The Mouse is Dead! Long Live the Mouse!
Late last week, Microsoft released the Windows Developer Preview, which is the first public release of anything relating to the project codenamed “Windows 8”. This is the first look at what Microsoft really intends on doing with its next version of Windows. It is designed to help application developers get their apps ready for the future of global computing.
This is a Mac user’s perspective…
I understand that this is an early pre-Beta release of the operating system, so I am not expecting miracles. Installation in a virtual machine on my computer is virtually impossible (see notes later regarding the 32-bit or 64-bit version of the operating system). I run VMware Fusion on my Macintosh and I simply cannot get the VMware tools to install without crashing the operating system. So I had to resort to Boot Camp to load the developer preview; and it works pretty well.
I am running a 27” Mid-2010 iMac with an Intel Core i7 processor with 12 gigs of DDR3 RAM. For graphics performance, I have ATI Radeon HD 5750 with 1 gig of DDR5 video memory. For the hard drive I am running an Intel 320 series SSD. When I write a Mac-focused article I do not feel the need to stress hardware components, but for this article I feel that you all need to know what I am working with.
It should also be mentioned that I am using a keyboard and a mouse. This will make sense later.
Installation is very straightforward, just like Windows 7. One thing to note though is the installation is very quick. One of the biggest weaknesses of the iMac that I have (and most Apple hardware) is that they use low speed DVD drives in their machines with slow data transfer rates. It takes literally FOREVER to install Mac OSX or Windows on my machine from the DVD drive. However, this installation was very quick.
It should also be noted that out of the box, the hardware driver for the wireless did not pick up my 5ghz Wireless-N network, but found and connected to my 2.4ghz without issue. Also during setup Windows will ask if you want to log in with your Windows Live ID. I have had difficulty in getting a Windows Live ID to work with my email address, so I ended up creating a “Local Account”.
My first reaction is “What the Hell is going on here?!” You are immediately dumped into the new Start screen area, with a bunch of icons laid out in the Metro-style interface. My first inclination was to try to get to something that I knew and understood, so I clicked the “Desktop” tile and was put onto a desktop. However, do not try to click the “Start button” down in the lower left-hand corner like you normally would on previous installations of Windows. You are immediately brought back into the Start screen that is previously mentioned.
The Windows key will also act as a home button for the operating system. I am assuming that is how Windows Phone 7 works (I may try one out to field test). In fact, I believe a great deal of the interactivity features is part of the feature set of Windows Phone 7.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
“Windows 8” takes the best and the brightest from other operating systems and yet finds a way to make it their own. For example, one item that really stuck out to me was the Tweet@rama application. To me, it looks just like TweetDeck and has similar functionality (though I would argue Tweet@rama is not as versatile).
Applications as they are installed appear on the Start screen, which is straight out of the Lion cookbook (where the icons are immediately place on the LaunchPad), which is straight out of the iOS cookbook. It is irritating though because if a program installs a Start “menu” icon to uninstall the program, it will show both icons with the same level of visibility on the Start screen
“Windows 8” does not require an anti-virus (at least presently) out of the box. Microsoft Security Essentials is integrated into Windows Defender.
One thing to note here: If you run Internet Explorer from the traditional desktop, it appears to run in 32-bit mode; however, if you run it from the Start screen it appears to run in 64-bit mode. This became apparent when trying to watch Netflix with Microsoft’s own Silverlight plug-in.
It is extremely obvious by this developer preview that this operating system is designed and intended for tablet-based computing devices. Unlike OSX Lion, the touch interface on “Windows 8” really is in your face. Yes, you can get along relatively well with the standard desktop view, but once you hit that Start button you are back in the Metro-style Start screen.
Since I am not using a track pad or a touch screen, I cannot try out the gestures. What I can tell you is that in most places where you can either swipe up/down or left/right there are scroll bars that appears when you move your mouse over the area.
This is a developer build, and should be treated as such. You are insane if you try to use this as your primary computing environment and trust it with real work. Just make sure you have Dropbox for backup (which does work as advertised in “Windows 8”).
I have no sound. I know this is just a driver issue, but when I tried to install the Boot Camp support software, Apple kindly informed me that it would only install on a Windows 7 machine.
The graphics were flickering, especially in the Weather application. However, after locating the Windows Update in the reworked Control Panel I was able to download a developer’s build of the ATI drivers for the operating system, which resolved the issue.
Some of the applications crash, and some just appear to do nothing. What I mean by that is when I load the Weather application occasionally; all I receive is a black screen with nothing going on. Ctrl-Alt-Del and close the application, and it works fine the next time it loads.
Classic Windows’ Failed Assimilation
My biggest complaint with “Windows 8” is with the interface. I love the Metro interface. I think it is exactly what is needed in a touch-computing interface. I love it more than my iOS-equipped devices.
Where “Windows 8” fails is the complete execution of the Metro-style interface. If you press Ctrl-Alt-Del and choose Task Manager, you will receive a straight-from-Windows-7 task manager. Can’t find the right setting in the Control Panel? Well, that is okay because it will load the old style interface for you to find it.
The nice thing about OSX Lion is that if I choose to not use the LaunchPad (the iOS-style interface), I do not have to use it. To be honest, I do not use it. I do not care for it because I do not have a track pad where that would make sense. However, the rest of the time I am running a normal OSX desktop. Which leads me to my next point…
The Future of Computing
It is obvious by Microsoft’s decision to widely adopt the Metro interface in “Windows 8” that they intend on this being the future of their operating system. Apple has indicated through their release of Lion that they intend on incorporating many parts of the iOS interface into OSX to better take advantage of touch.
I believe mobile computers are great, and I believe tablets are also great. But there is some satisfaction (and I would say need) for full-size desktop computers in many environments, and the latest iterations of both major operating systems seem to indicate that they want to dominate tablets and touch screen devices, but not desktop devices.
Steve Jobs recently stated that there will always be a need for trucks (high end machines for production work and what not), but the world is going tablet and mobile. It is obvious that is what both Apple and Microsoft are betting on.
I like “Windows 8”. When the final version ships next year there will be a PC in my office alongside my Mac. That is how good I think this developer preview is. But it also makes me sad. I have some nostalgia for the regular desktop computer, and forcing me to use a touch interface and/or a track pad really does annoy me a bit. Yes, I will adapt to these changes but “Windows 8” clearly makes a statement that the mouse is dead. Long live the mouse!
Since the initial writing of this article, I downloaded the 32-bit version of the developer preview and loaded it on VMware Fusion for the Mac. If you are attempting to do this on a Mac, you MUST have Fusion 4 or the latest Parallels installation.
The 32-bit installation is much easier to get working on the Mac (or from what I read, any virtual environment), and is definitely the way to go if you want to get your feet wet with Microsoft’s latest operating system.
I plan on covering more of the features in-depth, so stay tuned! Follow me @chadkirchner on Twitter for more!