Microsoft Opens Windows 8 Sneak Preview to the Masses
The consumer preview version of Windows 8 is live and available as a free download. Microsoft's next-generation operating system includes interface elements like Metro, giving it a feel similar to that of a mobile device. Mobile is on Microsoft's mind with Windows 8 in other ways too -- once in full release, the OS will begin shipping on tablets, finally giving the company an answer to the iPad.
Microsoft launched its Windows 8 Consumer Preview at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Wednesday.
The OS features a user interface similar to the one found on the Windows Phone mobile OS. It was designed to work on mobile devices, desktop PCs and all-in-one devices. Users can store settings and files in the cloud for access from any Windows 8 device. The OS also introduces charms, which speed up navigation around the OS.
Windows 8 also has a high level of built-in security and a factory reset and refresh, which eliminates the need to burn a restore disk from which to boot up when there's a system crash or a malware infection.
Microsoft also provided Windows 8 users access to its app store, called "Windows Store," as of Wednesday. This has a variety of free apps from the company as well as from third parties.
Windows 8 can be downloaded here.
What Windows 8 Offers
Windows 8's interfaces uses tiles in much the same way as Windows Phone. Users can launch apps, switch between tasks, share content and check notifications from the Start screen. They can also customize the start screen.
Windows 8 offers access to files, documents and photographs in the cloud, whether they're on Microsoft's SkyDrive service, Facebook or Google's Flickr. Users can also connect their favorite cloud services, including LinkedIn and Twitter, to their Microsoft account in the cloud.
The OS' Search charm lets users search on the PC, within apps such as the Internet Explorer browser, and on the Web. The "Devices" charm lets users do things like stream a movie they're watching in the Video app to an Xbox unit to run it on a TV.
Security has been upped. In addition to the SmartScreen Filter in IE 10, Windows Defender in Windows 8 will automatically detect and try to remove malware.
Tilting at Apple
Windows 8 might prove to be a serious challenger to Apple, at least in the tablet scene.
"The new application framework and the app store are likely the biggest features for consumers," opined Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. They'll provide "a new experience" that could let Windows tablets compete with the iPad, he told TechNewsWorld.
Windows 8 "gives consumers a chance to have a no-compromise tablet experience," suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
The tablets available now "tend to be very light on productivity tools, and there isn't a really good office app for either Android or iOS," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "Having Office on a tablet means users could actually live on one and get the benefit of a light product with 10 hours or so of battery life."
Other Reactions to Windows 8 for Consumers
Microsoft should have offered the option to disable the Start Page or "at least restore" the Start Menu for enterprise customers running x86 and 64-bit versions of Windows, Miller suggested. However, he doesn't expect it to do this "since Microsoft is betting big on Metro-based applications."
Redmond "isn't releasing an ARM-based beta [for Windows 8 Consumer Preview], so it falls short, but otherwise this is consistent with what was announced earlier, with improvements over what was provided to developers last year," Enderle stated. He was referring to the Windows 8 developer preview Microsoft released at its BUILD conference in September.
If Windows 8 can do what Android does best -- let users take their apps and settings across multiple PCs as claimed -- and "match this experience with a fully featured platform, [Microsoft] will have a win," Enderle said. "Plus, they'll have removed one of the biggest impediments to upgrades and migration [vis-a-vis the competition]."
It currently takes two to five hours to migrate to a new Windows PC, "a fraction of that" for iOS and even less for Android, Enderle pointed out. "If Microsoft can close or eliminate that performance gap, they'll dramatically reduce the risk of losing more customers and might even get a significant number [of them] back."
Microsoft spokesperson Lacretia Taylor declined to provide further comment.