Windows 8 Second Impressions

Windows 8 is like something that has never been before. To some its 2 oS’s in one, to  others its a mess. To me it needs time to be appreciated for what it is. I’ll admit I have been harsh on it before here exactly one year an a day ago, but I kept an open mind and after using the full release as my main machine I’m starting to see the benefits.

In the market there are two key interfaces. First up is the traditional desktop, all icons, and file manager and full control. To me its nearly always how I work, but I’m a techie. This has been used to drive huge profits for both Microsoft (all version of Windows), and Apple (all the OS’s since day dot).

The other way is also trumpeted by Apple and now Android. The app. There is no OS to speak of for the user, just loads of icons, that fire up applications, and when your done you go back to the beginning. This key change here is the move to touch based control from keyboard and mouse. You have probably seen enough 3 year olds with Ipads to know how easy this is to pick up !

Before I begin, here be a warning. Do not do an in place upgrade from Windows 7. It will not work, unless you are lucky. Took me 1/2 a day to recover from this. Start afresh and save time.

All MS has done is to combine the two, no more no less. This seemed to be a bit weird, but once you get used to it makes sense. If I want a rich outlook experience I fire it up, and work away, and integrate with SharePoint, and all the rest. If I want to quickly check emails, without mucking about with a web client, I just tap mail on the start screen. Simples. If I want a full active x rich web experience with toolbars, etc (not that I do, but some do), then there it is, and if I want a quick browse that’s there as well, with no fuss. So in all, its should be the best of both worlds (should).

The metro interface seems a little superfluous at first, and I spent most of my time in the desktop, pretending it was Windows 7, but then I noticed that more and more I moved across to the metro interface just to check x and y. With the active tiles sometimes I didn’t have to click anything !

My main annoyance last time around was the inability to close metro apps easily. Task manager sort of spoils the experience. Until I found the corners. The corners are everything in metro. Top left brings up the last app you had open. useful for jumping around, and importantly, the app you have just left becomes the “last” app. Bottom left is the best in my opinion. You get the start menu link, but more importantly if you move the mouse straight up along the left edge, you get all the open apps, which you can navigate to,  and you can right click and close as you feel fit. Still not as good as a big X in the corner, but easier than before.

Top and bottom right, do the same thing, they open the “charms menu”, basically settings, search, start, devices and sharing. This can be a bit fiddly but fear not Windows button and C are your friends. Then use the arrow keys and return to select. This is also context sensitive so if you are in an app and do this, you can search within an app. E.G. in IE, you get the internet search box.

Having used this for over a week now, I find that I don’t need to make the move to a touch device. This is opposite to what I originally thought. This OS is spot on for a laptop, and the fact it goes like a train helps.

Another tip is, when in a Metro app, it can be a litte frustrating at the lack of option buttons, and configuration choices. Just find a bit of blank desktop estate and right click. A pound to a penny you get what you need. Some of the apps needs sorting (Evernote – I’m looking at you !), but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The app listing on the left. Too useful.


So there you go. The second impression. Better than the first.

Microsoft Surface- The unknown—–

So last night Steve Ballmer launched what he hopes is a new paradigm in the mobile computing market. The Microsoft Surface.

This piece of kit is interesting for all the right reasons:

New technology utilising a brand new OS. Up till now, Windows 8 was getting the sort of press that Vista enjoyed, and we all know how that worked out.

The case that doubles as a keyboard, and in built stand. Not content with going after the ipad market, looks like Redmond want to take a chop at the Macbook air / Ultrabook market.

Timing. One week after the major announcements of the new Macbook lines, they have almost now been made obsolete, if MS lives up to it’s promises.

That last sentence is key, as some of us remember the now dead Zunes and Kin phones that are littering bargain buckets and ebay penny sales.

So onto the unknown. This is the stuff that can really change the game if they happen, so heres my wishlist.

RT to be fully supported. It seems an age since MS released windows CE. This OS looked and felt like windows, but never really cut it as manufacturers and devs didn’t really get behind it. If MS is serious, it will need more than onboard MS office to derive value from this stream. It also needs to be corp ready and not some Windows XP home type effort with limited business use.

Mobile connectivity. Despite some world appearing to exist where all hardware manufacturers seem to think wireless is everywhere, we do need 3G/ 4G to enable our laptops to find homes as door stops and table stays.

The pen. Much is being made of the 600dpi pen, but for the modern user, switching between touch and pen can be a pain. The pen should only be used for freehand, and digital signatures. Everything else should be touch only, ala ipad. For real creation, people will crack out the keyboard. Talking of which….

The keyboard. The fact that an alternative keyboard is available already, and no one has been allowed to touch the one supplied, suggest a possible downer on the supplied cover. Hopefully this isn’t the case.

Display port. This has to extend the desktop and not just replicate if its to be serious in business.

So in short, deliver and you win, fail and you lose a generation to IOS.

I’m hoping to get my hands on one ASAP, and the i;ll do a more in depth review.


Windows 8 – First impressions

Microsoft have now released a developer preview copy of their next Windows Desktop OS. This is currently named Windows 8 (quell surprise !). The last move to 7 was very favourable as the previous incarnation (Vista) was universally heralded as a failure (a bit unfair in my estimation), so iwas interested to see the new changes.

Since the launch of 7, there has been some major shifts in the IT world, namely the move of all the major players to tablet and touch type devices. This has been led by Apple, but has been hung onto by the likes of Android  and HP (RIP Web OS).

Some players had tried to port 7 to a tablet but as MS themselves said at the time, 7 was not designed for a tablet and therefore would not give the full experience, such as that on an IOS product.

We are told that Windows 8 has been designed from the ground up with touch in mind and the main difference from a user perspective makes this clear with the main interface not being the usual desktop, but the  new look “Metro” UI. This is a collection of panes that represent different applications. As well as being easy to navigate i imagine it makes life very easy for non IT types to find and run their applications. All the favourites are there out of the box, eg settings, IE and Windows explorer, plus some new ones such as a twitter client and a facebook client (Socialite ? really ?). There have been complaints that really only works in a touch environment. I would say that once you are used to it, it’s just as easy on a normal keyboard/mouse interface, but does  feel enhanced using touch. There is also a tile for the normal desktop. This is where the second big change comes in. The start button was introduced with Windows 95, and still exists in 8, but DONT CLICK IT, it takes you back to the Metro UI. This does takes some getting used to. Basically the desktop is only there when you really need it , as you should always use the Metro UI. Any programs you install will be on the Metro UI, and will open the desktop if its needed. I have found a reg fix to change the Start Button functionality back to “normal”, but it will be interesting to see if MS revert it based on customer feedback. I can see a corporate not really wanting the Metro on a normal PC, who will demand the normal Desktop interface.

Most of the other changes are under the bonnet, the key one being speed. Its supposed to be more efficient that Windows 7, and I have to say , on first impressions I’ll buy that. Very snappy.

With two views, Metro and Desktop, comes one of my bugbears. When you run a metro app, you cannot close it, so it all get a bit apple as you switch apps with stuff being in suspended mode in the background. Taking up memory, or more to the point on a tablet, taking up battery. The only way to close fully, is to go back into desktop and open task manager, and kill the process directly. Not the most eloquent of solutions and one easily fixed.

So I’m current running Win 8 on a Acer W501 Tab with 3G and keyboard, and it goes out as a working unit today, so I’ll keep this page updated with any major issues / great success’ I find.

Most of the desktop tools seems the same as they ever were, but for release I would expect updates to Media Centre and the promised out of the box install of Security Essentials. Maybe even on home versions, they should add Security and Live Essentials. They are essential for a reason.

I’m sure more to follow.