30 Days with Windows 8, the Red-Headed Stepchild

“Windows 8 is going to be as well received as Vista.” I can remember saying that the first time I ever laid eyes on it. The tiled interface was strange to say the least, and thanks to numerous videos like this one of Chris Pirillo’s Dad trying to navigate, it didn’t exactly seem user friendly. Unlike Windows 7 which was the saving grace from the abomination that was Vista, press for Windows 8 was, and still is, pretty bad.

After all, the UI we’ve all come to know and understand since 1995, has been replaced, at least at first glace. Big changes in any form tend to receive some sort of backlash. From Facebook redesigns to changes in our personal lives, they are often met with resistance. Windows 8 is no exception.

On September 5, the unthinkable happened: my PC got hit with a nasty virus. Usually, it’s me fixing a problem with a family member’s computer (cough Mom cough), but this time I was the one who screwed up. After several hours of troubleshooting, it became clear that the only option was to wipe the hard drive, and start from scratch. There was just one problem though…

My Windows 7 Disk Was Missing

Scouring all the possible locations from top to bottom, it became hopeless. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have a laptop, I had to move fast. However, there was a saving grace, but an option that I was still weary of. Several weeks prior, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Windows 8 Pro 64-Bit. With not really any other option, aside from Linux which I never really got into, I composed myself, and jumped head first into the rabbit hole.

Installation was a breeze, and like with Windows 7, drivers were automatically installed. The only drivers I ended up needing to download were for my video card (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260) and webcam (Logitech C910). One of the first changes you’ll notice is the login screen, which now relies off of your Microsoft (Windows Live) account. You don’t HAVE to have a Microsoft account, but it is strongly encouraged. Also, in order to install apps from the Microsoft Store, and access some of the installed apps like Skydrive, you need a Microsoft account.

One thing I really like about the new login screen is that you don’t need to use a password anymore. You can if you want, but you can also login by way of a special PIN. For me, this is a lot simpler, and once I enter my PIN, it logs me in without needing to hit enter.

Dat Navigation

The new tiled UI does take some getting used to. It took me about 30 minutes or so to figure out how to move tiles around, move to the traditional UI (taskbar + desktop), access settings, install/uninstall programs, create or edit accounts, close programs and so on. Once I figured out how to navigate everything, I actually found myself saying “You now, this isn’t as bad as I thought.” Of course, “not as bad” isn’t exactly a swimming endorsement.

I really tried over the course of a week, but the tiled layout, at least from a non touch-based perspective, really makes no fucking sense. I understand where Microsoft is coming from, wanting a unified layout across all different devices, but if you don’t have a touch screen, tiles are pretty damn stupid. However, that takes us to the traditional desktop which, while the start menu is absent (but will be reintroduced in Windows 8.1), is pretty much the same experience from Windows 7. This is where I spend 99% of my time, and I can browse files, the web, use Skype, basically do whatever I did before just fine.

Since I am constantly on the web, I found it very cool that Google Chrome can be used in “Windows 8 mode,” basically functioning as a Windows 8 app, and taking up the entire screen. However, one annoyance that I couldn’t figure out, and not even the official Windows Twitter account could help me with despite their best efforts, was that when listening to music in Chrome while in Windows 8 mode, if you switch to another app, the music automatically pauses. Kind of annoying, but nothing to get crazy about.

The App, Err, Microsoft Store

There are some Windows 8 apps that look good. However, I often found myself saying “That looks like shit” one too many times. Navigating the store is “meh” at best, and the selection isn't that great.  It took me longer than I’d like to admit to realize that in order to search for apps, you have to click the “Search” button on the right-hand side navigation bar on Windows 8.

Performance

Personally, I can’t really tell too much of a difference. Speed does seem to be slightly better, but I’m not sure if that has to do with having a fresh install of Windows, or if it’s actual improvements in Windows 8. This is something I plan on paying more attention to in the coming months.

Task Manager

I contemplated leaving this part out since it’s something most people rarely ever use, but as a geek, I absolutely love the redesign. Everything is better organized, and I enjoy seeing even more detailed info under the “Performance” tab.

Windows 8

Lockscreen

Unless you have a family PC, you probably won’t be locking your account or logging out too often, but it is nice being able to customize the lockscreen, and adding info from apps like weather. I think mine is kind of sexy…

Windows 8

Final Thoughts

If you’re currently using Windows 7, I don’t see any strong enough reasons to upgrade. 7 is still a great OS, and will continue to receive mainstream support through January 2015. However, if you’re still using XP or, god forbid, Vista, it might not hurt to get with the times. Windows 8.1 will be launching October 18, and Microsoft has addressed many issues. It’s not perfect, but it is a solid improvement.

Like with many changes, it’s a lot easier to form a solid opinion once you have actually tried it yourself. After using Windows 8, it’s not that huge disaster I once thought it was. Some things still don’t make any sense, but neither have a lot of things I’ve done. While I’d much rather enjoy a banana split with all the goodies, Windows 8 is like a couple scoops of vanilla: still tasty, but with a lot of room for improvement.


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