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This is a guest post by Kieran Cummings, a network/server admin. Kieran tweets as @sortius

My week with Windows 8

I decided over the weekend to install Windows 8 on my Dell XPS 15z. It's no Precision Workstation, but it’s definitely up to the task of running Windows 8. After resizing my main partition and readying my machine for Windows 8, I embarked on journey that is the new Windows 8 install process.

Not much seems to have changed between Windows 7 and 8’s install process: both look very similar, just a different shade of green-blue. Win 8 It was marginally quicker than Win 7 to install, so that’s always a bonus. Everything went through fine, I was asked to either set up an account using my “Windows Live!” ID, create a new one, or to create a local only account. It’s refreshing to see that Microsoft hasn't forced people to use Live! accounts.

I used a trusty account that has been around since the days when MSN messenger used 1.5MB of RAM. It all went through fine, no hiccups at all. Account creations do take a little longer if you opt for the Windows Live! Style login, however it is negligible.

Seeing as things went so smooth with the install and setup, I decided to road test Windows 8 at work.

I can hear the cackles of laughter from other geeks and techies because, yes, I know, it is an ambitious thing to ask of a preview release. So I wasn’t expecting it to be a smooth experience.

Off I trotted to work for my 8:30 start on Monday morning, laptop on my back, head full of hope. At first, I started up my computer and decided that to make this more realistic, I’d create a Windows Live! ID for my work email address. While the setup of the account was fairly painless in Windows 8 (no redirecting to msn.com or the Windows Live! Website), the activation of said account didn’t seem to work as well. Repeatedly being asked to “activate” my work email on Live! after actually activating it already started to get fairly tedious, and without proper activation many of the Metro features refused to work.

The account was eventually activated after my 5th attempt, which is odd seeing as the Windows Live! ID stuff has been around for years.

I installed Office 2010, which went on without a problem. Remote Desktop worked fine, which is essential in my role as server/network support, so things were looking up.

I went through and installed various other tools, which all went through fine, although I couldn’t help but feel that the Metro interface was being wasted on these “normal” apps. It was like a whole world that Microsoft has created will not be used by a majority of power users.

Seeing as I wasn’t getting much exposure to the Metro UI, I decided to try to set up my work email (Exchange) with the Metro style Mail app that ships with Windows 8. I was met with utter failure, even though the mail app has only three options for accounts to create: Hotmail, Gmail, & Exchange. No matter how much or how little information I gave to Metro Mail, it refused to recognise the Exchange server here at work. I’m not sure if this is a backward compatibility problem (although it would be odd if that was the case) or that Mail is broken, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Hotmail worked fine, however, on my personal account, so it may only be the Exchange component that’s broken.

My next challenge was to see what would happen if I joined Windows 8 to the domain at work (Windows 2003 AD). I was not expecting the best results, I wasn’t expecting the best results as the following tweet shows:

I was right to be dubious of the outcome. It seems that Windows 8 is not ready for corporate environments at all. I added the laptop to the domain, which seemed to go well, I restarted and crossed my fingers.

Logging in was fine, it recognised my domain account, set up my local profile, & seemed to be running okay. That was until I tried to use a Metro app. Not a single Metro app would launch.

I suspect this is due to Active Directory accounts not being Live! accounts. It’s very odd that MS has opted for the Metro interface requiring a Live! account to be used. There are plenty of people I know who do not have and do not want a Windows Live! account.

As a colleague said to me: This is like those apps and websites requiring you to have a Facebook account. I couldn’t agree more, and it is rather disappointing. I never thought Microsoft would move in this direction and force people to use a certain service to access local applications.

So when I was joined to the domain I was limited to old style programs, yet forced to use the Metro UI to launch them as there is no Start Button. This was only the start of the problems after joining a domain. Immediately I ran into hard crashes (no blue screen, no error, just hard lock ups) every time I attempted to do more than one thing at a time. Downloading a file, running an installer and writing an email at the same time ended up with hard crashes, which only started happening after joining Windows 8 to the domain. Prior to joining the domain Windows 8 was quite stable, albeit with some niggly bugs.

All in all, Windows 8 is quite snappy (when not crashing) and efficient with resources, however it falls down in ways that Windows has always had as a strength: Active Directory Domains.

The only other glaring problems have come from attempting to run HDMI. The sound doesn’t work at all on my XPS 15z, and if the Metro UI is up when you unplug it, the UI fails completely and you’re left with a screen with no icons and no ability to show them again.

I do think Microsoft have a fair way to go for now before Windows 8 is read for a corporate environment, but it does show promise performance. Due to the glaring bugs I’ve had to cut my “Week With Windows 8 at Work” short … by 4 days 5 hours. At this stage it is unworkable in such an environment. ®

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