Tag Archives: Internet Explorer

Windows 8 first review


It’s funny how the ‘computer busy’ state is shown on PCs. 15 years ago we all got frustrated when we kept seeing an hourglass that prevented us from doing some work. So Microsoft rebranded the egg timer/ hourglass, probably because some psychologist recommended taking our mind off of ‘time’ being wasted. And so we ended up with a circle. Well in Windows 8, even the circle has been replaced (perhaps Google trademarked ‘the circle’ as part of Google+?) – this time it’s dots flying around the screen, usually in some oddly attractive patterns.

The ‘please wait’ icon isn’t the only change to Windows 8. It’s very, very different throughout. I’ve been using Windows 8 for a couple of weeks now.


I remember the acronym “WIMP” when Windows 3.1 was launched. It stood for Windows, Icons, [dropdown] Menus and Pointer. It was the move away from black and white text terminals into graphical interfaces so that humans could start using computers without a Computer Science degree.

In Windows 8, the only part of WIMP that is left is the ‘I’. Windows have been replaced by full screen, errrr, Windows. It’s a bit like using a tablet on your PC – more of that later. You can switch back to a desktop that looks like the current Windows XP or Windows 7 desktop, and I guess that users will spend most of their time in this view.

Where to start 

One of the most obvious missing features in the desktop view is the start menu. ‘Start’ has been totally overhauled into a separate interface. If you’ve used an Xbox before, it will look very familiar. And if you haven’t used an Xbox before, well, Start is like a games console.

Start is the default screen, not the desktop. In ‘Start’, you see a link to the commonly used apps, and some of the icons contain extra information. For example, the email icon contains some of the subject lines of your emails. The first time I saw this it was really disconcerting because I’d just installed Windows 8, and I was looking at the icons, when a personal message caught my eye and I thought “How does the computer know about that???” – only to realise soon afterwards that it was an email subject line from my wife.

And disconcerting is a recurring theme. It’s only natural to use a different interface and wonder where certain familiar features have been moved to.

Then, by luck, you realise that if you right click on various areas of the screen, you get a simple, context menu appear at the bottom or sometimes the side of the screen and have a Eureka moment.

Right click back

I remember going to the launch of Windows Vista when Microsoft announced that their usability strategy was to remove right clicks from as many operations as possible because it’s just not obvious to end users. I get the feeling that guy left Microsoft before Windows 8 was created, because right click is everywhere.

As well as using your mouse’s right button more, you’re also going to be using the Windows key on your keyboard more during Windows 8. I already use shortcuts like Windows +E (to get a new File Explorer window), Windows+M (to minimise everything) and Windows+L (to lock my PC), however in reality I hardly need any of those commands over a working day. To use Windows 8, you’re constantly pressing Windows+C to get the context menu working. I can’t remember how I heard about it, but before you know about Windows+C, it is almost impossible to use Windows 8 because you can’t ‘get to’ any other installed programs.

Similar to when you use any Google product where you use your Google account to sign in, Windows has the same feature with its Live ID. In fact, you sign into Windows 8 with your Live ID. Anyone with a Hotmail account will have a Live ID already.

Like all new Operating Systems, half the previous functionality feels like it’s playing hide and seek. Doing Windows Update for example, I had to go to desktop view, open IE, press the Alt button to get the old drop down menus back, and then select Windows Update.

New apps

Some of the apps aren’t quite finished. Windows 8 comes with SkyDrive, which is a bit like Dropbox – a file system ‘in the Cloud’. Skydrive shows all the files you’ve uploaded, but when you want to edit say, a Word document, the interface to use Office Live is quite clunky and doesn’t even start to compete with say, Google Docs. Also, because the Windows 8 SkyDrive and Windows 8 Internet Explorer are all full screen experiences, you start getting a bit lost after opening a couple of documents.


Finally, the performance: I’m running Windows 8 in a virtual machine (perversely it only runs inOracle’s VirtualBox, not Microsoft’s Virtual PC) and it’s very, very fast. It’s faster than running Windows XP in Virtual PC, and just as responsive as my native Windows 7 installation. Bearing in mind the virtual machines only uses 2Mb RAM (half my laptop), I’ve been very impressed.


In summary, Windows 8 is very different. It’s clearly targeted at consumers more than corporates, and just as much a tablet Operating System as a desktop. It will take a lot of getting used to, and with the refined start menu, although using ‘classic’ apps such as Word or Excel it will feel the same as Windows 7. Perhaps that’s Microsoft’s strategy – it’s like releasing two Operating Systems at the same time for its different sets of users.

