By Nate Adcock on Sun, 10/02/2011
I have to start this post by saying it's sort of a cheat. I'm not currently aware of a way to run Windows 8 on an iPad (maybe our uber-tech blogger Werner does, though), but you can do a pretty fair emulation with a few PC/Mac tools and the excellent TeamViewer app. I'm also going to provide my thoughts (along with some quick vids and review notes) on the developer preview of Windows 8, and why I think Microsoft is getting it right! And yes, I am mostly testing it on my iPad (not the same as running it I admit)...
This will be the first of a multi part review of the new Microsoft Windows 8 OS. I am writing it from my iPad, as I want this to be a "tablet" based experience as much as possible. The reason is that it is obvious to me that the new version and features of Win 8 are aimed somewhat at that kind of experience. To do this on iPad presents a slight challenge, since the iPad will not run (out of the box, anyway) Microsoft Windows. The setup I use (you can too) to run any version of Windows from iPad (or anywhere) is pretty simple. First you need a good RC tool. TeamViewer (the best freee RC app IMHO), period. Install the TeamViewer app (www.teamviewer.com) on your device, and then download the PC client and install it on Windows (also for Mac, and Linux). You don't even really have to install it on Windows. You can download the bin files (my fancy way of saying executables) and run it from a USB stick! Of course, I am taking for granted that you know that both computer and iPad have to be connected to a network for any of this to work.
Though you could blast your current OS, or screw around with dual-boots to run the dev preview of Windows, I don't advise it. I use Oracle's VirtualBox (www.virtualbox.org). VirtualBox, like TeamViewer, is also pretty simple. Maybe the easiest virtualization product on the market today (and also free for personal use). If your PC has even moderate horsepower, you can run practically any x86/AMD64/Intel64-based OS version in parallel with Windows (VB can also run on OS X). I have a run-of-the-mill HP desktop machine that can handle Ubuntu, Win 8, and Windows Home Server without any great difficulty. Finally, I recommend a stylus, simply because commands through RC do not support touch input direct to Win 8, and sliding your fingers around can get old (sliding a stylus gets old too). But using a stylus is similar to having a mouse, and I like the Braketron 2-in-1 (shameless plug--see my review here), but there are plenty to choose from depending on your taste. I am still considering how to enable a touch input capability to the virtual machine (to keep from having to use the mouse pointer, which is annoying).
I won't spend time detailing the configuration of Oracle VB, the TV remote control app, etc. It's not really the point of this post, but if I have some time, I may swing back and post up an addendum that includes my configuration steps, tips, etc. I want to focus on what is coming in this new version of Windows (or at least appears to be coming), and why it is very exiting for those of us who like and use Windows. I'm not going to make any stupid predictions about the new OS kicking iPad's off their perch or making other tablet or mobile technology obsolete. Let's just say I like what I see in the Windows 8 developer preview so far, and if the final version is as good as the preview, I think future Windows will be much improved, especially for portable devices that include tablets. This first post focuses mainly on the user interface called Metro, and some of the baked-in apps with the developers preview. Keep in mind that this is merely my own opinions and experience based on using the dev version of the new OS for a few days, and not on an actual tablet (which would probably be a much more realistic and satisfying test).
New Start Menu
After installing the developer preview I noted that the traditional Windows login is a lot different (even the Windows start/shutdown animation is different featuring a rotating circle of dots), and much like I am used to seeing on the newer Windows Phone OS (you will hear that "is like WP 7" mantra repeated many times during this review). My guess is that MS is borrowing heavily from the new and improved look-n-feel of the mobile OS. It was cool for like a minute, until you tire of constantly dragging up the lock screen when you log on. You can also configure Windows 8 to use your Live ID as a basis for login. I imagine that will enable all sorts of wonderful synergy for those of us with Live Spaces resources to connect to and share, but so far in this preview haven't really seen much of that out-of-the-box. I was looking forward to mounting my Sky Drive as a share, for example (much as I can with Ubuntu One on Ubuntu), but so far have not found how to do it (if it is even possible).
