I gave Windows 8 a try the other day. While I have not clocked a lot of usage time with it, here are my first impressions.
I liked that I can use my Live id to login, and that it will synchronize my user settings around computers. I like it expecially since at home I have multiple computers, but no domain. With an Active Directory domain you can accomplish about the same (roaming profiles), but until now it was not possible with normals accounts. At least without some custom applications. At least Chrome synchs browser settings (even themes and extensions), so in our web centric world today, that makes it really easier to use many computers. And with W8, this might be even better
I noticed that it does create a local user account even when using Live. It somehow links this local account to your Live ID. I would love to know more about how this integration technically works. Background information anyone?
There is a new Start Screen in Windows 8. There are actually several articles from Microsoft that address the Start Screen, one of the latest being:
Designing the Start Screen
The article explains that study shows, people are moving away from the start menu. People are pinning programs directly to the task bar and launching them from there. This is very true, and I can say that I have been moving in this direction myself. The most frequently used programs are on the task bar. The less frequently used programs are pinned to my Start Menu. And the rest is possibly listed in the recently used portion of my Start menu. And if I still do not find something, I just use Search (press Windows button on keyboard and start typing). It is very very rare for me to venture into the Start Menus. So probably this research does tell the truth and people are indeed using the Start Menu less often.
Ok, so Microsoft now replaces the Start Menu with the Start Screen, which is a sort of dashboard, will all applications on it, live tiles with information, etc.
Continuing the previous use case of rarely used programs: I do have to point out however, that on those rare occasions, it is very easy to find the program I am looking for in the Start Menu. Because if I need something Visual Studio related, I look in that folder of Start Menu. If I need something Office related, I look in Microsoft Office folder. The new Start Screen just lists everything it finds in the Start Menu. So now with this new Screen on the rare occasion I need something thats name I do not remember (cannot search), it actually makes it HARDER to find it, because everything is in one big messy pile of icons. Yes, I can customize the Start Screen, but we are talking about rarely used stuff, why would I want to customize that, when it is already in neat folders in my Start Menu?
It covers the whole screen
But the new Start Screen in Windows 8 has several more disadvantages. As others have pointed out, it COVERS THE WHOLE SCREEN. So I do not see at a glance, what I have already running, and what is not running on the computer. As soon as I launch into the Start Screen, the task bar is hidden. This full screen operation mode does not suit desktops in my opinion. It might suit tablets, but definitely not the desktop.
The article also mentions, that you can still use Win+1 or Win+2 to launch programs from the task bar. That is great, except wait, I cannot see my task bar from the Start Screen. And when I cannot see it, I also cannot use those shortcuts! (well until I visit the desktop at least once, which is not trivial task either)
To make matters worse, not even the mouse works until you CLICK on the Start Screen, which is already visible (BUG?). You cannot close the Start Screen and see your desktop until you start something. After that, even if you exit that, you can use ESCAPE to go back to Desktop or press the Windows button. (again, BUG?)
Next, Microsoft says that the new Start Screen brings together notifications, which were poorly implemented in the taskbar popups and notification tray icons in previous versions of Windows. The start screen connects you to apps, it shows news, RSS feeds, weather, and so on.
Now this is very nice, but guess what, when I am using my computer, I do not spend time on the Start Screen. I spend time in Visual Studio, in Word, in Photoshop, in my browser or in Outlook (or another application). There might be more application windows visible on my desktop side by side, maybe even on multiple monitors. Those notification that popup on the screen or from the task bar / notification tray are a way to get my attention. I am not going to check back to the Start Screen to see if anything new has happened. I am not going to sit around the Start Screen waiting for emails or facebook messages. I will be spending time in Visual Studio or in Word or in whatever application I am using, and when that notification icon appears in the task bar icon of Outlook I am going to switch over there and check the mail. And I am not going to go through a Start Screen.
A Start Screen is a good point to START things, but during work or operation, it is not something I want to use, at least not in its current form. Now when it pops up fullscreen, it just obscures everything and gets in the way of getting things done.
While I criticize how it works now, I do see the need and use of a centralized hub of information, where you can check out notifications all at once, check if new news came in, check if there are new bugs, check if there are new messages, chat messages, emails, status updates on Facebook, etc. But I would want that to be less disruptive than launching into the Start Screen. Besides, if I need to switch over to the Start Screen to check for notifications, it just beats the whole purpose of notifications in the first place.
The keyboard experience, searching
It is not all bad - but I will say it definitely needs fine tuning for the desktop use. And it needs tuning to be used with the keyboard.
I am a big fan of using Windows with the keyboard, and I was very satisfied by how Windows 7 improved the keyboard only experience of using the operating system. With the Windows 7 Start Menu, I can push the Start button on the keyboard, start typing (into search), use arrows to select from list, and launch. Often the first result was good enough, so I could just hit enter to start the application. The new Start Screen works like this if what you want is an application. It also displays more results at once. But in certain situations the experience is worse than in Windows 7. Not to mention that the Start Screen covers all apps and the taskbar. Not good.
What I particularly did not like about search in Windows 8, is that it separates Apps, Settings and Files. It just displays results from Apps as a default (in Windows 7, all results were displayed at once). What does this mean? On Windows 7, when I type in “add remove” into Windows 7 search box, the first result is “Add or remove programs”. I can hit enter and start working. In Windows 8 the result is bogus ("Add or remove help content", obviously some kind of App), until I remember to switch over to Settings under the search box. Which is not even trivial using the keyboard.
As mentioned before, Start Screen covers the screen, so naturally so do search results. As the article says, the start menu could not scale to fit all the search results: this is true. In this respect the new Start Screen is superior, because in can display more entries.
I would stress that the task bar needs to be visible all the time. When Windows starts, by all means, show the Start Screen. Maybe even full screen. But almost always I would see a better option of the Start Screen being a transparent overlay (check out OS X Dashboard) over the desktop, excluding the taskbar (which should be always visible).
This is of course just a developer preview, and I hope Microsoft can fine tune the new Start Screen, especially for desktop users. I would say the keyboard (and mouse) user experience needs a lot of work, because in its current form it is more disruptive than helpful.
When Windows Vista came out, and after that, Windows 7, the new Start Menu and its features struck me as something that increased my productivity, especially with the keyboard. I just do not feel the new Start Screen does the same. I feel it hinders me. I realize sometimes you need drastic changes to get new things going, but I just do no feel the Start Screen in its current form satisfies this goal. It might be something really cool for tablets, but desktop users are left behind in its current version.
Eagerly waiting more Windows 8 previews And I still need to check out development tools for Windows 8.