The one thing that will drive you annoy you within a couple of hours are those dots! Bring back the egg timer.


Silently updating


One of the best features about Google Chrome is how it updates itself to provide new features.

If you look at the user experience of various desktop applications, on one end of the scale would be Google Chrome, and the other end would be Microsoft Windows, which relies on the user to configure that they want updates. In most organisations over 100 people, updates are disabled by system administrators. Other applications such as Spotify sit closer to the “Chrome end” because they automatically update however the user is still prompted during the process.

I’m excluding the stomach-churning “will make data survive this?” iPhone OS upgrades because you can’t compare a complete OS upgrade to an application upgrade.

Every so often, Google Chrome checks to see if you are using the latest version. If you aren’t, it automatically downloads the latest version and installs it. The next time you launch Chrome, you’ll be using the latest version – you won’t have clicked on anything to accept it or install it.

Microsoft have cottoned on to this and the next version of Internet Explorer will silently update the browser by default. You can already install an ‘Update blocker’ to prevent automatic updates if you wish.

This puts Microsoft in an interesting situation because they are still clearly focussed on business users rather than consumers. IT organisations aim to standardise programs on user’s computers so that it’s easier to support them en masse. By choosing such a high profile application to start doing automatic updates, it will be a steep learning curve for both IT organisations and Microsoft.

This all paves the way for staff in large organisations to move a step further along the consumerisation journey. As users [supposedly] get more tech-savvy, they don’t need huge IT service desks for application support. In ten years’ time we’ll be choosing our own technology – mobile phone and laptop, and perhaps even our own applications.

We’ll keep the documents centralised (in ‘The Cloud’) and access them via Google Docs, Office 365 or any other newcomers.

The version of the application we are using won’t make any difference whatsoever.

Photo courtesy of warrenski on Flickr.


Chromebooks are expensive


On June 15th, the Google Chromebooks will go on sale.

The price of the new Chromebook is $499. That’s the same as a Windows laptop, only you can’t run Windows applications on a Chromebook, including office apps, games, or use external devices such as video cameras, scanners, etc.

I thought that we’d see a $250 laptop with a Chrome browser. We’ve ended up with an expensive laptop with a Chrome browser. Put another way, it’s cheaper to buy a $450 Dell Windows laptop and install Chrome (plus you get the benefit of a using Internet Explorer for sites that don’t support Chrome!).

If the laptop looked as beautiful as a Macbook Air, I could understand a premium, but it doesn’t. To most people the Chromebook looks identical to a Windows laptop.

On another note, Microsoft is required by EU law to ship Windows without Internet Explorer because of its monopolistic position. If Chromebooks [first become cheaper and] become widely used, will Google need to start shipping them without a browser? Or ship them with Windows?

Any thoughts on why it costs so much?


IE 9 early review


This morning I downloaded the latest version of Microsoft’s browser – IE 9. The browser is still in beta version, however we usually download beta versions of browsers to ensure our client sites are ready for the new browsers. (It’s like a moving target though, because the browser subtly changes between minor beta versions and you rarely get to hear about a firm date for a consumer launch).

After using IE 9 for the day, and making sure I wasn’t swayed by any other reviews, here’s my outcome.

It’s like a really slow version of Chrome.

When IE 9 loads, it still takes that trademark-long-time. I don’t know how Google get Chrome to load so quickly, but that to me is the best feature of the browser. Why do you want to have to wait longer than the fastest browser?

When IE 9 does eventually load (and I’m exaggerating about the length of the load time – it is much quicker than IE 8, but still the slowest out of Firefox and Chrome), it looks startlingly similar to Chrome. The favourite ‘star’ has moved to the left. The whole top area has moved to one horizontal area, making the actually web page a much larger area. The menus are now three small icons on the right hand side. Even the developer tools look the same as Chrome.

Microsoft will be marketing very hard that IE 9 is much faster at rendering web pages than the other browsers. They have a performance test page set up which I can only assume (but frankly can’t be bothered to do) is weighted against it’s competitors because Chrome and Firefox are so incredibly slow to IE 9 – more than you would expect from the hardware acceleration.

The sneakiest thing about the new browser though, is that Flash no longer works out-of-the-box. You have to reinstall it at Adobe.com. With Microsoft seeking domination for it’s slow-to-get-market-share Silverlight, in effect uninstalling Flash is near brilliance. Or it would be, if IE 9 came with Silverlight working out of the box. I was amazed that it didn’t work with IE 9. What an incredible own goal.