Windows 8 Consumer Preview: a fresh start for Microsoft

imageWith today’s release of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft is finally ready for the public to pass judgment on its most important software release in nearly two decades. Here’s what to expect.

eb-win8cp-charms-menuA modern computing device must do certain things, right out of the box. It must connect you to the web and to social networks. It must enable communications with your friends and family and co-workers. It must play music and video. It must provide a framework for extending its capabilities with apps that are easy to discover and install.

Those capabilities require a blend of hardware, software, and services that collectively add up to an experience, which is much more than a list of features or a page of specs or a collection of screenshots.

Microsoft has been talking about experience for a long time. (The XP brand, introduced in 2001, came from the word eXPerience.) But it has taken a full decade for the company to turn its talk into something real. Windows 8 is the first operating system that Microsoft has consciously designed to work in harmony with hardware, apps, and services to deliver that consistent experience.

Although you won’t see the word beta in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, that’s exactly what it is. It’s too early to run benchmarks or pass final judgment on a product, but this milestone is solidly built and feature-complete. It’s a good time to assess Microsoft’s progress with what is arguably its most consequential product release in nearly two decades.

Dozens of small changes (and a few large ones) address complaints about the Start and search screens. You can manage groups of icons more easily (and optionally assign names to those groups) using the semantic zoom feature. Here’s a before-and-after look. That’s the default Start screen on top, and a fully customized version below it.

eb-win8cp-start-before-after

The Start screen also turns into Search as soon as you begin typing, and there are now a full assortment of search-enabled apps that you can use to change the scope of a search.

eb-win8cp-search

Use the pinch gesture on a touchscreen or hold down Ctrl as you use the mouse wheel to zoom the display so you can zoom out to see all tiles—an option called semantic zoom. You can drag any group to move it into a new position. Selecting a group displays a Name group option in the app bar. The name you enter appears above the group when you return to normal view

eb-win8cp-semantic-zoom

If you’re hoping for a way to replace the Start screen with a Windows 7–style Start menu, I have bad news for you. That option will not be there. It’s not in the Consumer Preview, and it won’t be in the final release. And the registry hack that temporarily enabled the Start menu in the Developer Preview doesn’t appear to work in this release.

Much (far too much, in fact) has been written about the demise of the Start button and the Start menu on the Windows 8 desktop. While it’s true that the familiar Windows flag is no longer present at the left side of the taskbar, Start is not gone. Indeed

Will Back soon  with more updated…

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