Review – Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Initial Thoughts

The moment I first saw Windows 8’s new Start Page and Live Tiles on a desktop PC, I hated it. Coming from 12 years with a traditional Windows PC, the thought of leaving that more traditional computing familiarity behind made me uncomfortable.  The Developer Preview and the Consumer Preview are totally different.  The DP, despite its new Start Page, still had a more traditional desktop feel. Windows 8’s Metro Apps also did not install without an enabled Touch Interface.

If you’re considering an upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8, don’t do it. Stick with Windows 7.  Windows 8 on a non-touch PC doesn’t make sense. The Windows 8 learning and transition curve for NON-POWER USERS on a non-touch enabled PC is going to be huge.  It will likely take most users three to six (3-6) months to get used to.  The productivity losses and frustration for many will be very similar to those in 2007 when Microsoft released Windows Vista and Office 2007.

Windows 8’s new interface is better suited to a tablet or touch enabled PC. The implementation of touch at the OS level is elegant and intuitive. Live Tiles provide current information and make it easy to get to the applications you use the most.  For everything else, there’s a searchable program menu that makes it easy to get to installed applications.
Live Tiles don’t work well for legacy apps.  They’re wonderful for apps like Mail, Weather or Stocks that make use of Push. They don’t make a lot of sense for static, non-push enabled applications. The OS, for a beta, feels very finished. I haven’t seen a beta level OS from Microsoft this solid since Windows 2000.

I’m not totally sold on MetroUI or Metro Apps as yet. Windows 8 Metro Apps are really the new version of Windows Live Essentials, with the exception of Windows Live Writer.  Generally speaking, I’ve found Windows 8’s Metro Apps to be very flat and to have a very non-traditional, desktop-Windows feeling. They run full screen only; and were developed and targeted to be run on a tablet (not necessarily a touch enabled PC), and to be run one at a time. From a multi-tasking point of view, it’s a huge step backwards.

Metro Apps and memory management are also a bit unusual. Windows 8 takes a queue from Windows Phone and leaves all running apps in active memory. As additional RAM is needed, Windows 8 kills unused, running Metro Apps, or will kill them once they grow too stale. There is no way to exit a Metro App once it’s been started.

Others are arguing that multi-tasking is a myth, and that the vast majority of users either lose track of all the windows they have open or the apps they have running.  I’ve heard it said, numerous times that task switching (giving full support to Cut/Copy/Paste) makes more sense from a hardware (processor (CPU and GU), memory, etc.) perspective and is actually more efficient and supports better performance metrics. There’s something to this,  Most people run multiple apps so that they can either copy/embed/paste data from one app to another, or so they can process (encode, rip, download/upload, convert, etc.) files from one place or format to another.

The revised task switching and background task processing in Windows 8 makes more sense in this use case; but getting the general public to fully embrace this new paradigm after nearly 20 years of multi-tasking isn’t going to be easy.  It’s going to take time. Tablets and other mobile devices support this paradigm regardless of what OS, platform or ecosystem they support; but consumers and enterprise users are going to have trouble making the transition.

From a visual perspective, MetroUI is a huge let-down.  The apps are flat and two dimensional.  They have little visual appeal; and waste a lot of screen real estate. The apps are also a bit glitchy. For example, the Mail app defaults to your Windows Live (Hotmail) account.  I have 230 unread messages in my inbox. The app is telling me that I only have 4 unread messages instead of 230. If it’s only synching the last 3 days of mail to my inbox, it should show a count of 6 messages, not 4.

When you look at Windows 8, you see two totally different interfaces. There’s a duality here that Microsoft needs to reconcile and unify. The big concern I have is that it doesn’t make sense Microsoft is definitely trying to unify the computing experience with Windows 8.  While Metro works very well with Windows Phone and with a tablet or maybe even a TabletPC, swapping back and forth between the two interfaces can be a bit jarring.  They are drastically different and require users to work with their hardware in completely different ways.

Conclusion

I’ve been using Windows 8 Consumer Preview since its release, and it may not be for everyone. While I do regularly use Windows, at work and via Parallels Desktop on my Mac, the computing experience as a whole is a bit unusual at best.
The dual UI is confusing. Veteran Windows users will feel more comfortable working with the Windows 8 desktop and their legacy apps. Those working with touch enabled computers may like its MetroUI or Metro Apps, but they need a lot of maturing. Windows 8’s performance however has been rather good.

However, unless you’re working with a tablet, there’s not a compelling reason for you to consider Windows 8. The touch paradigm doesn’t convert well to a keyboard and mouse.  As such, I’d pass on the upgrade if you’re currently using a Windows 7 PC.  If you’re using Windows Vista or earlier and are considering an upgrade, pick Windows 7 as opposed to Windows 8.

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