The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (aka beta) has just been released to the general public. This is Microsoft’s mobile-meets-desktop OS, and promises a radically different interface. Well, it’ll be less radical if you’re already using a Windows phone. Apparently 100 000 code changes have been made since the developer preview launched in September, which attracted some 3 million downloads.
I downloaded it to my Acer laptop over the weekend, and here are some of the features worth tooting about.
Windows 8 is kind to specs
The minimum specs needed to run Microsoft’s new operating system on your PC are the same as were required to run Vista and Windows 7 – so you if you’re running either of these you’re good to install Windows 8 (and if you’re still on Vista you need a smack).
Metro is a fluid and intuitive interface
Riding the Metro
If you’ve never used a Windows-based phone or tablet, with its chunky, flip board style Tiles, then Windows 8’s new interface will blow your mind. It’s that different. Metro completely transforms your desktop, making the way you interact with your operating system more fluid and intuitive. Obviously I’ve been navigating through Metro with a mouse and keyboard on my laptop, but genuinely it works better with touch – i.e. on tablets and smartphones with touch-screens. Metro is designed to work with swiping and pinching.
Dude, where’s my Start button?
Remember how the Office Ribbon got users grumbling? Just wait until you realise the familiar Windows Start button has been replaced by a full-screen Start Menu! Personally, I love it, but I bet I’m in the minority. You’ll get used to it, promise. Tip: ‘unpin’ all the items from the Start Menu that you won’t be using, and then pin the Tiles that you do use often – it’ll help you feel more in control in unfamiliar territory.
My desktop! It’s alive!
Metro apps are ‘live’ i.e. they take information from, for instance, social networking sites and display it on the tile. So-and-so just tweeted you. What’s his name just tagged you in a photo on Facebook. Your calendar shows you have a meeting at 11am at Mugg & Bean. You get the idea. Clicking on the All Apps icon allows you to see all the apps installed on your PC, which you can then group into sensible clusters, right-clicking them to name the group.
Grouping your apps is simple
Scroll to the right
You don’t need to try cramming all your apps onto one screen… or in the case of Windows 7, onto one launch bar. With Windows 8, if there’s no space left on your home screen, simply scroll to the right and continue adding clusters of apps. This is hardly a new idea for smartphone and tablet interfaces, but it is for a Windows desktop.
Hover your mouse over the top or bottom right-hand corners of your screen, and a ‘charms’ bar flys in. It contains five icons: Search, Sharing, Devices, Application Settings and Start (which is a shortcut to the Start Menu). I found I used the Search charm quite a bit during the first few days of feeling lost within my new operating system.
Charms fly in from the right-hand side of your screen
A gentle reminder for newbies: Windows 8 is an operating system, not an app that can be uninstalled at the click of a button. Captain Obvious, I know, but I write this with affection for my online tribe of girl geeks. Installing a new OS is a big deal. If you’re feeling hesitant perhaps wait until Windows 8 is officially released before you perform major surgery on your cherished (and expensive) digital devices.
Okay, that’s my disclaimer bit done with. Now… ready to do an extreme makeover on your PC’s desktop? Back-up, then back-up again. Then take the leap and download the Windows 8 beta here!
- 32-bit version
Download size: 2.5GB. Basic system requirements: Windows 7, 1GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB hard disk space, DirectX 9
- 64-bit version
Download size: 3.3GB. Basic system requirements: Windows 7, 1GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 20GB hard disk space, DirectX 9
The Windows 8 Consumer Preview expires on 15 January 2013.