Subject: General Tech | August 23, 2012 - 05:30 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows, Microsoft Store, microsoft, logo
Windows 8 is not the only big change for the company this year as it retires the italicized logo that has been in service since 1987 in favor of a simple graphic and sans-serif type Segoe face. Reportedly inspired by the company's Microsoft Store logo and Windows Flag, the new logo is intended to signify the new direction the company is taking with its full lineup of software products.
Microsoft is making a number of rather large changes this year. It is embracing the ARM platform in a big way with a version of Windows (WinRT), pushing forward with Windows Phone OS, revamping the entire Office 2013 suite with a Modern UI /Metro-inspired interface, and releasing the next iteration of its desktop operating system with app store in Windows 8. And all those changes are before even mentioning the company's entrance into the hardware market with the Surface tablet, and the new Windows logo that had many users divided.
Speaking of logo changes, the company dropped the traditional Windows flag logo in favor of a simplified single-color logo reminiscent of an actual window. The two dimensional logo was a big shift, but was in line with the company's goal of presenting a flat Windows experience (namely by removing Aero Glass and the 3D effects with translucent windows borders) of simple colors as well as the new tile-based "Metro" Modern UI app interface and Start Screen. The flag logo will live on in a more basic form with the new Microsoft logo, however. Inspired by both the Windows Flag and Microsoft Store logos, Microsoft has unveiled its new company logo. The word "Microsoft" is no longer bold and italicized. Instead it is written in Microsoft's Segoe font in a light gray color. To the left of the written logo is an image of four flat squares of red, green, blue, and yellow arranged like the Windows logo but without the perspective shift.
Microsoft General Manager (of Brand Strategy) Jeff Hansen was quoted by the Seattle Times in stating that the new logo is intended to "signal the heritage but also signal the future — a newness and freshness" of the company. Further, the addition of color to the new Microsoft logo is meant to convey the idea that the company has a wealth of diverse products to offer.
The company is wasting no time in transitioning to the new logo, and it should be proliferating out to all of the company's online websites and social media accounts starting today. As Windows 8 nears release, we should further start seeing the new logo being used in TV and online advertisements for the company's products.
I know many people were against the Windows 8 logo, but what do you think of the new Microsoft logo? Will you miss the old logo?
Personally, I think it is rather nice as far as logos go, simple yet catching thanks to the addition of color. The bold and italic Microsoft text logo served the company well, but it's a much different world than it was 25 years ago. If it helps, Neowin points out that logo does look rather similar to an old image used during the 90's for Microsoft advertising, so the new logo is not totally coming out of nowhere.
Find more Microsoft coverage by following the "microsoft" tag.
Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2012 - 12:51 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, Windows 7, upgrade, microsoft
If you are finding it difficult to delay the purchase of that shiny new computer until after Windows 8 comes out, Microsoft has a solution for you. Thanks to the Windows Upgrade Offer, you can buy a new PC now and be eligible to upgrade to Windows 8 for $14.99.
Starting June 2nd 2012, if you purchase a new PC with Windows 7 you are eligible for a discounted upgrade to Windows 8. This ensures that you are able to run the latest Microsoft operating system even if you buy a new PC before it is released. Eligible PCs include any OEM machine pre-installed with the following operating system SKUs using a valid product key:
- Windows 7 Home Basic
- Windows 7 Home Premium
- Windows 7 Professions
- Windows 7 Ultimate
This does include OEM machines with System Builder (COEM) versions of Windows 7, which means if you buy a system put together by a DIY builder, you are still eligible for the discounted pricing. One caveat is that computers with Windows 7 Starter are not eligible for the discounted Windows 8 pricing.
Further, there is a maximum of five upgrades per customer and one per machine, so at most you could get five upgrades to Windows 8 at the $14.99 price when you purchase five or more new PCs.
The $14.99 price gets you a downloadable upgrade version of Windows 8 Pro. This version can be used on any computer with a previous version of Windows installed to upgrade from. In that respect, it is just like any other upgrade version of Windows 8 and could be given to someone else if you wanted to stick with Windows 7 on your new PC. Microsoft is further willing to provide a physical copy of the upgrade, but it will cost you an additional fee (exact fee not stated).
