What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

Summary: Now that Microsoft's Windows 8 Developer preview has been out for just over a month, what do some of the hackers of earlier leaked builds think of it?

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Before Microsoft made a first public developer preview of Windows 8 available in September, a number of hackers had been tearing apart leaked earlier builds to try to discern what was new and different in the coming operating system.

Now that these same hackers have had a chance to tinker with Windows 8, I thought it would be interesting to see what surprised them and what they've learned since getting their hands on the developer preview release.

I asked three individuals -- all of whom I've spoken with previously about Windows 8 -- for their latest takes. The three: Michael Brown (MB): Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in Client Application Development, and President Kharasoft, Inc., blogging at http://azurecoding.net/blogs/brownie, and tweeting at @browniepoints. Jose Fajardo: Senior Developer involved with Silverlight “and other cool things,” who blogs at http://advertboy.wordpress.com, and tweets at @josefajardo. Sandro Villinger (SV): Blogger, book author who writes extensively about Microsoft and operating systems for ITWorld and runs the TuneUp Blog.

Fajardo's response to my query is worth noting, as he has been one of the most vocal of the hackers of early Windows 8 builds. When I asked about his perceptions of the Developer Preview release, he told me:

"Unfortunately I haven’t been playing much with Win 8 and it’s purely because I just don’t feel compelled to build anything for it until it can support my interests. What I’m waiting for is: 1. DirectX in WinRT so that I can use DirectX in my XAML apps; 2. XNA in XAML (SL5 3DApi has still to make it into XAML, I’m waiting on DrawingSurface etc.); and 3. Blend tooling to help create XAML apps, currently it only allows us to create HTML apps."

The other two I contacted had spent a lot of time with the Developer Preview and had some interesting observations. Here are my questions and their answers:

MJF: What’s your biggest surprise about Win 8 now that you’ve gotten to work with the Dev Preview for a month-plus?

MB: Once Windows 8 was made available, I installed it on primary laptop dual booting Windows 7. I planned to just kick the tires around, but two weeks later I realized I had only booted into Windows 7 once (to get a file that was locked on the Windows 7 partition).

I didn’t have many surprises from a developer’s view. I think all of my assumptions based on what had gone public were all spot on except one: no emulation for “classic” desktop. The biggest surprise to me is that the “classic” desktop is full on Windows. (Previously) I was hypothesizing that classic mode would only be supported through Emulation/Virtualization similar to Windows XP mode on Windows 7. Instead, it is a full blown desktop. I have yet to have any application compatibility problems. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It seems Microsoft swallowed a bitter pill with Vista and are cautious when it comes to breaking changes.

Another surprise came when I pressed the start button from the classic desktop. Instead of seeing the start menu it took me to the Metro Shell. It took me a second to figure out what was going on. Then I realized the new “Metro Shell” is in reality the new start menu. When I got the tip that typing in the start menu brings up application search including classic desktop apps, I was happy. In reality that’s all I use the start menu for now (on Windows 7). I think it’s a bold move but it makes the new Start Menu the star of the stage.

SV: Battery Life! I installed Windows 8 Developer Preview on my main machine, a 2011 MacBook Air which is powered by a Core i7 1.8 GHz. On my first trip, I was blown away: Instead of the usual 6 ½ -7 hours I had on Windows 7, the Air went dark after 7 hours and 45 minutes using Windows 8. We’re talking an hour of additional battery life here, which I couldn’t believe at first.

So I went back and did some serious testing, not only with the Air but also with a couple of other laptops (one HP netbook and an Acer 17” laptop) and confirmed it: The Dev Preview squeezed between 5-15% of additional battery life out of the laptops, which is quite a technical achievement in my opinion; I’m going to put together a comparison with a different scenario and compile a blog post in the near future. Go to the next page for more on Windows 8 misperceptions and expected changes

SV (continued): It’s clear that Microsoft made a huge investment in power efficiency, both on the server and on the client: We’re seeing apps suspending, more aggressive timer coalescing, less memory usage, less and/or combined disk writes and services, that start when they’re needed and stop when they’re not needed. Windows 8 also pushes the hardware to enter lower power states much sooner. Digging around the advanced power management settings, I also found 19 (!) new options to control memory management in favor of (or against) power efficiency:

I expect Microsoft to combine some of these options into a setting that’s a bit more easier to understand. Anyway, battery life is one of the killer features of today’s mobile world and it’s good to see Microsoft making such investments.

