Windows 8 Consumer Preview - The good, the bad and the ugly

Windows 8 Consumer Preview - The good, the bad and the ugly

Summary: If you're fortunate enough to have touch-based hardware platform to run Windows 8 on then Windows 8 will offer you a far better experience than any other Microsoft operating system. But if you're sitting in front of a system that has a keyboard and mouse attached, then it's hard to make a compelling case for Microsoft's newest operating system.

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OK, so I've had the Windows 8 Consumer Preview bits in my hot hands for a few hours and now I've had a chance to use the operating system on both virtual machines and physical systems, I thought I'd give you a very basic first impressions on Microsoft's latest offering.

Before I go any further I just want to make one thing clear: this is not a review of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. It is not a review for two reasons.

First, anyone who tries to review an operating system after only a few hours (or even days) using it is doing you a disservice. Operating systems are huge affairs, and getting it installed and having a quick play around with it is only a small part of the equation. There can be show-stopping bugs or issues that only show up only after long periods of usage.

The other reason is that this is a beta in everything other than name, and as such things are not only just likely to go wrong, things are likely to change between now and the final release.

For the purposes of this look at Windows 8, the hardware platform that I will be using will be the sort of platform that you'll more likely end up seeing Windows 8 on - a desktop system with a keyboard and mouse. I could be all fancy and show cover this from a touch perspective, but I'm willing to wager that touch-based desktop systems won't take off as a result of Windows 8, and that you won't be driving the operating system by touching your screen. You'll be touching a keyboard and mouse like you have been up to now.

OK, with that out of the way; let me give you a brief tour of the good, the bad and the ugly of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Should you click on that 'Install now' button?

The good

I'm not going to lie to you, there's a lot to like about Windows 8.

To begin with, the installation is a breeze, which is always a good start. I've had no problems at all getting it installed on both physical hardware and into virtual machines (the only thing I haven't tried yet is upgrading over the top of an existing Windows box, I might try that later). To borrow an 'Appleism', the Windows 8 install mechanism "just works".

It's also fast, and very fluid. It's also pretty in a way that I really didn't think an operating system could be. If nothing else, the old drab Windows user interface (admit it, it was drab) has received a colorful makeover. A splashy desktop wallpaper was really nothing more than pointless décor. The Metro changes at least gives the flashy colors a purpose.

There's also a degree of space and clarity to the Windows user interface that I've not seen since... well... ever really. The Metro user interface redesign is in many ways the reworking that we've been waiting for since we moved away from that cramped 1024x768 screen resolution onto bigger panels and higher resolutions. Gone are the days of having to squint at tiny text or aim for microscopic user interface elements when you're in the 'Metrofied' portions of the operating system.

Everything is big. Everything is bold. Everything is easy to see and use.

Multi-monitor support is also the best ever that Windows has seen. Microsoft seems to have finally acknowledged that some of us sit in front of more than one screen, and the company has finally given us the support that we need to make this a more pleasant experience.

The bad -->

The bad

But it's not all good. Not by a long shot.

My biggest gripe about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is exactly the same gripe that I had about the Developer Preview. It's that Microsoft is forcing all of us to adopt what is primarily a touch-based user interface on systems that have traditional inputs mechanics (keyboard and mouse).

What's more, that change offers nothing in the way of an advantage to those not on a touch-based device (which I estimate will make up at least 90 percent if not more of Windows 8 users over the lifespan of the operating system). It feels like change for the sake of change and nothing else. I'll come back to this later.

I could talk at length about this (and I might in a later post) but for now let me concentrate on just one aspect of the problem - scrolling.

Since the dawn of time (at least the dawn of the graphical user interface), scrolling has been a top-down thing (elevator-style for you web developers out there). You start at the top of the ‘page,' and to see stuff not on the ‘page' you scroll down. It's essentially a reworking of the ‘reading a page' paradigm. Yes, I know that most of us read left-to-right, but we all go top to bottom.

Windows 8 skews this paradigm and changes it into a left-to-right paradigm. So now, rather than infinitely scrolling downwards, you scroll endlessly to the right. The idea is that it emulates reading a book. You read a page, then you flick to the right, then you read some more, then you flick over to the next page. That makes sense, sort of.

