As we reported this morning, Microsoft has made the consumer preview of Windows 8 available as a free download today. The new OS aims to revolutionize Windows, unifying user experience across multiple platforms - laptop/desktop computers, phones and tablets, and the Xbox gaming console.
The big new feature of Windows 8 is the Metro user interface. Windows Phone users have had the Metro interface since 2010, and Xbox Live users have had it since the most recent update late last year. The paned interface replaces the Start menu on desktops and laptops. It arranges your Windows apps in a tiled format. Clicking a tile opens the associated app. Apps can also display information in their pane. A weather app can display local weather information in its pane, and then bring up more information when you click the pane to open the app. Metro displays apps in page format, as well. Users can rearrange their Metro apps and pages into whatever order they want, just like on a smartphone or tablet.
In a move that will be jarring to some long-time Windows users, Windows 8 does away with the Start button completely. Sort of. The button itself is gone, that’s true, and the Metro interface replaces the Start menu. Don’t panic just yet, though: the way to access Start screen is pretty familiar: you get there by clicking in the lower left corner of the screen.
The interface isn’t all about Metro, though. Windows 8 keeps the traditional desktop interface and the good old start bar, but gives it a major makeover. Moving your mouse around the screen gives you access to a bunch of slick new ways to interact with your computer. As previously mentioned, the lower left corner takes you to the start screen. Move the mouse to the upper left corner and see your most recently-used app. Move down from there, and you get a list of more recent apps. Moving down from the top right or up from the bottom right shows the “charms.” These are a few basic system functions including search, share options, access to the Start screen, a device list, and your settings.
Another key feature of Windows 8 is the Windows Store. That’s right, Windows is finally getting an app store. Apps are purchased from the store with a Microsoft account. Installing an app from the store puts it on your Start Screen. Purchasing an app gives you a license to put that app on up to 5 machines total.
SkyDrive is Windows 8’s new cloud storage and connection system. Users sign into SkyDrive on all of their Windows machines, and SkyDrive syncs their apps, personalized settings, and files across all devices they’re signed into. SkyDrive also connects with various web services includeing Facebook and Flickr to keep users’ photos and files synced.
The Windows 8 consumer preview is available now for free and can be downloaded here. For more on Windows 8’s features, check out here. To see all our Windows 8 coverage, including Twitter reactions and reviews, go here.
It bears repeating that the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is just that: a preview. It’s not the final version of the OS, and as such is bound to have some bugs that still need squashing. Microsoft has not yet announced a release date for Windows 8, but a late third or early fourth quarter release seems fairly likely.
Have you downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview? Do you plan to? Tell us what you think of it in the comments.