Windows 8 – First Impressions

Like a lot of people Wednesday, I downloaded the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 (it can be downloaded at http://preview.windows.com).

After initially installing it in a VM (Virtual Machine), I was able to test the various software pieces I need for work and found that everything would work fine so, late Wednesday night, I took the plunge and reformatted my Windows 7 laptop and installed Windows 8.

 

What I Like…

First off, I think the interface has improved immeasurably since the Developer Preview in September of last year. It seems much more polished and refined. There’s still the issue of the jarring between the Metro UI and the traditional desktop, but, again, it seems more fluid than in the earlier release.

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After a day of using it, I’ve already become accustomed to hitting the Windows key and jumping to the Start screen, typing the first couple of characters of the program I want to run and hitting enter to start it – much like in Windows 7.

Here’s me looking for “Word”:

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Behind the scenes is the traditional, Windows 7-style desktop:

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(I’ve styled mine the way I like it with the taskbar at the top. The wallpaper is from http://browse.deviantart.com/customization/wallpaper/apple/#/d4qx06e)

When running a non-Metro application, you are taken to the this desktop and to all intents and purposes, it’s like running on Windows 7. Here’s Word 2010 and Excel 2010 running together:

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Obviously, a lot of focus has been placed on the Metro side of Windows 8, with its highly stylised applications. Here’s a taster of some of the built-in applications:

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Weather

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Maps

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Photos (showing some of my Facebook albums)

There’s also the new Microsoft Store app showing an expanding set of new apps built just for Windows 8 Metro:

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All of this makes for a fun version of Windows with enough of the “old” Windows to get work done.

 

So, What Do I Not Like?

Well, there are inconsistencies. Primarily in the use of the Metro UI with regards to “Legacy Hardware”. To you and I, this means anything without touch capability. Microsoft have tried to do good job mimicking a touch interface for those of us with unfortunate enough to have only a mouse and a keyboard. However, the gestures used are poorly implemented and lack consistency from application to application.

Take for example the initial lock screen:

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To log in without a touch-based screen, you click the mouse anywhere near the bottom of the screen and drag up. You will then see the login page:

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This seems intuitive enough. However, it appears to be the only place in Windows 8 where the click-hold-drag approach is used to simulate finger-swiping.

On the Start screen for example, click-hold-drag does nothing. Instead, you use the mouse-wheel (if equipped) to scroll left or right. The type of functionality is used again in some of the Metro apps. The key word here is “sometimes”. Some of the third-party apps in the store present the same type of horizontal-scrolling scenario, but do not implement the mouse-wheel scrolling, so you’re left to manually drag a scroll bar along by yourself. This severely breaks the immersion and brings it home to you that you’re using outdated equipment. An example of this is the Telegraph application:

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Worse still, when the mouse scrolling approach is used, there are some interesting side effects. Take the Weather app for example:

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As you can see, there’s more information off to the right, but as you start scrolling right using the mouse wheel, you hit the hourly forecast table. This table has a scrollable list of hourly weather information.

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As you pass over it in your “pretending to swipe by mouse scrolling”, your scroll messages also reach the table, which also starts scrolling down while you’re scrolling right! It makes for one messy UI.

Conclusion

For me, the whole experience is marred by the poor accommodation towards mouse/keyboard users. The feeling of “not quite being invited to the party” is there when you hit the issues mentioned above. Microsoft must make this work equally well for legacy input devices as well as touch-enabled devices if it has any chance of getting traction outside of the tablet market with Windows 8. Either that, or face an uproar from the anti-Microsoft crowd.

What would help would be some type of consistency. Pick any of the approaches and stick to it. Preferably something along the lines of a click-hold-drag, which seems more akin to the finger-swiping it is trying to emulate. An unrelated example of this working is the Windows version of Angry Birds where the click-hold-drag is used in lieu of the touch-based finger swiping of the mobile version.

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