This is the second part of my impressions of Windows 8. You can read the previous part here.
- Windows 8 and the Cloud
- Using Windows 8 on a Slate
- Using Windows 8 on a Laptop
- Using Windows 8 on a Desktop
- Desktop IE vs. Metro IE
- Frustrations of Being an Early Adopter
Windows 8 and the Cloud
© Filip Skakun 2012
Metro style apps are limited in their ability to access system resources such as files in arbitrary locations on the disk. This though has been mostly true for a while now, since Windows Vista introduced user access control. This is a good thing and makes managing your files easier, but it is also a stepping stone to the future in which we will increasingly rely on the cloud to store our files. Local disks will be used as application storage and local cache of the data we currently use or might need when offline, but what we already see in online backup and file sharing solutions like Carbonite, iCloud, the rumored Google Drive, Dropbox and SkyDrive — is bound to slowly become the primary copy of our data — secured from accidents, hardware failures and hackers better than our own devices while allowing to conveniently access our data from any device.
Windows 8 adds built-in user and developer support for SkyDrive integration. You can sign into Windows with your (Windows) Live account, which then automatically syncs your profile settings across all Windows 8 devices. Apps can easily use roaming settings that are synchronized between all the devices. Internet Explorer shows the same bookmarks for — again — all your devices. Your data travels with you everywhere taking away the pain of having to micromanage your documents, settings and any other data, and copying it back and forth. I can’t wait to dump all my backup drives, thumb drives and stop worrying about backing up and creating many copies of the same data on my phone, slate, laptop, desktop and XBOX, at home, in the office and on the road.
Using Windows 8 on a Slate
© Filip Skakun 2012
The tablet I use is a custom version of the Samsung Series 7 Slate that was given out to developers by Microsoft at the Build conference. This is my work machine and I mostly use it with an external 24-inch monitor and a basic full size keyboard. It is slightly bigger than the iPad — at 11.6-inch vs. 9.7-inch and also a bit heavier and featuring a built-in fan. Not exactly an iPad competitor since it is about twice the price, but with my setup I can use it for developing apps on a big screen with all the peripherals I want to connect to it, and when needed I can just pick it up from the dock and use it the same way I would use an iPad. With smaller devices getting more powerful while the computing tasks have not become much more demanding since the popularization of video or HD video especially — I can easily imagine many people in the future might choose to use a Windows tablet that they can carry with them to do some lightweight computing or consumption and dock it anywhere when they need to do something more demanding like programming. This is not something that you can do today with an iPad and this popular photo shows best how an iPad relates to a PC — being just an accessory. Windows tablets might get a lot better appeal as something that is not only a cool expensive gadget, but also a tool to be used for more serious tasks such as making money.
I have not had a chance to use the tablet much in slate scenarios that iPad rules today — mostly because this is a work machine and it sees majority of its use in developing and prototyping new Windows 8 apps but also because I am not a heavy iPad user. I really prefer to have a mouse and keyboard, ideally a full-sized one to use a computer comfortably. I use an iPad occasionally to play a game, check mail, or look at some other app when I am lying in bed or sitting on a couch and the iPad happens to be within reach. My iPad is mostly used by my kids and I can see great educational potential of such devices having seen my daughter who is beginning to read before turning four year old. I do not think the iPad is the main reason she is doing well, but I am sure it helps and similar devices will continue to help kids learn more quickly than was common when I was a kid. Windows 8 has great potential here. I think the user experience on the Windows tablet is better. The current selection of apps available is limited compared to iPad which had a head start, but this will change very quickly. There are thousands of apps available on iOS, but not so many of them are great and it is certain that most of the great apps will also come out for Windows 8 soon, possibly with improvements over their iOS or Android counterparts while new great apps will often start appearing on Windows first, since this is reportedly also an easier platform to develop for.
One area where Apple has ruled without much successful competition is hardware design. The iPad at prices starting at $399 and being most fashionable gadget today seems hard to beat having resisted the offensive of various crops of Android slates and only losing in lack of a cheap version under $200 where Android-based devices rule, but just as the iPhone seeing strong competition from Android-based phones, the iPad will not last forever as the only contender in the slate game. Just as we are beginning to see emergence of great Windows Phone devices such as the HTC Titan II or the ($99!) Nokia Lumia 900, I think we might see competitive Windows 8 slate devices from Samsung or Nokia that might compete in price as well as design with the iPad while potentially also being full-featured desktop PC replacements, which cannot be said of the iPad.
Using Windows 8 on a Laptop
© Filip Skakun 2012
My laptop is a now 1.5 year old Lenovo T410s with multi-touch screen, a 160GB SSD drive and 8GB RAM. Perhaps not a typical laptop due to the touch support, although possibly a much more common setup in the future when the touch-friendly Windows 8 gets released (I am keeping an eye out for the Lenovo Yoga, an ultrabook with a touchscreen that also converts to a tablet!). Installation of Windows 8 Consumer Preview on the laptop took around 10-15 minutes, so does upgrade from an older version which I am happy to see also kept all my installed applications and settings, which is great, since it usually takes me hours if not days to install all the software I use on a fresh install of Windows and I believe older versions of Windows were not able to port these over during upgrade.
