ReBuildAll Blog
Thoughts (mostly) on .NET development

Windows 8 Consumer Preview   (Windows)   
The Consumer Preview version of Windows 8 (fancy name for public beta) became available yesterday. I installed it into a virtual machine. This article summarizes my first impressions. I will updating this as I explore more features of Windows 8. My initial very negative opinion on the UI is now not so negative, resulting from the exploration and learning I did. But this also means that there is a learning curve, without it, with just intuition alone, you will not be able to "enjoy" the new UI, in my opinion.

Overall, apart from some usability complaints (which are explored in the rest of this article), I could probably imagine working in Windows 8. The UI still feels strange and a little bit clumsy. Probably this is because I do not think the Metro style UI and applications are in harmony with the desktop paradigm. Anyhow, there are improvements compared to the developer preview, but I still find it is not as smooth of a user experience as Windows 7 is today.

Update: If you are a heavy keyboard user, here is a list of keyboard shortcuts that come in very handy with Windows 8. Very useful! Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts.

If Windows 8 would be released today, I do not think I would want to upgrade. The mix of Metro-style and regular applications is not as smooth as I would want it to be. Frankly, I do not think this new Metro-style thing belongs to the desktop, and I for one do not see as an improvement.

Features of Windows 8

I will not try to introduce the features of Windows 8, because there are tons of articles with pictures. Please refer to Engadget for one such article. And I really like the punch line for that article:

We really liked Windows 7 when it launched. It felt like a big step forward in the short time that had passed since Vista. Now, as we creep closer to a likely release near the end of this year, we can't shake a sense of doubt. Windows 8 still feels like two very different operating systems trying to be one. The potential is hugely alluring -- a single OS to rule both the tablet and the desktop -- and with each subsequent version we keep hoping this will be the one that ties it all together. Sadly, as of the Consumer Preview, we're still seeing a lot of loose threads.

As it stands, Windows 8 is a considerably better tablet operating system than any previous version has managed to be. However, it's still a clumsier desktop OS than Windows 7. That's a problem Microsoft must fix before release.
(from Engadget)

The Metro experience

Anyone reading about or trying out Windows 8 will probably know what Metro-style applications are. They can be started from the new Start screen, they run full screen, and cannot be removed from being full screen (other than using snapping). Running applications full screen seems natural for certain solutions. For web browsers, it is a natural way to operate. For some other applications, it just isn't.

Sidenote: Why kill windows in Windows? If everything is full screen, there are no windows anymore. Hmm? :)

Full screen

For some applications, running them full screen seems outright ridiculous. For example, take the default calendar application on a 24" screen. On a 10" tablet those might look nice, but it just does not work on big screens. Messaging application - I never-ever run chat/messenger in full screen. I like having it floating around above/near other windows. I can do work in my main window and follow the chat at the same time.

I have created some tools and small programs that run as quite small Windows. There would be no sense in making an application full screen, that requires 2 or 3 textboxes for input. I simply cannot imagine how such a tool could be reimagined into being a Metro-style application. Of course if I wanted to create a smartphone or tablet version, sure, no problem. But putting 2 textboxes and a small image on a 24" screen? Or 30" for that matter. I just do not think this is a universally good idea. (I am about to explore Windows 8 application development further, so I might revise this paragraph in the future)

You cannot switch Metro-style apps to run in a Window. Going back to the calendar application: I usually have a webpage, email, chat or something else opened to which the calendar would relate. Having windows side by side makes it much easier than having to alt-tab all the time. I have a high resolution 24" monitor at home, and two large displays side-by-side at work. I have them not because I enjoy looking at full screen things. I have big screen real-estate to actually use it for MULTIPLE WINDOWS at the same time. Forcing new apps (Metro-style) to run full-screen, it is a waste of screen real estate.

Snapping applications partially solves this problem. You can use Windows+. and Windows+Shift+. keys to snap application windows. You can even snap a Metro style app (the calendar) and then the remaining space can be used by the desktop. And mind you, snapping is not something you would figure out for yourself - I certainly didn't :)

Normally I can remove apps from full screen, and very easily put them side by side. Just press "Windows+left" and "Windows+right" and you can arrange your apps very fast in Windows 7. Or use the mouse and drag the title bar to the left side, top side or right side. Very very easy and very very fast. I was actually very impressed, how much thought went into the usability of Windows 7. With Windows 8, I do not find that Metro-style apps improved this in any way, even considering snapping.

I really do not care how much Microsoft tries to justify this new user interface. When Windows 7 came out, you could feel the improvement. With Windows 8, you can feel the setback in user experience.

