Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Feb 29 06:36

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Available Now

Warm up your cable and DSL modems, they’re about to get busy. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (read: beta) is ready for the general public to download and install. The Consumer Preview is definitely not a fully complete and tested copy of Windows 8, so make sure you don’t do anything crazy like wipe out your existing Windows installation or run it on a machine you use for mission-critical work.

Download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview here.

There's a setup program, or direct ISO files for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the OS. Most modern PCs should probably grab the 64-bit version. Note that just because there’s only one edition of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, that doesn’t mean there will be only one upon release. Microsoft has not yet said how many editions of Windows 8 we can expect, nor what they'll each include.

Here’s a few of the things you can expect from the Preview:

  • The Start Screen with its Metro interface, including the Pictures and People hubs and several built-in applications like Mail, Calendar, and Maps.
  • Tweaks and improvements to the Windows 8 desktop.
  • Tight integration with Skydrive and Live services.
  • A select set of applications in the Windows 8 Store. The applications in the Store should all be free, and come from partners Microsoft has been working with prior to launch.
  • A look at Internet Explorer 10, both in the Metro interface and on the desktop.
  • The new Music and Video hubs, which integrate with the Zune music and video store (but don’t use Zune branding).
  • A new Xbox Live gaming hub with downloadable games and your Xbox Live avatar.
  • Enhanced Multi-monitor support.

In short, it's a good look at some of the dramatic changes Windows 8 will bring, but it still needs some polishing, tweaking, and lots of performance and compatibility testing. If you have a spare partition on your PC or an entire PC to dedicate to testing it, download it and give it a shot, then let us know what you think in the comments.

For more on Windows 8, head to our Windows 8 Resource Center.

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Have you downloaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview? Or do you have no interest in changing to a new version of Windows? Either way, we'd like to hear your opinion. Please take PCWorld's Windows 8 Survey. It'll take five minutes or less.

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Feb 29 03:27

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Keyboard Shortcuts

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Keyboard Shortcuts
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is now available for public download, and it offers a very different experience from what Windows users are accustomed to. However, while the operating system is optimized for touchscreen input, that doesn't mean Microsoft forgot about users who are confined to traditional keyboards and mice.

In fact, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview supports a ton of keyboard shortcuts to help make input and interaction a little easier. Some of the new shortcuts are touchscreen-related, such as pressing Windows-O to lock the orientation of the device, while others relate to new features, such as pressing Windows-C to open the Charms bar.

Below is a chart of the keyboard shortcuts we know about, including shortcuts unchanged from Windows 7, as well as a list of brand-new shortcuts. If you're using Windows 8 with a keyboard and mouse or laptop touchpad, these will go a very long way toward improving your experience.