The other limitation is that this upgrade version comes without the add-on pack that includes Windows Media Center. If you want that feature, you will have to pay for it at an undiscounted price.
The promotional period ends January 31, 2013 which is the same day that the $39.99 promotional upgrade price for everyone else ends. (No word yet on whether there will also be student promos like Windows 7 had, however.)
Microsoft’s registration page recently went live. If you are interested in getting the discounted pricing, you will need to register for the deal and provide purchase information and the product key for version of Windows that came pre-installed on your computer. Once Windows 8 is officially released on October 26, 2012 Microsoft will email you a download link and product key.
Windows 8 is somewhat controversial release but at least Microsoft is pricing it attractively.
Subject: General Tech | August 21, 2012 - 11:38 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, skydrive, microsoft, cloud storage
Earlier this month, Microsoft gave its webmail service an overhaul and rebranding from Hotmail to Outlook.com. In our preview of the service, I noted that while Outlook.com is integrated with SkyDrive, the company's cloud storage web interface was still using the same old UI. Fortunately, the company has taken the need for an updated interface for SkyDrive to heart and has given SkyDrive the same Modern-UI facelift as Outlook.com. Welcome to the new SkyDrive.
Skydrive is now broken up into two main panels with an action bar along the top. It looks very similar to Outlook.com in that respect. The left panel contains a search box as well as links to your Skydrive folders, shared items, groups, and connected computers (with the SkyDrive app installed). The right panel is where the folders and files are displayed.
The "Recent docs" link in the left panel does just what the name implies: opens a list of the most recently accessed documents. The "Shared" link displays a list of all the files and folders that are being shared with you. The "Groups" link opens a page in the right panel where you can create and manage sharing groups. You can create a group of people in your family with which you share out photos in certain folders, for example. Basically, it just makes it easier to share with multiple people.
Along the top is a bar with links. In the top-left corner is a Skydrive button that brings up the same Metro/Modern UI tiles that link to other Microsoft services.
Along that same blue action bar are links to create, upload, share, and manipulate your SkyDrive data. The "Create" link allows you create a new folder or document. Using Microsoft's web apps (in the future it may integrate with the remote-accessible versions of Office 2013 but for now it's the same old Office Web Apps), you can further create new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote documents.
You can further use the upload button to not only add files but multiple files at a time (finally!). Unfortunately, it is still not possible to select and upload folders but the ability to select multiple files for uploading is a step in the right direction. Technically, it has been possible to upload multiple files before now, but it required you to use Internet Explorer. In order to upload entire folders, you will need to use the SkyDrive application. The "Share" button is fairly self-explanatory and works the same as it always has. You can send files in an email, post to Facebook, or get a link that you can then send to anyone you want to have access to the file(s) or folder. Finally, the Folder Actions button provides a drop-down menu that provides the following options for the selected items: download, embed, order prints, delete, move, and view properties.
In all, the action buttons have been simplified and are large enough that they should be easy to see and hit on mobile devices with touchscreens. It is much easier to navigate around as well. When you log into the SkyDrive site, it defaults to the "Files" tab and presents you with a collection of thumbnails listing folders and files. If the file is a photo or if it is a folder that contains photos, the icon will be a "live tile" that displays an icon of the photo or the photos it contains respectively (it cycles through multiple photos in a mini-slideshow). On the other hand, if there are no photos inside the folder, the icon will simply be a solid color with the file/folder name in text in the bottom-left corner of the rectangular tile. To the right of the name is a number that represents the number of files or sub-folders inside.
In my SkyDrive folder list, the tiles appear to be a bit messy as not all folders are live tiles. And when they are not live–and just a large solid colored rectangle– it results in a lot of wasted space (and relatively small text). Alternatively, there is also a more traditional details list view that presents files similar to Windows Explorer (and the traditional SkyDrive interface).