MJF: What’s the biggest misperception by the community (dev community/user community and/or press) about Windows 8 that you’ve seen circulating?

MB: I’m still hearing “Silverlight/WPF/.NET is dead” from the community. It puzzles me. .NET is still a premiere language for Metro style apps and the classic desktop isn’t going anywhere. The WPF team is still hard at work for the next release and Silverlight 5 just reached Release Candidate status. The fact remains that if you’re developing for Windows, the majority of your target users will be able to run standard WPF, Silverlight, and .NET applications. And as I mentioned before, the skills that you’re learning today in WPF and Silverlight will carry over to Metro when the time comes.

SV: That the Metro-style interface is aimed purely at tablets and that it’s utterly unusable and unproductive. First of all, (Windows President) Steven Sinofsky acknowledged that there will be changes in and around the Metro UI (more on that below).

Second, how can anyone judge this UI without actually using some real Metro-style apps day in and day out? What we've got so far are samples written by summer interns (which Microsoft acknowledged during BUILD), that are extremely basic. Do we actually spend enough time in those apps to judge usability? No. Do we know what big ISVs will have “in store” (quite literally) when Windows 8 hits the market? No.

Right now, everyone who’s using Windows 8 Developer Preview lives on the classic desktop and not in the Metro UI, since there’s no real reason to spend hours in this new environment. Let’s just wait until the Windows Store goes live and see how the combination of “real” apps and the usability improvements promised by Microsoft change this perception.

And if even then you can’t stand the new (Metro) UI, just turn it off – there’s a Group Policy setting for that and it’s called “Do not show the Start Menu when the user logs in”. Et Voilà! MJF: Is there any one Windows 8 feature you’re expecting MS to change/tweak based on user feedback before the beta hits?

MB: I’ve tried Windows 8 in a number of scenarios. The story I’m most interested in is remote desktop. As of right now, it appears that Windows 8 has taken a step back with remote desktop composition. Even connecting to a Win 8 machine from another Windows 8 machine, desktop rendering is performed server side (as opposed to Windows 7 RDP which offloads the rendering to the client). I know Microsoft is pushing the RemoteFx technology, but GPUs on server hardware aren’t common and asking clients to upgrade servers to support Windows 8 as a Remote Desktop Session host (especially with many companies moving to VDI) is going to hamper adoption of the OS. I expect Microsoft will address that by RTM.

SV: Yes, (I think they'll address) the major complaints focused around being able to close apps (which is the No. 1 discussion point on Microsoft's Dev preview Forums – with 94 answers and 15,000 views), cycling through apps and mouse-behavior, which still feels like it’s far from finished. All of these issues will be addressed in the future by another 9,000+-word blog posts from Steven Sinofsky, I presume, and then baked into the beta.

I also know from my sources at Microsoft that the “classic” desktop will get more love going forward, after the initial focus of Microsoft’s attention was on Metro and getting developers to write apps. Some of the desktop features are either in early development stages (“File History” aka History Vault or their new “Automatic Maintenance”, which is still largely a mystery) or not present in the UI at all (remember Protogon?). I expect them to talk and unveil a lot more of what they’ve done to the desktop.

Others of you who've been testing the Windows 8 developer preview: What have you found to be most surprising -- and most misunderstood -- about the OS so far?

