Date: March 2, 2012
Author(s): Rob Williams
Microsoft this week released the first “Consumer Preview” of its upcoming Windows 8 OS, and despite being far from final launch, what’s been delivered here is quite impressive. Join us as we take a quick look at the installation, Metro interface and apps, along with a couple of other notable features tweaked for Windows 8.
When Microsoft released its Windows 8 “Developer Preview” this past September, it became clear quick that “developer” is just who that build was designed for. While users could experience the Metro interface to a certain extent, the OS as a whole was lacking overall polish – to be expected. The “Consumer Preview” released just this week however is one worth looking at as a non-developer, as it’s about as feature-complete as you’d expect a release candidate to be.
Despite jumping to conclusions from the get-go, I have to say that in the little bit of time I’ve been able to spend with this build of Windows 8, I’m impressed. I’m still not sold on certain things (such as the lack of a proper Start menu), bit Microsoft seems to be on the right track here, and I might have to shelve my original thought that Windows 8 could become “the next Vista”.
In this brief article, I’m going to take a look at the installation process for the OS, which is sure to remain the same for the final launch, and afterwards take a look at some of the UI elements introduced along with some of the included apps. Wait – “apps”? That’s right… Windows 8 makes a desktop feel more like a mobile device than ever before.
For those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and have the technical know-how to dual-boot, the Consumer Preview can be grabbed here, for free. Even after looking through this article, I’d recommend anyone who’s able to do so to go give this build a try and actually use it to get a feel for what’s on the way. Don’t like something? It sure wouldn’t hurt to post about it here.
A couple of months ago, Microsoft posted on its official Windows blog that Windows 8 would be the easiest version of the OS to install ever. That might be true, but after installing it into a virtual machine, the reduced number of required steps didn’t quite stand out to me – and this, despite having reinstalled Windows 7 on my personal PC just earlier this week. The reason? Post-install questions, more of them than ever before. But, I digress.
This build of Windows 8 is the first to feature the updated logo. Love it or hate it, it’s at least modern. At the first screen, the preferred language and keyboard layout can be chosen.
Like in 7 and Vista, the next screen will avail the option to install the OS, or repair it.
The serial code can be pasted or typed in next. If you download the preview yourself, Microsoft will e-mail you a working code.
Blah, blah, blah:
The next step allows you to customize where you want to install the OS, or choose to upgrade an older version already installed. If you are installing the Consumer Preview on your main PC, you do not want to upgrade your current Windows install but rather install a fresh copy.
So far, there’s nothing new here, just common fare. That’s not a bad thing though, as the Windows install has been made simple ever since Vista’s launch.
Once all the previous screens are dealt with, the OS will finally install itself. After a reboot or two, you’ll reach the Windows 8 environment.
As we’d expect, one of Microsoft’s most important goals with Windows 8 is to make it as efishient as possible.
As mentioned before, Microsoft touts Windows 8 as being the quickest Windows to install ever, but the speed in which it takes to get to your desktop is slowed down with the need to give the OS a lot of information for customization purposes. The first step – computer name and the color of the Metro background (the colors shown below are all there is at the moment).
One of the best experiences one could have in computing is opening Internet Explorer for the first time after a fresh Windows install. The number of questions the application asks you to answer is more than enough to make you feel important – and good news, that same experience can be had with Windows 8 before you even hit the desktop!
Windows 8 has the ability to tie with your official Microsoft account to help personalize the OS, so at this point in the setup process you’ll be asked to sign in or shut up. Err… sign up.
Finally, creating a user account is the last step to handle before landing at the Metro interface.
The setup process all over, we’re greeted by the feature most talked about in Windows 8: the Metro interface.
Much like Windows Phone, Windows 8’s Metro interface offers a tile-based menu, rather than a list one. This screen completely replaces the traditional Start menu, and as it stands, Microsoft is not going to allow you to revert to the old style. It’s likely that tweak tools will be released that re-enable the old menu, but Microsoft will not support it.
On the next and final page, we’ll take a tour of Metro, a couple of apps and other OS features.
After Windows 8 boots up, you’ll be greeted to a background image and the time. To login, you must flick the image upwards (with your finger on a tablet or your mouse on a PC), select the user, enter the password, and you’re good to go.
Once logged in, the first place worth checking out is the PC settings section. Here, you can customize the new interface and adjust many other options. It’s in this area where you can change how you login, either with a picture password or PIN code.
