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Windows Blue to tweak mouse-based interaction

Windows Blue to tweak mouse-based interaction

Microsoft's touch-centric Modern UI is the company's focus, but Windows Blue is claimed to bring improvements for keyboard-and-mouse aficionados.

Rumours that Microsoft is - at least partially - back-tracking from its Modern UI with the launch of Windows Blue later this year have come to a head, with sources indicating that Blue will include include both a Start Button and the option to boot the desktop along with additional tweaks to make things easier on keyboard and mouse users.

That Windows 8, and its tablet-centric Windows RT cousin, is based on a touch paradigm is undeniable: its Modern UI, based on the Metro user interface originally developed for Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, just begs to be poked with a finger thanks to its blocky tile-based design. It's also the source of much user dissatisfaction with the next-generation OS: few are complaining about the performance or features of Windows 8, but there are plenty of people queuing up to deride the experience of using Windows 8 on the desktop.

For some, it's enough to delay an upgrade from Windows 7 - even having purchased Windows 8 at its knock-down time-limited £25 upgrade price; for others, it's a reason to break out third-party modifications and extensions that seek to bring the Windows 8 experience back to the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointer) paradigm that has driven every previous version of Microsoft's iconic operating system. While Microsoft may have hoped that touch-capable hybrids and all-in-one (AIO) systems would push Windows 8 adoption, relatively high prices - now dropping - mean that most users are still interacting with their Windows systems in the old-fashioned way: with a keyboard and mouse.

Microsoft recently confirmed that Windows Blue, also known as Windows 8.1, would be launched later this year - around August, if rumours are to be believed - but has been quiet on exactly what changes it will bring. Several leaked disc images have provided hints, ranging from a brand-new kernel revision to Modern UI tweaks - and, more importantly, the ability to bypass the divisive Start Screen altogether and boot directly to the desktop.

Now, sources speaking to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley claim that Windows Blue is all about winning back those who have been lost in the transition to the Modern UI. While it won't be a ground-up redesign, and Modern UI will still be Microsoft's focus for the future, the sources claim that there will be tweaks made to improve the experience for mouse users: as well as the ability to add back a Start Button - though not, it would appear, a Start Menu, with the Button simply loading the Modern UI Start Screen - and boot straight to the desktop, Windows Blue is claimed to include Start Screen and Charms Menu improvements that make them easier to use with a mouse rather than a finger.

Microsoft, for its part, is refusing to comment on precisely what new features and improvements Windows Blue will bring - but with a preview release expected to launch at the end of June, reasons to avoid upgrading from a prior Windows version could be in short supply pretty soon.

26 Comments

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Flibblebot 13th May 2013, 11:49 Quote
As someone who teaches Computers for the Terrified type courses, I actually don't mind the Start Page. For new computer users, the Start Menu can be quite overwhelming and can be difficult to navigate, especially if you don't really have that much mouse control (try navigating through the Start Menu with your left hand if you don't know what I mean). The Start Screen is much more new-user friendly as it's less cluttered, less foreboding and easier to arrange.

So I'm not surprised that the Start Screen is staying - I am glad that the Start button is returning, as it makes it quite difficult when explaining to people who are new to computers and new to Windows 8 - they like to see what they're clicking on, not just clicking on a (to them) random part of the screen.

From a personal, geeky point of view, I'm more interested in what the kernel changes are, and why they've made it a point release in such a short amount of time.
damien c 13th May 2013, 12:09 Quote
I have both Windows 7 and Windows 8 and I have tried Windows 8 several times and I don't like it, mainly due to the in my oppinion stupid interface and other bits but also because stuff that works on Windows 7 like some games, just don't work on Windows 8 but other people playing the same games run it under Windows 8 with no problems.

If like some people are saying that Windows 8.1 or Windows Blue will be free for those of us who bought Windows 8, then I will try it and see as I don't see the point in saying something is bad without atleast trying it first for a while.

The thing I did like about Windows 8 was mainly that it was slightly faster than Windows 7 but that was mainly it.
edzieba 13th May 2013, 12:46 Quote
I'll be sticking with the start screen. I've got this massive widescreen monitor, why would I want the primary menu to only use a little column at the far left rather than the whole thing? All 'tiles' are are icons with coloured backgrounds. Turn them down to a more comfortable size, and you have something a lot more space-efficient than the start menu.


Of course, the way any sane person will be launching almost everything hasn't changed from Vista to 7 to 8: press the start key on your keyboard, type the first 2 or 3 characters of the program name, then press enter.
TickleOnTheTum 13th May 2013, 13:42 Quote
Oh dear, it sounds like Microsoft isn't listening properly still...

We don't want a Start Button that just leads to the Start Screen... we want the Start Menu back... that is what most people mean when they say they want the Start Button back!!!

It's the whole Start Screen paradigm that is annoying Desktop Users not just the absence of a single button to get to it!

Come on MS, really LISTEN!! Give us a choice, that way everyone is happy, and you make lots of money!

@edzieba: We do it by clicking on the Start Button then selecting what we want from the menus, for us that is a lot quicker than pressing loads of keys to find something. One finger typists probably make up the bulk of windows users and for them a mouse is easier to use. Our Start Menu has been tweaked over the years (since 1995) until it is now perfect for us.
rayson 13th May 2013, 15:10 Quote
when the new start screen came i was like 'yay change','now lets see what the computer manufacturers come up with to deal with the new interface'. leap motion comes up with a new device, which is good but no one uses it. . and that is it and Microsoft releases no new actual new way to interact with the computer.

ME ANGRY (hulk)
rayson 13th May 2013, 15:12 Quote
not bothered about the start menu only use it to shutdown the computer. and search which i actually prefer in windows 8.
Gareth Halfacree 13th May 2013, 15:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by rayson
[...] and Microsoft releases no new actual new way to interact with the computer.
Technically, Microsoft has released a new way to interact with the computer: touch-screens. Okay, that's stretching the definition of 'new,' but it's very telling that Microsoft only produces PC hardware with touch screen interfaces. There isn't a single non-touch-screen Surface on the market - giving you a clear indication of how Microsoft wants people to interact with the Modern UI.

Now, as to whether that's Microsoft cleverly pushing forward the paradigm of human-computer interaction in a way that will make sense in years to come or Microsoft panicking in the wake of the booming tablet market and rival Apple's massive cashpile and screaming 'TABLET ALL THE THINGS' is a question I'll leave to the fanboys and future historians.
[USRF]Obiwan 13th May 2013, 15:29 Quote
Well i do like the start button with its menu's. Now I have to manually hold Windows key + i and then I can select restart/shutdown with the mouse if I want to reboot the pc. It is impossible to navigate to this with the mouse alone.
edzieba 13th May 2013, 16:18 Quote
Quote:
It is impossible to navigate to this with the mouse alone.
Move cursor to right hand of screen. Click the settings button (the gear). Click the power button. Select shutdown or Restart.

This is opposed to the current situation (up to Win 7):
Move cursor to the bottom-left of the screen. Click the start button. Click the power menu option. Select Shutdown or Restart.
law99 13th May 2013, 16:30 Quote
Seems to me like for Desktop use having all three input types would be positive. Not necessary, but a welcome addition to the family.

I don't think they'll do away with the Keyboard proper for a while yet. Still the quickest way about any computer. And the mouse makes consuming data easier than touch for some, whilst the reverse is true for others. Remaining uses, like Gaming, then you are going to want every option for interacting possible I think.

Productivity wise, as long as you get somewhere quickly and you can see what you are doing, I can't see why any way round would bother me particularly.

Anyway, I'm guessing the incremental upgrade 8.1 maybe the jump I make next. I feel I've missed the boat on 8 and have no interest in changing just yet.
stuartwood89 13th May 2013, 17:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TickleOnTheTum
Oh dear, it sounds like Microsoft isn't listening properly still...

We don't want a Start Button that just leads to the Start Screen... we want the Start Menu back... that is what most people mean when they say they want the Start Button back!!!

Actually, that's what YOU want. Microsoft aren't about to waste time changing things for those who simply don't hold the capacity to click on a square.
Quote:
Originally Posted by TickleOnTheTum
It's the whole Start Screen paradigm that is annoying Desktop Users not just the absence of a single button to get to it!

