Microsoft’s Marmite

Marmite is a British food – a paste that is smeared on bread or toast. It has a very distinctive taste, which splits people into two camps: they either love it or hate it.This polarised reaction seems to be how people are reacting to Microsoft’s Windows 8 Consumer Preview: they either love it or hate it. This post is about my first impressions of W8CP.

As I said I would, I’ve installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and have been playing with it over the past couple of days. There are several ways to install it: in a virtual machine, on a separate drive partition for dual-boot with Windows 7, but I’ve gone for the highwire act – I’ve done an upgrade installation. My PC is no longer running Windows 7, but it is running only Windows 8.

I haven’t completely lost my mind – I took a full backup of my running Windows 7 installation immediately prior to installing the Consumer Preview, so I can always rollback to Windows 7 if I lose my nerve.

So now, what I see when I sign on to Windows 8 is something like this:

W8CP 01

This Start screen has effectively replaced the Start button, that has been a part of Windows since Windows 95. On the traditional Desktop view in Windows 8, there is no Start button, instead, when you mouse down to the bottom left corner of the Desktop (where the Start button traditionally was), you get a small pictogram of the Start screen. Clicking the mouse brings you to the Start screen itself.

It’s certainly a shock to the system, and I found it needed getting used to. Some people have already found ways of forcing the traditional Start button back into Windows 8, but I don’t want to go down that route. I’d rather give Windows 8 a chance, and see how I feel about the UI after a few weeks.

I’ve already started adding icons for some of my most-used applications onto the Start screen, and am starting to use the Search function much more than I used to in Windows 7.

One thing that I am definitely finding at the moment: I spend the majority of my time on the traditional Desktop, using traditional applications. The much-vaunted Metro Apps that have shipped with the Consumer Preview are dumbed down too far for me. To be fair, many of them are previews themselves, and Microsoft claim that they will be improved for final release. Still, I don’t think Microsoft has done itself any favours by shipping such limited Apps in the Preview. Let’s look at a few examples.

The Mail App. Unless you have a Hotmail, Google, or Exchange account, you won’t be able to use the Mail App – it has no support for IMAP or POP mail servers. Guess what I have? Yup, my Internet Service Provider supports IMAP and POP mail services. So I won’t be using the Mail App. One other thing, it is just a very simple mail application. I use Windows Live Mail as my mail client, and this integrates my mail, my calendar, and my contacts list. In Windows 8, these are separate applications. I like the integrated approach. Windows 8 seems to be taking a step backwards. Although Microsoft have introduced a new mechanism for sharing information between apps in Windows 8, at the moment all three, Mail, Calendar and People apps, plaintively bleat that they can’t share… This may change on final release. I hope so.

The Maps App. The Search function in this app doesn’t work. Here, for example, it claims it can’t find Amsterdam:

W8CP 02

Yet, strangely enough, it works with driving directions:

W8CP 03

Update 7 March 2012: The Map App was updated today, and that seems to have fixed the search problem. Excellent.

The Photos App. Another very simple application, really only suitable for searching and browsing. It will display photos held both locally and online. Note that in the screenshot below, there is no Facebook panel shown, because I don’t use Facebook, so I removed the panel.

W8CP 04

At least the searches are aware of tags in the photos, so searching for the name of my dog turns up all the photos that have been tagged “Watson”:

W8CP 05

However, unlike Windows Live Photo Gallery, I don’t think you can do complex searches (a AND b, but NOT c), and there’s certainly no function for editing photos as WLPG has. Once again, though, this is a preview – the final release may be another story. The Photos app can Share with the Mail app, and use it to send photos via email; either as attachments or via Skydrive. However, unlike WLPG, there doesn’t seem to be any way of choosing the size of the photo files that you send. Update 13 March 2012: hmm, even the Search functiona has problems at the moment. I discovered today that it finds less photos with a given tag than actually exist. It seems to only find about half the number it should be finding.

The Music App. You may have thought that Windows Media Player and the Zune application were limited – this one’s even worse. No Podcast support, no “Play to” support, no way to view and filter your collection other than by Album, Artist, Song, and Genre.

The opportunity is here for this app to be a full DLNA implementation – a player, a renderer and a control device (think of a Windows 8 tablet running this app being used to control your home’s networked media – music, video, movies, photos – stored locally and in the Cloud). Unless this app improves, it will be a missed opportunity. The Consumer Preview comes with the old Windows Media Center application, that has been around since 2005. I would like to think that Microsoft are revamping it for Windows 8…

And so it goes – I don’t think I’ve found a single app yet that I find I’m using in preference to an equivalent traditional Windows 7 application. Yes, it’s early days; but thus far, I find the experience disappointing.

The other thing I’m noticing is that my system feels sluggish. Not too much (at least not too often), but it has definitely slowed. Once again, this is to be expected with a beta, so I’m pretty confident that come final release, things will have improved so that it is no longer an issue.

The most positive thing I’m noticing at the moment is that underneath it all, Windows 8 is running all my Windows 7 applications without (so far) any issue. I’m very hopeful that I can continue to use the Consumer Preview on my main PC as my everyday operating system.

The one big concern I have is that the issue of being unable to change my country of residence in the Windows Store could be a make or break issue for me.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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7 Responses to Microsoft’s Marmite

  1. technogran says:

    Geoff, if you right click on any of the apps that you have used, you will see a ‘feedback’ button, and I do hope that you have used it. I too found it couldn’t find my location, despite the fact that Windows phone found me straight away! Also the ‘people’ app in Windows 8 is no where near as good as the one on my Windows phone which really makes me far more disappointed than you, because I expected the same level in both. But I am also going to ride it through and I am getting far more used to the tiles. I did want to try and use only the apps, but my ISP account is also POP so I’ve had to resort to using Live Mail and of course, there’s blogging to be done which means using Live Writer! Do give feedback though Geoff about any problems that you have found. It only takes a moment to do.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      TG – don’t worry, I’ve made good use of the Feedback facility! I’ve also rated/reviewed the Apps in Windows Store.

      I’m intrigued as to why W8 thinks my location is in Dinxperlo – I’m actually about 15 kilometres from there. Clearly my PC doesn’t have GPS, so how is it getting a location at all?

      It’s funny, Metro on the Phone works very well, but so far on the PC it feels like a toy. Perhaps it’s because I know that the PC is capable of so much more, and that Metro and its Apps haven’t scaled up as well as they’ve scaled down…

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