Friday, February 10, 2012

Windows 8

The Start Menu
I recently (as of Yesterday) started using the Windows 8 Developer Preview. In all honesty, it's more like a Windows 8 Developer Alpha, Sorry Most Shit Is Broken Preview, Kind Of. Click any picture to make it bigger, by the way.

Almost everything is different and the OS seems more fit for a phone or tablet, a field Windows 8 is trying to occupy. But it's also a fit for being a Desktop OS. While Android is slowly closing the gap between microOS and Desktop Computing just through its evolution, Windows 8 tries to do both at the same time

And it works, mostly. (Or TL;DR I like it)

 The process of installation was verbatim to installing Windows 7, so if you've done that, you can do this with your eyes closed. I'm unsure of how long the whole process took, but it felt similar to the time I've taken to install Windows countless times. I was really hopping for a live installation like one might find in a Ubuntu or Fedora, but maybe we'll see that later this year. This is a Developer Preview, afterall.

The Metro Style Splash Screen
 Setup was easy, nothing new, except you can now login using your Windows Live ID, making room for cloud based settings and whatnot. The idea of having a cloud account one can use on any Windows 8 Computer/Tablet/Phone sounds very nice. Specifically for someone who uses a handful of computers. A setting still absent is Colemak. It would be nice to finally see it in default Windows, with full support and everything. Minor complaint, but I've yet to find a Linux distro that doesn't have Colemak in it.

From the onset you'll stare at the new and completely different Star Menu (see the header for this post). The Start Menu is riddled with widgets, live feeds and prettiness.

Non-metro apps are pretty ugly, but some modification could change that
I don't very much mind the feel and usefulness of the Start Menu. If anything, it's a decent change. Much like what Unity did for Gnome, Windows totally revamped their program list and whatnot. I wouldn't say it's a mess, but it feels messy. That's sort of the theme of Windows 8 right now; it's messy. It tries to cover many bases. However, it manages to not feel to thinly stretched, but changing from Metro styled junk to Desktop apps is a bit schizophrenic.

It looks and feels very odd at first, but give it some time and it will grow on you. At first it seems like the Start Menu just isn't meant for a desktop, but it does alright. It's obviously optimized for a touch screen, but that doesn't feel in the way. I loved what Microsoft did with the Taskbar in Windows 7, and this new Start Menu feels like an extension of that. I feel like with some tweaking, and a heavy ability to customize, this menu will find its way into the hearts of many.

The instant search that made the Start Menu more powerful in Win7 is still very much present, and stronger than ever. Making the Start Menu full screen sounds a little silly at first, but in all honesty it gives it a lot of room to grow. In Vista and 7, Microsoft minimized the space it took up. In 8, it's made larger than life, honestly matching its importance in the OS. While some may think it looks silly, especially for a desktop, I've found it to be quite powerful.

Control Panel
The Control Panel has been optimized for tablet/phone use. All of the Metro-Style apps resemble this trend, but don't worry. There is a button in the control panel called 'More Settings' and it brings out the full Control Panel we've gotten to know and love. To be clear, it's the same Control Panel from Windows 7, which was astoundingly  similar to the one in Vista. So if you're using one of those, just look at that and it's what you have in 8.

Two Taskbars!
(Click to embiggen the screen shot)The desktop, while very similar to Win7, has been touched up a bit. The biggest difference is the Start Menu, which brings up a small menu when hovered over, and when clicked on brings up the all-powerful majorly revamped Start Menu. The biggest addition is the individual taskbars. Also, switching which screen is primary is much easier as well. There is a button in place of the Start button on the non-primary screen(s) that switches where the primary screen is (also called the Start Screen). It's quick and easy. The secondary screens are also always looking at their desktop, so no extended start menu there.

I wasn't sure where to put this Screen Shot

I remember seeing a feature where metro-apps and desktop-apps can be used and switched side-by-side, but I haven't figured out how to use it, if it's still around. Plenty of features got cut from Vista that were in Longhorn, so I'd be unsurprised if it's no longer around.

Task Manager
The task manager has been revamped a tiny bit. When I first opened it, it had a much simpler interface, but I opted for the more advanced, standard manager. I wanted to take a screen shot of it, but I couldn't find a way to revert it, so there's that. Essentially, it only showed apps you had opened. It mostly just looks prettier, but it's welcomed.

Ribbon, in my explorer? More likely than you think.
The default explorer now has a ribbon interface. The short word is: I don't like it. It's a bit confusing, and what was simple to use now has just a bit too much going on. The one upside is that settings aren't buried anymore. Showing hidden files or file extensions is a tiny bit easier now. They're just check boxes in the view tab. While it's a good try at making the secretly-powerful Explorer more transparent, I think it needs a bit more work, or maybe I just need some time with it. I don't know, it's a very jarring change I wasn't expecting.

This is my total experience with IE
There is plenty that's broken with Windows 8 right now. For example, I have never seen IE start. I was a bit excited to see it, since it seemed to be integrated with the Metro Style. I wanted to use it for a bit, and then switch to Chrome or Firefox, but I had no choice. This lead me to find several other issues, like Windows 8 doesn't like Android devices or MicroSD cards. This might be extended to USB Drives in general, but my external harddrive works just fine. This made installing Firefox a challenge. It was solved by sharing a folder and transferring the install file from another computer, which I luckily had.

Once I installed Firefox, I discovered that Windows 8 didn't like that at all, but at least I can use it. Installing Chrome resulted in a BSoD, which has been replaced by a frownie face and a user friendly message. BSoDs aren't that scary anymore. It's more like Frownie Face of Death now. Also, some websites just don't load. Websites that are there for sure, just don't load at all. Firefox just tells me it doesn't exist. I don't know if this is an issue with me, Firefox or Windows 8, but I want to blame Windows because they worked before.

A Twitter App That Doesn't Display a Timeline
The Twitter App, which is decent for a Twitter App, but certainly not great, does not work. Design-wise, it's got many issue, like displaying who I follow and who follows me isn't at-all-useful, or showing my own tweets. It's very limited in what it can do as well. I can't see other people's feeds and stuff from within the app, it opens IE (which then crashes because I've never gotten it to work). However, the worst part is that the timeline doesn't work. Yes, I cannot see the tweets of the people I follow. But I can see who I follow.

Windows 8 isn't ready for consumer consumption yet, but the preview gives a pretty good idea of what it will be. Microsoft will be announcing a public Beta later this month, on February 29 at the Mobile World Congress. It will hopefully work better. I must say, though, I really do enjoy Windows 8. I'm not sure how it would do on a phone or tablet, I'm strictly coming from a Desktop standpoint, but I'm sure the experience would be fluid on a Tablet for sure, and I'm sure the experience is similar to Windows Phone 7.

I have to say, though, I really like Android and what Google and Modders have done to it. I want to say that it fits very perfectly with the capabilities and evolution of tablets and phones. It's powerful and capable. It's been built from the ground up for tablets and phones. I'm not sure if Microsoft will be able to occupy the space with the effectiveness of Android, but I know there is an audience for a Windows Tablet. I'm just unsure of the breadth of that audience.

I want Windows 8 to do well. I'm excited.

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