Microsoft released its Windows Developer Preview earlier this week -- the next generation Windows operating system -- specifically for developers. But anyone can burn a copy and run it on a test machine, should they wish to.
Jump ahead to find the new Blue Screen of Death, also roaming cloud profiles and the new 'Start menu'. You can search, see new notifications and see your new Control Panel. See what happens when you switch from Start to desktop, and see where Microsoft is pinching ideas from Apple.
So many rumours have gone around, and so much has clearly gone into the next version of Windows, known as 'Windows 8'. But what does the 'out of the box' experience look like?
Windows setup begins in a similar fashion to what we have seen before -- using the 'Windows Phone' Metro-style user interface, with the thin fonts and the large lettering. Though there will probably be no updates to the brand new preview build, future builds and final copies will be able to download updates before the installation has begun.
You will notice as the screenshots move foward, how open Windows setup is with its language. It is more down to earth and 'friendly', almost, interacting with the reader as though they are an ordinary person. Back in the day, it would be almost unheard of for operating systems to be installed by the end user. Nowdays, it is perfectly common.
'Checking your PC' appears a few times during setup, to ensure that you have the correct hardware requirements, an Internet connection and other prerequisites to ensure that Windows can run properly.
You may notice under the "License terms" heading, Microsoft's friendly joke: "Make our lawyers happy by reading this carefully". Of course, these are subject to change as the development progresses, and should not be seen as the final license revision.
Ugrade options are available in this developer build, with users allowed to migrate their accounts and personal files -- or simply nothing at all. However, it is not clear exactly what is migrated. Later on, you will see cloud-based roaming profiles which allow users to login with one Windows Live ID and take their applications and bookmarks with them.
Windows setup keeps the user firmly in the loop. If it is working on something, it makes it clear. Yet, if Windows setup requires something from the user, it will say so. But on the most part, once Windows setup is busy on something, it will stay so for enough time to get a hot drink.
Windows setup takes a different approach in Windows 8. Instead of asking you to do little bits at a time like Windows XP or even recent Windows 7, it will bulk together as much as it possibly can into one simple step or steps, to allow you to get on with your day as it completes its job. In this case, as setup is being run from the desktop, it needs to restart.
Setup will automatically start again, or if it doesn't, you can restart it manually -- but it remembers where you left off, saving you from doing it all over again. This step isn't necessary, but it does give the end user peace of mind.
The checkboxes appear and it's clear as to what is going to happen next. At this screen, Windows wants to be left alone to its own devices (pun intended) so it can carry on installing the next version of Windows.
Going full screen, this step only took about ten minutes. It does not give details unlike previous versions of Windows did, but it effectively copies all the files necessary to disk so that it can progress through the setup motion faster.
In previous leaked builds, we have seen a "betta fish" ('beta' software, after all) as the boot screen graphic. In later leaked builds, the familiar spinning dots appeared at the bottom of the screen, as is in this case. Not willing to reveal any branding, the boot screen is simple and clean -- simply reading "Windows Developer Preview".
It is about time, but Windows finally has a new Blue Screen of Death -- showing a giant sad-faced emoticon, and any details (in plain English, for the first time ever) as to why there is a problem with either setup, or with the copy of Windows. At least this way now, it allows the user to search for the problem without having to dissect the blue-screen error messages.
Once setup has finished doing what it needs to do, this screen will appear -- allowing you to personalise your experience, change key settings and eventually log in to your new Windows machine. This screen fades away, as it is only a 'welcome' screen.
Instead of, unlike previous versions, splashing a vast array of options on screen, Windows 8 prefers to do it simply and in stages. Using the new Metro user interface, it is cleaner, more efficient, and easier to read. It's also designed for tablets and touch-screen PCs in mind.
As with previous versions of Windows, a wireless or wired Internet connection is key to getting up and running. Though strictly speaking an Internet connection is not required to access Windows, you will soon see why it is so important -- partly down to the roaming user profiles provided by Windows Live ID.
The touch-friendly interface is key to Windows 8. Designed for PCs and tablets ("slates") in mind, tablets are more to-the-chest and personal devices. Windows setup gives you the option to display your password, in case the touch-screen is not properly aligned yet or the user has yet to get used to it.
Now the settings are to get going. The express route allows you to basically enable everything to protect you from the word go, and to keep Windows updated. It also ensures that devices around you are connected, and enables key features such as location. However, in this case, it's better to customise the settings manually -- just so you know exactly what you are getting.
This screen is the revamped "public" versus "private" network connection setting, as seen in Vista and Windows 7. Depending on where you are, and which network you are connecting to, it would be wise to select the appropriate option to ensure that unknown others on the same network as you cannot access your files, documents, video or music content.
Again, as Windows setup does things in stages, it tries to bulk together whatever it can into one screen, easing you in and making sure you understand what the settings mean. This screenshot helps the user decide on the best course of action to make sure that your tablet or PC is safe and protected, and always updated. Windows SmartScreen filters files and URLs to ensure that they are not spammy or links to malware.
Not only is Windows 8 still in development, metrics on how you use the computer are important to help make Windows better. SpyNet is part of Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials -- an anti-malware solution in-built into Windows 8 -- to protect you from malicious content on the web which can make your PC or tablet unsafe.
If something goes wrong -- and lets face it, on Windows it often does -- the operating system can check online for solutions to problems to see if it can fix things without the need for user intervention, such as if an application crashes or is not compatible. Also, if your device has a GPS in-built into it, it can acquire your location and display content based on where you are, such as weather or news.
