Windows 8 First Impressions


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Just like many thousands of geeks around the world I downloaded the Windows 8 preview from Microsoft’s website:

and spent some time playing with it.

Being an embedded developer I don’t have any powerful machine lying unused in my office, so I installed Windows 8 on a very low-spec machine, a 1.6GHz Atom with 1GB of RAM and a 120GB HD (taken from an old mac). First of all I must say that I’m pretty impressed by the responsiveness of the new UI. I’m not saying that the OS can do magic and make that machine running faster than my i5 laptop… some operations are very slow, but the system remains responsive and, at least, pushing the windows key brings you back to the new “home screen” (it’s no longer a desktop and with all those tiles… maybe we can call it “floortop”) in less than a second, this is an effect of the new WinRT API that use asynchronous calls for any activity that could take more than a few milliseconds, I suppose. As an user this is something that I really appreciate (being watching at a “frozen” PC waiting that it takes some of its precious CPU time to take care of your actions is quite frustrating!), as a developer I’m very interested in discovering if this new model will provide the same ease of use and robustness of the synchronous one.

I had a chance to play with the metro UI using my Windows Phone 7, so this is not a surprise. I appreciate the clean visual layout and the clever usage of information text that provides more information than the one provided by “traditional” icon-based user interfaces. On the other side, knowing that this implementation of the metro UI is not compatible with the Windows Phone one makes this system look already obsolete compared to the new wave of tablets powered by Win8 that is going to reach the market as soon as the OS will be available next year.

I didn’t like much the “integration” with the desktop that now looks like an external app (it reminds me of “Microsoft Bob”… but many of the people out there are too young to remember it), I would like to see a better integration between the new user interface and “legacy” desktop application but, honestly, I don’t have any idea about how to do it better…

The only problem I had during setup was with the creation of a new partition on the hard drive that come from an old mac. Quitting the installer (that seems to be based on WinPE3, like the one used by Windows 7 and Windows Embedded Standard 7) and selecting “advanced tools\command prompt” allowed me to execute diskpart and fix the issue by cleaning existing partitions and converting the disk partition table to MBR.

As an embedded developer I would like to see how the new OS performs on the Arm architecture, but we will have to wait for some more time (I think that “installing” it on an Arm-based device will be more complicated and maybe only OEMs will be allowed to do it) and I would like also to know if and when this new cool technology will be made available on embedded devices. I think that many kind of devices could benefit from the rich UI and the new “sandboxed” app model and the fact that the developer preview runs so well even on low-spec hardware make me positive about the fact that its adoption on embedded devices could be fast and compatible with the low-cost, low-power requirements of the embedded world.

posted on Saturday, September 17, 2011 2:39 AM Print
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