Some Thoughts on the Windows 8 Developer Preview

There are some very interesting parallels between what Microsoft is now showing off with its Developer Preview of Windows 8 and Apple’s recently released OS X Lion. Those parallels point to what we’ll be experiencing in the future. Call it post PC, call it the next wave, call it whatever you want both companies are taking steps to innovate on what we’ve come to know as computing. To say we can determine exactly what that is at this point is certainly way too early. To say there is some exciting potential is an understatement. I’ll talk about those parallels later in this post, but most of what I’m about to spew forth focuses on my first impressions of Windows 8 after giving it a look-see. This is not a review. It’s more like a collection of impressions and thoughts.

I downloaded and installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview on a Lenovo x220T Tablet PC to see what’s what. Let me state a couple of caveats up front.

  • This is a Developer Preview. Judging it beyond that context is not only premature but a potentially self-serving enterprise. That would be akin to predicting that a very athletic five-year-old is going to be a pro-sports gazillionaire. I’m responding to potential here, and I realize that things are going to change before this gets into consumers hands a year from now. You should to.
  • The Lenovo X220T  I’m using to test Windows 8 on isn’t built with Windows 8 in mind. A couple of things to note about that. After installing the Developers Preview there was no Inking available on the X220T. I installed the latest Windows 7 drivers for Pen and Touch and that goofed up some of the touch capability inherent in Windows 8 though it did provide Digital Inking. No one’s fault here, but that’s the nature of where things are in this process. That said, one of the real tests of the success of Windows 8 on Tablets is going to be how the hardware and software are optimized together to provide a great experience. We won’t really know how that works for some time to come. Microsoft is obviously following the trend by pushing the Tablet experience early and often here. Here’s hoping its lack of control over its hardware partners won’t cripple what it is attempting to do, in the way that Google’s Honeycomb is currently suffering with some of its Tablet partners.

All that being said, let’s get to my thoughts.

Installing Windows 8

I burnt a copy of the Install .iso to a USB stick to install from. This is actually very easy to do provided you have a USB stick lying around. I downloaded the Windows 8 .iso without the SDK, as I’m not a developer, so a 4GB stick works well for that, but when I’m doing this kind of work I usually work with an 8GB stick just to make sure. There are many ways to do this but a quick and easy method is to download a copy of the Windows 7 USB Tool, load it up and follow the prompts. When  you’re done you’ll have a copy of the Developer Preview that’s ready to install. I would not recommend (neither does anyone else including Microsoft) that you install this on a production machine (meaning one you use for every day tasks.) This is a Developer Preview and there will be issues. Think of it as pre-Beta, although the term Beta seems to have long ago lost is meaning and significance. Make sure you back up anything you want to save because the install will wipe your disk clean if you do a fresh install. I attempted to install from within Windows 7 and that seems to have worked just as well, creating a Windows.old directory on the hard drive.

As I said, I am using a Lenovo X220T Tablet PC and on that device the install took a relative quick 20 minutes. Before things kicked in I was asked if I wanted to download some updates to the preview install files. I said yes, this occurred, and the install went on. I’m not sure if that occurs on a clean install or not. As a part of the install you are asked to set up your WiFi network and also enter your Windows Live info. You don’t have to do this or can opt to do so later. Suffice it to say, that at least at this point in the evolution of Windows 8, this was a pretty painless install from Microsoft.


Up and Running

Once the install finished things looked much as they have been advertised. The Metro UI appeared and I was off and testing. Now remember, Lenovo does a lot of tweaking on its Tablet PCs with drivers for touch and pen as well as the many buttons and other functionality that the ThinkPads bring to the table. Other manufacturers do the same thing and you’ll lose some of that machine or manufacturer specific  functionality once you install this Developer Preview. Just know that ahead of time before you make a decision to  check out Windows 8. The essentials were working. I had wireless network connectivity and the touch gestures we’ve all seen in video seemed to be working well. I did not have any pen interaction at all. Microsoft provides a Metro App called Ink Notes and the pen nor my finger would work to lay down any Ink here.

