Android X86 (Honeycomb) and Windows 8 Developer Preview from a Windows 7 User Point-of-view
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Android X86 (Honeycomb) and Windows 8 Developer Preview from a Windows 7 User Point-of-view

A hands-on review of Andoid x86 Honeycomb for Asus Laptops A hands-on review of Windows 8 Developer Preview

Introduction

Pretty specific title, don't you think?

I've been playing around with both of these operating systems for a few weeks now and thought I'd share my experience so you can get a taste (heheh, desert Android OS names...) of things to come but don't have to go through the hours of effort just to install them. And I say save you the effort because neither are viable as a primary operating system on a laptop. Fun to use and the Android operating system can be found on countless smartphones and tablets, but useless on a normal computer nonetheless.

Considerations

Now I didn't exactly give these operating systems the royal treatment. I was just lucky enough to own a 3 year old Asus laptop that just happens to be able to run a copy of the pre-built Android x86 intended for... well, "some" Asus laptops. It's got a dual-core processor, 3 gigs of RAM, and a new 500 gig 7200 RPM hard drive installed in it. I gave the Android OS a 7.5 gig partition which was more than enough and the Windows 8 partition 100 gigs which could've been happy with 75 easily for my purposes. I also have full intention of uninstalling both operating systems as the Windows 8 boot screen doesn't include the GRUB bootloader for the Android OS, the GRUB bootloader doesn't include direct boot to both Windows OS's, and because I have a copy of Windows 7 that's from a... *cough* "questionable" source, the bootloader for Windows 8 doesn't work with my Windows 7. At least until Ice Cream Sandwich and Windows 8 Beta are available... then I might do the whole thing over again. -.-

Android x86 (Honeycomb)

And for the record, yes, all Android OSs have a desert inspired nickname associated with them, although the first two unofficial ones are unofficial because they were copyright infringements.

If you happen to be lucky enough to have one of a select number of laptops or tablets that there's a pre-built installation for, or happen to be really good at compiling a operating system from the source code for your specific machine, you can head over to http://www.android-x86.org to download an ISO to install. They've got directions there on how to load the ISO onto a USB stick and save yourself a 4.7gig DVD-R from using a few hundred megabyte on it, but I just gave up after a while and used the 5 cents to make my life a little easier...

Installation is pretty straight forward and outlined in detail on the project's website. The options I'd suggest are yes, definitely install GRUB, install the boot option for Windows, don't bother installing read-write, install the default user file size of 512MB, and just before booting into Android, do create the fake SD card with the maximum size available.

Once you start-up Android, the time to load the operating system is pretty quick, easily under a minute. You can setup a login name, password, link it to your Google account (if you already have a GMail account, for instance), and so forth. Whatever you do, do NOT turn on Bluetooth! OH God, that was a headache! It instantly goes into an unrecoverable reboot loop and you simply have to reinstall the entire OS! Otherwise, most of the features and options work fine. Facebook is included but crashes easily.

Now from a Windows 7 user point of view, there's quite a few differences in the interaction. Background-wise, right off the bat you only have 1 gig of RAM, some of the access to folders and functions are blocked from you, and your only usable storage is the SD card (hence you should create the fake one!). But, because it's a mobile operating system all of the filesystem is loaded into a RAM disk giving you pretty much instant access to it. This means when you start an app, it starts instantly!

With Windows 7, you login and have your standard desktop. At the bottom, from left to right, you have your Windows icon that opens up your programs list, settings, so forth, then your quick launch links, then running programs in the middle, and finally your Systray on the right with background running programs and other info. In the main part of your desktop, you've got all the links and files you're too lazy to place in better places, maybe a couple of widgets like a clock, calendar, and so forth.

In Android, the experience changes. At the bottom instead, you've got a Back button which will go to the previous screen of the app you're in or the previous app if you're already on the first screen of it, then an up arrow that goes back to the main screen, next a button that shows all of the apps running in the background, and finally on the right you have direct access to settings and status info. The frustrating part of any apps running in the background is without installing an additional tweak, they're difficult and sometimes impossible to shut down without restarting the OS. You can change the background to a live background such as a sunset, a tank of water that fills up and has an ice cube floating at the top, or whatever else you'd like to download and install as a distraction.

