Thoughts on Windows 8 Release Preview
One week on from the Windows 8 Release Preview came out I figured I’d do my usual and post some initial thoughts. This is the first Windows 8 release that I have installed on both my Samsung Slate and (for the first time) my main day-in, day-out machine so I really have dived headlong into this thing.
- The Start screen. Its the biggest change to Windows since 1995…and I love it. How anyone can prefer a bland windows desktop to a screen that is alive with rich information and one’s own personal digital memorabilia is beyond me. I am an especially big fan of simply being able to start typing and getting instant search results; I am constantly using the search functionality in the Windows 7 desktop anyway so to have that one less keypress away is, as far as I’m concerned, a good thing.
- The productivity apps (Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging) are much better than they were in the Consumer Preview. Send/Receive (or sync as its termed here) is much more reliable, the interface is much smoother (if I worked for Microsoft I would no doubt be spouting the word “fluid”) and they give me an altogether warmer and fuzzier feeling. One notable aspect (and this is true of virtually all Metro apps that I have used so far) is that simply by virtue of being Metro apps they have capabilities over and above their Windows 7 counterparts (e.g. live tiles, notifications, sharing contracts, a consistent app bar, search and settings experience) but this is tempered by the fact that they simply have less features. For example, in Windows Live Mail in Windows Live Essentials I could specify that a calendar entry could reoccur, say, on the first Monday of a month (believe it or not I use this feature *a lot*) but in the Metro Calendar app I can only specify that something reoccurs on, say, the first of the month. Another example, there is no way to edit or remove the signature on on a new email (they all have the infuriating “Sent from my Windows 8 PC” tagged onto them). Another, the messaging app doesn’t show me which of my friends are online, apparently I have to go to the People app for that and even then its hidden away somewhat – give me a keyboard shortcut to show me all of my online friends and make that shortcut work in both the Messaging and People apps. Want to flag an email in the Mail app? No can do! You get the idea – the apps do the basics but the advanced features generally are not there.
- Notifications are not on by default in the Mail app so I recommend going into settings (Win+i) and correcting that; I find notifications to be very useful.
- Multi-monitor support in Windows 8 is better than ever before but as far as I can discern I can still only run Metro apps on one screen. I want more than that – I want to move Metro apps onto the other monitor as well. For example, I want Mail and a snapped Music app on my second monitor while I use a web browser and a snapped Twitter client on my first monitor. Too much to ask? Apparently so.
- I took time to familiarise myself with the keyboard shortcuts (I have a note from the Quicknote app containing all of the useful ones pinned to my start screen) and I’m glad I did as I am loving the ease at which I can navigate around the OS without resorting to my mouse. Here are the ones that I’ve found to be invaluable:
|Win key||switch between start screen and currently active app (or apps if you have one snapped)|
|Win + Page Up/Down||Move screens between different monitors|
|Win + .||Snap an app to the right of the screen|
|Win + Shift + .||Snap an app to the left of the screen|
|Win + h||Share|
|Win + i||Show Settings|
|Win + q||Search|
|Alt +Tab||works just like it always has done, thankfully|
|Win + x||Old-style shortcut menu for power users|
- Unfortunately the apps themselves aren’t overflowing with keyboard shortcuts – the worst offenders being the Bing apps (F5 to refresh, anyone???). I reckon Microsoft could go some way to alleviating this by promoting the use of keyboard shortcuts – mentioning of keyboard shortcuts on the Windows 8 developer blog is currently conspicuous by its absence and I doubt that updated templates will significantly improve the situation.
- I’m using Rowi as my Twitter client and find it very useful as a snapped app. Its not a bad effort but there are still lots of gaps; to their credit they have already knocked out a new version in the last week so I’m hopeful they can achieve feature parity with existing windows clients before RTM. I haven’t resorted to installing Metrotwit, yet.
- I am a rabid document scanner – whenever a letter comes through the post the first place it goes is through the scanner on my HP Photosmart C7280. My preference is to scan as PDF but Windows’ Fax and Scan support doesn’t support saving to PDF and HP’s supporting software (which does allow me to save as PDF) won’t yet install on Windows 8 so I’ve had to resort to using the wife’s macbook which natively supports scanning to PDF. Not happy! I presume that HP will have a version of their software out by RTM – I’m hoping so.
- I haven’t installed Office yet as I simply haven’t need it. If I’ve needed to edit an Office document (of which I have many) then I just visit http://skydrive.live.com and edit it there.
- I am a big user of Lastpass and thus the inability to install add-ins to Metro IE is a big downside for me. If the metro versions of Chrome or Firefox support add-ins and Lastpass provide such an add-in then I’ll drop IE in a heartbeat (which I did a long time ago on Windows 7 in favour of Chrome).
- The Music app doesn’t support auto-playlists which I am a big fan of in the Zune desktop app – another example of a metro app having less features than its desktop counterpart.
- I haven’t yet discovered any apps that are taking advantage of the ability to connect to a user’s Microsoft account to leverage single sign-on (this is discussed at Extending “Windows 8″ apps to the cloud with SkyDrive) and I find that disappointing because I believe this is one of the most compelling features of Windows 8.
That’s all for now. When I encounter anything else worth adding here then I will do so.