Testing Windows 8 dev preview…

Using Windows 8 for a good part of 2 days, I have realized that Microsoft isn’t entirely wrong about unifying the mobile and desktop experience. We are at a weird intersection in computing paradigm where there has to be the right balance of power, flexibility and ease of use for everyone. I think Windows 8 pushes the right buttons on all the three fronts.

My test machine was HP touchsmart HQ100, one of those failed hp touchscreen pc that come out of Hewllet Packard and are utterly useless in terms of productive or form factor. People who end up getting it end up using it like a “Regular” PC albeit not use the touchscreen aspect of it at all. I figured this would be a perfect machine to test drive the new beast from Redmond. The screen is resistive and multi-touch drivers are missing from HP, so I can’t test out the gestural interaction with screen.

The installation was really smooth and quick. It finished and kept all my working files and I was presented with a Windows 8 lock screen. The machine kept all the user accounts on the machine from my XP install, which surprised me. But i do beleive Microsoft wasn’t kidding when it said that Windows 8 will run on all machine. After all, my installation was essentially an upgrade. Bravo!

First Impression: The thing is beautiful, snappy, fast and fluid. The on-screen animation are over the top but in no way obtrusive. As a matter of fact, I think the animation will help ease the transition for newbies as they are an emphasis of “what just happened” or “what may happen”. It sorta speaks from actions without actually speaking. As you use windows 8 more, You get use to the animations and they start making sense and you realize why they were put there to begin with.

The start screen is very informative and LIVE and at times busy. Don’t know if a lot of people will prefer it as it is not static. I guess this is where taste come into effect.  I will not talk about the touchscreen aspect because the OS was “designed for touch” so it will JUST work on it. I will however talk about how it performs with mouse and keyboard.

For power users, who love using Keyboard this OS will behave no different “functionally” than traditional Windows 7 desktop. By functionally, I mean Ctrl + t for new tab, alt+tab for switching apps, shift+tab for switching tabs, Windows Key etc. It just works as you would expect; You would be surprised by how much of this shortcuts work and behave the same with added eye-candy and metro-ish behavior. For me, Keyboard is essential and Windows 8 retains all the power-user goodies with added “modern” feeling OS. Mouse also behaves and acts the same in apps, except on the grid-tiled start screen. I would really like to see the hover effect when you get to the edge of the screen with a mouse for the grid to scroll automatically. I think it will be really bad to use the start screen without a scroll wheel, something that laptops don’t normally have. (they have two finger scroll instead- not as easy). I am surprised to see the amazing number of peripherals that already works with Windows 8. I can print to the HP printer that I have in the office. I can even use bluetooth mouse and keyboard along with external webcam. In that essence, Windows 8 truly is no-compromise. All your peripherals just “magically” works. That’s truly incredible.

In my testing, keyboard and mouse doesn’t pose a huge problem in interaction with OS other than the small mouse gripe. I do however feel that pinning apps to the start screen and listed apps from search is not at all intuitive. An average user wouldn’t know how to pin an app that is not on the screen. I also believe that on traditional form-factor, the multitasking is crippled. The application cycle through the order they were opened in instead of  providing a picker to switch instanteously. Web OS multitasking is much desired here. I think even Windows Phone Mango multi-tasking is much better implemented than this. You can still do alt-tab but a way to pick from a list of running apps is much needed. On the traditional desktop front, which you can get to using the desktop icon from the start screen,  the start button is missing the much used “search feature’ as a matter of fact the traditional start menu is missing altogether. My start menu usage in windows 7 is limited to only searching for files and apps, but it was used 90% of the time. One suggestion would be to add a globe to the right of the current windows icon in the traditional mode to give the classic start menu back in Windows 7 mode.

The OS is in early beta and I am sure there are lot of under-the-hood optimization that will be done as it approaches the release. In it’s current form, it is very usable and doesn’t feel like a beta in terms of functionality….in terms of missing features perhaps. Hopefully, they will be addressed before launch. The OS is really snappy and fluid to use and needs props just for that. The interface is really modern and while it may take some time to get used to it, Live tiles is truly the future of our social-centric life.