For weeks now I've been biting my tongue, watching what I say and write about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. But with the release today of this most eagerly-awaited Windows 8 milestone, the shackles are off. This freedom takes a few different forms for me. I can reveal that work on Windows 8 Secrets has already begun in earnest. And I have a ton of content to post here on the SuperSite for Windows, with more to come in the days ahead. Best of all, I can guarantee that you'll find out things about Windows 8 here you won't see anywhere else.
If you've been reading this site for a while, you know that I often write lengthy reviews of Microsoft products, including pre-release versions. With the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, however, I'm going to do things a bit differently. This article will serve as a high-level introduction of sorts, providing you with a basic overview of what's new and different in this second and most crucial milestone on the way to Windows 8. But scattered throughout the discussion below, you'll find links to numerous other articles about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the vast majority of which are immediately available and dramatically expand on the overview provided here. This isn't just information overload, it's a tsunami.
Ready? Good, let's dive right in.
First, be sure to check out a few high-level overviews, in addition to this article. I tackle the Top 8 Features in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and provide a mile-high view of What's New in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, focusing only on the changes since the Developer Preview.
And I can now confirm that the rumored Windows logo redesign is true: Microsoft is indeed reimagining everything related to Windows 8, including the branding it uses to advertise its latest and greatest operating system. The new logo, which represents "a windows, not a flag," as with past Windows logos, takes on a Metro-like look and also, I'm told, harkens to the original Windows logo from the mid-1980s.
(Update: Microsoft unexpectedly decided to publicize the logo change well before the Consumer Preview. You can read more about the new logo in my article, Introducing the New Windows Logo.)
Looking at the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the first thing you'll notice is that it looks an awful lot like the Developer Preview from five months ago. But what's not so obvious from static screenshots is that Microsoft has made over 1,000 changes to the user experience, and the Windows 8 user interface in this build is now fundamentally complete.
Insiders will be interested to discover that the Windows 8 Developer Preview was even less fully-realized than Microsoft let on at the time, and that the software giant had to add several hacks to the build in order to get it out to the developer audience it was targeting. And yes, there are still some tweaks to come: The Windows 8 Consumer Preview isn't feature complete, not yet, and there are a number of changes and improvements coming between now and RTM (Release to Manufacturing, or the final, shipping build of the OS).
You can get a rundown of the user experience changes in the Consumer Preview in User Experience Fit and Finish Improvements. But a few things bear discussing up front.
First, many Developer Preview users complained that that build seemed fairly complete for the few with multi-touch devices like tablets, but that mouse and keyboard interaction was more primitive (at least in the new Metro-style environment). That was by design: The Start screen and Metro-style apps were of course new to users and developers in the Developer Preview and Microsoft needed to get that as fleshed out as possible for that release. But the company had always intended to improve the mouse, keyboard, and trackpad functionality. And now in the Consumer Preview, it has.
You can find a complete rundown of these changes in Improvements to Mouse and Keyboard Navigation. But here are the basics. In the Consumer Preview, Microsoft has enabled its "magic corners" story, which builds off the muscle memory users have developed with the Start button (in the lower left corner of the screen) and the Show Desktop button (in the lower right corner). So in Windows 8 you can now efficiently trigger often-needed actions by mousing into the corners of the screen.
Mousing to the lower-left corner behaves as did the Start button in previous Windows versions, and I've detailed more about the "removal" of the Start button in Windows 8 in The True Story Behind the Missing Start Button. When you mouse into this area--which is about the size of the old Start button--you'll see a Start tip that visually indicates you can do something. Click it, and it works much like the old Start button. Right-click it, and you'll unleash some power user features. (Again, refer to the article above for more.)
Mouse into the upper-left corner and you'll trigger a global Back action, using a pop-up menu that lists running apps and the desktop. You can click on items to navigate to them, close apps, rearrange windows, and more. It's pretty full-featured.
Mouse into the upper-right or lower-right corner of the screen and you'll access the Charms interface. (The Start menu-like Charms interface from the Developer Preview was just a hack and never the intention for this UI, I was told.)
These four corners represent the mouse-based way to access system-wide features, and they work in both the Start screen/Metro-style UI and the desktop, just as the comparable edge UIs work with touch. Again, I've got the full details in Improvements to Mouse and Keyboard Navigation, and in case you were wondering, none of these UIs is considered primary or secondary, or whatever. Microsoft expects them all to co-exist indefinitely. And you can mix and match. I suspect many will find themselves doing just that.
