Rolling blog: Windows 8 Release Preview first impressions
In this post the PC Pro team will be sharing their thoughts and experiences as we get to grips with the new Release Preview of Windows 8. Check back for regular updates. Latest updates will appear at the top.
Jonathan Bray – 11:38am, 8 June
We’ve been using Windows 8 solely on non-touch laptops and PCs so far, so we’ve decided to see what it’s like to use on a proper tablet. We dug out a Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 from the Labs and attempted to install Windows 8 on it, and in the rush we used the 64-bit installation USB drive inadvertently. We should have used 32-bit, since the Q550’s Atom Z670 won’t run 64-bit Windows, hence the error message below.
That’s not the point of this post, though. The point is that this Windows 8 recovery screen throws up no usable option for tablet users. There’s “Press Enter to try again,” and “Press F8 for Startup Settings,” both of which you need a keyboard to do (and neither option can be selected with a tap of the finger). That’s probably something Microsoft should fix.
Tim Danton – 6:56pm, 6 June
Having ignored the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, aside from a quick play on someone else’s tablet, I came to Windows 8 fresh when I decided to install the Release Preview on my work PC last Friday.
As I mentioned in the podcast we recorded earlier today, two things jumped out at me. One, how easy and quick it was to upgrade my Windows 7 PC, complete with all my settings and key applications. Two, how little different it was to Windows 7. In fact, within an hour I’d entirely forgotten that I was using a new OS.
Having now played a bit more with the Metro interface, though, I’m a little wary of Windows 8. In short, Microsoft appears to have ignored that minor factor of usability. Or UX, if you want to sound trendy and charge £400 per hour for consultancy.
I spent a good couple of minutes attempting to find a Twitter client in the store, due to Microsoft’s decision to hide away search. This command is only open if you unleash the search “charm”, which appears if you move the cursor to the bottom-right of the Metro window. Even then you have to hold the cursor there for a second, before moving the mouse vertically up to the icon.
There are also no Back buttons. If you want to return to the main Metro menu, you have to press the Windows key.
Now I fully appreciate that Metro was primarily designed for tablets, which will have hardware buttons to help people navigate, but Microsoft needs to spare a thought for the millions of users who’ll still be using a keyboard and mouse.
David Bayon – 4:40pm, 6 June
Much has been made of Windows 8’s live tiles – the large icons on the Metro screen give you information even when they’re not open – but I’m not sure I’m seeing much benefit so far. Perhaps it’s using them on a big monitor where they seem a little lost, but I’ve barely even noticed much of the live info scrolling by.
Admittedly, it works with some apps much better than others. On something like Sky News the live tile is a useful ticker of current stories, and fulfils a purpose; the Mail app gives at least a small fragment of mail subject headers. By contrast, the People app just shows random people; Sports gives badly formatted text fragments of headlines; the Weather app won’t give live updates at all; and I’ve tried several times to link my accounts with the Messages app to no avail.
I like the idea of live tiles, and I’ve heard from several Windows Phone owners that they work very well. But on my PC I’m barely even noticing them.
Darien Graham-Smith – 4:20pm, 6 June
We’ve all remarked on how painless setting up Windows 8 is, but it probably doesn’t hurt that we’ve all been performing clean installations on modern hardware. This afternoon I installed the Release Preview on a slightly older system with a mechanical hard disk… and found myself staring at a “Getting system ready…” screen for nearly half an hour. One wonders how long an upgrade from a heavily-loaded Vista or Windows 7 system will take. (Then again, given its emphasis on tablet-type controls and features, Windows 8 will probably be more popular on new touch-enabled hardware than on existing systems.)
David Bayon – 1:40pm, 6 June
A few of us have found an issue when setting the default browser in Windows 8. By choosing Chrome as default over Internet Explorer, the Metro version of IE10 seems to disappear. Going into Metro and searching brings up the desktop version of the browser and nothing else.
Anyone else found this? Anyone know how to get it back?
David Bayon – 5:45pm, 1 June
I’ve taken a real liking to the new Travel app. It’s heavy on photos, including some wonderful 360-degree panoramas to drag around with a finger, and it has pages already set up for a large number of cities.
Each location shows some basic map and currency information, and lists of the main attractions, hotels and restaurants (disappointingly not clickable for more info). But it also links directly through to hotel and flight searches (powered by Kayak.co.uk). Alright, it’s currently not as powerful as using a proper website to book a holiday, but with a bit of work I can see it being much more enjoyable.
Barry Collins – 4:55pm, 1 June
Having sorted my self-inflicted problem with Metro app conflicts (see my previous post below), I’ve spent the past hour or so experimenting with the new Metro apps.
My first impressions are that the default Microsoft apps are much improved, and there is some genuine quality shining through in third-party apps in the Store, too.
My highlights so far include the new Sport app, which presents the latest news and standings from a variety of (British) sports in a beautifully polished way. I particularly like the F1 section, which shows the latest race reports alongside the current standings and race positions. If they could update that data live during races, it could become a killer app.
