Windows 8 First Impressions

Thursday, 01 March 2012
  • By
  • Jeff Ammons
  • Tags:
  • Technology
  • Windows
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." -- Dorothy to her little doggie in The Wizard Of Oz
I've been putting this one off a bit because I'm not sure what I think about Windows 8 and certainly not what to say about it.
Windows 8 Consumer Preview

It is a big move for Microsoft in so many ways. They HAVE to make some big, bold moves if they want to regain relevance outside of the corporate world. Yet those very gambles may cost them dearly inside the corporate world.

The story I'd like to tell is this: Microsoft debuted its new Metro styling with the hugely popular Windows Phone 7. Critics loved the simple, intuitive interface and the buying public flocked to it en masse. That success has really paid off and now the venerable Windows platform is receiving the long-overdue makeover the public has been demanding. Metro For The Win!

I would sure love to tell that story but only parts of it are true. The critics by and large have loved Windows Phone. The buying public, however, has not.

My reactions upon first using Windows 8 went something like this:

  • This looks awesome!
  • So... pretty...
  • Try app
  • Hmm. Full screen, eh? Guess I can get used to that.
  • How do I close it? Oh, I don't?
  • Oh wait, I can grab it and throw it offscreen to close it. I'm a WebOS device owner, I'm used to doing that.
  • This would totally ROCK on a touch device
  • Shame I don't have a touch device
OK, I'll summarize the next few hours: "Where's the...", "What happened to the...", "How do I...", etc.

Sounds pretty negative, so I will say that after a week or so with Windows 8 there are things I really like. I will also say that there is NO doubt I'll be productive in Windows 8 and get stuff done once I'm more familiar with it.

As a developer I really like certain aspects: WinRT with dev options for XAML/C#/C++ and HTML/CSS/JavaScript. Brilliant. Sandboxed apps that are vetted in an app store. Brilliant. Far more efficient use of memory and processor. Outstanding (my notebook runs noticeably cooler on Win 8).

Now for the “uh-ohs”.

First, it won't matter whether I as a developer like Win 8. If the public at large rejects it, I can't put my development efforts there. Lesson learned on Windows Phone… “If a developer fails in the forest and there are no users, will anyone make the sound of one hand clapping?”

Next, when I am casually using Win 8 I love it. I especially like browsing in the Metro world with no plug-ins. Down right liberating. I really didn't expect that reaction. Yes, I could block plug-ins in any browser, but I never realized I wanted to until I used Metro IE.

Bit of an identity crisis for IE, however, since it behaves differently in Metro than in “Destktop” modes. Desktop mode can have plug-ins and behaves like a “normal”, windowed browser. In Metro it is full screen and plug-in free.

Interestingly enough, so far I have DENIED all plug-ins when in desktop mode IE. When I say I like the browsing experience in Metro, I mean I like it so much that I GLEEFULLY click the DENY/REJECT/REPENT-YE-SINFUL-WEBSITE button when the inevitable “Do you want to install our proprietary ad delivery system” plug-in dialog pops up.

Speaking of an identity crisis… What do you call a product called “Windows” that decides to do away with “windows”? Kind of like driving a Ford Horseless Carriage named for a horse (Mustang, anyone?).

Now for a HUGE problem. Youtube. If I visit Youtube and my browser says the video codec won't work with my browser, then MY BROWSER IS BROKEN. I really do not care about Microsoft vs. Google and my codec is bigger than your codec. On video Youtube wins. Period. No excuses, Microsoft, fix this or your users will flee.

<<Please Insert Your Own Seque Here, I'm just going to veer off at a 97.4° angle.>>

I also need to mention that the pinball game deserves recognition too. It really rocks. Seriously better than Minesweeper and Solitaire, combined. Almost as much fun as playing “Whack-A-Plug-in”.

OK, having said that… When I need to get REAL work done, I find myself booting back into Win 7. Part of that is because things are in beta, and I understand that. Part of it is the fact that I haven't learned all the ins and out of how to be productive in Win 8. Part of it is that Visual Studio 11 is also in beta. Bottom line, unfortunately, is my desire to stay in Win 8 is lower than my desire to be productive right now.

My experience with Win 7 was totally different. From the first time I loaded a pre-beta version I never looked back. It was MORE productive right away. Not only did I not have to learn a new way of working with it, things were more intuitive than before.

I cannot imagine the gray/beige/be-cubicled world adopting Windows 8 as is. They don't care that it is new. They don't care that it may be better. They do care about being productive. Now. Not just now. NOW NOW.

Were the Metro side of Dr. Metro/Mr. Windows fully optional, then they would adopt Windows 8 in turn. Some would use Metro, some would not. I suspect the sandboxed nature of Metro apps would drive corporate adoption over time.

For Microsoft to force the use of Metro strikes me as a strategic mistake.

If I want to install Windows 8 on my home system and spend time learning it, great!

If I want to buy a shiny new tablet with Windows 8, great!

If I want to roll-out Windows 8 to 10,000 corporate desktops, then I have a serious nightmare scenario on my hands. I know in my gut that I would receive 7,648 calls (AFTER mandatory training) that began, “Something has happened to my Start button.” My “inner-corporate IT guy” and “inner-CFO” are both scowling at me. I think they may have pitchforks.

So far the Metro interface feels like a novelty to me. I find it interesting and fun to play with, but so far it seem to be a bit of an impediment to my productivity.

Doug Winnie has a well thought out post that says pretty much the opposite of everything I've said here. I recommend you read it for an excellent counter view. He takes the approach that change is inevitable and nay-sayers should “Get over it”. For me, personally, I can't argue with him. I will get over any negative reactions. Heck, I like the Metro interface for the most part. I'm just not sure that the public at large, and especially the corporate world, will be willing to “get over it.”

I think very few companies can pull off the “We're changing, so just get over it” approach. Apple under Steve Jobs could do that. It is yet to be seen if Apple without Steve Jobs can. Steve Ballmer is no Steve Jobs. No one is.