Hotkeys unchanged from Windows 7
Key combinationWindows 7 functionality
Windows Display or hide the Start menu.
Windows-Left Arrow Dock the active window to the left half of the screen (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-Right Arrow Dock the active window to the right half of screen (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-Up Arrow Maximize the active window (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-Down Arrow Restore/minimize the active window (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-Shift-Up Arrow Maximize the active window vertically, maintaining width (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-Shift-Down Arrow Restore/minimize the active window vertically, maintaining width (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-Shift-Left Arrow Move the active window to the monitor on the left (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-Shift-Right Arrow Move the active window to the monitor on the right (does nothing to Metro-style applications).
Windows-P Display projection options.
Windows-Home Minimize all nonactive windows; restore on the second keystroke (does not restore Metro-style applications).
Windows-number Launch or switch to the program located at the given position on the taskbar. (Example: Use Windows-1 to launch the first program.)
Windows-Shift-number Launch a new instance of the program located at the given position on the taskbar.
Windows-B Set focus in the notification area.
Windows-Break Display the System Properties dialog box.
Windows-D Show the desktop; restore on the second keystroke (does not restore Metro-style applications).
Windows-E Open Windows Explorer, navigated to Computer.
Windows-Ctrl-F Search for computers (if you are on a network).
Windows-G Cycle through Windows Desktop Gadgets.
Windows-L Lock your computer (if you're connected to a network domain), or switch users (if you're not connected to a network domain).
Windows-M Minimize all windows.
Windows-Shift-M Restore minimized windows to the desktop (does not restore Metro-style applications).
Windows-R Open the Run dialog box.
Windows-T Set focus on the taskbar and cycle through programs.
Windows-Alt-Enter Open Windows Media Center. Note that Windows Media Center must be installed for this key combo to function; in many Windows 8 builds, it is not present.
Windows-U Open Ease of Access Center.
Windows-X Open Windows Mobility Center.
Windows-F1 Launch Windows Help and Support.
Windows-N Create a new note (OneNote).
Windows-S Open screen clipper (OneNote).
Windows-Q Open Lync. Note that in Windows 8 the Search function overrides this key combo.
Windows-A Accept an incoming call (Lync).
Windows-X Reject an incoming call (Lync). Note that this key combo does not function if Windows Mobility Center is present on the machine.
Windows-Minus Zoom out (Magnifier).
Windows-Plus Zoom in (Magnifer).
Windows-Esc Close Magnifier.
New hotkeys for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview
Key combinationWindows 8 functionality
Windows-Space Switch input language and keyboard layout.
Windows-O Lock device orientation.
Windows-, Temporarily peek at the desktop.
Windows-V Cycle through toasts.
Windows-Shift-V Cycle through toasts in reverse order.
Windows-Enter Launch Narrator.
Windows-PgUp Move the Start Screen or a Metro-style application to the monitor on the left.
Windows-PgDown Move the Start Screen or a Metro-style application to the monitor on the right.
Windows-Shift-. Move the gutter to the left (snap an application).
Windows-. Move the gutter to the right (snap an application).
Windows-C Open the Charms bar.
Windows-I Open the Settings charm.
Windows-K Open the Connect charm.
Windows-H Open the Share charm.
Windows-Q Open the Search pane.
Windows-W Open the Settings Search app.
Windows-F Open the File Search app.
Windows-Tab Cycle through apps.
Windows-Shift-Tab Cycle through apps in reverse order.
Windows-Ctrl-Tab Cycle through apps and snap them as they cycle.
Windows-Z Open the App Bar.
Windows-/ Initiate input method editor (IME) reconversion.
Windows-J Swap foreground between the snapped and filled apps.

Have you downloaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview? Or do you have no interest in changing to a new version of Windows? Either way, we'd like to hear your opinion. Please take PCWorld's Windows 8 Survey. It'll take five minutes or less.

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Feb 29 06:45

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Initial Impressions

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is only just becoming available to the public, but we’ve had the opportunity to use it for a few days on a Samsung slate nearly identical to the one we sampled at the BUILD conference for developers last year. While the device we’re using is nearly the same, the operating system itself has undergone a lot of refinement since our initial report last September.

We can’t wait to install the Consumer Preview on a wide variety of current PCs and tell you all about how well it does or does not work, as well as provide tips and tricks for those of you installing it for yourselves. We know you don’t want to wait, so we offer our initial impressions of the release based on several days with a Microsoft-provided, Samsung-built slate running the same release the public will download. There’s only one major difference: the Store is not yet functional, so these impressions are based only on the apps built into the Windows 8 Consumer Preview itself.

Jason Cross says:
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. The People and Photos hubs are there, showcasing Windows 8’s integration with multiple services like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Flickr. Using these new apps and hubs with a touchscreen is a joy. They could all use a little polish and a few more features, though. It needs to be easier to save photos locally from Facebook or Flickr in the Photos hub, for instance. Everything is big, bright, smooth, and beautiful. I confined myself to a bluetooth keyboard and mouse for awhile, and the experience is definitely diminished.

The Windows 8 Photos hub integrates pictures from several online sources.
That’s not to say the keyboard and mouse experience is bad, mind you. I’m actually quite delighted at how well the whole Metro-style interface works with them. Microsoft has made some very welcome tweaks to accommodate the hundreds of millions of users with no touchscreen. It’s just 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!

[Related: Windows 8 Consumer Preview: A Visual Tour]

Unfortunately, I think it’s going to get rough welcome. People often don’t like change at first. Just look at the way every little tweak to the Facebook interface is received. It takes a little time, and a little trial and error, to discover where everything is, how it works, and how to get around. Then it takes a little more poking around to get really fast at it. We all know how the Internet works: there are people who will use something for two minutes (or not at all) and spend the rest of the day complaining about it on forums, comments, message boards, and social networks.
I can sympathize. It’s unsettling to see such basic tenets of the Windows user experience shifted so dramatically. Windows 8 wants me to do a lot of things through the Metro interface that I used to do on a desktop interface, and there was some natural resistance to that at first. I only had to look for something in the wrong place once to become frustrated, and it took a little time to unlearn all I had learned since Windows 95.

