Finally, we have a consumer preview of Windows 8 to share as were able to try some of the newest features before the finalized version of the OS arrives later this year. Much like Windows 7, the company will allow users who are interested in trying and reviewing the product themselves an opportunity to download it and take it for a test drive. Should you waste your time? We took some of the guess work out of it for you by completing a review of Windows 8 below.
Setting up the OS
Before jumping at the opportunity to download the all new Windows 8, you will need to make sure you have a couple requirements first. First off, remember that even though Microsoft calls this a Consumer Preview, it really means that this is the beta version and hence it may be prone to crashes, bugs and just plain not acting like a completed product.
It depends on how you think of beta programs – just so you know, almost every Google product is currently in this stage – if you will download the new Windows 8 preview to your computer or not. Please keep in mind that the old excuse “But ma’am Windows 8 destroyed my homework” most likely will not work with your boss.
Now, with that out of the way, you will also need to be sure your computer is capable enough to run Windows 8. For starters, according to the Consumer Preview information released by Microsoft, Windows 8 should be compatible with the same hardware that runs Windows 7. More specifically, make sure your computer has the following components:
- At least a 1 GHz processor
- 32-bit (1GB RAM) or 64-bit (2GB RAM)
- Available hard disk space of either 16 GB for 32-bit or 20GB for 64-bit
- Minimum 1024 x 768 screen resolution
- Graphics device DirectX 9 with WDDM 1.0 or above drive
With all of that said, if you want to experience the system with full power, you will need a couple other specifications.
For example, on the Snap feature the computer will have to have at least as 1366 x 768 screen resolution, and more importantly, the touch feature requires a multitouch-capable tablet, laptop, or display.
Finally, an Internet connection is required to download Windows 8, but as you are already reading this, that is probably a no brainer.
Installation and Personalization
The set-up for Windows 8 is extremely simple once you’ve got the 2.5-3.5 GB set-up file downloaded. The initial installation process will ask you a round of questions, and then lets you add a Microsoft account if you already have one. This feature also connects with your wireless Internet network to help connect the dots.
With us, we have a good amount of information currently stored in Microsoft’s cloud feature from our stint with the phone Windows 7, so this meant all of our SkyDrive photos, and other contacts, files, calendar details, and so many more features were automatically installed for us. However, do not worry because adding the other cloud-based applications like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Flickr, and LinkedIn is simple.
Locking the screen
Windows 8 has a lock screen function, much like that on Windows Phone 7 it is made to protect the PC when not in use, but it also works to relay information like the weather, time, date, key calendar appointments, if you are wirelessly connected or not, if the power cord is plugged in, or any other notifications or messages.
This feature is more geared toward tablet users with Windows 8, but can still be useful for desktop users as well but can be quickly dismissed with a simple tap on the space bar.
One of the most noticeable changes to the OS will center on the lack of a Start button. In fact, the new home page will be a collection of apps where everything looks much different than a desktop you are used to seeing.
Taking notes from the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7, the new Windows OS will feature the Metro design. You will notice that the new home screen consists of apps organized like tiles that jump and grab for your attention. These tiles can be arranged, managed, and organized by easily by dragging them wherever you want around the screen and placing them in groups labeled whatever you want them called such as: games, play, office, work, etc.
In addition, if you scroll from left to right, it will show you more (if you have more), and allow you to zoom in and out to get a bigger view of your applications and groups of applications. This feature is much comparable to that of gliding right and left on an Android or iPad device. There is only one main difference here and that is that app icons are not in a grid, they are instead boxes with information or names streaming through. However unlike the iOS or Android, you are able to group the apps into sections that are easy for you to see and find; the apps are not placed in smaller folders that are difficult to see.
Windows 8 not only embraced Apple’s Hot Corners trick, they actually took it a step farther. Meaning, this OS allows you to use the corners of the screen in combination with a keyboard and mouse to employ key tasks within the operating system.
However, the nice part is that the start button you originally thought had disappeared actually appears when you hover the mouse over the bottom left corner; of course, you can also simply press the Windows key.
Much the same, you can point your mouse over the left top corner to reveal apps that you have open currently (this is like pressing the alt + tab keys) which allows you to grab the window and drop it on the screen so you can access it. Microsoft also adds what they call the Charm bar into the top or bottom right corners. This feature allows you the quick ability to share items within access settings or applications, other devices you may have connected to it, and when you begin new searches on your computer.
