Windows 8 Beta: Microsoft Giveth And Taketh Away


With the release Wednesday of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Microsoft has fixed many of the shortcomings of the developer preview it released last September. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the Consumer Preview (build 8250) has removed some useful things and introduced a few new flaws, not least of which is failing to install at least once on a machine with more than enough resources. Though it appears stable on the whole, Microsoft's first public Windows 8 beta will do little to endear itself to IT departments and others who'll be tasked with installing and supporting it.

When the CRN Test Center reported last September the 12 things IT will hate about Windows 8, we offered mostly praise for finger-friendly Metro interface. This version improves mouse-friendliness a bit, and animations and movements are smoother.

As in the developer preview, Metro is the first screen to appear when starting Windows 8, and it still displays the active user's ID in the upper-right corner and the word "Start" in the upper-left. What's new is that this Start screen replaces the Start Menu, which is now completely removed. The Metro screen now automatically scrolls when the pointer reaches the edge of the screen, making mouse navigation much easier. Good-bye and good riddance to the bottom scroll bar, but the mouse still can't swoop the screen.

When arranging an individual Metro tile with finger or mouse, other tiles move out of the way and rearrange themselves (as opposed to just nodding). Now you can see how tiles will look when dropped into place. Right-clicking on a tile still presents options for resizing the tile, uninstalling the app or "unpinning" it from "Start."

Next: Menu Navigation?The Desktop is still present in Windows 8 CP, sans Start Menu. When mousing to the lower left-hand corner, a thumbnail of the "Start" screen appears, but soon disappears when the pointer is moved onto it (as one might do with a menu). Clicking the left button when Start is showing switches back to Metro.

The Alt-Tab still switches between running apps, which appear in turn in the background as well as in a foreground thumbnail view. All except Metro, that is. To activate Metro from another app, users can press the Windows button (on keyboards that have one), quit the current app or ALT-TAB to the desktop and click the lower-left corner. By the way, ALT-F4 is now operational for quitting apps.

While the keyboard quit sequence is a welcome addition, Microsoft has removed the task bar from the Desktop, and with it the last semblance of menu navigation. Because hidden away in the Taskbar of the developer preview was a Toolbar that allowed mouse or keyboard navigation a la Windows Menu Bar. What's more, there's now one less way to see all the running applications at a glance.

Check back with CRN often to keep current with Windows 8. Next from the CRN Test Center will be a report on migration to Windows 8 from various prior versions. Stay tuned.