The software company everybody loves to hate, Microsoft, recently released what it calls a "consumer preview" of its next operating system, Windows 8.
You can download and try it out for free. So I did. You can do it too, if you have an extra computer, a broadband Internet connection and a DVD burner.
If you do, prepare to be surprised. Its user interface is quite a bit different from what you're used to. So much so that I think Microsoft could be taking a sizable gamble with it. This may be the next Windows Vista, which is pretty much considered to have been a flop.
I'm not going to do a thorough review here, just a quick overview. It's too early in the product cycle to be very definite about it. A lot may change before the real release comes around.
First, it installed very easily on an extra computer I had lying around. Popped in the DVD I burned, booted from it and let it go. Easy-peasy. Pretty much, if the computer runs Windows 7 all right, it will do Windows 8.
After it's installed, the first thing you'll notice is that the desktop more resembles a huge smartphone interface than a computer. Big boxes all over the screen instead of icons. If you have a touchscreen monitor and hands which are a foot wide, you'll be all set.
I don't. I use a mouse. That makes a difference.
Then, the next thing you'll notice is that there is no "Start button." We've all used the start button since, I guess, Windows 95. Windows 2000 had it, XP had it, and Windows 7 has it. Even Vista had it. Well, Microsoft, in its wisdom, removed it for Windows 8. I can only shake my head.
The overall impression I get is that Microsoft is trying to make Windows into an operating system that encompasses computers, smartphones and tablets, using the same interface on all of them.
That may be a great vision for Microsoft as a company, but it sure as heck isn't about doing what customers need, or want. Only a monopoly would be able to pull off something like that without having customers leave in droves.
Of course, Microsoft has just that, an effective monopoly, so it may be able to do it. All it has to do is discontinue Windows 7, and force everybody who buys a new machine to have Windows 8. Microsoft did it before with XP, so I have no doubts it will happen again.
So, if you want something that resembles start-button functionality, you now have to move your mouse cursor to the top right, or bottom left corners of the screen, sliding it to just the right spot. It's not easy, nor anything like intuitive, in my opinion.
Anyway, the worst part of Windows 8 is the interface, which I can only describe as very clunky for a computer user. On a phone or tablet, it may not be so bad. Using a keyboard and mouse with it isn't great.
Other than that, it seems like all the usual Windows stuff is in there. You just have to find it. I was able to join the computer to my domain, and it worked as expected in that regard. All the items in the control panel seem to be very familiar.
I installed Microsoft Office, and LibreOffice, without any problems. I actually began writing this column in LibreOffice on the Windows 8 computer in my basement (but finished it upstairs, where it's a little warmer).
Another point I should make is that with this version of Windows, it looks like Microsoft is really, really, really trying to get users to use its online services. There is an app store, where it would very much like you to get all your software from. It pushes online file storage, which seems like a nice idea at first, but about which many people and companies have ominous feelings.
It just seems to me that this new version of Windows is being developed not for users, but for Microsoft's benefit. There is nothing that I saw in it that I needed _ and don't already have, in a much nicer user interface _ than already exists in Windows 7.
Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.