My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview – A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

why windows8 intro   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]As much as I like to rant about how Windows 8 is probably going to be a bit of a disaster – and I’m certainly not alone there in the tech community - I do actually really want it to be awesome. I still run my home network with the reliable Windows Home Server 2011 at the core; I love my Windows Media Center as the best PVR yet (there’s certainly no Apple TV in this house); and rarely a night goes by when I’m not on my Xbox.

I want to be surprised by Windows 8; I want to be pushed into a new paradigm of home computing, one that feels futuristic with it’s bold colors and simplistic interface; I’m fully prepared for that. This is the premise of Windows 8, and I decided to try out the recently released Consumer Preview build to just get a taste of what’s coming.

Please bear in mind, the consumer preview is not the final build. What I say here may not necessarily apply to Windows 8 once it’s released.

The Invisible Start Menu

I already knew about the hotspot in the bottom right. Most users won’t know that at first, though perhaps its a minor point if it only takes a few seconds to learn. With any luck, there’ll be an auto playing video tutorial to show them new features and changes. Hover there and click to bring up the Metro start screen.

I figure if there’s one hot corner there must be more, so I try top right. It brings up some kind of search or utility bar. One of the option is to “share”. I try clicking it, only to be reliably informed my desktop has nothing worth sharing on it. FINE.

Apps

Since all my apps were transferred, I figure the old Windows 7 Snipping Tool is in there somewhere. No luck from the initial start screen, but the search button from the top right hotspot reveals the option to narrow down by apps, so I try that. “screen“… “snip“… “grab“… no results for any. Then I scan the list of apps, helpfully arranged in no particular order across the screen. Sure enough, there’s the snipping tool. A search bug I guess, no worries. It turns out to be useless for taking snaps of the Metro interface though, as it kicks me back to the desktop every time. Random freeware to the rescue.

I install a few apps and start playing around with the default ones. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few that caught my eye.

all apps   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

Weather: Nice enough, but even though it figures out my location, it doesn’t seem to know we Brits use Celsius, and it sure as hell isn’t 50 degrees right now, or I’d be fried. I wonder if perhaps the settings button from the top right hotspot applies in the context of apps, and sure enough, it lets me change it to Celsius. I doubt my mum would figure that out though.

Xbox Live Games: locked out for UK users, apparently. Oh well.

Maps: knew my rough location, but even a search for “London” showed zero results. I’m guessing UK users don’t have maps enabled yet either.

Finances: looks nice, but customization seems to extend to adding your own stocks to the watch list, which took me ages to figure out in itself. Now I get some useless foreign market info on my home screen tile. Like most of these default apps, it seems rather vacuous.

finances   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

Quitting Apps

… is just not the done thing in Windows 8, apparently. I understand though – it’s a paradigm shift, that’s cool. It’s still frustrating to this power user. Metro apps don’t even have a back button in most cases – you hover in the bottom left and click back to the start screen, leaving the apps there as they are.

closing apps snap   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

At some point, my mouse hit the top left and that thing appeared –  thumbnails of all the running apps. At least, all except the one you’re using now. Right clicking revealed an ominous close, as well as the option to “Snap to” left or right. To close the running app then, I switched over to another running app, opened the task switcher, and right clicked on the previously running app. Whatever.

snap left   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

Snap to splits roughly 1/5 of your screen space and gives it to the app selected. I can’t figure out if you can still interact with it, but it seems to vary by app. I tried to drag out the snapped bit to cover 1/2 of the screen – that could be useful –  like two browser windows. No such luck – it just becomes the main 4/5 window space, snapping the existing app to the other side of the screen. I’m not quite sure what you’d use this for to be honest, but after a little research I see others have snapped their email there.

The content of metro apps start screen tiles appears to be fixed; there are no options to display a specific stock instead of the 3 random markets it chooses for you, for instance. Perhaps this feature will come as apps develop.

General Interface

The general desktop dialog boxes for everyday apps strike me as childish; like a lightweight Linux or something. They’re not pretty, not at all. Does 10 years of progress mean nothing to you Microsoft?

dialog   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

Switching back and forth between the desktop and start menu is surprisingly speedy, but at the same time really quite jarring. It feels like two distinct layers, two separate desktops. At least it’s quick – like a blast of adrenalin given to a heroine user lost in an overdose of garish colors.

