Windows 8 is finally here and there's no denying the excitement among people. It's very unlike Microsoft to publically offer builds. We've seen something happen with Windows 7, as well. The Building Windows blog is another one of those neat things that Microsoft has introduced to try and connect with its customers. The best thing to happen, however is the Windows 8 Developer Preview build that was made public. Like pretty much every interested Windows user out there, we’ll be running through this build to see what major enhancements Microsoft has made.

The story, so far…

In short, Windows Vista wasn’t too great. To many of us, it offered few additional features, demanded more resources and was more like an unfinished product. The finished product was Windows 7 and when it came, everyone rejoiced and its success is visible. Windows 7 is more used than the last major Windows OS, XP. Windows 8 has a different approach from its predecessors. For one, Windows 8 is being built to run on both desktops (and notebooks), as well as tablets, and presumably, mobile phones. These are two completely different platforms that require different kinds of interactions. Microsoft has taken the Metro interface from their Windows Phone 7 devices and has brought it to the desktop. 

Installation

The installation of Windows has come a long way, from the ways of Windows 3.1, which meant inserting one floppy after another. Windows 95 was the first operating system to have been shipped on CDs and it was also available on 25 different floppies. Since then, the effort has been to make installations simpler and quicker.

The installer on the Windows 8 Developer Preview works on the same lines as Windows 7, except when you first reboot you’re asked to enter a PC name. You're then asked to choose a wireless network and proceed. The last step is to create a user name. Simple, isn't it? Like many of the other features present in Windows 8, there’s bound to be some changes made to it.

Usability

When you first login, you stare straight into the face of Microsoft’s Metro interface that’s similar to the one seen on Windows Phone 7. Users can use gestures to pan from side to side and all the apps that you have installed for the Metro user interface appear in this. By default, there are a bunch of apps that come pre-bundled with the installation. The interface operates like any Windows Phone 7 device. Click on the icon of the application you want to launch and it fires up in a jiffy. 

Metro UI

The first thing you notice in the Metro UI is that there are neither window controls, nor any title bars and menus. The interface is minimal and from the apps we played around with, it makes perfect sense for media consumption apps such as feed readers, Twitter clients and some games. There is a scrollbar at the bottom that lets you pan through applications. 

The Metro UI’s apps can be moved around, replaced and resized, too. Some of these apps have notifications and those can be enabled or disabled using the Control Panel

Windows desktop

Microsoft hasn’t thrown the standard Windows interface away. It’s neatly tucked into the whole operating system rather well. A widget called Desktop takes you to the standard Windows desktop. The Windows desktop hasn’t changed much as of now. It looks almost identical to Windows 7. The Start button though looks different.

The rather colourful app for monitoring stock market trends

The rather colourful app for monitoring stock market trends

Multi-tasking isn’t much different from previous Windows versions. You can’t see the taskbar in the Metro UI, but press Alt + Tab or Shift + Tab and you get the same multi-tasking and switching functionality that we’re all used to. Microsoft hasn’t isolated each user interface and its apps separately. It works across applications running on the standard Windows desktop and also the Metro interface.

Windows Explorer

Windows Explorer now sports a ribbon, the same we’ve seen on their Office suites, in recent times. The file manager now allows you to do the simple tasks, instantaneously.

Burning and sharing takes fewer clicks now

Burning and sharing takes fewer clicks now

The ribbon transforms itself as you go from one location to another. For example, new folders can be created by clicking a single button when you’re in a drive. Moving and copying files to locations most used is simpler. There’s even a copy location button. 

Navigating and moving files about, made easy

Navigating and moving files about, made easy

Sharing files, too, is simpler than before. There’s a slot in the ribbon that lets you quickly add users to your share list. The ribbon is a welcome feature for sure on Windows Explorer. 

The very vibrant Weather application

The very vibrant Weather application

The Weather app, for example allows users to add new cities. Also current weather conditions are displayed with a matching animated backdrop, and not as just fancy icons. Here too, users can pan between panes, if they have separate cities added. The animated background also changes, accordingly. The neat feature is that it does this so smoothly on rather basic hardware without really stressing the system.

The built-in RSS feed reader for the Metro user interface

The built-in RSS feed reader for the Metro user interface

One of the other apps, which are often shown in some of the demonstration videos by Microsoft is the Stock app. Although, stock information for local markets isn’t available, there’s a lot of scope for apps such as this. Your notebook or your PC becomes your dedicated console.

The Twitter app called Tweet@rama is a good example of how Microsoft is bringing in apps and features that people really want from a good operating system. A simple, but colourful user interface with the most basic, but the most used features are present. 

Downloads on the Metro UI web browser

Downloads on the Metro UI web browser

The news feed reader app is neat. It shows up feeds and stories as blocks that when clicked on, open the entire story. It’s very clean and very well-formatted without any sign of clutter. It is apps like these that make the Metro interface shine, even on the desktop. 

Tech2.com loaded on Internet Explorer 10

Tech2.com loaded on Internet Explorer 10

Windows 8 runs Internet Explorer 10 and there are in fact, two browsers at this moment. The Metro UI runs a more compact, minimalistic design browser with no menus and toolbars. Some of those features such as the tabs only appear once you right click on the interface. 

Windows Store

A lot of development will happen on the Windows Store front and apps can be installed using it. Currently, the Windows Store isn’t enabled. Programs can be installed as usual on the Windows desktop.

Performance and compatibility

We ran the developer build on a Lenovo G570, a very basic notebook running Intel’s new Sandy Bridge solution. It worked fine without the need of any drivers. Wi-Fi was detected and so were the sound and display drivers. One of the neat features is the ability to go to sleep and turn back on almost as quick as a tablet would. Sleep mode comes up in no more than 4 seconds. Recovering from the sleep mode happens in 2 seconds and logging back in to the account happens in a second, once you type in the account password. 

What to expect

It's still early days, but going by the progress, Windows 8 isn’t looking too bad. Sure, the Metro user and the standard Windows interface are far apart and getting to use both of them in tandem is going to be difficult. Full-flegded Windows applications running in a Metro-like interface might never happen.

Mobile interface comes to the desktop

Mobile interface comes to the desktop

Using just the Metro isn’t really practical at this point in time, since clicking on the apps in the interface using the mouse is cumbersome and gets pointless, at times. Microsoft should ideally also manufacturer input devices such as multi-touch trackpad that allows desktop users to be able to use the gestures to control their desktops.

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