Windows 8 Consumer Preview: What should testers expect?

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: What should testers expect?

Summary: Microsoft is launching the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 on February 29. Here's what testers may see once the bits are downloadable.

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Microsoft is launching the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 on February 29. By going with the "Consumer Preview" name rather than the traditional "beta," the Softies are emphasizing that the coming bits are ready for everyday users to try on their x86/x64 PCs and tablets.

So what are those who download the Windows 8 CP likely to encounter?

Those who already have downloaded and have been testing the early Windows 8 bits (the Developer Preview, released in September 2011) will have different expectations than those downloading Windows 8 Consumer Preview bits for the first time. Those who've been test-driving the bits and studying the thousands (and thousands) of words in every "Building Windows 8" blog post authored by the Windows 8 team are most likely going to be looking for user interface tweaks. They'll be watching to see, as former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Hal Berenson put it in a recent blog post, "Can Windows 8 Metro succeed on the desktop?"

Microsoft officials acknowledged in Building Windows 8 blog posts back in October 2011 that the team knew that the early Developer Preview bits were not optimally navigable using a mouse and keyboard -- despite the fact that Microsoft is touting Windows 8 as a "no compromises" experience that will work equally well on touch tablets and PCs and regular laptops and desktops. Microsoft officials said last October that there would likely be improvements coming in the future around mouse scrolling, app-switching and how app-search results are displayed.

Testers using the Developer Preview haven't gotten a good perspective on how Metro-style apps will work on Windows 8 because only a few sample apps were available in conjunction with the preview bits. Microsoft is expected to release more Metro-style apps with the Windows 8 CP -- and to open its promised Windows 8 app store at the same time.

Free ZDNet Webcast on "Windows 8: What We Know (and What We Still Don't)" Register today. Starts at 12 noon ET on March 1 (the day after the Win 8 CP launch)

Will the Windows 8 CP make it easy for users who don't want/need/like the Metro-tiled Start Screen to do away with it? A number of business users have been requesting a Group Policy or some kind of setting that would allow this. I'm thinking this isn't happening -- primarily because Microsoft is positioning the Start Screen as its replacement for the current Windows Start Menu and taskbar and not as "just" another UI layer.

Those who will be downloading for the first time the Windows 8 bits with the Consumer Preview won't have early Developer Preview experiences and expectations against which to compare. Some who have used or seen Windows Phones will likely see the Consumer Preview, with its Metro-inspired Start Screen as similar in look and feel. Those who've seen and used the Windows Phone hubs (People, Messaging, Office, etc.) will likely grok more quickly how to work with Windows 8. For the other 99 percent -- the non-Windows Phone users out there -- Windows 8 is going to look very different and feel unlike previous versions of Windows.

First-time Windows 8 testers downloading the bits will have different experiences depending on what kind of devices they're using the operating system. Windows 8 is designed to be a touch-centric operating system, meaning it will be best experienced and appreciated on a touch tablet or touch-enabled PC. The Building Windows 8 blog listed late last year a number of currently shipping tablets and PCs which the Softies have used internally for Windows 8 testing purposes.

The x86/x64 version of Windows 8 allows legacy apps (with any associated browser plug-ins) to run on the Desktop. The ARM version of Windows 8 will allow only a few Microsoft apps to run on the Desktop and no plug-ins. But Microsoft isn't making the ARM bits available to testers to download; instead it will provide them some time, starting in the coming weeks, to select partners and developers preloaded on ARM-based testing devices.

For those asking, I don't know when Microsoft will make the Windows 8 CP bits available for download. Its launch event starts at 3 pm CET/9 am ET on February 29 in Barcelona. The event is not being Webcast. Nonetheless, we'll have coverage throughout the day tomorrow on ZDNet on all things Windows 8-related.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, 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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  • I guess we should feel sorry for the Microsoft developers...

    When I look at the interfaces Microsoft is providing, it reminds me of a company I interviewed at 45 years ago, that had key card readers on the bathrooms. This firm felt that personal life, even to the point of pooping should essentially be limited while at work.

    Microsoft's interfaces have been going the way of the firm I mentioned. The various interfaces that customize themselves are great if you are always doing the same thing, but get in the way if you take a lot of interrupts. I am a consultant, so I deal with multiple clients each which has their own way of doing things, which makes the "smart" interfaces Windows and Office are supporting pretty dumb. I also am on the boards of a couple of non-profits so in a given day, I am dealing with at least 4 or 5 differing sets of applications, and settings for applications that I need to use.

    The plan to eliminate the start menu, and pin all the applications I need on the task bar would require me, for last week to have over 80 things pinned to the task bar. Those kind of numbers, make the task bar or the start screen a blockage to get things done, not an improvement.

