Microsoft is releasing the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 today, a highly anticipated software release from the company that marks the introduction of a full touch interface for Windows. The early days of Windows were inauspicious ones when sitting on top of DOS for longer time and with time revolution comes – a total way of seeing the things knocks the door and now with after a decade later, after, Windows 95, the software giant unveiled the Windows 8 Consumer Preview version. The developer preview was intended to get developers used to touch and so as coding too as it involves Metro-style application. Today at Mobile World Congress, Microsoft unveiled the second public release of the operating system, the much more polished Consumer Preview.
UI Changes, Gestures and Start Button Removal
Building on the Developer Preview, the Consumer Preview is very close to the final Windows 8 user experience, with new touch gestures and improved support for mouse and keyboard. You’ll see differences from the Developer Preview as soon as you turn on the Consumer Preview, with the lock screen now supporting notifications. The familiar Windows beta mascot, the Betta Fish, is still there. Introduced with Windows 7, the fish has gone through something of a transformation in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. With Windows 8 comes the introduction of a Metro-style interface, inspired by the lovely and intuitive presentation found in Windows Phone.
Windows 8 comes with a whole new installation method, using a small installer to download all the files you need from the web, with the added option to make a bootable installer from a USB drive. Microsoft has made a number of tweaks to this screen for the Consumer Preview, including the introduction of a Semantic Zoom interface that allows tablet and touch users to organize and group their Windows Store applications.
Microsoft has done a lot to fine tune the Windows 8 touch UI in the Consumer Preview, focusing on how it interacts with the edges of the screen. Microsoft has introduced a series of gestures and keyboard shortcuts. The aim is for controls the left and right of the screen are windows controls. The left lets you switch between applications, the right opens up the Windows 8 ‘charms’ — for search, share, devices and settings. A new close gesture lets you quickly throw away running Metro applications. Swipe down from the top of the screen to the middle, shrinking the current application, then quickly drag it off the bottom of the screen. The top and bottom of the screen are for Metro-style applications, opening application bars and menus.
The Consumer Preview, at least visually, is the removal of the Start Button Orb in the desktop mode. Microsoft’s bold move means the typical Start button interaction point for Windows users has been moved to the Charms bar for Windows 8. Touch users can swipe from the edges of a screen to activate the charms that include the new Windows 8 logo; the logo animates with a subtle flash of light and what we would describe as a pulse, adding life to the charms bar. It also picks up accent colors from the theme used across Windows 8.
Mouse and Keyboard Improvements
Starting with the keyboard shortcuts
Windows + arrow keys – This combination, with the left and right arrow keys, moves Metro-style apps into their left or right docked positions. For Windows desktop apps, they do what they do in Windows 7 — popping over to the left or right half of the screen. Up maximizes, down minimizes.
Windows + C – This brings up the charms bar. You can also replace C with I, K or H to pop straight to the Settings, Connect or Share charms.
Windows + Tab – This toggles between applications, and in this case the Windows desktop is counted as an application. This differs between the classic Alt + Tab, which still works here, tabbing between each individual window on the desktop and the Metro-style apps.
Windows + PrtScn – This captures a PNG of the current screen and saves it in your Pictures directory. As you can imagine, we used this one quite a bit.
Mouse: The top left corner is where you use a mouse to switch through applications, initially showing the last used application and with an option to scroll down and see more. Rolling over the initial frame at the top of the screen you see a hint that there are additional tiles — adding a hint of discoverability to the mouse gesture. When you take the mouse to the top right you open up the Windows 8 charms, showing initially as hints.
Entertainment and Xbox
Xbox Live is one of the most prominent pins in the new Start menu, and once tapped you’ll be prompted to sign in to your account. The real interesting bit comes when you start navigating through your recently played games and accessed Xbox apps. You can launch those titles directly from your Windows 8 device and, once they’re up, even control them. The interface mirrors the Xbox Live application for iPad but includes a lot more functionality and direct access to installed games. Windows Live functionality has also been largely replaced by the preinstalled Windows Communications applications, and Consumer Preview users will be asked to link a local account to a “Microsoft Account” in Windows 8.
Windows 8 is all about application. With tools from Windows Live, Bing and Xbox, they’re a useful mix of information and utilities. They’re all labelled as App Previews, signifying that they’re not yet complete — although they’re all perfectly usable.
SkyDrive: SkyDrive makes uploading and downloading files from one machine to another very easy. Microsoft is exposing SkyDrive to developers so that future apps can tie directly in to it. Photos can be uploaded to Skydrive from the camera application; while you get access to all the pictures you’ve uploaded from a Windows Phone — as well as your Internet Explorer favourites and Office Web Apps files. The desktop SkyDrive application isn’t available just yet, but Metro-style applications can take advantage of the Metro SkyDrive with its 25GB cloud storage.
Internet Browser: The Metro-styled Internet Explorer 10 is a huge part of the OS, where “every pixel of the page” is presented for viewing. Bookmarks are not shared, cookies and passwords are not shared, nothing is shared — sign in to Twitter on one and you’ll have to do it again on the second one. Interesting part, run them both and they’ll show as separate entries in the new Task Manager.
The Consumer Preview is a major milestone for Windows 8, but, there’s a lot more to the Consumer Preview than its user interface — for one thing, it finally supports Hyper-V, and a new way of exploring folder history makes it easier to recover accidentally deleted files. The Windows Store will provide the best look at Windows 8 and its app offerings and will be the key component to Microsoft’s success or failure with its “Windows reimagined” approach. Overall Windows 8 Consumer Preview feels like a much more finished product that its Developer Preview equivalent.