BitDepth 801 - September 26

So what's Windows 8 like? We go hands on.
Hands on with Windows 8
Internet Explorer 10 reduces interface elements until it almost disappears into the Windows desktop.

If Microsoft’s open access policy with the beta versions of Windows 7 was surprising, it’s flinging open of the barn doors on an alpha version of Windows 8 is downright shocking.
The newest version of Windows is a developer preview, which usually means that it’s not only not ready for public consumption, most users won’t want to mess around with it if they aren’t fluent in a programming language or two.

The act of putting this software into general release suggests that the landscape for promoting desktop operating systems has fundamentally changed, and things aren’t as cut and dried as they were when Microsoft took its sweet time preparing the ultimately disappointing Vista.

The name of the game is improvement on the run, and Microsoft must have begun working on Windows 8 once its predecessor went golden master.
The best way for a casual user to investigate Microsoft’s 3.9GB download disk image is to either install it on a secondary drive or to virtualise it.

On the Mac side of things, the last version of Parallels version 6 will install Windows 7, but VMWare Fusion only supports it on version 4. You’ll want to skip installing Parallel’s tools if you’re using the older version. That pretty much fried my first installation.

It’s likely that you’ll spend more time downloading the installer image than you will installing it. The process is quick, but a little unnerving, with long stretches of black screen while the system restarts and continues its installation with no feedback to the user, but after 20 minutes or so, there’s an installation of Windows 8 awaiting your attention.

And there are glitches aplenty to experience, so don’t plan on using this as your “free” copy of Windows. The new version of Internet Explorer is a model of spare design, but balked repeatedly at loading simple websites in my testing.
So it’s for developers, alrighty? Microsoft has been kind enough to let you play with it, but it’s still very much a bolted together contraption and definitely not ready for prime time.

Within a week of the release of the preview; however, Microsoft had already pushed out 88MB worth of incremental updates to Windows 8, most of which the software reported as important.
By default, the system boots into Metro mode, a touchscreen friendly arrangement of touch activated tiles that will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s been using Windows Phone 7.

On a computer screen, the tiles are arranged with a bit more breathing room, floating a few dozen pixels away from every screen edge except the right, and you slide the interface along from that side to view even more tiles for services and pre-installed software.
Some of the default tiles will take you to your tweets, to the desktop and to the standard Windows control panel.

And this is the truly weird thing about Windows 8. Under the tiled Metro interface, which is clumsy to use with a mouse, is a lightly polished version of Windows 7. There’s a new ribbon bar with common commands in each open window and freshly designed icons, but generally, the OS appears to be much the same.
It’s an intriguing effort at making touch an integral part of Windows, but it’s still not clear just how far Microsoft is willing to go in retasking its key OS to the opportunities of tablet computing.

This developer preview is a maddening programming pelau, a big helping of touch interface with a sprinkling of interface updates stirred into the successful pot of Windows 7.
By merging a touchscreen interface and an update to Windows 7, Microsoft seems keen to deliver a new OS that’s the best of both worlds, but this first effort is just confusing. The Metro tiles seem much too big for the average PC screen, and the version of Windows lurking under it is too detailed and fussy for a tablet using only touch input.

There’s likely to be interesting development process ahead as developers and users respond to this first sketch of Windows 8.
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