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Windows 8 second impressions and useful tips

March 1, 2012 5 comments

Spending a few hours with the new Windows 8 desktop, I’ve modified my opinion some. The best way to live with Metro effectively using the mouse and keyboard is to learn the keyboard shortcuts. The gestures are just not mouse friendly in my opinion.

The Keyboard’s The Thing

Making effective use of the desktop, search, and the Metro start screen requires using shortcuts (some new, some old favorites). The built in help is quite thorough, just search for help using the Windows search (press Windows + Q keys to get to the Windows search). Once in the help application, search for “shortcuts” . I wont duplicate the documentation here but instead I want to highlight key combinations that have made the Metro UI much more enjoyable for me.

  • Get to the Start screen from anywhere -> Simply press the Windows key by itself
  • Get to the Desktop -> Press Windows + D
  • Search -> Press Windows + Q
  • Launch an application from the task bar -> Press Windows + # where # is any number from 1 to 9. This maps to the first 9 applications you have pinned on your task bar.
  • Launch an explorer window -> Press Windows + E
  • Search files directly -> Press Windows + F
  • Close a Metro UI applications -> Press Alt + F4
  • Switch between running applications -> Press Windows + Tab and continue pressing that to cycle through the list of running applications. You can also use alt + tab to cycle through applications using the old style switcher.
  • Accessing computer settings -> Press Windows + I (the letter i).
  • Close a charm -> Press ESC

This brings up a good point however. If you are accessing the Windows 8 PC using remote desktop or GotoMyPC , the local Windows key won’t get sent to the remote session unless you are in full screen mode (at least it has been spotty for me). This makes using Metro UI much less pleasant via a remote session. Mouse precision is already compromised because of the remote session. Add in the loss of reliable Windows key action and you have a headache on your hands.

Despite that downside, I am liking some of the enhancements in Windows Explorer. I use the command line regularly and the command line is now a first class citizen. In the File ribbon there are now options to open either CMD or Powershell in both regular and administrative privilege levels. This opens your favorite command prompt in the directory you are currently viewing. In Windows 7 you had to use Shift + Right Click to get this option. Having it more readily available is very handy for power users. Some people are not ribbon aficionados but I have found it useful as a way to organize related features and I think Microsoft has done an excellent job with the Windows Explorer ribbon

Overall Windows 8 speed is impressive. Running so smoothly under a VM makes me think Win 8 will really shine on even modest hardware. It seems Microsoft has put considerable effort into streamlining Windows to get it ready to compete in the tablet space on lower power hardware. These efforts benefit the full compliment of users.

Whether or not the upgrade is worth it to content XP and Win 7 users remains to be seen. Unless the App store offers some truly compelling products, I’m still not sure that Win 8 will be worth the upgrade cost for existing PCs. Win 7 remains a sweet spot for the more traditionalist Windows users out there.

Categories: Reviews

Windows 8 first impressions

March 1, 2012 1 comment

As many of you have already done, I have installed Windows 8 Consumer preview to try it out. My setup is Windows 8 Consumer Preview 64 bit running on an instance of the free Oracle Virtual Box virtual machine. I setup the VM with 3 gigs of RAM and 50 gigs of hard drive space. This is hosted in Windows 7 on a Core i7 with 8 gig of ram. A decent performing box that should be able to run Win 8 in a VM without issue.

Installation was very easy and performance is very good despite running from within a VM. I installed directly from the .ISO downloaded from Microsoft’s website. The latest Virtual Box does come equipped with Windows 8 compatible guest support tools and installing these greatly improves mouse and keyboard performance along with graphical rendering.

I must admit that on first blush I was somewhat confused with the navigation. The key is to learn to use the hot corners to get back to the Start page as well as access the search and settings easily. Getting to all the installed apps requires a right click anywhere on the start page except on the tiles themselves. Right clicking on a tile will bring up a context menu but that menu is now at a bar at the bottom of the screen. This requires you to move the mouse down to make a selection which I feel has a negative impact on my workflow.

The new task manager is nice but Process Explorer is still more powerful. Many of the applications you already have will launch and switch to the desktop view which makes the Metro UI superfluous and I think distracting. This brings me to my main point.

User interface “improvements” are not improvements if they do not simplify or otherwise enhance the user’s workflow

I understand the need for gloss and panache from a marketing perspective. Microsoft seems scared of becoming the stodgy old fashioned also ran. That fear isn’t unfounded considering the bucket loads of consumer cash that Apple is scooping up with its wildly successful iPad and iPhone. Apple however came from a base of zero to create out of nothing these new marketplaces for itself. Users didn’t start with a set of expectations as to how these Apple products should work. Now that is no longer true and we certainly see that reflected in the slow to change iOS interface which in some opinions is the now stable and stodgy mobile user experience.

Users over 30 (myself included) have come to expect certain paradigms in the operation of Windows PCs. Our fingers and mouse hands have developed muscle memories that allow us to quickly execute common tasks in our daily workflow. Aside from the excellent OS wide search feature integrated with Apple’s OS X followed by Windows Vista, and then Windows 7, I personally can’t think of a recent vendor supplied OS feature that has markedly improved my workflow. Improvements in speed, stability, and security are the main value propositions for each new release.

My first impression breaks down like this

Pros
  • Very easy install process, happens very quickly even on a VM
  • Excellent overall performance even within a VM
  • No application compatibility problems that I have run into yet
Cons
  • Metro UI seems more of a distraction and impediment. Most of the apps I would access from Metro could probably better be served from a gadget on the regular desktop.
  • Performance difference between Win 8 and Win 7 doesn’t seem compelling to me. Win 7 is an excellent performer on a wide variety of hardware. Improvements here seem very incremental

I’m going to reserve final judgement and live with Metro for a month or so and let it sink in. First pass, it seems not well suited to my day to day laptop/desktop workflow and I don’t anticipate running Windows on a tablet even when it becomes widely available. What are your thoughts, how has Metro impacted your day to day workflow on Windows?

After living with Metro for a few hours and getting comfortable with keyboard shortcuts, things look a little better

Categories: Reviews