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Windows 8 Developer Initial Impressions

With the release of the developer preview of the next version of windows I decided to take the plunge and give it a try. Being a Windows Phone user and developer I have gone through the learning curve of using the Metro style interface, developing a Phone App and submitting it to the Marketplace for worldwide distribution. I will cover the developer aspects of this release in a later article but for now I want to document my first impressions of the release and give an over view of what is there.

Installation

I decided to try the experience of installing on a desktop to see what the interface is like without a touchscreen. The process was simple. Download the developer preview, create bootable USB drive. Place drive in machine, reboot, install, done.

Start Screen

My first impression was that it looked nice but because I decided to install it on a non touchscreen desktop there were a few keyboard shortcuts I found very handy:

  • To get to the desktop you would be familiar with from Windows 7 you use the Windows key and m.

  • The ALT key and TAB still switches between Apps but the Windows key and TAB treats the Desktop as a single App, it will however switch between your Metro style apps.
  • Pointing your mouse pointer at the bottom left of the screen brings up your Start menu with the associated ‘Charms’ (not my choice of word) for the App. These would appear down the right hand side of the screen on a touchscreen.
  • The Windows key and e still brings up Windows Explorer, but this one has a ribbon with some very useful shortcuts.

So for the diehards out there you still have your desktop. What you will notice very quickly however is the lack of content on the Start menu.

You will be wondering where the All Programs option has moved to? Windows 8 is looking like a search first environment. Your most common applications can be placed on the Start screen easily but for everything else you will need to search. My first impression of this is that it would be annoying but it is smoother that the search in Windows 7. In fact if you just start typing the name of the application while on the Start screen you will be presented with a list of results. The screen grab below shows you an example of this.

By just typing ‘st’ any application with these characters will be listed. You can also see to the side we can choose Settings or Files for those search results.

Metro Apps

What I was most interested to see were the metro style apps that have been getting a lot of press lately. Being accustomed to Windows Phone I have become used to the clean, flat style of the apps and they do transfer to the large screen well.

After you have used one of the Metro apps for a while you realise there seems to be a button missing. You cannot close the app, instead you just move to another. This at first would seem to be a recipe for bringing our system slowly to a halt but what happens is that they are suspended after 5 seconds. They also have a minimum resolution of 1024×768.

What will you use to build these applications, well you have a number of options. HTML5 with JavaScript, XAML and .NET or for games you may resort to C++. I think the biggest learning curve for developers moving to Metro apps will be the look and feel. The example below shows how your menu for an application will look.


We will discuss how to create these apps in the next article.