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Preview: Windows 8, first impressions

by on May 8, 2012

Windows 8 has been in development for some time, and it is the successor to Microsoft’s much acclaimed operating system Windows 7. Though this new OS is not yet officially released, there is a consumer preview available for download for anyone who wants to try it out. Be aware that this is still a beta and that it is not the final product, even if it’s stated that it’s almost the real deal. It is recommended that only experienced users install the preview.

Windows 8 is built on the same foundation as Windows 7, and offers the same stability and features – but more. After trying it out for a couple of days, I would say that the main difference between the two is in the visuals and interface. Coming from Microsoft this is a quite daring step towards a more dynamic user interface than seen in any other previous versions of Windows. The first thing that hits you when you log in to Win8 for the first time is the new start-menu, which now works even more as an orientation tool than before. This is where you’ll get when you log in to Windows, and it is from here you’ll move on to different apps and programs. Oh yeah, apps. I’ll get to that.

Screenshot of the new start-menu

The main thing about the new start-menu is that… well, it covers the whole screen and doesn’t even remotely remind you of the “classic” start menu from previous versions. It is also optimized for screens compatible with touch-input (i.e. touch-screens). This shows quite well by the dynamic interface it offers. Now, I haven’t tried it with a touch-screen, but it’s also cool when using keyboard and mouse. Wanna scroll sideways in the start-menu? No problem! Just move the mouse to the edge of the screen, and then move it some more to scroll. The faster you move the mouse, the faster you scroll. Simple! There is also a sidebar-menu (not only in the start-menu) that offers quick options according to the feature you’re currently viewing (search, share etc.). This menu is activated by simply moving the mouse to either the upper or lower right corner of the screen, from where it expands when called for. Here’s also where you’ll find the power button (which, I am a little embarrassed to admit, took me some time to figure out).

There’s that handy sidebar! Pff, hiding like that…

There’s still the classic desktop feature of Windows in Win8, but to get to it you need to go through the new start-menu, selecting “Desktop”. The desktop is pretty much the same as in Win7, though the most notable change (at first glance) is that the signature start-menu button down in the left corner of the screen is gone. But do not fear, the start-menu is easy to get back to from the desktop, simply by placing the mouse down in the left corner, wait a second until a thumb of the start-menu appears, and then click. You can also access the start-menu from the expanding sidebar at the right of the screen.

What the… no start-menu?! This is madness, madness I say!

Now, let’s talk about Apps! There are different standard apps that you get access to when installing Win8, and there’s also a store where you can buy and/or download apps for free. I haven’t checked out the store yet, so I will just talk about the apps that are included from the installation. First of all there’s the mail-app. Win8 lets you use your Windows Live-account as your Windows login (username and password), and that lets you sync your (among other things) Hotmail directly to Windows. This means that you’ll get notifications about new emails directly from the start-menu, and you don’t have to open any external programs to read and reply to them. Another cool app is the “Messaging”-app. This is basically a chat-program that lets you import more or less all your contacts from earlier external clients like Messenger, Hotmail, Skype, Facebook etc. At least I think so; I haven’t really explored this app that much, so I’m not making any promises. The point is that it has potential to be a really good chat-service.

Some of the apps available by default from the start-menu

You know what? As I have not yet explored many of the apps thoroughly I will just make a simple bullet-point list of the ones that are available from the start:

  • People: This is basically a contact list. Here you can add contacts from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Hotmail, Exchange etc.
  • Music: Don’t really know what this is, probably some music-sharing thingy. Expecting compatibility with Spotify (or perhaps some new music-service?).
  • Mail: As mentioned above.
  • Messaging: As mentioned above.
  • Calendar: I think the name says it all.
  • SkyDrive: Microsoft’s cloud service.
  • Weather: Get weather reports directly in Windows.
  • Finance: Get finance reports directly in Windows. There’s probably some more features.
  • Maps: Haven’t tried it, but I guess it provides maps.
  • Photos: Here you can view your pictures library, SkyDrive photos, Facebook photos and Flickr photos.

Opened apps are also easily accessed from the desktop by viewing the convenient app-menu that expands from the left of the screen

There are many more apps, but these are the ones that I think is worth mentioning for the preview. So what, has Microsoft completely scrapped traditional programs for these “apps”? No, fortunately they haven’t. The last thing we need is another OS that almost only uses exclusive apps and programs from “trusted” sources (Apple, anyone?). Microsoft states that basically all programs that are compatible with Win7 will also work with Win8, and so far that seems to be the case; I haven’t had any problems whatsoever installing my favorite programs and games that worked with Win7 on Win8. To be on the safe side Microsoft has published a compatibility center for Windows 8 Consumer Preview where you can search for software and hardware to see if it’s compatible with Win8. If you log in with your Windows Live-account you can also vote “compatible” or “not compatible” for products that not yet have any references.

From a gaming-perspective Windows 8 seems to handle games in much the same way as Win7; smooth and simple. So far I’ve had no problems with games, and AMD has even released a driver-package specific for Windows 8 Consumer Preview. There’s also a couple of Xbox apps in Win8 called “Xbox Companion” and “Xbox LIVE Games”, though I’m not sure what these are good for.

So is it worth getting Windows 8? Yes, definitely, at least upon official release. If you’re not that eager to try it out the consumer preview is probably not the way to go. Then it’s probably better to wait for the fully finished product. Expect to be quite confused about the interface at first, as it is not very logical from a classic Windows-perspective and takes some time to get used to. Personally I like where Microsoft are heading with this, but I have a feeling that many will get frustrated when not finding their way around at first, or will simply not be contempt with the layout of things.

All in all, Windows 8 is breathing some fresh air into the Windows franchise, and I’m looking forward to the official release.