Thursday, March 1, 2012

Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Windows 8 is Microsoft's somewhat anticipated, somewhat dreaded sequel to Windows 7.  There have been mixed reviews to the changes to match a more tablet friendly market, mostly the new Metro style start menu.  The Consumer Preview can be downloaded here for the USB install or here for the ISO.  From the looks of the URLs, it seems that Microsoft may be going away from the DVD format for the installer, favoring USB thumb drives.  Good, I don't think I've had a burnable DVD in this house for two years.

A little background:  I have been working with Windows since 3.1.  I have experience with personal installs up to large business networks.  I even have a Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory domain running at home.  I have been playing with the beta versions since I found out I could when my dad gave me Windows XP beta.  With all that, I guess I could be qualified as an expert.

I have chosen to install the preview on Oracle's Virtual Box for two reasons:  1) It doesn't work on VMware.  2) I don't feel like switching hard drives in my laptop.  This can cause a few problems including lower graphics quality, so forgive me if my screen shots are a little off.

The install starts out exactly like Windows 7.

So I'll just skip the initial install and go straight to the differences.  One thing to note is that you cannot skip the license key.  This may just be something for the preview since Microsoft gives the key with the download, or it could be that Microsoft didn't like people getting a free trial of Windows 7. 

The install didn't take long, maybe about ten minutes total.  I am running a Core i7 with 6G of RAM and Windows 7 as a host OS so your results may vary.

I like the fish.  I don't know why, but I do. 

The first thing that the setup does is walk you threw setting up the appearance.

A few bland colors and the name of your PC.  I like how it separated the username and PC name, it'll make you think about what to call your computer.

I picked a what may or may not be purple (colorblind) and called it StarKiller to fit with the rest of my naming convention.

Then you get a choice of using express settings or custom.  The express setting sets up automatic updates, malware and firewall, and a bunch of other settings that I usually don't want.

So I chose customize.  

The first choice is to setup sharing.  I have a file server for this, so I don't need it.

The next screen is for automatic updates and SmartScreen.

There is no setting to completely disable automatic updates, that's smiler to Windows 7 where you can change it manually.  I usually disable everything, but this time around, I'll just leave them as is.

The screen after is for all the report home functions of Windows.  Do you want to send every little thing you do to Microsoft.

No, no, no, damn I can't change it, no (the defaults are yes).

Then it shows settings for checking online for solutions to problems and, oddly, if you want to allow apps to access your user info.

Normally I would disable everything, but since I'm not going to put any personal information on this install, what the hell.  I will disable location though.

The next screen is an interesting addition to the Windows lineup.

It wants you to setup an account on Microsoft's servers to keep all your settings there instead of local.  This is probably in response to Google's option to backup your apps and settings in the Android OS and there's probably something equivalent in iOS (I don't have an iOS device to play with).

This was a tough decision.  I usually don't like systems like this, but it would be kinda fun to play with.  To make sure I could (and my natural paranoia), I chose to keep my account local.  The little tiny link at the bottom that looks more like a question then an option brings you to the another page asking you to sign up.

No, I've made up my mind already, I'll stick with local.

The next screen was an obvious one; it asks for your username and password.

Just as a test, I put in a password but not a hint to see if they got rid of that annoying requirement.


We're done!  Woo Hoo.  Not a bad install and setup, I've seen much worse.

There's a new metro look (as apposed to the old one in developers preview).

If you haven't played with the metro interface before, take the picture above and imagine it was setup for a touch screen device.  It's a little cumbersome with a mouse.

Hay look, it works with the Xbox.  I wonder what the Xbox Companion does.

Oh wait, screw that, is that...  Yes it is, it's pinball.  I've been waiting for three generations of Windows for Pinball to come back.  I remember playing hours and hours of Space Cadet.  I was so disappointed when they didn't put it into XP (it was years before I figured out you could download it).

*Click*  hmm... nothing happened.

Oh, there it goes.

Ten minutes latter...

Oh right, crap.  I'm in Virtual Box. 

I'm running at about 2 frames per second, but it looks pretty.

What the crap?  This integrates with Xbox Live?  I knew they were renaming their Games For Windows Live, but I didn't know they were going to integrate with XBL.  That's kinda cool.

Yeah, I have an XBL account, I'll connect.

Ten minutes latter...

OK, maybe I won't connect.  Maybe I will have to switch out my hard drives and play with this on real hardware.

Now, how do I close this?  There's no exit button, Alt+Enter doesn't work.  WinKey+X brings up...


I can't get a screen shot of it, but when you take your mouse to the top of the screen it turns into a hand.  If you click and drag down, it shrinks the window and you can slide it around.  I have no idea what this is for.

Finally I found that hitting the WinKey brings you back to the metro interface.  Like hitting the home button in Android, it doesn't close the program, just pauses it.

Let's get to something useful.  What does the desktop look like?  I know they got rid of the start button entirely between the developer preview and the consumer preview.

Yep, the start button is completely gone.  It was replaced by...

Yeah, I didn't even know that was there until I took my mouse out of the Virtual Box screen.  You have to take your mouse to the absolute bottom right of the screen, where the show desktop button is in Win7.  But it has to be in the lower half of that area, if you put it in the upper half, nothing happens.

Hovering over it shows the names of the icons.

Standard stuff, settings, devices, shar, search, and something I thought I wouldn't see again.  A "Start" button.  They brought back the "Start" button.  Let the jokes commence.

Clicking on the "Start" button just brings up the metro screen.  And not that I look, I see that it also says Start at the top.  That's a little odd.

Poking around further, I found a few interesting things.  It comes with IE10 by default.  Microsoft is getting into the Music market.  XBL is going to be integrated into Windows 8 to the point where I can look at a preview of the XBL market.  A lot of stuff is going to require logging in with a Microsoft account, but it's the XBL stuff.

In conclusion:

Will Windows 8 live up to the hype?  Nope.  With it's current setup, I can't see how it'll work well on tablets or desktops.  Shutting it down would be almost impossible on a tablet (I know, you don't normally shut down a tablet, but sometimes you have to), and due to the tablet additions, it takes several more clicks and clumsy mouse movements to get anywhere on a desktop.

I liked the roomer that I heard when Windows 8 was first announced.  It would look like Windows 7 when in desktop mode and only switch to metro when it was in tablet mode.  It would have been like having two operating systems in one, a full featured easy to use desktop experience and a simplified mobile interface.  Trying to blend the two kinda failed.

If you want me to test something out on Windows 8 for you, let me know.  I love poking at new things.

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