Thoughts on the Windows 8 Release Preview

I must admit, since Windows 8 is going to be released in October 2012, I was expecting Microsoft’s Metro Apps in the Windows 8 Release Preview to be more fully functional than they are. To my mind, they are still little better than toy demos. Yes, I know that they are still labelled “Previews”, but there’s precious little time left before October, and an enormous amount of functional ground left to cover.

For example, the Mail App still doesn’t have IMAP or POP support. This is a staggering omission, since these protocols are the foundation on which internet email clients have been based for years. Then there’s all the extra stuff in the Windows Live Mail client that is missing from the Metro App, such as message rules or the ability to define extra storage folders. Since my email is hosted on an IMAP mail server by my internet service provider, I haven’t been able to use the Metro Mail App in earnest. There may well be other shortcomings that I haven’t discovered yet.

The Music App only has four views of your music library: songs, albums, artists and playlists, as shown in this screenshot:

W8RP 04

Since you can’t define your own additional views, I miss the sorting by genre or composer that I have in Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center. And where is “Play to” or Podcast support? Missing in action, it would seem.

The Photos App is still only a viewer, not an organizer/editor/metadata tagger in the manner of Windows Live Photo Gallery or Picasa.

And then there are the bugs.

For example, amazingly, it turns out that the Photos App cannot deal with photos that are stored on a Windows Home Server. The Photos App is supposed to use the Picture Libraries that you define in Windows 8. In both Windows 7 and Windows 8, you have a standard set of libraries defined for your media. See this screenshot:

W8RP 01

The Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos libraries are defined by default in installations of Windows 7 or Windows 8. If you install the Zune client (which is currently needed to support Windows Phones), then you get a Library defined for Podcasts as well.

By default, each of these libraries point to the corresponding folder in your Windows account on your PC, plus a pointer to the corresponding folder in the Public account on your PC. Here’s the pointers for the Documents library as an example:

W8RP 02

You can add additional pointers to folder hierarchies held locally on your PC, or network locations. If you have a Windows Home Server, then it will automatically add pointers to the corresponding Shared Folders on the server. Here’s a screenshot of the pointers to my music folders in the Music Library as an example:

W8RP 03

However, it turns out that the Photos App can only handle local folders, not network locations, such as the Shared Folder for pictures held on a Windows Home Server.

This is even more curious when you realise that the Music App can handle music held in the Shared Folder for music on a Windows Home Server… That screenshot above of the Music App is showing music stored on my Windows Home Server.

Now, the team responsible for the Photos App have admitted this is an issue. In this thread on the Microsoft Answers forum, Analy Otero, a member of the Photos App’s team states:

The Photos team is aware of the concerns and issues that surround network locations, removable storage and Windows Home Servers. Unfortunately there are technical limitations to supporting them completely and correctly and as you have noted those locations are not supported in the Release Preview version either. 

Rest assured that we are want to see these scenarios work and we aspire to support them just as all of you do so that you can use the Photos app as one place to see all of your photos regardless of where they are.

If you have your photos in other PCs (Vista, Win7 or Win8 machines) you have the option to install the recently released SkyDrive client on them to be able to fetch files from them from anywhere. This includes being able to browse all your photos (and videos) from the Photos app as well. Definitely check it out if you have a chance.

Thanks for the feedback, we’re definitely are listening and understand that support for WHS and other network locations is important for you.

Notice that she mentions that the SkyDrive client can be used as a workaround to allow the Photos App to access files and folders held on other PCs in your network. It’s not clear whether the client is officially supported on the WHS operating system. This post on the SkyDrive forum does say that it will run on Windows Server 2008 R2, and that is the operating system that underlies WHS 2011. However, whether this also means that Microsoft will support the use of the client on WHS 2011 is another matter.  Update: Analy Otero has confirmed that Microsoft does not support the use of the SkyDrive client on WHS 2011, and it won’t install at all on WHS v1.

I downloaded the SkyDrive client onto my Windows 8 system (which is 64bit), and then copied it across to my WHS 2011 (this is a 64bit operating system). I then did a Remote Desktop connection into my (headless) WHS, and successfully installed the client.

Sure enough, the client then started synchronizing with my SkyDrive photos, but interestingly, something else also started happening… When I next opened the Metro Photo App, an additional pane had appeared on the opening screen – it was for “Degas” – the name of my WHS 2011 system.

W8RP 05

This view of the pictures folder on my Windows Home Server is not the default Pictures Shared Folder. Instead, it appears to be mapped to the Pictures folder of the Public user on WHS 2011. Now, while this is logical when the SkyDrive client is installed on a Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 PC, it makes no sense at all for a Windows Home Server. For one thing, no user account folders, including the Public user account folders, are ever exposed over the network in a standard Windows Home Server setup. A standard WHS 2011 system uses Shared Folders that are not tied to the Public user account.

WHS2011 57a

Also, I discovered that the Public Folders are only exposed so long as you are logged on to the Administrator’s Desktop (so that the SkyDrive Client runs). So if you want to use this workaround, you’re going to have to Remote Desktop in to your WHS, and populate the Pictures folder of the Public user account and keep logged on via Remote Desktop; photos in the standard Shared Folder for Pictures simply aren’t accessible by the Photos App. In my opinion, it’s a kludge. An unsupported kludge. Sigh.

Update: I’ve gathered together in one place all the bugs, quirks and WTFs that I’ve found thus far with Windows 8. Check it out if you want to see the full list.

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.
This entry was posted in Computers and Internet, Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts on the Windows 8 Release Preview

  1. Pingback: Fun With Technology – Part VIII | Geoff Coupe's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s