February 29th 2012 saw the release of the Consumer Preview of Windows 8.
Of course I had been following the progress of the new OS from the developer preview release but I had not actually installed it myself. This was partly because of the controversy surrounding the future of Windows Media Center in Windows 8 (the developer preview did not include it) and the fact that I wasn’t convinced that the new Metro UI would work on desktop systems. After watching a fantastic live video Q&A session hosted by The Digital Media Zone I was convinced to give it a try for myself and I’m glad I did.
I had a spare HP laptop to test it on and this in itself presented a bit of a challenge as the laptop, an HP Pavilion zv6000 is at least 6 years old. The minimum system requirements for Windows 8 indicate that pretty much any machine capable of running Windows 7 competently should run it. The only caveat to this I found is it would not install the x64 version of Windows 8 as it needs at least 2Gb of RAM and this machine only has 1.25Gb so instead of doing an upgrade I had to clean install with x86 Windows 8.
The second hurdle was graphics card support. With new versions of Windows this always seems to be the area where it gets a little unstuck. Since I was installing on to a pretty old laptop it wasn’t a surprise to find that the graphics card wasn’t particularly new. In fact the ATI Radeon Mobility Xpress 200M is considered a “legacy” card and hasn’t had driver support for quite a while. This wasn’t a problem for Windows 7 as it seemed to pull the correct Microsoft WDDM driver via Windows update after initial installation. Windows 8 couldn’t seem to do this and I was stuck with the new “Basic Display Adapter” drivers of the new OS and my screen resolution wasn’t flexible enough to test out some of the better features of the Metro UI.
Countless attempts to manually install correct drivers failed and I was beginning to give up hope. After a lot of research and advice from follow users I managed to manually install a VISTA certified WDDM driver via a manual download from Windows update and it worked! So Windows Vista was good for something after all!
Now that I had a fully working system I could relax and take a look at how it felt. My initial thoughts are that I am liking the Metro UI more than I thought I would. Actually I am thinking that Metro UI could be a nice interface for an HTPC. The live tiles are nice and big, colourful and the UI has basic remote support. I am a Windows Media Center user but I am also a XBMC user and I can see myself using the Start Screen and remote to effortlessly flip between the two apps. With future innovations in Metro apps when it comes to multimedia I can see this interface as a very attractive HTPC frontend.
As expected Windows Media Center itself hasn’t changed from it’s Windows 7 version at all but it does seem to feel more responsive to me. Bare in mind I am testing it on an old laptop that would chug away navigating Media Center menus under Windows 7 but in Windows 8 it glides through them effortlessly. This is perhaps due to the fact that Media Center was recompiled for Windows 8 and perhaps gained a little performance enhancement as a side effect. I am tempted to convert one of my HTPCs to Windows 8 due to this and because I really want to put the Metro UI through it’s paces in an HTPC setup. I eagerly await a Hippo Remote profile for Windows 8 so that I can control it all via my iPhone.
In conclusion, I will be keeping my Windows 8 installation on the test machine and I will be taking a closer look at some of the available Metro apps. A few have already made an impression. The handful of desktop apps I have already installed went without a hitch and setting up Metro tiles for access is simple and quite effective. Microsoft, you have won me over although being a tech geek I am in my element. I’m not so sure that general computer users (never mind business users) will be as quick to adapt to this “new way” of using Windows so it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.