The Messaging App is one of the least useful - until more services are added.
The good news is: there’s a payoff for sticking with it. 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 they 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 want a Metro-style front end for Steam. 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.

Nate Ralph says:

Gestures and UI elements are the same, whether you're using a touchscreen, or your keyboard and mouse.
Touch has always been an interesting novelty, but I kept the slate running the Consumer Preview docked, relying on the keyboard and mouse to get around. And every so often, I found myself trying to nudge the cursor along with the spacebar, wondering where my trackpad had gone. Eventually I’d give up and use a finger to tap on the particular app I’d been trying to get to, all the while oblivious to the mouse idling beside my hands.

That’s the right sort of disorienting. Tablets imply limitations: consider Android and iOS, operating systems explicitly designed to meld well with your hands. Grids of fixed, finger-friendly icons are all but mandatory, to ensure the user experience is a fluid one.

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Feb 29 09:00

Windows 8 on ARM on Track, Microsoft Says

Anyone can take Windows 8 for a spin now that Microsoft has launched the so-called "consumer preview" version of the software at an event in Barcelona on Wednesday.

The company said that ARM processor reference designs for Windows 8 are in testing and making the same progress as those running on X86 chips. This is the first time that Windows will run on ARM, widely used in smartphones and tablets. Given the progress that Microsoft said it is making, some company observers think Windows 8 will likely launch this year.

Executives at the launch event stressed that Windows 8 was built to work on a wide variety of devices. "The goal should be that the OS should scale with you," said Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft.

Microsoft executives demonstrated Windows 8 on tablets, netbooks and a massive touchscreen monitor. They showed the software running on reference design hardware using ARM processors. They also demonstrated how someone might use both touch and a mouse and keyboard to control a monitor.

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Feb 29 08:12

Windows Phone Owners: No Windows 8 for You...Yet

Microsoft showed off the Windows 8 Consumer Preview today in Barcelona on the third day of Mobile World Congress. As the PCWorld phone editor, the whole event felt incredibly familiar. XBox live support? Apps that work together? A dynamic start screen? It sounds a lot like Windows Phone.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that MWC is a phone-centric show, there wasn’t a single smartphone in sight. Despite the fact that many of the Windows 8 gestures seem incredibly phone-like (“pinch to zoom,” swiping to close apps, etc.) and features like the Hubs and tiles are already on Windows Phone, Microsoft did not mention anything about Windows 8 availability on phones during the press event.

While Windows 8 has a lot in common with Windows Phone, there are some features I’d love to see on Microsoft’s mobile phone platform. For example, I love the People and Photo hubs‘ integration with Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Flickr. I also like the way Windows 8 handles multitasking via the compared to the current Windows Phone method. Additionally, being able to use the same app store for both your tablet and your phone--and be able to share and sync between the two--would be an awesome feature.

The Windows Phone presence has been pretty quiet so far at the show. Nokia announced another addition to its Lumia family, the Lumia 610. The lower-end phone is running a modified version of Windows Phone designed for phones with limited power and capacity. Microsoft’s goal is to expand Windows Phone across multiple audiences, from power users to first-time smartphone owners. The only other Windows Phone we saw was the ZTE Orbit, another entry-level phone for Europe.

The Windows Phone Mango update was announced in May, but didn’t go out to Windows Phone owners until September 2011. Windows 8 is set to officially launch in Fall of this year. Will there also be a Windows Phone 8 update? I hope so.

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Feb 29 05:30

Two Hours to Windows 8: An Upgrade Diary

Whenever a new version of Windows comes out, I’m always ambivalent. The idea of a new operating system with cool, new features sounds great. Going through the long, sometimes mystifying upgrade process doesn’t. But the Windows 8 Consumer Preview seemed so compelling that I threw caution to the wind and put it on an older Dell desktop I use at work.

Two Hours to Windows 8: An Upgrade Diary
The good news is that the process was a little shorter than I remember from previous versions of Windows--and much clearer. I was able to get the Windows 8 preview up and running on my system in less than 2 hours.

The bad news? I still encountered a few unfortunate surprises. Here’s a diary of my upgrade experience.

10:08 a.m.
I go to the Consumer Preview download page. It has a standard disclaimer stating that the preview is prerelease software and isn’t guaranteed, may be updated, and could lead to premature hair loss.

The initial download is small, about 5MB, since it’s just an installer, not the OS itself.

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