Monthly Archives: June 2012

10 things I love about Windows 8 (Release Preview)

This follows on from my post earlier this week titled 5 Little things that are annoying me about Windows 8 (Release Preview).

So for balance I am talking positive and talking about the features and options in Windows 8 that really make that upgrade worthwhile (or at least things where you go .. “cool!”).

I am very much ignoring features like “file history” as this is really an existing feature (Previous Versions) with a different name. So .. in no particular order … here are my top 10 ..

#1 Updated Task Manager

This is one area of Windows needing a facelift for quite some time now, and this version has several improvements.

The most noticeable part is that the standard “Process” screen has been uplifted. The columns are simplified and show a colour-coded representation of how much strain they are putting on your system (they turn yellow, orange and eventually red if they start causing a bottleneck and maxing out your system).

The “Performance” screen looks pretty similar, but the graphs have been given a bit of a facelift and now show a neat real-time graph for each component, while showing the detailed view in the main window.

Equally cool is the network information which shows you traffic (upload / download) for your network connections.

There is also a very cool “App History” tab which shows you how much CPU time (hours / minutes / seconds) and how much network resources your apps have consumed.

This not only gives you an insight to how much you use your apps (useful for those you have paid for!) but also which ones are using your all important network bandwidth (which will be incredibly useful for those on 3G or tariff network connections).

#2 Updated file transfer dialog

Windows explorer has also had a facelift, but the one I like the most is the file transfer dialog. The main change here is a graph showing you the history of the file transfer speed. These also stack so if you have multiple files being transferred they are all docked into the same window!

#3 Natively mount ISO images

This is one I’ve been waiting for, and always used to end up installing some third party ISO app (such as “MagicISO”.

Now you can just right-click on your ISO image and select “Mount” at which point it appears as a drive letter. This is great for downloading and installing tools and apps from MSDN or digital download sites. Most of my VMs use mounted ISOs as well so I can use the same ISO for both! 🙂

Easily right click on an ISO to mount it

And it appears as a new Drive Letter 🙂

#4 Hyper-V and Native VHD Mounting

Another brilliant add on (and “finally” moment). Virtual PC really was terrible and I have always stuck to VMware Workstation.

Now they have brought together the full Server 2012 Hyper-V experience to Windows 8 and much missed it has been (you simply have to add “Hyper -V” as one of the selectable “Windows Features” and off you go!)

Along with this you also get VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) mounting too, which is the native format used for Hyper-V. This works in the same way as ISO images described above. I love this feature as it means you can check the contents of your VM even if the machine is turned off (so you don’t need to waste CPU / RAM / boot time to get a couple of files from it).

#5 Storage Spaces .. hot expandable software RAID?

This is a great alternative to using RAID setup. It basically creates a mirrored array using a new distributed file system where you have two or more physical drives. They don’t have to be identical drives (although similar performance will certainly help matters!).

Windows will then split files across both drives so it can recover the contents when one of your drives fails, a particular gotcha it seems for people with a history of failing HDD or SSD (Chris O’Brien .. I really hope you are reading this!)

The best thing about this “Storage Pool” is that you can expand it on-the-fly with additional drive storage, so if you get another hard drive you just plug in your partition and off it goes.

Mainly I can see this being useful for full desktop workstations (with multiple drive bays) or people using Windows 8 for their home entertainment / NAS replacement. When your storage gets a little low just slap in another drive and off it goes 🙂

Note – it was a bit hard to find, right-click on the bottom right to get to Control Panel, and its under “System and Security”

#6 Lock Screen and Live Tiles

Well lets face it, I couldn’t really get away without mentioned the Lock Screen and the Live Tiles functionality. I’ve had a Windows Phone for a couple of years now and I do really like the Lock Screen notifications (although I admit I don’t really use Live Tiles on Windows 8 .. but I can see this being awesome for people who live in Metro, especially touch-screen tablets and Windows 8 RT environments).

The lock screen in particular, showing up Metro Apps (and you can configure which ones can post updates .. if any!). In particular I have two Mail accounts (Hotmail and Exchange) so I can see “at a glance” without even logging back in whether or not I have any new emails or messages.

#7 Fully Integrated Search

Another item that some of us have been crying out for. You can now search pretty much everything from one place. Can’t find it in your Apps? check the App Store, or check your file system, or even check.

The search has a nice internet-driven auto-complete, and switching from one search to another is a breeze. If the app you are using also has search capabilities then that filter will be automatically selected for you.

Search loads from the right-pinned “Charms” bar so your main window is still visible

#8 Login using Microsoft Account

I have to admit I was a little sceptical about this first off, but the more I’ve been using it the better I have found it. This basically allows you to login to your machine using a “Microsoft Account” (which for most of you will be a Live account which you use for Hotmail or SkyDrive).

