Last year in an interview, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer mentioned that Windows 8 will be the biggest risk Microsoft had ever taken. And it indeed is! Windows 8 has undergone the biggest makeover, even bigger than Windows 95 perhaps. Microsoft has said that the new interface is touch first and not touch only. That is, although it is meant for touch screens, it will work equally well with keyboard and mouse. We will find out about that in quite a bit.
Also note that this is only a Developer Preview build and not even a beta. So there will be changes in features and performance of the product that you will get to buy. The machine I used to test the Developer Build is a custom built rig with the Intel i3 processor and 4GB DDR3 RAM.
Now lets start with the first thing you will do after getting a copy of Windows 8 – installation. The installation procedure is pretty straight forward and simple. You can see cues of the Metro style from the very beginning itself. In this test build, there was no need for entering the product key. So all I had to do was accept the EULA, select a drive to install and press the install button. But it have to reinstall it, you may be asked to enter the product license key.
After the installation, the next step is the OOBE (out of box experience) where you can setup your user account and configure certain things such as the time, update settings etc. You can either setup a local account or use a live ID. If you have multiple PCs, it is better to use Live IDs as you can synchronize setting across all of your computers over the cloud. Once you have completed the OOBE, you can boot into Windows.
The first thing you will see after booting Windows 8 is the lock screen. It will show you the time and notifications such as the battery left (in a tablet/laptop), new email messages, connectivity, etc. You can customize the lock screen and the notification easily from the new Control Panel. Swiping the lock screen upwards will get you to the login page.
There are basically 4 ways to login – using default password of you Windows live account, using a PIN number, using a picture password and using a finger print scanner if you have one. You can select any one of these options as your login method. After you login, you can see the new start screen.
The start screen is the new program launcher and replacement of start menu. You can pin program tiles as well as web pages here. You can group and rearrange them as well. So you can group the most used programs to the left side that it is more accessible and other programs can arranged to right in decreasing order of the usage. Like Windows Phone 7, start screen can display live tiles of supported programs. For example, you can see the latest tweet in the Tweet@rama tile.
Although the start screen is best suited for touch screen PCs, it works great with mouse as well. I could easily move between the apps using the mouse scroll wheel. Reordering was also very easy. While clicking and holding the left mouse button, just use the scroll wheel to move vertically across the screen.
A disadvantage of start screen is that you cannot pin files or folders here. So to access them you will have to open the explorer which will trigger the classic desktop interface. Unless Microsoft port all of the Windows components to work in Metro by the final release, we will have to face the classic desktop at some point even while using a tablet.
Speaking of Explorer, the biggest change is the addition of ribbon UI. Ribbon UI makes it easier to find and use file and folder options etc. than the traditional menu based UI.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the post for more on Windows 8 features.