After the official launch of Windows 8 Customer Preview a few days ago, we come with the first impressions about the next version of Windows. Unfortunately we didn’t had a multi-touch capable device, but we thanked ourselves with testing it in a virtual machine.
To our surprise, the installation was quite quick. We managed to install Windows 8 in about 15 minutes. Considering that the virtual machine that we used had only 2GB of RAM. The installation process is relatively similar to Windows 7. Among the differences that we spotted include the fact that at partitioning, instead of a System Reserved Partition of 100MB, Windows 8 automatically creates a 350MB partition. Another difference is that you can’t install Windows as a trial version anymore. When prompted to enter the Serial Number, you no longer have the option to skip this step without entering a key.
We tell you from the start that Windows 8 brings significant design changes and a total rethinking of the interface. The old Start menu is now gone, instead it was replaced with the new Start Screen which displays the Metro UI.
From the design point of view Metro UI is quite successful, together with the subtle animations, it brings a nice feeling to the user. But this nice feeling is falling apart when you actually want to use Windows and this is not because the interface is not fast enough or buggy, but rather due to lack of options where they are needed. We had difficulties with the simple action of deleting a picture from the Photos app.
Windows 8 is clearly optimized for tablets. Although Microsoft had in mind using a single operating system on all platforms (desktop, laptop, tablet), we think this concept is not exactly ideal. Using it with a mouse and a keyboard it’s not as fluid as with a touch device. This has a negative impact on productivity.
Another disadvantage which adds to our frustration, is the closing method of the applications. Basically the old “X” had disappeared from Metro UI. Applications are designed to enter a hibernation state in which they use fewer resources and they are instantly available when you need them. This is a very poorly designed feature, considering that each computer has limited amount of memory, and when you have a multitude of applications, most of them will be opened in RAM. But the apps can still be closed. On a touch device this is done through a swipe from the top of the screen and continuing to the bottom. But to close apps on a desktop is a little more difficult. All you need to do (at least in theory) is to take your mouse in the upper-left corner of the screen then grab the application and pull it to the bottom of the screen. Why do we say in theory? Because we haven’t managed to do that. That method of closing simply doesn’t work. Instead, when you go with the mouse in the upper-left corner of the screen, right-click application and choose Close. Another way is to close the applications directly from the Task Manager.
You will notice that the search box from the old Start menu has dissappeared in the new interface. Well it didn’t disappear, it was just hidden. Now when you’re looking for an application or a file in Windows, all you have to do is to start typing. The Search menu will appear automatically in the right side of the screen and it’s now part of a menu that is mysteriously called “Charms“. Besides Search this menu also hosts Share , Start, Devices and Settings. All these can be accessed from any application you’re in, even from the desktop. Charms menu can be accessed by a swipe from the right side of the screen (on tablet) or by taking the mouse in the upper-right or lower-right corner of the screen.
Also, Windows 8 comes with a new version of Internet Explorer. Version 10 of the browser comes with two types of interfaces. Namely, an interface for Metro UI, which allows you to view the website in full screen, and a classic interface that allows you to use IE 10 in desktop mode, as you did before. Although the classic interface is quite similar to IE 9, the one for Metro UI is quite frustrating. This one does not start with the homepage, but the last web page visited and there is no setting to prevent this. Besides this, you will not be able to use tabs in the same way, at least we haven’t managed to figure out how it works. The tabs still appear at the top of the screen, but as a series of previews of the pages you have visited before and not as actual tabs. We don’t get into too many details here. Another thing we dislike about IE 10 is the speed at which web pages are loaded. They load quite slow, even slower than the old IE 7.
And since we mentioned the desktop mode above, not everything has undergone major changes in Windows 8. The old desktop is still present, but comes with some improvements, we say. To begin with, the start button disappeared from the taskbar and it was placed in the Charms menu that we spoke earlier. The Aero interface was maintained and even improved, it now changes color automatically depending on the wallpaper that you use.
Windows Explorer also suffered some changes, among the most obvious is that Explorer now has a Ribbon toolbar as in the Office suite. Fortunately for the older users, it is hidden by default in order to keep the interface as simple and clean as possible, but you can display it by clicking the arrow in the top-right of the window. Another change is the display method of the copying action. All simultaneous copy actions being consolidated into one window and in the detailed mode, this window shows graphs with the speeds at wich files are being copied, we think this is quite interesting. Also, you can now pause the copy action and you can resume it later.
Task Manager also undergone significant changes. The new Task Manager now shows in the detailed mode, under the Performance tab, separate graphs for CPU, RAM, cable and wireless network connections and hard disk activity, and under the Processes tab, it shows a colorful heat map of the processes, depending on their use of system resources. Now you can also see a history of the activity for a longer period of time under the App History tab.
The login part has also suffered major changes. Windows 8 comes with a new login screen, in wich shows information like: when is your next meeting, how many unread emails you have in your inbox and how many IMs you missed since the last login. To login you must swipe up from the bottom of the screen and choose your username and enter your password. Besides this new login screen Windows 8 also comes with new authentication methods, such as authentication with a Microsoft email account (Hotmail), or with a picture. Picture password involves drawing geometric forms on a picture chosen by the user, which is very convenient for authentication on a tablet, because it’s very frustrating to always type a password on these kind of devices. Another frustrating part is to login with an email account, login is only possible if you have an internet connection.
We could say much more about Windows 8 Consumer Preview, but we must not forget that the Microsoft’s operating system is not yet complete. So we invite you to test it and tell us what do you think. You can download Windows 8 from here. Don’t forget to write down the Serial Number associated with the image you download.