So, I decided to try and load up the latest Windows 7 drivers for pen and touch from the Lenovo site. While this restored Inking, it mucked up the touch in the Metro UI. I     later performed a System Refresh, using the install USB and I now have both touch and Inking working well. Don’t ask me how. It just seemed to fix things. System Refresh pulls files off of your install media and works to make things right if you’ve mucked them up.

Microsoft includes a Metro App called Ink Pad that looks like it will have much of the functionality of Windows Journal. That’s not the case. I don’t think you can save files as anything other than as a picture file. Interesting that there is no version of Windows Journal at this stage. I wonder if it will be on future versions?

I installed OneNote 2010 after getting things worked out with Inking and Touch as described above OneNote seems to work just fine. Here’s an example of where some of the schizophrenia that some feel Windows 8 offers begins to come into play.

Two Windows?

Much of the talk about the fundamental changes that Microsoft is making with Windows 8 centers on the Metro UI. This is the sleek, touch enabled UI that you are presented with when you first open up Windows 8. Tiles are all over the screen that represent widgets and applications. Touch them and you open or access them.  Some provide updates within the tiles. All the Apps on your machine can appear in the Metro home screen. If you open an App that needs access to the full Windows Experience you’re taken to a very familiar Windows Explorer like Desktop when that App opens.

Microsoft is encouraging developers to write Apps to run in this Metro environment and from what I’m reading there’s still debate as to whether all full-fledged Windows Applications will run in Metro or that we will need Metro-specific versions or substitutes.

At the moment we’ve got two browsers on Windows 8. One that runs under Metro, and the other runs under the underlying Windows OS (IE10). Is that the future? Does this kind of dual approach point to a road map that allows for Windows 8 to run with different functionality in some environments (ARM?) than it does in others? The talking points say it is all supposed to be one happy Windows on any device, but I’m not sure if that’s really the case or if it is actually desirable.


Touch and Metro UI

Let’s face it, if Microsoft couldn’t come up with a pretty snappy Touch UI for its next OS, they should shut the doors in Redmond. They had more than a head start on this before blowing it. The Touch UI in the Developer Preview looks like Microsoft has delivered. It’s quick, it is occasionally intuitive, and once you get it, it makes good sense. Swipe from the left and you can page through full screen versions of the Apps you have running, including those running on that regular Windows Desktop.  Swipe from the right and you bring up some Metro controls like Search, Share, and Restart. Microsoft calls these “Charms.” I can see this getting populated with other “charms” once developers get to work. Swipe up and you bring up controls for the App you’re working in. How this really works is going to depend on the hardware/software optimization that pulls this all together and how developers choose to follow Microsoft’s guidelines or not. On the Lenovo X220T, which works with both touch and pen, touch is working very, very well and it is a breeze to move between screens as described above. Jut a note, Pinch and Zoom of this “home screen” isn’t incorporated into this Developer Preview yet but is promised.

The Look of Metro

I’m not a fan of how Metro looks. Many seem to be and I think I’m in the minority here. That’s obviously a personal preference. In a way of advancing what we see and how we access it, Microsoft has done away with the Start Button and instead the Start tile brings you back to the Metro UI and all of those tiles. Those tiles can be rearranged, grouped, or you can change their size. My aesthetic indifference stems from the fact that I don’t like the very flat look of the tiles. But Metro is obviously where Microsoft sees the future as it takes cues from Windows Phone 7.


Again, Microsoft needs to get this right. It is obviously too early to tell if hardware manufacturers will incorporate Digital Inking (yes, with a stylus), but it appears that the bits are in place to make this work very similar (if not totally similar) to Inking in Windows 7 from a software standpoint. I’ve said this before, Microsoft needs to include OneNote on every Windows 8 machine. I doubt they will do that, but they should. From my early testing, this seems to work the way that Inkers love OneNote to work. If the small Metro Ink Note App is all that Microsoft thinks it needs to provide to entice Digital Inkers, it needs to think again.

Social Integration

Yes, Microsoft has included Twitter integration deep in the OS. This makes sharing via that platform easy to do. I’m sure we’ll see Facebook integration as well and who knows what else when it comes to this kind of social sharing.


