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3/1/2012
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Windows 8 Beta: Visual Tour

Take a closer look at Microsoft's radically revamped Windows 8 OS, out now in a consumer preview version. Here's the lowdown on features, apps, hardware, and more.




Microsoft unveiled the consumer preview of its Windows 8 operating system on Wednesday from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Microsoft has made more than 100,000 changes to the OS since its September developer preview release, according to Windows president Steve Sinofsky.

Windows 8, which likely won't be available as a shipping product for some time, marks an aggressive turn for Microsoft. The completely revamped OS borrows heavily from the Windows Phone 7 user experience, with the Metro-style interface. Just as important, it brings together many types of user input--from touch to keyboard to mouse. This, along with Apple's continued moves with its OS (Lion, and now Mountain Lion), paint a future that blends the worlds of phone, tablet, and PC, at least from a user interface point of view.

Windows 8 will ship on x86 and ARM-based systems, and Sinofsky said that all hardware platform development, which includes tight partnerships, is on track and on equal footing.

Microsoft unveiled nice little treats, like showing off Windows 8 running on a variety of devices, from tablets to ultrabooks to self-contained PC displays, and even a couple of concept devices, like an 82-inch monitor made of optically-bonded Gorilla Glass with subpixel depth. Michael Angiulo, corporate VP of Microsoft Windows planning and ecosystem, said that using this feels like you're actually moving each Windows tile by hand; he even hinted that this could become the next-generation TV experience. Angiulo also showed a cube-shaped, AMD-built concept PC, about the size of his hand, and demonstrated how it could drive two large monitors, splitting apps between them.

In other words, Angiulo wanted to show off a range of hardware partners, from system-on-a-chip companies like nVidia, TI, Qualcomm, and even Intel, to device manufacturers like Samsung, to Ultrabook makers like HP, Dell, and Lenovo. Angiulo showed off the Lenovo Yoga, which flips from Ultrabook to a more tablet-like mode. Angiulo, and other Microsoft executives (Windows program management VP Julie Larson and Windows web services VP Antoine Leblond), each showed off the different user input options (gesture, mouse, keyboard) on a variety of different hardware.

All of this hardware is important, of course, but so too are developers. Microsoft made a big deal of swiping through screens full of apps in almost every demo, just to showcase the breadth of apps so far. The company hosted an app contest and announced its eight big winners.

[ See our complete Mobile World Congress 2012 coverage, live from the mobile industry's hottest event. ]

So the hardware players are on board, the apps are in the works, now it's time to get end users. The company is making the consumer preview available for download, and this includes all of the apps in the Windows app store. Sinofsky said Microsoft would unveil the enterprise preview at CeBIT next week in Hanover, Germany, including a few more features that help enterprise IT manage Windows 8. He did demonstrate one feature, called Windows To Go, where an entire system image goes onto a USB drive and can be used to gain access to profile information and apps on any other machine.


Steve Sinofsky is the President of Microsoft's Windows division, and the driving force behind Windows 8. Lately, he's been rumored to be a possible heir apparent to the role of CEO at Microsoft, succeeding Steve Balmer. Sinofsky emphasized a new era for computing, notably that users would no longer have to make choices--between consuming content or producing it; battery life or more features; and so on.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


The Windows 8 Metro interface is the signature of the new operating system, and one that borrows from Windows Phone 7, which--despite high praise from many reviewers-still hasn't made much of a dent in smartphone market share. However, this user experience is pretty intuitive. It doesn't take much thought. And, by using either the touch or mouse interface, you can do things like go to the bottom left (where the normal Windows Start button would be) to get to your apps; going to the top left corner you can run through your apps, and dragging down slightly lets you see all of your running apps. There are many similar, accessible features built into Windows 8.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Microsoft made a big deal about the HTML 5 fidelity and performance of Internet Explorer, which is hardware accelerated. The browser experience is also what Microsoft calls "edge-to-edge"--that is, it consumes the entire screen, and the browser tabs and controls appear only as you need them, giving the user more of the Web, and less of the app delivering it.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Windows 8 multitasks, of course, but there are a few things to note about that. First, the task windows can "dock" on the screen (that is, lock into a spot), and you can resize the windows and move them around. Here you see the messaging app (probably too big) alongside the Top Gear site. The idea seems to be to let the user create a more natural state of multitasking. One other note about multitasking: The OS knows when an app isn't in use and essentially shuts it down from consuming any system resources (no worries, though--the app starts right back up to its previous state when selected).

