Okay, so I am a little late to this party, with the Windows 8 community preview having been around for a while now, but as a techie I think I should at least have a go and see what it is like. After all I do like games and might need to install Windows again at some point.
As a Linux user (currently running Ubuntu 12.04 beta, with virtual machines of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and Fedora 17 beta) I might not be trusted to give a balanced view of Windows 8, and that’s fine by me. If you don’t think I will, you can leave now. I’ll even make it easy, click this link to go to google! For the record, I liked the overall “Windows XP” experience (no, that is not redundant, I know XP stands for ‘experience’!) hated Vista (but who didn’t?) and I actually enjoyed most of my experiences with Windows 7. I just wanted to play around with Linux a bit more and quite possibly wiped the Windows recovery partition from my machine, and with no other recovery for it, I have Linux until I decide to pay for something else. Not really happening then!
To start my preview of Windows 8, I downloaded the 3.3GB iso from here so I could run it in a virtual machine. The minimum specs to run the preview are listed in the Consumer Preview FAQ section. For those who don’t want to visit, here are the specs needed:
Windows 8 Consumer Preview works great on the same hardware that powers Windows 7:
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
- RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
- Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device or higher
Additional requirements to use certain features:
- To use touch, you need a tablet or a monitor that supports multitouch.
- To access the Windows Store and to download and run apps, you need an active Internet connection and a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768.
- To snap apps, you need a screen resolution of at least 1366 x 768.
So fairly basic specs, though if you are running Windows 8 on a solid state drive, you might want to make sure you have a 60GB one as most of the 30GB one will be used by the OS. The screen resolutions required to run the extras fall in line with the crazy screen resolutions laptops seem to ship with these days, so that shouldn’t be an issue for anyone.
To ensure I got a realistic experience of the system I looked at some laptops on the PC World website, and found that an “average” laptop has a dual core processor and 4GB RAM so I allocated two processor cores and 4GB RAM to the virtual PC I was going to be using and started the installation.
The installation starts and asks you for the language, date and time settings, and also for the keyboard layout. Then the fun starts. You need a licence key to install from the ISO, and it’s quite easy to miss. This is also on the ISO download page, so don’t be caught out by that one. For reference, the key you need is DNJXJ-7XBW8-2378T-X22TX-BKG7J
After accepting the licence agreement and selecting whether you want Windows only or to upgrade, Windows will go off and do it’s own installation. Upon completion of that, the usual Windows screens start coming along, but with a bit of a difference this time.
First up is the personalisation screen. This is where you set the name of the computer, but it also lets you change the background colour. As shown to the left, where I have changed it from the usual Windows teal colour, which I think has been around since 3.1. The slider lets you determine the base colour, which is carried over through the rest of the set-up pages.
Following on from the personalise screen, a couple more screens which are straight forward, and then on to the signing up for a Microsoft account. This will be so you can purchase/download apps from the app store for Windows 8. There doesn’t appear to be a way of signing in with a current Windows live account, or XBOX live account, which is a shame as most people will have one or the other anyway.
Also on that screen is one of the things which annoys me most about security on systems these days. I tried to put in a nice secure password in, and my preference is to go for ones which are quite long, but this was limited to 16 characters. Whilst this is more than enough for most people, those of us who take IT security quite serious would prefer no limit on our password sizes, or a length which is beyond what even I would consider for a password. Stick it to a nice binary number of 64 characters if you must limit it!
And as if to emphasize my point, here is the sign up screen telling me that my password is too long: Incidentally, it makes sure that you fill all of the information on that page in. I really don’t want Microsoft, or others for that matter, knowing where I live right down to street level. I’d have been comfortable with putting my city in, but there’s a level at which things become too much. I can’t see any reason why they need it. If anyone from Microsoft happens to read this (unlikely) can you please let me know why you need my postcode?
Then you get asked for information such as your phone number and a secret question. One of those must be provided, and then you’re asked for your date of birth, gender and to fill in a CAPTCHA. A CAPTCHA being built in to software? Things are starting to get crazy, but okay, I’ll let them have it. I don’t see the relevance of my date of birth though, or my gender for that matter.
So during the set up I have added in information on my postcode, date of birth and gender which I can’t see the relevance of. I’m not too fussed about my gender, that’s fairly obvious from my name and appearance, but my date of birth isn’t as easy to guess, and although it is on Facebook, it’s still limited to who can see it, and my postcode is only known to a select few people who have my address. I think some of the “required” information for setting up an operating system here needs a think through.
Using Windows 8
Anyway, once that is over, the Windows “desktop” is there for you to work with:
It’s easy to see that the layout here is designed for maximum portability to tablets and, to some extent, mobile phones too. It’s a huge leap away from Windows of old, but for those of you scared to venture into it without a fall back, just click on the “desktop” option and you will be taken to a very familiar, traditional Windows desktop, though without the “Start” button. To get a “start” menu of sorts, you’ll need to hold your mouse to the bottom right of the screen and wait for it to appear. The bottom left appears to the “hotspot” for a lot of the menus within the system.
All of the corners have their own thing to do. The bottom left will give you the option to go back to the start screen; the top left gives you quick access to the last non main screen opened, where as the top and bottom right give you the same menu.
Not all of the installed applications appear on the menu on the main screen, however right clicking the mouse will present the user with an option for “All Apps” which, when selected will give a screen like the following:
The icons on the left, under the “Apps” section will open in a native application window with a nice smooth transition in which has a larger version of the clicked icon showing whilst the program launches in the background. In contrast, anything under the “Windows Accessories” section will load in the traditional Windows desktop and “zoom” in to that, rather than the turn which the applications give. Similarly, any Windows application which is installed will also appear on that side of the screen, where as downloaded app will appear on the left.
Uninstalling an application is as easy as right clicking on the icon and then selecting the “uninstall” option from the menu at the bottom. The same menu will allow you to pin and unpin items to the start screen and act in the same way shortcuts did on older versions of Windows. It makes some aspects of the experience really easy.
I think Microsoft have made quite a nice system here for multi-touch devices. Some laptops might be able to make good use of some things with their track pads, but unless there is an option to remove the start screen and go back to a regular Windows desktop experience, this iteration of Windows might end up with the same fate as Vista – unloved by everyone.
It does make the overall use of the operating system fairly straight forward, but the amount of information which is required to get using the machine will leave a lot of people quite unhappy. This point, I feel, needs addressing even more urgently than the user experience on a desktop PC as people don’t always want to hand over their personal details, especially as a prerequisite for using a PC.
I’m a little concerned at the lack of user security surrounding the installation of apps or programs. I know a lot of people were/are not happy with the security around application installing on Windows Vista or Windows 7, and with tables and phones not having that level of security around the installation of apps people might be reluctant to do it on a computer with a mobile type interface, but I prefer to have to authorise an application to install on my machine. Maybe that’s a Linux user thing?
Anyone who currently uses their PC frequently to do a lot of things will probably find Windows 8 difficult to use, and get used to, but for a light user, or a computer novice, then I think Microsoft have done a great job here. It’s easy to use to do simple things such as e-mailing, browsing the web and playing the old favourite, solitaire.
As this is only a beta version, I look forward to June when the release candidate should be out, and will continue to follow it through to release. Who knows, I might even get a release version and play with that.