I’ve installed Windows 8 Consumer Preview on both my laptop and desktop and here are some of my first impressions:

  • Metro UI: clean, but feels incomplete.  I like the design, but it really feels like Microsoft has spent so much time underneath that many desired features just aren’t there yet (How do I view my favorites or history in IE? How do I go to my home page? Even if I close the browser window by dragging it away, when I reopen IE, I go right back where I was).  It’s still a prerelease version, so I’ll wait to see how things change by RTM time.  I didn’t use the developer preview release much, so I can’t say how much the mouse-and-keyboard-driven user experience has improved, but it still feels a bit “clunky” to me.  I have to move my mouse a lot more to get the same things done.  I’m sure it’s a lot more fun with a touch device, but I feel that I’ll always want to use a mouse on my primary desktop.

  • Dual monitors: The new start screen and all the Metro UI apps only show up on my primary monitor.  I can’t grab them and move them to my other screen.  It sits there completely unused if I’m in the new interface.  I guess that interface is clearly meant for consumption work, not all-around computing.
  • Old school desktop: It feels like a purposefully degraded experience to try and move people toward the Metro UI way of doing things.  Sure, it’s essentially the same, but getting rid of the start button (not just the menu, which I still haven’t made up my mind on) makes it feel like I’m no longer using a Microsoft-approved interface.  Wouldn’t be too big a deal to me except for the next point.

  • Multitasking in Metro UI: Well, I can snap a program to one edge and use most of the remaining space for another program.  But I can only toggle which one gets a sliver and which one gets the big space.  Feels like a fairly artificial limitation (that might work well on a tablet), since Metro UI functions on a variety of screen resolutions and in different orientations, meaning that Metro UI apps adapt to the should adapt to the available real estate.  Why am I then unable to define what real estate I want it to have (more than “a bunch” or “minuscule”)?  Didn’t Windows start out (back in version 1 or 2) with only a few windows that could not overlap?  Was it the wrong decision to have allowed resizble, overlapping windows back in the day?

Interesting “bugs” and other observations:

  • When installing, I first chose to use the restore tools found on the install disc (well, thumbdrive for me).  I poked around on the command line to check what was on the old hard drive I was installing onto and then found that I could only shut down from the restore tools screen–not go back to the beginning screen.  Not a huge deal, but when it shut down my computer (not restart like the other cancel items do), I couldn’t get my computer to boot again.  I had to reset the CMOS in order to get booting again.  I have no idea what happened.
  • On my laptop I configured Windows 8 to dual boot with Windows 7.  It took care of all that for me (just installed to a different partition).  What’s interesting here is that Windows seems to load some sort of initial barebones Windows interface before actually loading the operating system.  The operating system list takes longer to display and I can use my mouse to go and select which OS I want to boot.  May be a bit slower than I’d like, but you can also find the recovery tools at that point as well, so that could be a nice bonus for troubleshooting.
  • After clearing my CMOS, my computer’s internal clock was reset to 2007.  During Windows setup I wasn’t able to change that (no big deal), but I also wasn’t able to sign into my Windows Live account either, since the SSL certs were “expired” (or, perhaps, “not yet valid”) as far as Windows could tell based on the system time.
  • When using the Metro UI version of IE to download Chrome, I got through the download process just fine, but when it was time to run the downloaded installer, the Smart Screen filter was unable to connect to check that the download wasn’t known malware (again, fixed after I changed my system time).  All I was told is that it couldn’t connect to Smart Screen and I had no option to run anyways.  The download bar disappeared, so I was also unable to try again unless I downloaded the file again (well, other than going into the real Windows UI to find the first downloaded file).
  • Microsoft has seemingly abandoned ClearType on the Metro UI interface.  This is somewhat understandable since while using a tablet, a user will rotate the screen 90, 180, or 270 degrees, which would require the system to render the subpixel smoothing differently each time the underlying RGB stripes are rotated.  That is to say, a pixel with red, green, and blue stripes (in that order) may become a pixel with blue, green, and red stripes (in that order) when turning the screen 180 degrees.  Or vertically red, green, and blue rows (or vice versa) when using the device in portrait mode.

    Windows ClearType tuning tools have allowed for these circumstances (and perhaps Windows has automatically adjusted itself in some cases), but perhaps it required too much processing to do smoothly on the fly.Additionally, what I find interesting is how Apple added traditional anti-aliasing on OS X back in the day and Microsoft introduced ClearType (subpixel anit-aliasing) with XP.  As I use my MacBook Pro at work, I’ve noticed that small text uses a nice combination of the two techniques (I’m guessing that’s a new thing in more recent versions of OS X, but I wouldn’t really know) and now Microsoft is abandoning one for the other.  Just interesting to see the transitions both have made.

