Earlier today, i got hold of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview available on the Microsoft site.
First things first, the preparation phase is extremely straightforward. It simply checks your hardware and software, and then provides a compatibility report. Surprisingly, only Avast and COMODO Firewall were completely incompatible. The tool then downloads the required files. It was around 2.2GB download for me, which isn't bad at all. You're then presented with the option of creating an ISO file, typically used for DVD installation, or using a USB Flash Drive as the installation media. I opted for the USB option being i have an 8GB drive laying around waiting for such a use. I eagerly waited for it to finish setting up the USB drive. The overall process was very quick, and the only part that took a significant amount of time was the download, which of course varies depending on your connection speed.
The installation proved to be a hassle at first. If you're using an EFI based system such as the majority of those with Sandybridge-based boards (Cougar Point to be technical), you MUST use a GPT partition. There's no option of installing to MBR, not one that i could find anyway. After clearing out my tertiary array (both drives connected to the secondary on-board Marvell controller ports), i went about the installation again. This time, i had no issues with the install. It took around 10 minutes to install it completely, and it's significantly faster than Windows 7 if that means anything.
Now we've got the boring stuff out of the way, let's get to the points on usage.
First of all, you're initially presented with the Metro interface. It's quite sleek, and i'll admit it has potential. However, it's not for me, not just yet, i much prefer my desktop style. Since i have dual-monitors, i simply pressed the desktop on the second screen and immediately got away from Metro. The first thing i noticed was the lack of a Start button, which i already knew about. However, what i wasn't prepared for was how much of a hinderance losing it would be.
Having used Windows 95 during my early years, Windows 2000 throughout my school years (with XP at home), Windows Vista as a test platform during college, and Windows 7 to date, i've always had the option of finding what i need. Whether it was going through folder layers in "My Computer" in 95, or straight up searching from the start menu in 7, the Start Menu has always been a pivot in my daily usage. I use it as a go-to failsafe when i need to get from A to B in my system. I pin my main productivity and creativity applications to my start menu at the top, and pin my social applications to the taskbar at the left (Outlook, Ventrilo, and Firefox are presently there). I instantly know that i can get extremely quick access to my toolset without having to fumble about looking through a boatload of panels or menus. When i wanted to shutdown, reboot, or even simply sleep the system, i was 2 clicks away from it... 2 clicks in the same area of the screen.
As of Windows 8, that's gone. However, it's all on Metro now, but NOT in an easily-noticable method. I had to search Google for several minutes to find out how to shutdown, and restart the system. It's one-click in the bottom left to open Metro, then one click in the top right on your user image, and then wait 15 seconds, followed by a click in the bottom right to choose to shutdown or restart. This does not make things simpler for me. It's more clicks, and a mass of time in the middle while you wait for it to finish doing "whatever it's doing". Because of the lack of a start menu, there was no way for me to pin the "Computer" icon to my desktop. Instead, you get a "Windows Explorer" icon pinned to your taskbar, which opens in the most inconvenient place; Libraries. I'm one of those people who rather than organise files where Microsoft wants me to, i put there where i want to. They're my files, it's important i organise them how i feel comfortable. Of course, you can navigate away from "Libraries" with the explorer bar on the left side, but it's extra clicks that i just don't need.
Furthermore, i've always been a fan of Aero, but not enough of a fan to use it over the classic Windows theme. It's light on usage, easy on the eyes, and compact. All 3 of these are equally important to me when considering usability for day-to-day. As of Windows 8, there's no more classic theme on the non-server products, it's all Aero. There's an Aero-glass theme we're used to, and the Aero-basic theme, which looks like Aero-glass, but without the simple appeal that it's rendition in Windows 7 had. There's absolutely no sign of Windows Classic theme. More to the point, there's no more "Desktop Windows Management" service, so i couldn't even opt to disable Aero in the way i'd usually force it.
Now, it's not all bad. Drivers are MUCH easier to install now. I installed my trusted NVIDIA 285.62 drivers onto Windows 8. At the end, there was no message about needing to restart (good idea considering they made it a task in itself to find the restart button). Performance was similar from a 2 minute test in WoW, but i wouldn't consider this conclusive enough to say whether it's changed at all.
The task manager design is MUCH better now. There's no more green and black line graphs for CPU usage. Instead, there's white and grey'ish graphs that do look quite stunning, despite being visually simple. You also have information on your CPU in the same window, although it would appear they've not yet fixed Sandybridge clock speed support, and my 2600K still shows as 3.4Ghz max speed (despite being overclocked to 4.3Ghz). As evidenced from the usage panel, Windows 8 uses around 1.6GB at default settings with nothing installed or running besides what ships with the OS on a fresh startup.
Additionally, the WEI score limit is now 9.9. I did test it out and got 9.0 on RAM, 8.2 on CPU, and 7.8 on GPU, but that was before i had the NVIDIA drivers installed. Disks got 5.9 but this is absolutely because my main disk for W8 wasn't my SSD RAID0 but instead my 2-disk HDD RAID on the derpage that is the Marvell Controller.
Overall, losing the Start Button and Menu along with the Classic theme are too much for me to consider using Windows 8. Their server products reportedly have a classic theme. If they want me to upgrade, they'll need to bring in support for these 2 things.
For someone who uses their desktop for most of the day and every day for gaming, design and/or socialising, Windows 7 represents the pinnacle of Operating Systems. Moving to Windows 8 will absolutely confuse and disorientate you. It's a foreign system, designed for a different market, and it's shut out the traditional PC users by losing 2 of it's main staples. One of those is choice, but the other has been daily usage for many people.