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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Windows 8 RTM, Day 1: Installation and Drivers

So. Windows 8.

Like I mentioned yesterday, after hearing everyone on the planet voice their opinions on Windows 8 I finally decided to try it myself. I downloaded the Windows 8 RTM 90-day developer preview last night and burned the ISO to a DVD. Earlier this afternoon I popped said DVD into the drive and installed Windows 8 to a separate partition on my HDD.


Installation was relatively quick and painless. After 18-20 minutes I was prompted to configure my user settings and set up my user account, which by default is linked to your Microsoft Live account, though there's also an option to set up a local offline account. A few minutes later I was staring at the controversial Start screen, ready to go.

The size of a fresh installation was somewhere in the neighborhood of 18GB - I forgot to get an exact number because I'm awesome like that - and I'm currently sitting at around 22GB with a bunch of everyday programs installed.


After downloading the Windows 8 RTM ISO last night I looked around for drivers so that I'd have them on hand if needed. I was able to find updated beta drivers for pretty much everything, leading me to believe that we'll be in pretty good shape for the Windows 8 launch on October 26th. The ASUS Service downloads page had most of what I needed, and Nvidia released the GeForce 306.02 Beta drivers for Windows 8 on Monday.

During initial setup you have the option of running Windows Update to check for updated installation files and drivers, which was the route I took. As it turned out, Windows Update found drivers for just about everything automatically, though some were generic Microsoft drivers while others were a bit out of date. The one exception was my ASUS XONAR DG sound card, which didn't function right out of the box. I downloaded the Windows 7 Xonar Unified Drivers, which Windows promptly told me were unsigned and unverified. After telling Windows to ignore all of that and install the drivers anyway, everything worked.

First Impressions

Windows 8 is definitely going to take some getting used to.

After maneuvering my way past the Start screen to get to the traditional desktop, I attempted to customize my display settings. I run a dual-monitor setup, which Windows immediately recognized, and by default the taskbar was extended to the second monitor - it's nice to see more and more multi-monitor support with each version of Windows. My second monitor is a cheap 17" no-name LCD that runs at 1280x1024, which I had to adjust up from 1024x768.

After getting the resolution squared away I moved on to the color scheme. I usually use a black or other dark color for my taskbar and window title bars, and the first warning sign that this might be a problem was the fact that all of the default choices were bright and happy pastels. I cranked the brightness and saturation down to give myself black, and it quickly became apparent that Microsoft didn't plan for that.

Here's what my windows look like when they're selected:

Here's what they look like when they're not the main focus:

This makes me sad. The text and min/max buttons never change color and are basically unreadable with a window selected. When deselected, the color scheme reverts to a light grey, which I don't really like - I'd rather have a uniform dark color scheme all around with some other kind of fading/highlighting to show what window I have focused. I dug around but couldn't find an obvious way to change this behavior.

Overall, I like the clean lines and matte finish of the windows, I just wish the color scheme worked.

For the most part, the actual desktop is the same as Windows 7 sans the Start "orb" in the lower left. Instead we have hot corners which let you fling your mouse all over the place instead of giving you an actual button to click.

Most of the old Start menu functions are found on the "charms bar" that slides out every time you hover in the top-right or bottom-right corners of your screen. Selecting "Share" pops up a screen telling me that I can't share anything from the Desktop - thanks for that. The only options located under "Devices" are ones that pertain to my second monitor. "Search" is pretty self-explanatory, while choosing "Settings" gives you access to the Control Panel among other options. This is also where you shut down and restart your PC, which isn't really apparent the first time you use Windows 8. It's pretty embarrassing to need to Google "Windows 8 how to shut down PC" to figure out how to turn off your computer without resorting to the power button.

Speaking of shutting down, Windows 8 uses a hybrid shut down/hibernate system to speed up boot times. This hybrid system shuts down programs while saving drivers and the system kernel in order to speed up the next boot. This might just be an oddity with my setup, but I noticed that the light on the Bluetooth module of my ASUS P8P67 Pro remained lit despite the PC being "off" after this hybrid shutdown, which doesn't occur with a full shutdown in Windows 7.

The hot corner located at the bottom-left gives you access to the Start Screen, which is the full-screen Start Menu replacement that includes a bunch of clickable live tiles. The top-left hot corner activates a Metro app switcher that lets you switch between open Metro apps. These apparently don't close on their own, though you can close each one via right-click. Both the app switcher and the charms bar are activated by first moving your pointer to a corner of the screen and then moving vertically along the edge towards the center.

There's also a somewhat hidden power-user menu that can be accessed by right-clicking in the black hole that previously contained the Start button. Here you can access stuff like Search, the Run dialog, File Explorer, Control Panel, and open a Command Prompt as both a normal user and Administrator.

Coming Up

My goal is to use Windows 8 as my primary OS for the next 7-10 days to see how it goes. I'll try to toss up posts every couple of days chronicling my experiences. Tomorrow I'm hoping to talk about some of the Metro apps available in Windows 8, and I'll see if I can run a couple of games and/or benchmarks.


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