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A hands-on Windows 8: Touch, swipe & a little grope

Preview version of Microsoft's latest operating system can be downloaded and installed over the existing Windows 7

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The latest from , , is here, or at least a preview version of the OS is out for eager users. It can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website (http://windows.micr-osoft.com/ en-US/windows-8/download). But remember, the consumer preview is still a pre-release edition, unfinished and incomplete, and so you need to be careful when you install it over your existing . Our advice: Take back up of data and install it on a partition of your hard drive, because if you want to go back to Windows 7 (or any other previous operating systems), then the same needs to be reinstalled.

Getting started on Windows 8 is easy. Once you click on the online download link, Windows 8 consumer preview setup checks your PC to see if it can run the software (the setup selects the optimised version of the download for your PC). The preview will work on any PC running a Windows 7 OS or a PC with 1GHz or faster processor, has at least 1GB RAM with hard disk of 16GB or more and is equipped with . We reviewed Windows 8 on a .

Windows 8 is a brand new way of computing for desktop users, as it sports two modes — a Metro interface akin to what the company created for its Windows Phone platform and the other is the good old Windows desktop mode, needed by Microsoft for traditional applications like Office or for those PC users who need a familiar-looking Windows’ screen. The tiles — which we imagine will be perfect on a touchscreen tablet — integrate user’s data, contacts, email, messages, social media, etc and update them in real time so that you can see new emails, notifications, tweets, etc at a glance. If users do not like the new format, they can revert to the desktop style.

Besides some slight granular differences in the menu bars, anyone who has used Windows 7 will find it easy to pick up Windows 8. Windows 7 previews are still here, so you can hover over the items on the taskbar for a preview. It uses the Cloud to store users’ preferences (linked with the Live id, that needs to be created), from home screen photos to the collection of apps or favourite websites. Consumer preview of Windows 8 includes the Windows Store, where users can download and try out apps for free (Vimeo, Cut the Rope, etc) and move content across devices, including Windows mobile phones using the Cloud storage. There’s also a test version of Microsoft’s newest browser, . The test version of Windows 8 has mail, calendar and messaging apps, but no evidence of Office, Microsoft’s dominant suite of work applications.

Running apps full-screen and without menus is very immersive, but there are areas that need further tinkering, like finding applications is something of a task on Windows 8 since many are hidden by default unless you tap the “All apps” button on the Start menu. Another big change for desktop users with Windows 8 is that Windows Start menu is now a screen with tiles that aggregates contacts from user’s account and Facebook profiles. Metro interface is all about using thumbs (as we do on touchscreen tablet PCs), with each corner performing a different action — app previews, for instance — but with a keyboard and mouse you must move over to the area, then click, which takes getting used to.

Normally, when the computer is locked, you have to type in a text password to regain access to the system, but Windows 8 gives the user an option to unlock via a combination of touches and swipes. A key Windows 8 feature while using touch input is that the top and bottom parts of the screen are to manage the apps running. So, swipe in from the right side and there pops the Windows 8 ‘Charms’ or icons that give access to basic OS functions, including Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. While using mouse control, you get to the charms by moving the pointer to the upper-right corner of your screen. Swiping from the left side of the screen takes you to the last running app. In Apple’s iOS, you have to completely switch out of one app to take a look at another while Windows 8 allows one to use swipe gesture to give a peek at another running app.

Microsoft has focussed on interactivity and connectivity — from apps playing well with each other to the fact that all Windows 7 programs will run on Windows 8. Also, the boot time has been reduced. Microsoft claims Windows 8 will boot within seconds on PCs and laptops, and this is possible due to a new process that puts kernel session to sleep rather than shutting it down and then having to reboot it completely.

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