Windows 8 is a coin with two very different sides: On one side is a tablet operating system, with the tile-heavy Metro user interface inspired by Windows Phone 7. On the other is an improved version of the full Windows 7-like desktop operating system. The first is very simple and consumer-oriented, and competes with tablets like Apple?s iPad and Google Android tablets. The other is the operating system favored by power users of complex and professional Windows programs.
Microsoft not only thinks it can successfully walk the tightrope between these two usage cases, but that the result will be better and less limiting than any of the alternatives. I took an early version of the OS for a spin. The Windows 8 Developer Preview I tested was on an Intel-based Windows 8 developer preview PC. This is the first version of Windows 8 to be officially let outside of Microsoft employees? hands, and as its name suggests, it?s far from fully baked. But it demonstrates a lot of improvements and new capabilities we can expect to see in Microsoft?s next big OS.The company is not saying anything official about when Windows 8 will ship, its price, or different editions in which it might be available. The general consensus, however, is that the OS will be launched in fall 2012, based on off-the-cuff executive statements and leaked schedules. And Windows 7 launched about a year after its 2008 PDC debut, so a fall 2012 timetable isn?t unreasonable. Till then, here?s a look at how the OS is shaping up at the moment. Note: this hands-on looks exclusively at the OS running on a tablet, as that’s all I can get my hands on at the moment. Rest assured that I’ll be installing and testing it on a regular PC as soon as I’ve got installer code from Microsoft. I’ve been briefed about the desktop code, so this hands on does refer occasionally to the desktop UI, but I haven’t actually tested it yet.