Yesterday Microsoft released the first preview release of Windows 8, and we spent all night testing it out and diving into how it all works. Here’s our review, and the normal How-To Geek style screenshot tour, with loads and loads of pictures.
Note: this article was so incredibly long that we broke it up into multiple pages, which isn’t something we do often.
So What’s New in Windows 8?
There’s a ton of new stuff in Windows 8, but the biggest change that you’ll notice right away is the addition of the new tile-based Metro interface, which you can see in the screenshot above. Keep in mind that this is the developer preview release, which means it’s nowhere near finished, and you should definitely not install this on your primary PC.
We’ll go into loads of detail about everything as you read further, but first here’s a quick list of just some of the new features:
- Metro Interface – the new default interface in Windows 8, keep reading for everything about this.
- Faster Boot Times – Windows 8 will boot much faster than Windows 7, thanks to a partial hibernation mode and a lot of improvements in the loading process. On my old Dell laptop, it boots in less than 10 seconds – on new machines, it’s crazy fast.
- Less Memory Usage than Windows 7. That’s right. Microsoft is saying that not only will this version use less RAM than Win7, it also uses less running processes.
- Windows Explorer overhauled, now has the Ribbon UI, Revamped File Copying, and ISO mounting.
- In-Place PC Refresh will reload Windows in just a couple of clicks, keeping your files intact.
- ARM processors are now supported, which will lead to an entirely new class of low-power, battery-efficient tablets.
- Hyper-V is now part of Windows – so now you can create virtual machines easily without installing anything extra.
- Taskbar can now span multiple monitors – this very simple feature has finally made it into Windows.
- Wallpaper can now span multiple monitors – yet another feature that should have been around 10 years ago.
- Universal Spell Check across Metro applications.
- Windows Live Integration for Sync, Mail, Skydrive lets you sync all your settings across your PCs, including your files, mail, and photos. The sync is available in the preview, but the Skydrive and Mail are not yet.
- Windows Store will let you purchase Windows apps all in a single place.
- New Task Manager is completely revamped with much better tools, including a way to disable startup applications, track application resource usage over time, and even easily restart Windows Explorer.
There’s way more changes all over the place, and we’ll try and cover as much as possible, but there’s no way we can get everything. Not to mention the fact that this is a preview, so there’s probably a whole lot more coming in the beta.
How Can I Get Windows 8?
First, you’ll want to make sure that your PC can run Windows 8, and thankfully the Windows 8 system requirements are basically the same as Windows 7. You can probably get away with installing this on a PC with lousy specs, but obviously you’ll have a better experience on a faster machine. Here’s the specs:
- 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
- 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
- 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
- Taking advantage of touch input requires a screen that supports multi-touch
The key thing to note is that you don’t need a touch device to install Windows 8. Keyboard and mouse will work just fine.
Just head to dev.windows.com and download the ISO images from the page. Then head to the Microsoft Store page and download the USB/DVD Download Tool, which can put the ISO image onto a bootable flash drive for installation—all you have to do is choose the ISO, choose the drive, and wait for it to finish copying.
The setup process is nearly identical to Windows 7, so we’re not going to go into detail about it here. We’ll assume if you’re installing Windows 8 that you’re not a newb, and as such you shouldn’t need any help clicking through a couple of installer screens.
Various Install Notes:
- We were not able to get it working in VMware Workstation or Virtual PC.
- If you do want to virtualize, try VirtualBox. Many readers reported luck with this.
- You don’t need a product key or a login to download or install Windows 8.
- The preview release is supposed to auto-update. There’s no word on when the Beta release will be out, or whether it will automatically upgrade.
- The preview release does not have Media Center included. Microsoft says that it will be a part of Windows 8 though.
- If you want to disable Metro UI entirely, you can open up the registry editor and change the value of RPEnabled to 0 instead of 1 at the following key: (via NeoWin)
Note that we’re not recommending this, because it makes installing Windows 8 fairly pointless.
- If you’re using Internet Explorer from the Metro pane, you’ll notice that Flash doesn’t work. This is actually by design – no plugins in the Metro IE.
Good luck, and make sure to let us know in the comments how you fare.
What’s This Metro Interface All About?
Metro is a tile-based interface focused on being clean and simple, with simple icons and beautiful typography instead of the typical shadows and raised button interfaces that we’re used to. Many tiles are more than just an application launcher, they contain live data that updates automatically—a weather tile will automatically show the latest weather report, a news title will scroll the latest from your feeds, the social widget will show the latest photos from Facebook, and your stock ticker will automatically show you what those greedy Wall Street people are up to.
