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Windows 8 Reviews: A Roundup

Early reviews of Windows 8 range from describing it as speedy and elegant to unintuitive, but those who have given the operating system a test drive seem to enjoy the experience.

Several point out that Internet Explorer 10 has two versions, one for touchscreen and one for a mouse and keyboard machine, that look and feel very different, which they find disconcerting.

NON-REVIEW: Windows 8 test drive crash

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Reviewers find remarkable the speed of the platform in responding to commands and of the applications themselves.

Here is a sampling from some published reviews with praise and complaints about Windows 8:

'Mission Accomplished'

PCWorld's own review of Windows 8 Consumer declares "This is definitely not the flaky, feature-light version of Windows 8 released for developers last year. It's dramatically smoother and more responsive. Apps snap open, and flipping between them is immediate... Everything is big, bright, smooth, and beautiful... I spent a good hour just discovering how to do things I've known how to do in Windows for over a decade. It's usually a good feeling, because when I figure out how Windows 8 does something differently (like display all installed programs), I'm usually impressed by its speed and elegance. Let me say that again: I'm impressed by the speed and elegance of a Microsoft interface. Really!

It doesn't take long, and before you know it you're using new shortcuts and flying around the OS like an old pro. I can't wait for the Store to launch, because much to my surprise, I find myself really valuing the Metro-style applications and the way they operate, even when using a keyboard and mouse. I want Metro apps for Spotify and Evernote, a great Twitter client and a native Facebook app... I have some concerns about how well everything scales to a large monitor, but more and more, as I spent time with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I just wanted the OS to be done and on the market already. So I suppose that's "mission accomplished" for the folks in Redmond. (See also "Windows 8 Consumer Preview: A Visual Tour.")

'Radical Rethinking'

David Pogue at The New York Times: It's a huge radical rethinking of Windows -- and one that's beautiful, logical and simple. In essence, it brings the attractive, useful concept of Start-screen tiles, currently available on Windows Phone 7 phones, to laptops, desktop PCs and tablets...The starter apps include Camera, Xbox, Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging and Photos. There are also Music and Video apps that link to Microsoft's music and video stores. (Microsoft is also introducing a Windows App Store that's modeled on Apple's.) You can drag these tiles around and create new screens full of them, labeled the way you like. It's like a Lego kit for your life's control panel... Swiping your finger onto the screen from any of the edges bring hidden controls into view. That's especially important in Internet Explorer 10, the new version of the Web browser, which otherwise displays no "chrome" -- toolbars, buttons and other space-eating elements- - at all when you're browsing. Smart, right? Because your phone or tablet screen is usually smallish.

The only huge design failure is that Microsoft couldn't just abandon "real" Windows completely -- desktop, folders, taskbar and all those thousands of programs. So on a PC, hiding behind this new Start screen is what looks almost exactly like the old Windows 7, with all of its complexity. In other words, Windows 8 seems to favor tablets and phones. On a nontouch computer like a laptop or desktop PC, the beauty and grace of Metro feels like a facade that's covering up the old Windows. It's two operating systems to learn instead of one.

'Lovely' Apps Display

Matt Warman at The Telegraph: As of today, there's a Windows 8 App store, featuring native programmes from publishers such as The Telegraph, video site Vimeo, e-reader company Kobo and computer simplicity firm Soluto. These universally look lovely, their animations pirouetting onto the screen as they start up, but the design conventions are in the early stages of development. Microsoft says it wants simply to show the potential of apps on Windows 8, rather than to boast it's already better than Apple... In this brave new Metro interface, users can pinch to zoom in or out, invoking what Microsoft calls semantic zoom; as icons get bigger they change, so the high-level view is of a list of apps, the detailed one of large tiles with as much information as developers want to put on them.

Windows 8's Metro interface was, Microsoft says, conceived for tablets before the iPad was released. It works well, but currently lacks the consistency or the integration for this reviewer to be able to tell whether it's a seismic shift in how we will use tablets with all the power of computers that will be available in the future, or simply a bigger version of Windows Phone that will make only the impact that platform has against iOS and Android... Where it falls down is in its clear, mobile phone heritage. Windows 8, for instance, uses a new, improved version of Internet Explorer (IE10), that doesn't support Flash when it's running in the Metro environment, but does when it runs in the more traditional 'Desktop' version. A simple menu, like on a mobile phone, switches to the PC equivalent of the 'desktop version' of a mobile site but it's a weird, clunky, stupid duplication. Only Microsoft would provide an operating system with two different versions of its own web browser, available in two different places, with the same name and looks but different capabilities. Presumably it's an example of something that will get fixed, but it underlines how very separate the two panes of Windows are in this new version.

Semantic Zoom 'Wonderful'

Mat Honan at Gizmodo: It is so slick as to be slippery. Commands and icons and apps and menus glide on and off screen and things zoom in and out of its Metro interface in a near vertigo-inducing fashion. Getting your feet beneath you is tricky...The gestures are transcendent. Actions are pushed to the edges of the screen, where you can get at them with your thumbs and they don't take up too much screen real estate. Swipe from the right and the Charms launch (Microsoft refers to the icons in the right-hand side menu as Charms) to help you easily navigate from wherever you are back to the Start screen, Settings, Search, Share, and Devices.

If you know how to do something with a gesture, you should be able to accomplish the same thing with a mouse, even though the action is slightly different. While touch works on the edges, mousing is designed to take place in the corners... Semantic Zoom is wonderful...You can pinch the Metro start screen to zoom out from the tiles so that they all minimize on screen. This makes it easy to navigate across them so that if you want to move quickly from one app on the left side, to a pinned website on the far-right, you can do that nearly instantly without having to scroll and scroll and scroll. While there aren't many apps to choose from yet on Windows 8, once you have a ton of tiles (and you will) this is going to be a great feature.

Inconsistent Mouseover Rules

Peter Pachal at Mashable: For starters, the icons don't follow standard web "mouseover" rules. Take one example: When you point toward the lower left corner, Windows 8 (either Metro or desktop) calls up the Start screen. Or rather, it calls up an icon for the Start screen, but if you hover your mouse over it, it disappears. This goes against what websites have trained people to do for a decade: call up menus by holding your mouse over icons, then navigating through the menu by staying on top of it.

It sounds like a minor point, but it's actually not, and the same problem bubbles up time and again from Windows 8: unintuitiveness. Metro is a beautiful and powerful interface, but it's hard to get used to, sometimes needlessly so. Another example: the Start screen allows you to scroll left and right simply by pushing your mouse icon right up against the edges of the screen. Yet several apps (like Photos) incomprehensibly don't do this, instead forcing you to use a scrollbar (or the mouse scroll wheel). Again, it sounds minor, but it's everything.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video about Microsoft Windows 8, check out PCWorld's complete Windows 8 coverage.

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