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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 comes with a full suite of apps, such as the visually compelling Weather app.Click to view larger image

However, in the pursuit of simplicity and tablet-friendliness, Metro apps often sacrifice power and functionality. The best example of this is the Mail app. On the plus side, it's simple, colorful and makes it very easy to add and read mail from multiple mail accounts. On the downside, it offers very few tools that you expect in a modern email program, such as creating rules to automatically route mail to specific folders. In smartphone and tablet-based email software, these limitations aren't unusual, because those devices typically aren't someone's primary computing device. But you expect more in a desktop or laptop app. The Mail app simply won't be up to the task for most users of desktops and laptops.

The Metro-based Mail app is simple, colorful and makes it very easy to add and read mail from multiple mail accounts.Click to view larger image

Where the Metro apps generally shine is in their ability to grab information from elsewhere and display or use it in some way. For example, the Calendar app automatically grabs the birthdays of your Facebook friends and displays them on the proper day. And if you've created a Google account, it will also automatically populate and sync the Calendar with your Google Calendar information. But once again, powerful tools are missing. I found the display of people's birthdays distracting and looked in vain for a setting that would tell the calendar not to display them. And I also didn't find a way to display multiple Google calendars; it only displayed the default one for my account.

Other apps are more useful, and some play to Microsoft's strengths, such as one that lets you link to Xbox 360. You'll be able to not just review your account and make changes to it, but play Xbox 360 games as well. And I found the Remote Desktop Metro app to be a paragon of simplicity. Within a minute or two I was able to take remote control of another computer on my network.

Metro apps do take some getting used to. They don't have menus, and so it's not clear at first how to access certain features. But right click anywhere on the screen, and a serious of icons appear for that app, such as adding locations in the Weather app, or viewing all of your accounts in the Mail app. There is one a very simple and useful navigational tool missing, though: There's no minimize button. That's because you don't minimize Metro apps -- you just you switch away from them.


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