One hour with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a convertible notebook

One hour with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a convertible notebook

Summary: The Consumer Preview of Windows 8 is available now for those wanting to kick the tires of the next big thing from Redmond. Here's my take on the interface for laptops and tablets.

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Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Microsoft threw a big bash in Barcelona today to throw the switch on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. This early look at the next major version of Windows is now available for download to allow interested parties to take it for a test drive on existing hardware. This version of Windows is a radical departure from earlier versions as it is designed to be the OS for desktops, laptops, and tablets. I couldn't wait to give it a try and installed it on an old Lenovo ThinkPad X200t convertible notebook. I figured this notebook would let me test both the desktop user experience and the tablet experience with its touch screen. Having spent an hour with Windows 8 my thoughts are mostly good, although a bit confused.

I approached the Windows 8 experience from that of a new user. I avoided reading up on the new interface, choosing to just jump right in as most consumers will end up doing. I won't get into the details of installing it on the ThinkPad as this strictly covers my impression of the new user interface that is Windows 8. Kudos are due Microsoft for the slick download and install of Windows 8 as it couldn't have one better.

See also:

Windows 8 Beta: Hands-on with Microsoft's tablet-friendly OS (CNET)

Windows 8 Consumer Preview: a fresh start for Microsoft (Ed Bott)

The first boot of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview stepped me through the setup process smartly. I gave it my Windows Live credentials, now called the Microsoft Account, and I was up and running. The new Metro user interface is a collection of colorful tiles representing apps installed by Windows 8. Interacting with Metro by mouse is straightforward and largely intuitive, with the screen panning to the right or left by moving the cursor to the appropriate edge of the screen. It works smoothly and without surprise.

The first thing you have to learn about Windows 8 is to pay attention to the left corners of the screen. Moving the cursor to each corner triggers a specific action for working with the interface, and you can't get very far without those corners. The lower left corner pops up a little depiction of the Start screen to provide an easy way to get back there from any app that may be running. The upper left corner triggers a bar on the left containing recently run apps to make switching between apps as easy as clicking on one in this bar. The right edge of the screen triggers a charm bar that gives access to common system functions such as access to settings. The top and bottom edges trigger actions specific to the app running at the time.

The familiar Windows desktop is present and accounted for in Windows 8, as it is a simple click on the appropriate tile away. It looks exactly like the Windows 7 desktop, in fact the Windows 8 install process brought my entire customized desktop along into Windows 8. The desktop is used to run legacy apps, which are those not designed specifically for the Metro interface in Windows 8. Most Windows users will find this desktop to be comforting, as it is a familiar sight. At times it can be a bit jarring to see it pop up when you click on what looks like another Metro app tile on the Start screen.

The first time I clicked on the Internet Explorer tile I expected to see a nice Metro version of IE open up. I was instead surprised to see what looks like the Windows 7 version of IE. Internet Explorer is a desktop app, not a Metro app, and it runs on the old Windows desktop. That seems counter-intuitive to me, as I would think the basic web browser app should take full advantage of the new Metro interface. That in a nutshell sums up my impression of the new Windows 8 Metro interface. I like it when it's there, but find it jarring to get thrown into the "old" Windows often. It's like Windows 8 is schizophrenic, and by design.

The Metro apps included in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview are nice but very early versions, so I won't get into details about them. They are enough to give me hope that the app ecosystem will come along nicely by official launch time.

Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

After playing a while with Windows 8 in a pure laptop mode, I was anxious to give the touch interface a good test. I rotated my ThinkPad screen around to put the device into a touch tablet configuration and went to town. What I immediately ran into was a frustrating experience, some of which may be due to the particular hardware I am using but a lot of it is due to the design of the touch interface.

A touch interface for use on a tablet must be completely intuitive, and it must be obvious how to operate a computer by touch. The simple actions work well enough, like scrolling sideways by swiping the Start screen. Those special corner-activated actions quickly came to give me fits, though. Microsoft has chosen to leave the corner actions unmarked, and as a new user I was regularly looking at the screen to see what I could do, only to see nothing. The corners and edges of the screen that can be swiped to generate some action are not marked, and thus it's not intuitive that an action can be triggered.

I also ran into an inconsistent experience swiping these areas to make something happen. While moving the cursor into the lower left corner always made it possible to get to the Start screen in laptop mode, that's not the case with pure touch operation. Sometimes swiping out from that corner does nothing, sometimes it makes a previously used app open, and occasionally the legacy desktop opens. I don't make much of the inconsistent actions, as this is a very early version of Windows 8. I do think the screen should give the user a visual cue when touching an edge of the screen could trigger some action, and even give a hint as to what that action might be. After my brief time with the Windows 8 touch interface, I found myself frustrated more often than not, and Microsoft needs to improve that for mainstream consumers.

I am excited at the potential I see in Windows 8 from the Consumer Preview, but I think the interface needs improvement in the areas I have noted. I questioned the decision to make Windows 8 the sole OS for both PCs and tablets, and I don't think the interface is ready for touch tablet operation just yet.

Topics: Operating Systems, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Tablets, Windows

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40 comments
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  • The corners ...

