First Impressions on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

As soon as it was launched, I downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, installed it on two computers (a desktop and a laptop) and started using it. From now on, I plan to use it regularly, a few hours per day and evaluate how great or bad it is, especially from the perspective of a keyboard and mouse user, in love with the classic desktop experience. In this article I will share my early impressions on Windows 8. Then I would like to request your feedback about what you want me to research in detail for you.

What I Like About Windows 8 Consumer Preview

If you have tested the Developer Preview, you quickly notice that the Metro user interface is a lot better in the Consumer Preview. This impression starts during the installation procedure and it is confirmed as soon as the first login.

Windows 8 automatically detects a dual-monitor configuration and it beautifully displays both interfaces, one on each monitor. I actually enjoyed having the new Start screen side by side with the classic desktop. It's a perfect metaphor for the duality of the Windows 8 experience and for the computing experience across multiple devices, in general: touch devices vs the classic computers.

While using the Start screen and all the Metro applications, I enjoyed the polish it received. The navigation is smoother and more intuitive than in the Developer Preview, even with a mouse and keyboard.

I did not enjoy the color theme included in the Developer Preview. However, I love the color themes available for the Metro interface in the Consumer Preview. They look great, the combinations are well chosen and the graphical motifs will surely be enjoyed by many. I hope that in the final version of Windows 8 Microsoft will provide even more color combinations.

Another great aspect you notice right away is the login behavior. You start typing your user account password and, as soon as you are done typing it, Windows 8 logs you in, without the need for a click on the log on button or a press of the Enter key. It is a nice touch.

I quickly went to the Windows Store. The way applications are shown is simply beautiful. You get a brief presentation of each application and a very fast installation process, with only one click.

While using the Metro applications, you have a button for providing quick feedback, in their contextual menus, that will help Microsoft improve the experience.

I liked how easy they made it for everybody to be a beta tester that provides valuable feedback.

Since Windows 7, I have been a fan of the snap feature. I was happy to see it adopted in the Metro interface and I love the way it is implemented. You can snap and split the screen between Metro applications, classic desktop applications and between applications that use both interface paradigms. Below you can see the music player nicely shown side by side with the desktop version of Internet Explorer.

Imagine doing your work in Microsoft Office while having a small preview of the evolution stock markets near it, or keeping an eye on your Twitter account while browsing the web. It's pretty awesome.

Going back to Metro applications. Most of them look great, even though they do not provide lots of features at this moment. They really stand out as elegant applications, that allow you to focus on using them, instead of distracting you with many interface elements. Personally, I can't wait for a Metro version of Microsoft Office that gives me the entire screen for writing and hides its menus and buttons in contextual menus that are viewed only when they are needed.

Another feature I loved very quickly is the "search-first" approach taken with the new Start screen. You start typing and Windows 8 starts searching and displaying the appropriate results. Not only this but, after you give Windows 8 some time to index the files and folders found on your computer, search results are displayed instantly.

One of the small design aspects I enjoyed, is the gesture you can use to close Metro applications: click on the top portion of the application window and drag it to the bottom of the screen. It's quick, fun to do and easy to remember.

Regarding gestures, using the mouse and keyboard instead of touch is not as hard as you think it will be. Download this product guide from Microsoft and read the section called "The new language of touch" (pages 10 and 11). It shows how touch gestures work in Windows 8 and their mouse and keyboard equivalents. Replicate each gesture once or twice and you are set. The more you use these gestures, the more you will enjoy them and you won't feel lost in Windows 8.

Combining these gestures with the "search-first" approach of Windows 8, made me enjoy the computing experience a lot. I did not miss the classic Start Menu one bit. When going back to Windows 7, it felt so outdated and cumbersome to use the Start Menu that now, I can't wait for Windows 8 to be ready.

Regarding classic desktop applications, I keep loving the new Windows Explorer. I have expressed this after my testing of the Developer Preview (see this article for details: 12 Reasons why Windows Explorer in Windows 8 Rocks) and I will keep saying the same message. In the Consumer Preview Microsoft has made further improvements to it and I think it will become the best file manager ever included in Windows.

Last, but not least, I loved how fast the boot procedure is. You have not seen this speed on any desktop operating system. If you have an SSD drive, a boot in 3 to 5 seconds is a reality, not a dream.

What I Did Not Like About Windows 8 Consumer Preview

As expected, there are also negative aspects about the Consumer Preview. First of all, this product is a beta version. The are plenty of glitches and bugs that still need to be fixed. Also, the drivers available are beta versions themselves. Certain hardware components might not work as well as you are used to. For example, my AMD video card has lost some of its edge due to its very basic drivers. My Creative audio card has some sound glitches from time to time, etc.

Also, there are bugs within the Metro applications themselves and in the new desktop applications as well. I already noticed some flickering in Internet Explorer while Windows Explorer forgets some of the settings I make.

Regarding Metro applications, many of them do not offer a lot in terms of features. For example, Soluto is a confusing application that, at the moment, can be used only to view information. You cannot use it to improve your boot timings, as you would expect.

Evernote though is a more positive example. It looks great, you can use it to create notes and synchronize them across devices but you cannot delete notes.

Also, using search within Metro applications is confusing. I still don't feel comfortable with using it and I feel like I need to do more reading and experimentation on the subject, before it starts to feel completely natural and I am productive making searches within applications.

A very serious bug I encountered is regarding the integration with Google services such as Gmail or Google Calendar. Unfortunately I could not make the Mail and Calendar applications connect to my Google account and retrieve my data.
NOTE: In the end, I solved this problem. I had to do a bit of digging though, through support forums to figure it out. If you encounter similar problems, the solution is published here: Windows 8 Apps Don't Connect to Your Google/Gmail Account?.

Personally, I do not use many of Microsoft's online services. I'm a heavy Google user and I'm sure many people testing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview are like me. I hope they will fix this soon.

Also, I think this should be a focus area in the final product too. No matter how much Microsoft doesn't like Google, they need to provide great integration with Google's most popular services. On the web Google is dominant and many people use their services.

What Would You Like Me to Test in Detail?

Before I give a final verdict on Windows 8 there is a lot of testing and research left to be done. Personally, I think it is a very promising product and Microsoft has made a lot of progress since the Developer Preview. However, there's a lot left to be done before this can be considered a great finished product.

Since I am going to be using and testing Windows 8 for the next couple of months, I would like you to share with me: What do you want me to test? Are there any questions you need me to answer?

For now, my test plan includes:

  • Comparisons on boot timings between Windows 7 and Windows 8;
  • Comparisons between Internet Explorer 10 and Internet Explorer 9. Also, comparisons between the Metro and desktop versions of Internet Explorer 10. The results of the first tests were published here: Browser Wars: Is Internet Explorer 10 a Relevant Browser?.;
  • Finding ways to measure how usable is the Metro interface with a mouse and keyboard.

What else should I include?