The most obvious benefits when you first login is that it automatically configures a bunch of stuff for you:

  • Account picture automatically pulled from your online Live profile
  • Mail App automatically includes your Hotmail Account
  • SkyDrive app is pre-configured for your online SkyDrive folders
  • People and Messaging hubs automatically sync with any “Live Connected” accounts such as Twitter and Facebook
  • Photo app automatically pulls content from SkyDrive / Facebook / etc

So a lot of the initial setup pain is already taken care of. This gets even better though when you look at “Sync Settings”  .. which seamlessly syncs to “the cloud”.

This includes a whole bunch of stuff such as:

  • Colours, backgrounds and themes
  • Browser settings, favourites and history
  • Language, Keyboard and input preferences
  • App settings and purchase history

It can even sync your passwords, although it does limit you to only doing this from a “Trusted PC” (which requires you to setup your “Trusted Device” using Live Essentials and configuring it through your Live Account settings).

#9 “Save to Microsoft Account” for BitLocker keys

For those who don’t know BitLocker is a drive encryption tool (which through recent enhancement now rivals TrueCrypt for performance and encryption capabilities). The premise is that your drive contents are encrypted, requiring a password for key token to “unlock” the drive on boot. This stops people from booting to another OS using a memory stick, or simply taking out your hard drive and putting it in another computer (thus bypassing any of the Operating System or NTFS permissions).

The main issue with BitLocker is if you need to move your hard drive or re-install Windows you can’t access the drive without a Recovery Key (a complex long-text string). Normally you would put this on a backup drive or memory stick to keep safe, but this always seemed a little “amateur” for me.

Well, Windows 8 now supports automatically backing up your key using your Microsoft Account! 🙂

This was a nice surprise which I really wasn’t expecting. I ended up removing BitLocker from my Windows 8 machine because the Release Preview clearly has some bugs in it and the disk performance was about 50% lower when turned on (and hardly noticeable at all in Windows 7) so a few IO issues to iron out, but definitely showing promise!

#10 Metered Network Support and Airplane Mode

To be honest, this was a must for any truly “mobile” device and I’m including both laptops and tablets here. Airplane mode is a simple one (instantly disables ALL wireless connectivity, including 3G/4G and Bluetooth). You can access this from the Network Connections side-bar (by clicking on your network icon in the system tray in Desktop Mode, or accessing the “Network” option from the Settings “Charms” menu.

This is a great companion for “Metered Connections” which allows Windows 8 to know if you are on a connection for which you get charged “per MB”.

This has several angles. First, when you setup a new connection (such as a WiFi hotspot) you can mark it as being a “Metered Connection”.

Once the connection is known as being “Metered” then all sorts of options start coming into play. There have been some telling signs in some of the other screenshots, but I’ve noticed this in a bunch of places which I will list out here:

  • Task Manager’s “App History” shows you how much network traffic has been sent over metered connections by each app you have installed
  • Sync Settings allows you to control whether you sync “over metered connections” to try and limit traffic when you are on a limited network connection (default no)
  • Device Manager allows you to configure whether to download “Device Software and Drivers” over metered connections or not (default no)

I’m sure there will be others (and I’ve probably missed a few) but the good news is that Metered Connections are front and centre!

..

So that’s all for now .. bear in mind this is just the Release Preview (build 8400) of Windows 8 so some things are bound to change and get switched about by the time the final commercial release comes around.

Anything you love about Windows 8 which I’ve not mentioned?? Please let me know in the comments 🙂

5 Little things that are annoying me about Windows 8 (Release Preview)

So Well, last week I took the plunge and got Windows 8 Release Preview (Build 8400) installed on my laptop. And so far the experience has been pretty good (very stable, very fast and no major glitches so far).

However, there are a few things that are annoying me (and if anyone knows me .. they know that its all these little things that REALLY annoy me).

[UPDATE – Please also see comparison post : 10 things I love about Windows 8 :)]

I know .. I know .. this is a release PREVIEW so it is really still in beta and a lot of things can change .. but there are some obvious flaws coming to the surface here, so without further ado, my list of..

Windows 8 (Release Preview) Pet Peeves

#1 Metro and the Taskbar

Now .. I have to admit I’m quite a fan of Metro. I have a Windows Phone 7.5 device (Nokia Lumia 800) and the metro interface is a very vibrant, quick, easy and (above all else) FUNCTIONAL interface.

However, there are some major annoyances that I’m finding impact on my day to day work, and the main one is that Metro Apps don’t appear in the Desktop Taskbar.