The Cloud

Obviously everyone is racing towards the Cloud and Microsoft has been slowly moving that way while others are sprinting at a helter-skelter like pace. This is where the One Windows Fits All strategy will be interesting to watch. On the enterprise level it will mean one thing and on the consumer level (think tablets and netbooks) it will mean something else. Either way you’re going to be able to consume and store media in the Cloud. I haven’t installed any of the Windows Live Apps on this yet, but one think I’ll be watching for is how Microsoft makes the install of those Apps work, assuming they don’t come pre-installed. Why? For something called Windows Live, it is the slowest most cumbersome, and dare I say it, deadly install of any App or Apps I’ve installed on any machine or OS.


Snapping Windows into place first showed up in Windows 7. It seems to make even more sense in how it will work in Windows 8. You can swipe and drag Apps so that you can snap two Apps to the edges of your screen. One of those can even be the Windows Desktop. I can envision having an App viewing media on one side of the screen while having something else running on the other. Note that you’re looking at different types of display resolution here. One is a thin QVGA view. The other is a little more roomier VGA full view.

That Microsoft Apple Thing I Mentioned Earlier

What I think we’re seeing here from both Microsoft and Apple are early steps towards what they believe will be the future. That future is slimmer Apps that are more easily sold through App Stores and translate well across different hardware platforms. Apple’s recent release of Lion was a step towards merging iOS and OSX. Microsoft appears to be doing the same thing here with Metro and a more traditional Windows Desktop experience. Although Apple’s Lion is now shipping and all we have is a Developers Preview of Windows 8, there’s a big notable difference in the strategy, at least at the point in time. Apple’s Lion has included iOS like features like LaunchPad where you can see your Apps arranged similarly to iOS. But you really don’t have to interact with Launchpad unless you choose to. Microsoft on the other hand has its Metro UI up front when you boot up, forcing you to interact with it whether you like to or not.

Both companies seem attracted to lower overhead applications (Apps) that can be run on each’s respective mobile OS. Microsoft is really pitching its developers and OEMs to add Apps for the Metro layer. Apple hasn’t taken that step yet, and my speculation is that Apple might be aiming towards an OS that runs what is already being created for iOS so that we don’t see multiple classes of Apps in the future. If true, I don’t think Microsoft would have an easy time of making that move. It would be tough to cut that chord for Microsoft because of its Enterprise level software gravy train that it depends on. Watching what happens with Office will provide clues here. Already we’ve heard different viewpoints on this from different Microsoft spokes persons.

Ending this Post

I won’t call this a conclusion or a summary because there’s a lot more for me to explore and obviously a lot more for Microsoft to do before we can make any significant judgements, conclusions, or summaries about Windows 8. That said, I think Microsoft might be on to something here with the direction it is going with Windows 8. There are some significant departures, obviously motivated by a mobile thrust, that I think look very positive. Microsoft, unlike Google with Android, isn’t playing follow the leader, but staking out some new turf. My Tablet PC bias makes me wonder if Microsoft will have the courage or the vision to make pen and ink computing a big part of what Windows 8 will offer, or just another in a long list of features that are available. I’m talking about that on a marketing level, because from what I’ve seen in this very early look, the bits are there to make it work. Here’s hoping on that front. I also hope Microsoft will have the courage as Windows 8 iterates to jettison some of its legacy hangups with older hardware. That may not come next year when Windows 8 goes gold, but I hope it happens down the road.

Some postscripts

Again, keeping in mind that this is a Developers Preview, in which you can expect to find issues. There are a couple I discovered that might be worth noting.

  • WiFi setup was easy and painless. That said, on three different networks, after running and rebooting Windows 8 for quite a bit, I would get a notification that the connection had limited access to the Internet. Intriguingly though, both browsers seemed to access the Internet without a hitch.
  • Metro Widgets. Both the Weather and Stocks widgets will periodically fail to update. I thought perhaps this was because of the WiFi issues I mentioned above but it seems to have no bearing on that issue.
  • I’m having some issues with Tiles on the Metro Start page with widgets staying where I’ve put them between reboots or cycles when the machine goes to sleep.
  • Before installing the Lenovo drivers for touch and pen and after doing that and the System Refresh the cursor on the Windows Desktop will randomly decide to travel across the screen and exit off of it to the right. This is obviously something to do with drivers.