Charles Young

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I've just installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview.  These are some first impressions:

Installation of the preview was quite smooth and didn't take too long.  It took a few minutes to extract the files onto a virtual image, but feature installation then seemed to happen almost instantaneously (according to the feedback on the screen).  The installation routine then went into a preparation cycle that took two or three minutes.  Then the virtual machine rebooted and after a couple of minutes more preparation, up came the licence terms page. 

Having agreed to the licence, I was immediately taken into a racing-green slidy-slidy set of screens that asked me to personalize the installation, including entering my email address.  I entered my work alias.  I was then asked for another alias and password for access to Windows Live services and other stuff.  There was a useful link for signing up for a Windows Live ID.  I duly entered the information.  Only on the next screen did I spot an option to not sign in with a Live ID.  I didn't try this, but I felt a bit peeved that the use of a Live ID had appeared mandatory until that point.  I suspect the idea is to try to entice users to get a Live ID, even if they don't really want one.

A couple more minutes of waiting, et voilà.  The Metro Start screen appeared, covered in an array of tiles.  Simultaneously I got an email (on my work alias) saying that a trusted PC had been added to my Live account.  I clicked the confirmation link, signed into Windows Live and checked that my PC had indeed been confirmed. Then Alan started chatting, but that is a different matter.

Of course, Oracle's Virtual Box (and my Dell notebook) haven't quite mastered the art of touch yet.  For non-touch users a scroll bar appears at the bottom of the Metro UI. I had a moment's innocent fun pretending to swipe the screen with my finger while actually scrolling with the mouse.  Ah, happy days.  Then I discovered that the scroll wheel on my mouse does the equivalent of finger swiping on the Start page.

I opened up IE10.  Wow!  I thought IE9's minimal chrome story was amazing.  IE10 shows how far short IE9 falls.  There is no chrome.  Nothing.  Nadda.  Of sure, there is an address box and some buttons.  They appear when needed (a right mouse click without touch) and disappear again as quickly as possible.  It’s the same with tabs which have morphed, in the Metro UI, into a strip of thumbnails that appear on demand and then get out of the way once you have made your selection.  Click on a new tab and you can navigate to a new page or select a page from a list of recents/favourites.  You can also pin sites to 'Start', which in this case means that they appear as additional tiles on the Start screen.  I played for a minute and then I suddenly experienced the same rush of endorphins that hit me the first time I opened Google Chrome a few years back.  Yes, sad to say, I fell in love with a browser!  A near invisible browser.  A browser that is IE for goodness sake! A browser that does what so many wished IE would do years ago. It gets out of your way.

Do you like traditional tabs?  That's not a problem, because the good-ole desktop is just a click (or maybe a tap or a swipe) away.  There is even a useful widget on the now-you-see-me/now-you-don't address bar that takes you to desktop view.  It is a bit of a one way trip, and results in a new IE frame opening on the desktop for the current page.  On the desktop, IE10 looks just like IE9.  It is, however, significantly more accomplished, and has closed much of the remaining gap between IE9, the full HTML5 spec and some of the additional specifications that people incorrectly term 'HTML 5'.  Microsoft has more than doubled its score on the (slightly idiosyncratic) HTML5 Test site (http://html5test.com/) and now just pips Opera 11.51, Safari 5.1 and Firefox 6 to the post for HTML5 compliance (it beats Firefox by just 2 points, although it is 1 point behind if you take bonus points into consideration) by that measure, although it still falls behind Google Chrome 13.

Pinning caused me some issues which I suspect are simply bugs in the preview.  Having pinned a site, every time I went into the Metro version of IE10, I found that I couldn't click on links, hide the address bar, view tabs, etc.  I eventually had to kill my IE10 processes to get things working properly again.  I noticed that desktop and Metro IE10 processes appear with slightly different icons in the radically redesigned task manager.

One slight mystery here is that the beta of 64-bit Flash worked fine in Desktop view but not in Metro.  No doubt this will long since have become a matter of history by the time all this stuff ships.

