As some of you may know, Microsoft announced and released the consumer preview version of their highly anticipated Windows 8 this week. Being the avid Microsoft fan-boy that I am I immediately installed it on my PC and my Windows tablet. Hit the break to find out the details on Microsoft’s foray into the tablet market, and my impressions on this bold new direction.
1.) Initial look and feel….. and shock
Ok, lets get the obvious out of the way. This ain’t your daddy’s Windows. For those of us that have used Windows since it first graced our home PC’s in 95, the learning curve has been quite minimal in every iteration up to Windows 7. Windows 8 changes all of that.
During the install you are prompted sign in with your Windows Live ID. This new feature allows your PC’s and Tablets to pretty much sync themselves with any settings you want. If you make a change on one device, the change is flawlessly mirrored on another. Trying this out on my desktop and tablet worked seamlessly and was actually quite nice. I’m constantly tweaking my desktops look and feel and to have those settings mirror each other without any effort was really nice. That being said, the new look Windows won’t please everyone. After booting you are not taken to the normal friendly Desktop that so many are familiar with, your hurled into Microsoft’s “Start Screen” which to new users may seem a bit jarring.
Now before panic settles in, yes, there is still a full functional desktop in Windows 8. You can access it by simply hitting the “Desktop” tile from the start screen. However, things have changed in the traditional desktop as well. While many elements from Windows 7 and previous versions are still around, the biggest, most important piece of Windows is missing from this OS.
Did you notice it? Most of you did immediately. Yes folks, the Start Button, our little safety net, our sanctuary if you will, is finally gone. I’ll give you time to recover from your panic attack. It is weird I’ll admit. That’s the first place I go to click when I need anything done in Windows and they’ve taken it from me. Since I work in networking, I often have to pull up a command prompt or open up the network settings quickly. Without access to a Start button I was extremely confused as to how Microsoft expected professionals to get anything done. That’s when I discovered something I personally really like about this consumer preview (I feel it’s necessary to mention that because all of this could change by launch date later this year). If you simply hover your mouse to where the Start button should be and then right-click a new mini-menu pops up with quicker access to all of the settings I’m custom to using.
While this may not be ideal to many (most of my students hated this when they saw it) it does actually save time and I find I enjoy it more than traditionally pulling up the Start menu and typing/searching from there. But for what reason did Microsoft what they’ve always done and drastically change the familiar? Well, this is why:
2.) All the Metros
Microsoft’s determined to get developers and users on board with this look. At Build last September Microsoft pushed devs very hard to develop Metro-style applications for Windows 8. Why not? It’s beautiful. This look obviously takes a big page from Windows Phone 7 and Microsoft is hoping that users will fall in love with it.
See this is how Microsoft see’s users interacting with their PCs now. What’s missing from that screen shot is that all those tiles are live. When you watch a movie in the new “Video” app, there is a resume play button, when you have new e-mail a portion of the message shows up in the “Mail” tile, your music collection shows up in the “Music” app. The Start screen is meant to be interactive so that any quick information you need could show up in the tile before you actually launch the app. The only problem with the Metro interface is that it really is meant to be touched. I have Windows 8 running on my desktop and my tablet, and it just works better in the touch environment. Using a keyboard and mouse isn’t impossible, it just takes some time getting used to the “gestures” with a mouse. Anytime you need to access all apps on the PC you have to right click and an “All Apps” button appears. If you need to use the global search you have to hover the mouse in the bottom left corner of the screen until the “Charms Bar” appears (Windows key+C pulls the Charms Bar up too). When I am on my PC I find these “gestures” slightly annoying. I have a keyboard and mouse and I’m used to things working in that point-and-click way which doesn’t really feel right in Windows 8. However, on my tablet it’s a different story. Gestures become second nature after using them after a short time. Swiping between apps, snapping apps for multi-tasking, swiping up for in-app options, and swiping right for the Charms Bar makes a lot of sense and works extremely well. Again, you get used to the keyboard and mouse environment and how to maneuver in it once you use Windows 8 for awhile, but in my opinion that is going to turn a lot of users off initially.
