Windows 8, Real impressions from an IT and gamer perspective

I have been using Windows 8 personally since it was released in TechNet.

Now, I want to clarify, that I used and liked Windows Vista, and then I loved Windows 7 when I moved to it a year later.. Because of my work, I try to use new Operative System as they are released and I try to have an open mind. Also because of my work I might not get to do it right away.

Started with Windows Vista

Vista got a lot of bad rep. I used it for over a year until 7 was released, and I never had a problem. It is more, Windows 7 is actually Windows Vista. The reason it got such a bad rep, was because it was installed on top (or side by side) with Windows XP, or in older hardware. Windows Vista required a good spec PC. Now, you could argue all you want about an Operative System that demands more resources, but the reality is, that I almost never consider installing a new OS in an older machine. Save your money, build or buy a better machine and then put the new OS, after all, think about the new features, new this, new that. In  the end the software will be bigger.

Only real problem Vista had, was the non use of 3D hardware for the 3D effects on the desktop.

OSX?

Now, before I go into Windows 8, think about OSX in the Apple Computers. Its current version is 10.8. Since the release of OSX, Apple has been making modification and releasing it under a new name, the latest ones being leopard (10.5), snow leopard (10.6), Lion (10.7), Mountain Lion (10.8). This is Apples biggest factor for growth and also the biggest reason for lack of innovation lately (you can barely tell apart a 10.8 install than from a 5 year older release Leopard (10.5). However users are comfortable with the user interface. Regardless though a lot of the OS actually changes, making it so some programs will not work in 10.7 from 105, or from 10.6 to 10.8. Technically for me the OSX ecosystem is a mess, but the number makes sense considering the graphical changes. Why I am explaining OSX? Because I don’t want anyone later saying “…Apple does this better…” or something like that. If you are happy with an Apple PC, good for you, but they are not perfect and Windows is neither, but we are talking only about software (OS) and not the hardware.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osx For more information about OSX (Apple’s Operative System)

Now, onto the real meat. Windows 8

You might be wondering why I wrote about Windows Vista and OSX if I am writing about Windows 8? Windows 8 got a lot of bad rep before release because we as humans don’t take change well. We like to live on our comfort zone. To accept this change, I am listing very shortly how we got here.

Windows Vista was version 6.0 in the Code (Build 6002: Service Pack 2)

Windows 7 was version 6.1 in the code (Build 7601: Service Pack 1)

Ahh, you can you see where I am going with this?

Windows 8 is 6.2 (Build 9200)

In case you wonder about it, Windows XP was version 5.1.

Comparing to Apple’s naming, Vista would be Leopard, and Windows 7 would be Snow Leopard, while Windows 8 would be Lion. Microsoft and Apple have different release schedules and goals and that accounts why there are different numbers. It does not mean that Microsoft is behind. Windows XP was released 11 years ago in 2001. Vista was released in 2007 (just like Leopard).

Now think what changed in 5 years in Windows. 3 Versions but it went from build code 6002 to 9200. Microsoft took a lot more chances between releases. They could have released an interface that looks like XP and kept going at it. However it would get old soon. Don’t you think? Windows 7 definitively looks a lot more modern than Windows XP, and after working with 7 for 3 years I can happily say when I work in Windows XP I am less productive. Yes, less productive. And here comes the main point

If you learn to love Windows 8 you can be more productive

in 4 days Microsoft will raise the prices for Windows 8. If you have a fast machine that runs Windows 7 great, you have to give Windows 8 a try.

Start Screen. No more Start Menu

First things first. Get over it!! Plain and simple. The start menu is gone. OSX doesn’t have a start menu. It has a launcher and then the Applications folder. In Linux KDE has launcher, Ubuntu’s Unity has also a start screen launcher style. Same for Gnome3. In Linux people also complained about it when KDE switched to version 4, and Gnome from version 2 to 3.

The start screen/launcher makes sense. I will tell you about a problem I had in Windows XP.

I play games and I work in IT, that means my computers (at work and at home) have a lot of programs. My old home PC the start menu spawned 3 rows across the screen (1280×1024 resolution with small icons) And that is considering I tend to change the installation folder for games, and the program menu so they are all under “games”

With so many programs I spent too much time to open a program that I wanted. Regular users bypass this by using the desktop….

The Desktop is not a place to put files. It is a folder, with a special view, and it gets rendered as soon as the computer starts. If you had 200 icons on your desktop in Windows XP, you could see a real difference if you only had 2. The Start Menu only gets rendered when you go to it.

