Microsoft Windows 8 Review – Hit or Miss?
“Only 3 years after Windows 7’s successful debut, and Microsoft’s recovery from the debacle that was Vista, they have re-imagined the OS in probably the largest way since the NT to 95 conversion.”
Windows has had an interesting relationship with the average consumer. For some it began with NT being the first glimpse at the possibility into a GUI based system, for some it has just been since XP and has always seemed to be just the way computers are. Of course there were setbacks like ME or Vista (or my favorite to hate, Media Center Edition), but the most recent addition, 7, has become a new standard for us, the way 95 was. The question then becomes, how will Windows 8 fair?
Only 3 years after 7’s successful debut, and Microsoft’s recovery from the debacle that was Vista, they have ‘ re-imagined’ the OS in probably the largest way since the NT to 95 conversion. They integrated the Windows Mobile and Xbox OS into what used to be our start menu, reduced their graphics to 8 bit lower resource usage and faster load times, set aside separate shells for always active integrated social networking and email, and did their best to hide the back-end of everything. So, how is it?
“Windows 8 is everything it sounds like: smaller, stronger, full of new features, and way different.”
I will use this word a lot. A shell is kind of like a program that replaces the OS temporarily. Meaning, when you open a shell, Windows goes away and that “shell” takes over the computer until you switch back. The difference is that programs run inside of Windows, not next to it, so they are subject to more security and have to (technically) be registered in the registry and basically they take a lot of resources compared to a shell which just runs on it’s own without Windows much caring or effecting it.
Windows 8 is everything it sounds like: smaller, stronger, with new features, and way different. The desktop that we all know and love is still there, so the system can be used the same way you have used Windows for over 20 years, none of the new features have to be used. So, if you go straight to the desktop, does it feel any different? Well, they removed the Start Menu (technically there is something there that they call ‘Start’ but it isn’t the Start Menu), they hid the show desktop ‘button’ (it’s still there, it just doesn’t ever appear, it just works when you click where it should be), they added the ‘Charms Bar’ in the top right to replace the missing Start Menu features, and they added a shift between shells system to the top left (if any are open) being as you can’t alt-tab between shells the same way as you could between programs. If that sounds complicated, let me explain about each a little more.
“The desktop can be literally the same as what you had before. You can still crowd it with icons, right-click for context, plug My Computer, My Documents, and even Network into the Desktop.”
The desktop can be literally the same as what you had before. You can still crowd it with icons, right-click for context, plug My Computer, My Documents, and even Network to the desktop. The small changes would be that they got rid of their mock-3D designed buttons and replaced them with 8 bit buttons to reduce resource usage. All that means is that there is no longer a fake ‘shine’ around the ‘X’ you use to close windows to make it look 3D. I think that is one of the good changes. Ditto on the task-bar and window borders and anything that was fake 3D before. Next, the lock screen is a picture instead of a blank color with a logo in the middle (until you click it, then that slides away and becomes the old school log in . Lastly, the task bar and notification areas look and work exactly the same way, no major changes, nothing to be scared of. In fact, the only thing significantly different on the desktop was that none of the Win7 gadgets work on it. They did say; however, that they plan to have a lot more and more complicated gadgets available then Win7 ever had. Most people didn’t use them, so most people won’t care, but I liked the five gadgets I had and am looking forward to having them back.
The removal of the Start Menu didn’t seem like a big deal to me, at first. I really only went to the start menu to launch the User folder, shutdown the computer, or open the Run dialog, so I figured I would find the new way to do that and be fine. What I didn’t realize was how infrequently essential the ‘All Programs’ tab had become. The programs I use most often can still be pinned to the taskbar or to Start but there are literally hundreds of programs on my computer that I use less than once a month. Those used to be hidden away in All Programs, in case I needed them, but now, I feel like I have to do a lot more searching.
