Windows 8 nears the finish line: What's good, what's bad

Microsoft lifts the Windows 8 kimono one last time before the finish line. Here are the improvements and inconsistencies

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Other apps have minimal face-lifts. Metro Music, for example, now puts your music in front of the music Microsoft is trying to sell. Imagine that. It still requires a log-in to Xbox Live, and the new version has tiles to help you buy Zune Music Pass and more Xbox Live titles. There's a new overlay for music that you're sampling, but the same Microsoft-cobbled background when playing music -- and no volume button on the navigation pane. The song list for an artist isn't even grouped by album, which is tough if you have 2,478 Grateful Dead songs. Metro Video follows many of the same trends, with added offers to get movie showtimes and sell you movie tickets.

Microsoft promises that the Metro apps will be improved by the time RTM hits -- and continue improving after Windows 8 goes on sale. We can only hope so. Maybe the Metro Photos app will get some simple editing tools, and/or it will be able to see photos on a network drive. Maybe a future Metro SkyDrive app will actually be able to pull data out of the sky and put it on my hard drive. Or a few of the apps will actually be able to share data with the Share Charm. But I digress.

Windows 8 RP hiccups and inconsistencies

I've been running both a desktop and a touch-only tablet with the various Windows 8 releases since the Developer Preview hit, and I found more stability problems in RP than in CP or DP: Metro apps freezing, inexplicable blank screens, an occasional blue screen. (No, I don't use the Microsoft-supplied laptops.)

On the other hand, RP participates in networks much better than its predecessors, with straightforward server and peer access, even on networked Macs -- although Windows Explorer occasionally flashes a bogus "File sharing is turned off" message. The Desktop side continues to be solid as a rock.

Using a Microsoft account (nee Windows Live ID) to log on to multiple machines is supposed to sync several items between machines, similar to the Mac with iCloud or even Google Chrome. Some of it doesn't work: Metro apps don't sync, the Metro Start screen tiles don't sync, and as best I can tell picture log-ons don't sync either.

Mouse navigation is inconsistent. For example, on the Metro Start screen there's a scroll bar on the bottom, but no forward/backward arrows, and you can't "grab" the screen by clicking on it to move horizontally. In the Metro Calendar app, there is no scroll bar on the bottom, but left and right buttons appear near the top of the screen. In the Metro Photos app splash screen, there's only a scroll bar, but in individual libraries, you can grab and drag the screen. Metro Store only has a scroll bar. The Metro Travel app only shows pictures with left and right buttons (slideshow). And so on.

With big changes to come, I still see lots of niggling incongruities, including a Windows Experience Index that measures "Desktop performance for Windows Aero." The Windows Color and Appearance screen still has a checkbox to Enable Transparency. It isn't at all clear how those settings will change in RTM. Zune died at E3 last week, and Microsoft is being coy about how Windows 8 will be modified/rebranded to acknowledge the loss. We might even see an Xbox Music or Xbox Video app.

Persistent rumors say Microsoft is busy defenestrating the old Start button and making it impossible for third-party programs to bring back Start. Paul Thurrott reports that "Microsoft has been furiously ripping out legacy code in Windows 8 that would have enabled third parties to bring back the Start button, Start Menu, and other software bits that could have made this new OS look and work like its predecessor." It remains to be seen if Microsoft will succeed at tearing Start asunder, but the three major third-party Start button replacements, LeeSoft's ViStart, Stardock's Start8, and Classic Shell, all work with RP.

Stay tuned. There's much more to come.

This story, "Windows 8 nears the finish line: What's good, what's bad," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Windows and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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