Come on MS, really LISTEN!! Give us a choice, that way everyone is happy, and you make lots of money!

Allowing people to switch between two interfaces on one OS? That's nuts. Whilst I agree that the lack of Start Button can be a bit confusing for the computer illiterate, for most of us who have been using Windows for a number of years, it's not that big of a deal. I don't even look for the Start Button in Windows 7. I just throw my mouse into the bottom corner of the screen and click. It's exactly the same in Windows 8. It only gets annoying in windowed Remote Desktop sessions or direct console views in VMWare/Hyper-V.
BLC 13th May 2013, 17:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by stuartwood89
Allowing people to switch between two interfaces on one OS? That's nuts.

Not as nuts as you might think; it's a pretty old idea in the Linux world. I remember a choice of window & desktop managers right back in the mists of time (somewhere around 1997/1998) when I first tried SuSE 4.somethingorother.
loftie 13th May 2013, 18:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by edzieba
Move cursor to right hand of screen. Click the settings button (the gear). Click the power button. Select shutdown or Restart.

This is opposed to the current situation (up to Win 7):
Move cursor to the bottom-left of the screen. Click the start button. Click the power menu option. Select Shutdown or Restart.

AFAIK, in W7, if you want shutdown all you do is

Click Start -> Shutdown.

Only if I want to restart do i need to hit the arrow to select that. Regardless, it's not difficult or time consuming on W8
BLC 13th May 2013, 18:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by edzieba
Move cursor to right hand of screen. Click the settings button (the gear). Click the power button. Select shutdown or Restart.

This is opposed to the current situation (up to Win 7):
Move cursor to the bottom-left of the screen. Click the start button. Click the power menu option. Select Shutdown or Restart.
Quote:
Originally Posted by loftie
AFAIK, in W7, if you want shutdown all you do is

Click Start -> Shutdown.

Only if I want to restart do i need to hit the arrow to select that. Regardless, it's not difficult or time consuming on W8

I don't know what you guys are quibbling about: my ability to close the lid of my laptop or reach for the power button hasn't changed at all :p
RichCreedy 13th May 2013, 18:25 Quote
@loftie, you are semi correct, it depends how the power options are set on individual machines, some are set to hibernate or sleep.
loftie 13th May 2013, 18:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by BLC
I don't know what you guys are quibbling about: my ability to close the lid of my laptop or reach for the power button hasn't changed at all :p

We'll give you a few beers first and retest :p
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichCreedy
@loftie, you are semi correct, it depends how the power options are set on individual machines, some are set to hibernate or sleep.

Very true. I honestly don't recall having to change it on my machine after the last time I reinstalled windows from scratch, and I know all our laptops had shutdown as a default setting.
LordPyrinc 14th May 2013, 04:00 Quote
TBH, I rarely use the start menu now in Windows 7. I run most apps from desktop icons. I only reboot when required for windows updates so boot times really don't mean much to me. Otherwise, my machine goes to sleep. Since I don't have a touch screen, I really don't see the point in migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 8 (or Blue) anytime soon.
SchizoFrog 14th May 2013, 07:30 Quote
This discussion is going to go on for ever...
The way I see it, Microsoft had no option but to take an aggressive stance on the introduction of the Metro UI. If it had merely been an option then most users would have just opted not to use it and their efforts to move forward and adapt to the future of touch screen devices would have been hindered and drawn out. Doing it this way forced those buying new computers to try it and many have either found it beneficial or at least not as daunting nor irritating as they first thought meaning that when they release Windows Blue many of these users just won't bother going back. However, bringing these features out with the release of Blue means that the hardcore fans who absolutely would not upgrade now have what they want.
Microsoft is the winner in the long run. Users who would never have tried Metro before have now and found it useful while those who wish not to use will be able to.
Corky42 14th May 2013, 08:23 Quote
I promised my self i wasn't going to get involved in another windows 8 discussion after last time but i guess im weak willed :(
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
This discussion is going to go on for ever...
Not really, you either love it or hate it...those that love it will staunchly defend 8, those that hate it just give up after a while content with there opinion on it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
The way I see it, Microsoft had no option but to take an aggressive stance on the introduction of the Metro UI. If it had merely been an option then most users would have just opted not to use it and their efforts to move forward and adapt to the future of touch screen devices would have been hindered and drawn out.

