As you may, or may not, already know on the 29th of February 2012, Microsoft released the Consumer Preview of its new operating system, Windows 8. It was available for anyone to try. Windows 8 harbours many new features and changes which will be looked at in this review.
Update 31/05/12: Release Preview is now available so things might be different.
Update 09/07/12: Windows 8 will be fully released ‘late October’.
Update 26/10/12: Windows 8 has now been fully released.
Update 03/08/12: Technically, it’s no longer called Metro, it’s the ‘Windows UI’.
A major change in Windows 8, which you can’t fail to notice instantly, is the Metro User Interface. It takes after Microsoft’s own Zune Player and Windows Phone interface with coloured tiles used for different applications. When using this interface with a desktop computer, as I am, you can’t help but feel somewhat out of touch as the interface was designed for mobile devices with touch screens. Although it doesn’t feel fluid when using a mouse and keyboard, it does however look amazing and has a surprisingly intuitive interface.
Each native Metro application, shown as a tile, has a coloured background and large icon making it easy to find what you’re looking for, quickly. In contrast however, most applications you’re used to using on Windows7 have a more generic look making it harder to instantly find what you’re looking for. This is illustrated in the screenshot below.
When using the conventional Windows 8 desktop, you’ll find that the visible interface has been cut back. For the first time since Windows 95, there is no Start button. The use of hot corners is now heavily used, the bottom left corner when hit with the mouse will show a start box and when clicked takes you back to the Metro UI. The top-left corner shows you the app you were just using and shows you all the other Metro apps in use. Either right-hand corner will show you the settings, share and search bar – which can also contains a start button.
This interface holds some very smooth animations and intuitive features, but there are still many problems. To access the start screen from the bottom left of the screen, for example, requires the mouse to be exactly in place to work.
The other noticeable difference to the desktop is the use of the ribbon in Windows Explorer which neatly adds more features in a clutter-free way. Windows 8 also uses the up and coming version of Internet Explorer 10, which is what I am using to write this article.
Windows 8 when used with a touch screen device and the Metro UI is a pleasure to use. It has a beautifully designed, responsive interface. The in-built software like the Mail and Calendar app are powerful and at the same time, simple to use. It is possibly the best experience on a tablet or touch screen laptop around.
Another feature which am I greatly impressed by is the fact that your settings and personalization is synchronized between computers using cloud computing. This means that your desktop is the same on all your Windows 8 machines and it all connects together into your ‘Microsoft Account’, a.k.a. your Live Account.
I’ll be honest with you, it took me close to 10 minutes to find out how to simply turn my computer off with Windows 8. The interface, although brilliant in some places can be confusing and more importantly inconsistent. For any readers not aware of turning your machine off within Windows 8, the correct button can be found within the right-hand bar, under settings.
The time can be found in multiple places throughout the system, depending on which suits you – which although this is not an issue is an unneeded inconsistency.
Windows 8 is a stepping stone to a great operating system but it is currently very fragmented. Microsoft is right not to plunge into an early release and in my opinion should takes things slowly. There are some very promising things on the horizon, like Windows 8 for ARM devices and Microsoft using the power of the cloud to enhance the desktop experience.
Windows 8 has been described, correctly in my opinion, as two operating systems. On the one hand you have the Windows 8 Metro UI for touch devices and on the other a Windows 7.1 with a new Aero Theme and no Start Button. This will need to change if Windows 8 is to be a success.
Hope you enjoyed reading this review, for more reading on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview there is a very good article by Matthew Baxter-Reynolds at the Guardian.co.uk – worth reading.