Windows 8 Consumer Preview: One Step Closer to the PC’s Future

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Harry McCracken /

In the Consumer Preview, Microsoft has focused on making Metro more mouse-and-keyboard friendly. New gestures let you accomplish the tasks that you can also perform with your finger: For instance, putting the mouse in the lower right-hand corner of the screen pulls up the same strip of system controls that you can also reach by swiping your finger in from the right edge. With either a finger or a mouse, it’s easy to drag around the tiles that represent apps, grouping them to your liking.

Windows 8 People

Harry McCracken /

While Microsoft hadn’t switched on the Windows Store during my time with the Consumer Preview, I did get to use a bunch of the company’s own Metro applications. There’s a Metro-ized version of Internet Explorer, an e-mail program, a photo viewer, a music service, a Bing Maps app and a feature called People that weaves together information about your friends and associates from sources such as Facebook and Twitter. Microsoft has also integrated SkyDrive, its Dropbox-like cloud storage service that lets you keep files on its servers so they’re available from all your devices.

These apps are all highly reminiscent of features in Windows Phone, and they’re fine as far as they go, but mostly shallow. They’re labeled as previews themselves, and could get richer before Windows 8 ships.

The Consumer Preview’s version of Metro shows considerable refinement from the earlier Developer Preview, but the Desktop hasn’t changed much. It’s still a lightly-refreshed, self-contained update to Windows 7, and it’s still essential, since it’s where you’ll run every Windows app that wasn’t written for Metro. (On PCs with Intel chips, anyhow: Windows 8 will also be available in a version for systems that use ARM processors, the same power-efficient chips used in most smartphones and tablets, but these machines won’t be compatible with pre-Windows 8 software.)

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