Yesterday Microsoft unveiled the first developer preview of Windows 8 at it's BUILD conference, and later last night made the actual preview build openly available for download (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/home/
I decided to take the plunge and try it out; here is an early scouting report. There is little danger to me since all my stuff is on separate hard drives and I don't generally run any special paid software. It would be no issue for me to revert back to Windows 7 with no losses of data or programs.
- It's fast. Granted, I'm running modern, high-end hardware (second gen Core i5, 8 GB RAM, an SSD as boot drive and discrete video card) but this early build of Windows 8 runs at least as fast as Windows 7 did. In some cases I get the impression Windows 8 performs slightly better actually, though I have no numbers to prove it. Moving between Metro and Desktop modes is pretty much instantaneous, with no noticeable lag in either direction. Metro itself, whatever you think of the new interface, proved snappy and responsive. In my case the scroll wheel on my mouse worked well enough as a substitute for finger scroll gestures given that I don't have a touch screen panel.
- Driver support is excellent. Windows 7 has become known for excellent built-in driver support, and Windows 8 seems to take another step forward in that area. Just about all of my computer's devices were detected out-of-the-box by the stock Windows 8 installation, including video, sound, network, and printer. As to the printer, Microsoft is claiming that the majority of current printers will be supported by Windows 8 with no need for extra software being installed, which I have no reason to doubt. Also as promised, Windows 8 supports USB 3.0 natively. I was able to browse to my USB 3 external drive without the need to install a driver as I had to do under Win 7.
- In the early build I ran into a couple of program compatibility issues, though this is a very early pre-beta build. Avast free antivirus and my Office 2010 click-to-run installer generated program compatibility warnings from Windows, which for the time being I respected. For the moment I'm running without office or antivirus.
- Metro is the one and only Windows 8 interface. Though a desktop mostly similar to that in Win 7 is present, it runs as more or less an application rather than the primary shell of Windows. Clicking the start orb in the lower right hand corner of the desktop view (or pressing the Windows key) simply brings you back to the Metro start screen; there is no version of a "classic" start menu anymore. The desktop can be evoked by clicking on the "windows explorer" or "desktop" tiles in Metro, or by running any traditional Desktop apps. Metro apps run "immersively" in MS-speak, which is to say they take over the entire screen. Returning to the main metro interface can be done by pressing the Windows key (or presumably, an equivalent key which will probably be be built into Win 8 tablets) or by flicking toward the lower left hand corner with mouse pointer (or finger). One difficulty so far, from the standpoint of a desktop user, is that right-clicking doesn't work well in Metro. This caused particular problems browsing with a mouse in the Metro version of IE10, though there is still a desktop version of the new browser, which for the time being uses the same interface as IE9.
Windows media player so far is the same as in Windows 7 (WMP 12 for those keeping score) and is still a desktop app with no Metro translation as yet.
As in Office 2010, the Ribbon in explorer can be hidden and you can use the quick access toolbar for your most commonly used commands. In areas other than the controversial Ribbon, explorer does seem improved from the Win 7 iteration. It was one of those areas which seemed to run particularly well, including in some rather large folders on my hard drives. The "up one level" button is indeed back alongside "forward" and "back" buttons. If you choose not to indulge the RIbbon, there is as yet no way to completely disable it or return to a classic Explorer view. For those using a mouse, all right-click functions work fine in Desktop mode and explorer, including all of the context menus.
All in all, at least in my early experience, Metro as well as the increasingly pervasive Ribbon weren't as jarring as I'd feared. Your mileage may vary, of course.
"If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wonderous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross... but it's not for the timid." Q, Q Who