    I guess the Micrsoft developers under Sinofsky must be like that firm of 45 years ago. They expected people to not be distracted by their lives at work, and they expected developers to work on only one thing with corporate templates on how to do everything. I guess that is ok if you choose to do it, but most businesses aren't that way anymore. One thing Mr Sinofsy,. check those key card accesses to the the bathrooms, your guys are producing a lot of shit.
    oldsysprog
    • You don't have to pin anything to the task bar

      Even in the Developer Preview you can launch applications EXACTLY like you can with Windows 7, either start typing from Start or open the Start Screen and scroll to what you want. People keep mischaracterizing the Start Screen as something that isn't as efficient as the Start Menu and overall that's simply not true.

      Yes there are current keyboard and mouse usability issues in the Developer Preview that Microsoft clearly indicated that they knew about and would have resolved in the next milestone release which is the Consumer Preview.
      Heatlesssun
      • Yes, but it's a jarring experience

        I guess the biggest issue for many people is the jarring effect you get when invoking the Start screen from the desktop: It just doesn't feel like it's part of the environment you currently working in, and actually it isn't: The Start screen is part of the new "Metro-world". I hope this experience has improved for the Consumer Preview. Personally, I don't like that it's full screen. As a developer, I use a lot of different applications, some pinned to the taskbar, some by using Start menu search, and some even by looking them up in the programs list and clicking on them. But when I use Start menu search in Windows 8 now, I jump into the Metro-world for a second before I return to the Desktop-world almost instantaneous. In comparison, the Windows 7 Start menu was less obtrusive by design.

        As long as you only use Metro it's fine, and as long as you only use the Desktop it's good as well. The bad impression occurs when you cross the bridge between them.
        sevenacids
      • @sevenacids

        I understand your feelings about how much more "in your face" the MOSH start screen is compared to the current start menu.

        But we should all get used to the fact that the desktop is there and will be there for the foreseeable future, but that it is no longer the primary app environment for Windows.

        Therefore, I suggest we could re-state your words thus:
        [b][i]"[The desktop] just doesn't feel like it's part of the environment you currently working in, and actually it isn't: The desktop is part of the "Old Windows" world".[/i][/b]

        I am sure that, for a while at least, there will be a whole class of apps for which the MOSH environment doesn't make sense. Developer tools is a good example: MOSH provides a rigidly secured, heavily sandboxed, deeply immersive environment optimized for low power consumption, and touch-friendly end-user experiences.

        Most developer tools simply won't work in such a restricted environment. For example, how would a developer tool handle being suspended in the background when the user steps through some code that brings the app being debugged to the fore?

        Perhaps Microsoft will broaden WinRT's capabilities in future versions of Windows in order to support better multiple screens, less aggressive app suspend and termination behavior, but for now, MOSH is not a good environment for really complex apps like developer tools.

        That said, of all the people who use computing devices, us developers are a miniscule percentage.

        Again, MOSH is primarily for the end user, not us developers. For now at least, the desktop still has a place for a (hopefully shrinking) number of apps as more and more consumer, productivity, LOB, entertainment, etc. apps get ported to MOSH and unleash a new wave of user experience innovation on this exciting new platform.
        bitcrazed
  • Wow, look at that Metro menu up above

    And I'm supposed to know what ALL those symbols mean?

    Some of the programs I run don't have any particular symbol attached to them, which means I need text below it to tell me what it is. The above might be good for social media a_holes but it doesn't replace the Start Menu plus tab underscore
    ScorpioBlack
    • I feel sorry for you.

      "And I'm supposed to know what ALL those symbols mean?"

      If you haven't learned to recognize and remember icons by now, then why are you still using computers?
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Icon's are not nessecarily a good thing

        Sorry but the concept that remembering icons is a good thing was disproved 40 years ago. Back in the days of Xerox PARC they actually measured peoples productivity and found that both experienced and new users worked better with text menus than icons (for anything other than the simplest small set of icons).

        Now it is possible somebody did a real study with human factors people since then and found this has changed, but I don't know of such a study. What I see nowaday's in human factors is "Look how neat this is" rather than "Look how much faster (in a measurable way) people work"
        oldsysprog
      • It isn't the icons

        I like my little icons just fine, but not all the wordage that Win 8 puts with them, nor do I like the idea that I will have to have one monitor for my desk top that I will have to reach and stretch for, and two more to do my work on, two monitors at a time are plenty with my space limitations,
        domiles
      • @Cylon Cneturion

        What @oldsysprog said. Glad I'm not the only one.
        ScorpioBlack
      • Thoughts

        Nope:
        -You can easily start a search and find the app you want.