You can view photos within the SkyDrive web interface and open documents with the Office Web Apps service, but for any other files you will have to download them in order to open and view them. Just like the Outlook.com interface, you can enable the messaging sidebar to talk with your friends on the various social networks. In the bottom-left corner, Microsoft shows the amount of storage space you have remaining in your SkyDrive. If you click on "Manage Storage" beneath the remaining storage number, you get a new Metro options menu. Here you can opt into the new office web apps, disable people tagging, upgrade storage, and set the default file format to either Microsoft Office Open XML or OpenDocument Format which is nice to see.
Overall, the new SkyDrive interface is a nice improvement offering a cleaner interface and simplified navigation. It now fits in nicely when transitioning between SkyDrive.com, Outlook.com, and the People and Calendar apps. When navigating around the SkyDrive site, it feels much more responsive than it used to, and the ability to add multiple files without needing to use Internet Explorer is a feature I've been waiting for (for a long time). Not being able to add folders is a bummer, and in that respect using the SkyDrive Windows app is still easier, but in general the new SkyDrive will make accessing my files from a remote computer using the website a more enjoyable experience!
Have you tried out the overhauled SkyDrive web interface yet?
Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2012 - 01:27 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: rumour, microsoft, arm, surface
With yesterdays announcement that Asus, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung will all be releasing ARM based WinRT systems, the rumour we are hearing from The Register today is very interesting. If indeed the ARM powered Surface will be selling for $200 it would be less than half of the price analysts predicted it would arrive at. That Acer is not on that list of manufacturers lends credence to their CEO's statement that the $200 Surface will have a negative impact on current tablet vendors. On the other hand, if it turns out that a reasonably functional and sturdy ARM based tablet/laptop can be designed and sold for $200 then it will be a definite win for the consumer and compete with Google's new tablet as well as certain high end eReaders.
"If the latest Redmond rumors are to be believed, Microsoft's ARM-based Surface tablet models could arrive priced as low as $199, positioning them as heavyweights in the burgeoning low-cost tablet category."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Adobe Officially Kills New Flash Installations On Android @ Slashdot
- Microsoft redesigns Skydrive and announces an Android app @ The Inquirer
- Sapphire 6GB 7970 Toxic cards have NOT been cancelled @ Kitguru
- RIM: We can't flog phones, would you like our nuke plant OS instead? @ The Register
- Ninjalane Podcast Episode 20
Subject: General Tech | August 14, 2012 - 02:54 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: winRT, asus, dell, Lenovo, Samsung, microsoft, arm
When Microsoft released their Surface tablet/notebook, the tech community wondered if this move by a software company would upset the Tier 1 hardware vendors who might not want the competition. That discussion was ended when Microsoft announced that Surface was a proof of concept and would be released in very limited qualities. Today The Inquirer reports on upcoming mobile devices running on ARM hardware and WinRT from all the major vendors, giving us a rough idea what to expect in the way of performance. The quoted specs include user interface animations at 60FPS and touchscreen sampling rates of 100Hz per finger. Battery life will be impressive, 320 hours and 409 hours of standby time and for video playback you can expect 8-13 hours of HD playtime, though they do not talk about the quality of that playback.
"SOFTWARE DEVELOPER Microsoft has revealed Asus, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung Windows RT devices will be available at the launch of the operating system.
