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Windows 8 Consumer Preview offers a new look at Microsoft's upcoming interface for both computers and tablets. Is one device being shortchanged in favor of the other?
If you move your cursor to the upper left corner of the screen, you'll see a thumbnail of your last app -- and then if you then move your cursor down, you'll display the thumbnails of your other open apps.
When you click the Desktop tile on the Metro Start screen, you're sent to what is essentially the old Windows Desktop, including the taskbar at the bottom, icons for launching programs, and so on. It looks and works like the Desktop you've grown used to over the years, with a few minor changes and one major one: The Desktop no longer has the Start button.
One of the built-in Metro apps is for Microsoft's cloud-based storage service, SkyDrive. The SkyDrive app, as with other Metro apps, is simple to use, colorful and easy to navigate. But rather than being integrated throughout Windows 8, SkyDrive is a standalone cloud-based storage service, so you can't automatically back up data to the cloud and make it available to multiple devices, or have data on SkyDrive automatically sync to Windows 8. Cloud-based syncing is relegated at this point to syncing your settings across devices.
For tablets and smartphones, the new Metro interface is a clear winner: beautifully designed, simple to use, function-rich and offering a wealth of apps that bring information directly to users rather than requiring users to search it out. For owners of traditional PCs, however, the results are mixed. Metro isn't as easy to navigate with a mouse and keyboard as it is with touch.
The Start screen is easy to customize, so you can make sure that all of the apps you use regularly are immediately visible. For example, you can remove apps pinned to the Start screen by right-clicking (or, on the keyboard, Ctrl-right clicking) and a menu appears at the bottom of the screen that lets you unpin, resize or uninstall the app.
"Charms" are icons that let you perform an action, such as searching or changing options. When you move your mouse pointer to the upper-right corner or lower-right corner of the screen, five of these charms appear: Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings. Some are quite useful, while others appear to serve no purpose as yet.
The Metro-based Mail app is simple, colorful and makes it very easy to add and read mail from multiple mail accounts. However, it offers very few tools that you expect in a modern email program, such as creating rules to automatically route mail to specific folders.
Of course, not all apps are necessarily visible on the Start screen. To see all your apps, you right-click on the Start screen and click the "All apps" icon that appears at the bottom of the screen. You'll then see every app listed, along with small tiles that represent each.
You can put tiles into their own groups as an easy way to see related apps at a glance. Click a small icon at the bottom right corner of the screen and all the apps on the Start screen shrink into a small space. Move tiles anywhere you want on the screen, including into groups. You right-click a group to name it. Click anywhere on the Start screen and the tiles return to their normal size.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview comes with a full suite of apps, including email, calendaring, maps, SkyDrive, messaging, Xbox and social networking, among others. They appear to have been designed more for tablets than traditional computers, with simple, colorful bold interfaces. The results are often striking, such as the visually compelling Weather app.
The Windows Store at launch was a lonely place. At the time of this review, the Productivity section had a grand total of five apps, and that included two that were already pre-installed on Windows 8. Travel, meanwhile, had four apps, including one already pre-installed. Other categories were similarly bereft of choices. It can be assumed that, in time, the store will be more populated.