Windows 8 first time install – thoughts

I downloaded and installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a VMWare virtual machine.  I had a Windows 8 Technical Preview installed on the VM and the Windows 8 Consumer Preview happily installed on top of it.  Installation went quite well although it took a couple of hours to complete (on a quad-core processor).  Below are screenshots taken during my walkthrough of the Windows 8 desktop system.

My initial impression, and I’m trying to keep an open mind here – don’t like it at all.  In fact, I wonder what the heck Microsoft was thinking.  Finding apps is now like playing “Where’s Waldo” and sudden quirky shifts in the UI design are jarring.  There are some nice additions to some of the applications but not nearly enough to justify shoving a mobile interface over my desktop OS.  My feeling is that Microsoft has taken an old-school IBM mentality and is effectively using their dominant desktop platform to push their mobile OS in our faces.  Maybe when touch-screen desktops arrive in mass this OS will make more sense.

Here’s the initial desktop (the Start Screen) giving you a Metro App style presentation of applications currently installed.  The “color blocking” icons represent a style that is used throughout the Windows 8 operation system and applications.  And yes, the tiles can be moved around and repositioned as desired.  Note that the minimum required resolution to take advantage of all the Metro features is 1366 x 768 and higher resolutions are even better.

Click on any of the screenshots for a full-size view of the screen.

The initial opening screen

 

Clicking on your profile picture (or name) gives you the logout screen.

Windows 8 logout screen

 

Use the scrollbar at the bottom of the screen to scroll the desktop to reveal more tiles.  Note that throughout Windows 8, Microsoft has changed from the traditional top-to-bottom interface to a left-to-right paradigm.  Many things scroll from left-to-right now (as you would read a book).  Also note that there really isn’t a “page” mechanism that allows you to page through items (still from left-to-right) and in some instances, the OS does not save your place meaning when you come back, you have to scroll left-to-right to re-find the item you were looking for.

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Right clicking on the desktop reveals the “All apps” icon.

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Clicking “All apps” gives us a more familiar pallet of applications.

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Scroll to the right to view the remaining applications including the familiar Control Panel and Windows Explorer.

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Choosing for example, Control Panel, reverts to a more familiar desktop experience.  If this jarring switch in the look and feel gives you a “What the heck just happened?” kind of schizophrenic feeling then join the crowd.  It certainly does give you the impression that Metro is just a layer bolted on top of Windows 7 and the unexpected change in the look and feel is a bit of a shock.  Hopefully the OS design is tweaked to make this a little less obvious.

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Here’s the desktop with the Control Panel closed.  The corners in Windows 8 are important.  Hovering over them initiates menu actions.  Also notice the bubbles forming the number 8.  References to “Windows 8” are sprinkled throughout the operation system.  And if you’re curious, the fish is a Betta fish which was introduced as the Microsoft mascot in the beta version of Windows 7.

The Windows 8 Desktop

 

 

Hovering in the corners presents menus.  For instance, hovering over the lower left-hand side presents the “Start Menu” hint which takes us back to our initial desktop.  The hover time required is quite long and a simple click just won’t cut it but after some practice I found that if I hover precisely over the very corner then the menu would appear immediately.  Takes some practice but after you get the hang of it, it’s pretty slick.  Also note that the Start Menu hint that was revealed is an exact representation of the icons and applications on our Start Screen.  The layout revealed in the hint will change as you change the layout of your customized Start Screen.

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Hovering over the lower right-hand corner or the upper right-hand corner presents an options menu.  Microsoft refers to these as “charms” in Windows 8.  Charms can also be revealed using the Windows key or the Windows key and various keyboard combinations.

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The search function (first icon in the panel) is pretty nice.  Type part of an application name and results are returned real-time.  Note that in this example we had Apps highlight (right side of screen) so the scope of the search was applications.  Choose another item in the right-hand menu to limit the scope of the search to that item.

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Choosing settings (the common “cog wheel” used to indicate settings) presents a few of the more common settings options.

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Back to the initial desktop, we run through a few of the available applications.

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Clicking Store takes us to the new Windows Store.

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I chose “Top free” and was taken here.  Note that I am still able to hover over the corners of the screen to bring up the Start menu and Options menu.  In this screenshot, I hovered over the top left-hand corner and got an easy preview of the desktop I left behind.  Clicking takes me right back to the desktop (as does the familiar Alt-Tab keyboard combination).  Also notice in the top right-hand corner it shows us that we have 4 updates available.

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The Reader application caught my eye.  I was disappointed though to see it only supported PDF and XPS formats.  I was hoping to find support for the epub format.  Note the left-facing arrow button.  This is a common construct in Windows 8 and is used to return to the previous screen.

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Clicking “App website” to get more information on the application opened Internet Explorer 10.0.  The new browser follows the new “minimal chrome” construct.  Once you began browsing the page, all menus are hidden giving you a clean browsing interface.  Right clicking anywhere on the page unhides the URL bar and navigation buttons although there are very few options available in Internet Explorer.  For instance, the familiar “View Source” option was nowhere to be found.  This method of right clicking on the screen to view the control bar is another common Metro construct.  Metro style apps will reveal a control bar at the bottom (and sometimes at the top too) when you right click, swipe from top to bottom, or press the Windows Key + Z.

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Check out the old, familiar Solitaire game and note the apparent integration with Xbox LIVE.  Other items in Windows 8, such as the Music application, are also now integrated with XBox LIVE.

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How do you close apps in Windows 8?  Hover over the left-hand side of the screen and the app switcher is presented.  Right click on the application you wish to close and the “close” content menu is presented.  Another way is to drag the application’s preview icon to the bottom left-hand corner.  I’m embarrassed to say I could not find a way to close the currently opened application without moving it from the forefront.  Problems like this are going to be common given that Microsoft is forcing users to adapt to what is effectively a touch-based operation system (but using traditional input methods such as a mouse and keyboard).

