• Windows 8 on RM Slate Overview

    Windows 8 Developer Preview on RM Slate Overview


    Please note that this article is in no way supposed to be an authoritative guide, just a quick look at how things functions and any new or changed features I come across. As this isn’t even a beta expect many things to change as time rolls on as well.

    Introduction
    I think it would be fair to say that many of us have been waiting with baited breath for this first glimpse of Windows 8, and for me to see this version running on a tablet has been a revelation, but there are some things that need to be pointed out. It is in no way a finished, or even a beta version. This preview is, I suspect, solely designed to allow developers to get to grips with the new Metro interface and begin to develop apps for it. In fact, many of the pre-installed Metro apps are either incomplete or fail to work at all on the RM Slate due to what I suspect is the graphic hardware limitations of the device. In fact, possibly the best performing app that I have come across is Internet Explorer, but even then, it is lacking some configuration options within Metro.
    Many control panel and configuration apps fail to work correctly, but this could be down to driver and other issues.

    RM Slate Hardware Spec
    Just to give you an idea of what kind of platform you can expect W8 with Metro to run on. Please note the RM Slate is also known as the Pegatron Masterpad and has, I suspect, been OEM'd throughout the world under a variety of different names.

    Intel Atom N450 hyperthreaded 1.6Ghz processor
    2GB DDRII 667 RAM
    32GB SSD
    64MB Intel 3150 graphics
    11.6" 2 point capacitive touchscreen running @ 1366x768
    Atheros AR9002WB-1NG Wireless

    Installation

    I decided to do a fresh, clean installation using a Samsung external USB CD/DVD drive from the downloaded x86 version of W8, this was because only x86 drivers were available from the RM support site. The installation process was very smooth and I could thankfully use the touch screen for the few configuration options that were offered (region/KB selection, disk setup) during the initial setup process. The actual setup took about half an hour, but that may have been down to the fact I had accidentally unplugged the slate and it was running on battery! I shall have to repeat this in the future to see if it is any faster running from a mains charge.
    Once the initial setup is complete and the system files have installed you are asked to fill out user details, including the option to link your account to Microsoft’s Live services. You should note that the initial build I am working with has little or no actual software installed and I had to download the Live Essentials suite from Microsoft to add Messenger because If it was there as part of the initial build I couldn’t find it.
    Once done you are faced with a rather lovely splash screen which you can sweep up and away with the deft flick of a finger to reveal the real login screen and the wonderful new Microsoft on-screen keyboard, which is worlds away from the awfulness of the old one. Simply enter your password and you’re in, being faced with the new Metro interface full of applications and shortcuts to Internet Explorer, Tweet@rama (a Twitter client) and the Socialite Facebook app. More interestingly, there is a link to ‘Control Panel’. Don’t confuse this with the ‘real’ control panel; this panel is mainly orientated towards user enhancement and environment settings. For more down and dirty configuration you will have to find its more fully featured cousin lurking deep within via the ‘More Settings’ option at the bottom of the user control panel. One very nice feature I have noticed lurking at the bottom of the general settings page of the new control panel is the ability to do twe previously awkward tasks from within Windows

    1. Reload all of the orgional Windows files without affecting files or settings in case of any issues that may occur.
    2. Do a 'factory reset' of Windows and restore it to it's origional freshly installed state.

    I suspect these two feature will save EduGeek members a lot of time and effort in the future.


    Attachment 11346 The start screen. Swipe this up to reveal the login screen.

    The login screen.

    Attachment 11345 Welcome to Metro. It's fast and it's slick. Just don't expect much from the pre-installed apps.

    The two magic reset functions in the new look control panel.


    Navigation
    Before we go further I’ll have to explain how the touch controls work to make you better understand how it all operates.
    The touch controls operate as all touch controls do. Scroll left, right and up and down where required, but the touch interface in Windows 7 also has several pop-out and up-menus.
    For instance if you are in the main Metro interface and drag out from the right hand side of the screen a menu appears allowing you to search, share, access the start menu (in this case the metro start menu), connect to devices and access settings.
    If you drag up from the bottom of the screen with an application open you can access extra features and options. For instance, there are 2 Internet Explorer interfaces. One ‘classic’ and one designed for Metro (Please note the metro version of IE does not work with Flash or Java, however the classic does. Very strange!). The Metro IE is much smoother in finger operation and dragging up from the bottom of the screen reveals the address bar whilst at the top are open tabs. If you have no tabs open it will show the most frequently accessed sites arranged as tiles. Some of these currently prove to be a little awkward as you need a multi-touch screen to raise the menu and hold it there whilst a second press is required to activate a control. Still, it’s not even a beta, so I can really complain.
    If you have open applications you can sweep from the left hand side of the screen to the right to scroll between them, and if you halt part way you can split the screen between the 2 screens, or further to show the open screen and other open apps in a split screen.
    Pinch and zoom also works very well with multi-touch screens with text resolved very nicely indeed.
    You should also note the new Explorer interface with its ribbon layout. This new ribbon is very, very finger friendly and renaming, moving and working with files via touch has never been easier negating the need to touch-and-hold for right click options.

    The onscreen keyboard showing shortcuts in Internet Explorer 10 Metro.

    The split screen you can get by part way scrolling between open applications.

    Pinch and zoom resolves text nicely on the RM Slate.

