For the purposes of my testing, I'm running this on a PC in VirtualBox, not a touchscreen device or on a desktop. Obviously there can be performance and interface limitations with that so I'm trying to be objective.
Before digging in, I should say that I noticed something peculiar. The OS seems to be two-in-one. The first view you get of Windows 8 is really nothing short of some touchpad or smartphone OS with pretty slide-y graphical elements, oversized text and simplified controls. I daresay it is similar to what I would think the best designed kindergartner's GUI would look like.
The second OS you get is that of the old familiar Windows desktop without a Start button, which is kind of aggravating. If you put the start button there, with all the applications, utilities and control panels you had in Windows 7, you would have... Well... Windows 7. With IE 10 of course. Anyway, on with the observations.
Out of the gate, I didn't find it very intuitive. Simple things like running notepad and shutting the computer down took quite a bit of experimentation. For example, you have to right-click the Start Screen background to get to all apps. Right-clicking the background within the native Windows 8 apps like Finance, Music, etc. will bring up a contextual top or bottom edge list of options for that app.
Hot corner hovering (when you put your mouse cursor on the corner of your display) allowed access to other menus such as:
Lower- or upper-right – A Search/Share/Start/Devices/Settings menu
Upper-left – Show you other open windows.
Lower-left – The Start button
The hot corners are touchy too. You can easily miss a window or just have the slide-out panel slide back in again. This could have been due to using the demo from a virtual machine.
Windows 8 came with a number of “preview apps”; Video, Photos, Messaging, Mail, Weather, Calendar, People, Finance to name a few. Nearly every one suggested you should log in with your Microsoft Account to “get the most” out of the app.
I got a laugh when I was in the Music app. The screens in Windows 8 tend to scroll horizontally, not vertically like we're used to. However, text still scrolls vertically. So I'm reading about the Cranberries and trying to scroll down with the mouse wheel and it actually scrolls a line or two while simultaneously scrolling the app to the left so my mouse isn't over the text anymore. Of course I could drag the slider bar but I prefer wheeling to grabbing.
Within several of the new Windows 8 apps is a little half-toned left-pointing circled arrow which would seem to me to mean you can go BACK to where you were. The half-toning doesn't necessarily mean it's disabled because from some apps I can click until my finger is sore and nothing happens. Others indeed take me back to some other screen (but not out of the app in the case of the Finance app). The use of controls and symbols seems somewhat inconsistent.
Also, on the subject of Music, albums from an artist aren't chronological or alphabetical so I'm not sure exactly how they're sorted. They are preview apps of course but seem to me to be lacking a number of features you'd expect within the type of app it is.
Without the familiar hourglass and spinning blue wheel, I'm often left wondering if I actually clicked something or not. The responsiveness of network and hardware are going to be key to the successful use of this preview. The mad clickers I'm familiar with are going to get lost really quick.
At my rescue were the keyboard shortcuts I'm used to. Alt-tab gets me through the running apps, Ctrl-Esc gets me to the Start screen, etc.. Alt-F4 still works as the app closer so that was helpful considering that every Start Screen app I opened lacked a close button of some kind. Even Ctrl-Shift-Esc brings me to a new Task Manager.
Task manager has a pretty nifty looking Processes view with nested executables. Unfortunately I'm limited to just CPU/Memory/Disk/Network for columns (Network was a nice touch). If I go to the Details tab, I get to see the unnested execs with the column options I'm used to in Win7. The Users and App history tabs seem like they could have useful purposes in some implementations. It would have been nice to have an applications view like we have in previous Windows versions for a quick "switch to" but alt-tab serves.
Speaking of tabbing through apps, I do miss the Windows-tab cascade of open windows that you get with Windows 7. The Windows 8 version simply lists the open windows vertically on the left margin while alt-tab does it horizontally at center screen.
Internet explorer favorites are pretty huge with me. I have a ton of interests and I collect a lot of links about them and organize them in folders and subfolders. Windows 8 with IE 10 is not your favorite friend when using the browser from the Start Screen. If you use it through the Desktop it behaves much as you'd expect, with plenty of foldering and subfoldering goodness, but of course those favorites aren't available to you when browsing from the Start Screen.
To be honest, I did find the Start Screen interesting. While it lacked intuitiveness, there's some real potential for improvement and it could make casual computer use much more fun.
From a business perspective, I think that same interface will be an INCREDIBLE hindrance to productivity. I understand there is not yet a Microsoft Office version which operates within the framework of the Start Screen and having to bounce between that and the Desktop would be pretty annoying. Of course you could pin all the apps on the task bar in the Desktop, it means that the user is going to have to not only spend a considerable amount of time FINDING apps, but once found, getting them pinned onto that bar. For some who use over 10 different apps regularly, this might be just too much to bear.
Obviously this IS a preview and could be considered a “beta”. There is plenty of time to make changes between now and release. I'm not sure this would be an OS I would recommend unless there are some pretty drastic changes. The one thing I hope to see is a Start button ala Windows 7 in the Desktop. If Microsoft is going to the trouble to make the Desktop view, they might as well throw it back in there.