I try out the USA Today app to finish off my hour of testing. It looks gorgeous, and there’s a lot of content on the screen. Unfortunately, you have to actually scroll right to get to the other hidden stories. And I don’t just mean scroll your mouse wheel and it assumes right, I mean you literally have to put it into 2d scroll mode. Bug?

usatoday   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

One click gets me to all the videos, so I enjoy a short clip about some Americans enjoying a new 24/7 muffin shop:

cupcakes   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

There’s no discernible way to jump back to the main story halfway through the video though.

The app is nice for sure, but to be honest it’s really no more than a well designed website, sadly missing key bits of an intuitive interface – like a back button.
Finally, I trim my start screen to the apps I actually want:
trimmed start screen   My First Hour With The Windows 8 Consumer Preview   A Snap Judgement [Opinion]

Snap Judgement

After an hour of using it, I still get frustrated by the start screen hotspot. When you hover, a large tile-like button comes up – instinct tells me I can loosen up my grip on the mouse and click on the middle of that tile for the start screen to appear, but no. Move away from that single pixel in the corner, and you end up clicking on Internet Explorer instead, or simply clicking away and having to do it again. It still takes me two or three clicks to get it spot on. Hopefully they can sort that out.

Generally, it’s all quite snappy. Launching Metro apps for the first time takes far too long, but in terms of resource usage it outperforms Windows 7, so for many people that alone will be a good reason to upgrade.

Metro, though? I’m sorry, I really did want to like this. The apps feel like tacky widgets made of JavaScript and not much actual substance to them. Early days yet, I’m sure. The whole Metro UI strikes me as being great on a tablet, a real contender to Android and iPads. It’s a snappy and touch-tastic simplistic interface for single purpose apps – assuming those apps come and developers get on board.

But on a desktop machine? Like Vista Gadgets and OSX Dashboard Widgets, I do not want this crap. Unfortunately, it takes the forefront and is burned into the core. It is the entire start menu, and it pervades every interaction on the desktop experience. It’s not an optional extra, a bonus interface for those with touch screens. The desktop is shoved aside for legacy apps, and rudely beaten into a corner by Metro, and I don’t like it one bit. If I could slice this obnoxious tumor of an interface out and simply have a speedier Windows, I would make this Windows OS of choice right now.

There’s still time Microsoft. You can still fix this.

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23 Comments -

0 votes

Debra Beshears

I almost downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. I decided to let others do the previewing for me and wait for the final version–depending on whether it’s crap or not. This review tells me I was right.

0 votes

James Bruce

Good choice. Have you considered a Mac? ;)

0 votes

Cabdiqani

“no need to detach the keaorybd, just turn the display by 270 degrees”This is cool too, but I’d still prefer something that detach like the Acer Transformer. Then your airbook becomes an ipad. And you can connect the keaorybd for long typing sessions, or to use it as a cover.

0 votes

Grigor

is when u have to support 350 secrensizes, not all android devices have a line out ect. THATS FRAGMENTATION”Not all IOS devices have a microphone, or a camera, or a dual core processor, or a retina display, or the three-axis gyroscope…THAT’S ALSO FRAGMENTATION DUMMY!

0 votes

Istivan

Good review. I always wonder how come Microsoft is still lacking in some basic UI and UX stuff. How is it possible that they overlook these details? Don’t their own engineers use their own apps for f**k’s sake!? I find it impressive that Windows (as of W7) still has crappy search while an open-source coder developed Everything Search which *literally* finds everything on a Windows computer… I hope they fix the Metro thingy up a bit more till launch, though since the developer beta little seems to’ve improved. *sigh*

0 votes

James Bruce

I do wonder sometimes. Surely *someone* in their testing said “can’t click the damn start thingy!”

0 votes

Josh

Try using 3+ screens, suddenly, those single pixels in the corners that bring things up for the metro side of life are 1000x harder to do. I gave up rather quickly after that.

I did enjoy it on a single display however, its just like being forced to learn keyboard shortcuts, to get around easier, like hitting the windows key for the start menu.. and many others.

