Windows 8 Review: Part I

Today, Microsoft opened up the download of Windows 8 to all MSDN/TechNet subscribers. At LockerGnome, we thought it be appropriate to share some thoughts on the newest iteration of Windows.

Windows 8 certainly is an underdog in the fight for popularity. It ushers in a vast array of changes to the interface, as well as technical improvements to the core system. Yet the average user will most likely not care about the latter. Windows 8 is, in many respects, a re-imagining of the Windows experience we have known for many years. I welcome the changes done to the Task Manager, because it has made it now an even more indispensable tool for controlling what is happening on my computer.

Installation took less than 10 minutes from a USB stick. My laptop is over three years old. The specs of this “test” machine are: Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz, 8 GB RAM, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650, 128 GB Intel SSD. In spite of its age, it runs faster under Windows 8 than ever before.

So, after just 10 minutes, I found myself greeted by the already all-too-familiar tiled Start screen. Remember, it’s not called Metro. Beforehand, I had already used the Developer, Consumer, and Release Preview. It was interesting to see the advances between the first of these and the final version. Although I like Windows 8 generally, there are a few disappointments.

The Bad Parts First

From the get-go, Windows 8 is a love it or hate it affair. Plainly speaking, it’s such a different experience for the user that there will be a lot of complaining. Yet the fact is that Modern UI is here to stay.

Before getting to the customization part during installation, there’s now an animation explaining the presence of hot corners in Windows 8. It’s a very clear and straightforward visual, but still many people will wonder what it means.

At boot, one is greeted with the new, minimalistic blue Windows logo. This will already make it clear that change is about to come. Herein lies the dilemma of Windows 8. There is the sleek Start screen and Aero-less desktop, but still there’s the “fake” Aero look during installation. This is kind of jarring, knowing how Microsoft is fervently updating its interfaces across the board. Just yesterday its SkyDrive service received a Modern UI update. Yet, to this day, Microsoft shows how disconnected parts of its corporate juggernaut are. It’s in the details where the Redmond software giants often fails.

After the second restart, before getting to the Start screen for the first time, the user is greeted with a simple “Hi.” Nothing more, nothing less; it represents a company that wishes to be more connected to the consumer base.

Another feature that seems rather half-baked is the mirrored taskbar if you’re running multiple monitors. It shows relevant apps on the taskbar, according to the monitor where they’re located. DisplayFusion is a third-party program that offers many more possibilities. One of the added functions is also a traditional Start menu on of the monitors. It seems there are many users out there already missing the old menu. Also switching individual programs from one monitor to the next is much easier. For better or worse, Microsoft should have included both of these features in Windows 8.

Windows Store and Other Programs

Right now it’s rather empty, but that will, we hope, change with time. Yet the ease of installing apps, as well uninstalling them again, is quite refreshing. The beauty of simplicity notwithstanding, many people will be confused over the difference between Modern apps and Desktop applications like Office 2013 or Photoshop. None of those programs will be available in the Windows Store.

Down the line, it may open great possibilities for developers, though. With the Windows RT environment, developers have many programming languages from which to choose. Microsoft hopes to make the Windows 8 platform interesting. Today, Microsoft also launched the RTM of its developer environment Visual Studio 2012. It truly is on fire this year, with one announcement every few weeks. It is to be expected that more apps will appear in the store, including paid ones.

The store is the gate into a new age of computing in the Windows ecosystem. It’s a concept long pioneered by OS X and Linux, and of course the mobile OSes. Will it become successful and gain traction fast? It really just depends on the quality of the apps. So far some of the apps available are really beautiful and functional already. Certainly, users will have to get used to the experience of full-screen applications. To some, it may appear counter-productive, which for some could be the reality.

Here are some applications that I have tested and used on Windows 8 RTM:

  • Office 2013
  • Photoshop CS 6 (No GPU support, but likely because my card is old)
  • Lightroom 4.1
  • Spotify
  • Skype
  • VLC
  • Teamspeak 3
  • Google Drive
  • Chrome
  • SkyDrive
  • League of Legends

Between the Release Preview and RTM, there really aren’t too many new features to discover. Only two come to mind. First, there is now the flattened desktop interface. Foreground windows have a colored toolbar, while inactive windows become grayscale. Visually, it certainly seems easier to distinguish between active and inactive windows. Second, there are more options for customization. Now there are a plethora of backgrounds to choose from for the Start screen, as well new ones for the Lock screen.

