Peek Into Windows 8

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Redmond’s most famous technology company wants to duplicate the success of its current operating system by offering the pre-beta version of their next-gen OS to the public. Free. Can it live up to the hype?

“The ‘Wow’ starts now” was Microsoft’s marketing tagline when they released the Windows Vista operating system (OS) in 2007.

The consensus among users: “Wow, that’s it?” It soon became obvious that the drawbacks of using Vista far outweigh its features.

With an OS plagued with security vulnerabilities, restrictive licensing, and ridiculous hardware requirements, 2007 was a year Redmond wanted to forget. So badly that it released Vista’s direct predecessor—Windows 7—in less than three years.

Everyone who hated Vista so much was all praise for 7. Tech pundits even came up with the slogan, ‘Windows 7: It’s Not Vista.’

Drunk with jubilation at the successful public redemption of Windows, Microsoft is confident that it can duplicate the feat by changing the OS landscape from desktop PCs to tablet and mobile devices. And they call it Windows 8.

First Impressions
For starters, installation of the Windows 8 Developer Preview was surprisingly hassle-free. The computer from which the OS installed itself rebooted only once, in less than 20 minutes.

Starting the computer and logging in to Windows was a breeze. But logging out took forever. The extra clicks needed to log out and shut down will annoy lethargic users, thanks to a power button buried deep within the user interface.

One of the obvious changes to this version of Windows is the constipated start menu. Where did the programs, folders, and files go? It took forever to find them: Switch to the Metro interface, scroll to the rightmost side of your desktop, and there we find your classic programs, pinned on the ‘green screen’ as bathroom tiles. This vast field of boring

green was based on the Metro user interface that originally appeared on early builds of

Windows Phone 7

The classic desktop theme from 1990s-era Windows has been removed. So don’t expect retro-customization after installing the developer preview.

Not For Everyone
A quirk that will irk obsessive-compulsive users is the inconsistent design elements in the Metro interface. No uniformity here—numerous fonts and sizes dot the green screen. Even functionality was slightly compromised in favor of unnecessary visual aesthetics. For instance, moving the classic desktop taskbar also moves the Start button, even though the classic desktop thumbnail in Metro mode still appears to the left of the screen when the pointer goes in that direction.

Unlocking the screen is cumbersome. For testers who don’t have touchscreen desktops, the unlock screen process consumes time and energy. At the same time, the Windows Media Center was removed from the developer preview. Bad move, considering that it would have looked good if it was integrated into Metro.

On the bright side, the new task manager is a huge improvement over Windows 7’s monitor application. The default interface is simpler and the resource monitor is now a part of the application, although you’d have to navigate through the “Detailed View” option to see it.

The default web browser is Internet Explorer 10, which runs in two modes: classic desktop mode and Metro UI mode. The classic look didn’t deviate much from IE’s current iteration, while Metro-style IE10 looks like an oversize version of Opera for Android. Stick to classic IE.

The classic desktop window design that we’re familiar with looks crisp, but the fonts and buttons look weird and out-of-place, as if the developers decided to just tack edgy- looking elements on top of the existing icons of Windows 7.

The previously spartan Windows Explorer suddenly looks complicated, no thanks to the ribbon interface borrowed from Microsoft Office.

No More Windows?
Windows seems to be focused on using less windows and more tiles—glossy, square avatars that represent apps in the Metro UI.

Apps, when opened in Metro, are put into suspended animation once you switch to Windows classic. (It resumes where you left off once you switch back to Metro.)

Closing these apps are confusing, though—there’s no visual cue on how to quit an open Metro program. You’d have to aimlessly move your mouse pointer (or finger) until the start menu peeks out from the bottom edge of the screen. In the meantime, these open programs hog your screen as you desperately switch from one full-screen app to the next.

Other minor improvements can be seen in this pre- beta version of Windows 8. Example: a more open Windows Marketplace, built right into Windows. Microsoft is intent on standing on the shoulders of Apple’s App Store and Ubuntu’s Software Center by distributing programs directly from the online store and into Windows computers.

As with Windows 7, Microsoft says it plans to continue the trend of using fewer resources with future releases of Windows. As a result, Windows 8 works just as fine with computers that run on Windows 7. So far, the current stable release is still a solid choice over Windows 8—unless your next device is a tablet.

But if you’re reading this before 2012, you’re probably better off with an iPad.

Print ed: 11/11

 

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