For a few minutes, I was rather confused about the apparent lack of a proper Start menu in the desktop view.  If you click on Start, you go back to the Metro Start page.  And then the obvious dawned on me.  In effect, the new Metro Start screen is simply an elaboration of the old Start menu.  In previous version, when you click Start, the menu pops up on top of the desktop.  It is quite rich in previous versions, and allows you to start applications, perform searches for applications and files or undertake various management and administrative tasks.  Windows 8 is really not very different.  However, the Start menu has now morphed into the new Metro Start page which takes up the whole screen.  Instead of a list of pinned and recent applications, the Start screen displays tiles.  Move the mouse down to the bottom right corner (I don't know what the equivalent touch gesture is), and up pops a mini Start menu.  Clicking 'Start' takes you back to the desktop.  Click on 'Search' to search for applications files or settings.  The settings feature is really powerful.  In fact, in Windows 7, searching for likely terms like 'Display' or 'Network' also returns results for settings, but you get far more hits in Windows 8.  The effect is rather like 'God Mode' in Windows 7.  [update: no, I'm wrong.  Windows 7 gives you a similar number of hits, BUT you need to click the relevant section in the search results to see them all.  I've clearly not being using Search effectively to date!]

The mini Start menu is available in the desktop as well.  In this case, if you click 'Search', the search panel opens up on the right of the screen and results then open up to take over the rest of the screen. As I experimented, I found that while things were fairly intuitive, the preview does not always work in a totally predictable fashion.  I also suspect that the experience is currently better for touch screens than for traditional mice (I note Microsoft is busy re-inventing the mouse for a Windows 8 world - see http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/en-us/products/touch-mouse/microsite/).  This is hardly surprising given that Windows 8 is clearly in an early state and is unfinished.  I suspect the emphasis to date has been on touch, and not on mouse-driven equivalents.

Once I grasped the essential nature of the Metro Start page and its correspondence to the Start menu is earlier versions of Windows, I began to feel far more comfortable about the changes. Sure, all the marketing hype is about the radical new UI design features.  However, this really is just the next stage of the evolution of the familiar Windows UI.  Metro is absolutely fabulous as a tablet UI (better than iOS/Android IMHO, which after all, are really just the old 'icons on a desktop' approach with added gestures), and I think it will actually be quite good for desktops, once it is complete.  I note, though, that people have already discovered the registry hack to switch Metro off (see http://www.mstechpages.com/2011/09/14/disable-metro-in-windows-8-developer-preview/), and I think MS would be wise to offer this as a proper setting in the release version.  I anticipate, though, that I will not be switching Metro off, even on a non-touch desktop.

Shutting down presented a little difficulty.  I am used to using the Start menu to do this (the classic 'Start' to stop conundrum in Windows).    I couldn't find a 'Shut Down' command on the Start screen.  I eventually did Ctrl-Alt-Delete (or rather, Home-Del in Oracle Virtual Box) and then found a Shut Down option at the bottom left of the screen.

Booting the VBox image takes 20 seconds on my machine.  20 seconds!   I'll say that again. 20 seconds!!!!  Yes, 20 seconds, just about exactly.  That's on a virtual machine on my notebook.  On the host, it would be significantly faster.  This is Windows like we have never known it before.  Frankly, it is the ability to boot fast and run Windows happily on ARM devices (I'll have to take that on trust as I haven't yet seen it for real) that are the really important changes.  Almost more important than the Metro UI. The nay-sayers and trolls say it can't be done.  I think Microsoft has done it, though.

My last foray into Windows 8 this evening was to launch Visual Studio 2011 Express and have a quick peek at the templates for Win8 development.  I have a lot to explore.

The say first impressions are the most important.  When I saw the on-line video of Windows 8 a couple of months back, I almost fell off my chair in surprise.  Now I have got my hands on an early version I am really quite impressed. Like everyone else, I couldn't see how Microsoft could possibly compete against Apple and Google in the tablet space.  Now...well...I look forward to seeing if and how Apple and Google will respond.  If it is true, as Steve Ballmer states, that Microsoft had 500 thousand downloads of the preview in less than 24 hours, then tectonic plates have already shifted and Microsoft is firmly on track to become a major contender in the tablet space. OK, that's only one in every 14,000 people on the face of planet earth, and yes, the release version of Lion had double that number of hits in the first 24 hours.  Nevertheless, it is a huge figure for an early technical preview of an operating system that won't ship for another year.  It means people are very, very keen to start developing for Metro (I know we are at SolidSoft).  And if Windows 8 succeeds on tablets, what will that mean for Windows Phone which also uses the Metro concept?  Don't ever, ever underestimate Redmond.

posted on Thursday, September 15, 2011 12:56 AM

Feedback

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/15/2011 9:46 AM Samuel Jack
The absence of Flash in Metro-style IE is intentional according to the latest post on the Building 8 blog (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/09/14/metro-style-browsing-and-plug-in-free-html5.aspx). It runs entirely plug-in free.