There is a new Start menu system that replaces the old simple desktop experience in previous versions of Windows. It's called Metro. No matter where you are, navigation-wise, you can get to the Start menu by dragging the pointer pointer or focusing on the lower-left corner. The Metro environment is built on a dynamic matrix of panels/tiles that are selectable. If your app includes some web 2.0 technology involving RSS or web services, shouldn't be that hard to integrate it into Metro and make it dynamic. Such tiles will actually display the updating content, and of course apps that monitor feeds (weather, news, stocks) are easily made into tiles that actually do something besides functioning as a static launcher (i.e. current desktop shortcuts). Of course, the old underlying OS (which appears to be configurable much like current Windows 7) is still available, and can be accessed (see an example video below in the section on Web Browsing).
The main theme behind Metro seems to be austere, easy-to-use functionality. App window displays have little or no controls/buttons by default that appear, and apps launch in the full window space. If there isn't much to do in the app, the result is a lot of wasted white space on screen. To activate additional functions requires an action (like right mouse-click), which will pop a menu along the bottom or top. To display apps side-by-side in a split view like in the normal desktop user space does not appear to be possible (or at least I didn't discover a way to do so). The straight-up Windows desktop is quickly available through a tile though, so I guess not that big of a deal if you need the traditional windowing functions. Switching between apps is facilitated by a small thumbnail pop-up (see below) that will appear (showing a shot of the last app state) if you move your mouse to the left edge of the screen, which is pretty nifty. Of course Alt-Tab on the KB still provides it's wonderful app switching ability.
Well, if there's one thing Apple proved with iPhone is that it's all about the apps. Some might say iOS is little more than a basic launchpad for apps, and when I consider how much I use any of the internal apps on my iPad--versus the huge amount of external apps I rely on--I would have to agree. Microsoft seems to have adopted a similar philosophy for Win 8, in keeping the OS mostly out of the way. I have so far played with a handful of the apps that I will mention here, and so far am pretty impressed.
The PictStream app is an image stream viewer that allows you to subscribe to Flickr image feeds. I couldn't get the app to actually save my preferences and it kept displaying the same images over and over, but still pretty cool if you are super photo stream addicted.
The News reader app seems pretty much like what I remember from testing the last Windows Phone device I reviewed over at our sister blog at Smartphonemag.com. You can add news feeds from the available list or put in a custom feed. I could not locate a way to import subscriptions from other services like Google Reader, or OPML exported lists...see below:
One of my favorite apps is a drawing app called PaintPlay. It's a standout just for the simple fact that it is much like using a drawing pad, and very easy to use. You can select different brush types, strokes, and color depths, and selecting a color pallete (I really like the crayon mode as you can probably tell)...see below:
MeasureIt is a pretty cool idea (why can't I think of stuff like this?). You snap or import a picture into the app, set the scale, and you can quickly get accurate measurements of any space in the photograph by either dragging a circular area or using a straight line annotation of the area in question. Very useful if you are wondering if that new couch will fit.
Web Browsing is about the coolest thing about the new version of Windows, because the browser seems much like the version adopted in Windows Phone 7. Like many mobile browsers, it offers a stripped down, and easy to use menu system, and is very touch aware, supporting multi-touch for zooming, etc. When opening a new page, the history list selector appears, and right-select also will display a thumbnail image of other open tabs at the top. You can quickly swap between tabs here, or select from a history of pages. Switching back to more familiar territory is easily done via more traditional IE running in a normal desktop window. You can get an idea below..
So, that's probably enough for this first post. I need to try to get a few more things working (like sound, and graphics acceleration) before I can fully assess this preview version of the new operating system. Outside of a few apps not opening, or even having features ready for this release, it runs well. I need to learn a bit more about all the new features (only been toying with it for a few days now), before really giving a measured opinion, but my initial reaction is very favorable. I like the Metro experience, and also like being able to switch back to a more traditional desktop as well. I don't know if this aspect will survive to the final release, but it works well IMHO. Microsoft gained back some respect with Windows 7 (after the horrors of Vista), and it looks like 8 will build on this trend!
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