Tired of the teal blue background color in Metro? Using one of the color options mentioned on the last page, you can customize it to suit your mood or style. The black theme looks quite nice:
Before we dive into apps and other features, here’s a quick look at the overall app view inside of the Metro interface:
At any time while in the Metro interface, you can simply start typing to bring up an automatic search that will help you find what you need, be it files, apps or settings.
One feature that was non-functioning in the Developer Preview was the Store, so that’s the first thing I wanted to test out with this build. And whew, does it look sharp. It’s clean, just like the rest of Metro, fast and simple to navigate. It doesn’t appear at the current time that you have the ability to search, but this is likely due to the fact that the number of apps in the store at the moment is limited. Still, what is available here is good enough to whet your appetite.
Installing an app through the Store is simple. You click “Install”, and that’s it. No pop-ups asking for verification… nothing (paid apps will of course ask for that). All apps get installed in the background, so you are able to continue browsing. It’s worth noting that apps installed through Metro are all-inclusive… they do not get added to the normal Add/Remove programs section of the Control Panel.
One word to describe the description page? Gorgeous.
Keeping away from traditional lists, when browsing a category in the Store you can see many different offerings all at once.
As a Linux user, I’ve always thought that Microsoft should offer its own software repository, complete with automatic updates and the like, and with Windows 8, that’s essentially what we’re getting. Despite this Windows build being released only a few days ago, there were already a couple of apps ready to be updated during our testing:
What does it take for Microsoft to update its Solitaire game? Metro to come out, of course.
As a bit of a Solitaire freak, I’m willing to give this iteration one thumbs up. It’s not feature-packed whatsoever, but it looks nice and would work great with a touch screen.
There are many apps included with the basic Windows install, but I’ll just touch on a couple I like. First is “Maps”… a clean app that makes it easy to go to any location and zoom in and out to your heart’s content. Vector graphics are used here so the view is as crisp as it can get. At the current time, it doesn’t seem that the search function is working, so the places I checked out were manual.
Unless I’m on a tablet, I’d never, ever, ever use a Web browser built into Metro, but the version of Internet Explorer found here is quite nice and fluid.
I’m a sucker for weather apps, and I have to give kudos to Microsoft for the one found here. This isn’t just a singular page, but rather can be scrolled to the right to view a lot more information, such as hourly forecasts, maps and even historical data.
Time to take a quick look at a couple of the other features that Windows 8 offers. First off, the Aero theme has been updated to continue the theme of squares and blocks. In Vista and 7, window frames were curved at the top and bottom, but in Windows 8, they’re perfectly flat on all sides. This really isn’t to my taste, but the theme overall still looks good.
Here’s a look at the “Computer” and also the updated Task Manager. The latter feature is one of the best things to come to Windows in a long while, in my opinion. It seems simple, but a robust, simple-to-use task manager makes admining a computer a lot easier.
The copy dialog has also got a nice overhaul. Now, you can monitor the real-time transfer speed and even pause the transfer if need be.
In the intro, I mentioned that Windows 8 will be the most mobile-like desktop OS ever released, and the shot below helps showcase that. While most of the admin tools (like Control Panel) exist in Windows 8, there have been a lot of tweaks to meld the traditional desktop into Metro. Right-clicking the networking icon in the systray yields the expected menu, but left-clicking on it brings up an overlay showing the current networks (wireless networks would be seen here also). This really isn’t something I like to see when left-clicking something in the systray, but it seems like it’s going to be something we have to get used to seeing. Who knows – in a year or so after the release we might not even mind it, or better yet, we might even like it.
In the limited amount of time I’ve had to spend with the Windows 8 CP, I admit that I’ve come to like the OS a lot more than I did before. I still have some major gripes about certain things, but what’s here right now is very, very polished. Still, I can’t help but think of “tablet” while using the OS, and that’s just not something that should come to mind when I’m using my desktop or notebook. Microsoft is taking a huge risk here with Metro, so it’ll be interesting to see how the market as a whole handles it when the OS launches in final form.
If you have a spare partition on your machine or have a test rig to use, I highly recommend giving this build of Windows 8 a try and see what you think of it. And of course – whatever your opinions are, feel free to share them in our forums, linked-to below.
Have a comment you wish to make on this article? Recommendations? Criticism? Feel free to head over to our related thread and put your words to our virtual paper! There is no requirement to register in order to respond to these threads, but it sure doesn’t hurt!
Copyright © 2017 SmartKevin