Microsoft's attempt to establish an alternative user interface in the upcoming operating system Windows 8 has received praise and criticism. Many believe that it will be offered in addition to the existing interface, and mainly for touch-based devices.
What we know is that users of current Windows systems will not be able to get their hands on the new Metro UI officially. And that's where third party applications come into play.
The Mosaic Project is not trying to copy the Windows 8 UI completely. It has quite a few differences, for instance that it is more or less widget based.
The developers have released an early alpha version of the user interface, which means that users need to be cautious when running the program. We suggest to create a system restore point or a system backup before doing so. Another option would be to run the program in a virtual machine.
As for the requirements: Mosaic requires the Windows 7 operating system and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0. Sorry XP and Vista users.
One interesting aspect is that you only need to run the executable after unpacking the release on the operating system to switch immediately to the new user interface. It runs in fullscreen, which means that you won't have access to your taskbar or desktop icons afterwards. The program will display the taskbar when certain programs are executed though.
Configuration of the interface is dead easy. A click on the right arrow opens all options and settings. Users can basically add three different types of modules to the interface. First widgets, then applications and lastly websites.
Each module is represented by an icon in the user interface.
Some, like the widgets can be configured and refreshed with a right-click. Here it is for instance possible to select the city or location that you want to see the weather report for, or to configure your Gmail or Hotmail email accounts to receive notifications when new emails arrive in your inbox.
Widgets can be moved around via drag and drop.
It definitely takes some getting used to time to work without a taskbar for most of the time. What's missing is an easy option to switch between the mosaic user interface and the standard Windows desktop. An alternative would be an option to display the Windows taskbar at all times.
The alpha version stopped responding at times on the 64-bit Windows 7 Professional system. This unfortunately had the result that the changes made in the session were not saved correctly.
Windows 7 users interested in trying a new user interface for their system, can download Mosaic from the project website over at Codeplex. The project shows lots of promise for an alpha version, and it will be interesting to see how the beta and final version of the program turn out.