However, the Metro user interface doesn't seem to be ‘page aware,' and you end up having to keep track of where you eye had got to when you scroll. The Start Screen when ‘all apps' are displayed is a good example of this problem.

Not only do you have to ‘read' top-to-bottom, but you also have to read left-to-right, and you have to keep track of where you'd go to all the time. The more apps you add to this, the bigger the problem will be in my opinion. Apple's solution on the iPad of having different ‘pages' of apps makes a lot more sense and is far easier to on the eye.

Here's another problem. My mouse has a scroll wheel. This scroll wheel traditionally scrolls up and down. It's what I'm used to. It's what works for me and has worked ever since I bought a mouse with a scroll wheel. But now Microsoft wants to tinker with that, putting elements into Windows 8 like the Start Screen where this is up-and-down scroll is translated into a horizontal scroll.

Why force me to change a long-ingrained way of working when it seems to offer me no advantage over how I used to work? Why not just offer me an option of ‘touch' of ‘traditional' inputs and let me choose what's best? Keep the tiles, just give me an efficient method of working with the tools that I have at my disposal.

The problem with the Metro user interface, and specifically the touch aspect, is that it feels like a child that's frantically waving its arms in its parent's face for attention the whole time. It's annoying, and it gets real old, real fast.

I really hope that the Metro user interface with its focus on touch hasn't been fixed in stone between now and the final release, and that Microsoft listens to concerns that people have and works to put in place a mechanism that works better on traditional systems.

The ugly -->

The ugly

Yes, there's also some ugly stuff. Quick example, in one click you go from this...

...to this...

Seriously, Microsoft, is the Metro user interface really just skin deep? Same goes for Windows Explorer:

Again, seriously, is that the best Microsoft could do?

This makes me even more annoyed with the Metro user interface, because not only am I having to relearn something, when it's convenient for Microsoft (that is, Microsoft has failed to develop a Metro replacement), I'm unceremoniously dumped back into the Classic user interface again. Bolting on a new user interface is one thing, but when that user interface is incomplete, it makes you question the value of it.

It staggers me that Microsoft hasn't managed to extend Metro across the board when it comes to core functionality. How are tablets users expected to manage files of trawl through control panel with their pudgy fingers on using the Classic interface?

Inconsistencies in the Windows user interface is nothing new, but this mish-mash of Metro and Classic takes it to an absurd level.

Conclusion

If you're fortunate enough to have touch-based hardware platform to run the preview on, then Windows 8 will offer you a far better experience than any other Microsoft operating system. It's far from perfect (the flipping between Metro and Classic is one of many problems) but it's still far better than Windows 7, and light years ahead of Vista.

The problem comes if you're using a traditional system. If you're sitting in front of a system that has a keyboard and mouse attached (or for that matter, a trackpad), then it's hard to make a compelling case for Windows 8. Sure, there are some nice touches, but on the whole it's still Windows 7 just with a new user interface slapped on top for you to learn.

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Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • Windows 8 Consumer Preview - The good, the bad and the ugly

    Cannot agree about the bad and the ugly. It will not take long to learn how to scroll left to right and it feel more natural. When I was using Microsoft Windows 8 I could clearly see the distinction between the touch based OS and the user desktop. The mouse worked perfectly on it. You can click the tiles or the corners to do what you need. For touch based, the tiles provide a perfect solution to get your applications up. The gripe about the Metro UI being only skin deep, its there for touch and for users to have a friendlier desktop. Its so easy to get to the regular desktop if Metro isn't your thing. Sounds like you are conflicted on how to use Microsoft Windows 8 even when they gave you the choice of Metro or desktop. That's on you, not a fault of Windows 8.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • I smell failure....................

      No one including myself likes the metro interface. They tried it on phones and look how that turned out...........consumers are not stupid.

      No one I know likes the metro interface on windows mobile, Its fugly, thats for sure.
      DejaVu2
      • I smell success .... just another point of view

        Big fan of Metro, using it for over a year now on phone and it is simply best UI for that form factor. I find static grid icon lock outdated.

        On the phone success, it has more to do with carrier sales and the lack of good hardware to start with. All US providers, and mainly Verizon is anti microsoft and they will push Android over WP all the time. As an OS, Windows PHone is better than iOS and Android for me.
        ninjacut
      • Failure or Success?

