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Windows 8 Consumer Preview: a fresh start

A close-up look at the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.
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1 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

After more than 15 years of service, the Windows Start button--that orb in the lower left corner--is gone, and it's not coming back. In Windows 8, tapping the Windows key (or the Windows button on a slate) reveals a row of five charms along the right. These subtle white icons appear automatically if you aim the mouse at the upper or lower corners on the right side of the display.

That's just the beginning. This screenshot gallery offers a hint of how this "reimagined" Windows works. If you're intrigued by (or skeptical of)  what you see here, remember that static screenshots are no substitute for hands-on experience.

Are you curious about the default background image? That's a betta fish, which debuted as Microsoft's mascot for beta Windows releases in Windows 7. The fish has, of course, just blown an air bubble in the shape of an upside-down number 8. And look carefully on the left side of the screen as well for another number 8. (Most of the upper half of the number is visible; the left side and bottom have been cut off.)

And no, "Your name here" is not the default user name. I created a user with that name just for this screenshot.

See Ed Bott's full report on Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

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2 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Color blocking. That's what the fashionistas call this year's hottest trend.

It also describes one of the fundamental design principles of Metro.

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3 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

This Start screen displays three different personalizations.

First, note the custom background color and texture.

Next, note the live tiles, which update continually thanks to connections to web services.

And finally, feel free to move those tiles around. They won't resist.

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4 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

With a simple gesture, you can zoom out to see the entire arrangement of tiles on the Start screen. Select a group to move it, or use the app bar to assign a name to a group.

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5 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The minimum required resolution for a Windows 8 desktop to take advantage of all Metro features is 1366x768. On a large deskop monitor, at 1920x1080, the amount of space available for tiles expands greatly.

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6 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Looks familiar, doesn't it? There's no Start button in the lower left corner, but moving the mouse pointer to a corner on the right exposes this Charms bar.

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7 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

When you press Windows key + C or move the mouse from either right corner toward the center of the screen, this fully labeled Charms bar appears.

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8 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The Start button gone? Not exactly. Aim the mouse pointer at the lower left corner to display this hint, clearly labeled Start. Click in that corner and you'll be whisked immediately to the Start screen.

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9 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft boasts that the Windows 8 Consumer Preview contains thousands of changes, large and small. This is one of the small but significant details. Each of these Start hints is a live depiction of the number and color of tiles on your actual, personalized Start screen.

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10 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

When you snap the desktop to the side of the screen, every running Windows app gets its own thumbnail. Click a thumbnail to exand that desktop and switch to that program.

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11 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

From the Windows 8 desktop, you can pin just about anything to the Start screen, including a website, as shown here.

Note to Redmond: You'll want to clean up that "Start menu" reference before RTM.

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12 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Well-written Metro style apps work just fine when snapped to the side of the screen. This messaging thread fits neatly into the snapped space.

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13 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Use this slick app switcher to move between running apps.

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14 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

For Metro style apps, controls appear at the bottom of the app (and sometimes along the top) when you right-click, swipe from the top or bottom, or press Windows key + Z.

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15 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

From the Start screen, you can kick off a search just by starting to type. Choose a different option from the list below the search box to change the scope of the search.

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16 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Metro style apps work well with the search box as long as the app developer enables that capability. In this case, I've sent the search term to the Mail app, where it found a single matching message.

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17 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Use this group of settings to remove clutter from the search screen.

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18 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Metro style apps can display notifications, such as the number of unread messages, on the lock screen. You can assign up to seven apps to this group, with each such app allowed to run in the background.

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19 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

This Control Panel settings page allows you to define which apps can display notifications and run in the background. Note that there's room for one and only one app to supply extended notifications.

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20 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

On a touchscreen-equipped device, this standard keyboard lets you tap to fill in a text box. This onscreen keyboard has been tweaked ever so slightly from the Developer Preview release.

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21 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The split keyboard is ideal for using your thumbs to type when you're holding a slate device in landscape mode. The number pad in the center is a new addition in the Consumer Preview.

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22 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

You can tweak a surprising number of settings for the onscreen keyboard.

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Windows 8 ships with a limited selection of photos you can use as your lock screen background. Through the magic of app sharing, you can also choose photos from online albums on Facebook, Flickr, and SkyDrive.

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24 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The number of settings you can sync between Windows 8 PCs has expanded significantly since the Developer Preview. The only catch? You must use a Microsoft Account--a local account won't do.

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25 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

From the Photos app, click Settings to connect web-based photo libraries and albums to a Windows 8 device.

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26 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Developers don't need to write custom code to build search support into a Metro style app. Just enable the search contract and your app can use this standard search box. In this case, I've searched for an artist using the Music app.

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27 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

In Windows 8, Microsoft appears to be consciously simplifying its branding. Although the back end for the music store closely resembles the Zune experience, a quick peek in the About box reveals that it's now part of the Xbox brand.

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28 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Sign into a Windows 8 device using the same account you use on your Xbox console and you can use that device as a media controller to play music, movies, and more in the living room or den.

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29 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The experience of connecting a Bluetooth or other device to a Windows 8 PC is ridiculously easy.

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30 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The desktop has a long and useful life ahead of it. See those three options at the top of the Settings pane? Those open the full desktop Control Panel options, not the simplified Metro style versions.

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31 of 31 Ed Bott/ZDNet

The Windows desktop gets a major overhaul in Windows 8. These two popular features, Task Manager and Windows Explorer, deserve an award for most significant changes.

See Ed Bott's full report on Microsoft's Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

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