Friday, June 01, 2012

At Work with Linux: Windows 8 Release Preview

Before I left for home Thursday I started a download of the Windows 8 Release Preview ISO, all 3.3GB of it. I wanted to install it under VMware 4.0.3 on my RHEL 6.2 host just like I'd done with the Gnome 3 and KDE 4 Fedora 17 variants. I learned a bit about Windows 8 and running Windows 8 on a RHEL host.

First and foremost, you don't have to install VMware extensions on Windows 8. Everything (mostly) works out of the box, and if you tried to install the extensions they won't. I was able to go in and set the screen size explicitly to 1440 x 900, and the VM window resized accordingly.
I'm no fan of the Metro look, and the more they work with it the less I like it. It's fine for a smartphone, but spread out on a desktop screen, not so much. Fortunately it was a simple matter of clicking on the desktop tile to get to the desktop. It still has the right bottom sensitive corner for bringing up the right edge controls. I needed to get to Settings to configure the network with a static IP and proxy server settings.
Clicking on Settings brings up a short list of key capabilities which includes the Control Panel. Down at the bottom you will note the Power switch. I can turn off the VM at this point. I could probably do my Network configuration from the Network icon, but I'm familiar with the Windows 7 way of doing things, so I'm going down the Control Panel route.
Finding the right settings to change is very much like Windows 7, so it only took a few moments for me to add the fixed IP address, DNS addresses, and identify the proxy server. The Window decorations look to be a more refined, lighter Aero. Once the network was properly configured this instance could see the rest of the lab network. However, I couldn't use IE 10 because our corporate brain-dead proxy server blocks IE 10, claiming that it's insecure. Lets IE 8 and IE 9 through, but not IE 10. I'll spoof the useragent string next week and surf the web after that.
Just as the lower right corner is mouse active, the lower left is as well, and allows you to quickly switch back to the Metro screen. From what I can tell it's operating more or less the same as the first pre-release I installed back in March.

My general impression is 'meh'. I neither like nor dislike Windows 8. To me it's just another OS I have to get used to and figure out how to integrate with everything else we play with. Unfortunately if I want to really program under the hood I'll have to pony up a lot of money for Visual Studio 11 (or whatever it'll wind up being called). With Linux I get all the tools and languages I need to mold the OS anyway I care to, from top to bottom. With Mac OS X I have to pay $99. With Windows I have to pay thousands of dollars for all the tools because Microsoft decided to turn development tools into a serious (meaning very expensive) profit center. Heavy on the profit.

Maybe it's just my bias, but I detect a whiff of desperation on the part of Microsoft. This is an OS that wants to work on a tablet more than a PC. I know what I read in Robert Cringley's "The dumbing down of Windows 8." If what he writes is true, then Microsoft is in a scary situation long term.

What makes it even worse for Microsoft is that very many of us in the outside world have worked very hard to replace Windows with external standards and technologies developed from those standards. Those of us who remember how Microsoft treated the world, and who don't like Microsoft. Apple and Android are filled full of very bright people who don't like Microsoft either and have been building significant systems on those standards. And the rest of us who don't like Microsoft have been buying all those cool systems and devices, and spreading that technology as far and as wide as we possibly can. And we're going to keep doing it.

Microsoft won the desktop. They wound up with well over 90% saturation, at least in the US. They built walls all around the desktop kingdom to keep everybody out, and in the process walled themselves in. Those of us on the outside simply built a new world over them. We use smartphones and tablets that for the most part don't run Windows. Microsoft thought they were smart when they sold a cheap version of Windows XP for networks, and it worked, for a little while. But the heirs to the netbook, the smartphone, tablet, and even Apple's own iProducts, don't use nor need Windows. Microsoft won the desktop battle, but they're slowly losing the pervasive computing war.

Windows 8 is nothing special. It's OK, but that's just it; it's just OK. It will have its supporters, but many in business will stick with Windows 7, and for consumers who want to buy smartphones and tablets, Windows 8 will face incredibly stiff competition. Windows 7 phone is basically going nowhere; Nokia, which bet the farm by becoming an exclusive Windows Phone 7 user, is about to buy the farm because of that decision. This is karma. This is payback. This is The World realizing that computers are not special, that they're like any other appliance now, and that Windows isn't all the special anymore.

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