Most people in the tech industry will agree that Windows 7 was a marked improvement over Windows Vista. Since its release, Windows 7 seems to have, in some ways redeemed Microsoft from its days when many considered its operating system to be severely flawed. With each iteration of Windows, the user interface has been retooled slightly, but has always maintained its core functionality and design. Recently, Microsoft has also seen some success with its UI design on its current smartphone OS, Windows Phone 7. This UI, dubbed “Metro”, has been very well received by many in the tech community and it has been lauded for its responsiveness, minimalist style, and easy functionality. We have also been seeing the ever expanding tablet market start encroaching on the sales of traditional computing devices. There has been a lot of speculation as to what Microsoft’s answer to the tablet scene would be. Would it be a scaled up Metro UI? Would it be a standard version of Windows focused on touch input? Enter Windows 8 with a resounding yes.
From the moment you begin to install the Windows 8 Developer Preview that the folks at Redmond just released a few days ago, you will notice that things are wildly different with the interface. Even the installer is different. You are greeted with large buttons and sliders that are clearly meant to be tapped by a finger; the scheme of the UI is very simplistic and uncluttered. After you complete the install and get booted into the preview build, you’ll notice that you are no longer in Kansas. This is a whole new, touch centered, world. Microsoft has implemented a Start page similar to the main screen on a Windows Phone device. Everything looks crisp and organized, while maintaining visual interest with random variance in the size of live tiles that serve as icons for launching apps.
I am a Linux nerd to be sure, to some point even an evangelist of the platform. I have never hated Windows, but I’ve never really loved it either. This UI, or more correctly the potential that it has gets me very excited for the future of Windows. Of course one can still access the traditional Windows Explorer at any time in order to have lower level control with files and configurations. There’s a tile for hopping into the desktop right on the Start screen for your convenience. The Metro-Style UI being used here functions as you might expect, dragging your finger (or in my case, a mouse) across the menu you can scroll it from right to left and so on. Tapping on a tile gives a satisfying fly-out animation that leads directly into the drawing of the app on-screen. This looks really nice.
The UI overall feels nice and snappy, even in the VM that I created based on the minimum requirements, I’m not seeing any real lag. Everything about this feels right to me for a tablet. Luckily Microsoft showed off Windows running on an ARM-based processor not too long ago.
One of the most important questions when an OS sees a title update is whether or not software from previous generations will be supported. According to MS legacy software from Windows 7 will be supported. This is great news for anyone out there who may want to upgrade when this comes out, but avoid losing the functionality that they need. Along with the announcements that Windows 8 would function on both x86 and ARM architectures they also mentioned that this would be the same build for all platforms, no fragmentation here. Another important change to the OS is the deep cloud integration. According to MS you will actually be able to sync your configuration options with any other device that runs Windows 8. The ability to move from one device to the other and maintain a transparent experience is a very exciting prospect. And lastly one of the greatest announcements about Windows 8 in my opinion is the level of Xbox Live integration. Below is actually a video of a Windows 8 machine running a copy of Pinball FX 2 from Xbox Live.
It’s early days for the OS and I have very little information about this but it looks very, very promising. I for one love my Xbox 360, and the thought of being able to place some or all of my Xbox Live games from either my PC or console is a very pleasant one.
As this is only a developer preview I think that passing judgment on the OS itself would be ridiculous and premature, but I will say that I am pleasantly shocked with how competent and solid this is. Especially for what is not even a finished or beta OS. I’m very impressed that this OS can run as well as it does on such minimum equipment:
• 1GHz processor
• 1GB of RAM (2GB for 64-bit PCs)
• 16GB of disk space (32GB for 64-bit)
• DirectX 9 capable Graphics Processor
Overall, I cannot wait to see where this is going and I hope to get to play with a Windows 8 tablet very soon! If you’d like to give the preview build a shot there are multiple ISO’s publicly available right here. I will be making a post fairly soon describing how to create a virtual machine to test this new OS out. Have fun guys and let us know what you think about this!