0 votes

James Bruce

I dont think *forcing* users to learn keyboard shortcuts is a good tactic!

0 votes

JerryP

The thought of having to support this, for non-computer types who are comfortable with XP and find the move to Windows 7 a bit difficult… by that point I will have to be doing something else. Real programs (non-apps) are still necessary for anything outside your typical home user who only does email and web surfing, but for everyone else, Metro sounds painful.

0 votes

James Bruce

I just feel sorry for all those users who only have one computer, and will be stuck with windows 7 … until they end up buying a mac! ;)

0 votes

Richard Carpenter

I have ran both previews and was not impressed by either. I am really interested in looking at the ARM tablet when they are released later this year, but on the desktop I don’t think so.

0 votes

Brayan Habid

Did you try the Alt+F4 keys in metro to close apps?

0 votes

James Bruce

Yeh, that works, but it’s not really convenient. I’d class alt-f4 up there with a ctrl-alt-del in terms of “things to try when nothing else works”

0 votes

Michael Meier

You can close Metro apps by moving the cursor to the top of the screen, it’ll turn into a hand and you can drag the metro app to the bottom of the screen. When releasing the mouse button (and it’s in the bottom third of the screen) it’ll close.
That seems to be the official way to close metro apps. I can’t say I find it intuitive either, but I expect we’ll be stuck with it

0 votes

James Bruce

Well, that’s just silly. A big red X was too complicated, so they replaced it with dragging from top to bottom? I see the logic there!

0 votes

Cartono

(i’ve lost count)the only reason there are zloiilns of fart apps on ios is that there are zloiilns of big kids like you who wanna cheap buck but have zilch imagination to boot.And the only reason windoze mobile also has zloiilns of fart apps too is that windows mobile programmers also have zilch imagination.It’s all relevant. Yin and Yang, and all that bollox! now go buy a copy of Nanostudio and make beautiful love with your iPaddie! <3

0 votes

Laga Mahesa

Who is Microsoft’s biggest customer? Corporations, not home users. Corporations have no choice but to pay, the vast majority of home users don’t.

Who uses Windows the most in corporations? Secretaries, data entry types. People who don’t last or stay long in the position and don’t have much skill in the computer area.

Put these factors into the equation and you’ll see that Metro and general dumbing down is Microsoft catering to their customers.

Not us.

0 votes

James Bruce

They’re doing pretty badly in terms of corporate market – more and more are switching to the Mac way as they realise support costs are lower and executives are swayed by the iPad. This might be the tipping point needed – I can’t imagine the support that’s going to be needed if they do take the plunge to Windows 8 (assuming it stays in the current form). Or perhaps a linux compatible with old windows app will be released (one that works I mean, I think there are a few projects that are sketchy right now).

0 votes

Chris Hoffman

You can actually press WinKey+Print Screen to take a screenshot and save it to your Pictures folder in Windows 8. This even works for Metro.

It’s an awesome feature. At least there are a few good ones in Win 8.

I love that screenshot of your “trimmed” Start screen, by the way.

We don’t want Metro forced on us on the desktop, Microsoft. We want choice.
But they’re throwing the PC desktop under the bus to chase tablets and such — I mean, why not? What are desktop PC users going to do — stop using Windows?

0 votes

James Bruce

Thanks for the tip Chris!

I was planning to write a “week with windows 8″, but I’ve uninstalled it already and now trying a hackintosh instead! If this is how Windows wants it’s future to be, then screw it, I’m getting out now.

0 votes

Jack Cola

James, did you manage to find the shutdown and restart buttons for Windows 8? I gave up trying to find out how to shut it down, good thing for Virtual Box doing it for me.

But for good HCI, you shouldn’t have to Google “How do I shutdown my computer”

0 votes

muotechguy

To be honest, I dont shut down my computer or restart it, so I never went looking ;) It’s sad that people will have to look that up though.

When I took the decision to uninstall Windows 8, holding down the power button on the case was sufficient!

0 votes

Bob

The power button is on a side menu that you bring up when you bring your mouse to the top right or bottom right corners. Click on settings and then at the bottom there is a power button.