The News app and, to a lesser extent, the Sky News app are also smartly presented, and the live tiles scrolling through the latest headlines help turn the Windows Start screen into the live dashboard that Microsoft always promised it would become.
However, Microsoft’s flawed approach to searching within apps remains all too annoyingly evident. Enter the Store, for example, and look for the Search box. Or download the well presented Wikipedia app and try searching for an article. Don’t try for too long because you won’t find a search box. Instead, you have to open the Search charm (by dangling your mouse/finger in the top right corner) and picking the app to search. Utterly baffling.
Darien Graham-Smith – 4.34pm, 1 June
For the most part I’m simply ignoring Metro apps and the Store (I didn’t buy a 24in monitor to run everything in full-screen). But I can’t forget about this side of things as completely as I’d like thanks to the way the included applications and settings screens are privileged in the Search interface. Your first hit is always a Metro app, if one exists with a name or description that remotely matches your search terms – even if what you’ve typed in is an exact match for a desktop application.
If you’re following me on Twitter you’ll have seen me complain about this before, because it’s not new in the Release Preview. But until now I’ve keeping my fingers crossed that the situation would be improved. The fact that it hasn’t been in this new release doesn’t give me much hope.
David Bayon – 3:55pm, 1 June
I haven’t properly explored the Store yet, but I have to take issue with its design. It’s clearly meant for touchscreen devices – I have no problem with that – but even on a tablet I can’t imagine its sideways-scrolling layout will be a comfortable one. The main issue is the sheer number of categories, each with several tiles.
Here’s a hastily Photoshopped screenshot that may not be very clear, but should at least show the scale of the problem:
That’s an awful lot of sideways scrolling to find a category – made worse by their seemingly random order. The zoomed out view helps a little, but the only right-click option is to see the apps you already own, when a quick list of categories would surely have been a no-brainer.
Barry Collins – 3:20pm, 1 June
I perhaps made the foolish mistake of upgrading to the Release Preview without first wiping my Consumer Preview PC. All of my old files and programs were preserved in the Windows.old folder, and I thought I was being extremely clever by simply copying and pasting my old User files into the new OS. Big mistake.
That appears to have caused conflicts between old and new Metro apps, with loads of blank tiles all over my new Start screen. I uninstalled all the Metro apps to start from scratch, but now some basics such as Mail and Photos are refusing to reinstall.
Update: Problem solved by clearing out the old Metro apps from C:Program FilesWindows Apps. Thanks to @jamesk016 and @Henryed07 for the tips.
I’m hoping to find a workaround. In the meantime, don’t do it kids.
David Bayon – 3:15pm, 1 June
At first I assumed it was just me, but it’s been confirmed by several others: pressing Delete on an icon on the desktop or Explorer no longer brings up a confirmation dialog, it simply deletes the file. It’s not going to bring down civilisation – files still go to the Recycle Bin – but I confess to finding it more than a little disconcerting.
David Bayon – 3:00pm, 1 June
The first thing I do when setting up a new work PC installation (at least after downloading Tweetdeck – the old one, naturally) is to set up a printer. Without even thinking, I went straight into the desktop version of Add Printer, and was surprised to see Windows 8 detect all of the network printers on our floor in seconds. That’s never happened before.
I thought nothing of it, until Darien mentioned he couldn’t get the same result. If you search for printers you get both desktop and Metro setup options, and he was using the latter. I tried it myself and it was hopeless – it found not a single printer after several minutes left searching. In this case at least, it seems us stubborn Metro-haters have the upper hand.
Darien Graham-Smith – 2:37pm, 1 June
Maybe it’s my imagination, but everything feels snappier about this build. Having to jump out of the desktop into Metro still jars, but now the Search screen seems to come and go more or less instantly, which makes the interruption a little easier to swallow.
I’m now thinking maybe I could live with this full-time, whereas before I was dead set against it. I have to admit, though, I would still very much prefer an option to go back to the old Start menu. Microsoft did say the final Windows 8 UI would only be revealed in the RTM, so it’s still possible they might be holding this back as a last surprise (a sort of “New Coke” gambit). That feels like wishful thinking, though.
Darien Graham-Smith – 2:00pm, 1 June
I very much approve of the wider choice of colour schemes for Metro. It’s a silly cosmetic thing, but it makes the system feel a bit more “yours”. Having said that, spookily it seems Bayon and I chose the same colour scheme (grey and orange).
Darien Graham-Smith – 1:50pm, 1 June
We’ve been taking this pretty much for granted, but it’s worth confirming that so far absolutely all our regular applications seem to be working fine. That includes not just the mainstream stuff like Office and Chrome, but also some quite hardcore apps such as PreSonus Studio One, the digital audio workstation software which I use to produce the podcast. None of us has had any problems with drivers either. It looks like software support should be – touch wood – a non-issue for Windows 8 upgraders.