        @ninjacut

        I have to agree that Metro is the [i]best[/i]. I have Win8 installed both in a VM and right over an old Win7 system (upgrade went *perfectly*) and the while Desktop is the most attractive Windows desktop ever, Metro is fantastic and fresh and beautiful.

        The problem is, Win8 is schizophrenic. Just as Kingsley-Hughes wrote, with one tap (or click) you are dropped from one perfectly nice interface into another. [i]But why should there be two?[/i] If I [i]am[/i] using touch, Win8 is nearly unusable as a "real" OS because the "real" bits are all in desktop mode, which is as touch unfriendly as Win7 is. If I have a mouse, then all that horizontal scrolling makes no sense. It really is a flustercuck.

        In other words, it is like getting two great OSes in one, but each one is less than half of the whole.
        x I'm tc
      • You smell is correct

        I love it on the WP7, it is smooth and works. I have a Zune HD and it is similar to the phone and works fine.

        While I am not sold on it from an enterprise standpoint, I do think it is the correct move for tablets, phones and consumer devices.

        I installed it on a touchscreen Gateway laptop that is about 6 years old, with 2 GB of ram, it installed in about 15 minutes start to finish from USB and this laptop is a dog with XP on it, it all runs fine even on outdated hardware.
        hopp64
      • Everyone I know loves the new Metro interface.

        As a matter of fact just about every single report I have heard about the new Windows phones say the OS is the best of the bunch right now so all your talk about "no one likes it" is falling on the def ears of the countless who do like it.

        And your right. Consumers are not stupid, you say that in one breath right after you have said a bunch of things that make it seem just like you do think they are stupid.
        Cayble
    • It works, but it's not natural

      with a mouse rather than touch. Navigating the start menu is much clunkier, the simple task of rebooting (even once you figure out how to do it) is an aggravating experience.

      This is only a consumer review, and I am sure MS will do their homework and address this so I am not overly concerned about it, but it is something MS would be smart to look into. Swipes are not as natural as clicks when using a mouse, so MS really ought to find ways to allow a mouse user to click on something if the only alternative at the moment is to swipe something.

      Having said that, I do understand the direction MS is going in with Windows 8 and they are being very smart about it. It's not perfect yet, but I can see it being pretty close to perfect with only a few tweaks.
      Michael Kelly
    • I think MS did ...

      ... a splendid job overall. I was particularly impressed by the way MS made Windows 8 work extremely well and efficiently with the keyboard and mouse. To users of the keyboard and mouse, Windows 8 offers a fresh, new, slick, modern clean OS, with a brand new app ecosystem. Switching between touch interaction, and keyboard and mouse interaction, doesn't result in speed or usability penalties. I of course believe MS' implementation of touch interaction, was done extremely well also.

      I hear people griping over petty things, but I guess this is to be expected with the major UI change. Many people griped over the ribbon interface in Office, but the ribbon interface caused Office sales to soar. Also most of the complaints about the UI clash between the desktop and Metro interface, don't have much legs, since this is inevitable when you make the two available in the same OS, and give users the flexibility to work with apps in both environments side by side. MS is after all providing flexibility. Also I believe it is reasonable for MS to make users have to do deal with the Metro UI / Start Screen, because this is the new UI of Windows, and access to the desktop is an accommodation. E.g. with Windows 95, if you wanted to primarily work with DOS applications, you still had to deal with the new Windows desktop - because that was where MS OSs were headed.

      All in all I think MS did a fantastic job, and the cries over changes to Windows are normal, as many users set in their ways, resent the adjustments. MS of course will have distinguish between legitimate complaints, and users merely belly aching over the change. But once again, I think MS did a really, really great job. Kudos to the MS Windows team!
      P. Douglas
      • pure B$!

        this next version of an already lame OS will be a failure because the fanbois alone can't sustain the 'demand' for it. M$ does not even have the tools to write apps for it, so nobody will rush to buy it.
        That's a great opportunity for FOSS and Linux to deal the final blow to the M$ beast.
        The Linux Geek
      • "Fanbois"? Is that some kind of gay code?

