Windows 8: First impressions

Windows 8 is here. Sort of.  Last week, Microsoft released a ‘developer preview’ version of the next iteration of Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system. Aimed at developers and those want an early glimpse of the next release, this edition is not yet ready for prime time.Win8StartScreen

While it is not yet ready for prime time, the build is pretty solid and I am, in fact, writing this blog on an ancient HP laptop running Vista and Win 8 in a dual boot configuration.  I have to say, the Win 8 release has actually breathed new life in this old machine.  More on that shortly.

I have downloaded two different versions of the OS:  the full, 64 bit developer release, complete with Windows 8 development tools and the stripped down 32 bit OS only.  I am running the 32 bit version on this laptop and the 64 bit developer release on one of my desktops.

The developer version comes with beta releases of Expression and Visual Studio Express.  VS Express seems pretty complete, so I am not sure what makes it the ‘express’ release.  It comes with code templates for Javascript, C#, VB and allows you to create standard Windows 7 style apps, web apps and Metro apps.

Metro is the name for the new UI.  Originally designed for the Zune, the interface has changed since its Zune days and is a beautiful, smooth and highly useful interface.  It is quite obvious, though, that Metro is designed for  touch and not the keyboard/mouse, though it does work just fine with the mouse and keyboard.

Interestingly enough, the redesigned Metro (from the phone and Zune) looks better on my laptop than it does on the Windows Phone 7 phones I’ve seen. I think it has to do with the screen size more than anything else.  I am, however, very anxious to try it on a tablet computer.

Installing the operating system was a snap. I decided to create a partition on one of my drives (on the desktop) by shrinking a volume to create a new volume.  I created a 30gb partition-which is really too much-on my terabyte drive.  The OS installed in about twenty minutes.  The first reboot (after the install) took about 45 seconds as it scanned for hardware and then each subsequent boot was less than 20 seconds.  On my laptop, I did the same thing, shrunk the drive and created a new partition – 20 gb for this one – and installed.

Win8DesktopOne thing it did on both machines was to create a new boot manager. The new boot manager is a pleasant blue with the list of operating system for you to choose from. This one is more graphical and easier on the eyes.

Both versions came with a few sample applications, a few of which are very nicely done and would be worth actually buying.  There are a handful of games, a few social tools (twitter and facebook clients) and some utilities. They are all Metro styled and look fantastic and work smoothly.  I have heard that they were developed by interns at Microsoft. If that is true, Microsoft needs to hire these people, post haste.

I think even the most jaded Windows user will like the nWin8Explorerew start screen.  It is composed of the live tiles and very, very easy to use.  Click or tap a tile and that application is launched. The tiles are live in that they can display information from the application.  For example, the weather app will display weather information and is updated in real time.  The Twitter client displays live tweets and, of course, the RSS app shows your feeds.  I have yet to dive into every feature of the start screen (or learn the shortcut keys, which you will appreciate) but it looks and works great.

The standard Windows desktop is still there, though the Start button takes you back to the start screen and NOT the Start menu-which I am happy to see go.  However, don’t fret…the start menu is still there.  As is all of the old Windows goodness you’ve come to love.  Some have been updated, like Explorer and the task manager.  Explorer has gained the ribbon.

Win8IE10Perhaps the most impressive application is the new iteration of Internet Explorer: IE 10.  IE 10 is not only fast, but it comes in two flavors: metro and ‘normal’ desktop.  The IE 10 desktop version looks and works like the IE9 we all love, it’s just much faster. IE 10 Metro, however, is just gorgeous. IE10 Metro ditches the menu bar and the status bar, does not use plug ins and is super fast. You right click toward the bottom or top of the screen to bring up the URL bar, tab list and forward, back and refresh buttons.  They go away when you are done. It leaves you with the whole picture. No awful menus, ribbons, tool bars, etc to get in the way.  It looks great. However, like the iPad version of Safari, there’s no FLASH. Or Silverlight. Or anything else. Just HTML5 and CSS3.  Good, bad?

All in all, the developer preview edition of Windows 8 is most impressive.  So far, the only real bug I’ve seen was that it loses its mind when it comes out of sleep on the 64 bit version.  It is beautiful, smooth and looks like it will run on all types of hardware. If you have an old computer that could run Vista, Windows 2008 or Windows 7, it will run Windows 8 just fine.

I am anxious, now, to play around with a more refined beta or pre-release edition.  This thing is going to change the market for tablets too.  Just wait and see.

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