RANDOM REVIEW: Windows 8

EATING MY PEAS

My Windows 8 Desktop

So Purdy…

I first gave Windows 8 a spin when the Developer Preview was released back in 2011.  As I have not purchased a new computer since then, I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the final product, but judging from prevailing opinion as well as feedback from customers, it seemed that I wasn’t missing much.  As I work in tech support, I figured that I was going to have to support Windows 8 sooner or later, so I decided to eat my peas and installed Windows 8 on my laptop: a 14″ Toshiba P745-S4102 with 6MB of RAM.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN

The install went fairly well, but I made the mistake of not wiping the drive beforehand, so I had lots of icky bits left over from years of Windows 7 use.  I would open up my boot drive to find rouge directories sticking out their tongues at me in glee.  Obviously the thing to do was to delete them, so I got delete happy and of course, deleted an important directory.

So just like I did during my adventures with OS X, I had to start all over again.  I formatted the drive, reinstalled Windows 8, and was back in business.  Windows 8 seemed to be a little more happier after the second install, so lesson learned: always format the hard drive before dropping in a new OS.

THROWN FOR A LEARNING CURVE

Up until Windows 8 you could count on a few things like the Start Menu and Control Panel to be there.  No mas.  The Start Menu has been replaced by the Start Screen and other options are accessed by pulling up a ‘Charms Bar’ that is accessed by moving the mouse to either the upper or lower-right hand corner of the screen.  Moving the mouse to the lower-left hand corner reveals a shortcut to the Start Menu, and the upper-left corner pulls up the last program opened and a list of currently open programs if you move the pointer down from there.  The interface is not intuitive and poorly explained, you get zero help and are tossed into the Start Screen with nary a tooltip to help you.

A great example of how obtuse things are is the method for shutting down the computer:

  1. Bring up the Charms bar by moving the mouse to one of the right-hand corners…that is, assuming you know its there.
  2. Click ‘Settings’
  3. Click ‘Power’
  4. Click ‘Shut Down’ from the pop up menu.

Is it any wonder that people are upset about having to re-learn how to use their computer again?  Expect to stumble around Windows 8 for a while (I certainly did) until you learn its intricacies or say ‘screw it’ and download a Start Menu replacement.

APPY, APPY, APPY

Mess of tiles on Windows 8 Start Screen

…or not!

One of the big reasons Windows 8 has received so much grief was because of the removal of the apparently-beloved Start Menu.  I admittedly gave them static about this too, but having poked at it again, I now get what it is Microsoft had in mind when they removed it.

Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have given us the concept of apps, or small programs that only do one thing or access a single service.  Like many of you, I’ve gotten accustomed to doing things via apps.  When done right, they’re great: you open up the app for whatever it is you want to do and take care of business instead of having to open up a browser, navigate to the website, login and all that.

Microsoft and Windows 8 want you to do everything in apps, and while I like this idea and would like to embrace it, the fact of the matter is that for whatever reason, the Windows 8 apps I have used have either fallen short of my expectations or just plain don’t exist.

The official Twitter app is one example.  I have multiple Twitter accounts, randomizer9 is my main one and I have one set up for The Rules of Tech Support.  The Twitter apps on my phone and iPad both allow me to switch back and forth between identities with a few taps, but the Windows 8 app only lets me login to one account, which reduces its usefulness.

Some apps just don’t exist.  The most glaring omissions for me are Facebook and Gmail, though I can set up the Mail client for use with GMail.  I’m also surprised that there isn’t a version of Office that uses the Metro interface.  Granted, I don’t use very many apps to begin with, so its not that big of a deal to me, but other folks who love apps might be disappointed in the selection, though it should get better with time.

THE DOCKING DESKTOP

Luckily, the desktop is still around and is accessed by clicking the Desktop tile.  While the Start Menu is persona non grata, much to the consternation of lots of folks (including myself) programs can be docked to the Taskbar just like in Windows 7.  I found myself docking each one after installing them.  This works pretty well for me and I haven’t really missed the Start Menu all that much, especially since discovering this handy list of Windows key shortcuts.

Unfortunately, installing legacy programs barfs icons all over the Start Screen just like it did before.  It is a little jarring to see the a nice purdy Metro Start Screen morph into icky tile-o-rama with a tap of the Page Down key.  The big problem with the Start Screen is that there is currently no good way to organize tiles that were installed by legacy programs.  Sure, you can move them around, but one of the nice things about Ye Olde Start Menu was that it kept things you didn’t need out of the way.  Hopefully the upcoming Windows 8.1 will resolve some of those issues, otherwise I’m not sure what I’m going to do once my Taskbar fills up with docked programs.