Topics: Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

    Give us the start button option between new and classical mode and it will be perfect

    Posted from a Virtual Private Desktop "VPU"
    SlyOS
    • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

      @SlyOS
      This is pretty much a must. I have been using windows 8 dev and pretty much hate it. The metro side I have absolutly no use for. If I would use windows on a mobile device I would want the classic desktop and start options. I also really hate the ribbon format makes things so much more involved then needs be.Give the classic windows desktop and start button and it might be workable. I would even like to see an option to install just the desktop classic version with no metro ui at all to save space since the metro is pointless for desktop, or laptops.
      Fletchguy
      • Not sure I understand....

        @Fletchguy so the main complaint of windows "slates" is the OS is not designed for a mobile device - phone, tablet etc. We've heard over and over that a full desktop OS is worthless on a tablet or smartphone. Possibly you were never in that camp, but I'm curious.
        Do you really think you would not prefer metro in touch mode over standard windows?
        Sorry to repeat this, but you did read the following about misconceptions, right?
        From SV on page 2:
        <i> That the Metro-style interface is aimed purely at tablets and that it???s utterly unusable and unproductive. First of all, (Windows President) Steven Sinofsky acknowledged that there will be changes in and around the Metro UI (more on that below).

        Second, how can anyone judge this UI without actually using some real Metro-style apps day in and day out? What we???ve got so far are samples written by summer interns (which Microsoft acknowledged during BUILD), that are extremely basic. Do we actually spend enough time in those apps to judge usability? No. Do we know what big ISVs will have ???in store??? (quite literally) when Windows 8 hits the market? No.

        Right now, everyone who???s using Windows 8 Developer Preview lives on the classic desktop and not in the Metro UI, since there???s no real reason to spend hours in this new environment. Let???s just wait until the Windows Store goes live and see how the combination of ???real??? apps and the usability improvements promised by Microsoft change this perception.

        And if even then you can???t stand the new (Metro) UI, just turn it off ??? there???s a Group Policy setting for that and it???s called ???Do not show the Start Menu when the user logs in???. Et Voil??!
        </i>

        Have you tried turning the metro UI off? Do you get a classic start menu then?
        Sorry but I've not had time nor resources to load win8 but am interested in what's going on.
        xuniL_z
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @Fletchguy
        Yes this is all very true and I fully agree. It just that MS will have nothing snazzy and cool to market Win 8 with. It will just be another version of windows. Tablets need a simpler GUI than a PC or laptop. MS just missed the boat on it a few years ago. Metro is not going change that fact.

        Seen those new MS commercials were they setup a windows store inside a person's house? The jist of the commercial is to get people to update their old PCs to a new one because people are content with their old computers.
        MS is looking for that big buzz to sell their product, to sell more Windows PCs. It's too bad for them they never had a guy like Steve Jobs to show them how it's done.
        Bakabaka
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @Fletchguy
        Save space? You realize hard drive costs these days are dirt cheap? "If I would use windows on a mobile device I would want the classic desktop and start options." Sounds like you should pick up an old WM6.5 phone on ebay. Just know that you are in the tiniest minority.
        kstap
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @Fletchguy
        i Agree in have been using windows 8 dev and pretty much hate it. The metro side I have absolutly no use for. If I would use windows on a mobile device I would want the classic desktop and start options.
        massagistas
      • @Fletchguy ...Classic desktop (via Explorer) is available

        ... in Metro. The Explorer button is right there in Metro to toggle you between the two UI's. I think, this is a classic case of blowing things out of proportion without a person having first investigated the functionalities available to them.<br><br>Go back, restart Developer Edition and play around - with particular emphasis on toggling between Metro and Classic (i.e. Windows Explorer). Granted, the desktop in Explorer isn't identical to Windows 7 ... but then again, i mean .. honestly, why should it have to be??? After all, the optionality and key functions are near identical, isn't that enough for you? Don't answer that ... i get a distinct feeling i know what your answer's going to be.
        thx-1138_
  • Start menu option

    I can see how the Metro interface could be useful for quick access to a few apps and widgets but I definitely don't want ALL my apps on the desktop. I've installed a suite of applications and then removed some rarely used icons. Now, how do I launch the ones I removed? I could search for them, if I knew what they were called or go searching through Explorer. Clunky, me thinks.
    johnd126
    • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

      @johnd126 - you go to All Programs which lists - surprisingly to some - all the programs you have on your computer, including those that are NOT pinned to your start page.

