Windows 8 Consumer Preview a First Look

May 03, 2012

Today I installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Here are my first impressions:

Most of the preinstalled Metro Apps can only be used with a Microsoft Account.

It seems that Microsoft wants to offer a complete Metro-based entertainment and communication user interface. You can rent or buy XBox games, Music, Movies and TV Shows. And manage your Email (but only with a Microsoft account) and sync your files with SkyDrive… , but also only with a Microsoft account.

For some services I see the importance for a Microsoft account, but I am a bit disappointed that the Metro Email Client does not work with any Email account. After you registered with your Microsoft account, you can only set up Hotmail, Gmail and Exchange accounts.

In this consumer preview, the Metro user interface just feels like a front end of Microsoft's answer to iTunes. Total lock-in. I am sad, such services shouldn't be allowed to be provided by the operating system. This kills independent competition. But hey, Microsoft wasn't the first one with the slogan “we do everything for you”.

The Explorer Starts up with the ribbon bar hidden.

… but probably only when you don't have a touch screen.

Metro is even more confusing to use.

Like on Android, moving around is completely irritating and there does not seem to be a common user interface metaphor. Inside of applications you can move back with the (< )button. To leave an application, you use the start menu “gesture” or Windows key. Back in the start menu, the ESC key switches from the start menu to the most recently started application. Somehow, this feels completely the wrong way around.

Moreover, the start button has been removed. From now on you need to move the mouse in the left bottom corner of the screen. This creates problems within virtual machines and presumably on multiple monitors, too. So it's safe to say that the Windows-Key is the only reliable way to get to the start menu and back to the most recently started application.

When you don't use a touch screen, you need to use the scrollbars on the bottom of the start menu. In my opinion, this is an epic failure. It makes the Metro interface unnatural to use with the mouse. Microsoft could have simply mapped a click + move gesture to scroll the content and all other move operations to a long or right click + move gesture.

Interestingly, the Bing Maps application works like expected: Click + move gesture to move the map, and mouse wheel to zoom it.

The on/off switches are not clearly reflecting their state. I can't believe that Microsoft's UI designers were not able to clearly discriminate the ON from the OFF state like Apple did.

Some context menus appear at the bottom of the screen.

When you click a Metro tile with the right mouse button, some options appear … at the bottom of the screen. May be there is some good cause behind that decision, specifically because Microsoft wanted to support multiple selection in the start screen. But it seems that most Metro apps do not support popup style context menus anymore.

You right-click an item and get some menus on the bottom of the screen. Don't we users deserve to see the options near the location we clicked at?

The App Store

There are a number of apps in the App Store already. For example, I found an Evernote client which I tested right away:

The use of the scroll bar at the bottom was again irritating and new notes are “saved” by clicking the back button.

The “new note” option appeared after I clicked the right mouse button. Looks like the right mouse button is used in Metro as the universal “show menu” button. For me personally, this “option-hiding policy” feels bit strange. And now that I know there “might be” a menu appearing when I click the right mouse button, I click the right mouse button in every screen and on every object. The Metro UI should display some kind of a menu-indicator when a menu would appear after a click on the right mouse button.

In Metro I found no way to end applications. They continue running in the background until… I don't know. I'm not sure if this is a good thing. On the iPad, background applications do rarely harm the performance of the foreground application, but I doubt that this is true on Windows.

Integration of Social Services

Microsoft tries to integrate services like GMail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to its People, Mail and Messaging applications. But these services all ask for an Microsoft account and seem to be rerouted through Microsoft servers. This calls for a lot of trouble and privacy issues. I fear that this is an attempt from Microsoft to get hold on your social network graph and communication information.

Conclusion

My opinion hasn't changed.

For me, Metro does not offer the usability I've expected and – with this release – starts feeling like a big scam that is solely built to route and move all your data and digital interactions through Microsoft servers.

I guess – and for the reasons above, I also hope now - that like Vista, Windows 8 will fail badly this round.

A Very Bad Awakening

Since the time Microsoft announced the Metro UI as the successor for Windows 7, I was completely confused and wondered why they don't have just modified their Windows Phone operating system to work properly on tablet devices. No one actually wants Metro on desktop computers, so Microsoft's strategy made absolutely no sense to me.

Now, by discovering that all the new Metro applications are requiring a Microsoft account and connect willingly to other social and Email services, the strategy is clear to me:

What Google already did and Apple is trying at the very moment with iCloud: Microsoft just wants to index and store all your PERSONAL and PRIVATE digital data in realtime. And they even built a new user interface for it, that you can not turn off.