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Windows 8 wants developers to fall into Metro lockstep

A unified approach to applications will make things easier on users

By , Network World
March 16, 2012 09:34 AM ET

Network World - Microsoft's message to apps developers: Fit into the Metro style of Windows 8 to make things easier on end users, according to two developers.

Microsoft is trying to change users' expectations about applications in general by creating an environment that remains similar app to app, according to the developers, and that means complying with Metro style and tapping into features grounded in the operating system itself.

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Dictionary.com, which has written a Windows 8 application for its search service, uses the Windows 8 Search charm -- an icon -- that appears on the right side of the screen. That way users who want to make a search of the machine don't have to call up the application and execute a separate search command, says David Wygant, vice president of product and general manager of mobile at Dictionary.com.

Similarly, salespeople go to the same Search charm when they want to look for a given customer's data in a custom CRM application that has been written by Sonoma Partners for one of its clients.

Over time users will learn that the search charm is where to look for the search function when they are on a Windows 8 machine, regardless of what application they want to search with so long as all developers follow Microsoft's suggestions, Wygant says. He calls this overarching search feature "persistent search."

Dictionary.com wrote its application at Microsoft's request and it is one of the apps available for free download when users download Windows 8 Consumer Preview. It was written with input from Microsoft on how the application should look and be navigated to fit in with the overall Windows 8 user interface, Wygant says.

Microsoft is promoting a global design standard for Metro-style apps so users will feel comfortable on Windows 8 machines regardless of what application they are using and no matter whether they have used it before. Functions specific to applications should reside in an application bar across the bottom of the screen that remains hidden until a finger swipe calls it up. In the Dictionary.com application that includes a verbal pronunciation of words, favorites and pinning.

Having such features located in the same place application to application makes learning new ones faster, Wygant says.

His company's application also makes use of Live Tiles, a Windows 8 feature that places a tile -- a colored square or rectangle -- on the computer's Start screen. It is said to be live because it displays dynamic content, such as Dictionary.com's word of the day. Users touch the tile to access the full application. "Live tiles let you consume part of the application without opening up the application," he says.

The Metro style strips away the chrome from applications, chrome being a term for the graphic decorations that can clutter a screen. "Dictionary is about words, content," Wygant says. "That's appealing for us. The user double-taps on a word within a definition, and it will look up the definition of that word without additional navigation."

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