I've been waiting for the final release of Windows 8 before writing this review. Recently Microsoft released the RTM (Ready To Manufacture), which is the version they'll be shipping to consumers this October. I've been using Windows 8 on and off since the early developer previews. This last week, I've had it installed on my laptop which is most commonly used for skype and monitoring the Netduino chatroom. Since installing Windows 8 I've done some development on my laptop as well as used it for general web browsing and the like.
The short version of my reivew is something like this;
While Windows 8 may be great to tablets and any other primarily touch devices, but as a desktop operating system Metro makes the system worthless.
The slightly longer version is as follows;
Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to finaly update the Windows UI in a radical way and to also make Windows more usefull in mobile applications such as tablets. This is a good thing, but abandoning the old UI is a mistake. The Metro model makes multitasking difficault if not nearly impossible. The first problem is the new start menu; In Windows 7 and Vista one is able to launch a new program with little to no significant mental context switching. Simply press the Windows Key and start typing the name of the application, then press enter when the application you want is present. This task can be performed without even having to move your eyes off of whatever your working on. In Windows 8 performing this same operation will produce the same results (the application launching) however the problem comes from the significant amount of additional mental context switching that occurs when a full screen application (the start menu) launches. This otherwise seemingly small change causes such a significant context switch, which makes launching even small applications becomes a task akin to taking a phone call, or responding to an IM. The immediate loss in productivity is noticable and rather significant.
The new Metro UI further hurts usability when we talk about multitasking. While Metro allows a user to run multiple apps at once there is a big caveot, 1 app can occupy 1/3 of the screen, while the other must occupy the other 2/3 (divided verticly). No options are provided to have more than 2 apps, nor to change the perportions. Many Metro apps loose parts of thier UI when they are pinned to the screen like this, Google Chrome for example looses the entire UI outside the viewport. This prevents changing tabs (ctrl+# doesn't work for Chrome in Metro) or navigating away by any means other than clicking links in the current page. Multitasking between Metro and non-metro apps is allowed but only as described above (1/3 & 2/3) where you have to pin the desktop to one of those portions and your non-metro apps must appear within that space. Making simple changes to things in Metro such as which programs are displayed on the start menu, or in what order requires the user to right click one object then they can right click additional objects. The action of right clicking presents the user with a menubar across the bottom of the screen with a hand full of buttons to do the basic tasks. However to get to the settings for the computer or for a given application the user has to move the mouse to the upper right hand cornor of the screen then move it down unto the new menubar that is presented. For the sake of usability simply placing a settings button on the lower menu bar would have made far more sense. This right hand menu is further only quickly explained to the uesr in a screen that will in most cases never be read, I think Joel Spolsky said it best.
1. Users don't have the manual, and if they did, they wouldn't read it.
2. In fact, users can't read anything, and if they could, they wouldn't want to.
The Start Menu further is a problem, as it is no longer sub-divided in any significant way. Every entry that would traditionaly be on your start menu under All Programs -> Company/App Name -> * is now directly on the start menu with everything else. Cleaning this up requires right-clicking on everything you want to remove to invoke the lower menu so that you can unpin it. This is remarkably difficault on a trackpad.
Windows 8 continues support for multiple displays but adds a few new interesting tidbits. First, the taskbar (without the start button) is displayed on both screens, mirrored. This is an interesting feature, in Windows Vista and 7, I use UltraMon to show a second task bar on my nth display, but I only display the applications that are on that display on the task bar there. Displaying every running non-metro app on every screen seems a bit odd to say the least.
As a software developer and server administrator I can't see myself making the switch to Windows 8. Often I require far too much data to be viewed at once on screen for this model to work and with the additional overhead requried to launch applcations it's a no go.