Friday, November 30, 2012

Windows 8 Impressions

Windows 8 Impressions

My mother had been using an increasingly balky, old eMachines desktop running WinXP. Since I had some time with her over Thanksgiving, we decided that it was time to upgrade to something more reliable and take advantage of the weekend sales. She ended up getting a 23" HP All-in-One system with a dual-core AMD A4-5300 3.4GHz processor, 6GB RAM, integrated graphics, 500GB 7200RPM  HDD, and other fairly standard features that would come with a new Win8 system. We debated the virtues of getting a touch-screen display, but for a desktop system, it didn't quite seem to make sense, especially for over $200 more for an otherwise comparable system.

So, this was my first experience with Win8, and I had 4 days to transfer stuff from a WinXP system to a new Win8 one. Further, I needed to set up the system and be able to have it work intuitively for my mostly non-tech mother who was accustomed to WinXP. Here are some impressions and things I learned.

  • Initial setup of the Win8 system was no problem and did not take very long.
  • I used Microsoft Windows Easy Transfer to move as much as I could between the two systems. That worked reasonably well.
  • The system is acceptably fast, but I had heard that I might expect comparatively faster performance with Win8. I was not impressed, and those hardware specs should be decent enough.
  • I'm not sure how much of the default setup was due to HP and how much to the basic Win8 system, but you need to have a Microsoft account to do just about anything. Skydrive, Games, the default music and video apps... They all need a Microsoft account. There are also many hooks into Microsoft's Xbox system which were a bit annoying if you don't use Xbox.
  • When in doubt, we ended up using the general rule of using a mouse right-click. That usually got you where you wanted to go, but we ended up right-clicking a lot, because we were having trouble figuring out how to make things work. Win8 is surprisingly not intuitive to use.
  • Win8, it seems to me, is a transitional operating system. It really is a combination of Win7 and Win8, and there is something of a schizophrenic feel to how it all works. I ended up trying to have my mother think of the distinction between Win8 apps and Win7 programs. Programs will have the X in the upper right corner to close them. Apps will not have the X and need to be dragged down to close them.
  • What gets confusing is that there is some overlap with some programs which have both program and app versions. The biggest offender (and it really is offensive) is Internet Explorer. When you first open the IE app, it does not have any menu or favorites or tabs or URL bar. How do you get anywhere? Right-click, and that brings up open 'tabs' on the top, a URL bar on the bottom and large icons for 'pinned' (to the Start page) sites, Frequent sites, and Favorites. I couldn't find how to organize those or move them around, and the icons are so large that it takes a lot of scrolling to go through your favorites. It was easier to pin a few to the Start page. What's worse, some sites don't work in the IE app, and so you are directed to use the old IE program. The Google app is another odd one. It didn't work as I expected it to do, but maybe it would function better with a touch screen where you would swipes to go back and forth between results and sites. I also very much disliked the Mail app, and I set up a tile for the new as a way to read mail. I also did not like the Skype app (I simply could not figure out how to add someone to my contacts) or the Photo app (I never could figure out how to move to the next photo!).
  • I can see where Win8 is designed as a one-size-fits-all system intended for phone, tablet, and notebook (and desktop as an afterthought). It really is intended to be used with a touch-screen, but after a few days, I could manage acceptably well with keyboard and mouse. I ended up getting around more quickly using the keyboard than the mouse, though. It's simply a pain trying to use the mouse to get the cursor precisely enough in one of the screen corners to activate the "Charm Bar" or the open apps. OTOH, for touch devices, having the larger icons to start apps and using various swipes would work well.
  • The Win7 is kind of still there in the Desktop app. (If this were my system, and I really wanted to keep my Win7 functionality and feel, I think I would use Stardock's Start8.) I missed seeing resident programs in the system tray. I missed seeing open programs in the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, and it took a bit to get used to switching using the cursor in the upper left corner method.
  • The Win8 Start page is a mixed deal. The 'live tiles' are somewhat helpful, but if there is a way to organize them without fitting into one of the grid patterns, I couldn't figure it out. There is also lots of horizontal scrolling (instead of vertical), but it works fairly well with the mouse scroll wheel.
  • When we first tried to turn off the computer, there was no intuitive way to put the machine to sleep or into hibernation (other than just pushing the power button on the machine). It turns out that you need to call up the charm bar, click on settings, then choose Power to have shutdown options. It's just a pain. I ended up going into Power settings to create a keyboard shortcut to hibernate the machine, but that's one more thing to remember.
Overall, I do not like Win8, but I suspect that I better get used to it. As someone who likes to 'customize' my machine, Win8 can be rather frustrating in many ways. OTOH, I also suspect that if a person were just starting with the Win8 operating system without previous experience, it might be okay, especially if you were using a touch screen. Win8 tries to maximize screen space--which is great for smaller devices--but it means extra clicks on a desktop.

I saw Accordance, BibleWorks, and Logos running on Win8 systems at SBL, and it will be nice to be able to use a program on a variety of devices. There are lots of other pros/cons and delights/quibbles, but for now, I am happy staying with Win7 on my desktop system.

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