This interface seems to be more focused on touch capability, but when you use the keyboard and mouse you can do the same thing.
Commands and Gestures
If your screen has certain abilities, this OS offers a wide array of moves and gestures you can use your finger for. This system was definitely intended for use with tablets since it has so many touch-focused features.
You will see many characteristics that are influenced by Android, BlackBerry’s PlayBook 2.0 OS, and Apple’s OS X and iOS. For example, you can zoom in and out while shifting from application to application by pulling from the sides of the screen.
You will notice that Windows 8 feels very familiar and like you’ve seen it on several different devices; honestly, if the choice putting it on the desktop was unavailable it would be like many other tablet operating systems.
If you like to use the shortcuts on the keyboard, you will be happy to know they still exist. For example, Windows + C will pull up the Charm menu; while Windows + Tab will allow you to scroll through the apps you have open very quickly. There are other options and commands are visible following a right click of the mouse.
Applications and the Windows Store
Windows 8 is all about apps, exactly like your phone. Now, we’re not saying that you are not able to run software just as you always have, but you will notice that applications take center stage with Windows 8. This is more evident than with Apple’s OS X Lion and upcoming X Mountain Lion OS.
This system is pre-loaded with many new applications but you can also add more from the Window’s store. We could test some of these, but not others because of availability issues in the UK.
There are many apps you can preview in the Consumer Preview. In addition, Microsoft said that as long as the Preview is available, the apps will remain free. This is awesome because it allows you to test them without worry of paying. This set-up is also much like other app stores because once you find the app you want to download, you simply press the download button and seconds later a screen will appear to allow you to rearrange and access your apps.
The Store is easy to use and navigate. You have the ability to view the ads by categories, and although it’s not apparent, you can search the store. The search feature is access via the Charms menu. The store is also the location to manage the updates for your apps.
Similar to Apple’s OS, Microsoft is going towards apps to get you started. This is good to make sure there are constantly new apps to try out with the user interface. The Consumer Preview includes such apps as Weather, Music, People, Finance, Reader, Video, Mail, Maps, and Messaging, among many others.
All of these apps are accessible via desktop or by searching the app’s name when you’re on the start page. You will see a panel on the right appear to deliver details.
Internet Explorer 10
This seems much faster and easier to use than previous versions. This browser includes new features such as full screen browsing that has minimal extras. A strange feature that will take getting used to is the fact that the URL bar moved to the bottom of the screen and tabs are the top but only appear on command.
All apps seem almost over-simplified, but look really clean. The app for Mail is a perfect example of this concept. You will find it to be even cleaner that the app for iPad email. This app works for bull screen and is a bit up close and personal on a 27-inch display, but we like that a lot.
The Mail app is organized into three columns; you’ll find your account setting in one, the email itself in the second, and your received emails in a third. However, if you only have one account, you are able to close that column or make into a “folders” column instead.
Setting up the Mail with your email is extremely easy. A Google account requires you to enter an email and password, while Hotmail was previously added when we personalized it at the beginning.
If you have used the People Hub feature on Windows Phone 7, this app works much like that. This is actually your contact book that can pull data from Twitter, LinkedIn, Exchange, Google, or Facebook.
This OS also has a Me page where you can learn all the newest things going on in relation to you. This will include information such as mentions on Twitter, photos of you, and likes on Facebook. The ‘what’s new’ section tracks the people who you follow. This design does not work well in landscape view in our opinion, but it works great for the feature for split apps.
This app will allow you to IM your friends through Facebook or MSN Messenger. This also works like the app found on Windows Phone 7 and the one found on Apple’s Mountain Lion OS except full screen. This app allows you to easily jump from friend to friend, have different chats, and possibly Skype will be added before the release of it.
This app is easy to set-up and easy to use! It allows you to stream your pre-specified stock market quotes when you get started.
The Maps app on Windows 8 is actually the Bing map app. This app allows you to find places easier than ever before. It also allows you to track traffic before driving home and you can zoom by scrolling on the mouse.
This is an important focus on Windows 8 because Microsoft has this feature high on their priorities. This feature allows you to access your documents, recent mobile uploads, and anything else you have stored on cloud.
