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."