Your main application sources are the AndAppStore and the Android Market. The first gives you a list of official apps to install and the latter gives you access to pretty much any other source for programs. To install some from the Market and other... *cough* "questionable" sources such as from torrent sites, you need to go into Settings and allow installation of third-party programs.

Instead of a single desktop, you have 5 screens that you rotate through and can fill up with whatever apps and/or widgets you'd like. To place them there, you simply click on the Apps link at the top-right corner, hold down the left mouse button over an app, and drag them into the screen you'd like as they're spread out in a rhombus-like display just above them. Then, you can click on that screen, hold down the left mouse button over each app and move them around the screen, move them over to a different screen, or drag them into the Trash icon in the top-right corner to remove them.

Summary

This is a great opportunity to play around with the operating system if you're planning on buying a new smartphone or tablet that comes with Android before you buy it. But because of the limitations of the file system, hardware, and program selection, it makes no sense to make it your primary operating system. Mind you, if all you use your computer for are the type of apps that are available and your only built-in storage device is a 10GB SSD hard drive, then this may be worthwhile for you!

Windows 8 Developer Preview

Okay, as the name suggests, this version of Windows really is only intended for program developers to debug their programs for the "upcoming" Windows (circa, oh iunno, 2015 at this rate...) as well as develop their programs into a "Metro" format. What's Metro? Pretty much a Windows Phone 7 tile which functions as a graphical icon as well as a widget when appropriate.

The installation is a must from a burnt DVD. And the installation process is identical to what you're used to in every Windows version from... I'd have to say about Windows ME? Same screens, same options, same pretty much everything. Once it's installed, then the experience is different right from the boot screen!

It's not just text anymore! Not to mention, you have access to all of the recovery features right at start-up! Let me elaborate this for a minute... With every other Windows operating system, if you get some sort of boot loop and can't actually boot into Windows, you had to either pray that holding down F8 and selecting one of the other boot options such as Safe Mode and so forth was sufficient to get into Windows and fix it, or otherwise, dig up whatever Windows installation DVD you had handy, boot that up which could take a few minutes, and then finally had access to the recovery options. With Windows 8, boom! Right at startup you have access to your mouse, a nice Windows blue background, straightforward icons, and not just a "System Restore" option among the normal but also a "Refresh System" which I sure as heck didn't try but sounds like it clears out third-party applications so you can start over without a fresh install from scratch.

Once you boot into the operating system, you can link it to your Windows Live ID as long as you've already associated a cell phone number to it and if not, you can start the process from there but need to finish it in another browser window. It copies over your profile picture and other things like associating your Twitter account with the e-mail address (and makes it difficult to use a different e-mail address otherwise). But the experience in general is very much like a Windows Phone 7 that has a tile to access the normal desktop as well.

Your main screen is a series of tiles that you can move around as you please stretched across a few screens. Ironically, if you select other features on certain tiles (such as Settings), it will open up a new window in the desktop to allow you to interact with it. Otherwise, your main programs are there such as File Explorer. Once you go into the desktop, the main feel of it is identical to a normal Windows installation except the Windows icon in the corner accesses the main screen instead.

So it looks like what we have to look forward to in Windows 8 is instead of the programs all being stored away in a menu system, they're all icons? *shrug* Sure, might be interesting.

Finally, there's the capability to setup Devices. Seeing as I don't own a Windows Phone 7, I didn't get to take advantage of it but quick access lent itself to me to believe that there's going to be some greater interoperability down the road.

Summary

Quite a few of the new features of this version of Windows aren't only unusable due to lack of Metro apps available on the Marketplace, but are simply turned off. I mean I could understand opening up Marketplace and there's no apps there yet, but completely turning them off until most likely the Beta comes out seems a bit excessive. So by all means, don't install this as your primary operating system! Simply install it on its own partition and enjoy having a sneak preview of what's to come.

Conclusion

As you can see, I'm an early adopter. I like finding out about things before they come out and in these cases, well before! I've had plenty of experience with troubleshooting pre-release operating systems and thankfully, save for the Bluetooth reboot loop issue, haven't had any issues with either of these OSs. If you want to try them out yourself, feel free to but I hope I've given enough of my experience to prevent much necessity for it.

Now I wonder when Android Ice Cream Sandwich for the iPhone will be ready to go... :)

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