When you look at the changes from the tablet perspective, it of course makes all sense. I can understand ALL of these choices and behaviors when using a mobile phone or a tablet. There I would even expect everything to work like Metro does. And I don't doubt that Windows 8 tablets will be very nice to use. BUT the desktop is different, and using the same paradigm for the desktop will hinder performance and efficiency.


I seem to be signed in to messenger as soon as I sign in to Windows (because I used a Live account to sign in). Where do I began to list all my problems with this solution. From not being in control of when I am online, invisible and offline (signing in to Windows DOES NOT MEAN I am available for chatting) to my chatting account being different from the one I use to sign in (I have 3 live accounts) there are so many things wrong with this solution. I finally found the "Accounts" setting for the Messaging application, but I cannot add more live accounts, nor can I change the one I signed in with.

I installed the currently available version of Live Messenger from the Web, and then I can just use it like I did before. So disable Messaging live tile, install Live Essentials, and good go go :)

Task Manager

You have to love the new Task Manager. It really works well for the power user, shows lots of details and lets you dig deep into how the system is working, what is running. It shows per application network usage, lets you manage the system services. Wonderful improvement.

Application switching

I can now switch to the desktop right from the Start screen. No tricks needed (like last time). By default there is a tile in the start screen that switches to the desktop. You can also switch there if you have multiple monitors by clicking on the secondary display. Because the start screen is only visible on the primary display.

And yes, Alt-Tab now switches between ALL open applications, both Metro-style and traditional applications. Also very good.

And you can move your Start screen and full screen metro apps to another display as well.

Corner menus

When you move your mouse to one of the corners, something will happen. Upper left corner allows you to switch application, and even to list the metro-style apps for easy switching. Lower left corner will allow you to go to the start screen or the regular desktop. Lower and upper right corner will show the charms bar.

They are good until you have multiple monitors connected. When you have multiple monitors, the secondary monitor will be either left or right side of the first. These corner shortcuts will thus fall onto the BORDER between two monitors. So it actually becomes an aiming excercise with your mouse to aim for the primary display's corner that now lies BETWEEN two monitors. Good luck with that! :)

Start menu, Searching

Windows 8 removes the start menu. Thinking about it, I hardly ever went in there. Usually I opened it with the Windows key, and searched for what I want. So it is not a big loss for me.

Windows 8 changes searching in a way, that the default search does not always find what I am looking for. You know the sound dialog, where you can pick your playback and recording devices? I usually typed sound into the Start menu to find it. It was the first or second pick.

If you do this in Windows 8, it will not find it. Because this dialog is categorized as a setting, not as an application. You see, there are three searches now: Applications, Settings and Files. You have to know in advance, what you are searching for, because only those results are displayed. You can change that, but it requires extra clicks or keys. Anyhow, remembering the three quick keys for these makes search usable (Applications: Win+q, Settings: Win+w, Files: Win+f)

Hard to find options

Every wanted to shut down Windows 8 - did you succeed without using Bing or Google to look up how to do it? Intuitiveness is very important in user interfaces. It is something that should be very very important in every user interface. People are lazy reading manuals, and they will get frustrated when something does not work they way they expect it. Shutting down or restarting Windows 8 is one of these things.

Again, my analogy - in Windows 7 many options feel very natural, and you really do not need much learning to use it. You might say I am accustomed to the way Windows works, but I also use Mac OS. I did not have trouble finding things there either, and I certainly did not have to use Google to figure out how to turn off the computer.

Task bar in desktop mode

A small complaint, but the task bar is now visible on both monitors in multi-monitor setup. Hopefully there is an option in there somewhere, that can make it appear only on the primary monitor. Not a big deal though.

Further notes

Just some random observations.

My mice have back and forward buttons (one is a Microsoft mouse, the other is a Razer). They usually work even without any drivers. However, Windows 8 does not respect these buttons, for example, in the Store, when there is clearly a back button on the user interface. Pressing mouse buttons does not move you anywhere.


Compared to the Developer Preview, there are some advancements in usability. The start menu gone, but you can launch your applications and with time, find your way around Windows again. I just do not understand why Microsoft fails to see how the Metro-style operation is not something that seamlessly works with the desktop.

I will not say that you could not renew the way Windows works. By all means, there are probably always improvements to make. But a mouse and a touchscreen with a finger will require different ways to operate things, and I simply do not believe that you can get away by trying to use the same solution to both scenarios.

Windows 8 first impressions   (Windows)   
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? :-)

Start Screen

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.