Windows Live ID's can be linked with Windows 8 to synchronise some of your content, files, favourites and bookmarks across computers to ensure that you always get a seamless experience, regardless of whether you are using a friend's PC or tablet. You can literally jump from one machine to another, as though it is the same machine, by keeping some of your basic information and settings stored in the cloud.
Your Windows Live ID is the one you use on Xbox Live, Messenger or Hotmail -- or any other email address and password combination you may have connected to Microsoft's services. This does not even have to be a @msn, @hotmail or @live account. It can even be your corporate or college/university email address and password.
Windows setup wants you to be as safe as you can, so it will ask you an additional security question to make sure that your account is safer than before. If you forget your password or find that your account has been accessed without your authorisation, you can reset it again from a Windows 8 machine or through Microsoft's online services.
Once you enter in your email address, it will begin to associate your account as a Windows Live ID which can be used with Windows 8. This part of Windows setup may take a few minutes, depending on your download and upload broadband speeds.
A familiar sight to many, this is the new Start screen which effectively replaces the Start menu in older versions of Windows. The tiles that you see are links to applications which open in full-screen. But, don't worry -- your regular applications are still there in the background, waiting to be opened and accessed. Just because Windows 8 looks a bit different (it's optimised for tablet PCs, don't forget), your regular applications should still work.
You can change the prominence settings of your tiles by making them larger or smaller -- or you can unpin them from where they are, or even uninstall them if you no longer require them.
By scrolling from right to left by the edge, you are presented with the 'Start bar', which gives you access to your Start screen, your sharing options, your default settings and search menus. It also displays the time and date on screen, regardless of which application you are in (I'm in a drawing application, by the way!), as well as the network strength and battery levels.
The search bar allows you to search through your various applications, or the web, for content or websites. This search bar is only a swipe and a tap away at all times, even if you are in the regular Windows desktop.
The settings bar is also only a swipe and a tap away, giving you a rich and up-to-date view of your network and other controls. From here, you can change your language settings, the brightness of the device or screen (if you are on a tablet), see your notifications from other applications and alter the volume. You can also access application preferences here, too.
Notifications are also different, here in Windows 8. Sporting the new Metro user interface, it appears when a system-change has occured. In this case, a USB drive has been plugged in and a list of available options appear. These options can include configuring it for backup, speeding up the computer -- or simply opening the device to the desktop. Other devices will react differently, such as optical media or external peripherals.
The new Internet Explorer (version 10) is just as you would expect -- with a vaguely 'Mac'-style feel about it, with the high-quality font rendering. It has much of the same content and feel about it to the Windows Phone 7 browser, but a long way is yet to go before all sites will be compatible. Other browsers, such as Chrome and Firefox, work well on Windows 8.
Websites can be converted into Start screen tiles in an instant, by clicking the pin in Internet Explorer's menu. It means you can keep fully up to date from wherever you are, just by clicking on the newly-created tile on the Start screen.
The Control Panel looks entirely different, but still contains all the usual stuff you would expect. Here you can find your personalisation settings, such as your Start screen user tile or the background wallpaper that presents itself on the lock screen.
Again, you will find all the usual tools and settings here in the Control Panel, but the key difference in this slide is the ability to use roaming features associated with your Windows Live ID. As discussed earlier, it allows you to take your settings and what you are working on with you, wherever you are.
Windows 8 is all about sharing. Sharing applications makes Windows sociable, something that is clear with this next version of Windows. Applications can be shared as well as bookmarks and other things.
But don't worry. If you want to see the old Control Panel back, you can always find it again. Here you can see the 'Desktop view' which is just as you would expect, the desktop bit of Windows without any user tiles. You can still access your applications, but the key is that the Start menu is replaced by the Start screen of tiles.
Many have spoken about the new file transfer screens and how marvelous it is. I must say I'm impressed, as it shows the user a more visual way of how fast the transfer, download, copy or move of files is going. It accurately pins how long it will take, and users can pause the transfer half way through in favour of another transfer.
If you swipe from the left side of the screen to the right, your desktop will appear -- and this gives you an idea of how it comes about. The Start screen stays there constantly, just in the background out of sight -- same to the desktop. The desktop will slide in from the center-right and glide in beautifully.
A quick look at the weather application: it's simple but it's effective. Note that the wallpaper is not per se, but a video, and very similiar to that of 'DreamScene' in Windows Vista. The whole application is full-screen and designed with tablets in mind.
When the location is typed in and entered, the entire application reflects those changes -- still with a moving wallpaper. In this case, the moon rotates and the light spins around it. This is just an example of what a Metro user-interface application looks like and feels like to work on.
But not everything has changed... just a great deal. Even in Windows Explorer, the view now sports a Ribbon to enable better touch-screen accessibility as well as allowing more space for menu options. Not sure if it is just me, but Explorer is starting to look a little cluttered.
Depending on what you click on, you will receive different options in the menus. Applications will get a special tab that opens up dedicated to them, just as you would get a 'picture' in an Office document tab.
The on-screen keyboard has changed completely -- now taking up a great portion of the lower screen. It can be moved and resized, but it feels like an actual keyboard when typing on it. Of course, this is all hardware dependent, but my hardware runs Windows 8 very smoothly. Hold down a key and you get other characters associated with that latter, and multi-touch works, naturally.
Windows 8 has emoticons -- enough said, really? Though the emoticons do not work very well in applications such as Notepad, these would be ideal for instant messaging and even Facebook.
But the best thing about this keyboard is that it can go into 'thumb' mode, allowing the user to hold the tablet in both hands and use their thumbs to type with. iOS 5 and iPads will have this functionality also, but it's nice to see Microsoft keeping ahead with the times.