Anticipating Windows 8

Last week, I downloaded and installed the Release Preview of the upcoming update to Microsoft Windows named Windows 8 (Win8).   This version of the software is pre-released software, released primarily for application developers to continue to write apps for it, but it also allows others who consider themselves to be “early adopters” to use the new operating system and get a feel for the upcoming changes.

I thought I’d use this post to provide my initial experiences with this new operating system (OS) and some thoughts about implications for running it within your network.

From my perspective, I see two broad categories of changes to Windows in Win8 (one evolutionary and the other revolutionary):

  • The core operating system (including the kernel and base functionality) provides a continued evolution of the significant improvement of Windows 7 (Win7) over Windows Vista and Windows XP.   If you were happy with Win7, you’ll really appreciate the improvements in Win8.
  • A revolutionary new user interface and application paradigm, named Metro.  This is a major change in the way one works with a computer (and devices for that matter).

In the following sections, I’ll go into more detail on each.  But first, let me discuss what I’ve done:

  • I downloaded the preview and installed it as a virtual machine (VM) on VMware Fusion for Mac.  To install it, I treated it like Win7, since Fusion doesn’t yet have support for Win8.
  • I’m running Fusion Version 4.1.3 on my Macbook Pro running MacOS Version 10.7.4 (Lion), with 2.8 GHz Intel core I7 processor and 8 GB of memory.
  • The VM itself is 60 GB is size, running with 1 GB of memory and bridged LAN.
  • I’m running 2 monitors:
    • Laptop screen resolution 1280×800
    • Monitor screen resolution 1920×1080

This is the same configuration that I run Win7 on, except that I’m currently running 1.2 GB of memory with the Win7 VM.  I have full access to the rich graphical display characteristics of both Win7 and Win8.

Core Operating System

Before discussing Metro, let’s discuss some of the improvements to the core OS.

  • Performance improvements — Continuing from Win7, Win8 requires a somewhat smaller memory footprint than Win7.  I don’t have exact numbers, though Microsoft claims you can run it on as little as 300 MB.  My limited experience is that Win8 has a marginally less memory impact on my system than Win7 running similar loads.  I’m running Win8 with 1 GB and Win7 with 1.2 GB,which after experimenting with various memory footprints, these seem to balance VM needs with the needs of the rest of my Mac.    Also, Win8 boots up faster than Win7 (which was faster than previous versions of Windows).  Finally, sleep seems to be better than Win7, approaching the ease-of-use with MacOS.   Though Mircrosoft claims it performs better overall, I’ve not done any performance tests.  The upshot is that Win8 performs marginally better than Win7.
  • Anti-malware functionality is integrated into the OS.  Microsoft has basically bundled Microsoft Security Essentials into the included feature Defender.  This is really good news and a long time coming.  This should negate the need for an expensive commercial anti-malware solution.
  • Support for ARM processors — For most folks, this is esoterica, but the ARM processor is a popular low-voltage device processor, which will allow Win8 to run natively on a range of devices, not just those powered by Intel.  This is a critical component of Microsoft’s strategy of using the same OS for all types of devices, including smart phones, tablets and computers. It differs from Apple’s strategy of using two different (though related) OSes for smart phones/tablets (IOS) and Macs (MacOS).
  • Windows to Go — I’ve not played with this yet, but it has the potential to be a big deal.  It will allow Win8 to be booted and run from a USB memory stick and will contain all the user’s account information so that a user can carry his/her computer on a stick and run it anywhere.  This is envisioned for the Enterprise to outfit their employees with these memory sticks to be used with a bank of generic PCs at the worksite.  It might also have some benefit to the consumer also, though I’d like to explore the security implications prior to attempting to use this in a public site.

Metro

The biggest change with Window 8 over its predecessors is Metro.   Metro is officially a new design language and app interface, but the name has carried over to the graphical user interface represented by this new design capability.  Metro is a huge and potentially very disruptive change in graphical user interface (GUI) and associated applications.

To start with, when you log into Windows8, you’ll use your Microsoft Live account.  Alternatively, Enterprises will be able to configure using your Active Directory account.