Like you, I had a "Where's my start menu?" experience, and the same realisation that the Metro Screen IS the Start Menu - I guess the word "Start" at the top right should have been the give-away! I'm very happy to see that my favourite Windows 7 feature is still alive and well: Windows Key - type app name - hit Enter to launch an app.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/15/2011 10:06 AM Charles You g
Ah yes. That's a pretty 'brave' move though. My favorite news site was unable to deliver any video or live streaming content in the Metro IE10 app as a result. Poor Adobe. Between Apple and MS, they are having a tough time! Still, Flash is very resource hungry and bad news for mobile/tablet form factors. A plug-in free world, if achievable, will be great.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/15/2011 2:13 PM Chris Patterson
Yes, imagine if browsers implemented web standards, we wouldn't need plug-ins at all! :)

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/15/2011 2:44 PM Charles Young
Yes, seriously, that is the point. Standards-compliant HTML5 is the key to a plug-in free world which is why it is so important to monitor Microsoft's progress in this area. As I stated, today IE10 is on a par with FF6 and ahead of Safari and Opera, but still behind Chrome.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/15/2011 5:18 PM Scott Bussinger
My read is that Microsoft intends all Metro-style applications to function identically on all device architectures (x86, x64, or ARM). This meant removing plugins (since they have to be architecture specific). Legacy apps will only work on Intel processors and on the legacy desktop. I think they've drawn a huge line between the two worlds and it'll be interesting to see if their long term goal will be to migrate everyone away from the legacy side or not. It's not clear to me how the new world order will handle applications like Photoshop or Excel which are well (better?) suited to the legacy approach.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/15/2011 5:50 PM Charles Young
LOL. Having lived in a WinTel world for so long, I'm finding it hard to make the mental shift to a WinArm world. This is a different Microsoft! In terms of Office apps, I guess the answer must be Office 365 and Office Web Apps.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/16/2011 3:32 PM Corgalore
Charles, this may sound dumb, but did you figure out how to close out the Metro IE10 when running in a virtual machine? I had to foce the process to shutdown because I couldn't find a way to close it normally.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/16/2011 4:13 PM Carlos Serrano
Interesting, Charles.

This is an interesting take - I like the courage it takes to drop compatibility with something that big. Apple did the same, but they have nowhere close to the same legacy and enterprise presence as Microsoft.
A couple of immediate concerns though:
a) what happens to enterprise customers who rely on plug-ins? The fact that with Metro you just cannot leverage that investment means that either investment will be needed to update the approach, or, that Metro will not cut it and only the Desktop mode will be used
b) Again, Microsoft fragments its API in non-obvious ways. WinRT gets added to the other WPF, Silverlight, XNA, WP7 set of overlapping-but-not-quite-the-same-in-frustrating-ways APIs.
I am hearing lots - and really lots - of concerns about all that.

I have to say that this move from Microsoft is consistent with other moves in this UI space. Take the whole "let's-get-rid-of-version-numbers-and-force-the-automated-update-of-browsers" controversy with Mozilla. Chrome started with the automated update but at least it provides a version number - and has had that from day one, contrary to Mozilla and Microsoft, which has allowed developers for the ecosystem to take into account that feature.
I have encountered more than one large corporation which has decided to move back - and I mean "back" - to Internet Explorer exclusive support because of that.

I don't think this will result in a fracture of the usage of browsers - enterprise customers relying on versions with old-style named and supported releases and with plug-in support. That would a negative development - enterprise applications have a lot to learn from consumer applications in terms of usability.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/16/2011 11:48 PM Charles Young
@Corgalore. Metro apps are ae a very different beast to traditional Windows apps. Just like Android and iOS, they are normally dehydrated (suspended) when inactive, and rehydrated on demand, although I understand that it also possible for apps to run background tasks. This approach should hardly be a surprise and is the only sensible approach for resource-constrained and smaller battery operated devices. As I say, MS is simply going the same route others have already travelled. This new model (which exists as an alternative to the traditional Windows model and does not replace that traditional approach) is predictably attracting a lot of concern from Windoes developers, but I would be hard pressed to think of a practical alternative. So, very simply, you don't generally close Metro apps. Windows will automatically kill the most inactive suspended apps if it needs to.