The app switcher can also be used to quickly switch to another opened application.

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Integration with SkyDrive.

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From the main desktop, clicking Finance brings you the Bing Finance application.  As you do anywhere else, right click on the app brings up the menu.

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Even the Bing Finance News is presented Metro App style…

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Once you return to the desktop, notice how the Finance app has changed to a “live tile” presenting a summary of the current index prices.  Using web services, many of the tiles will initiate this sort of action giving you a quick glimpse at the status of the application without having to fully open it.

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Let’s check out the Photos application…  Not much there to begin with so we’ll hook up Facebook and check out the pictures.

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It asks if you want to Connect to Facebook.

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Supply your login information (blanked out in this screenshot).

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Then tell Facebook to Allow the application.

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Immediately it pulls in photographs and changes the Facebook tile to a sample picture.

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Clicking Facebook brings us to our Facebook photo collection.

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Choose one of the photo collections to get to the photos in the album.

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Back to the App Store to check out some apps.  Notice we have 4 updates available (top right-hand screen).  Click Updates.

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Then click the Install button to install the updates.

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We are taken back to the App Store home with a message notifying us that the apps are being installed (in the background).

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While we are waiting, let’s install a new application.  In this case, we will install the msnbc.com news app.

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The application manifest is presented.  Click the Install button to install the application.

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We are taken back to the App Store, again with a message at the top of the screen showing us the status.

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Once the installation is complete, a notification pops out informing us that the application has been installed and is ready for use.

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Back to the desktop and we find the newly installed apps added as tiles to the end of the list.

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Take a look at some of the settings that Windows 8 allows you to tweak.  Hover over the right corner to reveal the Settings charm.

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Now click the More PC settings link.

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Notice how under Personalize settings you can choose which applications are displayed on the Lock screen.

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Notifications are much easier to configure in Windows 8 although the toggle switch used to turn notifications on and off takes a bit to get used to.  On a mobile device the toggle can be swiped to toggle the state while on the desktop you click on the right or left side of the toggle to change the state.  This is yet another example of Microsoft forcing a touch based interface to be used with traditional input methods (e.g. mouse an keyboard).

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The context to use in system-wide searches is easily configured too.  You can pick and choose which items you want to include in Windows 8 searches.

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The Windows 8 desktop version includes Refresh and Reset functions that are familiar to mobile device users.  There are two levels of refreshes.  You can reset the entire PC and in effect, reinstall Windows 8 or you can simply refresh the operation system leaving important items, like photos and documents, unharmed.

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Sync in Windows 8 is a radical change too and serves to hook Windows 8 into the cloud.  If you have a Windows account set up and verified, you can sync all of your settings in the cloud and retain a common desktop experience on any Windows 8 machine you use.

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Another item I found interesting, and useful, is the information displayed on the lock screen.  On the bottom right hand side of the screen (around the clock) you’ll see various statuses including battery, Wi-Fi signal strength, and mail/calendar items.  The items that appear on the lock screen can be personalized in the settings too.

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From the PC Settings, you can choose to show administrative tools.

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Uggh!  The ribbon makes an appearance in Windows Explorer.  Will it ever go away!?!

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At first glance, Task Manager looks pretty much the same.  But wait…

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Check out the Processes tab!

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As with the rest of the OS, the performance graph looks much cleaner.

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And App History is a very nice addition.

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The interface in the Consumer Preview is indeed very clean.  Possibly too “clean” for me.  And the emphasis on a touch based interface is too apparent for my comfort – at times it feels “forced” on the mouse and keyboard based desktop user.  On the flip side, the interface seems to be a much better mobile device interface that either Apple or Android (although I can foresee Google making some very minor interface changes to bring Android in line with Windows 8).  We’ll see if it grows on me…

 

Update 8/17/12

As an MSDN subscriber, I received the official Windows 8 copy today and decided to throw it on an old dual core desktop machine.  I opted to upgrade on top of Windows 7.  Yeah, I know, thrillseeker.  Needless to say, the upgrade bombed and although it claimed it put everything back like it was, I can attest that it did not.  One of my printer drivers was trashed beyond repair.  Even a reinstall wouldn’t fix it and Windows Update would die too when it tried to patch the device drivers.

Not willing to give up quite yet, I installed on a dual-core Toshiba laptop, hoping to see an improvement over the Windows 8 Preview experience.  I can sadly report that this is the first time I’ve installed a new MS OS, used for a few days, and then uninstalled it, going back to the previous version.  Yep, it’s that bad.

There is very little change from the Preview version and I’ve noticed lots of irritating things after using it for a few days.  The context switch from the Start screen to the traditional desktop continues to be startling and the absence of the Start button still makes me grind my teeth each time I need it.  To compensate, I’ve loaded the desktop and task bar with application shortcuts.

I’ve noticed some network issues, especially with the Chrome browser.  Also, the familiar “hourglass” wait indicator is missing in many places leading to some uncomfortable situations where you are not sure if your computer is hung or working away at something in the background.  And the inability to easily close applications makes the old Alt-Tab method of switching to a different application an effort in futility as you toggle through dozens of opened applications.  I’ve found myself pausing every once in a while and moving the the left-hand side of the screen to clean up applications that are left open and running in the background.

Although I’ve heard Windows 8 introduces performance improvements, I have not experienced that in my case.  The interface seems slower, especially when loading and switching applications.  I didn’t see any of the drivers updated so possibly that’s the root cause of the performance problems.  Then again, all those applications left open can’t help matters any either.

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