First look: The two faces of Windows 8 Developer Preview

Microsoft's upcoming operating system has a dual personality: one for businesses and one for consumers. (See screenshots, video below.)

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If you instead point your mouse -- without clicking -- to the leftmost bottom corner of the Desktop, a menu pops up with several options: one for search, one for changing settings, one named Share (whose only purpose appears to be to share a screenshot using a Windows 8 social networking app called Socialite), and a Devices button apparently designed for printing, playing games and sending content to others, but that doesn't work in this version of Windows 8.

Windows 8
The search panel slides into place on the right side of the screen.

When you click any of these options, a panel slides into place on the right side of the screen that lets you make any choices you need to in order to perform the selected task. Click on Search, for example, and the right-hand panel shows a search box, along with a variety of locations where you can search.

Some of the more familiar Windows applications have been updated. Windows Explorer now sports a ribbon interface, which is a great improvement over its previous version. Many features, which previously might have been hidden or hard to navigate to, are now easily accessible via five main tabs: File, Home, Share, View, and Manage. Internet Explorer is up to version 10, which on first glance looks and works much like Internet Explorer 9. Run it and you'll be on familiar ground, with the usual menu-less, tabbed interface. It supports CSS 3, HTML 5 and Flash.

Windows 8
Windows Explorer 10 sports a ribbon interface, which is a great improvement over its previous version.

Is it two interfaces or one?

The Metro interface and the traditional Windows desktop are so separate from one another that the overall feel of Windows 8 is of two uneasily co-existing interfaces, rather than a well-blended whole. For example, Metro apps run full screen only -- like tablet and smartphone apps -- and lack menus, while traditional applications on the desktop include menus, let you minimize and shrink them, and work just like those for Windows 7, Windows Vista and other earlier versions of Windows.

More confusing still is that Metro apps don't show up on the Windows desktop, and although desktop apps appear in Metro, they're not easy to find -- you need to scroll all the way over to the right to see them. (Internet Explorer is an exception, and shows up prominently in both places.) That only reinforces the feeling that these are two separate interfaces, not one.

Because most of the changes in Windows 8 have to do with Metro and Metro apps, which are consumer-oriented rather than business-focused, it's not clear what's in Windows 8 for enterprises. Businesses will almost certainly want to use the traditional desktop rather than Metro, and nothing in the desktop at this point seems to offer them much of note. Upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows Vista to Windows 8, at least based on this first look, could become a significant undertaking for businesses because of the Metro interface, with as yet no clear benefits.

According to Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows division, this version of the operating system is a "bold re-imagination" of Windows. It is certainly different. Of course, at this point, Windows 8 isn't even beta; it's still only a developer preview -- future versions may well blend Metro and the desktop more seamlessly.

These are only my first impressions; Computerworld will publish a more in-depth review of Windows 8 within the next few days. So stay tuned.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for Computerworld.com and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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