Windows 8 first impressions

Almost time for a new version of Windows! Microsoft has decided to stick to the numbering they started with Windows 7 so this time it’s simply Windows 8. If the name is something along the lines what we expected the new interface however isn’t.

I installed the Consumer preview a while back (perfect timing, the winter did an encore while my partner was out of town). Installation is really simple and you shouldn’t need any instructions there though it might be worth mentioning that it will require you to reinstall all programs and possibly some drivers as well. Personal files will be left untouched if you choose it but make sure that you have a back-up just in case.

First thing that greets you when you start Windows 8 is a new login screen. A nice update that looks good but it’s still just a login screen. What happens behind it is more exiting however. In Windows 8 you can add your MS Live account, just like you would add your Apple-account to your iPhone/Pad or Mac or your Google account to your Android device. This is actually quite cool and will probably do a lot for Microsoft in their struggle to have an eco-system just like Apple. Windows is the most installed computer operative system in the world and what they are trying to do (in my humble opinion) is to establish a feeling that you really should get a Windows Phone device to go with your computer (and a tablet of course…) instead of going to your local carrier and buy the new iPhone or Android. It’s to early to predict exactly where this will lead but already in this preview you can start synchronizing settings, installed apps (from the Windows Store) and more will likely follow.  Next step here can be very exiting with even more information being accessed in the cloud  .

Now, the new UI: Metro. We can call it the new Start-menu but that wouldn’t be enough, we could call it the new desktop but that would be very confusing since you still have a desktop. We should compare it to the UI on Windows Phone but since that won’t tell you much (unless you happen to be one of the early adopters, it’s interesting but not a big sale success yet). To me it’s a logical evolution, from Windows Vista with the Sidebar, Windows 7 and its widgets, iOS app concept and Androids desktop.

You get a tile-work consisting of normal shortcuts and active shortcuts which works a bit like widgets, displaying information from the app (latest e-mail or message and such). This takes some getting used to and I still find myself looking for the start-menu from time to time when I want to launch something but as soon as I stop using an older version at work I’m guessing that this will change. It looks a bit more modern, should adapt very well to touch screens (tablets anyone?) and more than that: Microsoft actually tries to bring something new, they don’t act on the competition from Apple by making glossy icons and changing the taskbar to a dock, they try to evolve how you work with your computer. Kudos! This won’t necessarily give them praise from the standard customer but in the end it might be exactly what Microsoft needs to dodge another “but why should I have to update again” debate. Somehow there is still something missing, it feels not beautiful. Some work to do yet for Microsoft.

The new Metro UI
The new Metro UI

All in all, my first couple of weeks with Windows 8 has been quite nice. I find myself using small clever functions in the UI (like the Alt+Tab similar feature of the top left corner) that didn’t thrill me the first time I found it. Much can and probably will change before Windows 8 is released in the end of 2012 but I already look forward to it.

However, Metro is not without flaws and I have found myself quite annoyed a couple of times. One thing that bugs me is the decision to make the setting entirely context based. That means that depending on the app your in at the moment you get different options from the settings link. Just like when working on a mobile device. Not only a bad thing but even on my 13″ laptop screen I can spare room for a link to the Control panel regardless of  which app I’m in. By the way, you find it if you select settings in the “activation area” when your in the regular desktop.

Active area
The active area is shown on the right

Annoyance number two, the gap between desktop and Metro sometimes feels huge. Searching after the app or program you want to run is not very intuitive and finding the same app in the regular desktop as in Metro is not always simple. More than that, some apps can work differently in Metro and desktop for example Internet Explorer hides the address bar and navigation buttons in the Metro view. Not only that, IE will run in different instances if you start it both in Metro and desktop, Chrome also acts a bit weird and tends to start double instances now and then if I started it from Metro. So far I haven’t found a lot of Metro-fied apps that works great with mouse and keyboard but that can change well before release.

A lot of first impressions :)

If you’re running the preview and want the normal star-menu back:

Run -> regedit; HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\ Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer and change RPEnabled from 1 to 0