Microsoft launched the Windows 8 Developer Preview (DP) at its Build developer conference last week.
All developer at the event were given a Samsung tablet, with software tools installed allowing them to develop applications for Windows 8.
Microsoft also provided journalists with a Samsung tablet with which to evaluate Windows 8.
The hardware provided by Microsoft was a bespoke system built in collaboration with Samsung [see picture].
The tablet featured a dual core hyper-threaded Intel Core i5-2467m processor and a 64GB solid state drive (SSD). It weighed 909g, was 12.9mm thick and used a Samsung Super PLS screen with a maximum resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels in 32-bit colour. Ports included a USB 3.0, a microSD slot, a mini-HDMI port, and standard audio jack. The Samsung tablet had no wired LAN connection, but did have standard Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
There was also a Samsung Bluetooth keyboard, a touch pen, and a small docking station with 10/100 LAN, standard HDMI, and USB 3.0 ports, besides the docking connector itself.
The system was running a 64-bit version of Windows 8 Developer Preview, and had Microsoft Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows Developer Preview (WDP), the Developer Preview of Microsoft Expression Blend 5, Office Viewer 2007 and AT&T mobile broadband.
The tablet PC was given to us in a “Windows 8 just installed state”, so when the system was fired up, the tablet immediately took the user through an initial configuration similar to that following a Windows 7 install.
After this the start screen popped up, looking very much like an expanded Windows 7 "Mango" smartphone interface with its "live tile" applications [see picture comparison].
The system was easy to use, with a fast boot up time – about 10 seconds. The touch screen could deal with multiple touch points, and was very responsive.
The live tiles on Windows 8 DP are what Redmond calls Metro-style applications, and like those on Microsoft's Mango phone OS, communicate with Windows 8 processes and other applications to deliver updated content without any user intervention.
For example, one of the test applications installed on the Samsung tablet was Socialite, an app that connects social networking applications such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Once set up all feeds from those social applications are displayed through the Socialite live tile. Weather feeds, RSS feeds and others can be set up to display constantly updated information.
Windows 8 DP's web browser was Internet Explorer 10, which is currently under development but worked pretty well for the short time we used it.
Many of the standard features in Windows 7 have been tweaked slightly, for example the control panel has been given the Windows 8 treatment, as has the task manager, [see picture].
That's all very well for users primarily concerned with content consumption, but what about users looking to create content using a mouse and keyboard?
Well the Windows 8 interface is certainly usable with keyboard and mouse, but the touch screen interface is quicker and feels more natural.
The battery life on this x86 version of Windows 8 DP was also limited at about three hours.
However, all this should change when Windows 8 finally hits the streets, as we would expect the latest energy-efficient Intel processors running on Windows 8 – there will also be an ARM hardware-based version of Windows 8, which could have significantly better battery life.
There is a host of other new and tweaked features from Windows 7, which Computing will be reporting about at length in a fuller review, but remember this is a developer preview that is likely to undergo significant change before Windows 8 is finally launched.
Because Windows 8 is still at an early stage in its development, there are bugs in the operating system, and design decisions in the interface that will probably change in the next development stage – the first Windows 8 beta.
The UI looks pretty similar to that running on Microsoft’s Mango smartphones, rejigged for desktop operating systems, not that this is a bad move, but the Windows 8 part of the OS is mainly concerned with content consumption.
When fine input is needed, the keyboard and tablet pen need to be deployed.