The Windows 7 beta's mascot, the Betta Fish, finds its way to Windows 8 — though this time as a bubble-blowing Metro-styled cartoon avatar.
There's no start orb in Windows 8, just a hardware button on a tablet or a keyboard that takes you into the Metro start screen, mixing application tiles with live information. Just start typing to search, or click to open an application — either in Metro or on the desktop.
Groups of icons on the Start screen will always line up with the Start text at the top of the screen. It's a technique that should make it easier to launch apps from a touch screen, as tiles will always be in the same places.
A new view lets you see all the applications you've installed, mixing Metro and desktop applications in a single view — with desktop applications sorted into the groups in which they're installed.
Finger gestures and mouse movements open up a set of thumbnail views that make it easy to quickly switch between recent applications. There's support for just six in this view — if you want more, then the old Alt-Tab combo works just the way you expect.
Slide to the right of the screen and you'll open up a drawer full of 'charms'. Here you can search and share, as well as use attached devices and open up system settings.
Using the search charm you can pick and choose the application you want, with instant results in the main window. Here a search for 'Downing Street' opens up a map of London.
Open up the settings charm in the desktop, and you get access to shortcuts to the desktop Control Panel, as well as personalisation tools and information about your PC.
Want to personalise your Windows 8 Metro Start screen? You can choose from six different textures and nine different colours.
If you choose to search the web from a Search charm, your query will be passed over to your default search engine — in this case Bing.
Windows 8 brings a new version of Internet Explorer, IE 10. This adds new CSS features to its HTML5 support, as it's the HTML engine used by WinRT for Metro-style applications.
The built-in Mail tool is clean and uncluttered, as you'd expect from a Metro-style application. It doesn't have all the features of Outlook, but there's enough to get going as soon as you've installed the Consumer Preview.
Windows 8's Mail application supports Exchange, Gmail and Hotmail. Autodiscovery tools automatically configure accounts and start synchronising your mail.
If you're connecting Mail to an Exchange server you'll need to accept its messaging policies before you can synchronise any messages. This approach means that Windows 8 machine (or WOA tablet) connected to corporate mail can be managed.
If you're ready to chat, then Windows 8's Messaging application will get you talking. It'll connect you to the chat services your Windows Account is connected to, in our case Windows Live Messenger and Facebook.
The People app in Windows 8 is just like the People Hub in Windows Phone 7, right down to the What's New view that gives you a snapshot of just what's happening in your social networks.
You can add more than just a Windows Account to the people account, linking it to address books in Exchange, Hotmail and Google, as well as to your messaging and social network contacts.
The SkyDrive application brings cloud storage onto your PC, with direct access to files and images stored in your SkyDrive account — ready for you to open straight from the web.
Not all contracts are like Search or Share. Some, like the file picker, are ready for you to use. Need to save an image? Instead of saving to your PC you can automatically open the SkyDrive app and use it to upload files to the cloud.
Microsoft's three-screens-plus-cloud strategy is at the heart of Windows 8, Windows Phone and Xbox. The Windows 8 Music app is straight out of Xbox, via Zune, with a very Metro look and feel.
Another bundled Metro-style application is Bing Weather, with screens full of information. You can get weather information for several cities – each of which can have its own live Tile on the Start screen.