Microsoft's Windows 8 Developer Preview (W8 DP), which is now available for download, got its first major push at the recent Build developer conference, where every attendee was loaned a custom-built Samsung tablet PC loaded with the OS, Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows Developer Preview (WDP) and the Developer Preview of Microsoft Expression Blend 5 (see picture below).
This largesse is rumoured to have cost Microsoft £5m, which points to its determination to make sure Windows 8 launches with a large number of applications.
Microsoft is also setting up an app store for Windows 8 from which these applications will be available for download when the OS launches in 2012.
Back at our labs we downloaded W8 DP and installed it on our Dell OptiPlex 980, and on the latest version of VMware's desktop virtualisation package, Workstation 8, running on one of our test laptops.
The Samsung system was running a 64-bit version of W8 DP. It included Microsoft Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows Developer Preview (WDP), the Developer Preview of Microsoft Expression Blend 5, Office Viewer 2007 and used mobile broadband from US mobile operator AT&T.
Booting up the Samsung tablet took us through an initial configuration phase similar to a Windows 7 install.
After we accepted licences for the application development software, we were given the option to presonalise features such as wireless connections and the display.
Next, Windows prompted us to download the latest hardware device drivers and any other updates from Windows Update, and then configure settings for Internet Explorer (IE), such as IE’s SmartScreen filter, checking if we wanted to join SpyNet, and whether we wanted our location data to be used by Microsoft.
After this we got to see the start screen, and it's unlike anything that has appeared in a Windows desktop OS before. The user interface is a direct steal from Microsoft’s consumer Windows Phone 7 OS [see picture].
Users are presented with a selection of touch-enabled tiles that activate so-called Metro-style apps. The ones on our Samsung tablet at Build gave a good demonstration of what is possible with Windows 8's touch capabilities but were essentially consumer-oriented. That said, the application roster is likely to undergo considerable expansion when Windows 8 finally ships.
For users who are more comfortable using a mouse and keyboard, a tile marked "desktop" brings up a more traditional interface. On our test tablet, this interface was essentially Windows 7, but with a few tweaks to the Task Manager and an update to Windows Defender, as well as a preview of IE 10.
We found that the tile-based interface works much better with a touch screen-enabled device like a tablet, than with a standard mouse and keyboard.