Checkpoint: Windows 8 C.P. Desktop Edition

checkpoint-windows-8-cp-desktop-edition

I installed the Windows 8 Customer Preview on my desktop computer. To get the most accurate representation of the Windows 8 experience, I chose to install it via Virtual Hard Disk.

Obviously it’s best to try it for yourself, but for those who don’t wish to download and install the OS, you can watch Tested.com’s walkthrough and WinSuperSite’s many write ups.

Install Process

The install process was relatively painless. The only sticking point was that they demanded a product key during the installation process. I hope that’s not the case in the final build because I prefer copying and pasting my key in after the install. It’s a laziness thing and it’s something I appreciated with Windows 7.

New Account?

I didn’t have to create a new account with Windows 8. I signed in with my Microsoft Live account. By doing that, my computer settings, access to my Skydrive and contacts are now on my PC and stored on Microsoft servers for easy retrieval. In theory, I should be able to log onto any Windows 8 machine and have my personalized experience there as well.

Start Screen Experience

After the login process was completed, the Start Screen and all its Metro glory appeared. It’s different from the usual Windows desktop, but it’s also very inviting. Launching apps and navigating through this interface is fast and responsive. I was impressed with how quickly the Start Screen would come up from within the Diablo III beta.

The Windows key always brings up the Start Screen where I can launch more apps or just glance at the Live tiles. If I could get a proper Twitter application and synced my Gmail account into this, I could see it being very useful.

I like the look of this interface, but I’m not too fond with how navigation is handled with the mouse. The mouse gestures to bring up the Charms and (application) Switcher menus make sense, but they don’t feel natural and are disruptive when I accidently trigger them when reaching for the screen corners. Keyboard shortcuts like “Windows key + C” and “Windows key + Tab” provide serviceable alternatives, but I can’t help wishing for an alternatives to trigger those key menus.

The Start Screen and most of its apps are obviously geared for touch screen interfaces. Nearly every app that wasn’t pinned here from the “Desktop” mode fills the screen like an app found on the Xbox 360 or a tablet.

The first app I tried was People. It was populated with e-mail contacts found on my Microsoft account. After I entered my Twitter account, it was then filled with all the folks I follow on Twitter. The idea behind it was sound, but I didn’t like how they displayed the Twitter updates nor the fact that I couldn’t compose a Tweet from it.

The Music and Video apps were cumbersome to use and required me to go into Desktop mode to add music/videos into my Library before these apps could see them. These two apps also didn’t like the fact that my Microsoft Live account was from Canada and using a US system. Switching the OS region to Canada only greeted me with error messages stating that those services weren’t available in Canada yet.

Two Internet Explorers is a very weird proposition. The Internet Explorer from the Start Screen interface and Desktop mode do not talk to each other which makes me wonder why anyone would browse using the Start Screen app. Not only does it take more clicks to create a new tab, it’s also extremely rigid by comparison. I can’t effectively spawn new windows for side-by-side comparison of web pages which is useful for comparing products or seeing the results of web publishing changes. This kind of behaviour is understandable on the tablet, but not for the desktop.

Desktop Mode Experience

Desktop mode of Windows 8 is Windows 7 enhanced. The interface was given a face lift with the new straight edged Aero theme and uniformity with the added context aware Ribbon menu to Windows Explorer. Now commonly used options like “Showing file extensions” are easily accessible via the “View” tab in Windows Explorer.

Core functionality improvements like the new file manipulation dialog boxes and the revamped Task Manager are much appreciated, useful and seem like a no brainer in hindsight.

Other fit and finish improvements include how Windows handles additional Microsoft components. Now when a .Net Framework download is required, Windows 8 will prompt for permission to download and install the feature. It then goes out and does all the leg work via the “Windows Features” function. No more MSI dialog boxes. Microsoft finally joins the ranks of Linux distros and Mac OS X in this regard.

Even its early state with preview drivers from AMD, I was able to play the Diablo III beta at 1680 x 1050 and high settings without noticeable slowdowns. I was very pleased. I hope this means performance increases for PC gaming on Windows 8, but it could just be easy migration of drivers from Windows 7 to Windows 8.

One of my favorite things about Windows 7 was the ability to press the Windows key and begin typing the application, setting or whatever I was looking for and having the results begin populating in front of my eyes. All the instances of my search term — whether it was a document, control panel setting or an application — appeared. That’s not how it works in Windows 8’s search and I cannot understand why that’s the case.

In Windows 8, the results of one of those three would be displayed and I would have to switch between “Apps”, “Settings” or “Files” to see all the results. It doesn’t make any sense to me why they would segregate the results like this.

Start Screen Could Work If…

What is the Start Screen? Is it an interface? A replacement of the Start Menu? Microsoft would like us to believe it’s all the above, but I strongly believe it’s not an interface for the traditional desktop environment and it shouldn’t function like one. It should function like the replacement to the traditional Start Menu.

There is nothing wrong with the Start Screen as the new Start Menu. I could still search and launch programs. It’s actually an improvement over the Start Menu which I never actually used to navigate for programs in Windows 7 because it took too long. I see the new Start Screen as a combination of a much improved version Windows Gadgets and application launcher and that’s fine. I have no problems with launching Steam, Office or whatever traditional desktop application from that screen. In fact, I could see Steam utilizing the live tile feature to showcase friends who are online or Steam promotions.

It’s the tablet centric apps and nuances that create the uneasy feeling that the Start Screen doesn’t fit well with the desktop environment. For instance: if anyone is sitting in front of a traditional desktop setup, the Internet Explorer app should not be used. None of the tablet friendly applications work as well as their desktop counterparts, so why should they be mixed in there when all I want to do is get the best experience possible with the hardware that I’m using?

Mac OS X Lion brought the Launchpad and everyone ignored it because it was optional. I see the Start Sceen as Microsoft’s rendition of the Launchpad idea, but they’re forcing it upon people. If they want this to catch on, they need to focus the Start Screen and its ideas to the strength of the hardware people are working with because despite their best efforts thus far: one size does not quite fit all.

The Little Things

Here is a list of minor changes and observations that I couldn’t find a place for.

  • For whatever reason, the default “zoom” size is “Medium 125%”. Useful for HDTV, but not my monitor
  • The Up button returns in Windows Explorer; much appreciated
  • It’s not too jarring for me, but a bona fide Metro inspired replacement theme for “Desktop” mode would do wonders.
  • Believe it or not, I had to look up how to shutdown/restart Windows 8. It’s obvious after the fact, but it’s just something that’s not apparent in Windows 8.
  • By default (?), Windows no longer prompts you for confirmation when deleting a file or folder.

Leave a Reply