Windows 8 Consumer Preview first impressions: Still more for tablets than traditional PCs

I’ve had a chance to put the Windows 8 Consumer Preview through its paces, and it's clear that this is an operating system built more for tablets than for desktops and laptops. Although Metro and the Desktop are better integrated than in the Developer Preview, Windows 8 still feels as if it's two different operating systems bolted together.

As with the Developer Preview, in the Consumer Preview, all of Microsoft's creativity has been lavished on the Metro interface rather than the Desktop. You boot directly into Metro where you are greeted by nearly two dozen tiled apps that are "live" -- that is, they tie into the Internet to receive constant updates, such as changing stock prices, social networking updates, the weather, and so on.

In this Consumer Preview Microsoft has added a number of new apps, such as XBox Live, which lets you go through games you've played, make changes to your account, and even play games. There's also a Skydrive app, and several other new apps.

All in all, the Metro interface and its new apps is an impressive piece of work.That makes the Desktop all the more a letdown. Head to the Desktop and you find little more than a bare screen, lacking even the Start button. The Desktop is an afterthought, and so little work has been lavished on it, it's almost as if Microsoft is embarrassed by it and wishes it would simply go away.

Microsoft has put some work into better integrating Metro and the Desktop, and only partially succeeds. The Desktop runs as an app on the Metro interface, so click it to get to it. When you're in Metro, you can also press the Windows key and you're sent straight to the Desktop; when in the Desktop do the same and you're sent to Metro. You can also move your mouse to the lower-left corner of the screen, where the Start button used to be, and click the thumbnail that appears to switch between the two as well.

That's useful, but doesn't always work. If you're running a Metro app, pressing the Windows key brings you to Metro; pressing it again brings you to the app. So you won't get sent to the Desktop. The same thing holds for when you hover your mouse in the corner. So if you're in a Metro app, to get to the Desktop, you first switch to Metro, then click the Desktop app. That serves to make Metro and the Desktop feel even more like unconnected interfaces.

What Microsoft calls "charms" help tie together Metro and the Desktop, though. Move your mouse to the upper-right corner or lower-right corner of the screen, and several large icons move into place along the right side of the screen, one for searching, one for sharing, one for switching between the Desktop and Metro, one to change settings, and one to manage devices. That helps to bridge the two different interfaces, but at this stage of development, it simply doesn't feel like it's enough of a bridge to turn Windows 8 into a single, seamless interface.

Metro still takes center stage in the Consumer Preview, and although it works fine with a keyboard and mouse, it invites you to touch and has clearly been designed for touch...something you can't do on a traditional desktop or laptop. So it's clear that Windows 8 is aimed more at tablets than at your existing computer, with two somewhat separate operated systems bolted together.

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