This is what the future (of Windows) looks like

The Start menu is dead.

That's right, you heard us. That's perhaps the most surprising change in the new details revealed this week by Microsoft of Windows 8, the likely-to-be-renamed next version of its popular Windows operating system.

And as we expected from a preview a few months ago, Windows 8 is looking like the biggest overhaul Windows has undergone since the introduction of Windows 95- at least. Designed to make Windows suitable for tablets as well as traditional PCs, Win 8 introduces a new 'Metro' design that looks more like Windows Phone 7 than Windows 7 proper.

A new 'Start screen' of tiles, representing applications and often showing live previews or information from them, is now the focus. Clicking or touching a tile brings up the app, but not in a normal resizeable window, but full-screen. Users can line more than one app up next to each other using touch gestures.

Of course, Microsoft knows some users want a more traditional experience, so it'll be possible to open up a 'desktop' app that'll have the traditional taskbar and allow resizing of Windows and the like. That mode looks a lot like Windows now, and it has a Start button, leading many to assume it retains the traditional Start menu. But no! Clicking the Start button in Desktop mode returns you to the Start screen. It's like the old days of program manager are back, in a way.

Fascinated to see how it works? Well, you can! Believe it or not, Windows 8 has already been released, in a way: it's downloadable as a 'developer preview' (read: 'not a beta, not an alpha, not even a zeta') and you can download it from the Microsoft website. But be careful! You're best of installing it on a crappy old machine you don't want any more, or bad things may (probably will) happen to your PC.

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