Windows 8 Consumer Preview–Initial Impressions

I had no trouble getting the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on the first day.  I did an in-place upgrade that quickly installed on my i3 test machine.  Booting up into Metro was like falling into a rabbit hole, or playing a new video game, because I had to click here and there just to find all the new menus.  I’m a computer support person, and I know Metro is going to shock my users.  Metro is obviously designed for tablet users.  One of Metro’s app panes is the desktop – which is great for people wanting to escape Wonderland quickly and get back to the real world.

I stayed in Metro and was sliding through its screens and installing apps almost immediately.  Cutting the Rope was a more fun using a mouse, and reading USA Today was easier to deal with on a big screen using a mouse, which goes to show you that poking the screen with a finger might not be the ultimate human computer interface.

I often wish when using my iPad 2 that my apps were on my big monitor, especially Zite.  I use my iPad 2 because I love Zite, Words with Friends and Kindle for the iPad.  And it’s only the Kindle app that I want to use away from the desk.  And even then, my iPad 2 is so dang heavy that it’s a hassle to use.  I have to prop it up with pillows to get comfortable.

I love my iPad 2 and Kindle 3, but to be honest, I’m perfectly adapted to sitting at a desk using a computer with a mouse and 23” monitor with 1920 x 1080 resolution when interacting with programs.  Passive reading is different.  But back to Windows 8, using Metro is like using a big tablet at my desk, and that’s fun.  I wish it had Zite.

I hate that Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are all moving away from the desktop UI that I’ve grown to love so dearly.  Using Metro means living with a different UI.  People will get use to it, but it’s going to be a big move.

I hate icons on the desktop.  I consider my desktop my picture gallery.  Beautiful photographs from Webshots sooth me all day long at work and all evening long at home.  I want 100% of my screen for art and photos, and that’s possible with Windows 7.  All the new OSes for Windows, Macs and Linux want to clutter up the UI with widgets, and that annoys me.  Luckily Windows 8 lets me drop back into the old UI where I can hide all the icons and make the taskbar auto-hide.

I worry that Windows (and all computers) will evolve away from that classic desktop metaphor.  I remember the world of DOS, and the text based interface, so I know the world of computers can go through major paradigm shifts.  If feel that about to happen again, and I’m already nostalgic for the old user interface.

Windows 8 isn’t Windows 7 even when it looks like Windows 7.  I couldn’t even find the shut down menu.  The old view is there for now, but it’s been altered.

To be honest, I’m not giving Windows 8 a proper test drive because I don’t have a touch screen monitor.  Using the mouse, I have to fumble around trying to figure out what would probably be natural gestures if I was using my fingers on a multi-touch display.  It took me awhile to learn that moving the mouse to the corners brought up the “Charms” – translucent menu options.  The elegance of Windows 8 won’t truly reveal itself until I see it on a tablet or a touchscreen monitor.

Windows 8 comes with apps, like tablet and smartphone apps, and not applications, like in the old days of software programs.  Windows 8 also has an App Store, where it’s easy to find more apps to add to Metro.

Metro is a very busy user interface to me, but it works with its own logic, like iOS, but unlike iOS, apps can interact, making Metro more like a multi-tasking desktop OS.  Metro is a new look and I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but it is jarring.   I have Windows 8 Consumer Preview set up on test machine at work, so I’ll be learning it hit and miss when I get some extra time.  Whether or not I recommend we roll it out in the future is yet to be determine.  My users are very conservative.  Many found moving from XP to Windows 7 upsetting, but Windows 7 has won everyone over.  However, in the past year more professors have been wanting Macs because they have iPhones and iPads.  I’ve yet to have a user bring me a Windows Phone to set up.  Microsoft needs to get Windows 8 tablets out there as soon as possible, or the shift between Windows 7 will be to Mountain Lion instead of Windows 8.

Microsoft Office

I installed Microsoft Office 2010 but since there is no Start Menu with All Programs I couldn’t find the Office apps.  I switched back to Metro and found them as small square panes, and rather ugly ones at that.  I’m surprised Microsoft didn’t make eye candy versions of its flagship products.  When I launched Word, I saw  the desktop background for a second and then a full-screen view of the standard Word app ready for me to start typing – all very normal.  If you minimize the window, you’ll see you’re back in the desktop mode.

User Interface

Strangely, Windows seems to be moving away from windows, and dialog boxes, and other standard interface pop-ups.  Windows 8 tries to stay in full screen mode for each app.  Overall, this feels like Microsoft is trying to simplify all actions to their basic nature.  I imagined their engineers asking at every step, “Do we need this?”  And second guessing them, I think most of the time the answer was “No!”

Windows introduced the vertical and  horizontal scrolling windows.  Windows 8 is trying to simplify the desktop by doing away with overlapping windows and using sliding panes, or screen swapping techniques.  Their engineers have been paying attention to the minimal UI of smart phones and tablets.

Impressions

For the average experienced Windows user switching to Windows 8 will take a little time, but not much.  I’m sure, hidden away will be a lot of new subtle features that will take time to discover.  So far I have found no compelling feature to make me want to switch.  Windows 7 is so good that I prefer it over Mac Lion and Ubuntu machines I have at work.  I now have 4 major OSes to use in my office.  I’ll see how Windows 8 grows on me.

- – -

For more of the nitty-gritty details see this article at Computerworld.

David Pogue raves about Windows 8.

JWH – 2/29/12

4 Responses

  1. I was debating with myself whether I should test drive Windows 8 when I found out about it…

  2. Jim, I don’t care about a fancy desktop. I just want to be able to use it efficiently (with a mouse and keyboard, not a touch screen).

    But as a gamer, I always worry about a new version of Windows, because I want to still be able to play old games. Heck, I still play DOS games sometimes! (Note that I’m still using Windows XP, too.)

    No one – not Microsoft, not entertainment companies, not game developers – wants us gamers to continue playing old games. When we’re playing old games, we’re not buying new ones. (Well, that’s why they stop supporting old operating systems, too.)

    These days, you don’t even get to buy games, often enough. You just buy the right to play them for as long as the game developer wants you to keep playing them (likely, until he releases a new game).

    And since Microsoft sells game consoles, it seems to have little interest in keeping the PC as a gaming platform. So we PC gamers worry that neglect is the best thing we can expect from the company. I hope that’s wrong, but it’s still worrisome.

    • One of the features of Windows 8 is an app store, which offers games. Games have revolutionized smart phones and tablets, and app stores have revolutionized the way games are sold. Apple now has an App Store on the Mac and is pushing for all software to be delivered through their App Store. Interestingly, games are cheaper at app stores, but whether this will change for desktop app stores I don’t know.

      I imagine Windows 8 will be bad for old games on old machines, unless they port them to the app store. The app store might have the same impact as gog.com on old games, and that would be good. App stores have been a gold rush for developers.

      • I don’t think those are the same kinds of games I play, Jim. I suspect that those are games for people who don’t play games.

        But I really don’t know.

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