Archive for March, 2012

Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Microsoft has released the first consumer version of Windows 8, and I have been testing it. Based on what I have seen so far, and assuming that Microsoft doesn’t make some significant changes, I recommend that most people with older computers start planning on buying a new PC with Windows 7 before Microsoft cuts off access and requires new PCs to have Windows 8. Most reviews that I have read in the trade publications are also pointing out the problems with Windows 8 as it stands now (March 2012).

There are some improvements in the new version. For instance, the time from turning on the PC to being able to log in is much shorter than with previous versions. This is somewhat misleading, however; Windows is still loading programs in the background, so you may not actually be able to start working much sooner than in earlier versions of Windows. And, as usual, the new Windows is reported to be more secure than  previous versions.

However, Microsoft has decided that the user interface (called “Metro”) should be the same on desktop/laptop computers as on phones/tablets. While I have not seen an actual Windows phone with the latest version, I have seen pictures that make me believe that the result of Microsoft’s decision is a system that doesn’t really work well on either type of device. In the pictures I have seen it appears that you only get about a half dozen app icons on the screen at a time. On the desktop, you get the same type of large icons (called “tiles”), resulting in only a few icons being visible at a time.

While the tiles can be moved around, and some of them can be either small or large (twice as wide as a small one), I still find the arrangement of tiles to be cumbersome. They are arranged in columns that are two small or one large icon wide. When you add more tiles than will fit in one column (five rows in my experience), the excess tiles are moved to the next column. When you install a regular Windows program, instead of getting a group on the Start button menu, ALL of the icons for that program are added to the end of the tiles on the Metro desktop – including any links to web pages and uninstall links. You can then move the tiles to where you want them if you so choose, or remove the ones you don’t want – one at a time.

You can get to a desktop like you are used to from previous versions of Windows. However, you will immediately notice that something is missing: the Start button. It’s not hidden, it simply is not available. There is no way to get the same functionality. For those of us with more than a few programs, the inability to create a concise menu will be a problem.

If you have a large screen, the Metro interface eliminates its advantages. Programs designed for Metro always run in full screen mode. Forget about putting two or more application windows side by side. Not only that, but the ones I have seen so far seem to use very large fonts, so even on a large screen you can’t see very much at a time. I only have one monitor, so I don’t know how Windows 8 will work with multiple monitors.

I wonder if Microsoft isn’t going to shoot itself in the foot with this. They don’t seem to be making inroads with phones or tablets, and the Metro interface and lack of the Start button in Windows 8 might very well push users to alternate platforms like Linux or Mac computers.

If you want to try Windows 8, I suggest that you install virtual machine software like VMWare or VirtualBox to run Windows 8 without  risking your computer. This version is a beta (still in testing) version, so problems are likely to occur. You don’t want to risk your system with a test version of the operating system.

I would like to hear your feelings on this, whether you agree or disagree. Please post your comments on this entry, or post your own entry.