage.

New-style Windows 8 apps get their own section within Task Manager.
New-style Windows 8 apps get their own section within Task Manager.

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