Now .. this might not be as bad as you think, but I spend a LOT of my working day in the Desktop mode (and therefore I have a lot of shortcuts pinned to the task bar) and like to use it for quick unobtrusive productivity notifications such as;

  • You’ve had some emails
  • Someone has started/posted to an instant chat
  • Your file has downloaded
  • Your application needs to tell you about something (i.e. it is flashing)

All of these happen at the bottom of the screen and don’t really “get in the way” .. the best bit is being able to “pin” favourite folders / tools / whatever into the taskbar button itself.

However .. a lot of default functionality runs as “Metro Apps” and the problem with Metro Apps is that they don’t run in the task bar. They go full-screen and you lose all of that notification information I described above… so far these apps include:

  • Mail (i.e. Email .. which is exactly why I don’t use it and instead use Outlook 2010)
  • Windows Reader (especially for PDF documents!)
  • Video
  • Music (although this will admittedly run in the background)

So .. just to be clear … you cannot watch a video using the Metro App while also keeping an eye on other “running apps” (such as downloads, several instant chat and email at the same time). Yes .. you can “pin” the other apps left and right .. but I don’t really want them there ALL THE TIME .. I just want to know if they are doing anything worth my attention.

#2 How the hell do you “close” a Metro App?

Yes yes .. I know .. you aren’t SUPPOSED to close them. The beauty of a Metro App is that it saves it’s state and consumes 0% CPU while it isn’t active onscreen (with a few exceptions .. such as music).

This is based on the model used for Windows Phone 7 where you don’t really need “multi-threaded” apps because for most productivity apps they aren’t doing anything if they aren’t in focus.

However … the biggest problem is that they appear in the Alt-TAB “App Switching” dialog…

In the screenshot above the Taskbar shows one program running (IE10) but there are a whole bunch of Metro Apps running in the background (including another IE10 instance in Metro)

This is going to confuse the shit out of end users ..

Now admittedly I’m thinking of my dad and my sister here.. but when you combine this fact with the apparent inability to CLOSE a Metro App ?? and you have a bit of a problem (especially with the “always on” mentality of the modern Tablet / Ultra-book device that never gets rebooted).

You can actually close them fine using the old Windows shortcut keys Alt-F4 but what percentage of the average user base knows this? (outside of developers, IT admins, tech geeks and power users??) .. I’m guess under 20% ..

#3 Move my mouse where??

Ok .. the removal of the Start Menu I could kind of stomach. I get where they are going with this and I know they want to get everyone using the new interface … but they REALLY need to put a tutorial in this for their commercial release..

The “gestures” (for want of a better word) for the main operational menus (as far as I can tell) are as follows:

  • Bottom-Left Corner, Left Click – Start Screen (yes .. the Metro one)
  • Bottom-Left Corner, Right Click – System Tools (for want of a better word .. access to Control Panel, Computer Management and such)
  • Bottom-Left Corner, move cursor up – App Switching Panel
  • Top-Left Corner, Left Click – cycle through currently running apps
  • Top-Left Corner, move cursor down – App Switching Panel
  • Top-Right Corner, move cursor down – “Charm Bar” (access to Search, Share, Start, Devices and Settings)
  • Bottom-Right Corner, move cursor up – “Charms Bar”

Now .. you can add to this list what you would “normally” find in a Windows environment

  • Bottom-Right Corner of Desktop View – Show Desktop button (which still works .. if the Charms Bar doesn’t get in the way)
  • Top-Left Corner – File Menu (when the app-switching button doesn’t get in the way)
  • Top-Right Corner – Close / Minimise buttons (when the Charms bar doesn’t get in the way)

So I really have 2 issues here. There being a lot of different (completely opposite) places to move my cursor around .. and …

How the hell am I supposed to know this ??

I’ve also got some screenshots to show you what some of this looks like..

First you move the mouse cursor bottom-left and the small slightly nasty looking “Start Screen” graphic appears (yes .. the fact that it shows the size and location of your ACTUAL pinned apps is kinda cool .. but it still looks like a Tetris puzzle from the 90’s!)

You then move your cursor “up a bit” and the “task switching” bar appears …

Similar experience for the “Charms” bar .. you move the cursor top-right (or bottom-right) to get it to show (with white icons and transparent background)

Then move cursor down a bit (or up) and the actual charms bar pins in for interactivity ..
The actual experience (once you’ve worked out what you are doing) is ok (and I’m sure in 5 years time I’ll swear its the best part of the interface) .. but expecting people to just “get” this ??
I see a lot of people struggling (especially the less technically literate!)

#4 Metro – Settings, Options and Menus – Keeping you on your toes!

