I got my hands on a copy of Windows 8 through MSDN about a month ago and installed it immediately. I’ve used it since then as my daily working machine on my main laptop.
First of all the speed of Windows 8 is apparent from the start. Everything feels faster - boot time, application launch, etc. I am working on a 3 year old Lenovo W500 and I can honestly say that Windows 8 has extended its life by at least 6 months. It was fast enough under Win7 but with Win8, it seems to have legs.
Coming into this experiment, I had my doubts. As a developer, how would I fair in the land of the Metro UI and deprioritize desktop?
The Start Screen
The start menu is full-screen now and it has some animation built into it. It did take me a little while to get used to it but really this is just a new UI on top of the same start menu that we are all used to. As a developer I stay mostly in the desktop but the metro start screen is a necessary evil once in a while.
I’ll admit it took me a few days to get used to it. My advice is to embrace this right away and enjoy it for what it is - some UI sugar that plays nicely with tablets. It still works well with mouse and keyboard. You can still search for applications or settings by simply typing and you can still pin your most used applications. Once there are more useful metro apps, the start screen will be much more useful.
I found that pinning my most used applications to the desktop task bar almost entirely eliminates the need to open the start screen at all. As a developer this is exactly what I want, just get out of my way. If you just can’t live without the Windows 7 start menu, take a look at ViStart.
I mostly stay in the desktop. In fact, I would say that at least 90% of my time is spent there. The first thing you should do is pin everything that you use to the taskbar. This will help you avoid the start screen. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the start screen but you probably don’t want to go there too often.
The desktop is mostly unchanged from Windows 7, with just a few exceptions. First the glass aero desktop is gone, no more see-through window chrome. It has been sacrificed in the name of battery life.
Secondly, the task manager has been completely rebuilt and redesigned. This thing is awesome. A quantum leap upgrade. You can now see disk usage, app history, startup cost for apps and services. Remember all those time you thought “What the hell is going on with my machine?”. Well, now you can answer that question.
Let’s face it, metro apps have not arrived yet. I have no doubt that they will when Windows 8 goes mainstream after the global launch on October 25th. I can see the utility, even on a desktop, but for now it’s just promises.
The UI looks descent on a desktop and even usable, but metro will only shine when tablets and touch are in the mainstream. Microsoft’s bet here is palpable. Interface unification of Xbox, Windows Desktop and Windows Phone is the holy grail for which Microsoft is betting the company. As everyone has said for years, it has a lot of promise.
If you are a developer and don’t care for Metro, don’t use it. The only time you’ll need it is when you press the windows key and if you configure your machine correctly, you won’t be hitting the windows key very often.
Numerous small UI enhancement have been incorporated into Windows 8. There are too many to list and it’s better if you find them yourself. I am still finding new tidbits almost daily. Little flourishes which add flavor to the experience
The file copy dialog is a thing of beauty. Notice the transfer graph over time and the spark line for the current transfer speed. Very cool. You can also pause the file copy which is really convenient when you need to go offline temporarily.
Windows 8 is noticeable faster in almost all aspects. Boot times are particularly impressive. I have seen at least a 50% increase in startup speed. Everything is snappy - changing windows, opening applications
Here’s a few shortcut keys that I have found to be invaluable.
- Windows + X Opens an administration context menu in the bottom left corner of the screen. This is indispensable for power users, it lets you jump to a bunch of useful tools.
- Windows + C Opens the charm menu at the right edge of the screen. You don’t have to point the most at the upper right corner.
- Windows + Q - Show all apps
- Windows + W - Search settings
- Windows + R - Run a command
- Windows + I - Settings slide out
- Windows + P - Monitor configuration (extend, duplicate)
- Windows + L - Lock session
- Windows + K - Devices slide out
- Windows + H - Share slide out
- Windows + F - Search Files
- Windows + D - Show the desktop
- Windows + . - Toggle through snapping
- Windows + E - Opens file explorer
- Windows + , - Desktop peek
I can honestly say that I would not go back to Windows 7. Win8 feels like a winner. Good performance and it gets out of my way. It has a solid future as a touch screen operating system to boot.