3.) Consumer Preview Apps
Last thing I want to share with you some of the apps you will experience if you download and install Windows 8 today. I’m not going to go over all of them, just the ones that I think are worth mentioning.
Microsoft has always had a native mail client (except in Windows 7 where you had to download it via Windows Update) but this one is by far the best. I connected my gmail and work email pretty seamlessly. I’m not a huge fan of mail apps simply because I can log into gmail from the web just as easy, but this app was fairly harmless. It will get used on much more on my tablet than my desktop for sure, but again, I can’t complain about the out of the box experience. The look and feel of the app is nice and you can snap it to the side and still see your inbox. Pretty straight forward really.
Bing Maps is an app in the consumer preview of Windows 8. It’s a nice little novelty app but again, on the desktop I see no real use. Tablet users will find it enjoyable because it’s very touch friendly. I’m not a huge fan of Bing maps but it works well enough to search for whatever it is that you may be looking for.
This app excites me the most to be honest. This app will connect to facebook or any chat client you may use however, I’m most excited for it because I feel like Microsoft is planning on integrating it Windows Phone. If that’s the case it will be extremely awesome. Chris and I have talked about “continuous client” before and this would be a huge step in making that a reality. Apple is integrating this in Mountain Lion with bringing iMessage to OS X users so it only makes sense that Windows have some type of integration with Windows Phone messaging on your tablet or PC. If it doesn’t end up happening I’ll obviously be very disappointed but Chris and I predicted how Windows 8 would look, the fall of RIM and other tech stuff, so we are fairly certain this will have some type of Phone integration 🙂
The Legend of Sol-tair!
Last thing I’m gonna highlight before I wrap up is that no version of Windows would be complete without solitaire! Countless hours of work productivity have been killed by this game so of course Microsoft has implemented it in their newest iteration of their OS.
I’d like to end with my thoughts on whether or not you the consumer will like this product. I think that once this is ready to be pushed to the masses for installing there will be even more changes (obviously). The look and overall feel for this version is completely different from the developer preview that came out in September so once Microsoft is ready for a release candidate we’ll see many changes. However, the bulk of the OS is already right in front of us and it will only go one of two way for consumers. People will either love this completely or hate it with a passion. Not like the hatred of Windows Vista, but a hatred of the change in computing philosophy. In my opinion this is going to be the last version of Windows that will have a full desktop experience. This change in philosophy for Microsoft is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way though. I showed Windows 8 to my students when it was released and they all hated it. I have students that still use XP and they just don’t understand that this is the change that needs to happen in computing. Another one of my friends always brings up a very valid point when we talk about the future of Windows; since he is a video editor and spends the majority of his day using Adobe Premiere and After Effects his question is simple: “If this is the future of computing, how am I going to edit?” That’s a great point and one I frankly don’t have an answer for.
We are all (Mac users included) used to running our apps in a desktop environment with point and click technology. Microsoft is trying to ween us off of this frame of mind with Windows 8. Will all apps become full-screen metro-style programs that need a touch input to really be enjoyed? I’m not sure. The only thing that I’m certain about is that we are living in a very interesting time for computing right now. With the evolution of tablets over the years a new model for the OS that people use day to day needs to be examined, and Microsoft has stepped up to the plate to offer some exciting new features. I hope this experiment works out. I hope that people understand what is going on in technology and embrace a new philosophy. I hope that Apple releases something similar or better to keep competition strong between them and Microsoft (although Mountain Lion seems very ‘meh’). I can hope all day though, and the reality is that most people buy a PC for internet and e-mail and Office. It’s these users who are going to groan the most and feel the hurt as they try and adapt to this new version of Windows.
Curious to try it out for yourself? Here is the link to download it and install it. If you’ve used Windows 8 or have it installed on one of your PCs, hit us up in the comments. We’d love to hear from ya’ll.
Oh, and one more thing. I realize its been forever since we’ve posted (life gets in the way) but Chris and I are going to try to podcast more so you can get your sweet technology fix (and fails) from the guys you love… You know, the ones over at the verge….