Technically, I could always pin them all to Start (which I tried) but that makes that “shell”way to large and unwieldy to use reasonably. The shutdown command was moved into what they call their Charms Bar. If you move to the top right corner of the screen the charms bar pops out over the right side of the desktop. This contains their ‘search’ dialog (just like Win 7), Share (literally just a quick key to share items), a link to Start, Devices (designed for passing items back and forth between your systems), and a settings link which takes you to a page with help, shutdown, network settings, control panel and control panel subcategories like personalize, sound, and system.
Lastly, it has changed PC Settings, which is a whole new shell that puts together some personalization, updates settings, privacy, and notifications.
All and all, the charms bar is good, aside from the fact that the shell system for PC Settings is difficult to use. I don’t feel like I miss my Start Menu features, I just wish I could pin Run to the Charms bar. Devices also looks cool for people who can use it. It is designed to mirror the settings and certain items (like music) between all of your Microsoft Account devices (Xbox and Windows phones, for example).
The new Start system is what most people have noticed about Win8, and is by far the largest change. Now if you move to where the Start Menu used to be there is an invisible button that becomes visible called Start, clicking it launches a whole new shell that looks like the Xbox and Win Mobile OSs. It is basically a huge collage of 8 bit tiles which represent different shells that can be launched. One is for keeping an active eye on your social networks, one is for having an email window always open, one takes you to the Bing travel page for no apparent reason…
Each one has a mild purpose and could be interesting. An always open view of my Gmail with almost 0 resource usage, for example, could be an awesome alternative to always having a browser window open.
Unfortunately, in the release version of Win 8, it doesn’t work. It only updates about every 48 hours, making it useless to me. I hope it works a lot better in the actual launch. The Xbox Live Games button threatens to be interesting. When clicked it actually launches the Xbox 360 OS and gives you an opportunity to play with your avatar, chat with your Xbox Live friends, look through your achievements and… Whatever else Xbox players do on their OS. I personally game on computers, so unfortunately it does nothing for me, too.
The News, Weather, Travel, Sports and other tiles of the same style just send you to Bing (very pointless in my opinion).
SkyDrive looks like it could be awesome. Similar to what most mobile OSs do, it is designed to sync your documents and pictures with a cloud server from Microsoft. These all being shells makes them use very little resources, but it also makes them hard to use. When you open one it puts a thumbnail image in the top left (hidden until hover) for you to transition between shells. This is fine. The problem is that they only way to close a shell when you are done with it is to click a mostly transparent ‘X’ on that thumbnail. Usually I miss when trying to go between shells and accidentally close one, then miss when trying to close one and go to it. It is more frustrating than you would think. But, back to Start. If you go right from the tiles, you’ll find the programs that have been pinned to Start in a grid, similar to an iPhone. It isn’t very helpful to me, very low res, and most programs install their exe file, a help file, their uninstaller, two utilities, and three other things that you don’t know or care what they are, making this get very crowded, very quickly. I find myself Un-pinning a lot to keep the space down, then never going there to sift for the program I want.
Of course, it should be noted that in addition to the low resource usage, they rebuilt their boot process with signing to prevent malware integration and a lot of other complicated BS that no one understands. Basically, it is lighter and more secure, they also optimized the system for touch screens (despite that almost no one owns one), and forgot to evolve their voice commands at all.
At the end of the day, I don’t think Windows 8 is bad. It being lightweight and secure is of course good. It’s Charms Bar feels like just one extra click, but I don’t care that much, I will get used to it. Them replacing the Start Menu with Start feels awkward (and I have been using it for almost 2 months), but could be really valuable once they actually launch and the tiles start having a real use. Basically, I am fine with Win8 because I can use it like a low resource Win7 but that Start system needs an overhaul. Win8 will probably end up being like Vista, a good idea with poor execution that just serves as a prototype to a more polished OS in 2 years. What do you think internet? Will you be picking up a copy this weekend when it launches, or later and or at all? Comment below and let me know!
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