Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Windows 8: Did Microsoft finally get something right?

I'm going to depart from my traditional posts for today and instead provide my feedback on Windows 8.

Now, to start with. I am a Linux guy, I started with Slackware 7.0 and RedHat 6 at a time when Linux was still a relative struggle to setup due to a severe lack of mainstream support. I primarily run Linux desktops and Linux servers (although Windows has a few required spots due to my career as a developer). However, at my new job I have been provided with a laptop and it runs Windows 8.

I'll be honest, for the first few days I hated it, absolutely hated it. "WHERE THE FUCK IS MY START MENU?", I shouted. I was literally inches away from installing Windows 7 but decided to struggle with it as quite likely (as with the "Ribbon") Microsoft would be jamming their new desktop format down our throats whether we liked it or not. I had better learn to use and develop for it earlier rather than later, I told myself.

Now, about 2 months later I am actually quite enjoying Windows 8. Once you get used to the nuances it can actually be quite enjoyable to use (even some parts of the Metro interface can be nice). Actually to be honest my whole user-experience changed after I unknowingly installed a 3rd party Start Menu which came with my old friend Daemon Tools.

If you're going to use Windows 8 on a desktop PC I must really suggest installing the Pokki Start Menu (or Daemon Tools which comes with it) as it will really help migrate your experience.

Now, I am aware that Windows 8 contains all sorts of spyware and DRM and this has been the case since Windows Vista and will continue to be a trend in Microsoft Operating Systems moving forward and until that changes it will never ever become a primary O/S for me to use. However, it must become an accepted fact of the Windows family now and I can't give Windows 8 too many black marks due to this fact.

What I am probably the most impressed with is the start up time. Microsoft has, using suspend technologies, greatly increased the start up time. Windows 8 boots up faster than any other operating system I have including my Linux server which doesn't even have a GUI. The performance gains however don't stop there as Microsoft has significantly departed from their resource-heavy desktop applications into something a little more lightweight due to the limited resources available on tablets. They've gotten rid of the resource-intensive AERO theme although it probably would make the O/S more appealing to some people if they had left more intensive theming available on an opt-in basis. The new theme might be a tad boring but it is very functional.

Something that might catch you a little off guard is that there are actually two separate "task bars". One for desktop applications and one for "Metro" applications. The one for desktop applications works exactly as you'd expect (as in Windows 7) however the one for Metro is a bit of a departure from the norm. To access it you must direct your pointer (or finger) to the upper-left of the screen which will cause a small thumbnail of the last-focused Metro Application to appear. From here you can either click through all the open Metro applications or you can proceed to drag your finger down the left side of the screen to bring up a bar displaying all the open applications at once. It does take some getting used to, however the number one complaint I've heard against it: using multiple monitors, doesn't hold water.

In a dual monitor setup this Metro taskbar will be accessible on both monitors, thus to access it you do not have to try to balance your mouse between monitors but rather go to the upper-left of the left monitor. To access the "charms" sidebar you can go to the upper-right of your right monitor to have that appear. Although, if you've installed the Pokki start Menu you probably won't be using the Charms sidebar very often outside of accessing Metro application specific options as all of the standard computer configuration is contained within the Pokki Start Menu.

Visual Studio 2012 and Microsoft Office 2013 blend well into the new interface and Visual Studio 2012 has been updated with a few of the features from the "Microsoft Expression" Web development suite which is a nice touch.

One issue I did have with Windows 8 which has now been resolved was that by default you cannot install unsigned drivers without turning off enforced-driver-signing from a strange multi-layered boot menu. If you find yourself needing unsigned drivers you can find the steps to disable forced driver signing here.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with Windows 8. It's a significant departure from the resource-heavy and ever increasingly intensive bloated Windows we've all come to know. It remains to be seen if it will catch on as a tablet and phone O/S but as a desktop, contrary to popular opinion, I'm actually quite enjoying it.

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Richard Fantin is a self-taught software developer who has mostly throughout his career focused on financial applications and high frequency trading. He currently works for CenturyLink

Nazayh Zanidean is a Project Coordinator for a mid-sized construction contractor in Calgary, Alberta. He enjoys writing as a hobby on topics that include foreign policy, international human rights, security and systemic media bias.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty accurate description. I was fine with W7, but went ahead and switched due to the early bird discount/figuring I needed to be ahead of the curve. Turns out W8 is W7 accelerated + the Metro bonus, if you want to look at it that way. After the initial "disorientation", it's been great.