Once you log in, the next thing you’ll see is the Start screen (click on image to get larger version):

The “Tiles” each represent a Metro app that has been pinned to the Start screen.  To get to all applications, right-click the mouse and select “All Apps” to get to this screen:

If you’ve seen or used a Windows smart phone, this should look familiar.   However, for the average PC user, this will be somewhat alien.  But never fear, by click (or pressing) the “Desktop” tile, you’ll toggle over to the “Desktop” view, which should look familiar:

In the desktop mode, you should be able to run most existing Windows apps with no problem.   However, if you look carefully, you’ll notice one glaring omission: The “Start” button is missing.  There are two methods for running  apps in this view:

  1. Running from “All Apps” on the Metro side.
  2. Pinning the desktop app to the toolbar or the Metro app to the start menu.

For Metro apps, they will run under the Metro Start screen and are full screen apps.  The example apps are sumptuous and with the entire screen, they can pack a lot into them.  Also, scrolling left-right will show an extended screen for a given app (which is a feature I’d love on MacOS Lion full screen apps).  He’s an example of the Weather app:

This is just a taste of what’s to come.  There is a wealth of information out there about Windows 8 and Metro.  Just point your search engine to “Windows 8”.

Some Closing Thoughts

Win8 should cleanly slide into your home or small business network as it really is an improved Win7 under the covers.  What I’ve noticed about Win8 is that it runs as a VM the same as my Win7 does as released.  The apps that I’ve tried have installed and worked the same (though in desktop mode).   What’s interesting is that I couldn’t run Win7 Release Preview under Fusion prior to the final release version.  It would hang and the graphics didn’t work correctly.

Most of your existing apps should run normally, though again as desktop apps.   Like any major paradigm change, it will take some time before the majority of apps catch up to the new methods.   BTW: When Windows 8 is released, check on-line for a list of Win7 apps and whether they will work properly.

Moving between the Metro and Desktop view is a little tricky, as is getting various menu options in the Metro view (as there are no toolbars per se).  There is definitely going to be a learning curve, especially for folks who normally want it to just work.   My recommendation is for someone in your family who’s interested to become conversant in the new GUI, then help others.  I think this could be the one potential blocker to wide initial acceptance, especially in the Enterprise.

It should be pretty easy to for Corporate IT departments to qualify Win8 for use in the Enterprise as it really is a better version of Win7 from their perspective.   It will be interesting to see if there are issues with the new Internet Explorer 10 which comes with the OS.  There is a metro and desktop version of this browser.   The Metro version will not support plug-ins, while the desktop will.  There have been some substantive changes including support for html5 and limited Adobe Flash support (don’t cha hate it when Steve Jobs is right?) .  This will likely be the place for some enterprise apps not to work properly.

Now that I’m getting comfortable with the new GUI, especially moving between Metro and desktop apps, I am really beginning to like the experience.  The sample Metro apps that Microsoft provides in the Release Preview are good representatives about how Metro apps will behave, but are pretty rudimentary in their functionality.  I’m anxious to see how “real” Metro apps will work in this new experience, especially complex apps like those in Office.

If you’re adventurous, download it and try it your self, but not as a replacement for your regular system as it is still isn’t fully tested or complete (though I have found it to be stable).   Also, once the Release Review period is over, it will stop working and you’ll need to install the released version.  If you do run the prerelease code, be sure to run it on a modern PC, either as a virtual machine or from an alternate boot partition.  An older machine will likely not give you the same experience, especially with the graphics.

Let me know what you think …

2 Comments

  1. Art Vandelay

    Very good post. I have been using Win 8 as my daily driver and I have found it to perform faster and leaner than Win 7. I really like the built-in antivirus and the Windows update mechanism is a lot less obtrusive than it was in Windows 7. I also enjoy the new Metro apps and am looking forward to when the store is fully up and running. I too am a little concerned about discoverability of the edge gestures, we’ll see how that all pans out with every day users. My mom has a Dell Inspiron Duo (crappy tablet/netbook hybrid) that I threw Win8 on and I found the best way to teach the UI was in a few phases, giving ample time for people to get the hang of it before introducing the next one.

    1.Launching start, opening apps, getting back to start. (like the iPad/smartphone paradigm)
    2.The app bar and the charms bar.
    3.Fast app switching, snapping apps, closing apps (really not required in most cases).

    MS people say this takes about an hour to get the hang of. If that’s the case I think it will be fine, I don’t think users will be so frustrated by their shiny new computer that they’ll return it in under 60 minutes. Hopefully the out of box experience does a good job of getting people oriented.

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