This past week I attended the DevReach conference in Sofia, Bulgaria hosted by Telerik, Pluralsight, Microsoft and several others. The conference focussed on Microsoft development technologies including Web, Agile, Cloud, and Mobile. They invited many International speakers such as Chris Sells, Steve Smith, DotNetRocks team and Brian H. Prince. I had the luck to see Chris Sells present Windows 8 and develop a new HTML / Javascript NewsReader app. It didn’t look scary at all and I felt motivated to install Windows 8 and give it a test drive.

Creating the VMWare Image

From the Microsoft site I downloaded the Windows 8 ISO and created a new Windows 8 instance in VMWare Fusion 5. It even has a Windows 8 x64 option in the new instance dialog. This was one of the easiest and most painless installs I have done of Windows. It never asked me a single question and after installing came up with the beautiful Windows 8 Start screen. I instantly started click on all those big tiles and see what happened – I was impressed by the speed and simplicity.

Apps in the Windows Store

I went into the Windows Store not expecting to see much after all the negative articles on the web about lack of apps in the Windows store. Again, I was surprised, I saw many recognized apps and games and started downloading things like crazy. It was so easy to select an app, install, and then move onto the next one. I forgot I was using a desktop OS and felt like I was adding apps to my phone. It was almost too easy.

Back to the start screen and I now need to horizontally scroll to see all my apps. This was a strange experience for me since I don’t have any desktop apps requiring side-scroll and was taught a long time ago side-scrolling is a no-no when developing webpages. This took more getting used to than I thought and I am still needing some shortcuts or gestures to make the experience more welcoming. But, I love seeing those tiles so accessible and available.

About accessibility – the buttons are big, but also the icons and things I normally click on are 3x bigger than normal – with lots of white space around them. Obviously designed for fat fingers and not thin arrows. Oh well, it takes some getting used to I guess, but the feeling I was using a finger-inspired OS on my desktop was a little uncomfortable. Like I had too much room to move around.

Some of the games I downloaded were obviously built for a phone and not desktop device and this was a bit irritating – to feel that the lack of touch in my computer was limiting my ability to enjoy some games. Suddenly my computer felt so ‘old’.

Selecting the Desktop tile transported me back to the comfortable days in Windows 7. The familiar desktop with icons and a Windows Explorer. The start menu is gone – with the start key bringing us back to the big tiles, but knowing that I had a Windows Explorer shell I felt relaxed again. Then I ran back to the Windows Store to see what other free apps are out there, tried them out, and pressed the start key (apple key in Fusion) many times to jump out of the app and back to the beginning.

The Cloud is Here

Selecting mail brought up a browser window and asked me to login to a MS Mail site such as Live mail. I opted instead to create a new email address and use that one. Outlook opened in the web interface and it looked very smooth and geared towards a touch device. Then I downloaded Microsoft OneNote and it also opened up as a web app – and asked me my MS ID again – and it worked very well.

Then it all clicked – whoa – MS is bringing the cloud into my desktop and the app store into it as well – as one experience. Looking at the start screen I can’t tell if an app is on the cloud or my local machine – and if it is a cloud app it asks for my account and all my content is available right there, no need to configure anything or do anything special. It is a little spooky how tight this stuff works together and now I felt the power of what Microsoft is trying to do and they are moving everything in that direction. It’s one thing to read about it online but something different to experience it.

If you have VMWare workstation I urge you to download the Windows 8 Preview and give it a try – I am sure it will change the way you think about it.