This is a bit of a wail and complaint about the new Metro App interface and how they deal with things like settings, options, menus and the like.
When Windows 3.1 came out they provided a standard way of providing menus (and pretty much every single application for the next 20 years was using the good old File, Edit, View, Tools, Help menu bar). Didn’t really matter what you were using .. you knew where to look and generally where you would find it (apart from idiots who put Options / Preferences under the “Edit” menu).
However in Metro the interface seems to be a bit all over the place. You never really know where you are supposed to be looking, or how you are supposed to get there.
My new expectation is that if you right-click you get the menu bar popping up (NO idea how you’d do this with a touch-screen device .. if someone wants to tell me?)
Examples:
  • Start Screen – Bottom Right
  • IE10 – All 4 corners (although click on “Add Tab” in the top panel .. new option panel for pages appears … at the bottom !!)
  • Weather – Top Left, Bottom Left and Bottom Right
  • Mail – Bottom Right
  • Maps – Bottom Right
  • Windows Store – Top Left
  • Photos – Bottom Right
  • SkyDrive – Bottom Right
  • Calendar – Bottom Left and Bottom Right
  • Video – Bottom Right
  • News – Top Left
  • Sport – Top Left
  • Wikipedia (3rd Party App) – Bottom Left
I hope you can appreciate I don’t really know where to expect to find things .. and my eye is constantly switching from top to bottom, left to right. To make this worse I can see 3rd party apps using different icons for the same thing … or the potential for worse .. the same icon for something else!! (I can see this getting MUCH MUCH worse as the Windows Store starts filling up).
Does this make it “unusable”?? not at all .. I just find it annoying.
I’m hoping that once the commercial version comes out there is some form of “standard” for layout of options and menus. I think part of the problem is that the “touch screen” friendly interface means you don’t have very much room, which is why IE10 (one of the most functional “toolbar heavy” apps you’d want to use on a touchscreen device) has to resort to using all 4 corners of the screen.

#5 Metro .. or Desktop .. ?

This is my final frustration, and I’ve already found probably 3 major apps which I use every single day .. but can’t see myself ever really using the Metro App versions;
  • Web Browser
  • E-Mail
  • Twitter / Social
And this harks back to the problems with the Task Bar (Pet Peeve #1 and not being able to close them, Pet Peeve #2).
The problem is this:
  • Only Metro Apps will post statuses to the Lock Screen (like Music / Messaging / Weather / Email .. very very similar to Windows Phone 7 experience!)
  • Only Metro Apps support Live Tiles
However (as previously discussed)
  • Metro Apps always run full screen
  • Metro Apps are “touch” oriented and feel clunky with keyboard & mouse
  • Metro Apps don’t appear in the Task Bar!
So I’ve found myself configuring a Metro App like Mail (to get Live Tile / Lock Screen) but never actually running it! I just jump over to the Desktop and fire up Outlook instead (although I’ve very keen to see what the next “Metro” version of Outlook is like!)
But certainly my biggest issue is the separation between Metro and Desktop

I have basically replicated my Start Screen in the Task Bar

This just feels plain wrong .. why am I doing this twice? I never really felt the need to do this before (because the Desktop was everything, and the Start Menu was just a place to store the shortcuts for things “I use but not very often”) but now I almost feel like I have two computers.

To make things worse you can’t set an easy “default” app either for both environments. If you are in the Metro interface and click on a URL it will open the Metro Web Browser. It doesn’t prompt you, and I can’t work out how to override this to go to Desktop either.

Why is this important?? Well .. the Metro app doesn’t have the same favourites as the desktop app! (yep .. they are as far as I can tell completely independent!)

And I can see the same kinds of things happening. If I click “New Mail” is it going to force me to use the Metro “Mail” app or can I have it auto-prompt to the desktop “Outlook” instead? And if so .. how would I configure this?

Summary …

I think at the end of the day I can sum up my Pet Peeves on Windows 8 with this:

Desktop Workstation

My laptop is basically a desktop workstation. I want to use Desktop mode .. all the time. Do I like the some of the new features of Windows 8 ??? hell yes.. the new Security features, system recovery, awesome boot times, new task manager, windows explorer functions, ISO mounting and Hyper-V integration are almost worth the upgrade alone!

Do I like some of the new Metro Features?? Hell yes …. I love the Live Tiles .. I love the lock-screen updates and the interface is pretty neat and slick  … Will I actually use any Metro Applications?? No … I will avoid them like the plague (for reasons well stated here).

My parting shot … I am a Microsoft guy through and through. If you cut me in half it probably says “Windows” in there somewhere (and definitely says “SharePoint”) and these are peeves I am prepared to live with .. but will everyone else? I see a lot of new users struggling (a LOT) and I can see businesses very rapidly choosing to NOT deploy this.

I really hope Windows 8 is a success and I don’t think it will bomb like Windows Vista did (this doesn’t have any of the performance / compatibility issues that Vista did) .. but with some of these niggling things I think it might be a bit of a damp squib.