Windows 8 Consumer Preview: A First Look at Microsoft's New Operating System

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However, one of the best things about Windows 8 is the fact that you can put apps side by side. When you drag your finger from the left side of the screen you can swipe through open apps and position one alongside another. If you quickly drag an app in and out from the left side, a menu with all your open apps will pop up so you can easily jump to another open app. You can close an app by dragging down from the top of the screen.

These features are not all that obvious, a weakness since everyone will be new to Windows 8. Once you get the hang of it, it is very intuitive, but it seems necessary for Microsoft to educate people about these capabilities. (I wouldn't have known about many of these without help from Microsoft.)

Below are thoughts on some of Microsoft's own apps.

Mail - I love the mail app. Similar to the iPad and Android tablets, you have a two-pane view with your Inbox on the left and messages on the right. You can easily change the font, font color, and insert a large variety of emoticons into your message.

People - Here you can sign into your Twitter, Facebook, Google, Microsoft Live accounts and message your friends and check their statuses. It's not a very versatile, but it is a nice portal for keeping tabs on all your friends.

Music/Video - Microsoft has integrated its music and video stores into the core of Windows 8. The stores weren't up and running while I was testing, but the layout of the apps is very simple to navigate.

Windows 8's success depends heavily on the apps that are created by developers. (Microsoft has been busy providing software makers with the tools to make their own Metro apps.) The iPad has been so successful because of the beautiful tablet apps that you can get for it; Windows has to provide an equal if not better app experience.

You might be wondering about your older apps -- will they run? The answer: they should. They will just run in the traditional Desktop area of the operating system. Most apps I tried, including OpenOffice, Trillian and TweetDeck, worked just fine, but when I tried to install Microsoft Office 2010 I got a compatibility error. Microsoft will be releasing Office 15 to coincide with Windows 8.

Xbox Comes to the Computer

One of the most exciting preloaded apps is Xbox Live Games. While the store wasn't up and running on my tablet, I was able to try a version of Pinball FX2.

The graphics looked beautiful on the 11.6-inch tablet, and it was very responsive to my taps even though I've watched the silver ball roll through the flippers too many times in the last week. (That's a comment on my gaming skills, not the software.) There should be more games to try in the Windows Games Marketplace soon. And yes, there is also a new, redesigned version of Solitaire ready and waiting for all beta testers.

Microsoft has also included an Xbox companion app, which allows you to use the tablet as a controller for games running on a regular Xbox gaming console.

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