Today Microsoft has just released the Consumer Preview, a.k.a. beta, to the world. Anyone willing to give it a test run can get a legal copy here. I was not the only one thrilled for the chance to view all of the new updates and changes Microsoft has made since the Developer Preview. The new Metro screen is still the main focus of change and you can read what I had to say about it here. My experience was overall good but a bit of a rollercoaster as I explored the new layout and features. Here is my quick look at the upcoming OS from Microsoft.
I installed Windows 8 Consumer Preview [Win8CP] on a virtual machine using VirtualBox. Everything was sleek, smooth and what you would expect from a typical Windows install. Select your drive to install, enter your product key, etc.
After the installation from the disc, we are greeted by the "Preparing" screen, which seems to be finalizing the installation and checking devices and internet connections before continuing on to the initial setup of the system.
Personalization and integration is a big goal for Microsoft this time around. Windows 8 has all the familiar theming tools as Windows 7; however, during setup you are encouraged to personalize your experience by choosing your default metro color. Your choices are a bit limited to about 9 colors with the hint of being able to further personalize later. I thought this was a nice touch. Almost every Windows 7 (and Vista) machine I have encountered all had the default color scheme. No more! Now consumers will have this choice upfront before diving into their new machine. I hope this won't be all the choices in the final product, but rather the beginnings of new user-compelled Personalization within the setup.
One of the biggest features to Windows 8 will be the "Sign into your PC." During setup, the user is given the opportunity to link their user account to their Live email. I used my personal Hotmail account, but it looked as though you could use any email service provider such as gmail. I'm not quite certain how the majority of users will feel about this on their PC, but for many users already using tablets and smartphones it will feel normal. As far as I can tell, a user may want to link his/her account to Microsoft for a couple reasons. First, you can easily move your personalized settings from one PC to another. Secondly Microsoft will be giving each user about 25GB of storage space on their SkyDrive service. This will allow a user to store their documents in the cloud and have access to them anywhere and anytime with an internet connection. I don't think the average user today is ready for the leap into cloud storage at this time and will prefer the security of keeping their important and private data on their local hard drives. With that being said, it will be of great use and will serve to introduce millions of people to the idea of cloud storage.
Windows 8 is designed to be an operating system for all platforms -- desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets, e-readers, and smart phones. It's no surprise the first screen the user is presented is a "swipe to unlock" type screen. This will be more useful on a portable device or touchscreen PC, and it felt a bit bizarre on a standard desktop PC with a regular keyboard/mouse. You can either click and drag the screen upwards to reveal the Metro screen or use the scroll wheel on the mouse. At this point, after the pleasant and quick installation process, the new in-setup personalization options and the first look the new Metro start screen, I was completely sold. My stellar first impressions died off after I delved a little deeper into the new OS and used it a bit more.
Metro, while could become useful, seems to be a gimmick. I'm worried that is will become a cesspool of unwanted ads and unnecessary animations and distractions. Perhaps, a new area for developers and advertisers to exploit. Apps are all the new rage, and Metro and the Windows App Store will feed into the epidemic of apps wanting to gain access to all users' personal data. I am hoping Microsoft will cordon off these Apps to the sensitive data on the user's machine. At present, downloading a simple Sudoku trial App on an Android device requires me to give permission for Sudoku to have access to my phone/text logs and contact list. What the hell does Sudoku need with that kind of information, really? So, I'm skeptical about the Apps at best; however, installing a regular program such as Notepad++, Firefox or even larger programs such as Photoshop, Word or Excel might prove Metro's worth -- depending how those developers take advantage of the Metro UI.
Clicking on the Desktop button (square?) brings us to the all familiar Windows desktop. At first glance not much seems to have changed. If you have been following Windows 8 in the news, you'll already know the start button is gone. Now users will need to use their Windows Key on their keyboard to access the Start Menu Metro UI. Also, hovering the mouse in the bottom right corner of the desktop opens up a new "Charms" menu. What this menu will ultimately become is a little unclear. The Windows Explorer has had some nice teaks added in the way of the ribbon interface. For those that are power-users, the ribbon can be hidden and tucked out of sight to save screen real-estate. The Task Manager has received a much needed update.
