Thursday, 14 June 2012

Windows 8 Release Preview

I have been reading the interweb chatter about Windows 8 since it was released as beta so I decided to check it out myself and see what all of the fuss was about.

So I finally got some time to download the Windows 8 release preview and install it on a VM. For the VM I used VirtualBox which in my opinion is pretty good, I actually have a preference for it over the VMWare tools, but that is a different discussion.


Well what can I  say I can definitely see why the new interface has been divisive. Its a radical change, more so than the changes from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. From Windows 95 until Windows 7 we have been presented with evolutionary changes to the Start button, Start menu task bar combination. That's 17 years of relative familiarity, with Windows 8 we now have a a complete departure from this familiarity.

Windows 8 is a derivation of the Metro interface that we have seen on Windows Phone and in terms of look and feel has some similarity to the Xbox 360 user interface.

I can see where Microsoft are going with the UI and the integration with online services, Maps, Weather, Music, Xbox LIVE, Sky Drive etc.. Windows 8 is integrated with more online services than Windows 7, similar to the integration previously seen on Windows Phone.

The fundamental question is does the UI work? In my opinion based on the limited exposure that I have had with the OS the answer is …… maybe. Depending on the device that you intend using the OS on and for what purpose.

For general content consumption on a touch enabled tablet or laptop I think, with the caveat of not having used such a configuration, it looks like the right UI for this type of human device interaction.
Another configuration that I think this OS will work well with is for a HTPC. Having used Windows 7 for a HTPC OS and tried several of the media centre application like XBMC, I have found the results some what mixed. When using the media centre interfaces its a generally workable solution. When you have to step outside and use native windows applications, for scenarios where plugins don't exist you end up having to scale the fonts and tweak the display settings so that you can see the text from the normal TV to couch distances. These tweaks are never a very satisfactory solution and its possibly the reason that HTPC have never really caught on.

The Windows 8 UI I believe alleviates most if not all of the problems for HTPC usage. Using a HTPC with a Kinect running Windows 8 OS could potentially be a Killer combination once the input gestures where useable and not to extreme, it would be super to flicking through the music or changing channel with a simple wave of a hand.

Lazy Minority Report fantasies aside there is a lot of debate and discussion around the usability of Windows 8 in the traditional PC environment of a keyboard and mouse. And I have to say from my experience of using Windows 8 I would say its detractors have a point, I do not believe that it is just a problem with familiarity or learning the curve. There are a few things that don't work so well with Windows 8 with a keyboard and a mouse:

More mouse movement

The landscape orientated screen real-estate in Windows 8 is much larger in some apps, notably Media Player. This leads you to have to scroll left and right quite a bit. With a mouse this is not much fun.

More interaction required

Seemingly simple operations like shutting down the PC or closing applications from the Metro Start menu screen take more interaction clicks than in windows 7. See here for shut down

Mouse accuracy

I found launching some of the menu items from the lower left hand corner to be hit and miss, this may be down to the fact that i was running in a VM or just that I’m an idiot Smile

Cluttered Start

When all of the applications are enabled on the Metro start screen it can get a bit cluttered looking. I put this down too the fact that there is no hierarchy available for nesting as with the old Windows start menu