        -Maybe there will be tooltips? I don't recall how exactly it works, I'll have to reinstall my VM.

        -They're actually "Live tiles" - they animate and can present you with various types of information.

        "Sorry but the concept that remembering icons is a good thing was disproved 40 years ago."

        Okay, so you cite a really old study, but don't tell us where to find it. And how GUIs work is well beyond simple icons these days. Icons are part of the interface, but how they're used is far more important than whether they're used in place of text or not. The area of UI research is far more nuanced than back in the days of Xerox PARC, so simple black and white statements like "text good, icons bad" are not helpful in the least.

        Indeed, I think with the Office Ribbon, they decided to go with both text and icons. The icons provide for instant recognition without having to read each and every label, and the text allows for recognition when there's not a good way to make an icon for something.

        I don't think Microsoft will ever get rid of the live tiles - they have their purpose and their place - but I wouldn't mind if Microsoft added a small text label to them. Perhaps inside the label, as an overlay. With a drop shadow, to make it more visible when the background is a similar color.
        CobraA1
      • Icons

        There is only one main reason why most companies flock to using icons. It is to save money on language translation. Icons are a constant frustration. They make learning how to operate new software or equipment much more difficult.
        ctleng76
    • I looked at the desk top photo!

      If I wanted my desk top covered with verbage, I would have done it my self. If I wanted ti be reaching and stretching to touch my screen I would have bought a touch screen, I did not.
      If I wanted an OS that would not work with some of the older programs I need to use daily because the new ones focus on video and other things I have no need of I could have stayed with Vista (ugh!!). Windows 8 sounds find for folks that text and watch videos I guess, but it will not be for me.
      I agree with ScorpioBlack 100%.
      domiles
    • Some programs don't render an icon

      Some of the video editing programs I use don't even render a proper icon in my current Start menu and I get the generic Windows program icon (or folder icon) instead. That wouldn't tell me anything the way these stupid tiles up above are set up. Stuff the picture-centric Facebook crowd like Cylon Centurion don't have to worry about.
      ScorpioBlack
  • Disable Metro UI

    That's what I expect. Not some registry hack.
    SamWilkinson
    • I'd expect that too

      But I think the registry hack will be the way to go, unfortunately.
      ScorpioBlack
      • I'm not so sure

        Just like Mary-Jo, I'm not so sure about that. The registry hack that was available in the Developer Preview is likely to be dropped, I guess it's purpose was to disable all the Metro-stuff in builds prior the DP for testing purposes, or to hide the features in leaked versions, for example.

        They drop the Start orb, they change the logo - why shouldn't they be straight on this one?
        sevenacids
      • There is no "hack" anymore

        That "hack" from the DP, will no longer work! The code that "hack" relied on, simply isn't there anymore.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • M$ - not a fan of it's user base

        Which is why I dumped the m$ virus for Debian over 15 years ago. Have NOT looked back!
        jcipale
  • i think.

    first I think if you are going to show a picture about win8, it should be a more updated one, or a prettier one. i really would like more a picture with a huge watermark than this green one with a probably old and ugly background (i really doubt this background will be incluided on consumer preview)

    but anyway, talking about tomorrow and Consumer Preview. i think it will be fine, ive been using DP and even though its different from previous versions, Im fine with it.
    anyway its not like a big loss replacing start menu with a new start screen, since start screen Works the same but better than start menu (and yeah, someone confirmed old start menu code was kicked from windows 8, so dont expect reghack and have the old start menu back). and all i know its from DP to CP there are alot of changes, so what i used today will be so much different from tomorrow. and yeah, it will work better with a mouse and keyboard.
    and even Canouna has said its really good now for mouse and keyboard like it is for touch. (he was one that said Developer Preview sucked for Desktop users)

    alot of changes include (from last info i read from Canouna)
    "new dvd icon when the build is mounted, new winpe branding, windows logo in charmbar animated, new branding for installprep... "
    "I can give more details about the 8250, like shortcut menu when you do a right click in the bottom left corner, the Windows logo change of color when you change of color set, new immersive apps organization when you put the cursor in any corner at the left side, ect, ect list is really long. "

    but anyway, I will be a good release better than what i had with Dev Preview, more features, windows store, faster, with less problems like admin right stuff, better for mouse and keyboard, customizable so it will look pretty. so Im sure i will like it.

    but of course if other people dont like this CP/win8, still there is Windows 7 or xp or whatever. and other OS as well.
    Emi Cyberschreiber
    • nt

      I want the 3 minutes of my life back that it took to parse your diarytribe.
      Tea.Rollins