Conclusions: There hasn't been more excitement with the Windows 8 release since the release of Windows 95. I realize this is only a beta Consumer Preview and is not feature complete therefore I reserve my final verdict until after the final product ships later this year. Inside sources say the release date of Windows 8 will be as early as late Q3 or as late as mid Q4 2012. MS has decided to simplify the number of SKUs for Win8. The offerings will be a standard or home version, Enterprise version and a Professional version. Each in the x86 and x64 flavors, for a total of 6 SKUs. I believe Microsoft will be wise to remember the majority of users of Windows 8 will still be those using a keyboard and mouse and not a touchscreen. Microsoft is still unproven in the mobile phone arena and nowhere in the tablet market. Of course, this can all change when Windows 8 debuts. I am excited to get an 7-8" tablet with Windows 8 along with a Windows 8 Smart Phone that is highly integrated with my desktop and laptop using SkyDrive and other integration methods. Overall the experience of Windows 8 is pleasant and I am looking forward to purchasing it later this year. It will certainly be a test for Microsoft of how well they can bring a seamless experience of many devices through one interface -- Metro UI.
You can read a very good and more in-depth review from my industry colleague Mark Spoonauer at laptopmag.com
[UPDATE] According to the folks at windows8beta.com there might be as many as nine SKUs. Arrgh! While digging through the registery, they were able to find references to the following editions:
- Windows 8 Enterprise Edition
- Windows 8 Enterprise Eval edition
- Windows 8 Home Basic Edition
- Windows 8 Home Premium edition
- Windows 8 ARM edition
- Windows 8 Professional edition
- Windows 8 Professional Plus edition
- Windows 8 Starter edition
- Windows 8 Ultimate edition
From the windows blog team:
For PCs and tablets powered by x86 processors (both 32 and 64 bit), we will have two editions: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. For many consumers, Windows 8 will be the right choice. It will include all the features above plus an updated Windows Explorer, Task Manager, better multi-monitor support and the ability to switch languages on the fly (more details on this feature can be found in this blog post),which was previously only available in Enterprise/Ultimate editions of Windows. For China and a small set of select emerging markets, we will offer a local language-only edition of Windows 8.
Windows 8 Pro is designed to help tech enthusiasts and business/technical professionals obtain a broader set of Windows 8 technologies. It includes all the features in Windows 8 plus features for encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity. Windows Media Center will be available as an economical “media pack” add-on to Windows 8 Pro. If you are an enthusiast or you want to use your PC in a business environment, you will want Windows 8 Pro.
So, there you have it: basically 2 editions, hooray! (and one more for WOA/ARM devices)
The below chart breaks down key features by edition (this list should not be considered an exhaustive list of features):
|Feature name||Windows 8||Windows 8 Pro||Windows RT|
|Upgrades from Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium||x||x|
|Upgrades from Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate||x|
|Start screen, Semantic Zoom, Live Tiles||x||x||x|
|Apps (Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive, Reader, Music, Video)||x||x||x|
|Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote)||x|
|Internet Explorer 10||x||x||x|
|Installation of x86/64 and desktop software||x||x|
|Updated Windows Explorer||x||x||x|
|Enhanced Task Manager||x||x||x|
|Switch languages on the fly (Language Packs)||x||x||x|
|Better multiple monitor support||x||x||x|
|Windows Media Player||x||x|
|ISO / VHD mount||x||x||x|
|Mobile broadband features||x||x||x|
|Remote Desktop (client)||x||x||x|
|Reset and refresh your PC||x||x||x|
|Touch and Thumb keyboard||x||x||x|
|BitLocker and BitLocker To Go||x|
|Boot from VHD||x|
|Encrypting File System||x|
|Remote Desktop (host)||x|