      Alternatively you just type the first few characters of the app you want and start it.

      Your argument is like saying "OH NO, I unpinned an app from my start menu ... how am I gonna start it now?"
      bitcrazed
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @bitcrazed And where exactly is this mythical 'All Programs'?

        @ccrocket (can't reply to your message) ... all I see is an alphabetical list of my programs not organized in the folder tree. Again, this would be handy if I knew what the program was called but if it is, say, a utility that was installed with another application I wouldn't necessarily know.

        Honestly, I like change ... but this is going backwards. From a system with some organization to a mishmash.
        johnd126
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @johnd126 On my touchscreen I just touch in from the right side of the screen and tap the "Search" button. All my programs are listed. Not sure what you do with a mouse / keyboard setup.
        clcrockett
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @johnd126 - hover your mouse in the bottom left corner of your Start screen and hit "search". If you're on the desktop, hit [Win] + [C] for the charms menu to appear and hit "search"

        I STRONGLY encourage you to read this lengthy, but very interesting post which provides some fascinating background to the design of the start page:
        http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/10/11/reflecting-on-your-comments-on-the-start-screen.aspx
        bitcrazed
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @bitcrazed
        The issue is why make it so much harder and slow productivity? If you have the start button its like a central location area. You click start hoover over programs and then all show up right there. Quick easy and productive no relearning no extra typing no hunting. The button missing is a negative. Hopefully if Microsoft screws that up some one will make a classic start button skin like they did for windows 7.
        Fletchguy
      • Sometimes change alone is the problem

        @bitcrazed I don't care to get into weather Metro is better or worse then classic start menu. But change for many is enough to ignore what may be a decent OS. Judging by the feedback so far I think Microsoft will get some heat for not allowing for a more traditional Start menu option for those who want it.
        jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @Fletchguy: Again, actually try using it before you berate it. The start button is there on the desktop just as it always has been. If you can't be bothered to try Win8, at least read through a few articles or watch a few videos of it before you complain that something is missing ... that isn't.
        bitcrazed
    • Microsoft needs to provide a choice

      @johnd126 I think Microsoft needs to provide a choice for how the Start menu works. You still have many on Windows XP and to convince them to switch to Windows 8 with Metro will be a issue for some. Who have already ignored the advantages of Windows 7. I think Metro will be a tough sell for Microsoft.
      jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
  • Metro Start Screen

    So, I was at Build and I was initially fairly skeptical of the metro start screen, but quite honestly, it's grown on me. To the haters...
    1. It's easy to pin your favorite apps to the start menu. Just suck it up and pin away.
    2. Don't like start? Swipe from the right and hit search.. everything is literally right there. I agree it could use some more polish, but app search is a million times nicer than win7's space-confined "all programs" list.
    thewordofb
    • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

      @thewordofb - I completely agree. While the start menu looks like a huge change, it BEHAVES just like you'd expect it to, but it gives the added benefit of more apps reachable from each page, is touch-friendly, gives apps the ability to update their tiles dynamically and allows app tiles to be richer and more polished.

      And as many have pointed out - they're nowhere near 'done' with the new Windows8 UI yet - either from a Metro or a traditional desktop perspective.
      bitcrazed
    • Metro = JUNK

      @thewordofb

      The whole mess is a usability nightmare and something nobody asked for or wants. Tiles are a joke and failed on Win Phone 7 (Just like Win Phone 7) and will fail on the desktop.

      [b]Windows 8 UI = EPIC FAIL[/b]
      itguy10
      • RE: What's surprising, misunderstood about Microsoft's Windows 8? Testers weigh in

        @itguy10 - Considering it's nowhere near being finished yet, I think it's perhaps a little premature to pronounce a product that isn't yet even released yet as an "epic fail".

        Oh ... and on the Windows Phone front, I've yet to see a negative review of WinPhone 7.5. Can you point me at one please?
        bitcrazed