Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Windows 8: First Impressions

Windows 8 Logo
After a couple weeks with a handful of installs in several different environments, I've learned a thing or two about Windows 8.

VMWare 9 - Let's not go there


The first install under VMWare Workstation 9.0 didn't go well at all. Everything installed and seemed to work fine, but once I really sat down with it, there was a hitching several times a minute that would lock the machine up solid for several seconds.

Searching for others with the same problem led me to believe that I am the only one with the problem. A google search gave me my own blog post on the first screen. Not a good sign. Or maybe I was just too early of an adopter, which has happened on more than one occasion.

Just for giggles, I installed a control machine - a fresh install of Windows 7, and it had the same hitching! So, chalk this one up to VMWare 9, which also just launched recently.

10 Inch Netbook - Getting warmer


My understanding of the philosophy behind Windows 8 is that the "Metro" interface was intended to provide a uniform experience across multiple computing devices. Basically it wants your desktop to look the same as your phone. Ok, I guess.

So I figured the Netbook would be the perfect machine since Windows 8 was designed for a whole new era of smaller devices. A Netbook counts as a smaller device, right? My thinking was that if I had a perfect machine in my collection to install this new OS, it would be the Netbook. Well...

At first, everything seemed perfect. It was smooth install and I jammed a bunch of other software on there just to load it up for testing. Just like I did for the first VM. Turns out there's a little known fact about Metro. The minimum resolution is 1024x768, but the maximum resolution of most Netbooks is 1024x600. There's an ugly work around to stretch the display to 1024x768, but it looks hideous and I scrapped it after about 10 minutes?

The solution? Screw Metro. The rest of it works so smoothly-much better than Windows 7- on my Netbook that I'm leaving Windows 8 on there. Multimedia is much smoother and overall the system is faster. Not just a little faster. The difference is pretty dramatic for a single core Atom.

VirtualBox - Jackpot!


Determined to have a fully functional version of Windows 8, I decided to give VirtualBox a try. It's free, and it supports 64 bit guest OSs. Just like the first two times, I loaded it up with productivity and development software before I even sat down to use it.

It's smooth as silk and everything works. Now that I have some time to spend with a working Metro on a working machine, it's clear I wasn't missing much. Most of the apps try to force that Microsoft Login on me, and the ones that don't seem like crude versions of existing web sites.

Metro - the red-headed stepchild


Being a software developer, I have more than a passing interest in a complete rethink of how Windows applications are built and interact with the OS and the user. Simply put, Metro might be a small step forward for phones and tablets, but in my opinion it sets the desktop back 20 years, at least. System modal applications with a dumbed-down user interface ... where have we seen that before? Oh yeah, DOS in the 1980's.

I'm not against standardizing the user interface across multiple platforms. The old saying is that it takes Microsoft two tries to get something right. But this is about more than standardization. This is just as much about control of your device as it is standardization.

This is a clear play at having more Apple-ish control over getting to sell you (and take a cut of) your apps. Yep, they want to lock down Windows as tight as Apple locks down their software.

Usability


The usability is decent once you get used to the start button being gone. Day to day it's not much different. There's a few other things that take a little getting used to, like files being deleted without a prompt asking you if you're double-dog-sure you want to do that.

But overall, the usability is remarkably similar to Windows 7 for running desktop programs like Office, Visual Studio, Photoshop, etc. From a usability standpoint, I like it.

...but, I still don't see why they took the Start button out. They could've let the Start button augment their new, flat, "let's dump everything on the hard drive to the desktop" paradigm instead of replacing it. It could have given you a choice. So, the usability is good, but I'd call it a very slight step down as the number of keystrokes and clicks to access common applications has actually gone up a little. Which is fine I guess, but it's hard to see the point.

Pros and Cons


Pros:

  • Lots of performance enhancements
  • Cleaner user interface with a more "flat" look
  • Some Windows tools like Windows Explorer have the Office 10 interface
  • I've noticed a quicker shutdown (but not startup)
  • Bye bye Aero Glass, the bane of cheap video cards
  • Good compatibility with Windows 7 programs
Cons:
  • Metro sucks
  • Not quite ready for prime time. I've noticed quite a few bugs in core components like Explorer and Task Manager
  • Everything nags me for a Microsoft Login
  • Overall, Windows is much more clumsy to navigate. And it seems arbitrary what they decided to put on that little sidebar thingy
  • Metro sucks. It needed to be said again.


Conclusions


You might have read this far only to think that I hate Windows 8. But once I pretend that Metro doesn't exist (which is surprisingly easy) and account for the fact that it's normal for Windows not to be finished at launch, it's a good OS.

Metro aside, for the most part Windows 8 feels like an evolution of Windows 7, just like it should. After a small tap on the Windows key at boot up, it takes me right to the desktop where I want to be. And because I suspend my machines more often than I shut them down, I barely even see Metro. It's more like an app I don't want which I can dismiss with a key press.

Because this just appears to be a streamlined version of a version of Windows I like, I've decided to migrate all my Windows development over to Windows 8 and either just keep ignoring Metro, or use some tool / hack to get rid of it completely. I can live without the Start button as long as I don't have to be roommates with Metro.

Gallery


Windows 8 - Explorer
Windows Explorer now looks like Office 2010. Love it!
Windows 8 - Start
The tiled interface of Metro could've been decent...


Windows 8 - Task Manager
Much more useful and streamlined Task Manager

Windows 8 - Weather Widget
Hey look, it's MSN weather without a close button









2 comments:

  1. Win-X is your friend!

    Also: http://windowsteamblog.com/windows/b/windowsexperience/archive/2012/03/08/getting-around-in-windows-8.aspx

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  2. Win-x? Never heard of it. Could you be more specific? Thanks for the link, but I'm finding my way around Windows 8 just fine. I don't think it's a matter of "getting my bearings." Windows isn't that much different, and there's not much to adapt to.

    My prediction is that Microsoft is (just like for Vista) going to initially react to the negative feedback of Win8 by assuming that it's just a matter of people not understanding it. Yeah,I understood Vista just fine.

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