Windows 8 Preview, and another Microserver

28Nov11

I like to get familiar with new versions of Windows early in the cycle, so it was great to see the Developer Preview being made available ahead of a beta.

First impressions

The new Metro interface hits right between the eyes. I can’t say that I’m a fan yet. It seems well adapted to touch screens, but I’m not comfortable with it on a regular desktop monitor. The worst bit is that it doesn’t take long before needing to scroll over to icons for recently installed apps that sit off screen. A monitor in portrait orientation exacerbates the issue.

Luckily it’s fairly easy to escape back to the familiar desktop, where if regularly used apps are pinned there’s rarely any reason to leave – except the Start button goes right back to Metroland.

The little things

Windows has had accessories for as long as there has been Windows – things like calculator and paint. The executables are still there, but I haven’t yet found the new equivalent of the Accessories folder.

My test hardware

As the HP Cashback deal makes them such a bargain I got myself another one of their wonderful little Microservers. This time it’s one of their new N40L models, which has a slightly faster 1.5GHz Turion processor (versus the older 1.3GHz Athlon) 2GB or RAM as standard [1] (was 1GB) and a lower rated PSU (so hopefully more frugal than ever).

Wireless

The Microserver isn’t somewhere that I can plug it into a wired network, so I got a cheap USB wireless adaptor from eBay. I needed to install drivers to get it going, but the process wasn’t too painful.

Video

The Microserver only has a VGA output, which isn’t a good way to drive the sideways T configured screens on my desk. Luckily I had an old NVidia Quadro NVS 285 card lying around along with a Dual-DVI cable – this is small enough and low power enough to suit the Microserver perfectly [2]. This time around no messing with drivers – on powering up Windows 8 sprang to glorious life across both screens. All I had to do was reorient the left screen for portrait orientation.

If you want to drive a couple of screens from a Microserver, and don’t plan on playing 3D games, then these cards are cheap, readily available and work great.

KVM

So that I can switch between my regular machine and the Microserver I got a USB KVM switch. The V bit is in my case utterly pointless, as I don’t want to switch video, but it seems that switches that just do USB keyboard and mouse aren’t common/affordable [3]. It works pretty well – I just have to double tap Scroll Lock to switch between machines. The only issue is that it insists on having the appropriate VGA cable plugged in – lucky for me the Microserver and my laptop docking station have (now superfluous) VGA outputs.

Overall

If you stay on the desktop, then Windows 8 is very familiar to those who have got used to Windows 7 (or even Vista before). So far everything I’ve installed has run fine – though that’s not too much, as I don’t want to invest time in a build that will time out as the product release cycle grinds forward. This is clearly evolutionary (like 2000 -> XP, or Vista -> Windows 7) rather than revolutionary, but given the issues with previous revolutionary releases that’s probably a good thing.

[1] I got another 2GB in anticipation of running a VM or two in VirtualBox. I should also mention that the preview runs fine in VirtualBox.
[2] Right now this is running without a proper fixing bracket, as the card came with a regular size one rather than low profile, but I’m hopeful that I’ll find a bracket somewhere to fix that up.
[3] As most decent monitors now have multiple digital inputs I don’t quite get why this is a gap in the market. That said those modern monitors don’t make it as easy as it should be to make the switch. On my TV I can go between inputs with just one button. On most of the monitors I use I find myself having to press two or three to achieve the same thing.



4 Responses to “Windows 8 Preview, and another Microserver”

  1. 1 Nicholas Hargreaves

    Windows 8 facilitates Microsofts’ push into Tablet computing being the first “Big Windows” build that runs on ARM processors. Would you switch from your iPad for Tablet that ran Windows 8?

    • Will MS and their partners get the physical devices right, and then give me free versions of all the iOS apps I bought? They’re pinning a lot on capturing the enterprise market, so data protection that runs from the server room, to the desktop and onwards to the mobile device will be the key.

  2. 3 Richard Hopkins

    So the big blocks of the Metro interface are essentially a replacement for the Start menu and pull you back out of the classic desktop when the button is clicked? Is there an option to completely switch it off, or have both?

    • There’s a Metro button that takes you back to the desktop. I believe Metro can be disabled, and there’s already talk that’s what the corporates will do.


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