Don't you have to ask though why people would have opted not to use it ?
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
Doing it this way forced those buying new computers to try it and many have either found it beneficial or at least not as daunting nor irritating as they first thought meaning that when they release Windows Blue many of these users just won't bother going back.

Either that or they just decided not to buy a new computer.
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
However, bringing these features out with the release of Blue means that the hardcore fans who absolutely would not upgrade now have what they want.
Microsoft is the winner in the long run. Users who would never have tried Metro before have now and found it useful while those who wish not to use will be able to.

Or 8 is now so tainted no matter how much change 8.1 brings people will just shun 8/8.1 and wait for 9 in a similar way they did with Vista even after SP1/SP2
SchizoFrog 14th May 2013, 09:40 Quote
I disagree Corky42.
The reason most and I mean the vast majority of users (not the enthusiasts who build their own machines) would not choose to use Metro as they tend to avoid anything new regardless of how good it may be. I know quite a few people personally who did not want Win 8 purely as they did not want touch screen on their laptop, but after buying a new laptop and trying it our they are actually quite fond of it with the biggest issue against it being the start button and menu being fixed with a small downloaded program should they feel the need.

The average user is not going to wait and not buy a new laptop just because they have 8 on them. If they need a new laptop they will buy one.

Windows 8 is not tainted like Vista was. The problems with Vista was that it was fundamentally broken in terms of features (especially networking) and security right up until service pack 1 came out. There is nothing actually wrong with 8 and it is actually better than 7 in terms of performance. The only issues being to do with the user interface which they are dealing with. Also, as for users waiting for the next OS as they did with Vista, that just isn't viable as Microsoft isn't updating in the same manner any more hence 8.1 (Blue) being released.
-------

At some point in the future we are going to have to move away from the mouse and keyboard interface and the only way to do this is to start a process of transition and let people get used to it. Windows 8 has taught people a lot about using touch screen interfaces and will further what they have already learned from Smartphones. Developers are also learning in this process and some issues will not have been evident until after they had this massive release and I am sure the tech and implementation of it will continue to improve. However, there will always be 'stick in the mud' users who just refuse to move on from what they know. That is up to them but they can not expect technology to stop progressing just because they don't like it.
Gareth Halfacree 14th May 2013, 09:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
At some point in the future we are going to have to move away from the mouse and keyboard interface [...]
That's an interesting statement. Out of interest, *why* are we going to have to move way from the mouse and keyboard interface? What's wrong with it? What doesn't it do?

I readily agree that, for some things, there are more flexible HMI methods: voice recognition for quick access to settings ("Siri, set my alarm for seven.") is one, and touch screens for icon-heavy interaction is another (I can hit two icons at opposite sides of the screen a lot faster using my finger than using a mouse cursor.) But for general purpose use, is there really anything out there that's better than the good ol' keyboard and mouse combo?

Take me, for example. (I'm sure my long-suffering wife wishes you would.) I, as you may have noticed, do a hell of a lot of typing - probably somewhere in the region of hundreds of thousands of words a month. Is there a better way for me to do this than with a keyboard? No. A touch-screen means an on-screen keyboard, and on-screen keyboards are bloody horrible - and still a keyboard. Voice recognition? Still too inaccurate, and I type faster than I (intelligibly) speak anyway, so that's a no-go. Gesture-based typing, like Swype and the new stock Android keyboard? Great for short messages, but useless for anything else - and it only works for words that are in the dictionary.

