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Microsoft releases Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and it’s much improved

by Doug Drinkwater

February 29 2012

New in this update, which is available now: Office on ARM, numerous UI improvements, and more.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – Microsoft may not have grabbed the attention of Mobile World Congress attendees in the past, but that all changed today for 2012 with the introduction of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, with a number of additions and changes since the developer version was released last year.

Prior to the show, Microsoft announced that it would be showing Windows 8 officially for the first time to end-users in Barcelona at the plush Hotel Miramar, a few blocks away from the main show itself.

Spokesman Tami Reller formally introduced the event as a “special day” in the history of Microsoft, and praised some partners at the event, especially the app developers behind the Metro-styled apps.

Windows 8 is 'the best of both worlds'

Steven Sinofsky then came to the stage. He said that Microsoft challenged itself to bring the best of both mobility and PCs together, and pushed the new OS as to being both “fast and fluid”.

“As exciting as all new devices are today, we all desire something a bit better,” Sinofsky said. “We face too many choices; on this or that device, consumption or productivity, a tablet or a laptop, a keyboard and a mouse or a touch interface.”

Sinofsky argued that consumers should be allowed to choose their form factor, and stressed that the goal of the OS is to “scale with you” as you move between devices. “There are still seams when crossing between devices, like adding a keyboard to a tablet is not quite right, it’s not seamless. Our goal is for PCs without compromise for Windows 8.

“We took a new approach to Windows 8. We looked at the OS, the apps, the developer platform and hardware itself, and looked at how we could manufacture these things better end-to-end.”

Moving on, the Microsoft spokesman unveiled the developer preview for Windows 8, and admitted that lots of the building was still going on upon its release. He also revealed that the new consumer version has been vastly improved.

“We’ve made a lot of changes. Since the developer preview in September, we’ve made over 100,000 code changes. The consumer version is much more polished, and refined. We think it’s complete.”

A generational change for Microsoft?

Sinofsky promoted Windows 8 as a ‘generational change’ for Microsoft OS, and said that cloud connection has been ‘very important’ for Microsoft, since it began developing the new OS.

Julie Larson-Green, corporate VP for Windows program management, then came to the floor to show how Windows 8 apps can run on tablets, and revealed that Microsoft made cardboard cut-outs of a tablet-like device, before tablets had even come back to the fore again.

Moving onto the demo, Larson-Green showed the tablet log-in, sliding up from the bottom of the screen, and then pinching on a photograph of her husband’s nose to log-in.

The first home screen had icons for calendar and other productivity tools, while the second – with all the apps – was personalized to show icons for her favorite apps.

This scrolling start screen showed Larson-Green’s favorite websites and contacts pinned to the front page. There was also a neat function to zoom in and out of the main screens, and move and grab apps.

Microsoft also appears to be pushing to make the apps themselves very interactive, with apps like Internet Explorer responding to touches on the edge of the tablet to bring up the URL and favourite web pages. Larson-Green showed that the user can ‘flick’ to back to previous pages, or move their thumb about the left side of the screen to change apps (as shown in a list or full-screen).

Users can also slide their hands slightly to the right of the tablet screen to bring up the ‘Charms’ bar and go back to the start screen.

There were further demos for the music and video capabilities, as well as the People app, which brings together Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Windows Live.

Larson-Green showed a very nice feature where users can pin app lists, or one app in particular, next to the People app, to make for a productive dual-screen display. There is the ability to resize both windows. 

Windows 8 on ultrabooks

Antoine Leblond then came to the stage to push the fact that Windows 8 is for laptops and desktop, and he demonstrated the new OS on a new Lenovo Ultrabook.

There’s no picture unlock, so he unlocked using a password. Leblond also showed that users can swipe between home pages using the mouse.

Leblond described the mouse interface as being very precise, but not great for gestures, and he showed that for Windows 8, Microsoft has improved mouse controls for more traditional desktop use.

To get back to the start menu, for example, desktop users can just move their cursor back to bottom left, as with the conventional start button, to get back to the start menu. Zoom is also supported with a magnifying glass, while the cursor can be used to tear off and move selected apps.

Leblond said that desktop apps will still run on Windows 8. “Desktop is still there and you‘ll still be able to do the same desktop functions, like copy and paste.”

Leblond also showed a new feature for copying files; with the OS giving a running update on what is copying across and how quickly it is doing the process.

Windows 8 App store, Office 15, and Release Candidates

Microsoft also tackled the app store. Leblond showed that the landing page has a spotlight, but also offers access to all the categories.

“We’ve started talking to developers about developing for Windows 8, and they’re really excited about it,” said Sinofski. “They get better economics, and they get great distribution for their apps. We’ve had a lot of big developers, but Windows 8 Store is also a great opportunity for those smaller developers as well.”

Sinofski demonstrated Office 15 on an ARM tablet. The full version of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are running, and they look just like their x86 counterparts. Sinfoski says that while the apps have been tuned for touch, they will still retain the ability to be controlled by mouse and keyboard.

He also demonstrated Windows 8 on Lenovo’s Yoga tablet hybrid to emphasize the point that touch is an “and” experience, not an either/or.

In closing, Sinofski said that the next version of Windows 8 would be the Release Candidate. While he did not say when the RC would arrive, if Windows 8 is similar to the release of Windows 7, we should see RC in June or July, with the retail version by November.

Sinofsky also said that the enterprise version of Windows 8 will be shown off at CeBIT in Germany later this year.

To download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, point your browser to preview.windows.com. Detailed instructions will walk you through the process of downloading installing it on your PC. 

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England
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