Windows 8 Consumer Preview — First impressions

To say that the release of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview beta generated some discussion among Windows Secrets contributors would be like saying the politicians occasionally like to opine on their (theoretical) accomplishments. E-mails were flying around like they rarely have before.

Here are some of their first impressions and observations:

A business person’s perspective

So after testing Windows 8 consumer preview for less than 24 hours, I can say that I’m excited, wincing, and looking forward to some of Win8’s new features — all at the same time.

I’m excited about some real changes in Windows Update that acknowledges our dislike for frequent rebooting. I wrote about this earlier in a past Windows Secrets article. I’m also excited that Microsoft is finally publishing more documents about component-based servicing, and including it in whitepapers.

I’m looking forward to a Win8 capability that will let me refresh and roll back to known states on future tablets and laptops —. a feature I’ve already started to explore and test.

Like many of my fellow Windows Secrets editors, however, I’m wincing at the apparent loss of some standard Windows features — such as the Start button. This will either make Steven Sinofsky the true heir apparent to Steve Ballmer, or will make him as infamous as Titanic’s captain.

There is an obvious need for a Windows-based tablet. Right now, I struggle to do on an a Android or iPad what I can quickly do on a PC. But the road to Windows on a touch screen, tablet interface appears to be through the sacrifice of the Windows Start button. A decision that might make the adoption of the Office Ribbon seem like brilliance.

I’ve shown the Win8 UI to people at the office, and most asked, :Where’s the Start menu button?” When I explained that you could use the Windows icon on the keyboard, they asked, “Where’s that?”

I’m also concerned that as businesses roll out Windows 7, they lack the funds or the energy to make the vast leap to Win8’s new format. We could end up with this next release of Windows being the killer tablet platform for those that want Windows, but one you skip on the desktop if you already have Windows 7 (or have way too many years of mousing skills and habitually hitting that Start button).

To borrow a few words from Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts folks, it’s going to be a bumpy couple of months.”      — Susan Bradley

Initial impressions from a seasoned technology observer

I installed Windows 8 in a new partition on my Lenovo X220 notebook.

My observations:

— Getting out of metro programs and settings is not intuitive. Nor is bringing up the pop-up menu on the right (the one with the icons for sharing, settings, start, etc.) I wound up going to Task Manager to shut down a slew of stuff. Finding Windows accessories is a lot more difficult — for example, why does notepad have to be buried?

— Microsoft seems to be even more heavy handed than I remember in trying to ram its various products down my gullet. I’m still having trouble finding IE options and getting rid of Bing.

— While it’s nice that you can access Facebook and a few other third-party services, I worry about security. I also wonder how easy (or difficult) it will be to add others. For example, I don’t see AIM, which I use all the time. If memory serves, it will be up to the third parties to build the connectors, which at the least suggests it will take time — and probably cost me money. The interface on the Metro utilities (I’m thinking e-mail, for example) is nice looking but I don’t think it adds any real value.

— The XBox integration is another feature that leaves me cold, although creating an avatar was fun — they’re like a 3D Mii!      — Yardena Arar

Fred Langa’s first look at the Win8 Consumer Preview

Let’s start with a very broad overview:

Windows 8 looks good as a long-term prospect, and I say that as a person who’s mainly and mostly a Windows 7 guy.

The new interface takes some getting used to, but it will be a boon to those who split their time among various Windows devices — phones, tablets, desktop PCs. In the future, that will increasingly describe all of us, so Win8 opens the door to a long, unbroken path for Windows.

On the other hand, I haven’t seen anything yet that makes me think that Win8 is a mustupgrade for most users, for the near future. Win7 is a better choice for users who spend most of their time on a standard desktop or laptop system.

That’s mostly because Win7 is optimized for the classic WIMP interface (windows, icons, mice, and pointers). If that’s how you use your computer — and most of us fit that category — Win7 is about as good as it gets.

Although the standard, Win7-style desktop is still available in Win8, the new OS is really intended for touch-enabled screens. Any current system that’s not touch-enabled will do better with Win7.

This is good news for most everyone who’s just now moving to Win7 — or have only recently moved; Win8 is not a discontinuity that invalidates Win7 in any way. Rather, Win8 is the first iteration of what will eventually become the Win7 successor.

But for now and for several years to come, I think Win7 remains the sweet spot of the Windows world. And that’s good, because Win7 is a great OS, and I’m glad to see that Microsoft isn’t going to churn the marketplace needlessly. Win8 will have its day, and for that reason, it’s well worth looking at. You’ll know what’s coming down the road.

That said, the transition to touch-enabled computing is just beginning and will likely gain wide-spread use. And that’s an application well suited for Windows 8.      — Fred Langa

Tracey Capen

About Tracey Capen

Editor in chief Tracey Capen was the executive editor of reviews at PC World magazine for 10 years, from 1995 to 2005. He was InfoWorld's managing editor of reviews from 1993 to 1995 and worked in the magazine's test center and as networking editor from 1989 to 1992. Between his stints at InfoWorld, he was senior labs editor at Corporate Computing magazine.