Windows 8 Developer Preview Hands-on: Inside All the New Features

Streamlined Control Panel
Microsoft has finally modernized its Control Panel in Windows 8 with an intuitive interface that lists categories down the left side and options for those categories on the right. From this menu you can personalize the Lock Screen, manage users, toggle notifications for various apps, and more. Unfortunately, you can’t access all the settings from this menu. If you want to dig deeper you need to open the old-school Control Panel in desktop mode. Why not put everything under one roof?

Multitasking Pros & Cons
On the plus side, switching between apps in Windows 8 is a cinch. You merely swipe from the left side of the screen. Even better, you can snap an app in place on the right side of the screen and resize it, making it easy to have two apps running side by side. You can also drag the bar for the app to resize it. Unfortunately, Windows 8’s Metro UI doesn’t allow you to see all of your running apps on one screen, so you have to cycle through open programs until you land on the right one.

Desktop as App, New Explorer and Task Manager
The traditional Windows desktop is always just a tap or click away on Windows 8, as Microsoft treats it just like an app with its own Tile. We found it odd at first that pressing the Start button re-launches the Start Screen instead of presenting the usual list of options.

In addition to running more sophisticated programs like Photoshop, the desktop environment includes an Enhanced Windows Explorer that has a Ribbon interface that presents a lot of options at a glance. For instance, you can uninstall a program right form the Computer tab.

Windows Task Manager gets an even bigger overhaul in Windows 8, with a very simple menu of tasks you can end. However, those who crave more information can check out the detailed view, which shows just how much resources each app is using (CPU, Memory, Disk, etc.) Those on metered mobile broadband plans worried about how many megabytes each app is eating up can look up that info under App History.

We’re just not sure why the Task Manager needs to live in desktop mode. Yes, Metro UI apps suspend when they’re in the background but we think you should be able to close apps from withing the Metro environment.

Apps and the Cloud
Windows Live runs deep in the Mail, Calendar, Photos, and Messaging apps for Windows 8. Though these apps weren’t live on our demo device, we learned a few interesting tidbits during our briefing on the OS.  The Mail app will have a Metro-style design, letting you swipe to select messages for deletion and access all your folders with a tap. The Calendar app will let you see yours and your family schedule side by side. The People app brings together contacts from a variety of services, just like Windows Phone 7.5, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Exchange. And Mesaging lets you start conversations over Windows Live or Facebook.

Windows 8: Inside the New Features

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Miah Says:

    “The mere fact that you double click on something to open an app or file in desktop mode versus once in Metro mode tells you that they are different worlds.” — Umm, we’ve been able to single click to open things since Windows 98. Get your mind right.

  2. Sven Says:

    Great overview of the new features. Very helpful.
    One thing you were complaining about a couple times is that you supposedly don’t have a place to switch between all your running apps. If you have a keyboard you can actually ALT+TAB through them the same as in older Windows versions.

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