Microsoft's old Windows desktop and tablet-friendly Metro UI make strange bedfellows
Getting set up to test
While you can run Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a traditional PC and give Metro a spin using ye olde keyboard and mouse, the complete Metro experience of course requires a touch-enabled tablet. Unfortunately, choosing a test tablet isn't easy.
Microsoft published a list of the machines it used to test Win8 during development, but several of them won't work very well for a Win8 evaluation. You need a screen that's at least 1,366 by 768 pixels to see the multipane "Metro snap" in action, and a wide bezel makes thumb action difficult. That knocks out three of the Microsoft-listed tablets. In the end, only three pass muster: the Samsung Series 7 Slate tablet, the Dell Inspiron Duo convertible, and the Lenovo ThinkPad X220 tablet.
On the desktop, many people install Win8 inside a virtual machine. You'll find detailed instructions for installing Win8 on VirtualBox and VMware Workstation all over the Web, and Win8 will run under VirtualBox, Parallels, or VMware Fusion on the Mac as well. (Note that Windows 8 Consumer Preview won't run under Microsoft's Virtual PC.) Personally, I avoid testing beta operating systems on a VM because tracking down problems gets hairy quickly.
Fortunately, the hardware requirements for Windows 8 are basically the same as for Windows 7 -- and not all that different from Windows XP. If you're going to test Hyper-V, read the section below for additional hardware needs, and make sure you install the 64-bit version of Windows 8. (Hint: Any Intel i-series processor can handle Hyper-V virtualization.) Realistically, just about any PC that's less than a few years old will work.
Windows 8 can be installed by downloading the ISO file and burning it on a DVD or USB drive. Microsoft has a new installation option, where you install directly from the Web. The Web installer gives you three options: migrate your current programs and files, migrate files only, or perform a clean install. To minimize future problems, a clean install is the only way to go. Keep in mind that if you use the Web install, you won't have an ISO backup handy, thus won't be able to test Reset or Restore.
Starting with Metro Start
If you have a touch-enabled piece of hardware, it's easy to dig in and start playing, er, testing. If you're stuck with a mouse, you'll learn sooner or later that you can scroll your mouse across the screen and the tiles move with it; you can also drag the slider at the bottom of the screen or use the PgUp and PgDn keys.
I won't pontificate on the Metro Start screen -- heaven knows there's enough of that going around -- but I'd like to point to some details to consider as you're going through the tiles.
As I noted last week, Windows Live is dead, but to see the full extent of the carnage, you should survey the Metro "preview apps" sitting on the Start screen: Mail, People, Calendar, Messaging, and Photos all have direct analogs in the Windows Live lineup. Finance, Weather, Maps, Music, SkyDrive, and Videos all hook into websites.
The Metro apps have two things in common: First, they aren't quite cooked. Mail doesn't even have a way to attach documents or format text. Photos can't upload or manage albums. Contacts can't put a pic to a name. Yet.
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