If you’ve read my last post, you’ll know that I’ve been using Windows 8 as my main OS for three days now, and I plan to keep on using it for a while. I said that I would post if I had interesting features or observations to make, and this is the first of those posts.

Aesthetics

Windows 8 Desktop customisation options
The customisation options for desktop applications is just as comprehensive as in Windows 7, just without the transparency option.

When I heard that Windows 8 was ditching Aero, I wasn’t sure whether or not if I’d like it. I hoped that Microsoft weren’t going to take a step back and we’d end up with something that looked like the Vista Basic theme again. Which frankly, looks dire. However, the solid flat colours are used to great effect and Microsoft are right, they do help you to focus on the window content, rather than being distracted when your wallpaper changes and you see it move through the “glass” of Aero for example. This will have undoubtedly had an effect on performance, and will allow users with lower spec hardware to get the same visual experience as those with powerful computers.

Performance

One word: fantastic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Windows 8 running on a hard drive in a virtual machine is just as snappy as Windows 7 on a physical SSD. Animations in both Metro and Desktop apps are fast and fluid, and transitions between Metro apps are smooth and flowing. I’ve been really impressed so far, and I can’t wait to see how it performs as a clean install on my SSD. Some other improvements that come under the Performance heading are the new, improved Task Manager, and the new Windows Copy features.

Windows 8 Task Manager in Performance View
The new Task Manager is clean and slightly Metro-esque – it should now be easier for less technically advanced users to make performance improvements.

The new Task Manager is cleaner than the old one, and easier to read for people who aren’t very technical. New columns show the Disk usage and also the amount of data downloaded by an app, which would be especially handy on a mobile Windows 8 device. A new Startup tab allows users to disable troublesome or slow-starting apps from running at boot, which makes your machine boot faster and allows non-technical users to make these tweaks without delving into msconfig, where the wrong changes can easily make a machine unbootable.

The file copy features are also much improved, with the window displaying a threaded view with a performance graph, allowing the user to see at-a-glance the file transfer rates, and pause larger copies to let a smaller one complete first, for instance. Another handy change is that Windows will leave files that it has a problem with until the end – no more kicking off a 1TB copy and coming back 3 days later to find that it stopped after 2MB because it wasn’t sure what to do with a system file.

Metro

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

The Metro apps have come on leaps and bounds since I’ve used them, with the ones I find myself using most being Tweetro, People and Messaging. Tweetro is a fantastic Twitter client which pops up notifications if you get a mention, which is nice. It also integrates with the lockscreen to provide notifications there. The People app can be a bit flaky at times in terms of stability, and it’s navigation stack when you press the back button isn’t always as you expect. However, it’s still a good app and Microsoft should make it more obvious that it can be used as a rudimentary Facebook client – because it looks fantastic. The Messaging app can also integrate into a number of services, and whilst it’s useful to get pop-up notifications of messages from a number of services, I have sometimes found that Facebook messages don’t always come through to the client, leaving my friends wondering why I’m suddenly ignoring them.

A couple of Metro apps that I don’t get along with so well are Weather and Mail. For Weather, I have just one minor and pedantic point. In the Previews, the live tile displayed the weather and a metro-style graphic depicting the weather. In the RTM, these graphics have changed to colourful and detailed pictures. This just feels at odds with the minimalist Metro ideals, and in my personal opinion it would have been better if they’d stuck with the white graphics.

To put it bluntly, Mail is a wee bit crap. It simply doesn’t have enough functions to be used as a mail client for people who receive a lot of emails, and a lack of basic things like drag and drop folder organisation seems an odd omission from Microsoft. Whilst there is still the excellent Windows Live Mail client for the desktop, it would have been nice to see Microsoft implement a fully comprehensive mail client in Metro.

Minor issues and pedantry aside, Windows 8 is so far a brilliant OS and I can still see myself using it day to day, which was not something I could have said up until the RTM.

Technical Information: JGM Software’s blogging panda is running Windows 8 Enterprise RTM in a VMWare virtual machine running on an Intel Core i5-3570K 3.8GHz with 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM. The VM has 4GB of RAM, utilizing around 3.5GB thanks to the 32-bit OS.