Through the Looking Glass – Windows 8 – Part 1

“Rather than words comes the thought of high windows: The sun-comprehending glass, And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless” Philip Larkin ​

With the release of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 8, due out October 26th, I have decided to finally bite the bullet and roll it out on my own environment at home. A lot of tech guys in the office have been testing the Betas and Release Candidates, but as a Microsoft Partner we have access to the full commercial release of Windows 8 Enterprise and so I thought it was time to try out the actual product that the public are going get their hands on in a real world scenario. To really put the new OS through its paces I decided on two different exercises:

1 – Upgrade my ‘Office’ Laptop – a standard Windows 7 Enterprise PC attached to our corporate domain and running a pretty typical suite of applications including SSL VPN software, Microsoft Office and Microsoft Lync Client

2 – (The really brave move) Do a ‘clean’ install on my wife’s laptop, a 2 year old Dell Duo with touch screen running Windows 7 Home Premium. I may go though the detailed experiences another time but here I wanted to just give a few quick first impressions: Installation: The main impression from the installation process for both systems was “Oh, that wasn’t so bad”. Now, I’m an IT professional with a few years (and doughnuts) under my belt and so this shouldn’t be a difficult task for me. But even so, once I had satisfied myself that I wouldn’t lose anything vital if it all went wrong, the actual process was pretty seamless. The ‘Upgrade’ installation even told me which apps it knew weren’t going to work (only two and there were good reasons for those). The hardest thing I had to do was choose a colour scheme! I will go into how hardware was detected in another post but the bottom line was that in both cases I was up and running on the new OS and actually doing productive work, in around 45 minutes. In contrast, when I upgraded that same work Laptop from Windoxs XP to Windows 7 about a year or so ago it took nearly 2 hours of restarts, updates and hunting around for drivers before I could work. All told, a lot smoother process. Compatability: On my better half’s laptop, it was a clean install so there were no apps to transfer over, although it did pick up that I previously had a printer installed and thougtfully shifted that over to the new OS! On my laptop, all my old apps were there straight away – it had even helpfully placed shortcuts for my most used programs straight on to the new ‘don’t call it Metro’ interface. I had to reinstall a couple of SSL VPN clients which took about 15 minutes in total but other than that I have yet to find an application that didn’t just work. Interface: The BIG change in Windows 8 is the interface. Conceptually I now have two separate userinterfaces, the Metro Interface, which I would best describe as a cross between my Windows Phone 7 interface and an iPad, and then my regular desktop. And when I say my regular desktop, that is pretty much the case. Apart from a few visual tweaks it is pretty much like before with the major exception of no start button. Some people may find this a big change, but I quite like it. I like the fact that the huge lst of applications I frequently use is actually only a couple of clicks away. I’ve never been one for cluttered ‘desktop’ but the Metro Interface keeps things neat and tidy while giving you almost limitless Start Menu real-estate. The most dramtic difference was on the touch-screen Dell Duo. Here the Metro Interface came into it’s own. It doesn’t feel as ‘intuitive’ as the iPad, but I suspect a lot of that is down to either me just expecting it to behave the same way as an iPad, or because the ‘intuitive’ stuff has been patented so Microsoft can’t use it. That being said, there a few things, like the live-tile content that I think are superior to Apple’s offering. Issues: I’ve often held that Microsoft’s OS releases are like Russian leaders, every alternate one is a bit hairy, and after the relative success of Windows 7 I was half-expecting trouble. If I am completely honest I haven’t found that many issues at all and most that I have found were expected. OK, so I had to reload a couple of small apps, Dell haven’t released a driver for the Duo’s accelerometer yet and not all the usual apple vulcan nerve pinches work in the same way on the touch interface, but hey!. I think the biggest issue will be people getting over the hurdle of the new interface, particularly on Desktops where they may ask ‘what’s the point?’. However after using it for a few days now, I think the pros and cons of this split personality interface pretty much balance out, and having a consistent interface across platforms (desktop, laptop, tablet and phone) is likely to be a good thing going forward. Raindrops on Roses… Now onto a quick list of things I really quite like about this new OS – in no particular order.

•Faster Startup – both machines now startup significantly quicker than before (20 seconds or less) – I expected it on the clean build Duo, but the old workhorse Laptop now seems like a new machine. And that is wothout Solid State disks.

•More Responsive Touch – Whatever Microsoft have done with the drivers has worked wonders on the Duo’s touch screen which now responds pretty much as well as my iPad

•Information Integration – One thing I love about my Windows Phone is the easy integration of things like my Microsoft Live account, my corporate email and messaging and my Linked In account. I now have that on my PC, built straight in to the OS. (Facebook and Flickr integration is there too – and skype will follow!)

•Live Tiles – There is something reassuring about seeing all those corporate headshots flipping and scrolling on my Contacts Icon, and getting New Mail and New Message alerts popping up – even before I have logged on pretty handy too. •Using Microsoft Live Account to Logon – On the non-domain attached Dell Duo I am just using my Windows Live account as my logon credentials. This links me straigt in to all my services immediately. And because I had already linked my other social networks etc on my previous PC setup, as soon as I logged on the Dell Duo all those live tile apps were already populated and my Sky Drive content synched.

•Windows Task Manager – I am channeling my inner-geek here but the ‘temperature sensitive’ display of process resource usage is inspired. Couple that with per user usage charts, historical data and a quick view of startup apps and this is a much improved tool

•Windows Explorer – With the new Office style Ribbon interface and a host of new tools, suddenly managing files is fun again…well not really, but it is a lot easier!

•File Transfers – not just easier to manage with the ability to pause and restart large transfers as if you were playing a DVD, but prettier too – with file transfer progress and trasnfer rates presented in neat mini graphs and a progress bar dropped on to the taskbar icon so you can see how thing are going without having to actually check.

•Context sensitive features – The Setting item from the main side bar, the pinch to zoom feature – both change behaviour to suit the application or environment you are in- a bit confusing at first but once you get used to it, it all makes sense. •Reset to Factory Defaults – you want to recycle the PC or just start from scratch – fine, use Factory Reset. Or you can just clear away the chaff with a PC Refresh – remove all but the basic apps and leave your data intact.

•Picture Passwords – just scribble on a picture in your own secret way – an excellent alternative to general passwords for users with touch screen devices. That’s probably enough for this post, but if I had to give a summary first impression it would be: I’m glad I switched and I will be putting a Windows Surface RT on my list for Santa. It is not necessarily an iPad killer, but I there is more innovation here than has been seen in this market for a while and Microsoft might just be on to something. Two successful OS launches in succession? Surely not…

By operations director, Kevin Herbert

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