    [i]Those special corner-activated actions quickly came to give me fits, though.[/i]

    ... are for when you use a mouse and keyboard, not for when you use touch.
    P. Douglas
    • but you need them for touch

      Without edge/corner controls there is no way to exit a Metro app and go back.
      JamesKendrick
      • You can ...

        ... use your finger or a pointer to drag the top of the app downwards, which shrinks the app. If you continue, you can drag the app to the bottom and off the screen, effectively closing the app. See time 2:30 in the video in the article you are taken to by the link below:

        channel9.msdn. com/Blogs/Windows-Blog/Windows-8-Consumer-Preview-Demo
        P. Douglas
      • not really

        you just press the windows key, there is one on every laptop and PC compatible keyboard.
        Also looking at your pictures it seems your tablet has raised edges at the sides of the screen, this is pretty much going to rule it out for using windows 8 purely with touch. a lot of gestures require you to swipe from the edge of the screen
        beenman500
      • Windows key hidden in tablet mode

        In tablet mode the keyboard is covered so no Windows key available.
        JamesKendrick
      • Windows key on touch interface? Drag apps from top to minimise?

        Neither are applicable nor intuitive for touch interfaces.
        Richard Flude
      • Swipe from the right...

        I believe you swipe from the right edge to get the charms bar and then touch the Start charm. Corners are for mouse, edges for fingers.
        waltersc
      • james?

        James:

        1. Why are you trying to swipe the hot corners? That makes absolutely no sense at all. The hot corners are for the mouse only. It doesn't work because it's not a valid gesture. On OS X, there're hot corners too. Should that be marked as well?

        2. Why do you want all the swipe & hot corners to be marked? Does the iPad show you on screen how to swipe left or right? Do you know how cluttered that would look?

        Swipe from right edge always bring the Charm bar.
        Swipe from left edge brings the app switching.
        Swipe from the top and drag down to close Metro apps.
        Swipe up from the bottom to bring up action bar.

        That's the 4 edge swipes that you ever need to learn. So once you've learned them, do they still give you fits?

        3. When you first click on the IE from the Start Screen, it should launch Metro IE. Did you upgrade from Windows 7?
        KevinN206
    • re: The corners...

      Do you know then, how you would go back to the start screen in a touch interface on a PC? I haven't used it at all yet, so maybe it would be obvious if I could see it, but it sounds to me like you'd still need those corners on an x86 PC, even if using the touch interface.
      brble
      • Please watch ...

        ... the video you are taken to by the link below:

        channel9.msdn. com/Blogs/Windows-Blog/Windows-8-Consumer-Preview-Demo
        P. Douglas
      • P. Douglas

        I watched the video, parts of it more than once, but I still didn't see how you'd get to the search function, for example, without using a mouse and pointing it in the upper right-hand corner, although I certainly could have missed it. On a tablet PC, the mouse and keyboard can be covered by the screen, so I am wondering how you would access those corner features under those conditions.
        brble
      • Place ...

        @brble,

        ... your finger at the right edge of the screen. Then swipe towards the left of the screen. When you do this, the Charm bar / menu will appear. You can then press one of the (labeled) icons on the charm bar. The middle icon (Window) takes to the start screen. The top icon (Magnifying glass) takes you to search. You can test out where the other icons take you.

        I guess it would be helpful if MS included a short video tutorial about navigating Windows 8.
        P. Douglas
      • re: Place...

        Thanks P. Douglas. I guess it wasn't obvious to me that the search charm was the same as the corner search option, particularly because he accessed the search charm with the mouse instead of the corner, so I thought they might be something different. I've downloaded the preview and I think I'll just need to play with it.
        brble
  • One hour with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a convertible notebook

    Nice review. I'd agree about the corners in that there should be a little more indication that there should be something there but I was quickly able to figure it out within a few minutes. This is a preview though so if Microsoft gets enough feedback they can change it with some type of indicator in the corners.

    [i]The first time I clicked on the Internet Explorer tile I expected to see a nice Metro version of IE open up. I was instead surprised to see what looks like the Windows 7 version of IE.[/i]
    When I opened IE it had a metro theme, it had the toolbar at the bottom with nice pretty circle icons. Didn't look anything like the IE in Microsoft Windows 7.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • No Metro IE for me

      My IE is pure desktop version that fires up the legacy desktop to run. Was yours in the Consumer Preview or another earlier version?
      JamesKendrick
      • Metro IE

        Just installed Windows 8 CR, and IE opened up in Metro for me first try too.
        jthompso@...
      • Consumer Preview

        It was the consumer preview. Clicked on the IE tile on the start screen and it opened IE with a metro theme.
        Loverock Davidson-
      • Default browser not IE

        My default browser was not IE in Windows 7, so the CP install hid the Metro app. Changing the default browser to IE brought it in as it should be.
        JamesKendrick
  • useless review

    Sorry, can't agree with your review findings. The Win 8 CP has got most of the things right. May be you should try it in a different hardware before making silly judgements.
    owllnet
    • +1 Useless review

      I am amazed that In a 1 hour you decided what worked and what didnt..There is a lot under the hood to get used to.Just amazed you are supposedly pros at what you do and yet readers here have to school you...You really need to get used to win 8 and come back after a week or so then tell us your story, until then there are plenty of articles out there to learn from. Take Care
      patchman