I have experienced no compatibility issues with older programs and hardware as of yet which is pretty darn lucky considering I still use Microsoft Money 2000 and WinAmp 2.9.

WHERE’S MY MEDIA CENTER?

I feel bad for Microsoft at times because even when they do things right they often don’t get credit for it or the Thing Done Right is completely ignored.  Windows Media Center is one of those things.  Media Center turns a TV-tuner equipped PC into a pretty decent PVR and can even stream TV from a PC to an Xbox 360, which is awesome.  It was created during the Windows XP days (remember Media Center PCs? Yeah, me neither) and came included with certain versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7.  It does not come with Windows 8.  If you want Media Center you now have to pay an extra $9.99 even if you have the Super Mega Deluxe Happy Version of Windows..  So much for doing it right.

 CONCLUSION

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth you’ve probably heard, Windows 8 is not that bad.  Yes, it does have some annoying habits, such as the made-for-touch interface and missing Start Menu, but I have learned to live with those inconveniences.  That said, I understand why some people are upset: Windows users (such as myself) have grown accustomed to the Start button/menu being there for nearly twenty years.  For Microsoft to just yank that football away like Lucy does to Charlie Brown is just not right.  I know workarounds, but lots of folks either don’t or don’t want to go through the trouble/hassle.  Microsoft reached just a little too far ahead in that regard.

I understand what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8.  I even like the idea of doing everything quickly in apps instead of having to constantly go to the web browser.  Unfortunately, the apps either don’t measure up in terms of functionality or they just aren’t there, which means I end up constantly having to go back to the desktop, which defeats the whole point of the new interface.

The much-touted quick startup and shutdown is nice and my laptop appears to be performing as well as it did before, though, as with any new system, one should be leery of potential conflicts with old hardware and software.  I haven’t hit any snags yet in that department, but time will tell on that.

To wrap up: Windows 8 isn’t quite The Future just yet.  It takes steps in the right direction with its app-centric design but is hamstrung by sub-par apps that will have you going back to the desktop over and over again.  If you are one of these folks that just can’t live without the Start Menu, there are third party add-ons, but I can’t vouch for their usefulness or reliability.  Once you get over the steep learning curve, 8 isn’t all that bad, but it isn’t as great as it could have been, either.  The upcoming Windows 8.1 should make things better so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.  While I’ll be sticking with Windows 8 for the short-term, I won’t be tossing away my Windows 7 install disc anytime soon.

3 out of 5 tiles.

Staring into the Cupertino Kool-Aid

My PC went kablooey on Monday (see last post below) and since then, I’ve been getting by with my HP Mini 1000. It feels odd using it as my primary PC, as it is easily less than half the size of my monitor. It is doing an admirable job though.

Its not good enough to replace the old EDPUTER *sniff* mind you, but it is enough to keep the withdrawal at bay. Its doing such a good job that I have yet to rush to Ye Olde Best Buy to drop a few hundred bucks on a new PC…YET.

Thus, I’ve been debating the merits of Mac vs. PC, and two things give me pause when I consider making a Mac my next computer:

The first, of course, is cost. Like many other PC diehards, I have done more than my share of moaning about the “Apple tax” (apparently so has Microsoft recently). But you know what? I make good money, and I can certainly afford a Mac without causing too much distress to my pocketbook.

If just the hardware lasts, it would be great, especially considering the Gateway didn’t even make it three years. It could also be argued that time is money, and the thought of not having to spend time running virus scans, anti-spyware scans, and updating Windows every week is a pleasant one.

The second item of contention is something less tangible…I’m not sure I want to become a Mac USER.

To me, Mac zealots are the obsessive Texas A&M fans of the computer world. Most fans of teams tell you how much their team rocks and can beat the tar out of anyone else, even if said team stinks. In contrast, all obsessive Texas A&M fans (at least the ones I’ve known) say is “UT SUCKS!” In a similar manner, all Mac fanboys can say is “PCs SUCK!” For people who support things that are supposedly “better” both groups seem to have a nasty inferiority complex.

Some time ago I tried playing World of Warcraft. I uninstalled it before the 14-day trial period was up. What happened? I saw the South Park World of Warcraft episode, and told myself: “there is no way in hell I am turning into one of those FREAKS.”

I would have, too! *shudder*

I get the same “AW, HELL NO” feeling inside whenever I see my Mac-using friends’ creepy zombie-like obsessiveness. Lately they’ve been foaming at the mouth extra-hard at the prospect of adding another PC-user to the collective. Frankly, I figure I’m annoying enough without adding a generous dollop of Mac-fanboy-sauce to the Eduardo geekburger.

