Feeds

Windows 8: Sugar coating on Microsoft's hard-to-swallow tablet

Refreshing, delightful, puzzling, awkward, annoying

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Preview review How do you bring legacy-encrusted Windows into the mobile era? Microsoft's solution is to take all that baggage and place it into a compartment labeled desktop, while reinventing the Windows user interface in a second compartment called Metro.

Metro is primary, and conceptually the old desktop is now an app in the Metro Start menu. You can think of Metro as loosely equivalent to Apple's iOS, whereas desktop is like OS X. A key difference is that in Windows 8 they are side by side.

The Windows 8 reset

Metro comes to the familiar settings and a "repair your PC" option

The snag with this plan is that there are no Metro apps, aside from what comes bundled with Windows plus whatever Microsoft can persuade third parties to come up with in time for the launch later this year. A second issue is that touch screens are not the norm in the Windows world - hardly surprising given that the user interface of Windows 7 and earlier works so badly with fingertips - so most users will need new hardware in order to get Windows 8 running as designed.

I have been using Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a Samsung Series 7 slate since the launch of the beta on 29 February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The story overall is that on this third attempt (counting the Tablet PC as the first and the ill-fated Origami as the second) Microsoft has made an excellent tablet operating system.

The Windows 8 explorer

Explorer has a ribbon UI: it works, but no real change over Windows 7

The problem area is the combination and interaction between the old desktop and the new Metro-style platform. It is a complication, since most desktop apps still do not work well with touch alone - though we have yet to see how Microsoft will modify Office to work better in that respect - and if most Windows 8 machines end up saddled with add-on or built-in physical keyboard and pointing device, then they will not compete successfully with Apple's iPad or Android tablets on convenience or price.

Life with Windows 8 begins with the Start screen: it's summoned by pressing the Windows key, or by swiping in from the left to raise the Charms menu that includes a Start button, or by moving the mouse to the bottom left corner and clicking the Start rectangle which appears there. Confusingly, not all apps appear in the chunky Start screen by default. You need to swipe up and tap "All apps" for the full set, or else start typing if you have a keyboard. The desktop is an app, as I've already mentioned, or you can launch desktop apps individually. Even desktop users have to use the Metro Start menu, a curious design decision that may be explained by a desire to ensure that nobody can ignore Metro completely.

The Windows Store

The Windows Store shows the apps you've installed

On the Metro side the Consumer Preview comes with key apps that were not present in the Developer Preview from September.

Store is the normal route to find and install Metro apps, though enterprises will be able to bypass it. The store is nicely done, with the usual search and ratings. Everything is free during the preview, and new apps will appear there as developers upload them.

Map is based on Microsoft's Bing Maps service and looks great in full-screen view. There are road or aerial views, directions, and traffic display.

Mail and Calendar can handle multiple accounts, currently supporting Windows Live, Google and Exchange. There is also a People app, borrowed from Windows Phone, that aggregates information from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Hotmail and Exchange. There is more to it than that though, since when I logged in using the same Microsoft Live ID as on a Windows Phone, it also picked up Twitter messages from the account I had set up there. In other words, the Live ID aggregates incoming data from various sources.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
Microsoft to bake Skype into IE, without plugins
Redmond thinks the Object Real-Time Communications API for WebRTC is ready to roll
Microsoft promises Windows 10 will mean two-factor auth for all
Sneak peek at security features Redmond's baking into new OS
Mozilla: Spidermonkey ATE Apple's JavaScriptCore, THRASHED Google V8
Moz man claims the win on rivals' own benchmarks
FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on
Next driver to battle fake chips with 'non-invasive' methods
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
Ubuntu 14.10 tries pulling a Steve Ballmer on cloudy offerings
Oi, Windows, centOS and openSUSE – behave, we're all friends here
Was ist das? Eine neue Suse Linux Enterprise? Ausgezeichnet!
Version 12 first major-number Suse release since 2009
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.