Windows Windows 7 I could start typing the name of a program and it gave me the possible results.

Windows 8 does the same.

The Start Screen is basically the Start Menu but full screen. What is great about it is that you can unpin applications and arrange the applications into groups. My start Screen is arranged in such a way that I can get quickly to anything I need or want.

What about for a regular user? If you clean your start screen then you will never had to scroll. All that you need is right there. As soon as the computer boot, you can go to your favorite application.

The Start screen is touch centric but works as well with keyboard and mouse. I don’t have a touch screen and I love it.

Enter the mobile era

Where the Start Screen shines is with mobile devices, like a tablet or phone. Ubuntu and KDE are also working on projects to have 1 interface for all devices. Think about the advantage. I have an Android phone that I needed to learn to use (it is not difficult though) I have a netbook that had Windows 7 and it was not a pleasant experience. Any I have my computer that I already know how to use and I use every day. If my phone, my tablet, my laptop and my computer all run Windows 8, then I would know how to use instantly all of my devices (with a few exceptions).

Windows RT

Windows RT is what powers tablets with Windows 8. RT is what runs the Start Screen. Any program (app) that can run in the Start Screen of a computer will run in a Windows RT tablet.

Lets be honest, tablets,phones and laptops are getting lighter and more powerful, but they are still not as powerful as the desktop counterparts. One main point is price. Windows Surface has 2 version, the RT which runs in a Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU (Used in tablets with Android 4 as well), and another which will be released in February which will use Intel Core i5. The Pro includes Windows 8 Pro, and can run regular Windows Applications, which basically makes it like a laptop.

The 2 models actually have a big price difference with the RT Version starting at 499$ (599 with keyboard cover), while the pro starts at $899. That is 400$ difference (or $300 if you compare to the 64GB RT Version).

You might be wondering what is the use if you cannot run your Windows applications on a RT tablet? Well, can you run your Windows application in your $399 iPad2? The answer is no.

But the applications you can run in your Windows 8 RT you can run in Windows 8 Pro. It is starting to make more sense.

Be completely fair while checking these products. The average user, and these are most users do generally the same range of activities over and over again, and it is generally consuming Internet content. Facebook, email, youtube, twitter, etc. You might have an app for that, but it in the end it is content that is online in a web page, and that is how the iPad did so well, it cater to those users. Windows RT aims for those users, but helps in the transition. A lot of applications even Sync, so you can run your app in your Surface RT, and then in your regular Windows 8 PC.

The end of the desktop era?

Lots of “technical” web sites have articles predicting the end of the desktop era. Microsoft acknowledges that it won’t happen with Windows 8, but that there is a tendency to separate work. I prefer to read Facebook in a tablet, so I can watch TV or be mobile. However, I will write documents, do network administration and other task that require more typing in a desktop. I could probably do most tasks that I do from a Windows RT tablet, but it would take me a lot longer than from my desktop (the same if I were to use an iPad).

So now that you know the goal. Does Windows RT make sense? Yes it does. And it is a trend that is here to stay, so we better get used to it. And if it makes it more productive, then better.

The Start Screen (RT) Applications (Apps)

Mail

The Mail app is very basic in look, with a high contrast. However one big improvement is that it lets you connect to an Exchange account. At this very moment I have my mail app open and I have my email from work (Exchange 2007), my personal web site (Office 365), Gmail and a Hotmail account. So effectively I don’t need Outlook. Now, the app is very basic, and does not support rules, but in the plus side it looks exactly like outlook.com, so if I go to Outlook.com to check my Hotmail email account, it is the same interface. I actually like the interface, but I do miss the rules. For a free app though it is just what I need to check my work email without having to open OWA (Outlook Web Access).

Music (xbox music)

This is my next favorite app. I suck at new music. I don’t use Pandora, iheart radio and other streaming. Why? because I already have a lot of music that I like. I put on MP3 all my CDs, so over the years I accumulated a lot of music. I have been using Google music because it allows me to put my music in the “cloud” and listen to it from my Android.

The Music app has free streaming in a lot of current music. For example, do you like Adele? You can listen to “21” and “19” for free.  What about Alicia Keys? Eminem, Linkin Park? I am listening now to “The Best of James Bond” as I write this. Every 3 or 4 songs there is a 15 minutes commercial. You can get a music pass and listen free of commercial

Do you like the album, then you can buy it through xbox music service. For example I really like the Skyfall version with Adele so I could purchase it since it is not available for free streaming.

