Microsoft has recently lifted the cover for its next operating system, dubbed Windows 8, to the public. They have also released a preview (beta?) build of the operating system to developers and to the general public. With that being said, the operating system is still a full year from official release and many have considered whether this was a smart move by Microsoft or not. I believe that’s how they have always done things and they continued the trend with Windows 8 by showing the public an early copy of their newest operating system. I personally believe it is a good thing because this gives the public and most importantly developers, the time they need to get a little familiar with the operating system before product launch. We are talking about one of the largest software companies in the world so it’s definitely not healthy in my opinion to hide behind curtains. Of course, competitors will also get a chance to see what they will be up against but for the most part, this can’t be prevented by Microsoft. Anyways I, along with many others out there, have recently installed Windows 8 either as a virtual machine or in a dual-boot environment to see what Microsoft holds in store for us in the near future and I have to say, it’s not looking too good if you’re one of those users who use a keyboard and mouse.
Install and SetupYou can download the Windows 8 Developer Preview Build iso from here. Be sure to download the correct version that pertains to your computer (32bit or 64bit).
At first, I wanted to install Windows 8 as a virtual machine with VirtualBox but I immediately hit a road block during the installation phase. The install would completely stop/freeze during around 40% of the Expanding Windows Files phase. It turns out that I needed to enable certain specific features within VirtualBox itself and once I did that, the installation proceeded just fine. However, Windows 8 has just been released and support for it is minimal. Therefore, I trashed the entire install and decided to go with a true dual-boot alongside my Windows 7 instead. The install ran fine without any problems and I was impressed with the super fast install time. Ever since the introduction of Windows Vista, the Windows install phase has been a lot quicker and much easier to perform. It really requires only a couple of clicks and you’re good to go. Every setting and configuration is configured after the initial install phase. The Windows 8 install is very similar to Windows 7 and so not much has changed, which is a good thing. After the installation, Windows 8 will ask for the usual information such as creating a user account, giving your computer a name and some other basic settings. Once configured, you’ll be taken to the new Start screen.
Metro UI and the Desktop for Windows 8
One of the biggest and most noticeable change going from Windows 7 to Windows 8 is the new Metro UI interface. By now you should have realized that tablets and other touch-screen devices are making a big push in the consumer market. Some would say that these devices are the reason why traditional desktops and laptops are dying but I think that’s a big bunch of nonsense talk and I will rant a little more about this issue at the end of this article. For now though, realize that Microsoft has some serious catching up to do where the tablet device market is concerned. They just don’t have a touch-screen friendly operating system that works with these devices. With the introduction of the Windows 7 phone, Microsoft created one such operating system. How it fares compared to other phones I have no idea. But the fact that they acknowledged a touch based OS was needed is a good start and it seems they have used that same interface for Windows 8. The purpose of using this Metro UI interface is to give users a familiar working environment whether they are using a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. Of course, the syncing of data between all these devices is a big bonus as well.
In place of the traditional desktop scene you’re so familiar with in past Windows OS, starting with Windows 8 the Metro UI will now be your ‘home’. If you’ve used a smart phone in the past such as the iPhone or Android, it’s not that much different from those. Your home screen basically comprises of apps and tiles. Microsoft is planning to open up their own app store (similar to what Apple will be doing for the Macs) where users can purchase and download their favorite software. Application developers can also create app icons that can be pinned to your home screen as well. The cool thing with these applets is that it can show you some real-time information without ever having to actually open the app! The perfect example of this is the weather app. Once configured for your location, you can then see the current along with the next couple of day’s weather forecast right in the app tile in the home screen.
OK so here’s the interesting part where many users might ask “Just how the heck do I get back my traditional desktop?!” Well, not surprisingly, your traditional desktop is now an app, just like with everything else. It sounds crazy and some getting used to but once you get over the initial shock of it all, you’ll be right at home, sort of. The biggest change to the desktop is the removal of the classic Start button that we all came to love and hate. For the latter group, I’ll even bet that you won’t like the idea of it being completely removed from the desktop. Alright, I’ll repeat it once more in case you thought you read wrong: there is no more Start button! Well technically there is still a traditional button at the corner with the Microsoft logo but pressing it will take you back to your Start screen. While I won’t really miss the Start button all that much since I rarely use it anyways, I can see how disappointed many users will get when they realize this fact. Many people will be pissed off. You can count on that Microsoft.