Early versions of iOS didn't allow apps to be killed easily, either. Apple went on to introduce a simple mechansim for allowing users to force apps to close down. In Win8, you can do this today through the Task Manager. Maybe they will intorduce a more 'Metro-style' approach to forcing closure of apps by the time Win8 ships.

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/17/2011 12:41 AM Charles Young
@Carlos Well, my brain is still adjusting to all the information coming out of Redmond (I still have lots to absorb), but the point that I think is currently lost in all the inevitable hype is that Windows has just got bigger (ironically by offering support for smaller devices) rather than smaller. Nothing is being taken away. Metro is simply that part of Windows 8 which a) provides an Android/iOS-class platform for tablets and b) provides a rich new version of the old Start menu on slates, notebooks and desktops. The rest of Windows remains intact. So, there isn't really any big issue or change for Enterprise users. Current investments are fully protected. In any case, it is easy to switch off the Metro features and given the way these things are generally handled in Windows, there will probably be a nice enterprise-friendly policy to enforce this across the domain by the time the OS ships.

I've got a lot of work to do to get my head properly around WinRT. I hadn't even come across the term when I wrote this post, although I had heard it being described in general terms a while ago. But as I understand it, it is a packaging model and set of architectural patterns and guidance, backed up by some new API support, for Metro apps. It applies across the board to native (e.g., C++), .NET/Silverlight, XNA and HTML5/Javascript apps. So it's not really fragmenting anything. Rather, it plays something of a unifying role. And again, nothing that already exists goes away. Let's face it. Every time MS makes any move, they face a barrage of criticism, not only for the trolls, but also from within their very large community. People often fear change and they often choose to interpret every new thing as a ruination of every old thing they value. And 99 times out of 100, they are proved wrong in the fullness of time. This runs deep in human psychology.
...

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 9/17/2011 12:41 AM Charles Young
...
One of IE's 'secrets' during the last few years has been that, alone amongst the browsers, it offers comprehensive enterprise-level support, and has done since the late 1990s. This is a major cause of the longevity of IE6 which will only now rapidly die due to the impending end of support for XP/Windows Server 2003. Both Google and Mozilla have taken a refreshingly honest public line on this in recent months, telling their customers that they have no plans to compete in this space (although Mozilla did make some moves in this direction in previous years). Lots of our customers never seriously contemplated using any other browser except IE at the corporate level, and I don't see that changing any time soon. I bet, however, that lots of them ban Metro from the desktop when Win8 ships! They will still have full access to IE10, plug-ins included, and the same capability to lock the browser down in accordance with corporate policies.

More generally, the trends in browser usage are often described in terms of Microsoft hemorrhaging market share. This is true at one level, but the high-level stats hide a more nuanced story. Put rather simplistically, a high proportion of users of older versions of IE migrate to Chrome and FF when they upgrade their OS, etc. However, the pattern is entirely different for IE8 which has held market share. The early evidence suggests that MS is experiencing a fairly smooth transfer from IE8 to IE9 and may be slightly increasing overall market share for these two later versions. Time will tell for sure. In the meantime, that stats generally focus too highly on desktop browsers and don't adequately reflect that increasingly, the most important browser in many people's daily experience is the one on their phones or tablets. I would suggest that on the desktop, we are seeing a long term equilisation of market share amongst browsers that are increasingly less differentiated and that on mobile devices the long term trends will be driven by the success of the various major OS families that are emerging. If, as I have long suspected, MS grabs a significant part of this space, IE 10 will grab a significant market share. At the end of the day, the real point is that we shouldn't really have to care much at all about which browser we are using. Now that IE9/10 has caught up with the rest of the world in terms of standards compliance, an has actually overtaken in terms of rendering performance, there is even less reason to obsess over browsers. Now look at Windows 8 Metro. The browser disappears almost entirely from view!

# re: Windows 8, Metro and IE10: First impressions 10/18/2011 11:38 AM Albert
I hate Metro :-( It is similar mistake as a Ribbon...

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