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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

March 1, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Initial reaction positive as Microsoft shows off consumer test version of Windows 8

(This story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times March 1, 2012. – Janet I. Tu)

From “beautiful, logical and simple” to “hugely disorienting,” the reactions are in for Microsoft’s Consumer Preview — or beta test — version of its radically new Windows 8 operating system, revealed Wednesday.

And they’re generally positive.

That bodes well for Microsoft, which is betting big on Windows 8 to make up for its missteps in the mobile market and to maintain its dominance in the PC desktop and laptop markets.

Windows 8 is probably the biggest overhaul of Microsoft’s flagship operating system since Windows 95.

It’s intended to work equally well on touch-sensitive tablets as on desktops and laptops, and with a vastly different user-interface design.

For those who’ve been following the development of Windows 8, the Consumer Preview unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, didn’t hold many surprises.

After all, Microsoft disclosed the general design and direction of Windows 8 in June.

Then, in September, it released the Developer Preview version, geared toward those thinking of making apps for Windows 8.

But the latest test version (downloadable free at windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/consumer-preview) showed a far smoother, more mature version of the system than the Developer Preview.

Indeed, according to Microsoft, more than 100,000 changes were made.

Microsoft has not said when the final release of Windows 8 will occur, but many are expecting it to be available in fall.

Here’s what a few reviewers thought of the Consumer Preview:

* New York Times technology columnist David Pogue called it “beautiful, logical and simple. … Apple maintains that you still need two operating systems — related, but different — for touch devices and computers. Microsoft is asserting that, no, you can have one single operating system on every machine, always familiar. The company has a point: already, the lines between computers, tablets and phones are blurring. … With Windows 8, Microsoft plans to be ready for this Grand Unification Theory.”

* Tech blog Engadget, though, called that attempt to create one single operating system disjointed. “Jumping back-and-forth between Metro [the tile-based design used in Windows 8] and desktop is hugely disorienting and, at least in the early days of Windows 8, you’ll be doing a lot of that. The simple task of switching between apps using the mouse has become painful. … Windows 8 still feels like two very different operating systems trying to be one.”

* Tech blog Gizmodo said: “By the time the final version ships later this year, it’s clear that Windows 8 is going to be a remarkable, daring update to the venerable OS. It is a departure from nearly everything we’ve known Windows to be. You will love it, or hate it. I love it.”

Perhaps just as important as what was revealed Wednesday was what wasn’t: Windows on ARM (WOA).

That’s what Microsoft is calling the version of Windows 8 that will run on devices (presumably tablet computers) using system-on-a-chip processors made by ARM Holdings.

ARM processors, which power most of the tablets and smartphones on the market, have lower power consumption and thus longer battery life than the traditional processors used on desktop and laptop PCs.

Microsoft already had said it wouldn’t make any WOA devices generally available Wednesday. (A few such devices will be released to developers for testing.)

But WOA is “Microsoft’s real response to the iPad,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC. “So that is a still-to-be-determined quantity.”

One thing Microsoft revealed about WOA: It won’t be able to join Active Directory, one of the tools that businesses’ information-technology (IT) departments use to manage everything from security to desktop configurations.

“By not having WOA machines able to join Active Directory, you’ve lost a considerable amount of the manageability that Windows has traditionally provided” for IT departments, said Wes Miller, an analyst with research firm Directions on Microsoft.

To be sure, Apple’s iPad doesn’t have that capability either. But having it would have provided Microsoft with a competitive advantage over the iPad, which is already making inroads in the workplace, Miller said.

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