Microsoft has been playing a very dangerous game with its Surface tablet hogging the Windows RT limelight, something that its long-term and invaluable partners will not like. Now the company has come out and said that Asus, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung will also have Windows RT devices when the operating system launches later this year."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Intel: Xeon breaks Calxeda's ARM in Apache benchmark @ The Register
- Wireless power for the price of a penny @ NanoTechWeb
- ARM tags GlobalFoundries for future chip tech @ The Register
- Ubuntu 12.10 Is Faster With Intel Hardware @ Phoronix
- Hardware Secrets Interviews Arctic
- Canon Pixma Pro-1 Review @ TechReviewSource
- Intel refutes nVidia claims regarding HD4000 game compatibility @ Kitguru
- How do you organize the cables and networking equipment from your computer? @ Hardware Secrets
- Genius G-Shot HD575T Digital Camcorder Review @ TechwareLabs
- Mini Apple iPad to launch at £179 on 12th September @ Kitguru
- Win A Silverstone Fortress FT03-MINI Chassis @ eTeknix
Subject: General Tech | August 8, 2012 - 03:05 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, retail windows 8, microsoft, box art
Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system is well on its way to retail availability, and that means retail packaging. Unlike the simple green boxes of previous operating systems (ultimate edition excluded), Microsoft has decided to overhaul its box art for the new OS in Windows 8 UI style. The new boxes feature a large and colorful tile-based Windows logo set against either a white or black background color. Windows 8 will get a white background with Blue text and Windows 8 Pro versions will feature the black background and white text. It is not a bad design as far as Microsoft box art goes. The simple design is fairly pleasing to the eye, though some might argue that the OS inside the box is not as pretty as the box itself.
The Verge managed to get its hands on the image above of the two boxed Windows 8 versions. Reportedly, Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro will be the only two versions that are sold at retail. Further, the two boxes are for the retail (not upgrade) versions. While The Verge speculates that the upgrade versions of Windows 8 will look similar to the boxed versions of Windows 7, there is no way to know for sure until the box art leaks or Microsoft announces it officially.
What do you think of the new Windows 8 retail box art? Did Microsoft make a good move here?
You can find more of PC Perspective's Windows 8 coverage by following our Windows 8 tag.
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 7, 2012 - 02:07 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8 style ui, windows 8, windows, operating system, microsoft, Metro
The Windows 8 RTM leak has coincided with numerous articles around the Internet that detail the new features and the Windows 8 Style UI once known as Metro. It seems that a new setup process and the removal of Aero Glass were not the only big aesthetic changes. With the new build came several alleged tweaks by Microsoft that prevent several methods for automatically booting to the desktop. Group Policy tweaks and a autorun shortcut were two such methods–that worked on early beta builds but no longer work on the RTM–to skip past the Metro/Windows 8 Style UI Start Screen, according to Rafael Rivera of Windows 8 Secrets.
Previously, users could login and be automatically taken to the desktop. They would still see the Metro screen, but only for a split second. Now, users wanting to do this are back to square one, and will have to manually launch the desktop each time they login to their computers.
It is not all bad news, however (well, at least not as bad). If you drag the desktop
Metro Windows 8 Style UI tile to the top-left corner, as soon as you login, you can hit the Enter key to go to the desktop. It is a less automatic way than has been previously possible, but it is better than nothing.
Some speculation and opinion follows:
It seems that Microsoft is taking a very firm position on Windows 8’s new Start Screen interface and full screen applications. While it is likely that developers and enthusiasts are working on new tweaks to get to the desktop automatically again, I foresee this being a drawn out tit-for-tat battle between Microsoft and its users. Beyond the new interface, this stance of working against customization is something I have not seen before on this level, as previous operating system have had numerous tweaking utilities and Microsoft did not seem to have a problem with them. My only guess is that they believe by forcing users to use Windows 8 Style UI as much as it possibly can, it will get users used to, and accepting of, the interface faster (essentially trying to get users over the radical interface change as quickly as possible–ike ripping a bandaid off). And if I let the cynical side get the best of me, Microsoft does have a vested interest in keeping users on the Metro/Windows 8 Style interface as much as possible as they want users to buy Metro apps and not use traditional applications. They are selling the upgrades for $40 and likely want to “make up” the money (compared to selling prices of previous versions) by taking a cut of Windows Store app purchases. The company’s insistence on forcing usage is only going to hurt them, I fear, as people who are on the fence about Metro–but who are interested in the other improvements–likely want to come to the new interface on their own terms (if at all). Actively working against users trying to use and customize their operating systems may well cost them a few sales. It would seem to me that Microsoft should be welcoming anyone that wants to use Windows 8, even if they do not want to stay in (or use at all) the Metro interface but that's just my opinion and apparently Microsoft is of a different mind.
Whether you love, hate, or feel somewhere in-between on Windows 8 Style UI, options are not a bad thing. I do think that more people would be willing to give Microsoft’s new interface a chance if it was more optional than it is. What do you think?
