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Windows 8 test drive: Hardware is a challenge

Hardware will remain a key to satisfaction in Windows 8 based on a quick drive-through of the Release Preview version of the new Microsoft operating system.

While Microsoft says Windows 7 machines are adequate for running Windows 8, there are shortcomings that can arise that would frustrate users, particularly as they relate to the touchscreen.

MORE: Windows 8: No touch, no fun

RELATED: The Windows 8 Quiz

Specifically, the screens include hot corners where mousing into them causes navigation features to pop up. Bottom right: Charms bar. Top left: open applications. Bottom left: Start tile.

Responsiveness to touch can vary. The HP TouchSmart 520 PC all-in-one desktop used here was tricky to master and could involve several flicks and touches to get the system to respond, particularly in these corners.

That was with the earlier Consumer Preview version of Windows 8. With Release Preview Microsoft apparently left out the drivers for the touchscreen as it did in the earlier version initially, so touchscreen didn't function at all. With Consumer Preview, Microsoft eventually upgraded to provide the missing drivers.

Since this test machine is a desktop, using the touch features is a little unnatural to begin with; sitting at a desk and using touch on a 23-inch screen feels a bit like conducting an orchestra. With touch acting balky it becomes a source of aggravation and drives users to employ Windows 8 in traditional desktop mode.

That creates a learning curve for users in basic ways. With the live corners and a screen not tuned for Windows 8, it's easy to run the cursor out of the application and wind up in a different app.

For example, if you are in Internet Explorer and want to hit the Back button in the upper left, it's easy to overshoot and wind up in the live corner. If you click there, you wind up in the last application you were playing with.

On the application front, in Release Preview Microsoft has renovated Windows Store. It is the place to go to buy Metro-style applications that embrace touch. Going to the store looks more commercial. Rather than the clean Metro tiles with just words, the apps tiles look more like advertisements that include photos, illustrations, logos, slogans and multiple type faces. This is entirely up to the developers of the applications, but does make the store feel like a different environment.

As for the apps themselves, Microsoft has chosen to highlight box (sharing), allrecipes (cooking) and Wikipedia, and a large tile titled Great apps for Release Preview. These include the ones listed above, plus TuneIn Radio and Music Maker Jam (music and video), Cocktail Flow (food), Cut the Rope and Pirates Love Daisies (games), FitBall (health and fitness) and Kindle.

The tiles representing the applications are separated into categories that are strung out in a display that slides left to right, which can be cumbersome if you are trying to browse.

And there are some glitches. For example, In checking out FitBall, the link to the company website led instead to a site for the navigation app called gpstuner, which isn't even listed in the Windows Store. So there remains work to do.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.


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