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Microsoft Unveils New Explorer For Windows 8

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With Windows 8 still some way from launching, it’s always interesting to see what the people in charge are planning, for what should be a pretty major overhaul of the operating system.

It was back in June when Microsoft lifted the lid on Windows 8 officially, introducing the Metro UI we’ve become familiar with from Windows Phone 7. However questions remain over whether Windows 8 will be a one-size fits all OS appearing on touch devices as well as laptops and PCs, but details just released about the new Explorer in Windows 8, point to the possibility that we will see two versions of the OS.

Windows 8 Explorer

The latest post on the Building Windows 8 blog details how the engineers at Redmond have redesigned Wondows Explorer based on telemetry data collected from millions of logged session from a broad range of Explorer users.

The data threw up some very interesting results including the fact that of the top ten commands used in Explorer, only two are available from the command bar in the current Windows 7 UI.

Windows 8 Explorer

“This further reinforced our thinking that there was a big opportunity here to improve Explorer by making common commands more readily available. A clear user interface design principle is that frequently used commands should be easy to get to—clearly we had not yet accomplished that with existing designs,” Steven Sinofsky said in the post.

Microsoft looked for customer feedback and as well as suggestions of support for many third-party add-ons used by power users, the biggest category of feedback was requests to bring back features from Windows XP that were removed in Windows Vista, especially things like bringing back the "Up" button from Windows XP, adding cut, copy, and paste back into the top-level UI, and for providing a more customisable command surface.

Microsoft set itself three goals for the new Windows Explorer: Optimize Explorer for file management tasks; Create a streamlined command experience and respect Explorer’s heritage.

Windows 8 Explorer

It looked at several layouts before settling on implementing a UI which takes its cues from Office, including a ribbon which offers access to most of the important commands.

The new ribbon has four tabs: Home, Share, View and Manage – which combined give users access to a large range of around 200 commands. In the File menu, one improvement has been the ability to quickly access the “Open command” prompt, and a new command – “Open command prompt as administrator” - both of which launch a command prompt with the path set to the currently selected folder.

Windows 8 Explorer

One of the main requests from power users was to include more keyboard shortcut and Microsoft has duly obliged with around 200 set to be included by the time the OS launches next year.

While third-party add-ons for Explorer will continue to work in Windows 8 in the right-click context menus, they will not be able to plug into the ribbon UI, which will be a disappointment for many heavy users of the interface.

Regarding the touch-nature of the new Explorer, it seems clear that the new ribbon interface has been designed more with keyboard and mouse users in mind, than those using their digits.

Windows 8 Explorer

This would lead us to think that Microsoft will be bringing out a more touch-friendly overlay of the Explorer for touch-enabled devices – or at least we would hope it will be.

However, Sinofsky believes this design will work for touch interfaces: “As it so happens, while not primarily a touch interface, the ribbon also provides a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down menus and context menus (we'll have lots more to say on the topic of touch, of course, we definitely know there is a lot of interest but also want to make clear that we know how important keyboard and mouse scenarios are to power-user scenarios of file management).”

With the time line for a Windows 8 launch still rather vague, we expect to see more drip feeding of information regarding the OS in the coming months as well as more clarity on whether there will be a specific touch-enabled interface.

Source: Building Windows 8

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