Subject: General Tech | August 5, 2012 - 05:02 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8, microsoft, metro ui
Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system has reached Release To Manufacturing (RTM) status, and it further has ditched the Metro UI name. Instead, the company has decided to use the term “Windows 8-style UI” to refer to the new interface and applications.
While the actual tile-based interface itself is still part of the OS, several factors seem to have caused Microsoft to rebrand it. A Microsoft representative was quoted by ZDNet in stating that Metro UI was simply an internal code name never intended to be used as the final brand name. Specifically:
“We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines. As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names.”
That’s all well and good–the company has used many codenames for in-development products in the past. However, it does seem to be a bit late in the game to announce that the Metro UI name is suddenly dead, especially considering the public development cycle with two public betas so far and numerous articles using the Metro name to refer to the new Windows 8 interface and apps.
Another possible reason for the change to “Windows 8-style UI” lies in alleged legal threats by German retailer Metro AG. According to The Verge, sources have indicated that Microsoft backed off from using the Metro name in order to avoid a legal dispute with the retailer. As far as trademarks go, Microsoft could have fought them in court with a chance of being allowed to continue using Metro as the companies and the products referred to by their “Metro” brand names are in different industries. Metro AG is a huge company, however. It would have the money and resources to give Microsoft a good court battle for the name.
In an interesting move, it seems that Microsoft and Metro AG have backed away from a court battle by agreeing to disagree. The Verge quotes an internal Microsoft memo as stating that due to talks with “an important European partner,” (possibly Metro AG) the company is discontinuing its usage of the Metro term/brand. Until a more permanent and official brand name is released, Microsoft has decided to go with “Windows 8-style UI,” and is instructing everyone else to as well.
Whatever the real reason for the change, the Metro UI is gone, at least in name. Will you miss the Metro term?
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 4, 2012 - 06:29 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows 8 rtm, windows 8, video, start screen, microsoft, Metro
Preface: If you prefer a video version, you can check out a video walkthrough of Windows 8 RTM with commentary. For those that want a written preview, I have attempted to break the article up into sizeable chunks. The first part is the introduction and "what's new" regarding getting it set up versus our guide for installing the Consumer Preview. The following sections are for showing off desktop applications and metro/Windows 8 Style UI apps. Finally, a short conclusion and general impressions section as well as some questions for you to answer should you want to join the discussion. Once again, I've gone with a more informal voice for the preview as there is a lot of opinion in here, this is by no means a full review!
Please note that unless otherwise stated, these opinions are my own, and not PC Perspective's. I am interested in hearing your opinions on the RTM build as well, and you can participate in the comments below without registration (though you get some nice benefits–like an avatar and ability to edit posts–if you decide to).
Windows 8 RTM has leaked to the Internet, here's what's new and what I think of it
Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system is well on its way for the final public release on October 26, 2012—in fact OEMs are starting to get their hands on the code, and it is officially in Release To Manufacturing (RTM) status. While Microsoft TechNet subscribers will be able to download the Windows 8 RTM build on August 15, 2012, it has already been leaked to the Internet as is available on various file-sharing websites.
To be more specific, the leaked build is a volume license version of Windows 8 Enterprise (N) RTM. It is further an “N” edition, which means that it is aimed at the European market and has Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center stripped out. The "N" editions are the result of an EU case relating to alleged anti-competitive actions. From that leaked build, people have managed to create a bootable ISO version for clean installs where there is no existing OS on the machine as well as a zipped folder that can be used for upgrade installations.
Needless to say, the news that the RTM had leaked piqued my interest, so I set out to get my hands on it (and report my findings). I managed to find a non-bootable image called "MICROSOFT.WINDOWS.8.ENTERPRISE-N.RTM.X64.VOLUME.ENGLISH.NON_BOOT_DVD-SAMOVARWZT" (wow that's a long file name) that seemed to check out as being legitimate. I then took that 6.05 GB folder and used the files to do a clean install from a Windows 7 x64 virtual machine I had around for testing just this sort of thing.