    Metro
    Once you have installed Windows 8 and logged on for the first time you will be presented with the new Metro interface. This is designed almost solely as a touch interface and the myriad of apps laid out in tiles make for easy access. What you will also find, once you begin to install other software, is that their shortcuts appear on the far right-hand side of the interface (you’ll have to scroll to them) including many links that, to be honest, should not have been there such as uninstall and configuration links. I have no doubt these will be sorted out in later test releases.
    When you open any Metro based app it will open within the Metro desktop shell, opening any other software you have installed will open the classic desktop and run from there instead, and all of the ones I have installed so far from Windows Live Suite to Outlook 2010 work fine with touch, and the new on-screen keyboard is always at hand via a keyboard icon which appears next to any text box you touch.
    Unfortunately, it must be said, many of the pre-installed Metro apps are not very good, incomplete or just don’t seem to work at all. Admittedly, they are there as either ‘proof of concept’ or simply to demonstrate certain techniques for app development. The most complete application has to be Internet Explorer and I have to admit to being very impressed by it. It has a simple but elegant method of operation and is very intuitive to use. Other apps such as the Facebook, Twitter and News clients have minimalistic interfaces and functionality, but again, I suspect they are simply there to show off various development techniques.
    I also cannot currently find any way of managing or removing Metro apps, so if anyone can let me know it would be much appreciated.

    The Metro interface showing newly installed non-Metro programs. Note uninstall applications also listed!

    The new contol panel.

    Internet Explorer showing tab shorcuts and URL bar. This is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen in IE.


    The ‘classic’ shell
    The classic windows desktop and explorer shell is still present but seems to take second place to Metro. This is, I suspect, because Microsoft want people to develop Metro apps, and as all ‘normal’ Windows applications I have installed seem to work fine, most effort will be placed on Metro with the classic shell seeing some minor tweaks and improvements in the early stages of W8 development.

    The 'classic' desktop and explorer shell showing the new tabbed interface.

    The 'real' control panel. Note the 16 bit application support app in the top left hand corner.

    The new task manager showing the performace report. This screen grab was from a VM, so please don't think I have an uber tablet!

    Task manager showing running processes. Note the 'suspended Metro app. Metro apps are automatically suspended when not in use to save processor power.


    The RM Slate and performance
    I have to admit to being more than a bit impressed as to how the RM Slate handled Windows 8. I honestly didn’t think the hardware would have been able to run it competently. But it does. All Metro scrolling and desktop effects are nice and fast with no discernible lag or lack of response to touch commands. The tablet also boots in about 10 seconds (after the BIOS splash-screen closes).
    To get it working correctly though, you will have to download and install the slate drivers from here: RM Slate 100 driver collection (Microsoft Windows 7 - 32 bit) [M11JB / 0ALC269 / 0GMA500 / AR9002 / AX88772]
    You will experience driver installation errors stating that a particular driver package is not designed for this version of Windows when installing, however, simply install them using compatibility mode for Windows 7 and all will be fine. You may also see a bit of a performance gain in using an SD card as a ReadyBoost drive.
    Another thing you will find is that the screen does not auto rotate, and you will have to use the Millenium application to to this. The g-sensor is correctly registered in device manager and it is set to rotate in the screen controls. I presume this is a Windows problem, so I will await further W8 releases with interest. I have also seen that when the screen is rotated into portrait mode Windows has problems fitting web pages to the screen correctly.
    Battery life is also good, and I have got almost 4 hours browsing with some life still left in it to run on standby overnight. Remember to turn down the screen brightness to about 50% to save power and turn off Bluetooth. It is just a shame that the wireless controller has no power options available which would have helped considerably.

    But these are minor issues I feel, and the RM Slate does deliver an excellent tablet experience in the week I have been using it. In fact, I took it home this weekend and never once used my laptop to work on. It is quite clear that Microsoft have spent a lot of time and effort ensuring that they get this right, particularly in light of their other various efforts involving Windows XP and 7 on previous tablet devices. It simply was not good enough to allow you to use touch on a conventional Windows interface, and since Apple decided to show the world how it should be done they have had to take notice. And happily they have.

    To summerise I shall finish with a list of pros and cons to make it easier for you to see the main points:

    Pros

    1. The hardware is (currently) more than capable of running Windows 8 and the Mero interface.
    2. Many drivers are installed as part of the standard build, but you will have to add in the 'real' drivers later.
    3. The Metro interface works wonderfully and is very intuative and easy to use.
    4. IE 10 for Metro. Finally, a version of IE I can use!
    5. Current Windows software can be installed and used painlessly.
    6. The onscreen keyboard is a huge improvement over the Vista/W7 version.
    7. A good battery life of up to 5 hours.
    8. The ability to repair Windows system files or reset the device to factory defaults from within the operating system.

    Cons

    1. Some Metro apps are not fully finished and some do not work at all due to hardware limitations.
    2. The screen does not auto-rotate. You have to do this manually via the Millenium application.
    3. Only Metro apps will alert you to changes and notifications. Messenger and Skype run in the classic desktop and as such you cannot see if they have new messages for you unless you have the volume turned up.
    4. There is no ability to install or remove or otherwise manage Metro applications.
    5. The 32GB SSD drive may prove to be a bit small for some.
    6. Lack of Flash and other third party plugin support for Metro IE 10. It renders a lot of web pages ugly without it.

    In short, if you have currently manage RM Slates, or are considering purchasing Windows 8 to run on a tablet platform then I can assure you that things are looking good. So far. Hopefully Microsoft will add to this current base OS model without affecting the performance at all, and if this is the case it will be interesting to see how the price of the RM Slate holds up against tablets released with it on next year. It could make W8 tablets even cheaper to implement in schools as long as RM's priceing remains constant.