While I’m not necessarily one to go digging around a new operating system to find hidden jewels and features, there are still some that pops out to me immediately.
Internet Explorer 10
If you open Internet Explorer 10 while inside your desktop, everything behaves and looks the same as you would expect Internet Explorer to look. However, once you open the Internet Explorer app from within your Start screen, the playing field immediately changes. The address bar is now positioned at the bottom and the tabs all the way at the top. IE10 also now utilizes full screen mode by default. To get the address bar and tabs to show up again while surfing on a page, you simply right-click on the screen (should work as long as you are not pointing at a link or picture). This is just very weird.
I can definitely see issues working with IE10 when in app mode. Because many people don’t just surf the web on their desktop but do many other tasks as well, switching between IE10 and those other tasks will become very cumbersome and require extra mouse clicks and button pressing. That is not good at all. There is no taskbar to speak of while surfing in the IE10 app and so you can’t just switch from one application to another like how you can right now in Windows 7.
Refined Task Manager
Power users will be delighted to know that the Task Manager not only sports a new look but also provides us with more information right at our fingertips. Very useful is the new Startup tab that quickly allows users to see what applications are starting up when they power on their computer and if necessary, disable them from doing so.
Microsoft decided it was a good thing to include their ribbon interface, which made its debut in Office 2007, in Windows Explorer and pretty much other native parts and components of Windows as well. Well, many users like me will not like this idea. Luckily though, this ribbon interface can easily be hidden from view with a single click of a button.
Refresh and Reset your PC
Microsoft understands that you might not keep your computer forever and that one day, you might decide to sell it or give it away. Also, there might be times when you want to keep all your files but want to revert other system settings back to default. With Windows 8, you can do both. I haven’t tried either method but suffice it to say, if I were planning on giving or selling my computer, I would take the time to manually clean out the computer myself rather than relying on Microsoft. For other casual users, resetting their PC can be a big money saver as they don’t need a computer technician to perform the job for them.
Advanced File Management
Windows 8 sports a new file management system/feature that lets users have more control whenever they copy or move multiple large pieces of file at one time. With past Windows OS, moving multiple large pieces of files was exactly that. Not much to write home about. With Windows 8, you can now choose to pause the move/copy operation of one file so that the other file can do its thing much more quicker. OK, so that might not be the feature of the century but many users will be glad for it. Also, you now get to see a graph of the move operation as well. Lucky us eh?By default, I noticed that pressing the Delete key on a file will automatically move that file to the recycle bin. In the past, you had to confirm a message first.
At first, I had no idea what was the easiest way to open up the Notepad and Paint application other then typing in their name in a Run prompt (achieved by pressing Windows key + R). Once I started using the search function within the Start screen, I immediately found it a breeze to find what I was looking for. However, this definitely will take some time getting use to because I generally do not like to search. Also, if people found it difficult to find built-in tools within Windows in the past via the Start menu, they will have a even harder time in Windows 8 now that the menu is completely gone.
My Two Cents..
So after using the Windows 8 Developer Build for a good day, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not too impressed with it at all. At the heart of it, I just can’t shake the feeling that Windows 8 was designed mainly for tablets in mind while sticking the good ol’ Windows 7 desktop in there for backward compatibility. There’s a saying that some love to say and that is “Microsoft just doesn’t get it”. They had a good thing going with Windows 7. They washed themselves clean of the Vista fiasco and now, they’ve completely done another 360 on their customers by totally ditching the Start button and giving us (the majority of Microsoft customers who use a traditional keyboard, mouse and non-touch based monitor) the Metro UI. If you’re in some sort of tech support position, imagine the pain and nightmare of having to explain this whole Metro UI thing to users. The good news is that those users most likely have already used a tablet prior to using Windows 8 so the whole app scrolling thing will be somewhat familiar to them. But once they begin using it on their PC or laptop, questions will start to bubble up.