I think I can handle being a Mac-user, though. I just have to be careful to avoid all the bad behavior I’ve seen from the members of the Cult of Jobs over the years. I’ve got some numbers to crunch before I make a decision, though, but with the Mini (HP, not Mac) holding it together I can hold off for a bit. I just don’t want to become an “Obsessive Mac Guy.”

Now if I get a Mac, then an iPhone, all bets are off!

D-Edputer

I think I have officially HAD IT with PCs.

My formerly-trusty Edputer seems to have bit the dust this evening. I was putting in a drive so that I could use it to load a clean XP install and then use it to scan my main drive for viruses. It all started when I got that damnable virus that been all over the news lately, and various attempts to get rid of it (even using tools from several of the big anti-virus guys) failed. I figured if that didn’t work, I would go “nuclear option” and wipe it clean.

Something went wrong while putting in the drive; either I accidentally zapped the PC with static electricity, or the drive finally went kaput and took the PC with it (how my second PC went to binary heaven), or the power supply went bye-bye. In any event, I now have a useless box full of PC parts, because I can’t even get a POST beep out of it now. Of course, if it wasn’t for the virus, I wouldn’t even have had to open the thing up.

So now what?

That’s the question I am asking myself right now. Do I get another Windows machine and take a chance on Vista? That could work, given that I would have enough horsepower to make Vista happy. Then again, perhaps I should turn to The Dark Side and buy a Mac.

I’m actually seriously considering it…I could even install XP (or Vista) for when I need it. Sure the hardware would be more expensive, but the pluses of not having to deal with all the fun facts of Windows life might make it worth it.

Who knows, I just might be cool enough to get a Mac…

No Longer Hip To Be Square

I recently got upgraded to dual-monitors at work (the old tube kind, so don’t be too impressed) and it got me thinking that it would be really nice to have dual monitors at home as well, especially since they have become so inexpensive as of late. Curiosity in hand, I go browsing for a monitor to place aside my trusty Gateway 19-incher.

As I look around, I notice something…my monitor is an older “square” type (actually, its not REALLY a square because of the ratio, hence the quotes, but that’s my anal-retentive programmer side talking) and all the new ones are of the widescreen variety. Even the inexpensive ones are all widescreen now.

I abandoned the idea because it would just look weird to have a widescreen monitor sitting next to a square one…its bad enough the ones at work are of different sizes, the last thing I need is to screw up my eyes even more with different aspect ratios…

Of course, I could just buy one HUGE monitor instead…hmm.

XP-dited

I installed Vista on the ol’ Edputer about two months ago, and once I got over the initial reaction of “This is IT?” I grew accustomed to Microsoft’s latest. It had some good things (power saving seems to actually work now, organization of user folders actually makes some sense) some annoying things (WTF was wrong with the old way of navigating folders?) and some bad things (no keyboard shortcuts make Randomizer MAD) but overall, it was alright.

I had no hardware compatibility problems; my scanner, printer, and other hardware worked just fine. With the exception of one piece of software, everything worked well there, too. I was pleasantly surprised to find WinAmp 2.91 was still functional. I didn’t try any games, but that’s what consoles are for, anyway 🙂

The deal-breaker was performance: even after upping my RAM to 2GB and optimizing the daylights out of it (i.e. turning off most of the extra bells and whistles) Vista was just too much for my so-called “Vista Capable” PC. One format and install later, and its back to good ol’ XP.

When I buy my next PC, I will probably go with whatever flavor of Vista it comes with, but as far as Ol’ Faithful is concerned I’ll stick with XP. Of course, there’s also Mac, but I’ll need to save my quarters for one of those.

Re-Re-Redundnant Backup

As much as I’ve been poking Vista this week, I haven’t really taken the time to push it too much, however I think I’ll put it through its paces during the long weekend and do some fun stuff that I know will redline the CPU and bring my PC to its knees. The last step before doing this is copying my documents from my external hard drive to the one that has Vista on it. I’ve been running off a straight copy that I made to that drive a few days ago after making sure I had everything moved over, and after making a backup file using the software that came with the drive.

Now I have four copies…a copy of my stuff on the Vista drive, a straight copy on the external drive, a backup archive on the external drive, and the original on the XP drive…I feel a little bit safer now. 🙂

Livin’ La Vida Vista

I’m not certain why I’m doing this, but I’ve decided to give Vista another try, and this time I’m actually going to activate it and use it as my desktop OS.

Make that, I’m going to try to to activate it and use it as my desktop OS…I’m going to make a list of all the stuff I absolutely need on my PC, and hopefully all of them work on Vista. On an unrelated note, I just purchased a new external hard drive for backups. I’m also doing this on a seperate hard drive, if worse comes to worse, I can go back.

Come to think of it, I do have 30 days to activate, no rush there.