Windows 8 will be the first Windows operating system since Windows 95 to drastically modify the user interface. Not only will we see a port of the Windows Phone 7 Metro UI, we'll also see support for multiple monitor setups, an immersive version of Internet Explorer, and touchscreen optimization.
Many of the improvements that Windows 8 will bring (for example, access to the Windows Store, native USB 3.0 support, "Refresh and Reset" features that simplify restoring your system to its factory default configuration, and Windows Live account integration) aren't available yet. Nevertheless, you can get the general look and feel of Windows 8 on your Windows 7 machine--including an approximation of the Metro UI, multiple monitor support, and the ribbon-style toolbar in Windows Explorer--right now. Here's how.
Duplicate the New Metro User Interface
One of the biggest changes we'll see in Windows 8 involves the user interface: Instead of retaining the regular desktop we're used to, Microsoft is importing the Windows Phone 7-esque Metro interface.
You can duplicate the general look of the Metro interface by installing an application called Mosaic. Mosaic doesn't integrate with your desktop, as Metro will, but it does let you have a Metro-style live-tile overlay.
Mosaic is easy to set up on a Windows 7 PC. To get the app, download the latest build from the Mosaic Project website. Extract the files from the zipped build folder, and double-click Mosaic to run the program. You may want to put a shortcut to this program on your desktop for quick future access.
Mosaic will initially open in full-screen mode with two tiles. To get out of full-screen mode, click the arrow in the upper right corner. Select Options from the small black menu that appears, and disable the Enable Fullscreen Mode option. While you're in this options menu, you can also configure Mosaic to display the Windows taskbar while you're in fullscreen mode, enable widget and startup animations, or even start Mosaic automatically when you start Windows.
Currently, you can add several tiles to Mosaic to personalize it. To add tiles, first go to the Mosaic Store by clicking the Mosaic Store tile. At the Mosaic Store you can download tiles for future use--including Facebook, Gmail, Hotmail, and Twitter, as well as weather, clock, control panel, music, and picture tiles.
After downloading the tiles you want, you'll need to add them to the interface. To do this, click the arrow in the upper right corner and select Add. A list of the tiles you've downloaded will appear. Click a tile to add it; some tiles (such as email tiles and social networking tiles) may require configuring before they go live and start displaying up-to-date information.
In addition, you can pin programs and websites to Mosaic. To do this, click the arrow in the upper right and then click pin. Choose whether to pin a program or a website, and either find the program by using Windows Explorer or enter the website address. Tiles for programs will show the program icon; tiles for websites will show a snapshot of the front page.
To arrange tiles, just drag and drop them over the screen. They'll automatically snap to a grid when you drop them. To remove a tile, right-click it and then click Remove.
Even though Mosaic closely resembles Windows 8, it's a separate application. So if you have a window open and you click a Mosaic tile in the background, Mosaic will suddenly come to the front, just as any other application would.
Customize Multiple Monitors
With Windows 8, Microsoft finally makes life easier for people who use multiple monitors. Windows 8 will support desktop wallpapers that span more than one monitor (as well as supporting separate wallpapers for each monitor) and better taskbar handling.
The good news is that you can nab these Windows 8 features now, with the aid of a couple of third-party applications.
To get multiple-monitor desktop wallpaper (wallpaper that spans more than one monitor) or to use different wallpapers on each monitor, use a free application called DisplayFusion. First, download DisplayFusion from PCWorld's Downloads Library, or visit the DisplayFusion website and download the latest build available there. Once the download has finished, open the executable file and install the program. Be sure to check the box that asks you whether you want DisplayFusion to run when Windows starts.
The paid version of DisplayFusion offers both multiple-monitor wallpaper support and taskbar handling, but the free version provides only multiple-monitor wallpaper support. Obviously, before you can set up your wallpaper, you must set up your multiple monitors.
To set up your multiple-monitor wallpaper, open DisplayFusion by right-clicking the icon in the taskbar and selecting Desktop Wallpaper from the menu. A window that displays all of your monitors side by side will open.
If you'd like one wallpaper to span all of your monitors, click the toggle labeled Span an image across all Monitors. To choose a single image to span across all monitors, open the Load From... menu and select My Computer. Find the image that you want to use, and open it.
If you'd like to have different wallpapers on each monitor, select the Use A Different Image For Each Monitor option. Click the monitor whose wallpaper you'd like to change (a red line will appear around the monitor you choose) and select the Load From… option. Find and select the picture you want to use it, then repeat the process for each additional monitor you want to customize with DisplayFusion.
DisplayFusion is a great way to get multiple-monitor wallpaper support at no charge. It's a generally noninvasive program, though you'll occasionally encounter pop-up windows prompting you to update to the latest build (if you choose not to update, nothing will happen). If you're interested in additional DisplayFusion options, such as multiple-monitor taskbar support or the ability to cycle through wallpapers automatically, you can upgrade to DisplayFusion Pro for $25.