Please keep in mind that my obvious distaste for Windows 8 is due to me using it on a laptop/PC. I have not tried Windows 8 on a touch-screen tablet yet but from what I can see, the experience should be a lot better. A whole lot better. While I’m not digging the whole Start screen with the big tiles and apps when on my desktop computer, I do like how it can display information to the user without having to open that app at all. Granted, while the information being displayed to the user isn’t a whole lot, it’s a good change from the static app icons that we are so used to now a days on our smart phones. With that being said though, it just doesn’t feel right to be using some of the apps with a mouse. A good example of this is when using the RSS app. Why am I able to use my mouse wheel to scroll through the tiles in the Start screen but can’t do so while in the RSS app to browse my feeds? Actually, even if I could, the app is still horrendous to use with a mouse because I only can browse my feeds going from left to right and with it showing only so little updates per feed, it will take a very, very long time until I browse through them all.
Besides the whole app thing, Windows 8 is pretty much the same as Windows 7 when you look at it from the classic desktop view. Of course, the biggest difference is the missing Start button. Some things are different such as the better looking and very useful Task Manager to the ability to pause multiple file transfers but overall, the Windows 8 desktop works and behaves much like in Windows 7. This can be considered a good thing by many but then it begs the question of why should someone upgrade to Windows 8? Right now, the only answer to that question I can see from a consumer point of view is for the upcoming Windows app store. If you don’t plan on owning a Windows 8 based tablet or some other touch screen device, you have even less incentive to upgrade. I don’t really want to get into the whole debate of whether or not an app store is relevant on a desktop but it will be interesting to give it a try. Although I’m not all that excited for the Metro UI in Windows 8, I will reserve my final judgement only after I have tried the real deal.
Right now, there are probably a ton of people laughing at Microsoft because with their track record, history seems to repeat itself. They have a tendency to make only every other operating system good:
- Windows 98 = Awesome
- Windows ME = Horrible
- Windows XP = Awesome
- Windows Vista = Horrible
- Windows 7 = Awesome
- Windows 8 = Horrible (speculation)
- Windows 9 = Great (speculation)
At this moment, I think Microsoft has a lot of burden. They can’t keep following that chart because quite frankly, they can’t afford to! In the past, they got away with it because they had no competition. Today, with Apple becoming the giant company that they are, people will start converting to the other side if Microsoft doesn’t get their act together. Of course, Windows 8 is still a whole year or more away from being publicly released but some just can’t help but wonder just what the heck is going on. Is Microsoft really expecting for their loyal fan base, who majority of them use a keyboard, mouse and big screen monitor, to purchase a 10inch tablet device just because their next operating system was purely designed for it? A stand-alone PC is the device to use for traditional multi-tasking, which a lot of users and workers need to do on a daily basis. This is very hard to accomplish on a 10inch touch screen tablet. Also, who in their right mind wants to buy a 25inch touch screen monitor to use Windows 8 at home? Touch screens do not fair well as the monitor size increases because it can become very tiresome to use.
A lot of people keep writing and wanting others to think that the traditional PC is dead. I strongly disagree. In fact, many can’t even agree on what PC even means anymore. Just what is personal computing? Can’t working on a tablet also be considered as personal computing? Why does the term PC must lug around the image of a desktop tower, mouse, keyboard and monitor? I really think it will be utter torture if you force me to write a blog post on a touch screen tablet. I have a hard enough time texting a few sentences and I’m sure you’ll already have realized by now if you’re reading this that I tend to write a lot for a post. Windows 8 is Microsoft trying to cater to everyone yet they are playing catch up to the Mac. Anyways, this is only the beta and hey, what good are betas if not to tell the Microsoft team what you like and don’t like about the product? Whether they will listen or not is the question. I have no doubt that many will complain about the Metro UI but Microsoft will not completely remove it because if you think about it, what is Windows 8 without the new Metro UI? That’s right, it’s plain old Windows 7 but with a bit of improvement on some features.