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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?

Charmed, I'm sure

One new interface feature that takes some getting used to is what Microsoft calls "charms" -- icons that let you perform an action, such as searching or changing options. When you move your cursor to the upper-right corner or lower-right corner of the screen, five of these charms appear: Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. Some are quite useful, while others appear to serve no purpose.

Search, as its name indicates, lets you search through local apps, local files files or via the Web -- its quite customizable.

Share is designed to let you share with others from within your current app, but I was unable to find a way to use it. When I clicked it in the Mail app, for example, I got the message "Mail can't share." I received the same message when I attempted to use it in every app I tried, even in the People social networking app, whose primary purpose is sharing. Perhaps it will work better in future versions of Windows 8.

The Devices charm is also somewhat baffling. By its name, one would expect that it would help with configuring and managing devices. However, the only device setting that was visible was for using two monitors with Windows 8 -- I found none for tasks such as setting up a printer. And when I attached an external USB hard drive to my test system, that wasn't listed.

"Charms" are icons that let you perform an action, such as searching or changing options.Click to view larger image

One would expect that clicking the Start charm would always bring you back to the Metro Start screen, but that's not what it does. Instead, it switches you to whatever you were just doing -- the same thing that happens when you press the Windows key or click in the lower left portion of the screen.

Settings, as the name indicates, allows you to change systems and/or settings, depending on the context. In Metro and Metro apps, the Settings charms is context-sensitive and will change the settings related to the app you're currently in. Inside Desktop apps, however, you can only change the overall Desktop settings, not those for the program you're running.

Built-in Metro apps

The Developer Preview shipped with a small number of Metro apps, which were a bit rough around the edges. But the Consumer Preview comes with a full suite of them, including email, calendaring, maps, SkyDrive, messaging, Xbox and social networking, among others. As expected, they appear to have been designed more for tablets than traditional computers, with simple, colorful bold interfaces. The results are often striking, such as the visually compelling Weather app.


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