February 26th 2012

My Thoughts On The Windows 8 Dev Preview

Perhaps I’m a little behind the times since I’ve only just installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview (when it was actually released mid-December). Nevertheless, I’ve been playing around with it to get a feel for it.  Before I go any further, it should noted that the preview was running on a MacBook via VirtualBox. I chose not to create an account via my Windows Live ID and instead chose the option of creating a Local Account.

The installation process was easy. A few steps and that was it. Microsoft seem to have improved upon this- as I recall, installing XP took several steps and information had to be entered periodically though the process. Maybe I just think it’s easier because I’m more experienced now?

Right, initial thoughts on the interface. First off, it’s very green but not in a bad way. The Start Screen is colourful, and filled with a selection of apps and options- I believe this is the Metro interface (I have included an image of it). As soon as I saw it, I wanted to start using my laptop screen as a touchscreen. Since it isn’t a touchscreen, it would do nothing other than generate a mass of greasy fingerprints.

Windows 8 Start Screen

This leads me to my first piece of criticism of the developer preview- the interface seems geared towards tablet devices and I’m not sure that translates to the desktop experience. One of the apps I played around with was the Piano one. It was ok using the mouse but it’s something I would have preferred to use on a touchscreen- it would have been much faster. Microsoft seems eager to demonstrate the capabilities of the Metro interface which is fair enough because it is nice but again, I’m not sure these touchscreen apps adapt to suit a desktop environment.

Another app I looked at was the Internet Explorer app. I only experimented with it briefly but the thing I found odd was that the address bar was at the bottom of the screen! It was surrounded by black so it was unobtrusive but it struck me as an odd place to put it. Thinking about it, it’s actually a good place to put it- it doesn’t get in the way of the top part of the website you’re trying to view. It’s a neat app. For those that are panicking, the standard desktop version of Internet Explorer is also included so you’re not forced to use the tablet-optimised one.

One thing I found a little odd was the lack of an X in the corner to close an app. Instead, pressing the Windows key on the keyboard works as an X button. I guess this relates to tablet features being included with the OS, as on those devices, you press a “Home” button or something similar to leave an app.

For seasoned users who are worried this is a totally different version of Windows they’ll have to get used to, fear not, the traditional desktop environment still exists and Windows Explorer is there to use.

Shutting Down

When I was finished playing around with the preview, I needed to shut down the machine- this is where I ran into a problem. How do you normally shut down a Windows computer? Start > shut down. When I tried this in Windows 8, there was no shut down option. I resorted to Google which told me I had to click on the Start button, then click on settings. This produced a large green sidebar on the right of the screen. You then have to select power from this menu, then you can finally shut down. I’ve been a Windows user since around 1997/1998 and I felt a bit silly because I didn’t know how to shut down- why has this changed and what was wrong with the old way?

My overall thoughts. I think the Windows 8 Developer Preview looks quite nice but many of the UI features are geared towards tablet devices, and it doesn’t quite work in a desktop environment. That said, at least they have included the desktop Windows users have come to expect so there isn’t a huge learning curve for existing users. Personally, I think Microsoft should stick to having a separate desktop and tablet/mobile OS, like Apple have OSX and iOS. That’s just my 2 cents. Of course, the Consumer preview is supposed to be released on the 29th of February so things may have changed!