The New Metro Start Screen
The improved Start Screen offers much more customisation than the previous builds.

I’ve posted a few articles on my views of Windows 8 before. My view up until now has been that Windows 8 has some good ideas, but it’s been poorly implemented for desktop users with a keyboard and mouse. I’ve used the Developer Preview, Consumer Preview, Release Preview and now, thanks to MSDN, I’m trying the RTM, Build 9200. The final build of Windows 8. This is the version that you would be using on your PC, laptop, tablet or Surface when it’s released to the general public on the 26th of October. So have the changes in the RTM been enough to change my opinion of Windows 8 as an OS?

Well, I’ll be trying something different with the RTM. Up until now, I’ve used the Previews for a few hours at a time before becoming so angry and frustrated at how disjointed and unintuitive the user experience was, I would rage-quit VMWare and go back to Windows 7. The RTM is the first version of Windows 8 I’ve used that feels like a finished product – which is good, because that’s exactly what it is. I was using Windows 7 as my daily OS by the Release Candidate stage, so stability and a good experience were longer coming to Windows 8. But that’s to be expected – because it’s such a radical change from anything that’s come before.

So, for the RTM, I’m going to spend the next 7 days using the Windows 8 RTM every day, all day. I will spend as much time on Windows 8 as possible, reverting back to Windows 7 only for a couple of development environments that are heavily customised and would be a pain to install and set up on Windows 8 again.

Now that I’ve been using the RTM for a couple of days, I’ve actually grown to like it a lot more than I have previously. When I first tried the Developer Preview, I hated it. It was buggy, slow and it was so damn green. It was like an alien had vomited over the screen and scattered some Duplo blocks everywhere. The previews that followed were an improvement, but I still found it awkward to use and jarring every time I switched between the classic Desktop and the new Metro (or whatever it’s called today) Start Screen. This feels different. It feels polished, it’s fast and everything works. The “snappiness” of the RTM in a virtual machine on a hard drive is  very close to native Windows 7 on an SSD, and that is quite something. This is the first version I haven’t given up on.

Apps like Tweetro really showcase the capabilities of the new platform.
Apps like Tweetro really showcase the capabilities of the new platform.

I’m using the Metro version of Chrome at the moment (an interesting pseudo-Metro app that breaks almost every single Metro guideline from Microsoft) to write this and it feels no different to the desktop version. The Metro Start Screen itself has more customization options, with more colours and naff patterns – dubbed “tattoos” by Microsoft in an attempt to be hipster. It didn’t really work. Another major change in the RTM build is the removal of the Windows Aero theme. Yes, the transparent window glass is now gone, replaced by a flat colour frame that can be customised by the user, or change colour dynamically based on the colours of your desktop wallpaper. I was a big fan of Aero – as long as you had a PC powerful enough to run it, it worked well and looked slick. I was disappointed when I heard it was being dropped from Windows 8, but it’s replacement is nicer than I thought it would be, so it’s not really that big an issue.

Another feature change for the RTM is the removal of Desktop Gadgets. After some recent security scares, Microsoft decided to pull the functionality, and it’s recommended that you install a patch to remove them from Windows 7 and Vista as well. There are plenty of alternatives (like Rainmeter) but I liked and used the gadgets on Windows 7 as a way to monitor my hardware, so I’ll probably miss that functionality.

I’m going to persevere with this version, and I hope to do some smaller posts over the next 7 days with some cool things that I’ve found. If Microsoft really have pulled it off, and the final version of Metro is as functional and intuitive as it first seems, then they’ll be on to a winner. I hope that they have, because features like Storage Spaces and Hyper-V are really worthwhile and would be enough to entice me to buy an upgrade to the Professional version – but all these new tools mean nothing without a good user experience. I will reserve judgement until next Friday.