Windows 8: The Good, The Bad, The Very Pretty

I am a smalltime blogger and one thing that I am very adamant about is giving my honest opinion, no matter how brutal. I want my readers to know that I will call a spade a spade. With all of the information I report on already out there by larger blogs with vastly more resource at their disposal than what are available to me, all I have is my voice. I like to think that you return here for that.

For the most part, PsikTech focuses on mobile technology, however Windows 8 is a unique development. There is no denying that the new Start screen, apart from being very controversial, is a direct reaction to the rise of mobile computing. Therefore, despite being still a traditional computing operating system, the lines are very, very blurred. Windows 8 is as much a development in mobile technology as a development in desktop computing.

Whereas Apple is slowly easing their user base into their mobile metaphor with each iteration of OS X, Microsoft effectively says “Screw it. Let’s get it over with,” and puts the interface front and center. Naturally, there is a portion of consumers and tech journalists that have a natural gag reflex to this sudden change. These are the same people who gagged and cried foul when Steve Jobs removed the floppy drive removed from the iMac in 1998. They are the same people who cried foul when Windows moved from 3.1 to Windows 95. In other words, they are out of touch with the times.

Comparing the two approaches to the impending computing convergence Apple is more and more looking like the Microsoft of the 1990’s. Slow to change and afraid to rock the boat. Microsoft however is acting the part of the maverick. Dare I say Jobsian even? The accusations of recklessness on Microsoft’s part are silly. Those people need to loosen their ties a little bit, lay off the Pete’s Coffee, and go back to figuring out how to justify their relevance to the world via Instagram. Seriously, knock it off. You sound like a bunch of luddites. (Ok fine. I’ll step off your lawn).

That being said, there is a definite learning curve to Windows 8. However, if you can remember the Windows+C keyboard shortcut and you’ll be just fine. The curve is neither as scary nor as steep as tech journalists and luddites everywhere claim. Heck, going from iOS to Android is a steeper learning curve than is going to Windows 8 from a previous version of Windows.

I’m not going to walk you through every little nuance of Windows 8. Many other people have already posted plenty of reviews and tutorials online for that. Why would I to reinvent the wheel? However, I will note a few nuggets that I think will make things easier for you.

Still remember Windows+C? That will pull up the Charms Bar. Say, “Windows+C is my best friend.” Don’t forget it. The Charms Bar is contextual and replaces the Start button. The settings sprocket on the bottom of the Charms Bar will pull up settings and options unique to the program you are currently using. The best way to describe the settings sprocket is to compare it to the menu key on Android.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to start with my installation experience.

My computer is, in consumer technology terms, getting to be on the older side. It is a Lenovo Ideapad Z565 model. Specs are as follows:

Processor: AMD Turion II 2.3 ghz dual-core (this is an older processor)
RAM: 4gb
Hard drive: 500gb 7200 RPM
Screen resolution: 1366×768 TFT (meaning it’s not the greatest screen)
OS: I was running Windows 7 Home Premium before upgrading.

Before I upgraded I backed everything important to an external hard drive, just in case I needed to nuke the computer and do a fresh install of Windows 8.

Initially the upgrading process was very seamless. I went to the Windows 8 page, downloaded the install utility and followed the prompts. After paying the $39.99 for the Windows 8 Pro upgrade, the system took over the rest. There are a few times where you will need to click to proceed to the next step but for the most part, everything was pretty automatic. From start to finish, the process took about 90 minutes. This includes the initial set up you go through after Windows 8 is installed.

Not everything was perfect however. After a few minutes, I started getting Werfault.exe errors. That and Internet Explorer simply would not launch. Thankfully I always have multiple browsers installed, so I was able to use my Google-fu to diagnose the problem.

Every computer maker puts some amount of customization on top of Windows. In this case, Lenovo’s Energy manager and other customizations were causing glitches. My only option at this point was to do a “System Refresh” which is like a complete system reinstall but it keeps your files. All installed programs that don’t come with Windows get removed, which I was fine with. To be honest, I don’t exactly know how long the system refresh took because I fell asleep on the couch. My best guess is that it took a little more than an hour.