While Microsoft made evolutionary changes to the Windows desktop in Windows 8--adding such things as a new, ribbon-based Explorer, a new Task Manager, a new file copy experience, and so on--those features were substantially complete in the Developer Preview. What's new and perhaps most interesting to people now are the new Metro-style apps.
What we get this time around are a collection of apps that will be included with Windows 8 and some, that used to be branded as Windows Live Essentials, that are not technically part of the OS but will of course be bundled with most new Windows 8 PCs and devices. These apps are not as far along as the platform on which they run, and are branded as App Previews in the Consumer Preview. I have a full rundown in my article The Windows 8 App Previews, but you'll see all the expected apps in this release, including Xbox Live, Music and Video, Windows Store, Maps, Weather, Finance, Internet Explorer, Mail, Photos, Calendar, Messaging (instant messaging), People (contacts management, like the People hub in Windows Phone), Xbox Companion, and of course many more.
Speaking of apps, in the Developer Preview, the only easy way to get to the All Apps view was to trigger a search. That's changed in the Consumer Preview, so check out my article All Apps Comes Of Age for the full story.
And yes, the Windows Store is going live for the Consumer Preview, though only free apps will be available at first. Microsoft expects developer uptick to be fairly dramatic, given the size of the Windows ecosystem, so this is something that will only get better over time.
In addition to the right-click menu on the Start Tip, power users will want to check out my Windows Key Keyboard Shortcuts, a thorough update to my Developer Preview guide that was widely copied (even in a pre-release version of someone else's Windows 8 book, go figure). Microsoft has enabled a fascinating variety of Windows Key-based keyboard shortcuts in the Consumer Preview, and you'll want to know them all.
And yes, Microsoft is revving the Windows 8 Developer Tools for this release, though it will not be including them in the build, as it did with the Developer Preview. You can find out more in The Developer Tools, which explains how you can download and install the new tools, and what changes you can expect.
Also, a follow-up. A few months ago, I published a blog post rhetorically titled Why Doesn't Windows 8 Just Look Like THIS? which showed Metro-style apps running in windowed mode on top of the Windows 8 desktop. Turns out there's a reason, and it's a good one, and I examine this issue in Why Metro and the Desktop Don't Mix.
Finally, I know you want some visual reinforcement of what's happening, so be sure to check out my first four screenshot galleries as well, for the Start screen, Metro-style productivity apps, Metro-style entertainment apps, and the Desktop.
Phew! That's a lot of stuff. But we're just getting started. So be sure to read all of the articles in my Consumer Preview series to get the full picture. The Windows 8 Consumer Preview is a major milestone on the path to our computing future and I think you'll agree by the time you get to the end of it, and hopefully try the build for yourself, that things are looking might exciting indeed.
I've got a lot more written, but I didn't think it made sense to publish it all in one day, given the huge amount of content. So in the next few days, you can expect to see more articles right here on the SuperSite. Here's a sampling.
Power users will also be excited to discover that Microsoft has dramatically expanded the customization capabilities of Windows 8 in the Consumer Preview. The company was a bit surprised by the response to the single green background color from the Developer Preview, as if they had intended such an ugly and non-customizable interface to be the only option. But they've made up for that with several background and accent colors in this release. You can find out about this and other customization features in Customizing and Personalizing Windows 8. (And yes, there will be more in the final version.)
The Windows 8 Setup routine is basically complete in this release and works great on touch-only systems. I've got a full run-through of interactive Setup in Setting Up Windows 8, complete with a ton of screenshots.
Looking to upgrade to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview instead? You'll be able to do it, but only if you're running Windows 7 now, as Microsoft has enabled in-place upgrading for the first time. Running the Windows 8 Developer Preview? Sorry, that version is blocked from upgrading. You can find out all about this process in In-Place Upgrade: From Windows 7 to Windows 8.
Also available is Push Button Reset, which looks anew at one of my favorite Windows 8 features since it's suddenly a lot more viable in this release thanks to the addition of useful new Metro-style apps and deeper SkyDrive integration.
Oh, and did you hear about the new Web-based Windows 8 Setup? :)
There's more. But you get the idea. This is a big, big release.