So I installed Windows 8 last night and spent a while playing with it. Figured I would write a quick review of my first impression.
Install and Upgrade:
Windows 8 is available from Microsoft for $40 bucks. I admit to having very negative expectations for Windows 8 but I figured that for $40 it was worth a try and that I could just roll it back if I didn’t like it. Clicking download downloads an upgrade advisor that scans your system for compatibility, takes your money and downloads the OS. The compatibility scan found 3 programs that were incompatible, most notably Microsoft Security Essentials and Daemon Tools. It found 30 Compatible programs most notably the Intel tools that came with my system board and the 10 or so useless multimedia applications that came with my Canon printer. In typical Microsoft fashion the other 10,000 programs on my computer went completely unnoticed… The program then asks you how you want to upgrade I chose the full upgrade saving apps (Note that in Windows 8 EVERY program is considered an “App”) and files.
Actual Install of the OS went very well. It was quick and efficient. My computer runs two separate RAID’s (a RAID 0 for the OS and a RAID 5 for storage) and Windows 8 had no trouble accessing and installing itself on either one. Installation went completely without a hitch and every program and most of the settings in my profile transferred over from Windows 7 with no issues.
I will say one thing about Windows 8, I does indeed boot up very fast. The Windows logo is very ugly compared to other versions, just four blue boxes arranged to look like a first grader drawing a window in MS Paint. Fortunately you don’t see it for long as Windows boots up in a matter of seconds. You are then taken to a hilariously brief video tutorial on the Metro UI that imparts very little information on the subject. Then Windows makes you create a profile based on your Windows Live ID instead of a local profile… Windows 8 is a very “connected” OS that wants to be connected 24\7 to the internet and it wants to use your Live ID for everything. You CAN DISABLE this, but it is on by default. It took me about 20 minutes to ditch the Live ID and set Windows up with the classic Local profile.
My first impression was of being somewhat overwhelmed. The Metro UI screen shows up when you log in and it is covered in live tiles that are filled with useless information. Think of them as Windows gadgets from Win 7 on steroids. The built in apps show you a stock ticker, the weather (in Sydney Australia and Paris for some reason) and news headlines along with a bunch of other useless gimmicky crap. Hitting the Windows key brings up the desktop.
The Desktop and Explorer:
Function wise, the Windows Desktop is almost completely unchanged from Win 7. However, if Win 7 was trying to make the desktop “prettier” Windows 8 is a major rollback. The Aero theme with glassy windows and rounded corners is completely gone and we are left with solid color square, sharp corner boxes that is more reminiscent of Windows XP Classic. The taskbar is mostly unchanged from 7 except that the little round start button is gone. You have to use either the window key on your keyboard or the charms bar (more on that later) to get back to the “Start” screen (metro UI) The desktop, My Computer, Management consoles, My Documents etc. are unchanged for the most part.
Explorer is mostly the same but with a few minor differences. Microsoft wants to get rid of the classic menu system and it seems they have succeeded. I hope you like Office 2010’s menu interface because that is pretty much what explorer has instead. Don’t let that scare you away though because unlike Office, I found the new menu system to actually be quite functional. Clicking on a file shows menu items relating to the type of file you clicked on. For example, clicking an .exe file the menu changes to allow you to run the program as another user or administrator or to run in a command prompt, pin to the start screen, stuff like that (also available by right clicking) Clicking on a hard drive will give you all the hard drive maintenance options like Disk Defrag, Disk cleanup, format disk and things like that. Besides the new menus, Explorer in Win 8 is almost identical to Win 7.
Metro UI (start screen):
I could write an entire review just on Metro… so I will try to keep this brief.
It has been said that Microsoft is trying to kill the Desktop and that Win 8 would be mostly about Metro UI. I would classify that as a false statement. Windows 8 dropped the Desktop about as efficiently as Windows 98 dropped DOS mode. In reality it seems that Metro is more of an addition to the desktop than a replacement of it. Windows metro is by far my least favorite feature of Win 8 mostly because it is useless, it knows it is useless and it spends its entire time on your computer trying to justify its existence. The OS comes with about 10 preinstalled “apps” that actually work on Metro. Most of them are useless unless you are a social media freak that wants to tell the world what you are doing every waking moment of every day. The live tile apps show you information about the program… when they feel like it. most of the time my apps are sitting there in their solid color rectangle showing of their white, bland, unattractive icons. The most useful apps are the weather app (after you change it from Sydney weather to somewhere on your side of the Earth) and the Bing news app. I rather enjoy the Bing news app, it kind of feels like reading a digital newspaper. It fill the whole screen and is easily navigable with the scroll wheel on the mouse. The other apps, like sports, movies, pictures, stocks I just removed. Those preinstalled apps are the only things that run in Metro. Every other program on the computer, including IE and Media Player all run in the classic Desktop. Once you look at it that way, the Metro UI is basically a full screen, glorified start menu with huge, bland icons.
