Windows 8 Preview
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview launches today, and it’s well worth a look. This is the most dramatic change to Windows in almost two decades. Here’s a quick visual tour of some of the things you can expect when you install it for yourself.
Charms are one of the central pillars behind Windows 8’s design. Swipe your finger (or hover your mouse pointer) on the right edge of the screen, and you’ll get instant access to Search and Sharing functionality, as well as your devices and settings. These charms are designed to work with your apps, too; if you’re browsing the web and have a link you’d like to pass along, tapping the Share charm will give you quick access to the email client, or services like Facebook and Twitter.
The settings menu contains a lot of stuff we’re used to seeing on tablets but not in Windows, like virtual keyboard settings and notifications.
One of the two pre-installed games is Pinball FX 2, which is really a fantastic title. Too bad only one table is available.
The other built-in game is an old standby: Solitaire. This one is touch-enabled, but otherwise unremarkable. What, no Minesweeper? Hopefully these built-in games are a little more polished and feature-rich in the final release.
Of course the desktop is still there, and it’s fast and responsive. The new Explorer, with auto-hiding ribbon, is quite nice. Buttons to go “up” one level, or see folder properties, are welcome additions.
Unfortunately, the Store isn’t open for business on our preview build, but it will be for the general public in the Consumer Preview. All the apps in the store will be free, but there will be a limited selection.
There’s a neat Xbox Live hub with your avatar, some game promotional stuff, and a few Xbox games. It’s sort of spartan right now, but it could be useful if it fills out nicely by launch.
Okay, we have to admit, the built-in weather app is actually pretty slick. It's attractive and gives you lots of info about the day's weather, the forecast, weather maps, etc.
The built-in Maps app is all right in a proof-of-concept sort of way, but it’s a little flaky on updating tiles, and needs a lot more features (like a street-level view).
There’s a built-in Reader app that handles PDF and XPS files. It’s sort of basic, but we're glad to see built-in support for PDFs.
With fullscreen apps taking up so much real estate, you’re probably wondering about how you’ll find your stuff. Swipe in-and-out from the left (or hover your mouse pointer in the upper-left corner), and the multitasking bar will show a few of the most recent apps. If you’d like to close something, just drag it off the list and down to the bottom of the screen.
Need to drill down even further? Hold Ctrl and spin the mouse wheel (or pinch the touchscreen), and you’ll trigger Semantic Zoom, offering a birds-eye view of your apps. You can rename groups by dragging down on them, or drag up to slide them around.
Windows 8’s Toast notifications keep you updated on what your apps are up to, with a quick notification in the top right corner of your screen. You can click on the notification to jump straight to the app in question, or just ignore it -- it’ll fade away after a few seconds.
The Video app is very similar to its Xbox 360 incarnation. You can head here to purchase and watch episodes or seasons of your favorite TV shows and movies.
The Photos app hooks in to popular photo sharing services like Facebook and Flickr, as well as scouring SkyDrive and your device’s photo library for any pictures you have on hand. You can swipe or scroll through them quickly, or search for a particular shot.
The Finance app taps into Microsoft’s Bing to serve up financial data and news you’d like to keep track of.
One of the unsung heroes of the Windows 8 experience: the file transfer dialog box. It’s been completely revamped, tracking transfer speeds and completion time, while offering superior tools for dealing with duplicate files.
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