On Thursday, Microsoft released its most radical redesign of Windows in more than a decade.
At times, Windows 8 looks pretty much as the operating system always has. You have a desktop peppered with icons and folders. But the Start button – the tab that sat in the bottom-left corner of Windows for more than 16 years – is totally gone. In its place stands a new full-screen Start menu (see photo, above).
Take a good look at the layout, because this is the future of not only Microsoft's personal computers but also its phones and tablets. Microsoft says this "Modern" interface will be the common denominator across its software for years to come.
While the traditional files-and-folders layout works on laptops and monitors, that scheme falls apart on tiny screens. So Microsoft designed the Modern interface – with its colorful grid of large icons – to work just as well on a 3.5-inch phone as on a 35-inch monitor.
After playing with Windows 8, we can report that this new Start page feels immediately intuitive. In fact, Microsoft gives casual users few reasons to ever leave. You can access a Web browser, weather, e-mail, games, photos, and an online store full of software without ever seeing the traditional desktop.
If you loathe the new design, Windows 8 offers several options to ignore the Start page. However, without some serious rejiggering, the operating systems will keep looping back to it. Lots of Windows 8 programs have been written specifically to take advantage of the Modern design.
Microsoft's push toward a singular design echoes a general shift in gadgets.
Apple founder Steve Jobs regularly foretold of a post-PC future. Many assumed that this meant phones would act more like laptops. But in Apple's recent Mac OS updates and now in Windows 8, it seems the opposite came true. PCs now act more like their streamlined little brothers.