BARCELONA, Spain Microsoft launched the Windows 8 consumer previewthe next milestone of the Windows operating system, to the press at Mobile World Congress in a two-hour presentation in which Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division, joined by other Microsoft executives, provided demonstrations of the touch interface and how the operating system functioned on a number of devices, including tablets, desktop PCs and notebooks, as well as next-generation Ultrabooks.
The emphasis was on the fast and fluid nature of the interface, which uses the four corners of a notebooks screen to go from an application back to the “start” screen (bottom left) zoom (bottom right) switch between multiple applications (top left) or sharing functions (top right). With a mouse, you get a precise pointing device, but it is not great for gestures, explained vice president of Windows Web services Antoine Leblond. Corners make it really easy to move around the UI.
The “start” screen features applications as colorful tiles that users can rearrange, based on personal preferences, as well as zoom in or out with quick gestures. Users can switch between applications by flicking a finger to slide through them, or close an application by dragging it down off the screen. The UI allows applications to be placed side-by-side, and power management features in Windows 8 automatically park the app when it isnt in use. Sinofsky likened the UI to a super-fancy cloud-connected modern clipboard with a power profile more like a phone than a traditional PC.
The preview also marks the beta opening of the Windows Store, which is filled with a variety of new Metro-style apps from both third-party developers and Microsoft. During the preview, these apps are available to try at no cost to users, Sinofsky said. The Windows Store will also offer personalized recommendations, and Windows 8 gives users the ability to take their apps and settings with them across multiple PCs.
An optional additional sign-on with a Microsoft account provides access to a host of cloud-based features, including the ability to roam all settings, use cloud storage, communicate with email, calendar and contacts, and connect to a broad range of services. The user connection to the cloud works across a Windows-based PCs and Windows 7 phones. Internet Explorer Platform Preview 5, designed specifically for Windows 8 devices, is hardware-accelerated to enable Web performance.
At the event, Microsoft also showcased Windows 8 running on a wide range of new x86- and ARM-based reference hardware. This hardware will be available to select developers for trial and testing, Sinofsky said.
Also on display was an AMD dual-core-processor-based PC with an 82-in. touch-screen made with optically bonded Corning Gorilla Glass, which Sinofsky said had a stick-to-your-finger quality, which feels like there is no gap between a users finger and the pixels it is touching.
The preview is available worldwide for download in English, French, German, Japanese and simplified Chinese languages. Sinofsky said that during the period the preview launched, users from more than 70 countries had already downloaded it. The Developer Preview received more than 3 million downloads.