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


One of the points that Sinofsky made was that Windows 8 apps would work seamlessly together. While that always sounds nice in theory, it usually just means that the hooks are there for developers to take advantage of--either through application services in the OS or between apps. For Windows 8, Microsoft has built in the services, and any Windows 8 application takes advantage of them by default. In practice, what that means is that, in this example, if you want to, say, share a link from your Web browser to a friend via email, the "share" service brings up the apps, making it easy for you to simply select email and start to address a recipient. It's a fairly easy (trivial?) example, but the next slide shows a little more power.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Here, a link from an article built into an app (the USA Today Windows 8 app) isn't simply pasted into an e-mail, but actually shared to Wordpress, where you can share the link via your personal blog.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


The familiar Microsoft Office apps are ready for Windows 8. Here, PowerPoint and Word are docked side by side. Windows web services VP Antoine Leblond said that many Windows functions, like copy and paste between applications, are made even easier in Windows 8.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Leblond said that Windows 8 is a better Windows than Windows 7, and that most functions within the operating system are easier to perform. In one demonstration, he did a simple file copy to a USB drive--the graphical information displayed here shows completion percentage and time remaining, among other details. The file copy function can also recover better from interruptions, like shutting your laptop; it will resume the file copy where it left off.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


In Windows 8, searches happen not just through the standard search engine, but extending to applications. So a search for Harry Potter can bring up a number of possibilities, including the ability to get a movie from within Flixter, or a game from within Xbox Live.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Microsoft spent a great deal of time on the hardware. At the launch event, it showed PCs of all shapes and sizes throughout the stage--tablets, large displays, ultrabooks, and more. Microsoft has worked with a number of manufacturers and system providers to make Windows 8 ubiquitous from the start. There were reference designs from the system-on-chip (SOC) players (NVidia, TI, Qualcomm), including an Intel Clovertrail prototype Windows 8 system (bottom row, second from left).

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Michael Angiulo, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows Planning and Ecosystem, shows the NVidia Tegra3 reference design. Angiulo, along with Sinofsky, kept making the point, Apple style, that it all "just works." For example, users won't have to go hunt for print drivers and external storage drivers. Windows 8 will have connected standby, so that when the PC is in standby mode, all communications are still happening so all of your messages, for instance, are waiting for you when you fully power up. Windows 8 has been designed so that background tasks are well managed, and there are fewer running processes to interfere with the user experience. Angiulo also showed some of the hardware starting up within eight seconds.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Angiulo and Sinofsky used an 82-inch display to show some of the unique hardware concepts coming out of the development of Windows 8. This is optically bonded Gorilla Glass (Corning), with subpixel depth, Angiulo said. It's the size of a wall, but using touch, there's no lag, so you feel as if you're moving the Windows 8 tiles by hand.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Agniulo is holding up an AMD-built concept PC. This little cube is runningWindows 8, and during the demonstration it powered two large displays, with different windows running in each.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Using a feature called "storage spaces," Windows 8 can treat storage as a single pool, regardless of the type of drive, size of drive or technology being used.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Of course, Microsoft has been working diligently on its application ecosystem. At the consumer preview, the company unveiled its Microsoft Store for Windows 8 apps. Everything will be free during the consumer preview. The store is organized, as you might expect, by categories, and there is a spotlight category for new or popular applications.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Among application partners, Microsoft showed off this Amazon Kindle application. Microsoft also hosted an application developer contest, and announced the eight winners. Needless to say, during the consumer preview period, more apps will populate the store and end users will surely weigh in on what's missing.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved


Microsoft will have its usual slate of applications, of course, including Mail and Calendar and Messaging, but also some of the hub applications from Windows Phone 7, like People. Microsoft has included this Finance application that pulls a variety of economic and financial data from around the web and feeds it into the app on a real time basis.

RECOMMENDED READING:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview: 8 Expectations
8 Features That Could Make Windows 8 Great
Microsoft: SkyDrive Will Be 'World's Hard Drive'
Microsoft Office For iPad Nears Release?
8 More Ways Windows 8 Could Be Great
9 Coolest Smartphones At Mobile World Congress
10 Android App Hidden Gems
10 iPad Problems, Solved

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