10 Months with Windows 8 (pre-RTM) on the Build Slate

In September 2011, attendees of the Build conference received a slate PC.  I thought I’d summarise my experience of Windows 8 over this time as we close in on the RTM.

It was based on the Samsung Series 7 (available as retail) but it had a different spec: i5 CPU, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD, and lots of sensors that weren’t in the original.  Notice the “prototype hardware” sticker on the side.

I don’t want to talk about the hardware too much, that’s because it is not representative of what built-for-Windows 8 hardware will be.  It was a prototype built on Intel chipsets that were available last year.  For example, it has 3.5-4 hours battery life and the new Lenovo W530 with an i7 CPU and a 9 slice battery claims to get over 20 hours.  There’s no comparison.  Check out the recently announced Microsoft Surface to see what can be done now with tablets and slate PCs.  Instead, I want to focus on my Windows 8 experience.

Windows 8 Developer Preview

The name says it all; it was intended to give app/drivers something to start on.  As a user experience, the DevPrev was ropey (a term we use to describe a state of hangover).  It worked but it needed improvement.  The performance was good.  Yes, it crashed quite a bit.  I did my share of resets.  I installed the feedback tool and I remember one night of posting feedback that I’d built up over time.

There were some interesting apps to play with that were built-into the OS.  The app store was not live.  Most of the apps were built by students and were basic enough; but they existed to demonstrate the capabilities of the OS in terms of UI, design, and sensor utilisation.  We quickly got bored of the apps; we needed a store.

As a touch UI, it really only took a 10-15 minutes of trying things out to learn.  Swipe from the edges and see what’s there.  You can show a person this in less than 5 minutes.

I had a boot-from-VHD on my work laptop.  I was not a big fan of the keyboard/mouse experience at first, but I really liked having Hyper-V in an end user OS.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview

There was no traditional beta with a page on Connect.  The Consumer Preview was a smoother build, ready for IT Pros and end users to play around with.  The UI was pretty much finished, with some improvements from user feedback.

The big news was that the CP build included access to a live Microsoft Store.  Some of the apps were poor.  The Twitter apps were dreadful, making very poor use of the space.  Some apps were excellent; the Tube Rider boat racing game was a great demonstration of what could be done with the hardware.  And traditional big names appeared such as Cut The Rope.  SkyDrive was available too, and this started to show of the 3-screens-and-a-cloud concept, unifying the user’s cloud-based experience across many devices.

I upgraded the slate the day that the CP release went public, using an online updater that Build attendees could use.  It was a seriously smooth upgrade.  I guess that’s what people will experience when they avail of the $40 upgrade to Windows 8.

My work laptop VHD build also was upgraded.  I started to warm to the experience of using it via keyboard and mouse.

Windows 8 Release Preview

Now we’re cookin’ with diesel!

My work laptop was wiped and rebuilt with Windows 8 with Hyper-V enabled.  I leverage the SSD and hybrid drive to demo deployment stuff like System Center 2012 Configuration Manager.  I installed an old Samsung N150 (single core Atom CPU) netbook to Windows 8 RP and it’s pretty responsive.  By now I’m used to using the Metro UI with keyboard and mouse, and it’s started to become muscle memory.

The Build slate was upgraded too.  The UI is so snappy. The on-screen keyboard is much better than the iPad one (typing speed). The Microsoft Store was updated. Some apps were removed, and new ones were added. The list is increasing still. Of the games, there is an adventure game (can’t remember the name) that shows a blend of pretty graphics with touch UI. MetroTwit appeared as a beta and showed how to do a Twitter app on Metro; it’s similar to the ordinary desktop version but different, taking advantage of the possibilities of a touch UI.  I also like a news app called Discourse which allows you to create your own news feeds based on lots of news sites (could do with more sports stuff!).

On 2 of the 3 nights I’ve been home this week (the 3rd night I was busy blogging), I’ve found myself reaching out for the Slate PC and using it for several hours while watching TV while browsing, checking email, etc.  That’s a good sign; it means that the Metro UI works.

I have SkyDrive up and running, MetroTwit works pretty well (for a beta), and I’ve connected the People app to the various social apps that I’m on.  The only reason I go to the desktop UI is to launch VLC (I don’t like the Videos app) or to view web sites with plugins such as Netflix (a Netflix app is already announced for post-RTM).

I showed the slate with the RP build to some folks at work.  They were impressed.  The current batch of apps show off much more potential than what was in the original DevPrev build.

The Future

We know that there are more apps lined up for post-RTM.  Tube Rider is “coming soon” in one of the XBox apps.  Netflix was shown at the Surface announcement.  App availability is the key to Windows 8.  Microsoft obviously plans to make money from the apps; notice how cheap the upgrades are for new Windows 7 sales ($15) or existing Windows owners ($40).  Microsoft won’t make a profit there, but they will make a profit from games (did you know Xbox 360 is sold at cost or at a loss?). 

We think the RTM will be end of July or August and GA will be October.  That is pure speculation but Steven Sinofsky has a reputation as a stickler for predictable schedules and this would tie in with Windows 7.  Plus this what clued-in reporters like Mary Jo Foley are hearing.

I will upgrade my build slate and my work laptop as soon as I can.  My ultrabook will be another matter; I have a project going on and I might not want to rock the boat until that project completes.  I would hope that the touchpad in my UX31 can support Windows 8 gestures – there’s a chance that it will because it has basic gesture support on Windows 7.  Who knows!

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