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Friday, August 31, 2012

Windows 8 RTM, Day 2: Metro Apps, Games, and Random Stuff

I finally decided to test out Windows 8 for a week after putting it off for way too long. Here's another post documenting my thoughts.

On Wednesday I installed Windows 8 and talked about some of my first impressions. Now that I've more or less gotten everything settled I can take a look at some of the quirks and features of the OS.

Metro Apps

An article displayed in the News app.

Whether or not we'll be allowed to call them "Metro", the new Windows 8/Modern UI/Metro apps are obviously the biggest curveball that Microsoft threw us with Windows 8. After switching between the new Start screen and the traditional desktop a bunch of times it seems like Windows 8 is really two separate operating systems that have been duct taped together. The new interface is sort of shoehorned into the Windows setup that we've been using forever, and you have to wonder if Microsoft ever considered marketing the Metro elements of Windows 8 as an offshoot brand that would be developed side-by-side with traditional Windows in the future.

One of the weirdest things about Metro on a desktop is the fact that everything is very horizontally-oriented, which definitely makes the UI seem like it's more suited for a tablet. Swiping through pages makes a lot more sense than scrolling sideways through 3-4 screens of content with a mouse. The first time I opened up an app I actually caught myself using the left and right scroll buttons (tilting the mousewheel) on my G9X, something I don't think I've ever done during normal everyday use. Scrolling with the mousewheel works, but "up" being "left" and "down" being "right" is a little weird.

The news search pictured above isn't even all that bad compared to some other examples I've found. Newegg has an app that lets you browse a Metro-ified version of the site. Clicking on the "Computer Hardware" category takes you to a page of subcategories that is literally seven screens wide. The original size of the following slapped-together image is 13917×1080 pixels.

Metro Games

All of my games from my Windows 7 install are located on a separate hard drive partition out of necessity since my SSD is only 64GB in size. Everything I've tried has worked fine so far, which was expected since the desktop environment of Windows 8 is basically Windows 7 with a few tweaks.

Metro games, on the other hand, are a slice of Xbox on your PC. I grabbed Microsoft Minesweeper and Microsoft Solitaire Collection from the Windows Store for free - I would assume they'll be included or offered for free, though I guess they won't be installed by default. Each game includes stats and achievements that are tied to your gamertag; I don't have an Xbox, so this was my old Games For Windows Live tag that is tied to my Microsoft Live account.

Apparently plain-old Solitaire is referred to as Klondike, hence the polar bear. You learn something new every day. Also, I wonder how many people are actually going to share their Free Cell stats with their friends?

There are a bunch of achievements for each app, which again I'm not sure anyone really needs or cares about. I won my first game of Minesweeper (like a boss) and you can see that I picked up an achievement. There's also an achievement for clicking on a bomb, so I guess we're celebrating terrible play now.

Task Manager

The Task Manager (still accessible through Ctrl+Alt+Del or directly via Crtl+Shift+ESC) received a facelift in Windows 8. The first time you open it you'll be greeted by a mini version that only shows running programs:

Once expanded, the view shifts to the following:

Nothing special, but I like the visual changes. What I really like is the Performance tab, which looks like this:

It's definitely more useful and more visually interesting than the Windows 7 version. The Resource Monitor is basically unchanged from Windows 7, which made me a little sad, but I feel like the rest of the Task Manager took a nice step forward.


Windows 8 includes a screenshot hotkey that automatically saves images for you - no more copy/pasting into an image program or using a separate utility. Pressing [Windows]+[Print Screen] automatically saves your screenshot to (user)\My Pictures\Screenshots. The captured image includes everything visible across all of your screens, which means I'm constantly cropping out my second monitor from screenshots of Metro apps, but oh well.

I tried taking a screenshot while running a full-screen game and it didn't work, so it must be limited to the Desktop and Metro environments. Guess we'll still need to use Steam's built-in utility or something like Fraps or Afterburner to auto-save screenshots of games.

Miscellaneous Stuff

There are a few other things that I discovered. The first is they way media files are handled. By default they're opened in Metro apps, meaning when you open up a picture you'll be unceremoniously dragged out of the Desktop environment and dumped into full-screen Metro mode. You can change this behavior via a box that pops up in the upper-right corner of the screen, basically helping you manage your filetype preferences. I don't know if desktop apps will take ownership away from Metro apps by default - VLC didn't ask me if I wanted to use it to open stuff as far as I know - so this might be annoying if you need to manually assign everything as it comes up.

The other thing I discovered is that Microsoft Security Essentials is basically baked into Windows 8 as "Windows Defender." If you try to install MSE you'll get an error saying that you don't need it. I would assume trying to install Avast! or something similar would give you the option of disabling Windows Defender, since running two AV programs is usually a bad idea, but I'm not sure. That's something I'll have to try out, though I use MSE in Windows 7 anyway.

Look familiar?

One last thing - I mentioned in my post the other day that Metro apps don't close down on their own unless Windows senses that you need the additional resources, which is kinda weird. I'm sitting here in Firefox with four tabs open, listening to music, and the Rainmeter widget that displays MSI Afterburner info on my second monitor is telling me that I'm using around 400MB of VRAM. Checking the Metro app switcher (accessed via left side hot corners) told me that Solitaire was still open in the background, and closing it freed up ~200MB. I would hope that all of this stuff closes automatically when I'm running a full-screen game, but who knows. There's another thing to check.

That's it for now - keep checking the site for further posts regarding my fabulous Windows 8 experience.


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