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A deep dive into Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Preston Gralla | March 6, 2012
Windows 8 Consumer Preview offers a new look at Microsoft's upcoming interface for both computers and tablets. Is one device being shortchanged in favor of the other?

Windows 8 Consumer Preview is one of the biggest changes that Microsoft has made to Windows, moving it from an operating system aimed at a single class of hardware (PCs and laptops) to one that spans a wide range of devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

It's a gamble that only partially pays off. For tablets and smartphones, the new Metro interface is a clear winner: beautifully designed, simple to use, function-rich and offering a wealth of apps that bring information directly to users rather than requiring users to search it out.

For owners of traditional Windows-based computers, however, the results are mixed. Metro isn't as easy to navigate with a mouse and keyboard as it is with touch. In addition, the Windows Desktop is less useful in Windows 8 than it was in previous Windows versions for a number of reasons -- notably because the Start button has been taken away. As a result, Windows 8 feels like a transitional operating system, uneasily bridging the gap between traditional PCs and tablets, with more attention lavished on the latter.

For tablets and smartphones, the new Metro interface is a clear winner.Click to view larger image

Perhaps because of this -- and because, despite the growing popularity of tablets, most workers are still using desktop PCs and laptops -- I installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a PC, and this review reflects its use on desktops and laptops rather than tablets.

I reviewed the Windows 8 Developer Preview when it came out, and this Consumer Preview is a considerably more polished piece of work. There have been many major interface changes, fixes and additions -- Microsoft claims that it's made more than 100,000 changes, although that's obviously impossible to verify. Key among the changes and additions are new navigation features, completely revamped Metro apps and the addition of "charms," tools that bring a variety of features such as Search within easy reach.

The Developer Preview was a hint of what the operating system would be; this Consumer Preview is a far more realized piece of work.

Welcome to Metro

Metro, which is patterned after the Windows Phone 7 interface, made its appearance in the Developer Preview, and it's been considerably improved, including the newfound ability to place apps into customized groups.

Windows 8 boots directly into the Windows 8 Metro Start screen. Rather than seeing the traditional Windows Desktop, you're greeted by a group of large colorful tiles, each of which is a separate app. (To show how Microsoft has relegated the Desktop to the sidelines, the Desktop is merely one app among many on the Start screen. It's also the only app that isn't written for Metro.)


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