Windows 8 Start Screen
PROS: A single UI that works well across devices (PCs, phones, Xbox) and user scenarios (home, work, server)
CONS: Such a dramatic UI change requires retraining
RATING: 5 out of 5
RECOMMENDATION: Microsoft has been planning for quite some time now to bring a new, cohesive user experience to virtually every end-user product it makes: phones and tablets, of course, but also notebook and desktop PCs, the living room, and, I think (or at least hope), the server. Our first peek at this user experience was the Windows Phone OS “Metro” UI, but now that we’ve seen this UI implemented in the Windows 8 Start screen as well, it’s starting to all come together. What’s amazing is that Microsoft was able to create a single UI that works well on phones, ARM-based slate, x86/x64-based slate, and convertible tablets, netbooks, notebooks, Ultrabooks, PC desktops, the Xbox 360 and, perhaps, media center PCs (and, I hope, the server). This single UI can be controlled with touch and multitouch, with keyboard and mouse, with a remote control or Xbox 360 hand controller, or with voice or Kinect-based hand gestures in the air. And it works.
Windows Phone Mango Preview
PROS: Free; fills in many functional gaps in the initial release; deep integration with online services
CONS: Still no way for developers to integrate their services into Windows Phone hubs
RATING: 4 out of 5
RECOMMENDATION: Microsoft will provide Windows Phone Mango as a free update to all existing Windows Phone 7 handsets, so there’s some value in that. Mango improves the platform’s capabilities while using the same basic user experience, so the upgrade will be seamless and painless from a user perspective. Although Mango doesn’t address some of the version 1 shortcomings, it adds so many useful features and fixes so many of the early complaints that I find it hard to criticize this release with any enthusiasm. I’ll keep using it and report back when we get closer to the final release—but Mango looks great so far.