Almost a year ago I downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which was a bit of a waste of time. The tiled, formerly called "Metro" Start screen that everybody is making such a big deal about, both good and bad, didn't work particularly well because none of the apps worked in Canada. I spent most of my time in Desktop mode, and life wasn't very different than it was with Windows 7.
Then I upgraded to the full version — the Pro version, actually, for all of $45 after tax. Two weeks later that still seems like an insanely good bargain.
My impressions of Windows 8 are generally positive. The new tiles on the start page are easy to navigate using a mouse and scroll wheel, but a little less fun when using your laptops' trackpad. The new "touch" mice on the market apparently improve the experience even more, though I personally haven't used one, and I was able to try the system on an HP touchscreen all-in-one at Future Shop last week and can honestly say that experience was incredible.
The apps that I've downloaded all work well, with a few minor issues.
For example, when I started the Weather application the first time it asked me if I wanted to use my location as the default. When I said yes, the app picked Squamish instead of Whistler. Changing it to Whistler took a few minutes to figure out — it wasn't in Settings, but the answer was found along the App Bar that pops up in any app when you press the right button. If I'd actually sat through the tutorial at the start I would have figured out the solution more or less right away, but I thought I knew Windows well enough by now to find anything.
That's where Windows 8 gets you. It takes all the Windows knowledge you've accumulated since Windows 95 and tosses a good-sized hunk of it out the window. It's a learning process, but the payoff is a unique operating system that I really enjoy and is actually easier to use in the long run.
I like my apps. I like weather, I like the mailbox app, I like music and video and the updated Minesweeper (you have to download it), the easy access to SkyDrive, TuneIn Radio, CBC News, etc. While the app selection is a bit sparse at launch, that's actually a good thing — everything you need is already there, and everything else that gets added afterwards is just a bonus.
And if you don't want to work in the app environment you can click on the Desktop tile or, if you have a Windows keyboard, quickly cycle between the Desktop and tiles by pressing the Windows key. In fact, there are so many awesome shortcuts using the Windows key that everyone should learn: Windows+X opens a shortcut to system menus like the Control Panel and updated Task Manager. Windows+F opens the Search window and Windows+! opens the in-app search. Windows+C opens the Charms bar, Windows+Z opens the App Bar, Windows+Tab cycles between open apps and your desktop, and so on.