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There's also more to like in the current release (build 8400) in terms of touch sensitivity. The first thing we noticed was an interface that was more polished and more responsive to touch. Navigation is easier and more natural on our primary test PC, which is an all-in-one with a multi-touch screen, Intel Core i5 dual-core processor and 4 GB of memory.
We're now able to test all aspects and features using only finger navigation. In prior versions, the monitor's bezel prevented us from swiping near the edge, essentially preventing us from paging through apps and accessing Charms. Build 8400 is more responsive near the edges of the screen, and it now supports multi-touch for pinch-to-zoom, two-finger scroll and other multi-point gestures.
Running apps can be terminated by dragging from the top, and app preferences and menus can be accessed by dragging up from the bottom. Aero is still around, but it was revealed last week that this useless feature will meet its maker before Windows 8 hits the bricks. It's also more seamless to activate Windows 8's multi-app mode. This feature allows two Metro-style apps to be visible at once, with one occupying most of the screen and another living in a sliver on the left or right vertical edge. The larger app requires no special programming; it just scales to fit the reduced space. But the smaller app must know how to operate within the sliver. If it doesn't, it just sits there showing its icon.
While the Settings Charm can set or control some system preferences, most system setting are still available only through the classic Control Panel. By default, the Control Panel is launched only from the Desktop or through the Desktop's Settings Charm. Puzzlingly, the Control Panel cannot be accessed from Metro's Settings Charm. We were also puzzled by the reappearance of the horizontal scroll bar in Metro when we set Tile preferences to display administrative apps. The admin apps disappeared when we disabled the feature, but the scroll bar didn't.
Also included with the build is IE 10, a Metro-savvy extensible browser with built-in Flash. According to Al Hilwa, IDC's program director of applications development software, the inclusion of Flash support was an important competitive differentiator. "Integrating Flash into Metro IE is a real surprise and a smart move for Microsoft as it will help them set Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets apart from the iPad," he said, referring to x86 and ARM versions of Windows 8. "In fact, with Flash and bundled Office apps, Windows RT becomes much more viable than in the early days when the app portfolio was still forming."
Microsoft also has made strides with its App Store, which now contains scores more apps than when we last visited Windows 8 apps in early March.