Except for the previously mentioned 8s cold boot time, the system also resumes from sleep in under 2s, seems to manage battery better and run more quietly. There are no driver problems except for the missing touch input driver I talk about later that should not be common since this is an uncommon type of device. Also, I expect Windows 8 to mostly be used on new devices while I also recommend trying to install it on older ones, since it brings so many improvements over Windows 7. Have I forgotten to mention Windows 8 also uses less memory? This means leaving more of it to applications, and practically lower hardware requirements than Windows 8 or Vista.
I do not use the touch screen much right now since without the proper driver it does not work too well, although I can vouch for the convenience of having a touch screen on a laptop. Any time I can’t find a mouse I can just touch the screen. Scrolling web pages with fingers is much more natural than scrolling with a mouse, so is browsing and consuming a lot of other types of documents and content. Drawing is easier with a finger than a mouse, so is navigating maps and… well, developing multi-touch software. It might also help reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries if you often switch between different input devices depending on which one feels most comfortable at a particular time. With Windows 8 using the OS with touch is also easier than with any other OS out there.
Using Windows 8 on a Desktop
© Filip Skakun 2012
For some reason installing Windows 8 on my desktop was quite a bit harder than on my laptop or the tablet. Possibly a driver issue caused the screen to go black during the installation multiple times and while I believe it was only a problem of display — I had to restart installing the OS multiple times before I managed to reach the point where the installation would progress without my input, so even when the screen went black, restarting half an hour later showed it booting to Windows 8.
I have no touch screen display on my desktop, although I cannot wait to start seeing affordable 24″ or bigger true multi-touch screens which I hope will start showing up soon when Windows 8 comes out. Using touch on a desktop screen is not as natural as on a slate and not even as convenient as on a laptop, but I keep getting into situations when I touch the screen and I am surprised it does not work. Touch input really becomes a natural (even if only alternative) way to interact with a computer once you have used it for a while. It is not the best way to input text or event to play most types of games I like, but it is as natural as mouse and keyboard in some scenarios.
Overall having installed all the applications I used to use in Windows 7 to Windows 8 — my desktop is now mostly used from Windows 8, although I have it installed in dual boot mode just in case. The machine was put together with my very own hands and as far as I remember is an Intel Core i5-powered, 4GB RAM, 2+2+1+1TB HDD with 3-4 year old AMD/ATI Radeon graphics and since installation functions mostly without issues. It does sometimes refuse to shut down when I tell it too, but on the other hand, it has leverage over Windows 7 in that it turns of unused hard drives reducing the jet-like noise that the machine used to continuously generate before turning it into a quiet PC.
Desktop IE vs. Metro IE
© Filip Skakun 2012
I see a good reason for having two different browsing experiences. Web applications look beautiful in a browser without chrome. Using a computer without a keyboard and mouse is very limiting in the number of things you can do at a time, so looking at one website at a time makes most sense and seeing all the tabs that are open at the same time is not as useful. In desktop view I expect more power, a HUD of sorts that will allow me to orient myself better in the dozens of tabs that I tend to keep open in a browser at the same time, switching between different apps and so on. The Metro experience is more focused on one thing. Not allowing for browser plugins in the metro experience makes sense if it saves battery and helps push the web technologies forward, although might be annoying sometimes if you know there is a version of IE that can run on desktop that does run both Flash and Silverlight. I really do like the sharing of bookmarks between all my machines. Perhaps the desktop version could actually look and work more like the Metro version does and I believe it was left alone mostly so that the team could focus on the Metro version. I think maybe by the time Windows 8 is released or soon after — we might see the desktop version of IE modified to show no chrome by default until the user right clicks needing to type in a new address or switch a tab with a mouse. The web truly looks better with no chrome.
Frustrations of Being an Early Adopter
© Filip Skakun 2012
Not everything is rosy if you are trying out a new operating system early. The list of things I had to suffer contains the following:
- The old N-Trig touch input drivers for my laptop do not work on the current build of Windows 8. There was a workaround to use them in Developer Preview, but it does not work anymore. Windows 8 class drivers for touch seem to work at first — I can see touch input visualizations for my fingers, but they are very shaky and I can’t tap on buttons, etc. Using touch to scroll or unlock the screen still works though. The new drivers only showed up on N-Trig’s website moments ago today.
- TurboTax complained for a moment that my operating system was not supported even when I used it in Chrome. It seems to have accepted it now though.
- The VPN client I use does not work with Windows 8 yet and it seems like there might be a workaround using a generic VPN client application, but I have not been able to get it to work yet, so when I need to work from home — I am a bit disconnected since I can’t access some internal company resources, although I am sure if I really had to, I could get it to work even now with the workaround.
- The WinKey+S shortcut that used to work with OneNote to grab a screenshot of a selected piece of the screen did not work at first. I used to use it quite a lot, so I was unhappy when I saw it not working. Fortunately it came back – possibly after a reboot which is an uncommon event in Windows 8…
These problems and a few others have been minor annoyances, but I am sure they will be resolved by the time Windows 8 is released and overall even now are outweighed by the improvements you get from the new OS.