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Review of Windows 8

This is going to be a stream of consciousness review of Windows 8. I’d like to think it’s in the mold of Kerouac or Thompson but frankly, it’s probably just that I’m too lazy to say “period” after each sentence while I’m dictating to my speech recognition software.

I installed Windows 8 on the Head Rat’s computer a few days ago. I was hoping that Windows 8 would provide a significant performance improvement over the Vista crap that came with the laptop. (Technically, it’s my laptop. I was supposed to be taking it, using it for various projects, and generally using it to improve my productivity when I wasn’t at home. However, the laptop lives in her bedroom, the only bookmarks on it are shopping websites, the only e-mail on it is the head rat’s account and so by definition, it would appear to be the Head Rat’s computer, at least in any de facto sense of the word.) Nonetheless I was hoping for performance improvement because the Windows Vista installed on her computer pushes the laptop’s hardware pretty much to the limit of its capacity. It has horrible boot up time and tends to be very clunky in everything it does (clunky being a technical term, of course).  The Windows 8 boot up time seems to be significantly faster than the Windows Vista boot up time. However, the time to open applications and programs seems to be pretty much a wash.

I got a copy Windows 8 through my college for testing purposes, so that’s what I’m doing. The installation was actually pretty easy. The problem is the user interface for Windows 8 is very much not like a traditional Windows desktop.  When you first start Windows 8 you get a desktop filled with tiles much like you would see on a smart phone. The first time you see it, it’s very confusing and it takes a while to notice  that there is a title that says “desktop”, which, if you select it, takes you to something that looks like a traditional Windows desktop. The only problem is that the start button has disappeared. Now a lot of the things that you’re used to using appear as tiles on that first page as well as appearing on the more or less familiar desktop. For example if you want to use Internet Explorer, there’s a tile for that on the title screen (I’m not sure what Microsoft calls the screen). Internet Explorer also appears on the regular desktop. There are also lots of “apps”. There is a tile that has the bing desktop on it. There is a tile that has your Facebook feed and another that has you twitter feed, should you choose to enable them. There are tiles that would show you what’s going on with your instant messenger. There’s a tile for a newsfeed. There’s a tile for a weather feed. There’s a tile for your e-mail. There’s pretty much a tile for anything you can think of, most of which, frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass about.

Windows 8 is optimized for use with a touchscreen, and as such I’m sure the tiles are all very useful. I however don’t have a touchscreen and so after using the app tiles with the mouse, at this point I have to say that if you’re using the little touchpad that comes with most laptop computers you may be in for a surprise. Navigation of the tiles tends to be a little jumpy with the touchpad. When we plugged in a USB mouse on the other hand, it was much more stable. Now, once you figure out that you can jump to the more or less traditional desktop, it’s pretty much like Windows as you’ve come to expect it. However, one of the really weird things is that you can’t go to the start button to get the list of programs you can run, you have to go back to the title screen, which if you scroll to the right far enough, you eventually find a list of the apps and the programs that are installed and available for your use. If you install new programs that’s where they show up and you can drag the icon for any program you install to the left end of the tile screen and add the tile for that program to the bunch of tiles that you see when you first access that screen. That part’s kind of cool.  Unfortunately there are whole bunch of system utilities there that are also accessible and can be dragged over to the left side where the tiles you see reside, which I think could be a bit confusing for folks who are not used to using things like system utilities, performance monitors, task schedulers, the defrag utility, etc.

If, for example, you were using a tablet PC like an iPad or (I suppose) Microsoft’s new Surface and you were using the tablet the way a lot of people use their smart phones with multiple apps running and information at your fingertips, the whole app tile thing could be kind of cool. Initially I found the whole thing kind of annoying because I don’t care about Facebook or sports feeds or twitter feeds or things like that. However I realize that on my regular desktop I have an RSS feed aggregator running all the time, I have performance monitors for my CPUs and Internet connection running all the time, I usually have an e-mail program open and have at various times had newsfeeds and weather feeds active at all times. On my desktop those things show up as small bits of information along the status bar, taskbar, or they run in a browser that I have open all the time, or are they operate as gadgets on my desktop. After having used Windows 8 a few times I realize that it’s not really any different and I’ve discovered that there are multiple apps which can or could do the same things that I’m used to having in other forms all available on the main screen of Windows 8.

So I guess my first impression of Windows 8 is it’s annoying. It was obviously designed by Microsoft to be used with touchscreen tablets and still be used with desktops. Personally I think Microsoft is pandering to the tablet market but since the desktop market has stalled I can understand why they would do that. Like a lot of things that Microsoft does, Windows 8 grates on my nerves because it makes assumptions about what I need that I don’t seem to have any control over and Microsoft is just arrogant enough to believe that they know what is good for me and that if they force it down my throat I’ll eventually come around. That sort of thinking just generally pisses me off, but, that said, I have to grudgingly say that Microsoft 8 doesn’t seem completely horrible. The more I play with it, the less repulsed by it I am. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a fan, but then again I am still annoyed by some of the decisions Microsoft made when I had to upgrade from Windows 98 to Windows XP so perhaps that’s just me being contrarian.

The bottom line is that if you have a tablet PC with touchscreen I think Windows 8 may be a decent operating system. Since I have absolutely no experience with Apple products I don’t really have anything to compare it to. I can see what Microsoft was trying to do. I’m willing to admit that they were at least marginally successful and if I ever buy a Surface or some other non-Apple tablet with a touchscreen I don’t think I’ll have a problem using Windows 8. For hard-core desktop users, I think you’re just going to find it annoying and you’ll probably want to stick with Windows 7. I know that’s what I’m going to do.

Give me a couple of weeks.  Maybe I’ll change my mind.

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