Asus EP 121 Running Windows 8
Microsoft had a large developer conference last week. There were over 5000 developers on hand to see the latest Windows 8 news. One of the things that was very exciting about the event is that it coincided with Microsoft’s public Windows 8 developer release. The software was officially posted at around 10pm CST and by the next day the software had already been downloaded over a half million times. That’s pretty incredible!
As for me, I have already posted about my new toy, the Asus EP 121. As I said, I had the device configured very nicely running on Windows 7 and truth be told, I have done the beta stuff before, so I was torn on whether I should install the software as the primary OS, or if I should instead install it as a virtual machine. At the end of the day, I decided that I would load Windows 8 as the primary OS and instead build a virtual machine (using Hyper-v which is built into Windows 8). This wouldn’t be so risky except that I have fallen in love with the Asus slate and it is now my daily work machine.
How is it going? I have gone through multiple installs. I have done the in-place upgrade, the install without formatting and re-formatting the drive. I have also used the build in restore options for “fixing your device” and the option for “giving it to someone else”. The installations have been straight forward and pretty easy.
For a tablet (my primary device), Windows 8 is on the right track. There is no question that Microsoft has to walk a tight line between allowing the functionality of a tablet and the full power of a PC. All of the tablets on the market today require the user to completely compromise on ease of use and functionality for the sake of battery life and simplicity.
Wow! That’s all I can say. The Asus slate now boots faster than my iPhone which really came as a shock. Once started, there are some unique login options that are pretty cool. The most unique is the picture password. With this setup, you can choose your favorite picture and by making various gestures, click, swipe, circle, a login password is created. It’s a nice touch.
Appearance and Interface
With Windows 8, the new start menu will come as a shock for some, but if you are familiar with the Windows Phone interface, this is very familiar territory. Live tiles have replaced icons and in a nutshell, the live tiles allow the applications to provide information at a glance. For instance, a Facebook app will constantly show new pictures or latest postings without launching the app. The weather app will update with the latest info, etc. You get the idea. For the Windows 8 Metro interface, it’s very smooth and very easy to figure out.
1. Click on a live tile to launch an app.
2. flick in from the right edge of the screen to bring up the menu options (or go to the traditional start button if you are using a mouse/keyboard).
3. flick in from the left edge of the screen to quickly switch between apps. You can also start to flip in and without letting the app take full screen, drag your thumb back to the edge and switch the app you are pulling in. That’s going to be nice if you want to split the screen between a couple apps you have running (alt+tab, Windows+tab, or mouse to left and wheel down with mouse).
4. While in the app, swipe up from the bottom and have the same options as right-clicking (or right click with a mouse).
Overall, this interface is quick, simple and intuitive. However, there are some downsides too. The old “desktop” appears like it’s one of the apps running on Windows 8. You can launch the “desktop” app if you want to have the legacy interface. But, in the legacy interface, the start button takes you back to the metro start screen. This is going to be too much for some people expecting to see the old programs menu. Technically, the new start menu is very well thought out and it’s more efficient; however, it’s a big change. For that reason, it’s going to be very important that Microsoft spend time managing the message and explaining in a simple way how and why the new interface is better. If the marketing of Windows Phone is any indication of the Microsoft capabilities in this effort, Windows 8 could be in for some serious problems.
Most commonly, people would have clicked on the start button, then clicked programs to select the list of apps. In the new interface, it’s a little simpler. First, there is no reason to waste a click on the start button. When the mouse gets to the start button, it automatically opens the menu. Now, instead of choosing programs, in Windows 8, the “search” button is selected and by default the apps are displayed in alphabetical order. It’s a pretty nice setup, but people will have to get used to going to the start menu and clicking “search” instead of “start/programs”. Easy enough. Again, it’s not the program list of old, so I expect some people to have a hard time with it.
So, what happens if you want to use a keyboard and mouse, like I am doing now? Well, truthfully, it works great. take the cursor down to the bottom left hand corner and here’s the start menu. It automatically pops up for your options without even clicking. If you have apps open, you can take the mouse to the left side for the small preview pain of what’s open, or you can use the old short-cut (alt-tab or windows+tab).
The biggest negative at this point comes from the look and feel when you launch a legacy app. That is to say, applications that were not written to run in the “immersive” UI will first kick-off the old desktop view and then launch. This gives the feeling that you are really working with two distinct desktops. At this point, however, it would be very unfair to say that the product doesn’t feel complete, because, well, the product is probably about 10-12 months from being officially complete.
Next, for the immersive apps, there is no way to close the app. Similar to Windows Phone, the computer will just manage the apps. That may not be such a problem, but since I will have to swipe from the left to run through my open apps, I would very much prefer to only have the apps open that I want to see.
Next, in the start menu, it’s just silly that the power option isn’t in the default list. Instead, you have to click on “settings’ to close down the machine. What a horrible location.
Windows 7 had the flip function to see everything that is open. With Windows 8, again switching between apps creates a disjointed feel. Here’s why. Let’s say I have three legacy apps running on my desktop, Outlook, Excel and Powerpoint. Then I have 3 apps running with the Metro interface. When I swipe in from the left, I get 4 different screens. The 3 apps running in metro and the desktop. So, if I now want to switch between the apps running on the desktop, I have to stop at the desktop and then switch these apps separately. Interesting enough, if I use the alt+tab shortcut, it will cycle through all 6 apps currently running. Because of this, I really hope that Microsoft comes up with a way that allows the user to easily switch between apps including the apps running on the traditional desktop. Now, keep in mind, the legacy desktop is just an app running on Windows 8. Because of this, there are probably some limitations because it would be nicer if, like the alt+tab, the apps running within the desktop app were recognized as apps too.
Overall feel for the pre-beta/developer release
Overall, I am excited about the direction. I can see that on my tablet, this OS makes my iPad look like a waste of time because it’s just as fast, but it can do so much more. With a little fine tuning and some hardware built specifically for this interface, I think this looks to be a very positive move for Microsoft. In fact, I am so happy with the Asus slate that I have officially given my iPad to my wife because daddy has a new toy and to be honest, I wouldn’t even consider going back to the iPad.