Saturday, June 02, 2012

Testing Windows 8 Release Preview in desktop mode – not a nice story

I have today installed the recently-released Windows 8 Release Preview.

As I did with the earlier Consumer Preview version, I installed it as a virtual machine running under Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager (which as you may know came to Oracle as part of the Sun Microsystems acquisition, but  started off before that a German product).

Here’s the Windows 8  Release Preview, running in desktop mode, as I would only want it to be on my main work and development system:


I might look pretty, but so far I’ve found it VERY, VERY awkward to use via mouse and keyboard, compared with Windows 7 (and all previous Windows releases that I’ve used, back to Windows 3.0).

Keep in mind that I’ve been using all sorts of computer systems since joining IBM in 1970 (and even for a few years before that), so I cannot in any way be considered a mere beginner.

I certainly do understand that Microsoft is trying its very darnedest to move its cash cow user base along into the touchscreen/tablet world. That makes a lot of sense for a sizeable proportion of the emerging market. If I had a tablet PC, I assuredly would like the “metro” mode that Windows 8 embraces.

But, frankly, as a “power user” (intense technical user) I find the “metro” mode to be extremely annoying and timewasting.

The icons occupy far too much screen real estate, the constant swiping is highly frustrating (especially when using  mouse to mimic finger movement), and what was a single click under Windows 7 (and its predecessors) now usually will take several clumsy actions under Windows 8. Multiply all those extra swipe/click actions by the  hundreds of times per day that I carry them out, and it results in a major loss in productivity for me – and, I’m pretty confident to postulate, for a big slab of potential Windows 8 users.

As shown in earlier Blogger posts of mine, such as this one and this one, I happen to use four 1600x1200 monitors arranged in an inverted T fashion (enabling me to open windows as wide as 4800 pixels or as tall as 2400 pixels), often with numerous  windows open on the various monitors:

ND851_with_ND703_under_Win7_XP_Mode_at_top_thumb%5B1%5D[1] PICT0007

Now, I understand that (compared with the earlier Consumer Preview version) the Windows 8 Release Preview apparently supports multiple monitors, but since VirtualBox only emulates a single monitor [as far as I know] couldn’t test this.

The support of multiple monitors has been outstanding since at least Windows XP, so I wouldn’t expect any less for Windows 8. I wonder whether the experience would work for multiple touchscreens running in “metro” mode (has anyone tried it?).

What I wanted near the very start of Windows 8 installation was a single radio button or checkbox option to have installed Windows 8 in a pure desktop mode, identical (or as closely as possible) to the way that Windows 7 and earlier version get installed, with all the old Windows 7 style features supported in as close as possible to the same way.

Why impose a far from trivial re-learning effort on users of previous Windows versions by foisting the “metro” way of doing things upon them when they’re still using non-touchscreen PCs? … Let them enjoy the new mode when they get their first touchscreen device.

So far, I’ve spent 3 or 4 hours fiddling with Windows 8 options that have only got me a small way along the path of making Windows 8 desktop look, feel and act like Windows 7 desktop. It’s been an extremely frustrating experience, and I suspect that it’s bound to fail not much further along the path. This is NOT good news for all of those confirmed Windows desktop mode users out there!

Microsoft made the move from Windows 200 to Windows XP not too difficult, with only a few things rearranged and/or hidden away in different spots. The move to Windows Vista was a bit more dramatic, but not unmanageable, Windows 7 was IMHO easier than Vista.

Based on my limited trials, but a good “gut feel” after decades in the industry, I reckon that moving to Windows 8 is going to be a real nightmare for users upgrading from earlier Windows versions.

However I surmise that the Windows 8 experience will be quite pleasant and rewarding for all those users – possibly a very large proportion – who get Windows 8 preinstalled on a tablet device. And this is where Microsoft is making a big gamble, I suppose. Time will tell.

What would a reactionary old codger like me know, anyway? … Then again, perhaps I’m not so technologically unaware as this other old-timer (it starts with a few sentences in German, no need for a translation, you will guess the meaning):


  1. My experience with Windows 8 so far is very similar to yours. I also run it in a Virtualbox VM. There's a setting that I haven't tried, that is supposed to be able to set multiple screens. If you go to settings for the VM, Display, there's a slider for Monitor count. As I said, I haven't tried it, but maybe it's something you can try?

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  2. I just tried that setting, Peter, and am not sure what happened.

    I changed the "Monitor Count" setting to 4 (the maximum is 8 emulated monitors, wow). When I started up the virtual machine several Command Prompt boxes popped up briefly (didn't seem to be 4 of them, but it was hard to tell). It settled back to one VM instance after about 5 seconds.

    I couldn't find evidence of the 3 other instances, so discontinued my attempt -- there are far better things to do on Sunday!

  3. The main thing I feel about the draft Win 8 is the disempowerment of users - taking away the "control" that was built into previous versions. I could write at length about this, but, to be brief, desktop users (the bulk of enterprise users) have been "trained" to open this, close that as they work, to keep a tidy desktop and close unwanted apps/etc. Now their entire approach is being thrown out...they won't see what they have running by glancing at the lower screen area, the ambit of their workspace will be reduced to just what is in front of them.