Windows 8 review

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 13, 2012, 11:42 PM | comments: 0

It occurred to me that, while it has been out on MSDN for about a month, Windows 8 is not technically "out" yet. Since that day, I've been running it as my primary operating system for development work.

As my friends and dear listeners know, I became something of a Mac guy in 2006 when the first Intel MacBook Pro came out. I liked OS X even prior to that, and being able to run Windows on the same machine made it a no-brainer to buy the shiny aluminum hardware. It just kept getting better, especially in terms of battery life. Heck, I even had Microsoft buy me a MacBook Pro when I worked there.

Windows Vista was such a disaster, and I kept developing on Windows XP up until late 2009, when Windows 7 was close to final. That's when I started at Microsoft, "dog-fooding" in full swing. I was pleasantly surprised at how solid it was. In some ways, I was even relieved that Microsoft corrected the Vista mess.

Windows 8 was going to involve some radical changes, most notably the construction of an interface that was obviously inspired by the excellent Windows Phone 7 interface, once called Metro, now just called "the Windows 8 interface." It was going to be touch-friendly, and a variation would run on tablets as well as regular PC's. For everything "legacy" or desktop oriented, you could still run stuff from the traditional Windows desktop.

The first thing I will say is that it's just... odd. It's not odd bad, it's just different. Like a phone, you press the Windows key, and you're on that big Metro, er, Windows 8 experience. At first I couldn't help but think, "This is kinda stupid if I'm not using a tablet or a touch screen." But then if you start to think of it as having two purposes, to give you the "at a glance" information of live tiles, and to launch stuff, it actually makes sense. If in OS X you're used to pressing Cmd-Space and start typing to launch an app, you hit Start and start typing in Windows to do the same.

Since I spend most of my time with development tools like Visual Studio, Windows doesn't look all that different to me. What I do notice, however, is that everything seems a lot faster, from boot up to app switching. The memory footprint seems consistently smaller as well. It seems like I've always got free memory in the 4 gig VM's I run. Of course, that might also be a lot of tweaking from Visual Studio, which I have open most. Regardless, the performance of Windows is pretty stunning.

Where it will obviously shine the most is on a tablet. My bro-in-law ran the consumer preview on his Samsung tablet, which is a full-blown PC, and after seeing that, I get it. In fact, it's what really started my hating on the iPad for being, well, iOS, the icon grid OS. Metro is so much more evolved and useful. It's fun to play around between instance of getting work done, but I really think the money spot for this new look involves touching, and a tablet.

There are a couple of things that may trip people up. There will be two flavors of tablets for Windows 8. First you've got the kind you would expect, running on low-power ARM processors, conceptually similar to the iPad. Then you've got those that will be full-blown PC's in the tablet form factor. The ARM machines will not run all of the stuff from the beginning of time that Windows runs. That could be difficult to teach people. On the other hand, people get so app-tastic about their devices, that maybe it won't matter.

The other thing that feels missing is that it doesn't seem possible to "deep link" some things and pin them to the start screen. It varies by app and function. For example, I can't pin a "me" tile like I can on Windows Phone, or specifically, a tile for notifications. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

All things considered though, I'm amazed with Windows 8, even if it's true beauty will be on the forthcoming tablets. Even if it were just a desktop endeavor, and you really only use the traditional desktop apps, it's definitely snappier and prettier. Much better default font choices in particular. Live tiles are just as awesome on a bigger screen as they are on the phone. It will be interesting to see how consumers react.


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