A deep dive into Windows 8 Developer Preview

After spending several days using Microsoft's new OS on a PC, what will you find?

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I tried a few other apps as well. The Tweet@rama app is a simple, straightforward front-end to Twitter, and lets you create and read tweets. It's not nearly as useful as a full-fledged Twitter client such as TweetDeck, but for the basics, it's fine. The Socialite app performs similar functions for Facebook. Other apps include a location-based app called NearMe, an app for setting alarms and a paint app called PaintPlay.

Windows 8

Windows 8's Tweet@rama app is a simple, useful front-end to Twitter.

One problem with these apps, though, is that there is no standard way to interact with them on a PC. For example, in the News app, right-clicking brings up a context-sensitive menu -- if you're reading a news article you'll get navigation buttons, and if you're on a summary page, you'll get options for adding, refreshing and removing feeds. But if you're in the Zero Gravity game app, right-clicking does nothing. More standardization would be welcome.

Worse yet, there's no clear way to close down many of these apps. For example, Zero Gravity, which features intensely annoying music, doesn't have a menu or any way to shut it down -- so when you switch out of the game to the main Metro interface, the annoying music still plays in the background. Switch to the Desktop or run another Metro app, though, and the music thankfully goes away. In fact, I found that my workaround for closing most Metro apps was switch to the Desktop; after a few minutes, the Metro app I was running typically shut down.

The familiar Windows Desktop

All that being said, when it came to doing actual work such as using MIcrosoft Office, I ended up on the Desktop for the simple reason that that's where the serious applications were.

After you click the Desktop tile on the Metro screen, you'll feel at first as if you never left Windows 7 behind -- the interface looks and works almost identically to Windows 7. You'll see the familiar taskbar across the bottom with taskbar thumbnails, the Notification Panel on the right, the icons on the screen and so on.

Windows 8

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

There are some changes, though. Most noticeable is that the Start button has been thoroughly revamped. Clicking it sends you back to the main Windows Metro screen rather than popping up the familiar Start menu with a search box, folder navigation, a link to the Control Panel and so on. In the Metro interface, however, the Start button functions as a task switcher between the interface and any running apps.

If you want to find your various Windows options, you need to move your mouse pointer to the leftmost bottom corner of the Desktop; a menu pops up that gives you access to Settings, Devices, Share and Search. When you click one of these options, a panel slides into place on the right side of the screen to let you perform the task you've asked it to do. Select Search, for example, and the panel shows a search box, along with a variety of locations where you can search.

Windows 8

Metro's Control Panel also leads you to additional settings for the Desktop.

The Share button lets you share a screenshot using the Socialite social networking app. The Devices button, designed for printing, playing games and sending content to others, doesn't work in this version of Windows 8. And the Settings button lets you change only the most basic functions of the Desktop.

One would expect to find the old Windows standby, the Control Panel, when you click Settings, but no -- instead, you'll have to head back to Metro and click the Control Panel tile, scroll to the bottom of the Metro Control Panel and click "More settings," which takes you to the old Control Panel. If the awkward, time-consuming navigation to get to the Control Panel isn't an indication of how little importance Microsoft attaches to the Desktop, I don't know what is.

There are a few other tweaks. For example, Windows Explorer now has a ribbon interface, a great improvement over its previous version.

Bridging different interfaces

Even after using Windows 8 for some time, I never got used to the dramatic differences between the Metro and Desktop interfaces. It never quite seemed as if it was a single operating system -- instead, it felt like two different OSes bolted together.

Making matters worse is that Metro apps don't show up on the Windows desktop. And although desktop apps appear in Metro, they're so well-hidden you may never realize they're there: With the exception of Internet Explorer, they're stuck all the way on the far right of the tiles so you have to scroll to get to them. And even when you run Desktop apps from Metro, they can't take advantage of Metro's ability to exhibit information via tiles. One hopes that will change in future versions of Windows 8.

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