Windows 8 App Developer blog


Windows 8's new look makes sense, if you can take the shock

We’ve heard occasional rumblings about Microsoft’s next operating system — Windows 8  —  for quite a while now. Rumors were flying about it even before Windows 7 was released. I even reported on one juicy tidbit back in October of 2009.

But now all of the speculation and gossip can be put to rest, at least partly. Microsoft recently made available the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which lets us see the wonder that will be Windows 8 for ourselves.

This is, as the name suggests, a preview, and Microsoft has called it a work in progress. But the new OS, designed for tablets as well as laptops and desktops, will mark a significant change in the user experience, and we thought it worth checking out some of the changes in store.

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The first thing it does when you download it is check your system for compatibility. It took about 20 minutes to go through our decently high-end computer running Windows 7 Professional and check all of our programs and devices and see if they could be used within the Windows 8 environment.

We got a few warnings about some third-party software that we had not uninstalled after testing it, but other than that we were good to go. Then after downloading the OS, checking files and installing it, we were in business.

Note that this is not just a shell program that runs on top of your current OS. This is an actual OS that will overwrite your current one, and perhaps your files as well. We remembered that the last two “test drives” – the ones for Vista and Windows 7 – totally replaced the operating system of whatever computer it was installed on. Microsoft says so in its FAQ – there is no way to uninstall it short of re-installing the old OS.

So don’t do this on a computer that you will need anything from without completely backing up first. There are also options for installing on an empty partition or creating a boot DVD or flash drive.

The default interface of Windows 8 is like that of a Windows Mobile device. Not that this is necessarily bad, but if you aren’t used to it, your learning curve is going to make the one for adapting to Windows 7 look like a hike through Kansas (and for desktop and laptop Windows users, you're definitely not in Kansas anymore). I remember how frustrated I became when Windows 7  first came out, upgrading from XP, in having to figure out how to do everything all over again.

I’m starting to feel that again with Windows 8, but I will climb this learning curve if it kills me. Of course, if the pain is too much, there are settings that will present a more familiar style of interface.

Everything in Windows 8 looks alot like a Windows phone. There are blocks for applications, blocks to run programs, blocks to get into the system menus and pretty much a visual representation for everything. It really seems designed for a touch screen, or even a tablet, though clicking with a mouse works, too.

All the blocks are color-coded and customizable, so blue can be for your business applications, for example. And if you, say, spend a lot of time on Facebook, you can have that app launch when you boot with your status right there in one of your blocks.

So this is going to be a big change, like when Windows XP became Vista, and not so much like when Vista became Windows 7. The new Windows 8 makes a lot of sense, probably more so to the younger generations used to doing everything on their phones, and looks to be more customizable than any previous version of Windows. But it’s going to be a shock to a lot of people.

We’ll be monitoring the development of Windows 8 in the lab and keeping you up to date on various changes as this rolls forward — and, of course, we’ll review it with an exhaustive series of benchmarks and other tests when it officially appears. The next pre-release version is due in June, with the full roll-out later this year, reportedly in October.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the preview yourself. Just be careful, and back up your old system first!

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Apr 26, 2012

for those at microsoft that are confused, let me please remind you that for decades now you have been working 'away' from the desktop, to the point that w7 now loads nothing on the desktop. and w7 touts the best search ever, who needs a menu when you can just search ... riiiight. now a single-app paradigm, tablet-form-factor style OS for our desktop ... as if that adds value to anybody really doing work. how many out there with two monitors ... three ... four ... more? my point it that a tablet and desk top are entirely different paradigms, and one size does NOT fit all.

Thu, Apr 26, 2012 Ray Los Angeles, CA

I've been using Windows 8 Consumer Preview for a while now. I am a professional when it comes to Windows OS/DOS..etc.. I LOVE WINDOWS 8 It makes my life so much easier. It's fast, and works when I need it to work. Since the consumer preview is half baked, I will say that so far so good.

Wed, Apr 25, 2012 RC

I'm glad OS manufacturers don't design cars. Otherwise we might find the steering wheel in the back seat. Or worse, in the trunk with a little screen and video camera to view the road (they would say you are safer there). Like the qwerty keyboard which is one thing that should have been changed before about 1950, better not change it now, as everyone is used to it. The key is user functionality. I use computers to get things done. I don't have time, nor do I want to learn a radically new user interface to the OS every couple of years deyond some new features and software. Sure pressing start to shut down was stupid, but leave it alone as we all know where it is, just like keys on the qwerty keyboard. MS Office 2007+ drove me to linux and I was pleasantly surprised. Then Ubuntu launched Unity. With dual 30-inch monitors, I would have to move the mouse a meter and a half to click on the file menu and it now takes several clicks to change desktops, or to get a command window. If the people who designed OS's actually had to use them for work, maybe they would see the folly of their constant experiments. Sometimes a user interface just works and doesn't need changing. Computers should adapt to the needs of the user and the OS should stay out of the way. Improve functionality under the hood. For example: plug in a USB drive, why should I wait a minute for drivers to be installed (on windows)? On linux by the time I move from plugging in the drive to my hands on the mouse or keyboard, the device is ready. That is a good example of the OS being ready for the user. I can see next the mouse going away and touch screens only. Well I do imaging and do not want a screen full of fingerprints all over my images.

Wed, Apr 25, 2012

Not really since Windows 2000 has Windows truly improved. Microsoft spent the last dozen years changing the user interface as a proxy for actual innovation to the dismay of long-term users who now can't find anything.

Wed, Apr 25, 2012

"a big change, like when Windows XP became Vista", Have a closer look, this is more like Windows 3.11 to Windows 95. The programs that can run, rather the Apps that can run are as different from the old programs as DOS based programs were to Windows based programs. This is a new ball game, one that is going to be a hit I think, I have been using it since last fall an I can't go back. Sure there is a learning curve but I have easily located everything I use without any problem (and I consider myself a power user) To those that lament the demise of the start menu need to look again, it is alive and well, just easier to use and with live tiles sometimes just a glance tells me if I need to open the app or not. The old desktop is there as well, just like always.

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