    The Segoe WP font is nice, but some of the anti-aliasing seems like it could use some work.  The anti-aliasing on this text feels like it has some 1px “holes” at the top of the inside of the “O’s”:

    For user-interface text, I think I still feel Apple’s subpixel/traditional anti-aliasing feels best, followed by ClearType on its own, and lastly traditional anti-aliasing.  I’m sure we’ll be getting more high density screens over the next 5 years, so all this will be less of an issue eventually.

  • The corners of the screen are being used extensively.  Great with a mouse as far as “Fitt’s Law” is concerned up until they get rid of the start button.  Make your right hand monitor the main monitor and have fun trying to target that tiny area over there to get to the start screen.  Your mouse will slide right over that special zone and onto your left-hand screen.  Oops, Fitt’s law only works on true corners–not virtual ones.  Now, you could just keep the left monitor as the main screen, but the same problem happens in reverse with the special menu commands that come up when you go to the bottom-right corner.  Windows 8 is simply designed to give the best experience with a single monitor setup (make that a single touchscreen setup).
  • The top left corner is great.  You click there over and over and cycle through your open programs.  Oh wait, make that open Metro UI programs.  Click the “Start” zone (what do we call it when there’s no longer a button?) and you’ve gotta move the mouse somewhere else if you want to get back to your traditional desktop.  No “click on, click off” going on here.  If you click in the top left accidentally, you’ve gotta then click in the bottom right to get to the Start screen and then find the Desktop tile to get back to where you were.
  • Lots of things must still be “in progress” as far as the desktop user experience/interaction goes.  Check out this scrollbar, for instance:

    The button on the end is semi-transparent.  So is the scrollbar itself (although you don’t see it in this screenshot, it’s the same color and opacity).  The scrollbar “thumb” (darker gray part) is probably just the same color, but just less transparent.  It just feels funny to me.  Because the border for the “thumb” is more transparent than the thumb itself, it changes color when the background does and makes the thumb look like it’s changing sizes/a pixel off or something:

    The UI seems to have lots of little things like this that make it still feel unfinished to me.  Hopefully it’s just that Microsoft is still working on all that.
  • With previous versions of Windows, if you wanted to get out of a full screen (traditional) desktop app, you could press the start key on your keyboard to bring up your taskbar and then go from there to go somewhere else.  With Windows 8, you’ll get the start screen.  If you choose the “Desktop” tile, you’ll just go back to that fullscreen app.  Hopefully all full screen apps will have a “minimize” button, or we’re toast until we exit that app.
  • Windows Media Center seems exactly the same as in Windows 7.  No Metro UI update here.  Hopefully there are at least some under-the-cover fixes for the bugs I’ve seen most often with my HTPC.  I’m not counting on it, though, so I guess I won’t be upgrading that machine.  Others probably won’t either if there aren’t updates.  Which means that the usage rate of Media Center in Windows 8 will be even less than it is in 7 (the reason Microsoft could have given for dropping it altogether) since only some building new machines will probably bother to put Windows 8 on there.  So it will be a self-fulfilling destruction of Media Center when it comes time to put Windows 9 together.The funny thing is that there’s this whole “battle for the living room” thing going on right now.  Google’s got Google TV, Apple’s got Apple TV (and whatever iTV we might see if the rumors are true), and Microsoft is in there somewhere with the Xbox and Xbox Live.  Seems like Xbox Live is Microsoft’s new preferred platform for the living room (people seem to be more comfortable with a gaming console attached to the HDTV rather than a full fledged PC).  It’s received the Metro-esque UI updates recently from what I’ve heard.

    This all seems a bit funny to me since Windows Media Center seemed to almost be where some of the concepts for the Metro UI started.  Sure, Zune was the first full-fledged use of it and whatever, but the horizontal scrolling sections where elements expand beyond the edges of the screen and are scrolled into view seems to have started with Windows Media Center.  Interesting that it may have been the genesis of the design, but has been left behind.  All at a time where Microsoft is trying to unify the different UIs.  If they had just added some sort of basic 10′ remote control interaction to the Metro UI in Windows 8, small Arm-based PCs hooked up to HDTVs could have been really cool.  You could have access to the Windows Marketplace (or whatever it’s called) and all that on your desktop, tablet, and TV.

    Oh well… tablets are the hot thing right now and Microsoft is busy making sure people are using Windows on (what seems for many to be becoming) their main computing device, so we’ll have to wait for Apple’s top secret TV to come out and start making big inroads into the living room before Microsoft will really do something cool there.

Well, that’s enough complaining for now, haha.  I’ve not used it extensively enough to even see if a lot of these things can be modified/disabled/whatever.  I’ll keep playing around and see how I feel after a few more days.  My general prediction right now is, though, that Windows 8 can probably be really successful on tablets, but will need some time and updates to be nicer on the desktop unless Microsoft can get a lot done between now and release time.  I’m not sure what they have in store, but I’m guessing a lot of the basic interaction is pretty much set in stone at this point.