Microsoft Windows 8 Developer Edition

Without wanting to turn into a review site; we’ve taken a look at Microsoft’s new Operating System – Windows 8; and we’re genuinely impressed. The beta is available to all, and is valid until March 2012. You can download it directly from Microsoft.

It’s not recommended that this is installed or upgraded on a live machine (and always make backups); it’s likely that it’s almost impossible to downgrade. We’re swapped to a new and blank hard drive on a AM3 Quad Core with 3GB RAM. The system requirements are 1GHz CPU, 1GB RAM and 16GB Hard Drive space.

After a very familiar installation screen, almost identical to Windows 7; the user is presented with a simple black screen with white text showing the current action and percentage – no progress bars here. The new font is clean and crisp; although some have criticised its simplicity; it’s fast and easy to read.

The Metro interface is generally smooth and fast, familiar of JQuery – and likely uses it. Under high load it can stutter, but not so bad as to make it unusable. There’s plenty of Metro tiles included, and the larger download has Visual Studio Express to allow developers to make their own. We’re yet to have time to play with this yet, but hope too soon.

They’ve taken heed of the problems with Vista, and stuck truly to improving on the Windows 7 experience for the home user. Behind the new glossy-style Metro screen; is the familiar Windows, with a few subtle changes in Explorer.

Windows 8 Metro Interface

Windows 8 Metro Interface

The explorer interface has had a face-lift, as previously discussed – and thankfully have taken notice of the complaints and allowed the Office-style Ribbon to be minimized as shown here:

Screenshot of Explorer 'Ribbon' collapsed and uncollapsed

Yes, the new Explorer 'Ribbon' is collapsable

The new Metro interface is an unusual learning curve – many of their user interfaces are slightly different; for changing settings, are counter-intuitive – or cause issues. One we’ve found is using Remote Desktop, it’s difficult to use the Start button since the new ‘Metro’ menu pops up when the mouse is in the bottom left.

Metro also offers a web browser in the form of Internet Explorer 9; however since it’s based as a Metro tile; it will be interesting to see if other web browsers are able to integrate so well into the new interface. Whether they’re able to or not, it might be one of Microsoft’s methods to try and bring confidence back to IE.

There seems few other changes, at least in this release. The new ‘Metro’ interface is undoubtedly going to be controversial; and we’re concerned about the use of Internet Explorer; but Windows 8 certainly seems to be a new direction for Microsoft.

Microsoft to ‘ribbonise’ Windows 8 File Manager

Microsoft have posted an insightful article regarding their decision to add a Microsoft Office-style ribbon to the File Manager toolbar.

As usual, Microsoft go into some detail as to why this choice has been made. The article describes the most commonly used file buttons, in order, as paste, properties, copy, delete, rename, refresh and cut. These will now be shown in a large bar across the top in five categories – File, Home, Share, View and Manage.

Screenshot of Windows Explorer in "Windows 8"

Windows Explorer in "Windows 8"

Already aware of skepticism; it appears Microsoft are adding this as an additional method of getting to the already-available tasks; while also intending to add some new features. It can be seen from the screenshots, Microsoft may be removing the zoom feature and instead returning to the familiar Small Icons, Large Icons, Details and List that has been around since Windows ’95.

Some criticism has already arisen – the screen estate used purely for the ribbon is large, especially given some of the small screens for Netbooks. It appears Microsoft has chosen a deliberately narrow and long screenshot to help hide this.

It also features content tabs; which appear a useful addition to a new user:

Screenshot of Library Tools in Windows 8 File Explorer

Library Tools in Windows 8 File Explorer

Screenshot of Picture Tools in Windows 8 File Explorer

Picture Tools in Windows 8

But is Microsoft targeting the wrong people with this move? Surely most existing Windows users will shy away from it? I suspect many of us hope this will be an option.

Naturally this has ramifications for user interfaces on websites too. With Google Analytics and Heatmap software such as ClickHeat (open source, GPL); it’s easy to see which features your visitors are using most – but – like Microsoft, be aware that a significant change can easily alienate your user base.

It has also been announced that the new Windows 8 will feature a smartphone-style menu with panels; with (it seems) the normal ability to run software but with a smaller footprint of the Windows interface; improving battery life and speed. The rest of the interface will appear (or may even) be a separate application. This sounds very similar to the window manager system in Linux, and could be a good move to having a faster, stripped-down OS with the remaining features loaded on demand.

Full article on the ribbon can be found in this MSDN Blog post, and the new UI is described in Designing for Metro.

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