Unlike our previous Windows 8 Consumer Preview installation guide, this RTM build does not require a key to be entered in order to complete the install. As a volume license version, you are allowed a 30-day grace period to activate (I have not tested if the Windows 7 -rearm trick works to extend that yet). Other than the key issue, the clean install procedure is the same as the steps we covered previously. Aesthetically, Microsoft has changed to a purple background and the beta fish logo at boot-up (when the installer restarts the system) is gone. It is replaced by a small light-blue Windows 8 logo.
Once the installer has finished, it will restart the computer and, upon boot will present a nice graphical OS selection list which appears to be a new addition to the RTM build. After choose Windows 8, you enter the Windows setup wizard which guides you through setting computer options and configuring your user account.
The setup process in Windows 8 RTM appears to be identical to that of the Consumer Preview version that I installed a couple of months ago (how time has flown!). Below is an animated .gif of the setup screens, which appears to be the same as the Consumer Preview except using a slightly different background color.
After that finished though, I was pleasantly surprised with what came next. After asking for some sort of tutorial ever since the Developer Preview, Microsoft has finally provided one–sort of. Basically, after setup finishes, the screen goes dark and then an animation pops up that briefly shows you how to access the Windows 8 Charms bar by moving your mouse to any corner of the screen. Then it dumps you out to the desktop.
Not exactly what I was hoping for, especially considering I was only able to find out how to actually close a
Metro "Windows 8 style UI" application without going to the task manager from a forum post of all things. Needless to say, some of the mouse gestures are not obvious, and I do consider myself to be at least somewhat technically savvy. Therefore, I can only imagine how lost some people might be when presented with Windows 8. When I had the Developer and Consumer Preview(s) installed on my Dell XT convertible tablet, the touch and gesture stuff was easier to discover but it is still not apparent. I was really hoping for a tutorial similar to what Microsoft did for Windows XP that introduces the interface and all the new features on the first setup (and accessible later if needed).
Still, it is a step in the right direction, and the tutorial at least points out one of the new mouse/touch navigation features. Here's hoping that MS adds more to that start-up tutorial by the time final code is out and it is for sale. Below is an animated .gif image of the brief tutorial. Note that the actual tutorial has some fading transitions between scenes. The last two images are two clips from a constantly changing background color as the OS loads the desktop and Windows 8 Start Screen for the first time. It cycles through all the colors available to choose from in the Personalize setting during account creation.
Once Windows has finished setting up your user account, you will be presented with the Windows 8 Start Screen for the first time. In my case, it was an array of "Metro" Windows 8 Style UI live tiles on a dark blue background with my name and photo in the top-right-corner. You can see what my Start Screen looks like in the image below. Yours will look similar but the photos and location information will be different. So you'll have the same stock apps, but the information on the tiles will not be the same. The information in question will be pulled from the Microsoft/Windows Live account that you signed into during the initial setup process.
Continue reading to see the new "Metro" apps, desktop UI, and my final thoughts
Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 1, 2012 - 09:11 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: webmail, outlook, microsoft, metro ui, hotmail, email
Hotmail, the latest iteration of Microsoft's web-based email service will soon be getting a user interface overhaul that takes many cues from the company's upcoming metro-ized Windows 8 operating system. In fact, it very closely resembles the new Mail client in Windows 8 as well as the new Outlook client in the Customer Preview of Office 2013 that I have been using for a a couple of weeks now.
Along with the (in my opinion, much needed) user interface updates comes yet another rebranding. Microsoft is ditching the "Hotmail" name in favor of the more professional-sounding "Outlook.com" webmail name. Now in public beta, users can switch over to the new Outlook.com webmail if they want, but it is not yet mandatory. Reportedly, all Hotmail users will eventually be moved over the new Outlook webmail once the service is in final stages of development. As Ars Technica points out, this is not Microsoft's first rebranding. In fact, it is somewhere around the fifth rebranding/iteration. Here's hoping that it is the last and that they manage to successfully brand the service–and do not tarnish the Outlook name.
