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8 is Enough: Living with Microsoft's Developer Preview

When Microsoft released the Windows 8 Developer Preview at BUILD in September, I immediately vowed I'd install it on all of my PCs and begin using this early, buggy pre-release product every single day. And when I arrived home from Anaheim, I proceeded to do just that: Installed the Developer Preview on each of my daily use machines, either as the sole OS or in a dual-boot configuration.

And then I hit my main desktop. Something about the Windows 8 Developer Preview didn't sit right with the desktop machine, a Dell Optiplex 755. It did install, but would randomly freeze. And after a few aggravating days trying to make sense of that, I finally gave up and went back to Windows 7. Or at least I tried to: I started receiving boot errors related to the SATA-based SSD drive I use as my boot device. I finally got it to work, but it was unsettling and I can't honestly say I know why it began working again. Another weekend lost, I forgot about it and moved on.

The thing is, I sit in front of my desktop for most of the day, so my daily computing experience for the past two months has been largely about Windows 7, not Windows 8. I have tried to use Windows 8 when possible otherwise, on various laptops and the Windows 8 Developer Preview tablet. But I'm not using it fully, and that was the goal.

I was reminded of this over the past week by Mark Minasi. Like me, Mark is writing a book about Windows 8, and like me, he has some pretty strong opinions about this release. We were in Las Vegas for Windows Connections, and held a panel discussion about Windows 8, and one of the things he challenged me on was how much time I actually spent with the new OS.

That one kind of hurt for the aforementioned reasons. But I made a mental note to change that when I got home. I would try installing Windows 8 on my main desktop again. And I would live in this environment as I previously intended.

If you're used to technology and its almost surreal ability to undermine productivity, you may even be able to predict what happened next: I arrived home from Las Vegas after a sleepless red eye flight on Friday morning, slept through most of the morning and then walked into my office and woke up the PC. Here's what confronted me on the screen:


Wa-wa-waaaah. Yep, that's the same SATA error I had seen before. Only this time, it was occurring on a fully-configured desktop OS with multiple, activated software applications. Meaning, I'm facing another lost weekend.

I'll deal with that later. In the meantime, I pulled out a spare SSD drive, swapped it with the "bad" drive in my desktop (which may or may not be bad; again, I'll deal with that later), and installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview. This time, I'm not seeing the freezing issue (lending further credence to, but not proving, my notion that the other drive may in fact have issues). And after installing all the applications I used regularly, and determining that everything was up and running properly, I arrived at the point I wanted to be at in mid-September: I'm finally using Windows 8 on my main desktop.

OK, fine, but what's the point of all this?

I've argued, repeatedly, that the most controversial aspects of Windows 8--the new Start Screen and underlying runtime environment--will become less and less controversial as the OS is improved and Metro-style apps begin appearing. This will most likely happen with the Beta release, which I expect to at least be announced at CES in January, and the corresponding public opening of the Windows Marketplace, by which Microsoft and third party developers will release such apps.

We have no such apps today. Well, we have those sample, intern-created apps. But no "real" apps. So what we do, today, is install all those classic Windows applications we use, every day, in order to get work done. It's a temporary situation. But it's reality. And classic Windows applications don't integrate in any way with the new Start screen. So you get that jarring back-and-forth action.

On previous installs of Windows 8, I haven't really configured or customized the Start screen in any way. This time, however, I decided to do things a little differently. And that means getting rid of (or "unpinning") all of the app and application tiles I don't actually use regularly, and uninstalling all the Metro-style apps I'll never use. This is time consuming: You need to right-click each tile and then choose "Uninstall" or "Unpin," depending on what you want to do.

You also can't create or modify the tile groups, not yet, since this feature isn't available in the Developer Preview. So I worked with the pre-made groups to create groups of related tiles, with the most-frequently used tiles in the left-most group. When I was done--and this took a while--my Start screen actually fit on one screen width. It looks like this.


This is useful because it's currently pretty hard to navigate horizontally on the Start screen with a mouse and keyboard, yet another aspect of this OS that will be fixed post-Developer Preview. (This is a bug Microsoft knew about before the Developer Preview shipped, but it was too late to fix it.)

So, I'm using Windows 8. Really using it. And while I've got a lot to do with regards to a little upcoming book called Windows 8 Secrets, I think it makes sense to report back every couple of days, at least, and see how it goes. So I'll be doing that going forward.

And looking forward to the coming Beta release, which I'm sure will simply fix all the problems. :)

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