When I got up in the morning everything was good to go. Internet Explorer worked and I haven’t gotten a Werfault.exe error since. Also, all the customizations that Lenovo made were gone. To borrow a phrase from the Android world, this is now a “stock Windows” experience.

How do I like Windows 8? I am not being hyperbolic when I say I feel like I have a brand new machine. My start up time has been cut to 15 seconds or less. No joke. It used to take me 3-5 minutes to be able to do anything on my computer. Now I have to make my sandwich BEFORE I start the laptop. Wake-from-sleep times are about 3 seconds. It’s crazy. I feel like I swapped out my hard drive and put an SSD in there. Except I haven’t. It’s awesome. That being said, I have found that shutdown times and restart times seem to take little longer. A fair trade if you ask me.

Wifi connects much faster than Windows 7, which is very nice.

The biggest problem people seem to have with Windows 8 is the Start Screen. I also think a lot of people don’t realize that there still is a traditional desktop mode with a file explorer that lets you dig through directory folders. These people seem to think that the start screen is a waste of time for computers without a touchscreen. I disagree.

What makes the Start Screen so awesome is that it takes your most important stuff and makes it faster to access. I have one tile for my RSS feeds (NGReader), one tile for my built in mail client, a tile for my calendar, one for a Reddit reader…etc. It makes it very quick and easy for me to get on my laptop, check a few things and then get to work. Not to mention that the interface is beautiful.

I did notice a stupid little quirk with the built in mail client. When you set up accounts it gives you the option to select from an Exchange account, IMAP and POP. However if you select POP, you get a pop-up window that says that POP is not currently supported. Huh? They why give the option in the first place?!

The side-snapping feature is a nice addition. It is an evolution of the window snapping feature introduced in Windows 7. I like the ability to have a Netflix or MetroTwit running in my side window while I do other things in the main window. Really neat and very handy.

The find file feature (Windows+F) is useful and faster than the old search function on Windows 7. Not a whole lot to say here except that it beats Windows 7.

Also, right click is still very useful when using the new style apps. For instance IE 10 (which is awesome by the way) goes full screen when you launch it from the new Start screen. To pull up your open tabs and the search bar, right click. Every app will pull up something when you right click. Speaking of IE, you can also pin webpages to your start screen. I pinned Facebook and YouTube due to them not having stand alone apps in the Windows store.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of apps in the Windows 8 store. Since this I am running Windows 8 Pro and not RT, that doesn’t matter so much since I can still install apps from outside the store. I do look forward however to more apps being put in the store.

In the end you need to think of Windows 8 as two operating systems in one. The new Start screen interface is more like a quick mode. You get in, do your internet surfing, email, calendar, videos etc. and you’re done. No fuss, no muss. The new interface and UI paradigm are beautiful and has a very modern feel.

The desktop mode is for supporting your legacy apps, third party apps and more serious games. Other than the Start button disappearing (not that big of a deal), and the ribbon showing up in a few more places, it just like Windows 7. Except it’s prettier.

Would Windows 8 be better if I had a touchscreen laptop. Perhaps. However, with the hotkeys, I would argue that you could work just as fast without a touch screen.

Hotkeys to remember:
Windows button: Get’s you back to the start screen. If you get lost and need to reorient yourself, push the Windows button.

Windows+C: Pulls up the charms bar.
Windows+F: File search
Windows+T: Go to the desktop

Would I recommend upgrading to Windows 8 pro? If you own a laptop that is no older than 3 years, emphatically yes. Make sure everything you use is compatible and back up your important files first of coarse.

I will update my Windows 8 experience as I go along and find new things that that I do and don’t like. Do you have any questions about upgrading? I am more than happy to answer any questions that you have. Post those questions in the comments below.

Kenny Larson
Onetime Apple/Android/Windows fanboy. Now a firm agnostic when it comes to OS. They all suck in their own special way.

"Be excellent to each other."
--Bill & Ted

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