Windows 8 Consumer Preview - improving the developer and user experiences
It's been two days since the release of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, it hit a million downloads and I managed to install it on my production machine without any problems. Compared to the Developer Preview, it is a huge step forward from all directions, both consumer and developer-focuses. A large amount of bugs is fixed and the general feeling is that the OS is much more solid now. Let's talk about general experiences.
This article is based on some personal observations. What's here is related to the components that matter to me and my opinion might not be the same as yours on the topic. Feel free to leave feedback.
The lack of the start button
It's not there anymore and I don't miss it. I rarely used it anyway, since with Windows 7, all of my most frequently used applications were pinned to the taskbar. Others were always on the desktop, and if anything - the quickest way in a lot of cases was the Run dialog. Of course, for the average user it might take a while to get used to this change, but you should remember that the general application launch experience is unified through the taskbar and the Metro start screen. It is getting really close to what MacOS X and Ubuntu already do (talking about the taskbar), but on steroids.
From now on, you should not expect your application to be accessible from the Start Menu. Make sure that you offer the user as many capabilities as possible through the main application - a single launch point. No more ReadMe.doc additional tool listings in the dedicated sub-folder. If you have an application suite, consider creating a single launcher for the application set.
Native support for PDF
There is now an application called Windows Reader that natively supports the PDF (XPS too, by the way). If you remember the good old days of Windows CE, you probably know there was an application called Microsoft Reader. It was later dropped and now it makes a second appearance in a much more polished state in Windows 8.
The reading experience is great, and although it is lacking some capabilities present in Adobe Reader (e.g. printing), it is a great application to read e-books. For now it cuts an application out of the "Don't forget to install" list for me, although I suspect that I might need the full reader to complete some official documents.
Again, one less application to worry about. ISO files are automatically mounted on double-click, and as a bonus feature - there is no "single drive" restriction. So if you decide to get two images up at once, you will get two virtual drives with read file access. It is exactly the simplistic experience users want to see - click and go. No need for additional configuration or driver installation.
Look at the screenshot above and tell me what do you see? You get bonus points if you said Windows Phone. Xbox Live, People Hub, Calendar, Internet Explorer, Messaging, Maps and so on - it is the same Metro experience from a user's perspective. It also makes it extremely easy for us - the developers, to create an environment that is well-integrated across two platforms. We already saw how a Windows Phone application was ported to Windows 8 with 90% of the code base intact, and the unique set of UI conventions facilitates easier adoption of upcoming products.
Performance improvements and API fixes
The overall Windows 8 performance improved significantly and many APIs were fixed. I remember having issues with the stock web camera, as well as with direct media playback from a third-party Metro application - it is all fixed now. I am not saying this about the entire API set, since I am yet to use most of it, but at least for the parts that I am using - it is finally possible to integrate those in my projects and not worry about the app crashing because of an unidentified exception. Also, the transitions are much smoother in a lot of parts of the OS, which makes it easier on the eye for a lot of users.