Taking Windows 8 for a Test Drive: Windows Goes Shiny

March 3, 2012

Microsoft recently released a preview version of Windows 8. You can download an ISO here.

I wanted to check out the new Metro Interface, as I had seen screen shots of it, but wanted to actually try it.

I downloaded the 64-bit ISO and fired up VirtualBox, using a Windows 7 machine, following the install prompts and using the provided CD Key.

This is, of course, a beta version, so there is still probably going to be some changes, or at the very least fixes.

Table of Contents

  1. First Impressions
  2. The Start Screen
  3. Calling All Sides
  4. Integrating the Microsoft Account
  5. Desktop Mode
  6. APP Store
  7. Video/Music Store
  8. Simple System Restore / Reset
  9. Commercialism
  10. Windows 8 Regular and Business Desktop Users
  11. Thoughts on Windows 8

** Most Pictures are linked to a slightly larger version, 400 by 300.

First Impressions

Overall, my first impression is that Microsoft went with a Fischer Price design, which looks clunky and unattractive, pasting it on top of a neutered Windows 7 back-end.

Going down the route of Unity or Gnome 3, they seem bent on radically re-designing their desktop to cater to tablets and smart-phones.

Te main screen of the interface is a bunch of simple rectangle buttons, using a bunch of bright pastel like colors, with simple clip-art graphics.

The interface, at least when used with default settings, ends up being a clunky trail of linear moves, progressing forward or back through settings/app screens.

It is easy to get stuck into a one-task at a time work flow, almost like a bastardized tiling desktop, without the efficiency.

You can alt-tab to view all the programs that are still running in the background, because I did not see any obvious close button, as well as using the left sidebar to move around and view open programs.

I can see this being quite frustrating for a power user and regular users alike, although perhaps for a smart-phone this would be a less clunky. In an effort to be simpler, they have abstracted away a lot of the control the user has over the operating system.

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The Start Screen

The start screen, which is where the large pastel Fischer price program buttons are, presents a number of default programs, including Microsoft’s new App Store, video store, messaging, and a number of other apps, like Weather, Finance, and Maps.

This ties in a lot of Microsoft services, like Xbox Live, Bing Finance, Bing Maps, ect.

You can add/remove/uninstall apps by right clicking on them, in addition to moving them around.

The start menu can be accesed by pressing the windows button and if you start typing, a search box of programs pops up.

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Calling All Sides

You can also drag the mouse to the edges of the screen to navigate around the system, similar to Unity or Gnome 3.

Top left corner goes back to the last App/screen viewed. You can move the mouse down from here to get an alt-tab like preview of running programs.

Bottom Left corner seems to progress forward to the next app/or to the startup screen. Again, you can drag the mouse along the side to get the alt-tab view preview of running programs.

Top Right/Bottom Right corners displays a right hand side-bar, which includes search, devices, settings, and time. Drag down to view it.

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Integrating the Microsoft Account

Taking a page from Google’s Android playbook, integrating a Microsoft ID seems to be a big part of it. Using the store, as well as a few other places, prompts you to enter a Microsoft Email, tying the computer to an email address.

Integrating an X-Box live account is a big deal too, as their video purchase system offers it as an option and playing certain games requires an X-Box Live account too.

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Desktop Mode

You can goto Desktop Mode, by either clicking the “Desktop Mode” button or selecting “File Manger”

This brings you to a neutered Windows 7 Desktop, without the start menu. There is the standard desktop most people are used to though, with the big “E” Internet button and the recycling bin.

It seems you can probably pin programs to the bottom bar, where IE is currently the only icon, as well as put them on the Desktop, to maintain a more traditional desktop feel. Although, I did not experiment with this.

Right clicking on most elements presents a traditional Windows 7 Dialog/feel.

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APP Store

One big thing that Microsoft is financially implementing is an integrated app store, to make it easier to download and install apps. Of course, selling Apps is a big part of this, as Microsoft eyes the Google/Apple paid-app marketplace. Not surprising I suppose, as even Ubuntu is trying to get a foot-hold in this with their Ubuntu Software Center.

Whether this will ever include popular open-source software or just be a commercial/Microsoft subsidized store remains to be seen. Right now, it only appears that free apps are present, which include a lot of social and big media apps.

However, moving away from the search the Internet until you find software that is not a preview/trial/virus model that has been the cornerstone of Windows Programs, is probably a good thing.

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Video/Music Store

They also make it very easy to buy music and videos, using the Video or Music store. You can search and purchase episodes from recent television programs.

For instance, they were highlighting the Walking Dead, allowing you to buy even the most recent season 2 episodes, using a windows ID or Xbox Live ID.

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Simple System Restore / Reset

I have never been a fan of Windows System Restore, as in my experience, it has only ever actually fixed a problem once. Every other time I have used it, System Restore is just a few hour hurdle between going ahead and doing a clean install.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has integrated two options for restore, a “Reset your PC and start over” option and a “Refresh your PC without affecting your files” option.

These are similar to a recovery partition, as well as options that have been on Windows CD’s for some time, allowing you to revert your Windows files.

However, the reset option is new and allows users to get a semi-clean install from the Windows Settings Option. It is visible under the old-style control panel Recovery section or under Settings->More Settings->General.

While this is neat for fixing performance related issues, as can be found to clutter/startup programs, it probably isn’t the best choice for maleware, as trusting that the recovery section has not been compromised is a bit of a leap.

It is neat to see this become a user-friendly option, allowing people to quickly reset their system to defaults, but I worry that some might take this as a secure option, where it probably is not.

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It seems a big part of their OS is designed with the idea of selling convenient chunks of media and services. Integrating easy buy-it-now services, like video and apps, while integrating Xbox live and Windows IDs, to facilitate seamless purchasing. I would imagine they are trying to capitalize off of the similar successes of iTunes and the Apple Store, much like Ubuntu’s similar model.

From a security standpoint, it will be interesting to see how closely the purchasing/user info is tied to their operating system. I can see how it could create a new form of maleware, although this is not an issue unique to Microsoft.

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Windows 8 Regular and Business Desktop Users

I can’t imagine this being popular with business or even most regular users. I imagine a big part of the operating system is intended to target Smartphones and Tablets, so it might work out there.

However, for desktop users, this is worse than Vista, which offered an easy to use system for the most part, but was just unreliable and inefficient. They managed to get it right with Windows 7, rolling out a fixed version of Vista, only to throw out all that Good Will again.

The Fischer price setup and the way it pushes you to use a single-track work method is the biggest obstacle, especially given that most people, even more so in corporate environments, don’t like change and Windows Metro is a Radical Change.

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Thoughts on Windows 8

For me, there is not a lot to like about Windows 8.

I can certainly appreciate some of the design concepts, especially their minimalism.

However, I can’t imagine trying to be productive and do any sort of coding with it, although I am sure there are ways to restore it to a Windows 7 like interface.

While some elements, like the search and even the App Store, albeit probably never as powerful or useful as Linux repositories, is a step in the right direction, overall I think it is a pretty poor design for a desktop OS.

I look forward to Windows 9, where they go back to a more traditional setting in order to get back all the businesses that never upgraded.

There is certainly something to be said for innovation and new shiny stuff can be nice sometimes, as noted by web design clients that like to say “I want it to Pop!”

However, there is a fine line between usability and Shiny, which I think Windows 8 does not properly bridge.

Perhaps a regular user, who only wants to buy videos or get apps that push big Media’s content to them might find it a great OS, but I am much happier and more productive with my XFCE desktop, or even KDE.

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