By now, you’re probably aware of the fact that Microsoft has released a developer preview of Windows 8, the next version of Windows, this week for everyone to download. Although this release is intended for developers, anyone can download and no sign in or license key is required to do so. Microsoft is probably doing this to receive feedback as well as get everyone excited.
Head over to the Microsoft Dev Center site to grab your free copy of Windows 8 Developer Preview. It is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit (the latter of which also includes a version with preinstalled developer tools).
Windows 8 is currently available in three editions (technically two): 32-bit, 64-bit, and 64-bit with developer tools, with download sizes of 2.8 GB, 3.6 GB, and 4.8 GB respectively.
You can either install it onto a virtual machine (see note below), install it on a test system, or inst all it alongside your current OS.
If you’re planning to use a virtual machine, be aware that I’ve only been able to get it to work on VMware Workstation 8.0 (newest version released Sept. 14 only – previous versions don’t work) and VirtualBox (some settings need to be tweaked).
What’s New in Windows 8?
Windows 8 is the next version of the world’s most popular operating system. The most noticeable new features include:
- Metro Interface – The main star of the show, Metro is the new default interface for Windows 8. Inspired by Windows Phone 7 and optimized for tablet touch screens. The regular desktop mode is still available.
- Faster Boot Times – Windows 8 is able to boot significantly faster than its predecessor.
- Less Memory Consumption – Microsoft claims Windows 8 uses fewer processes and less RAM to run than Windows 7.
- Windows Explorer Overhaul – Windows Explorer now features the Ribbon UI that’s currently used in Microsoft Office, Paint, WordPad, and other applications. File copying has also been improved and ISO mounting has been added.
- Task Manager Overhaul – Task Manager now contains many useful tools such as a startup application manager, application resource usage tracker, and an easy way to restart Explorer.
- In-Place PC Refresh and Reset – There is a button in Control Panel to reload your entire PC in a few clicks, while leaving all your files intact. You can even reset your whole PC to default state from the same place.
- Support for ARM Processors – Expect to see many low-power battery-efficient tablets running Windows 8
- Hyper-V Integrated – Create virtual machines without extra software
- Better Multiple Monitor Support – The taskbar and wallpaper can now span across multiple monitors
- Windows-To-Go – Windows 8 can now fit and run from a USB flash drive. Not available in the Developer Preview.
- Windows Live Integration – Your settings, as well as files, mail, and photos, can be synced across all your PCs with your Windows Live ID via Sync, Mail, and SkyDrive.
- Windows Store – Clearly inspired by the success of others, this should be self explanatory. You can now find, purchase, and download apps all in one place. Currently says Coming Soon.
Tablet PCs in the past failed because the OS (Windows) simply was not touch optimized. With Windows 8, Microsoft is trying to get back into the tablet business, while still maintaining one operating system.
One OS for Both
Having one operating system for both tablet and desktop (with the ability to switch between them in one click) could be a major selling point of this. I would expect to see a lot of tablet and keyboard docks on the market in the future, similar to the Asus Transformer.
I own an iPad and while it certainly is better than regular computers at doing some things, I’ve always found it quite limiting to use. I don’t see the iPad (or any tablet) replacing my laptop. However, with Windows 8, consumers could buy one device and have it function both as a laptop and a tablet.
At first, I found the Explorer Ribbon UI cluttered, but I noticed it removes the bottom information bar, so in some views, there is actually more room to view content. The ribbon tabs also expose some previously buried options that most users probably don’t know even exists, such as BitLocker and Shadow Copy. Rather than remove or hide lesser-known options, Microsoft does the exact opposite with the Ribbon. I really like the addition of this ribbon but unfortunately, I don’t really like how it looks right now and don’t think I’ll find myself using it much because many of the options are already available in the right click menu.
Traditional Start Menu
There is a little hack to bring back the Start Menu, but I hope Microsoft decides to have the Start Menu show in future versions of Desktop mode. I dislike having to go to the Metro interface with a keyboard and mouse to search for apps. I have a feeling we won’t be seeing a traditional start menu in Windows 8 though. This will take most users a very long time to get used to and may result in negative criticism.
The new Metro interface is really great and is definitely a step in the right direction if Microsoft wants to get into tablets. But the company needs to remember those still using keyboard and mice. Overall, as it is right now, the experience using a traditional keyboard and mouse isn’t that great, particularly with the removal of the Start menu. Metro is a touch optimized interface, but even keyboard/mice users must use it.
Of course, this Developer Preview is only a pre-beta so many things will change in future versions. Microsoft has a lot of potential of Windows 8 and the OS looks promising right now. Currently, there might be a bit of a learning curve to get used to everything, particularly the Metro interface.
I’m looking forward to trying out future releases of Windows 8.
What do you think of Windows 8 Developer Preview? Love it? Or is this heading for another failure? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
If you have not yet tried Windows 8, you can download the Developer Preview now. This pre-release will expire on March 11, 2012.