Windows 8 Consumer Preview…

Was waiting until I’d tried Windows 8 for a week or two posting this but now I’ve used it on a couple of different devices here’s my thoughts so far and tips from elsewhere that are easy to miss…

Have to give credit where it’s due on this one. Microsoft’s vision of building an end-to-end interface across a wide range of devices is a bold move and the new APIs and development options for Metro apps (along with the reach of Windows Store) should ensure plenty of new apps are ready when Windows 8 does hit the market. Question is… how is it looking so far?

On a tablet…
Was at a Microsoft event today and got to try Windows 8 on one of the new (as yet unreleased) Samsung tablets and you can see the optimisation for tablets working very well here. Felt very responsive and the screen swishes and gestures looked to work pretty well. Not so great if you have to use standard Win32 (desktop) apps though… I guess those will really need the tablet to be docked with a keyboard and mouse to be usable.

On a laptop…
I needed to reformat my Lenovo x100e  anyway so thought I’d give 8 a go on this to see how it works without touch and on a lower speed device. Before anyone says it yes I did photoshop the pic below as I couldn’t get a decent photo (but it is using an actual screenshot I took earlier)

Also of note that Windows 8 won’t run on older netbooks that don’t have at least 1024×768 screen resolution. Seems a shame that there’s hardware that will physically run the OS without problem from a speed perspective but loses out to the new interface.

On a general level I don’t like full screen switcher \ launchers (yes Ubuntu Unity I mean you!) so the process of having to move from a Win32 desktop app (e.g. Word) and go full screen to launch another (e.g. Photoshop) feels quite jarring and looks like that pain isn’t going to go away until the majority of apps get redesigned for Metro. I also hope GPOs will be available to control which tiles get placed at the front of the Start screen when it gets deployed on a network.

Interestingly the charms menu has a search option but it needs to go full screen to show the results, would be nicer if they showed up within the side panel so you don’t lose focus of your current window (e.g. how the wi-fi panel appears on the tablet pic above) I’m also missing pinned jump lists to quickly launch recent files from the Start Menu right now 😦

With any luck Microsoft will release a theming engine by the time Windows 8 goes RTM so we can choose a skin for the tiles, background etc as the current primary colours \ flat 2D look isn’t to my taste. After all those years getting to full colour HD icons it feels like going back to the mid 80’s with flat primary colours! The splash screen animations for Metro apps also need speeding up as it feels like they’re delaying the app launch for no apparent reason apart from looking pretty.

A couple of other foibles I’ve found during general use…

  • on the Metro start screen you can move the mouse across to scroll the screen without manually grabbing scrollbars but in Metro apps (e.g. the Store) this doesn’t work. I have a real dislike for horizontal scrollbars so hoping this is just a pre-release buglet as using the scroll wheel on a mouse works fine (I guess I only notice this because I’m using the touchpad)
  • the theory of Metro apps is that you don’t close them and the OS manages multitasking but this didn’t work too well on the webcam app where it left the camera on after being switched to the background… hopefully will be fixed once the apps are finalised and found out that Alt+F4 still works as a manual override (the old tricks work best!) I’ve since found out that dragging the app to the bottom of the screen does it as well.
  • the URL bar ends up at the bottom of the screen in the Metro version of IE… it’s been at the top of the screen in every browser on every platform since the dawn of time so again on a personal level I find it somewhat annoying… it just feels wrong?
  • the mouse gestures in the corners of the screen feel like they need to be too precise to do quickly, maybe it’s the slight lag before the charms etc appear that do it but it somehow feels more forced than doing the same thing by touch. Windows key + C brings up the charms menu but I’d prefer the mouse to be slicker… half a second quicker animations could make all the difference I reckon.

Shutting it down
Not the most obvious thing when you first use 8 but the quickest route I’ve seen (from another forum) looks to be Winkey+I  (random?) then either mouse click or Up Arrow+Enter+U

Early conclusions
I really hated it when first using it… having seen it at home on a tablet I can see why some bits of the UI work the way they do but not 100% convinced it’s going to help rather than hinder productivity on a desktop as we know it today. With a few tweaks here and there the keyboard \ mouse experience could be improved (and may already have been done as Microsoft are saying they’ve already made thousands of code changes since the Consumer Preview was released)

That’s the crux of the issue I guess… Microsoft are designing Windows 8 for the hardware of tomorrow… where everything is touch enabled and perhaps where more powerful tablets take the role of desktop and portable device but how long will that take and what will happen in the meantime?  Will be interesting to watch as the future unfolds…


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