Best of all, is that it integrates with my music in the music libraries. For example. I already have several albums from Linkin Park, so if I click on the featured for Linkin Park, the music that is local to my PC will play from here, no need to stream online and no commercial. So I can play Minutes to Midnight locally and Living Things streaming in the same playlist.

It is supposed to work with the Xbox too, but I haven’t tested it yet.

The only drawbacks I have found is that I cannot rate the music which I can do in Windows Media player. I use the rating a lot to create automatic playlist.

It also took me a while to realize that the search is part of the “charms” (use one of the right corner to bring the charms). I kept trying to just type as I do in the start screen.

It has been a while since I opened Windows Media Player so the music app is good overall.

Games

Have you tried the new minesweeper or solitaire? They look like paid apps now, but are free.

Now because I am a gamer I don’t play app games. They are exclusively for my phone for when I am sitting for a long time (at the doctors office, or other sitting :p),but I do like minesweeper and I spent several hours in one go playing daily challenges. It is a new take on a classic game. Or the Mine Sweeper Hero version.

Other Apps

There are more apps, but I don’t use them as often, and you might use different apps. But in general they work well. I haven’t had a single app crash yet, which is pretty good considering the platform is new.  Most of my Start Screen is shortcuts to regular desktop applications or video games.

The people app in an easy way to check updates from my contacts and not have to check the whole Facebook where you can spend hours just to catch up on 1 day, and I like the way it displays the “Whats new”

The Desktop

This is not RT, but regular Windows. Basically it looks the same as in Windows 7, but without the Start Menu button. I put my own, and I have not used it in months.

I keep my desktops pretty clean, with no icons on it. I like to see my wallpapers.

So for the desktop there isn’t much to comment. It is the same as Windows 7

Applications

Regular applications work as they did in Windows 7. Again nothing much changed.

So What are the changes beside the Start Screen?

Windows 8 is Windows 7 with Start Screen and RT apps. That is the main change, so it makes no sense why so many people think that Windows 8 is bad. I remember when Windows XP came out, people also said it was a bad OS but it ended being the most used Operative System. Windows 98 crashed a lot, and I had to re-install it a couple of times, so I was never a fan of 98.

Windows 8 has better support for Solid State Drives (SSD), and it boots faster. In the exactly same hardware Windows 8 is booting in 45 seconds (Core 2 Duo 8500) compared to 3 minutes that it took for Windows 7 (with a SSD boot drive). Thanks to this, I always turn off my computer instead of using sleep mode.

Windows 8 also includes better driver support. Windows 7 has excellent driver support, but I have a USB wireless card that I need to install the drivers manually but in Windows 8 is automatically detected and installed.

Future for Windows

I expect that Microsoft will keep improving Windows 8, as evident by the updates to the RT apps (They update through the store). With all the new ultrabooks, Windows 8 tablets and Windows phone I think that we will see a more consistent experience. As much as people like to complain about a new system, Windows is used on most computers. It makes total sense to me to get a companion device that works similar to my desktop but that it can use the device features (touchscreen for example).

It is evident that Microsoft will be more on schedule with versions and changes. Windows XP was 6 years old by the time Vista came out, but Windows 7 was released 30 months after. So we can expect Windows 9 in 3 years (or Windows Version 6.3), but it will be the same interface. Microsoft put a lot of effort into RT and it is a good gambit. I personally think it will be successful.

If there is one thing though that I want back is….MY SHUTDOWN ICON. It is easy to add, but it would have been better to be there from the start

In Short

Overall I like Windows 8, and I think it is an improvement over Windows 7. I will not buy any computer without it, or build a computer without it (unless it is a Linux computer), and I think you should seriously consider Windows 8 for your next computer

Windows 8 is not that different from Windows 7, so there is no reason to hold you back. The Start Screen is not a con, but it is a pro of the new Operative System. Unless you have an application that will seriously not work on Windows 8 (So far I only found one application, I already told the company that the lack of update for the application was a poor reflection on the commitment…This company is ADP BTW)

I cannot play Silent Hill 2, in Windows 7, and neither I can in Windows 8, but the game is from 2001, and since I can play it using Wine in my Linux PC I haven’t tried hard either.

On a side note. I love Windows Server 2012 🙂

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