But if you're considering a move to a Windows-based tablet, you'll want to dive into Windows 8 with both feet. Technically, Win8 is an amazing piece of work, and if the legacy desktop remains better suited to a mouse and a physical keyboard, the Metro UI succeeds in delivering a clean and smooth tablet experience. Ultimately, Windows 8 will appeal mainly to "straddlers" who want a tablet and good old Windows too.
It's going to take weeks -- more likely, months -- of hard pounding to see where Win8 wins and where it falls short. Clearly, parts of Win8 (the Metro apps come to mind immediately) aren't yet ready for prime time, and it would be unfair to tar Win8 with their dirty preview brush. There are also plenty of niggling bugs, many of which complicate the navigation between the Metro and legacy environments on touch-driven devices.
Microsoft still has work to do and questions to answer. In the meantime, this article offers a critical assessment from a seasoned Windows user, a guide to some of the lesser-known nooks and crannies in Win8, and a reflection on what experienced Windows users will find when they start digging.
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.