As a long term Windows user I’ve watched with not a little dread as Microsoft has sought to reinvent its whole user interface with Windows 8. Last month I suffered a major hardware failure and it was time to update to a new machine so have had to ‘upgrade’. So how has it been? Overall it has been not as bad as I had expected – it is almost good.
So what have been the big changes?
Windows 8 is clearly a touch focused operating system in a way that earlier versions of windows were not. The Start Menu begs to be touched rather than using a mouse and there are gestures and swipes integrated throughout. As a user on a non-touch system I’m not getting the full experience out of them, but using a trackpad the gestures are useful. Its a change but not one for the worse.
The Start screen
The start screen. More has been written about this change than any other part of Windows 8. In the past when you hit the Start Button you gt a menu of what applications were installed on your PC and various things you could do with them. Now the Start Button gives you a screen covering app launcher for ‘Windows 8 Modern UI apps’. These can run in this UI or if they are old style desktop apps are launched here and run on the Desktop.
Multiple monitor Support
Multiple monitor management has been overhauled from Windows 7 giving 8 users much more control of multiple monitors. You can put differing backgrounds on the screens, have the old Desktop on one screen and Start UI on the other or split screens between the two types and apps. In addition the taskbar which previously ran only along the main screen can now run along any combination of screens and is far more customizable.
Charms are a context aware set of controls which are available at any point. Swipe in from the left and you will receive options and settings with your current application or if on a blank screen options for Windows itself. Application makers can and over time will add their own menus, but most of the time you will have access to search, share, start, devices and settings. The charms is clearly inspired by mobile settings screens and while interesting I’ve not found myself making much use of it
Social Built into the OS
Social, in the form of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter has been built into Windows 8. Connect your Microsoft account and the Windows People app will let you display and search across the networks. I’ve connected the accounts but while the People app is pretty it simply is not that fully featured enough for power users.
The Windows Store
App stores and online software purchasing are a trend that has again come from mobile phones. From the customers point of view it gives you a safe and simple way to find, download and update applications and from the manufacturers point of view it lets them get a cut of any sales made through it. Thats the theory and it works well enough on mobile, but the problem on Windows 8 is that there are not enough decent applications available. I spent half an hour browsing through and did install a couple of apps, but after that I’d exhausted everything I was interested in. I went back a month later and found the selection substantially unchanged and unchanging.
This might be something that changes over time but for now the Windows Store simply isn’t large enough to be a primary source of programs
In older versions of Windows it was essentially an offline experience. You could run programs on it to back up and go online but it was focused on being an offline system. Windows 8 has taken the cloud and integrated it as much as it can. Files and photo’s can be synced using Skydrive, your desktop and settings are synced and backed up and so on. If you are happy in Microsoft’s environment this can work well, but as few of use Skydrive it takes some adjustment.
Overall after a month of using Windows 8 I have adjusted to most of it idiosyncrasies and quirks by ignoring them. I use the Modern UI as little as possible, the charms bar is only used to turn the PC off and I am not using the ‘Metro’ apps or Windows store. That said the extra ability to configure for secondary monitors was welcome and some of the cloud integration is useful. Windows 8.1 is due to come out as a free upgrade on the 18th October and this is reported to fix some of the issues.
If you are running Windows 7 I see no need to upgrade to 8 at the moment, but if circumstances force you to do so then with a little adjustment it is possible to do so without major problems.