Notes on my Upgrade To Windows 8 for Software Developers

I bought Windows 8 and installed it today. My thought was:

“Sometimes you have to say: What the ****!”
– Miles from the film Risky Business 1983

windows 8


Windows 8 is required to build apps for the new Windows App Store. These apps can only be created and published with Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows 8, and you must have Windows 8 to run it.

windows 8 app store visual studio

Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows 8 is a free download. From what I can tell it is not hobbled or nerfed in any way. At present there is no ‘non express’ version of the Windows 8 app builder either. Microsoft is focused on increasing the number of apps in their new app store as quickly as possible.

Microsoft could have allowed Windows 7 based developers to build Windows 8 apps. However the new apps run inside the ‘Start Screen’ style interface, which no doubt has numerous low level Windows 8 dependencies.

At $40 for the digital version of Windows 8 Pro, the price is reasonable. Consider developing for Apple, which requires developer grade Apple hardware – a much higher financial bar to clear, just to start the IDE. If you are not going to develop apps for Windows 8, I wouldn’t rush to upgrade. Keep in mind, the discount for the upgrade ends January, 31st 2013.

What is different in Windows 8:

Every time around, Microsoft rearranges something. Usually the control panel gets it, or a print dialog. This time around the classic start menu is not just rearranged, it is completely gone! To the recycle bin and my computer icons – be worried pals.

To compensate for the start menu being deleted, independent app vendors have already created several start menu apps.

Navigating in Windows 8:

First off, the desktop is still there, pretty much unchanged. What is new is the tablet / touch mode which all the new fancy stuff, including the Start Screen, fall under. As a result there are some new navigational patterns to get used to, and I highly recommend getting familiar with: Windows 8 Keyboard shortcuts.

Instead of the start menu, a 17 year old concept introduced first by Microsoft in Windows 95, we now get the new, fancy and colorful Start Screen!

windows 8 start menu

The Start Screen isn’t just for launching programs, it is an alternative to the desktop. It allows visual widgets of all kinds (weather, stocks, news, sports, etc) and is clearly made for tablets. Another new bell and whistle is cleverly named the Charms Bar (mouse to the upper right, or press Windows Key + C).

windows 8 desktop

With the start menu being gone this forced me to setup the Start Screen. It is designed to house apps, but also allows desktop programs. You can either search for your programs by mousing to the upper right and selecting search, or right clicking inside the Start Screen on the background (not on an icon) and then clicking All Apps in the lower right (simple huh?). After finding the program, right click on it and a menu appears below for docking it to Start or the Task Bar. After clicking ‘add to Start’, it puts it on the far right inside the Start Screen. From there the icon can be dragged to the left and positioned in a more accessible spot.

windows 8 pin options

windows 8 start cleaned up


How to turn off Windows 8 desktop machine:

A former boss of mine was using an XP machine years ago (he was a devout Mac user), and asked me how to turn it off. I said go to Start, then click Shut Down. He laughed and was amused that to turn off a Windows machine the first thing you do is click the Start button…

Well, to turn off a Windows 8 machine, it is even more cumbersome! Access the Charm Menu (Windows Key + C), then click Settings, then click Power.  A faster way is to press (Windows Key + I), and then click Power. There are actually several more ways to shut down your Windows 8 machine.  Great strategy for boosting app sales by Microsoft – never let people leave the computer!

Internet Explorer 10 is built into Windows 8:

Windows 8 comes with IE 10, something I was curious about anyway. I still won’t use it for anything other than cross platform testing.

IE10 was made available for Windows 7 just a week ago. I’m going to leave my Windows 7 machine at IE 9 for now. That way I can test on IE9 there, and IE 10 on this computer – JOY!

IE 10 also seems to handle the awesome and boundary pushing experiments by Hakim El Hattab, including 3d effects from Meny, and Reveal.js!

Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 went smooth:

The upgrade went very smooth. No need to boot from the iso after burning it, just pop in the disk and start the upgrade from within Windows 7.

Surprisingly, the desktop is still there, icons were even in the same spot I left them in Windows 7 before the upgrade. Windows Key + D brings it up as usual. The task bar is also just as it was, at the bottom, with the same pinned icons. All my programs are working fine including TrueCrypt – something I can’t live without since I keep project specific data in an encrypted drive that I mount only when needed.

The upgrade preserved my desktop, my right click menu, all my services, and even $PATH! The Cisco VPN was the only thing that had a problem – pesky VPN always seems to break with upgrades.

One thing that it overrode was my sound settings. The first thing I always do with a fresh Windows install is shut off all system sounds. The Windows 8 upgrade set a new default sound scheme, which I promptly shut back off.

Development of Windows 8 Apps using HTML5:

The main reason for the upgrade for me is development focused. I’m looking forward to playing around and seeing what clever apps I can build. The cool thing is, Windows 8 apps can be built with HTML/CSS, jQuery, and even some HTML5… The down side is they require the use of Microsoft only tags (which makes me cringe), but I can live with that at least for now in theory. It will be pretty interesting to explore and see if the Windows App Store takes off and how JavaScript heavy web apps might be ported over.

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