I decided to take a look at the new Outlook.com interface for myself, and you can too. To switch over, log into your current Hotmail account, click on the "Options" link in the upper-right-hand side of the window and choose "Upgrade to Outlook.com."
The new interface is very flat, and much more simplified versus the old Hotmail. The current Hotmail UI leaves a lot to be desired. It has a rather large advertising panel on the right, rather unattractive scroll bars that do not really fit in with the design's color scheme, and links along the top for other Microsoft services and email functions (like reply, junk, and categories) that can be difficult to read and find. It is a rather dated design by today's standards, especially considering Microsoft's hard push for updated UIs on other platforms–hence the Outlook.com refresh.
As mentioned before, the Outlook.com webmail UI is very similar to the Metro Mail application that comes with Windows 8. It is broken into a four panel design. The folders and quick views links from Hotmail and the email header list is carried over and given a flat Metro design with stylized scroll bars and a folder list with a light gray background. The third panel serves as the reading pane and sits in between the email list and advertising panel–which thankfully moves to text-based ads only. The contents of your emails are displayed in this panel. It is not a fully responsive HTML design, but it does scale fairly well as the browser window is resized.
Along the top of the screen is a blue bar that holds links for email actions (reply, junk, delete, ect), an Outlook button, Messenger button, Settings button, and account settings (when clicking on your name in the upper-right). The white text on the blue background is much easier to read than the current Hotmail design thanks to the slightly larger text and the better contrast.
When hovering over the Outlook button, a small arrow appears. If you click on that arrow, you get a pop up menu with tiles much like Windows 8's Metro UI for Mail, People, Calendar, and SkyDrive. Unfortunately, the Calendar and SkyDrive links simply go to the respective web sites. And those web sites have not been updated with the new Outlook design.
The following screenshot shows the interface used for creating a new email. Again, you get a flat two panel design with a top navigation bar. On the left, you can add recipients from your contacts or by typing them in manually, while on the right you can use the text editor to add rich text and HTML or compose plain text emails.
Outlook.com has a new People tab as well, where you can manage contacts and chat using the built-in messenger client. It is the only other tile that has received a facelift, the calendar and SkyDrive pages are still using the old/current design. It forgoes the blue and white theme for an orange and white color scheme, but maintains the paneled design. On the left you have a list of contacts, and in the middle it lists details the selected contacts. The right-most panel does away with advertisement in favor of a web-based messaging client.
One nice new feature is further integration with the various social networks (if you are into that sort of thing, of course). You can now add contacts from your Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter profile(s). Further, the messenger client support talking with Windows Messenger, Facebook Chat, and Skype (coming in a future update) contacts.
In short, the new Microsoft webmail interface is a much welcomed update. Scrolling and navigation is noticeably smoother than the current Hotmail UI. Opening messages feels quicker as well. Opening the Messaging tab actually replaces the advertising panel completely, which is a nice touch. As mentioned above, the scroll bars are different. They appear to be a bit wider, and very much two dimensional, but the bars actually look much better than the current Hotmail design as they fit nicely into the aesthetic and color scheme.
The only (rather minor) issue is that, because of the larger text, I cannot, at a glance, check for new messages in the various folders I use. On the other hand, the text is easier to read and the scrolling is fast enough that it's only a minor thing. Further, despite the new Outlook.com name Microsoft's webmail does not support IMAP protocols. And being web-based, if your internet connection goes down you lose access to your email–there is no Google Gears support here.
While the new interface is not enough to bring me away from using a desktop client (which funnily enough is Outlook 2013), it is vastly improved versus the current Hotmail website and is worth switching over to. For being a webmail client, it is a very smooth, and dare I say slick, experience.
More information on Outlook 2013 desktop client–which Outlook 2013 seems to take inspiration from design-wise– I mentioned can be found using the outlook and office 2013 tags. Stay tuned for more Outlook.com information as the beta progresses. What features would you like to see? (I'd like to see the new UI carried over to the SkyDrive site!) Once you have gotten a chance to try the new Outlook.com beta, let us know what you think of it in the comments below (no registration required).
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