Driver installation is very reliable. Apart from printer software and Wacom drivers, I didn’t have to install anything manually. Every piece of hardware was instantly recognized upon plugging it in. So, no doubt, this has the best support of any Windows version.

Initial reactions to Windows 8 will be mixed. Before the worldwide launch on October 26, together with the Windows RT Surface tablet, many things can happen. Somewhere between now and then, Apple will release the iPhone 5, and perhaps even a smaller iPad. The latter will be Surface’s fiercest enemy. However, if you’re able to get a copy now, then don’t hesitate to try it for yourself.

UPDATE: There are, in fact, more options for multiple displays. To get them, you need to right-click on the Taskbar. Under Multiple displays, you’ll find several options, including showing Taskbar buttons only where windows are open.

Windows 8 Review: Part II continues here!

Source for Images: Personal screenshots

Article Written by

He's a writer and photographer living in Sweden. Technology, philosophy, and films are some of his other interests. In 2008, Maximilian completed a BA in creative writing in London. So, being a writer has been important to him for a long time -- although he prefers to be called a "storyteller."

  • Rob

    Thank you for a great article. To be honest the is the clinch for me to finally got 100% Mac at home. I know Mac are not perfect and have many limitations BUT in some way Microsoft are doing the lets NOT listen to what the public wants more so than Apple … Its no longer who is the best but who is not the worst.

    • Maximilian Majewski

      I’ll disagree with you, and say that Microsoft did listen to the general public a lot. Actually I doubt that Windows 8 will not be received well. This thing is fast. Install in less than 10 minutes, and a boot time of just a few seconds. Seriously, is OS X that fast?

  • Ryan Matthew Pierson

    Great review!

  • khuongtran

    good!!!!!!! i like it so much…

  • Chris Pirillo

    I have MSDN access as an MVP, but I still don’t know which machine I want to use WIndows 8 on first. I’m hesitant to place it on anything that doesn’t have a touch screen, which severely limits the options at my disposal.

  • Tomás Hurrell

    I love W8 performance… But god, i hate Metro, a mouse is not a finger! they should made 2 different eviroments, respecting the loyal pc users

    • Maximilian Majewski

      I really see no problem with the Modern UI, not Metro anymore 😉
      Windows 8 is just so fast. I mean a full install in less than 10 minutes. It’s insane, and I don’t even have the world’s most up-to-date computer.

      • Jumbie

        You keep carping on the speed of the install… but really, speed of install and running limits are actually based upon the hardware the user has. Each user will have a different experience. I have a 20 minutes install time, and while I agree it is fast in everyday use, I disagree it is any faster than Windows 7, or even XP on my same hardware.

        Speed of install cannot possibly be the only selling point you (or Microsoft?) has… is it?

        • Maximilian Majewski

          No, boot speed, stability, driver support, new task manager…there’s more. Wait to read Part II.

  • Michael Lerch

    Fantastic article. It really helped clarify some of the aspects of Windows 8 that I was worried about. What struck me oddly however was the calling of the “Start screen” the “Star screen”. At first I thought it was a simple misspelling, but then it was referenced as the Star screen throughout the article. I just wanted to point that out. Otherwise, as previously stated it was a fantastic article.

    • Maximilian Majewski

      That is in fact a misspelling. It’s called the Start screen. It seems to be quite easy for me to miss out on that ‘t’ :)

  • Chris Foye

    Are you all using windows 8? I have 10 clients and my kids plus 2 of
    there friends using it to test out. I have it running on one of 3 PCs.
    The clients I have using it could not get a grasp on windows 7 and
    called me all the time asking the same stupid questions over and over,
    since moving them over to windows 8 I have not gotten one IM or call and
    they say there loving it over win 7. These clients are not geeks and
    are only just getting PCs so not set in there ways when it comes to
    computers. Yap there my guinea pigs since me and my kids are geeks we
    cover the other side of the spectrum. My kids and there 2 friends are
    loving it and when asked if they want me to jump them back to win 7 they
    both said NO WAY dad! I also am using it over my windows 7 PCs. Yes
    Windows 8 has a few problems but it is not even out yet to the masses!
    There is a geek saying, Adapt and overcome or get left behind!

