Part of a continuing series on the ins and outs of Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system.
New screenshots have surfaced from the upcoming release of Windows 8 - build 8220, which will also be called the 'Windows 8 Consumer Preview'. The new software is expected to lose the well-known Start button, an omnipresent Microsoft feature for the last sixteen and a half years.
It's all part of the move by Microsoft to standardize their user interface across multiple form factors - desktop, laptop and tablet - since Windows 8 is expected to be the first Microsoft operating system to actually enjoy a popular tablet release. It might be one step too far for entrenched Windows users, however, some of whom have reacted to the wild stylistic changes in Windows 8 with more than a healthy dose of skepticism.
Perhaps the change is warranted. After all, the Start menu itself is disappearing, replaced instead with a Start screen, filled with tiles representing Metro UI apps, traditional Windows programs, updates, calendars, and more.
Still, for users who can't quite come to grips with the new Windows paradigm, there's a bit of good news - Microsoft didn't completely take the Start button away. Laptop and desktop keyboards will still ship with a Start key, and even if they didn't, hitting Ctrl+Esc can open up the Start screen.
But if even that is unable to sate your Start button hunger, Microsoft has hot corners for you. A hot corner is a corner of your desktop that triggers some sort of predefined action when you mouse into that corner. In this case, if a user moves their cursor into the lower-left hand corner of the desktop, a limited menu of actions pops up, one of which triggers the Start screen. The others launch Metro UI versions of Search, Share, Devices and Settings. There's also a clock, calendar and network status widget that pops up on the right.
The days of the Start button might be limited, but Microsoft can't bring themselves to shed it quite yet.
Microsoft is also taking the opportunity to add new kinds of logon and password experiences to Windows 8. If mobile devices have taught us anything, it's that entering properly complex passwords on a small or touchscreen-only device can be a real pain. Windows 8 will offer users exciting (yes - even password developments can be exciting!) new ways to log onto their computers.
The most curious of these is the gesture password. In this scheme, users will draw a set of actions on top of a specific picture in lieu of typing in a long and arduous password. While it is clear that this method of logging on has a special appeal for the upcoming spate of Windows 8 tablets, it could also relieve the burden of remembering secure passwords from Windows users on any form factor.
The above picture illustrates how one of these new passwords might work. Users are instructed to draw three random gestures on the screen. You're limited to drawing a circle, drawing a straight line and drawing a dot, but you can draw them anywhere on the picture, and to any size.
Windows records where you draw, the size of your drawings and even the order in which you make them. It's similar to the way some Android phones let users drag the fingers across a series of dots in order to lock and unlock their phone - this is just a bit more complicated.
It's one of the ways Microsoft is trying to make computers more secure. If users can more easily unlock their systems, they'll be more willing to use passwords in the first place. And if the passwords are easy to remember, maybe they'll stop writing them onto a Post-It note and sticking them to the side of their monitor.
Both the new taskbar (sans Start button) and the gesture passwords are widely expected to make an appearance in the Windows 8 Community Preview, expected to launch by the end of this month.
More articles in DesktopReview's continuing The Wait for 8 series on the upcoming release of Microsoft's next-generation Windows 8 operating system, scheduled for release sometime late this year.
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