You already know my overall opinion of Windows 8: that it's two very good operating systems - one for touch screens, one for mouse and keyboard - idiotically superimposed on each other. You wind up with duplicate everything: two Web browsers, two help systems, two search features, two control panels (actually three, but never mind). It's very confusing.
But for the last few weeks, I've been up to my neck in writing a how-to book on Windows 8, and that means mucking around in its deepest, darkest corners. That means learning its idiosyncrasies and quirks. That means getting to know its most embarrassing lapses and its most unsung brilliance.
In the meantime, I thought I'd share three completely overlooked gems that I've unearthed in my explorations.
Don't be confused. In Windows 8, the term Xbox has nothing to do with the game console. It's now just a generic term that Microsoft puts on its online stores. Anyway, Xbox Music is a completely great music service . It combines elements of Pandora, in that it can play endless free music in a style you choose; Spotify, in that you can listen to any song or any album or any performer, on command , free; and iTunes, in that you can buy songs to download. It's a Windows 8 exclusive; it doesn't work on Windows 7. And it's free.
In TileWorld (my name for the second operating system, the full-screen , colorful, tappable tiles), you get a handful of brilliantly executed, full-screen , perpetually self-updating "magazines" for news, sports, finance and travel.
Each, behind the scenes, is simply grabbing articles from hundreds of big-name news websites. No hard-to-read color schemes or ugly fonts. No blinking ads, banners or obnoxious animations. They all work essentially alike.
Those who are blind or have limited sight can use Narrator to describe every item on the screen, either in TileWorld or the desktop. It can describe the layout of the Web page, and it makes little sounds to confirm that you've performed a touchscreen gesture correctly. Even if you're not blind Narrator is still handy; it can read your email back to you, or read your web articles as you're getting dressed in the morning.
When you open Narrator, you end up at its Settings dialouge box - and the voice of Microsoft David starts talking, reading everything on the screen.
So yes, there is a lot of good in Windows 8, and a lot that's getting no press. Here's to the unsung engineers who came up with this stuff - and to the hope that Windows 8's split personality problem will somehow improve.