Do we have to move away from keyboard and mouse interaction? No. Do we want to move away from keyboard and mouse interaction? Probably not, except in very specific scenarios (accessibility, mobile use and so forth.)
edzieba 14th May 2013, 11:26 Quote
I think conflating "adding a touch screen" with "removing the mouse and keyboard" is disingenuous. Adding a mouse did not result in the keyboard disappearing (even though you could use a computer with just a mouse, as with some kiosk systems). Ask anyone with a drawing tablet if they suddenly stopped using a mouse and keyboard!
A touch screen is great for item/area selection tasks, far better than a mouse in almost all cases, and it can do well for gross scaling tasks (ever try resizing and orienting an object with a mouse and keyboard?). A mouse can perform pixel-accurate fine manipulation tasks, which a touch-screen does not have the resolution for along with the issue of your fingers obscuring UI elements. A keyboard has a massive input rate (huge symbol selection, along with symbol combinations, means each press could be one of a good 40,000 combinations just of up to 3 keys), but is totally pants for manipulating existing data (even text. How often do you cursor through a word to correct bits rather than just deleting it and typing again?). Using a combination of all three is going to get you the best possible usability, not picking one and demanding the others disappear.

Whether the start screen is worse than the start menu for mouse-based selection? Maybe, though I highly suspect that without years of muscle-memory selecting items from a small corner of the screen, they would come up about equal in selection time.
ObsCure 14th May 2013, 11:49 Quote
Unless Microsoft finds a way for their OS to somehow magically transform my monitor into a touch screen, I don't see why I should need a tablet interface on my desktop.
PingCrosby 14th May 2013, 14:48 Quote
The last time I had any 'mouse-based interaction' I got 6 months
BLC 14th May 2013, 17:38 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SchizoFrog
At some point in the future we are going to have to move away from the mouse and keyboard interface and the only way to do this is to start a process of transition and let people get used to it. Windows 8 has taught people a lot about using touch screen interfaces and will further what they have already learned from Smartphones. Developers are also learning in this process and some issues will not have been evident until after they had this massive release and I am sure the tech and implementation of it will continue to improve. However, there will always be 'stick in the mud' users who just refuse to move on from what they know. That is up to them but they can not expect technology to stop progressing just because they don't like it.

I also disagree that we "have" to move away from keyboard and mouse. Some interfaces "just work" and trying to change them is a futile effort that usually just frustrates people. A modern keyboard is effectively descended from a typewriter, and in principle it has changed very little. Sure we've got wireless keyboards, backlit keyboards, mechanical switches and all manner of other fancy widgets, but essentially you still have: a key for each letter of the alphabet, punctuation marks and function/command keys. Ergonomic keyboards were supposed to revolutionise how everyone used a keyboard, but in an average office these days you'd be hard pressed to find them being used by people who don't need to use them (RSIs, MSDs, arthritis, carpal tunnel, etc - even then the benefits of ergonomic keyboards are subject to dispute).

I'm an SQL developer and I cannot ever see myself moving away from a keyboard; effectively I'm in the same boat as Gareth is, in that I write words for a living (his are definitely more interesting than mine though!). The keyboard is pretty much my primary means of interacting with a computer, even in the days of touchscreens and graphical interfaces; I just find it faster than the mouse. For example: first thing I do when I wake my PC is press WinKey+1 to open Chrome; start typing the URL for these forums, let auto-complete do the rest and hit enter; then I press Ctrl+T to open a new tab, and start typing the URL for GMail; Ctrl+T again, next site; etc... Once you know the keyboard shortcuts for the application you're using, the mouse can be inefficient and imprecise; I often click on the wrong icon/menu when I'm trying to do something quickly.
LordPyrinc 14th May 2013, 21:42 Quote
Keyboards and keypads are definitely here to stay. Both beat touch screens with regards to intensive typing/texting tasks. That's in part why I haven't upgraded my phone lately. I have a Blackberry that has the physical keypad. I've tried texting on pure touch screens and end up spending way too much time trying to correct what I've typed. It's either fix every other word or send a drunk looking text message. As for autocorrect, using that feature can result in unintended word substitutions. As a software developer and a writer, I can assure you that nothing beats a full size keyboard. Even many laptop keyboards can be frustratingly awkward due to size or compression of overall key size.

To demonstrate my own personal pickiness with respect to desktop keyboards, I'm using an ancient keyboard by today's standards. The sticker on the bottom should give you a hint as to its age; "Designed for Microsoft Windows NT / Windows 95". All the keys still work flawlessly, by the way.
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