Review: Hits And Misses In The Windows 8 Developer Preview

Windows 8 Hits And Misses

The more we use the Windows 8 developer preview, the more it appears that Microsoft developers think people are not becoming more computer savvy, but less. The intention, of course, is to hide the complexity and the power to do damage while providing an operating system that "just works." We get that.

But by doing so, does Windows 8 and its Metro application launcher leave IT with enough control to secure the OS and to fix problems as they arise, and will the platform be compatible with applications people are using every day?

To begin answering these questions, the CRN Test Center loaded a handful of common apps onto a machine running the Windows 8 developer preview that Microsoft began distributing at September's Build conference. This cursory examination sought simply to kick the tires a bit more than we've seen done elsewhere. Like the cross-section of apps and features we tested, results were mixed.

Apple Software Sync

Not unexpectedly, we've found that Apple software, such as its Safari browser and Quicktime media player, generally run better on Apple hardware than on systems running Windows. Even iTunes, the brains behind Apple's iPod cash cow, is slower on Windows than on Mac OS X. So when iTunes reported this error upon installation on Windows 8, no one was surprised. But further investigation revealed...(next)

Windows 8 (No) Help

...that iTunes was merely reporting that Windows 8 was not configured for audio output. Ever in search of a challenge, we immediately plugged in a Genius SP-i400 USB speaker system to see how Microsoft's new OS would respond. First it tried to configure itself for the new USB audio device. When that didn't work, it launched the troubleshooter. Then it crashed. Upon restart, the USB audio device still would not configure itself, until...

Headset To The Rescue

...we next plugged in a USB headset and it worked right away. We were able to download and play a song from the iTunes store and stream music from iTunes radio stations. After we had cleared the audio configuration problems, we had successfully tested one application: Apple's iTunes 10.5.1 is compatible with Windows 8. So far so good.

Google Desktop

We experienced far fewer hitches was our test of Google Desktop, the company's utility for using its search engine to find one's own computer and server files. In fact, it took us longer to find a place to download Google Desktop than it took to install and test it, since the tools are set to be discontinued. We even stumbled onto a place to download prior Google Desktop versions of this great tool that no Windows system should be without. Oh, did we mention that it worked flawlessly? We're two-for-two. Time for one to fail...

McAfee Fail

McAfee's Total Protection totally failed to install, returning this error message. We even tried the, "Try downloading the files" link in an attempt to fix it, but it still failed, returning the same message.

LibreOffice Tests Java

Next we thought to download LibreOffice, the open-source spin-off of OpenOffice that's being developed by the Document Foundation. It downloaded and installed okay, but when launched, this message popped up seven times. So after the sixth time, we figured we'd better download Java, which installed without a hitch. subsequent launches of LibreOffice bring up...

LibreOffice Makes A Splash

...the normal LibreOffice splash screen, with prompts to create text documents, spreadsheets, drawings, presentations, databases and so on. If you haven't tried LibreOffice, you own it to yourself. It's a fantastic and stable environment for office productivity.

No Print For You

After running an office application, it's only natural to try to print something. And this Windows 8 release is so stable and free of bugs that we had to remind ourselves that it was pre-beta software, and that some of the features were just not available. One such feature in abstentia was printing. despite the appearance of printers along with other devices available on the network, printing capabilities are not included in the pre-beta.

WiFi High-Five

While printing was a no-go, we were thrilled to see that our WiFi USB stick worked without incident. Within seconds of plugging it in, all available network APs and WiFi devices appeared in Windows 8's green networks window, which slides out from the right side of the screen when you click the tray icon.

Windows 8 is obviously still very much a work in progress, but a good deal of the groundwork had been laid for a major (and much needed) overhaul of the Windows desktop operating system. While this is clearly not another Vista, only time will tell if Microsoft employs some of the ground-breaking it's doing with Windows Server 8.