Windows 8 Release Preview: Updated but still uneasy

The newly released version of Microsoft's upcoming OS still seems caught between two worlds.

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But Mail still lacks some basic abilities that you expect from a modern mail client and works more like an underpowered mobile app than a fully featured one.

For example, you can't set rules for automatically handling incoming mail, as you can in Outlook, and it doesn't allow for threaded messaging. You can't mark messages for follow-up or set their level of importance. It simply doesn't measure up to an email client such as Outlook, or even a Web-based one such as Gmail. If you're a heavy email user, you'll simply find it unsuitable for your main email client.

Windows 8 Release Preview
Mail has been somewhat improved, but is still more like a simple tablet email client than a fully featured one for a traditional PC.

There's one thing that I find problematic with most of the Metro apps: Their horizontal orientation makes them better suited for tablet navigation, where you typically use swipe gestures, than for traditional PC navigation, where you typically scroll vertically with your mouse.

The other problem with Metro apps is what's missing: productivity apps. You won't find Microsoft Office or its equivalent, photo editing software or other productivity tools.

Flip ahead with Internet Explorer

The biggest change to Internet Explorer is a feature called "Flip Ahead," which is somewhat of a cross between the "I'm feeling lucky" link on a Google Web search and Chrome's pre-rendering feature. When you're visiting a Web page, Flip Ahead figures out what page you're likely to click next by examining what most other people have clicked on when on the same page. Then instead of actually clicking on a Web link, you swipe the screen (if you have a tablet) or click a forward arrow. You'll then be sent to the page Flip Ahead thinks you want to visit. If you're lucky, you'll get sent to where you want to go. If not, you'll get sent somewhere else.

In theory, the feature sounds nifty; in actual use, not so much. When I visited the main pages of sites such as CNN and Computerworld, it simply didn't work; the forward arrow was grayed out. When I was on an article page, it was smart enough to make the obvious choice, knowing that on a multipage article, I likely wanted to read the next page. But on single-article pages, more often than not I was sent to what seemed like a random page.

The feature works only on the Metro version of Internet Explorer, not the Desktop version. By default, it's not enabled. You enable it by going into Internet Explorer settings and turning it on. You may not find it worth the effort, though.

Windows 8 Release Preview
Flip Ahead figures out what Web page you're likely to click next by examining what most other people have clicked on when on the same page.

Internet Explorer has also gotten some minor improvements. It now has the same "Share" feature enabled in Mail and some other Metro apps. When you're on a Web page, you can share its URL with other people via email or social networking. (This works only for the Metro version, not the Desktop version.)

In addition, Flash 11.3 is built into both the Metro and Desktop versions of the browser. However, Flash will not work on every site in the Metro browser. In addition, a "Do Not Track" feature has been turned on by default, for more privacy during Web browsing. (A move that has been decried by the Association of National Advertisers.) Apart from that, though, Internet Explorer seems unchanged.

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