Windows 8 Consumer Preview

I just installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.  Wow, what a difference from Windows 7.  The first thing you notice is that the initial screen is a graphic image with a clock on it (like a smart phone), and you have to swipe the screen upwards to move it out of the way to access the login screen (like a smart phone).  After logon, the new start menu is displayed, which is a full screen (or more) of large colored blocks, presumably to allow a smart phone user to hit them with their thumb.

You can see pretty clearly in the first ten seconds of the experience that Microsoft has now embraced the smart phone and the tablet.  It was inevitable with Android and Apple phones and tablets, especially cheap tablets, taking a bite out of the PC market.  Many people don't need a full-blown PC, especially when they're sitting on the couch.  They often just need and prefer a touch screen and an easy to use browser interface.  Does this spell the death of the PC?  Maybe not just yet, the PC seems to still have a place at work, for now.

By default, the items on the start menu include features presented to you by online services from Microsoft, such as Bing maps, SkyDrive cloud storage.  What's really striking is how they prompt you to use your Windows Live ID as your default Windows ID (in fact you need a Live ID to download the preview).  Once you've logged on with your Live ID, your identity is used to access these various Microsoft online services.  This is very similar to the way Kindle and Nook tablets loop you into their back-end services.

Now let me state that I don't see this as necessarily bad behavior, it's the natural progression of the industry, as the client becomes more of a generic consumer of web services, more and more of the functionality of the client is stored out in the cloud.  The providers of the hardware and the OS also provide some of the back-end services for mail, search, apps, data feeds, etc.  Those back-end services, the features they provide, your perception of the impact to your personal privacy, become part of the decision making process when you choose a tablet or a phone.  Who do you want your mortal soul plugged into, Apple, Google, or Microsoft?

Of course it's not about the big three stealing your identity, it's about who's getting your $1.99 when you buy a song, an eBook or an app, and who you pay for a featured spot in the search results.  The days when companies made big bucks when you bought a PC and an operating system are soon coming to an end.  The era of cheap tablets and the free OS are coming into bloom.   The money will be made in the services and data you consume over the web.

Back to the interface, OK, you click (or press your giant green Shrek thumb) on a start menu item, and an app launches.  How do you this app?  There don't appear to be any window controls.  There are some hot spots in the corners of the screen however.  If you touch the bottom left corner of the screen, you can access the start menu.  If you touch the top left, a window list appears.  With the list visible, you can right-click and close windows.  If you touch the top or bottom right corners, a global menu appears that lets you access various windows settings and devices.  On the start menu, if you right click anywhere on the background, and click All-Apps, you can see the built-in apps that come with Windows.

Do I like the interface?  Of course not, but then I always put up some resistance to big changes in the interface.  I hated Gnome 3 for a few months, now I love it.  I expect the same from Windows 8.  It will take a little while to get used to.  At first, it seems like you can't figure out how to do anything.  Eventually you figure out how to work the darn thing and it becomes second nature.  Who's thumb interface will feel the most natural?  Time will tell.  In the mean time, I'm due for a new smart phone, and I'm getting an iPhone.

You can download the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in 32 or 64 bit in various languages at


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