I took the plunge over this past week and decided I would check out the Windows 8 customer preview. Now one would think that I would simply spin it up in a VM given my background in the virtualization space but that would have been way too easy. No, I wanted to see it on bare metal so I blitzed my primary work laptop and went about installing natively. First impression during the install process… Holy **it, this is crazy FAST! Yes, I have an SSD drive and I was installing from a USB 3.0 external hard drive but still; WOW the core install was done in less than 5 minutes from start to finish. Installing Windows 7 Enterprise via the exact same method was more like 20 min, so far so good.
Then the system boots for the first time and I enter in the basic data (computer name, user name, etc.) and once complete the glorious Metro interface appears. Now, I have seen Metro before at a Verizon store on a Windows Phone, but that has been the extent of my experience with it so, needless to say, it is drastically different from any other desktop OS that I had ever seen. I fumbled around in Metro a bit, launching a few of the built in apps like photo, mail, etc. before going into the "desktop" app. Ok, now this feels like home, very similar to Windows 7 desktop but there is no "classic” start menu here. If you go to the lower left of the desktop and click on the start menu pop up, back to Metro you go. To me, this felt a bit clunky but obviously I’ve been using Windows in pretty much the same way since 1994 so I’m a bit used to "how it’s supposed to work" vs. any new paradigm shift like Metro.
From this point, I went about installing drivers and apps. The base install found just about all of the hardware in my HP 8540w, but I did have to grab the actual Nvidia graphics driver (Win 7 flavor) in order to get Aero Glass working. I got the wireless connectivity going but noticed that it wasn’t very easy to get into “advanced” wireless settings; that said I got connected and was ready to rock.
I then moved on to MS Office 2010 and other core apps. I installed all of these apps via the desktop “app” then went out to Windows Update to get everything patched. So far, so good. Throughout the process, I fumbled around a bit trying to find how to access simple stuff like control panel and how to switch between running Metro based apps and the desktop. Secret here, check the corners… lower left in the desktop is the start menu (Metro interface), upper left is basically your alt-tab replacement where you can see the single desktop app along with any other running Metro apps and can switch between them by clicking on what you want. The upper right brings up a bit of a "settings" style menu, and here is where you can control devices, multi-monitor setup, get to control panel, power off or restart, get to wireless settings, etc. Lower right while in the desktop app simply shows the desktop background just like in Win 7. Still, the overarching theme here is FAST… I cannot express enough how much faster everything is with Windows 8, at least at the core. I did notice that Outlook seemed about the same speed as on Win 7, but just about everything else I ran was noticeably faster than it was on Win 7. I hope this performance sticks around to the final release.
So, now that I have a shiny new Win 8 install, it was off to work. I’m spending a few weeks working remotely from out in Phoenix and had to fly to LA for a meeting so I took a chance and brought only the Win 8 laptop with me. Fortunately, everything worked fine and even PowerPoint with multiple monitors was no problem. I did have one key problem upon returning in that my Juniper SSL VPN client would not function properly, and this kept me from being able to use my VoIP softphone as it requires full VPN connectivity to function. Other than that, I didn’t have any other major app issues. However, I couldn’t get over how I simply spent 99% of my time in the desktop app and what a pain it seemed to be whenever I did use a Metro based app to switch back and forth. Remote Desktop is a prime example here as it is a native Metro app in Win 8, but it just wasn’t smooth in my opinion when switching back and forth between the RDP session and other desktop apps. It was completely obvious to me that Metro is really “touch centric” vs. “click centric.” I wish I had some type of tablet to test this out on as it would probably rock, but, as an OS for a traditional laptop/desktop, I simply was not very impressed except for, wait for it, yes, that SPEED factor.
However, in the end, even that was not enough and over the weekend I went back to Win 7. In the corporate world, Win 8 will be a complete nightmare from a training perspective, which I think will lead to extremely sluggish adoption. If you thought the Office ribbon generated some help desk calls, that’s nothing compared to this. I’m probably going to be buying some stock in New Horizons and other training facilities as they will most likely be overrun with training requests if/when the corporate world decides to adopt Win 8.