Hands-on: What's good and bad about Windows 8

The tablet UI seems to be forced unnaturally on the desktop experience, but on the whole, Windows 8 looks very promising

Since Microsoft's Build conference earlier this month, where Windows 8's debut was the grand spectacle, I've been quietly exploring the forthcoming OS deeply. Now that I've spent real time with it, I can give you a fuller analysis than what appeared in the first days of its announcement.

I can honestly say that any "final judgments" you've read about Windows 8 are worthless. The preview edition of Windows 8 isn't so much as half-baked, even down to small details such as the atrocious color scheme. It's obviously in preliminary stages, as you can see from the video below.

[ Read InfoWorld's coverage of Microsoft's Windows 8 grand reveal of its new UI and capabilities. | Take a visual tour of Windows 8's mobile-inspired Metro user interface. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

If you want to install Windows 8 preview yourself, download the files from Microsoft's developer site, then watch my Windows 8 how-to installation video.

What I like so far in Windows 8

I like Windows 8's ability to set up your PC with a local login or a Windows Live ID. This provides a more consistent user experience across devices and even between mobile and desktop apps. Your most commonly used Windows settings move with you through the Windows Live ID login, along with the settings and last-used state for your Metro-style apps. Credentials are retained for applications and websites that require login IDs, and they travel with you to any PC you log into. It's completely controllable, so you can determine which items you want to sync and which items you don't.

There is a fancy new Task Manager with much-improved display of CPU, memory, disk, and network utilization for applications and processes. But for the most part, I don't see other changes in the administrative tools or computer management tool set, including Event Viewer and Disk Management. There's an interesting change in the way Explorer works now because it has the ribbon UI with several ribbons that are fairly easy to work with. Also, after going missing since Windows XP, the up arrow icon has returned, restoring many users' preferred method of navigating their folder structure.

You can look forward to other fun details, including the new look of Internet Explorer (the preview has IE10 Developer Preview, which comes in both a standard Windows 7 look and the new Metro look). It also advances HTML5 support significantly, rating a score of 300 out of 450 in the HTML5Test.com test, compared to just 141 for IE9; by comparison, Google Chrome 14 scores 340, Mozilla Firefox 7 scores 313, and Apple Safari 5.1 scores 293. I didn't have a chance to test a feature called Refresh Your PC, but it promises to restore your system to factory settings -- perfect for when you plan on selling your PC. You can also configure refresh points and restore to those point-in-time snapshots of your PC.

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