First Impression of Windows 8 (Developer Preview)

I downloaded the developer preview of Windows 8 a few weeks ago so that I could begin playing with Internet Explorer 10. After setting up a new partition and loading the OS into a dual-boot environment, I was quickly up and running in Windows 8. I’ve been using the operating system almost exclusively now for a while, and I wanted to share some of the things I like, and some of the things I don’t like so much. In complete honesty, the likes greatly outweigh the dislikes – in fact, the dislikes are probably too few to require more than half a hand to list (but of course that may grow with more exposure and experience).

I write this today as somebody who knows nothing about what specific goals Microsoft has in developing this operating system. All I know is that it’s something of a one-size-fits-all, in that it’s intended to be used on both the desktop, as well as the mobile tablet interface. I’ll be honest, that fact alone had me a little suspicious. My desktop and my tablet are two radically different experiences. But could Microsoft really pull it off, and create something for both?

Fast, So Fast!

Setting up windows was quick and required very little effort. One thing I thought was especially interesting was the prompt I received to give the Setup Wizard my Live account email address. My user account is directly tied to my Live account, which I thought was pretty cool.

As cool as the Live account integration was, that wasn’t what floored me during setup: the actual boot time was! From the boot screen to my login screen, the process of getting into the OS often takes less than a few seconds. Honestly, when I select the Windows 8 Developer Preview from my boot screen, I find it difficult to actually count more than 2 seconds or so – what a joy it is to not sit and wait.

Here’s another demo online from Microsoft themselves, though I think my PC loads up just a bit faster – but hey, it’s no contest, right? ūüôā

Of course the boot screen itself is pretty handsome now too – no more white text on a black background, Windows 8 is purdy!

Multiple Displays

I am running Windows 8 on a dual-monitor setup. This meant that when I log into the machine, my left (Primary) monitor loads up the new start screen, and my right monitor (secondary display) loads up a more traditional looking desktop.

This was the first major impression made – the interface for interacting with the computer had changed completely. While a little lost, and scared, I was excited. Scrolling up and down would slide all of these neat little panels left and right, revealing games, applications and other goodies. The first thing I did was jump into the Zero Gravity game and get lost in weightless-adventure for about an hour (I didn’t have my sound working at this point, so I’m¬†surprised¬†I managed to play that long without audio).

Gorgeous New Task Manager

After poking around on this screen for a bit, I clicked the “desktop” panel which slid the start screen out of the way to reveal a classic desktop experience on both monitors – ah, now I feel at home.

I was curious how much memory this OS uses, so I decided to visit the performance tab from the task-manager: CTRL+ALT+DEL brought up another nice screen, and sure enough, Task Manager was there on the list of items to select.

Immediately I noticed a much nicer looking task manager – good for him, he’s been pretty ugly for as long as I can remember.

I love how much details is shared in this newer task manager, and how nicely presented it is as well. The varying yellow background colors change as frequently as the values in the cells do themselves. It’s pretty neat – just a small panel of flashing cells and fluctuating numbers. Really puts you in that “I’m Neo, and I’ll bend your reality” state of mind. But this wasn’t what I wanted to see, I wanted to see the Performance tab.

Goodness, even more beauty! I love the colors, the layout, the entire experience is just awesome. I realize I probably sound like a Microsoft fan-boy at this point, but I don’t have an agenda here, my excitement is entirely organic. From one panel I can see my CPU usage, Memory usage, current Disk usage, Data sent and received over ethernet, as well as my current transfers in Kbps, and so much more. And to top it off, it’s actually aesthetically pleasing.

Okay, Time for a Complaint (Kinda)

I would hardly convince you that I’m being fair here if I didn’t list a few things that bother me about my initial experience with Windows 8 Developer Preview. Your Start button (or ‘Pearl’) is no more, it’s dead, it’s gone – write up its eulogy. Unfortunately, ¬†I don’t think that we have been given anything better in its place. In fact, we’re given a very confusing alternative.

Both of my displays have their own taskbar, and both also have their own start button. This wouldn’t be so bad if each of the start buttons didn’t behave differently. On my main display, hovering over the start button reveals a small fly-out menu, as well as a large over-sized date (which I actually like):

Careful, don’t click that button. Clicking it will throw you back into the start screen with the fancy panels. This is what I mean by the start button that we all know and love is dead. I instinctively click this thing about once a day it seems, especially when I’m trying to find something I just installed.

Meanwhile, over on display two, there’s an odd looking icon in the place of the start button:

This button, when clicked, actually swaps the two buttons. If you click this, the start button from the primary display will replace this, and this will occupy the old location of the primary start button. Confusing, eh?

Essentially this button moves your fancy-panel screen over to this display. Clicking this button on my secondary display causes the neat new home screen of panels to be revealed on this monitor as opposed to my primary monitor.

The complaint here is that the traditional start button that we have known for nearly all of Windows’ history is dead and gone.¬†Admittedly, it doesn’t take long to get used to this new¬†behavior, but it’s entirely unexpected. Additionally, you can’t just hover over any portion of the main start button to reveal the fly-up mini-menu. From what I can tell, you have to hover over the lower-left corner of the button. At times I’ve found myself hovering over the button while thinking to myself “What the eph, computer – respond!”

Finally, Smart Taskbars!

The taskbar has always been a frustrating thing for me. I’ve found myself wanting them to be a bit smarter for several iterations of the Windows operating system, and with Windows 8, Microsoft has delivered! One feature in particular really excited me.

So, a lot of this stuff is pretty standard, but the “Windows appear” portion is what caught my attention. To be honest, I didn’t really understand what it meant, “Unique to each taskbar,” so I selected it and applied. I immediately found out that any programs opened on my primary display would show up in my primary taskbar, and any programs opened on my secondary display would show up in my secondary taskbar.

Further, dragging a window from display 2 over to display 1 results in taskbar 2 giving up the application to taskbar 1. Awesome! No longer does my taskbar just tell me that I have a program opened, somewhere, but it is now smart enough to tell me which display contains which application.

This post is quickly becoming a bit too large, so I’ll cut it off here. The more I use the Developer Preview the more I’ll have to say about it. But so far, I’m very pleased with what I’ve been seeing. Nice work, Microsoft.

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