This app is not only simplistic, but it is also beautiful. This app gives you hourly breakdowns of your local weather, a nice pretty picture of your area’s weather, an 18-hour forecast, and finally a 10-day weather forecast. You can scroll right and more data will be visible such as historical reports and radar maps.
This OS will automatically load your email calendar to start. Windows 8 will also allow you to see it easily in day, week, or month format, while also adding your required appointments.
Windows 8 has tons of apps available spread between the pre-installed ones and the others available in the Window’s Store. The installation of such apps will add a shortcut icon to your start page, this will enable you to take more advantage of the Live Tile functions and your desktop can become packed with info. This will be a wonderful way to provide you with a quick look at what’s going on and also something to remember if you are on a data plan.
Windows 8 will bring a notifications center just like Mountain Lion for the Mac. This will give you a look at what is going on all over your computer. The notifications can be local to some apps or controlled how you really want them to work.
Tiling of Split Screen Apps
No doubt, one of the best features found on Windows 7 was the snap tile function that allowed you to work in two tabs at one time. However, Windows 8 took this feature a step farther so you are able to run two apps in full screen view at the same time. Hear the following information if you are thinking that you can do the same thing in OS X or Windows 7.
This design allows for you to have a messages, People, or email inbox app in a thin container that runs down the side of the screen. This app will be independent of whatever you are using in the screen’s main area.
Although this capability sounds rather simple, it is actually a clever feature that will be widely admired. This OS is situated so the Desktop is treated like an app where you can email opened to the left or right on the screen while the Desktop is alone to run additional windows because the two will not intersect.
Entertainment and Xbox
Windows 8 also has a wonderful Xbox 360 section that includes Xbox movies, music, and games. There is much included that can be instantly downloaded. You will find that the marketplace features many selections and is an ever increasing catalogue of information. This also allows gamers to see their leaderboards, achievements, and the newest Xbox game releases.
Unfortunately, at the time of review Microsoft had not allowed the UK Consumer Preview users to access the feature yet, so we could not see our avatar or other account details. A cool feature is that they have created an app called Xbox Companion which is already on WP7 and allows users to access their Xbox from their PC.
Keyboard versus Touch
The company did good trying to create an OS that would work with both a touch screen and a mouse and keyboard. However, it is clear at the start page that Microsoft would rather users go the touch route.
On the other hand, the team has done a good job at making sure desktop users are not out of the loop. This operating system takes getting used to and will most likely baffle first time users coming from Windows 7. If you have any experience with Hot Corners from OS X, you will have a head start that traditional Windows users will not have.
Reset and Refresh
Yet another feature that was borrowed from a Smartphone device is the capability of resetting or refreshing your PC when you’re ready to continue. This feature is accessed in the settings panel and is described by Microsoft as a way to “Refresh your PC” without losing personal files such as videos, photos, or music. Also included is the function to completely wipe the computer clean in case you decide to recycle or sell the PC, which is wonderful function.
Windows 8 takes passwords to a whole new level. This OS will allow you to unlock your PC by completing a series of actions on a picture that are only known by you, rather than typing a password. This setup is rather simple; you begin by finding a photo and making three marks on it, repeat, and then save. It doesn’t matter if you draw a circle on your face, a line down the middle, or a star in the middle of your forehead; anything is possible. This makes it impossible for other people to guess your password!
Conclusion and Overview
So far, everything looks good for Windows 8 even though it is still in the early stages. This OS is obviously created for a tablet experience, as the company has attempted to break away from the desktop in the same way Apple has. However, thus far Microsoft has not been able to do so as much as they have now with Windows 8.
Microsoft has achieved a fresh look that is simplistic yet stylish while allowing users to use a computer how it was intended. The Windows are gone and it is instead replaced by a full-screen experience which is clean and bright; Microsoft could have called Windows 8 “Tiles8” and that would have seemed more appropriate. Sometimes you will find the tiles to be a bit too clean and bright, but compared to past operating systems this is stimulating stuff.
If you own, or have seen, an Xbox 360 this has an interface that is like that of Windows 8. This change will definitely be too much for some users, but for those who are up for a new much more interactive PC experience then Windows 8 is for you. It is very futuristic and the way it is setup you will not be able to avoid Metro or hide in your desktop.