    • Chris Foye

      Thanks for the article by the way :)

      • Maximilian Majewski

        I’m using it now, and have been using it permanently since the Release Preview. I’m a geek perhaps, but I believe that the general public will like it very much. It’s one thing seeing it on screenshots, but a whole different experience actually using it.

  • Jumbie

    Interesting that my comment (response to Max Majewski) was not posted.

  • Kevin de Bie

    Windows 8 would not have caught half the wind it did/does if they maintained the possibility to revert back to the old fashioned start menu… Some people might not want to change because they don’t like change, others (me, among others) genuinly feels its an inefficient way of controlling his/her desktop as the power user wants more control over things like the interface and some people will love the new Windows 8 way and run with it. Wichever way you take it, its hard to deny its just plain silly to force a one size fits all solution in an OS that grew up with a userbase that consists out of both know-nothings all the way to extremely seasoned IT experts.

  • Ron Schenone

    Hello Max, I enjoyed reading your article and also the insight you shared with your readers.
    Unfortunately my experience installing and first use of Windows 8 RTM is not as glowing and I am unable to determine why. With the two previous releases both were fast and boot time was under 20 seconds. RTM installation took some 40 minutes and boot time is about 60 seconds +.

    I haven’t installed any software as of yet, so I am puzzled as to why the system is responding the way it is. I am going to try a re-install using the 32 bit edition [ first install was 32 bit] and see if there is any difference.

    Thanks for the great article.

  • Chris Pirillo

    I just wish that Windows 8 was the “Windows 8″ experience and nothing more. I don’t want to see the classic desktop on a touchscreen computer – ever.

    • Espen Lund

      Agree, if there only was one experience. :( It’s a mess right now, doesn’t make it better that Microsoft blocked the registery hack to boot into desktop.

  • Guest

    There’s one thing i like metro for, and thats organizing my applications. Basicly an application launcher. It feels easier to find them / cooler than using the start menu in Windows 7. But thats it, my problem with it is i don’t want tablet optimized UI on my desktop. It doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to scroll through windows store, to find applications of my interest. What makes it worse, are the damn gigantic tiles. I bought a bigger resolution monitor to gain a larger workspace! Not to watch 3 big squares in full screen. (Store specific)

    That beeing said, there are some great changes. New task manager, faster bootup, and finally a store! (But not as an desktop application *sad*). My main reason to stick with Windows is games. But not long ago Blizzard and Valve, my two favorite companies announced how they dislike Windows 8. I couldn’t be more happy, more people agree with me!. As valve decided to create a native steam client and port games, i’ve dug into ubuntu more. I discovered open source, and i love it! If Blizzard joins for the porting, im staying with ubuntu for a while.

    Microsoft needs to get their stuff together. It is clearly obvious, they might loose some marketshare. By implementing tablet features, for a OS which have been loved by desktops and laptops for years. Heck my friend visited me, and his first question was if he could uninstall ALL metro apps! (He’s familiar with the interface on his Xbox 360, and don’t like it there either)

    I am planning to purchase an notebook for college next year, and i am going to say it. Macbook Air, or a Dell XPS with Ubuntu are appealing a lot more to me, than
    Windows 8.

  • Truls Bekk

    The Windows 8 Start Menu Corner in Aero looks so cheap and I think they should have made a little more effort in coding that button. I can’t C++, but I assume that coding a hotspot that makes a image overlay when moused over is not that difficult.
    I have tried Windows 8, but not used it. That Windows 8 has 2 UI’s is stupid (Metro & Aero). They should have done what Canonical did with Ubuntu; completely replaced Gnome with Unity. (Gnome can be added to the latest Ubuntu, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not quite official. I am also fully aware that Unity shell runs on Gnome)