The Release Preview is available for download in 14 languages from preview.windows.com. Here are some interesting features of the Metro style OS:
Some very minor changes to the interface have been made between Consumer Preview and Release Preview. For example, now the Settings Charm says “Change PC Settings” instead of “More PC Settings.” An even more visual change is that now there are 26 possible color combinations for the Start Screen in the Personalize section of Settings.
In addition to the expanded set of color choices for the start screen, the setup process for Windows 8 Release Preview is similar to that for Consumer Preview. When you first run the OS, you need to go through a four-step setup—Personalize, Wireless setup, Settings, and Sign in. Each step is very simple.
You just tap one of the 26 choices along a bar, and the background colour instantly changes to reflect your choice. The only other choice on this Personalize page is to enter a name for the device.
The Wireless setup is a matter of tapping your Wi-Fi SSID from the typical list showing signal strength bars, with an optional “Connect automatically” check box that’s checked by default.
The Settings page of this initial setup process is more complex and text-heavy—unless you just use Express settings. That choice sets the device to automatically install updates; turns on malware protection; sends Microsoft usage data; lets apps access your location, name, and account picture, enables network sharing; and sets the localization to U.S. English. If you instead choose Customize, you are simply taken through a page for each of these choices. The only option you can’t turn off is to send usage info to Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program.
To download apps from the Windows Store and take advantage of the SkyDrive cloud service that stores files and photos and syncs your settings with other machines, you need to sign in with a Windows ID. You don’t have to sign in, and can sign in locally instead, but you’ll lose a lot of advantages of Windows 8 and apps designed to use these services.
The Metro Interface
This grid like display of rectangular “live tiles” is where you launch any apps, control settings, and enter the more traditional Windows desktop. The tiles are “live” because they flash information from the apps they represent—Mail shows the latest inbox items, Finance shows stock quotes, and so on. If you find this distracting, you can turn it all off in
PC Settings | Notifications.
After a shutdown and restart, you’ll see the lock screen (which will be familiar to any smart phone user). On this you can see battery charge, Wi-Fi signal strength, and notifications for email and any other apps you’ve allowed. A new type of notification for Consumer Preview is the “toast” that pops in from the upper right if, for example, you have an incoming instant message. You can also boot from a USB stick or other external device or disc.
A key Windows 8 concept for touch input is that the sides of the screen are for Windows, while the top and bottom are for the app you’re running. Swipe in from the right side, and you’ll see the Windows 8 “Charms”—or icons that give access to basic OS functions, including Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. Using the mouse, you get to the charms by moving the pointer to the upper-right corner of your screen.
Swiping from the left edge of a touch screen or touch pad switches you to a previous running app, but also lets you pin a sidebar showing the apps content (formatted just for this space). You can easily swap the large and small views by swiping down from the top and moving the resulting smaller window. Swiping up from the bottom or down from the top opens an app’s own menu.
swipe gesture with thumbs
Windows 8 offers an advantage over both iOS and Lion—the ability to use a swipe gesture to give a peek at another running app. In iOS, you have to completely switch out of one app to take a look at another. Another advantage of Windows 8′s touch implementation for tablets is that you can do nearly everything with your thumbs. This makes sense for the way you hold a tablet. The gesture of swiping to show a sidebar populated with a second app works for full-blown Windows desktop apps, too. Of course, when in the desktop, you can use as many overlapping windows as you like, just as in Windows 7.
Semantic zoom is another helpful innovation. By using a pinch gesture on the Start screen, the app icons shrink, but not in the simple way you zoom out on a photo, the tiles resize to remain readable, and your groups of tiles stay together, all visible on one screen. This lets you do things like moving an app’s tile from the first to the last page without a lot of scrolling. Semantic zoom can also be implemented in apps; for example, when you pinch on the Sports app, the display condenses to a top-level menu.
Entering Text with Touch
Windows 8′s on-screen keyboard springs up from the bottom of the screen whenever you touch a text entry field. It’s a very versatile tool, more so than other mobile operating systems’ equivalent. You can either use a full keyboard, a split keyboard suited to thumb entry, or stylus handwriting recognition mode. Unlike the iPad’s, Windows 8′s thumbing keyboard is resizable, with a small, medium, and large option. You also get system-wide spell correction.
Another input method supported by Windows 8 is pen input. The stylus is useful if you want to use the Desktop interface on the road without benefit of keyboard and mouse.