Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Introduction to Windows 8 Developer Preview: Review

In this post I want to go over some of the features in Windows 8 and compare it to previous versions of Windows.

The most obvious thing is the new GUI. Let's start with the Start menu, since this is used much more than in previous versions. The Start menu has changed drastically, mostly in looks. The Start menu is the first thing you see when you log in. It is a full screen menu with a list of apps. When you click the Start button on the desktop, the desktop slides away to reveal the Start menu. This is fundamentally different than the old Start menu, which appeared on top of the desktop and used only one corner of the screen. There are two kinds of apps on the Start menu: ordinary applications and Metro style apps. Ordinary applications open on the desktop and behave just as Windows applications have always behaved. Metro style apps are very similar to Windows Phone apps. They appear full-screen, and are independent of the desktop. In fact, the desktop acts very much like a Metro app itself, as it can be 'snapped', hidden, and otherwise treated the same way. The Metro interface has a new look for its widgets, with very square-looking controls and the absence of gradients and 3D effects. The desktop looks quite similar to Windows Vista and Windows 7. The widgets look the same, but the windows have gotten a facelift. Instead of the rounded corners for the borders that the original Windows Aero displayed, the corners are now square. The title text has a larger font and is centered in the title bar. The Windows Aero 'stripes' on the title bar are gone. There are a few changes to the appearance, but the Windows Aero experience is still there. That should give you a bit of an idea of the new look in Windows 8.

There were some drastic changes in the functionality of standard Windows features. The Task Manager is completely redone. The default view is a simple list of open apps, similar to the default page in the old Task Manager. However, by clicking the More details button, you can access more information in multiple tabs, which is slightly more powerful than the classic Task Manager. The default tab is the Processes tab. This is not the same as the Processes tab in the original Task Manager. It has been renamed to Details. The new Processes tab has more information, including color-coded resource usage stats: the processes that are using the most CPU/RAM/IO are highlighted. The Task Manager as a whole manages to present the same amount of information, but in an easier-to-digest format. The Start menu has hidden some features deemed less useful, such as the Shut Down button. The search box which was so useful in Windows Vista/7 seems to have disappeared too, but it is just camouflaged. If you start typing while in the Start menu, it automatically opens up a search that works the same as you are used to. The Start menu has also hidden the usual links to Computer, Documents, Pictures, etc. Some other Windows fixtures, such as everybody's favourite Blue Screen of Death, have changed. The BSOD is still blue, but instead of a glaring blue, it is more of a sky blue. Instead of a pixelated text-mode font, it uses an anti-aliased font in multiple sizes. The first thing you will see is a giant :( emoticon, and below that there is an extremely short description of the error.

Here is a list of a few of the things I liked or disliked about Windows Developer Preview.


  • The GUI is very attractive and easy to use.
  • The new Metro style apps are simple, useful, and very cool.
  • Some stuff is hard to find, especially on the first day.
  • Apps can't be closed, just suspended, presumably increasing memory usage.
  • For people on desktop PC's, the fact that most apps are designed for touch input is a little unfamiliar.
Here is the grade that I would give Windows 8: 4/5 stars.

I think this will be a very successful project for Microsoft. It is a very modern operating system that takes advantage of the move toward tablet PC's. It has a few features that make it hard to get used to, but with a little time it becomes second nature (a lot like the drag-up-to-maximize feature of Windows Aero, that always gets me when I use XP). This is the start of a new era for Windows.

In the next post, I want to get into some programming for Windows 8, especially the Metro style interface and the Windows Runtime (WinRT).

No comments:

Post a Comment