There is a store where you can buy more apps for metro. It is kind of like the Apple apps store or Google Play. The apps that the app store sells are very much like apps you would find on a smartphone. I installed the metro Netflix app (its free!) and I admit that I like it quite a bit. Once I figured out how to transfer metro to my other screen (one monitor shows Metro and the other ALWAYS shows the desktop btw) I found that I actually really like the Metro Netflix app. Unfortunately though, there are currently very few apps on the Windows app store and even fewer that are made by REAL companies. There is no Amazon cloud player, no Pandora, no Steam apps… in fact I couldn’t find a decent Metro MP3 player anywhere. Most of the apps are sub-par indie junk reminiscent of the Google Play store early days. Hopefully that changes in the near future.
Metro operates with these things called “charms”. Move your mouse to the top right hand corner of the screen and it opens the charm bar. The charm bar is available on Metro and the Desktop. In the charm bar you can open and close metro, change settings on a selected app (right click the app and it puts a little check next to it and then the charm bar shows settings for that app), Search for files and access the Metro control panel (yes, metro has its OWN control panel…) Move your mouse to the left hand corner of the screen and you will see all the metro apps (including the desktop) that you have running. Metro operates like a smartphone, you can’t really exit an application from that application, if you tab out it just kind of stays open, hidden on the left side of the screen. This wouldn’t be a big deal except if you have dual displays… there is a very specific hot spot you need to hit in order to open the left hand charm bar. I find that it is difficult to hit this point as my mouse jumps to the 2nd display and opens the right hand charm bar on that display.
The search charm is basically the same thing as the search bar in the start menu of Windows 7. You can run apps in it by typing their name so commands like cmd, regedit, dxdiag, mstsc and such still work the same as they did in 7. Actually searching for files though is a bit problematic. I have a hard time convincing Metro that my E:\ (data) drive exists and the search charm will not recognize paths. Typing in E:\ in the search charm brings up all the files, folders and apps that have an “e” in them… on the C:\ Admittedly it does search insanely fast, but the search itself feels more like the Apple Finder is OSX where it just shows you a page of files from your computer in alphabetical order.
The Metro control panel has quick access to user controls and some personalization settings but it mostly exists so that you can tell Metro how much of your personal data it is allowed to share with the rest of the world. I turned all that social media and auto sharing crap OFF! You can also set a picture password to log in here. The picture password is a cute idea but it is basically just another version of the Android unlock gestures. Pick a photo and do three combinations of either tapping, circling or swiping the photo and that is your password. Which might be somewhat secure except that it settles for “close enough” on the circles and swipes. I just use a regular password instead…
The Metro interface is kind of clunky requiring way to many clicks and swipes to get things done that aren’t right in front of you. The graphics are also buggy. On my live tiles that aren’t just plain red boxes with white icons in them the pictures become garbled messes of static and the top half of the Netflix tile shows up when it wants to. Other times it is black. The Metro file explorer is very ugly. Just huge, plain colored boxes with white text on them that open like horizontal tree views to show you the contents of folders (also plain colored boxes with white text).
This has already been way longer than I wanted it to be and I could easily go on for another few pages about Win 8.
Overall Windows 8 isn’t even remotely as bad as you might think it is. From an operating system standpoint, if your computer can run it, it runs very well and does what it is supposed to do quickly and efficiently (of course I did just install it so, ask me again in a month.). Most of the core features are either unchanged or improved upon from Win 7.
I think Metro is mostly useless, but I do think that it CAN work if given time to mature. If there were more useful apps available to it and it was a little less clunky I could find myself liking it. Hopefully as more apps become available Metro will be more relevant but until then it is a confusing, glorified, overhyped full screen start menu.
I don’t recommend Windows 8 to people who don’t have a lot of patience. There is certainly a learning curve and I think that the average user will quickly become frustrated with it. But from my standpoint… I would stop short of saying I “like” the OS, but I don’t hate it either. At most I would say my opinion of Windows 8 is “lukewarm”. If you have $40 bucks to spare and you are already familiar with Win 7 I say go ahead and give it a try. I is far from the worst thing Microsoft has ever put out.