This interface was first released on Windows Phone, and while it’s definitely ideal for a touchscreen environment, it’s also quite usable with the keyboard and mouse—though you will find that scrolling multiple pages is much more tedious using just the mouse than using a simple swipe on the screen.
- Universal Sharing across applications allows applications to easily share files or text with cloud services (and each other). You can load a picture from Facebook into a photo editing app, then share it on Twitter once you’re done. And it’s all hooked into the common file open dialogs, and the new Share feature.
- Universal Search allows applications to register with the global search in the Metro interface, so you can search across any application that supports it.
- Hardware Acceleration – all Metro applications are automatically hardware accelerated, making the entire experience much more smooth.
- Process Suspending – Windows can automatically suspend Metro applications for better battery life when they aren’t being used.
- New WindowsRT runtime provides these features to any application in almost any language, with almost no extra code. That means existing applications can be easily modified to connect to social networks without writing any networking code.
To bring up the Metro Start screen when you’re in any other application, just hit the Windows button.
The main Start screen is also a complete replacement for the Windows 7 Taskbar—you can just start typing at any point while viewing the main Metro Start screen and you’ll be able to quickly find any application on your system the same way that you could on Windows 7.
Metro Keyboard Shortcuts
These are a few keyboard shortcuts that I’ve personally been using. There’s others, but I haven’t figured out whether they work for mouse/keyboard mode or only if you’re using a touch screen with a keyboard also connected, so I won’t include them.
- Windows+F – Opens File Search
- Windows+C – Opens Charms Bar
- Windows+I – Opens Settings
- Windows+Q – Opens App Search pane
- Windows+W – Opens Settings Search app
- Windows+Z – Opens App Bar
If you aren’t at the Start screen, all you have to do is hit the Windows key to get back to the screen, and then start typing to launch an application—it’s the same set of keystrokes you would use before, but a different interface.
Back on the main Metro screen, you can easily click and drag to move items around on the screen. If you’re using a touch interface, you can do the same thing with your fingers. You can even zoom out using a Pinch gesture to see all of the items on the screen without having to scroll—as far as we can tell, there’s no way to do that in the mouse-only interface, but if you know how to do that, please leave a comment and tell us how.
If you right-click on a tile you’ll see a check box—if you’re using the touch interface you can nudge the tile up or down…
Which will enable a menu at the bottom of the screen. Depending on what tile you’ve selected, you’ll either get items to make it Larger, Smaller, Uninstall it, Pin it, or Unpin it.
If you were to click on a regular application like Task Manager or the command prompt, you’ also get some extra items like Run as Administrator, which is pretty useful for many system tasks.
Some of the tiles will open up a Metro-style application, which is always full screen. The Weather application can be customized for your location, and you can even pin multiple weather tiles to the home screen for multiple locations.
You might notice the purple bar on the left hand side of the screen—that’s very important. Whenever you’re in a Metro application using a touch interface, you can swipe from the left side to flip between applications. Keep swiping left to cycle through all of the applications. This is roughly the same as using Win+Tab, which works differently in Windows 8 than it did in Windows 7. You can, of course, still use Alt+Tab the way you always did.
If you swipe from the left and then drop the thumbnail into the screen, you can actually dock two separate full-screen applications into the same screen—notice the green line in the middle of the two applications below. On the left is the news feed, and the right is a photo application. You can switch which side of the screen has the “sidebar” application, or switch which application is on either side. What you can’t do, however, is adjust them to be 50/50, it’s a fixed ratio.
Swiping from the right side will pull up another menu, which they call the “Charms” menu. Yes, that’s a very silly name. This allows you to get to various functions like Search, Share, or Settings, and this works across the board in Metro applications. You’ll most likely use this feature most often to search and share from within applications—for instance, if you were viewing a photo and wanted to share it on Facebook, or if you needed to do a search through an application for a file.
If you’re using the keyboard and mouse, you can use the Win+C menu to pull up the same menu, except in the lower left-hand corner. Oddly, you can also move your mouse to the lower left corner of the screen, and the menu will show up—in fact, this works whether you are in the Metro interface or back on the Windows 7 style Taskbar.
Here’s a closer view of the menu:
Keep reading for the rest of the review, including the new Windows 8 Explorer, Task Manager, the new Control Panel, and a bunch more.