        Why are you so angry? Do you watch a lot of Fox News?

        Just sit over there in the corner and play with your Linux. The other 90% of us are fine without you.

        And what will the "final blow" from Linux be? Breaking 2% usage worldwide? I bet Gates is selling his stock now.
        pishaw
    • It's the UI that matters

      What Adrian fails to see is that this is a UI for mouse, kb, touch, Kinect gestures, voice and you can also add facial and body recognition.

      I've used the Preview for around 2 hours btw.

      The best part is not only will this UI function with multiple input methods but it's the same across platforms. It looks like my Windows Phone, it has the same hubs and the tiles have the same names and just like WP7 it's easy for non computer people and novices to pick up.

      Touch may be all people talk about at the moment, but it's really a dead end. Useful only on small devices, it fails at bigger screens and has little use on the desktop. However, just like web cams used to be bulky separate devices, in a few years you will see Kinect hardware integrated into various platforms and the same Metro UI works fine with gestures. It also works fine with the mouse.

      You may not like it Adrian, byt you may come to see it's benefits in the future.
      tonymcs@...
      • Update: After 1+ day of use

        While I like what I see, parts of it just don't feel "right" with a mouse or touchpad. Then switching bach and forth (deliberately) between 8, 7, and SnowL, it feels even more out place.

        Let's see how I feel after a couple of days.

        Update: After a day+ and I restored my UL and installed Win8 on top saving all apps and user info.
        All works okay excluding the following (looking at major stuff):
        This is installed on an ASUS UL30VT i3 with 128SSD

        WIN8 will not recognize all 1gb of my Video card, only sees 258mb (say what?) - display is distorted (stretched wide)
        ie10 runs the Win7 mode, not Metro like I had before install over Win7
        Office 2010 works fine so far
        Still feels "not quite right" with a mouse / keyboard

        More later.....
        rhonin
    • Everyone I know loves the new Metro interface

      You mean the 20 people out there who own a Windows phone?

      Did you place an ad to find them?

      lol...
      ScorpioBlack
      • make that 21

        locked icons are dead to me. welcome to the future, all form factors are now available to the largest group of developers on earth. Ruh Roh...
        mydasx
    • Proper mouse

      I think I felt less pain using my mouse "Microsoft Touch Mouse" just due to it's fluid interactivity with regard to the UI presented. Using my explorer mouse made the article points much more valid.
      TechNickle
  • Wow so you really like it!!

    I have been playing with it too on the build machine, the OS is wicked cool. In my set up the tablet drops into a dock and my main monitor lights up with the desktop, and the tablet has the start screen on it. I dont have to switch back and forth much because I am one of those people that uses the task bar at the bottom of the desktop to pin the desktop apps.
    Its alot like windows 7 on the monitor and win 8 on the tablet still.
    I have a few issues like where is my Zune client, and why dident my music sync up to the sky drive but maybe there are some services that still need to be turned on.
    I think consumers will love it.
    nanderto
    • A few things

      The included, "Music" app is very Zune-ish. It's actually quite nice. Try the snap feature, with it in the smaller side, and see what happens while playing music. Right now it's pretty generic. It will play your collection of music if in a library folder, but it shows random artist in full screen or 3/4th snap.

      And, yes. All of Skydrive hasn't been turned on that. Based on what we have and the new Skydrive demo done a couple of weeks ago. Many of the apps are still rough beta and the OS still needs polish. But, overall it's pretty darn nice and I'm highly encouraged.

      If MS can come up with a way to make the Metro/Desktop transition more fluid or remake the desktop UI so that it appears completely Metro, that will be the bees knees.

      P.S. I'm spending 90% of my time in Metro. I'm navigating this thing quick as lightning now.
      wyn6
    • dev to consumer

      the leap between the two builds was huge. My build box is singing. I've shown it to out and out apple guys (some of which used to work at apple) and they were all floored. I think cut the rope really adds credibility. :)
      mydasx
  • An OS that targets Middle School children

    With it's silly Metro(sexual) GUI, and phone home spyware. I cannot seriously see anyone with a functioning brain seeing this as a great thing.
    Jumpin Jack Flash
    • Like the phone home spyware on Android and iPad

      and your point was?
      William Farrel