Windows 8 is nothing if not ambitious. It manages to be everything a Microsoft OS has never been: whimsical, fun, friendly, lightweight and fresh. Thanks to the Metro UI that takes its design cues from Windows Phone, Windows for desktops, laptops and tablets as gone all touchy on us. And that's the sticking point for the millions of folks who have non-touch enabled computers. Interacting with Metro on a touch screen is pure joy and conjures up the Microsoft Surface experience, but it can be a bit odd when you're using a mouse or trackpad.
Yes, it is completely possible to use Metro without a touch screen thanks to keyboard shortcuts and hotspots in the corners, but I suspect many of you will use the lower left tile that takes you to the standard desktop mode immediately. With Windows 8 Release Candidate, the follow up to Consumer Preview, the familiar Start Menu is still MIA (third party utilities can replicate it) but Aero is here, even though Microsoft has said they're going to axe it for the final release (they feel it looks dated since window chrome is no longer trendy).
Microsoft thinks that all PCs will eventually have touch screens: from all in ones to laptops to tablets. Windows 8 runs on tablets with Intel and AMD CPUs and Windows 8 RT will run on ARM-based tablets (Android tablets use ARM family CPUs). Microsoft is probably right, and they're betting on it by introducing Metro now.
For our video review, we test out Windows 8 Release Preview on a Samsung Series 7 Slate and the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 notebook so you can see the difference in interactions with these two form factors. The Samsung Slate runs on an Intel Core i5 ULV CPU and it ships with Windows 7 (it's been a platform standard for Windows 8 developers though). The ThinkPad is Lenovo's new Ivy Bridge Core i5 12.5" notebook. Both have 1366 x 768 displays, but only the Samsung has a touchscreen.
What's new in Win 8 Release Preview? Surprisingly little has changed from the Consumer Preview we covered a few months back. The Microsoft Store is more full featured with a healthy selection of Metro compatible apps, and it now remembers apps you've downloaded/purchased. There's multiple monitor support, lots of new drivers so it's easier to install and get things working right away. Microsoft has added a thumb keyboard in addition to the standard on-screen keyboard.
It's incredibly fast and it boots quickly too. Yes, you can install MS Office, Adobe Photoshop and your favorite games. Those apps will run in desktop mode, unlike Metro apps that run in Metro. Speaking of Metro apps, Microsoft has added a few more for things like sports and travel, and they're magazine-like and gorgeous. IE in Metro now supports Flash, but only for a limited subset of Flash content: YouTube videos work but Flash adds do not. If you run IE from the desktop, you get full IE and full Adobe Flash as well as any other plugins you've installed. It's rather confusing to have 2 versions of Internet Explorer.
Here's our Windows 8 Release Candidate Walkthrough Video:
I can completely understand the way you feel. Win 8 is absolutely awesome for touch screens, but the Metro part isn't navigational joy with a keyboard and mouse. Nor is Metro particularly suited to the office-- it's much more of a personal and home experience. Thankfully, the "normal" Windows 7 experience (minus Start Menu) is a just a press of the Windows key away.
I think touchscreen computer buyers will love Windows 8, but I don't see a lot of folks with traditional (non-touch) hardware upgrading. I suspect that eventually most all Windows PCs will have touch screens, and that's when and where Windows 8 will see widespread adoption.
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview