Monday, December 31, 2012

First Impressions of Windows 8

I'm writing this on Windows 8 while listening to iTunes.

How ironic.

Anyway, if you don't know me, I'm an Apple guy. When I was really young, I unknowingly used an old Mac to play games. However, after that I used Windows until I was about nine. I wasn't that big into computers then. I mostly just used them to play games (Flash and actual games on my hard drive/disc) and sometimes go on the Internet. Then when I was about nine, my dad came home with a new Mac Mini and a keyboard and mouse. Before this, I made movies with my friends and we were stuck with either Windows Movie Maker (*shudder*) or other complicated movie editing and DVD burning software. And, I did try to make music with some music program from Sony but I never got far with that either. But when I got that Mac, everything changed. It was actually doable for me and my friends to film something midday, get it edited using iMovie (although iMovie '08 wasn't the best iMovie ever, it was a whole lot better than what I had X3), make a DVD using iDVD, and being able to watch it later that night on the TV. It was awesome being able to see yourself on the "big screen". I was also able to make (bad) music easily with Garageband.

That's really what propelled me into computers. I then got an original iPod Touch which then led me to an iPhone 3Gs (which, unfortunately, got shorted out or something after two years X3) and then an iPad and so on and so forth and I never looked back at Windows. That is until I got an interest in computer gaming.

When I got addicted to Minecraft about two years ago, I started to get back into gaming (prior to this, I wasn't that much into it). I got a Steam account and started spending more money than I probably should have on games (I still do) and started playing those along with Minecraft. But, as everyone knows the big money maker in terms of gaming is Windows and I decided to make a Boot Camp virtual machine (it's basically a way to boot into Windows on a OSX system) to play Windows games since virtual machine programs that run in OSX don't give the same performance as ones running in a true Windows environment. So, since I barely have time for gaming during the school year, I barely booted into it. However, since it's winter break, I decided to boot back into Windows to play some games. Then I remembered that Windows 8 had been released and it was having a special for $40 (yay!). I was curious and I'm an early adopter so I downloaded it. Here's my experience.

First you download a Windows 8 Compatibility Checkermabob and it checks all of your apps and your system to make sure you can install Windows 8. That went pretty smoothly and I liked how you could pay and do everything from the app instead of Microsoft sending you to a web browser (or even worse, IE). Then I started downloading Windows 8 and of course, after I'm 90% done with the download, they say I don't have enough space on my hard drive. Thanks for warning me ahead of time. So I deleted some things and started it again. I then had to go into OSX to set up a back up disk so I could back Windows up. The Backup program in Windows is a little confusing. I mean, shouldn't a system backup program backup the information necessary to restore your computer to its near current state? Because the default backup option only generated a 1.5 GB file and I was confused. I didn't want to deal with trying to find all of the files to backup so I just went ahead with the installation (because I live dangerously like that). The installation went along without a hitch except it was forced to restart three times. That wouldn't really be a problem for a PC, but in order to boot up into Windows, you have to hold the Option key at startup so I was forced to keep a keen eye on the installation to not by default boot into OSX.

After all of the hard core installation was finished, I got a nice little tutorial and PC setup thing at the beginning (P.S. The startup logo and speed is a lot better; it's not all pixelated and currently I'm up and running in about 30 seconds). And then I was sent into Windows.

The above picture is my finished Start screen.

I went into the settings and started fiddling with them. Then I figured out I had to activate Windows which required me to, of course, connect to the Internet. But then I remembered I had to install a special Boot Camp program in Windows that enables Windows to properly use the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, properly map the Apple keyboard, etc. So, that means I had to restart into OSX again and download that program from the Boot Camp utility and boot back into Windows and install it. After that was done, I was able to connect to the Internet, activate Windows, and customize the look of Windows more. Something funny is in my previous Windows 7 installation, I couldn't get Windows to activate. The activation program kept crashing and I was forced to dismiss the constant messages of running a "counterfeit version of Windows" or whatever all the time and it was annoying (not to mention the permanent black screen background). So, the fact that it took a second to activate Windows 8 is refreshing and funny X3 After activation, I finished customizing the Start screen into that nice sea/turquoise blue theme and started to work on the desktop and finished that as well. I then started to see if all my things worked and were in the proper place.

This perplexes me the most. Why in the name is all that is good does Windows move all of your content into a Windows.old folder? It's an update, not an "Install a new OS and move all of your content to another place for you to figure out how to put it back to how it was". Maybe I missed something, but my friend uses Windows, was forced to reinstall it, and the same thing happened to him using Windows 7. It just seems very dumb. Imagine someone not very smart with computers, loading up Windows 8 and wondering where the heck all of there program files and other documents went. With OSX, I can start the updater, let it restart, go through the setup process, and come back to my computer basically how I left it. I was up until three in the morning moving stuff back in it's place. Thank God Windows wasn't my primary operating system with all of my files on it or else I would be very angry.

Anyway, after that mini rant, what do I actually think about Windows 8? First of all, it looks nicer than Windows 7. I'm glad they're starting to make Windows look prettier and modern. I love the flatter, more simple UI compared to Windows 7 and it's just those little design changes that make me smile. That doesn't mean Windows is completely beautiful now. Some of the design choices and icons make me feel like I'm still living in Windows XP (which I used to use a lot). They're starting to go in the right direction but from a design stand point, the desktop version of Windows still needs work.

But the Start screen is awesome. Yes, lots of people have complained about the fragmentation of the OS with Microsoft splitting it up between a Metro and Desktop interface. I will get to that. But, I am pleasantly surprised. Originally, I had to push my mouse into the corner every time I wanted to get to the Start screen and that was a little annoying. However, I found that the Windows key (or the Command key on an Apple keyboard; we finally know what that key is used for!) opens the Start screen and Windows + Q opens the Search which is really all I needed. With these shortcuts, the Start screen might actually be better than what Launchpad on OSX has to offer and the Start menu on previous versions of Windows had. On OSX, if you want to access applications then Launchpad does the job simply and beautifully. But the Start screen has access to live tiles (apps that provide information on their icons in real time), search functions, and settings so it's just more inclusive and convenient. It's easy to access the search on OSX (called Spotlight) by just pressing Command + Space and it may be a little more convenient because Spotlight searches everything on your Mac while Windows 8 defaults to just apps which can be slightly annoying. So, really both have their pluses and minuses. It's quick and painless to get to the Start screen and I don't feel any fragmentation while switching between the two. And you can always pin stuff to the Taskbar at the bottom or to the desktop. It would also be nice if you could pin anything you wanted to to the Start screen instead of just applications as well. And as a random side note, the second display support is great on Windows 8. I like that you can have the desktop on one screen and the Metro interface on the other. Also, when you're in complete Desktop view, there's one Taskbar on each screen which is better than OSX because there you only get one menu bar on one screen.

Minimalist Desktop

Now, I have some complaining and I've seen this said by other people. On the Start screen bar thing on the right, there's a Settings button and that brings you to nice list of options where you can change the brightness, volume, etc. and an option to go into more in depth settings. But here's the problem: in order to access all of the settings, it's sometimes necessary to go to our good friend (sarcasm) Control Panel. That's fragmentation. It's like going to a bakery to make one half of a cake and going to another bakery a block away to make the other half. Especially for the people who are using Windows 8 on a tablet, put all of the settings (or at least all of the ones that apply to tablets) in the Start screen Settings menu. People who are using tablets should never have to go into desktop view (that's one of things I don't like about Windows 8, but that's a whole other story X3).

Also, I don't really like the fact that you have to sign up for a Microsoft account to access the Mail app on the Start screen. Really, that doesn't make any sense. Also, there's no way to edit your Microsoft profile without going into a web browser. And the People app is a little confusing to setup and navigate. It looks pretty, but it's just not that intuitive and functional. The Weather app is great and the Mail app is okay. The Store also works fine and I hope more apps get made for it because it's kind of dry right now X3


So overall, Windows 8 is not great enough to switch from OSX. I mean, I've migrated my whole life to OSX so it'd be pretty hard to switch over anyways X3 But, by itself, Windows 8 seems to have promise and it seems to be much more friendly, beautiful, and quicker than the former Windows 7. Some little quirks, design choices, and problems made it a little bit of a hassle (including a display driver problem that I eventually fixed) to set up and get how I wanted. However, I believe Windows 8, especially if you have interest in it, is worth an upgrade, especially now since it's only $40 until the end of January. Like I said, this isn't an in depth review and I probably missed some things or didn't touch on everything that I thought about. However, I thought it'd be interesting for people to read about an Apple guy's reaction to Microsoft's answer to the Post PC era.

Thanks for reading and tell me what you think of Windows 8 in the comments!

 - Aidan

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