To 8 or not to 8

Windows of Uncertainy

Hello everyone, this is my experience with Windows 8 – from a Naija guy’s position, well an average Naija guy. I’ll explain what I mean by this a little further down. So the next iteration of Microsoft’s flagship operating system is coming very soon with the Redmond outfit letting out the details in tidbits with announcements of changes, some leading to contestations as to whether it’s a move in the right direction (like the scrapping of the start button or the switch in logo – I’ll never forget the four blue screens of death joke…lmao) and also in massive globs with a number of pre-releases. This write-up is based on my experience with the Consumer Preview release which shouldn’t be too different from the more recent Windows 8 Release.

When I mean from a Naija guy’s position, I’ll actually be making a number of presumptions which I’ll explain below. They are based on my general perceptions as it relates to the relatively common environment and typical experiences we share here in Nigeria. I know there are exceptions and sometimes a huge variance in ‘levels’ but please just flow with me here.

The first assumption is that you’ll probably be installing your non-purchased copy of the final release of Windows 8 on a PC without touch support as I did in the case of the Consumer Preview release. As Windows 8 is going to be largely touch-centric you may ask what the point in doing that is. Well Microsoft know very well that about 1.6 billion people use the desktop version of their OS and they might as well want to keep doing that (how the hell are we supposed to play the next call of duty from a touch screen?). You might say the answer is to stick with previous versions of Windows but you know how some of us are.

Secondly and just as importantly, your PC may not have 24/7 connectivity to the internet so there will be times when you’ll be using Windows 8 offline. This might not sound as a big deal but at least you must have felt the current shift in trends, the need to be connected always and it’s interesting how Windows 8 was designed to match this need with the live tiles on Metro, the new media apps etc. I already know how different my phone feels without a data bundle on it and Windows 8 was obviously inspired by mobile devices.

With these two Naija-centered assumptions, I’ll delve into what my experience has been with this radical move by Microsoft to take on the Apples and Androids of this world.

INSTALLING AND SETTING UP

I won’t say much on this as I do not know how different installing the final release of Windows 8 will be from the pre-release version, but I’ll note that if you’ve installed Vista/Windows 7 a couple of times, Windows 8 should be a breeze. If you simply want to try out the pre-releases, I’ll strongly recommend using a virtual machine software suite; two very popular ones are VMware workstation and Oracle’s Virtualbox. That way you won’t get to muddle up your current installations and you get a full blown experience. Setting up is actually different as you can now sign in using an online Microsoft Account, along with some other settings which were not in previous versions.

NOW INTO THE OS

START

After successfully logging in, you are greeted by Metro, the new start menu and it’s totally unlike the start menu we are used to, maybe technically untrue as you are able to reach all your programs from here, computer, control panel, windows accessories etc., but not intuitively enough for me personally. I don’t know how it’ll be done on a touch device but on a PC you’ve got to right click on the metro surface and select ‘all apps’ to go to the Apps menu (mind you, there’s no drop down…it’s not a window now is it?). There you’ll get your full array of programs apps. Also you can rearrange and resize the tiles with the others rearranging themselves accordingly, you can unpin anyone (those you see are pinned by default), add new ones from the Apps menu. At first I was worried about omission of the search bar which was in the start menu from Vista/7, but I discovered that you simply start keying in your search query on the metro screen and it comes up though you can always search from a window in the desktop environment.

metro

From my personal touch-less experience, Metro feels like a snag, it simply doesn’t feel natural with mouse clicks, drag and drops though it’s beautiful though I’m sure would be extremely cool on a tablet or touch pc. Maybe a little getting used will help but I usually can’t wait to hit the desktop tile, which if you think of it is actually being treated like just an app (did I hear you say ‘where’s the justice?!’).

metro 2

DESKTOP

I remember the first few times I entered the desktop and noticed the start button was gone, I just stared blankly at the screen and wondered, ‘Uhhhhh, what now?’. It felt like an ignition key was missing and I wanted to get the engine started. Ok, there’s the explorer button on the taskbar, we are getting somewhere. Now I need to get to the control panel, control panel…control panel…control panel….arrrghhhh!!! I have to go back to metro! Oh Microsoft, why hath thou removeth thy trusted start orb??? Yeah yeah, we all have to be progressive don’t we?

I must confess the desktop looks beautiful. I don’t know if it’s the colours or the fact that that the clogs have been popped off the wheels of aero. Desktop windows now have solid look as against the glassy interface of aero. Thinking a little more on this, it would probably help improve battery life, a key factor when it comes to tablets.

desktop

A really exciting development for me is the introduction of MS Office-like ribbons to the windows, and the coolest part is the ribbons are context-based, so the options available to you will depend on which type of window you’ve opened. For example a normal explorer window will have your regular open and editing (copy, cut etc.) in the home tab, your music window will have tabs for share, play etc., and computer will have tabs with options for mapping a network drive, computer management and even control panel (so yeah, you don’t have to always go back to metro but I didn’t know that at the time). And yes, the File menu drops down just like in Office.

windows ribbonwindows ribbon 2

Also, good old desktop shortcuts still work, so you can still use Alt + Tab to switch between programs apps, Alt + F4 to kill apps and a lot more. Even Windows Key + D will bring you to the desktop from anywhere as long as it is open.

Still on the desktop, another beautiful revamping is the task manager. She’s absolutely gorgeous, trim and lovely. Simply put it’s been redesigned with programs (now apps) section showing the CPU, Network, Memory usage and Disk transfer per app and process instead of the more discrete presentation in the previous task manager. Of course you still have the performance monitor which looks more…modern I guess. There’s also a new tab called the App History tab which displays the history apps and of resources used by them. There’s more but I’ll leave it just right here.

Task manager 1Task manager 2

Also the progress bar when copying or moving stuff has been redesigned, It now shows/charts a speed graph along with the progress and you can pause too. Pretty cool if you ask me.

copying

A whole lot of the other stuff remained pretty much the same, or at least feels the same from the desktop environment. Control panel and all its options, Network and Sharing Center, the accessories, command prompt etc. Just before moving away from this section, there’s Internet explorer 10 but frankly I can’t write on it because I simply didn’t try it out. 9 crashes 9 times out of 10 every time I open it on my Windows 7 PC and I’m dead sure I won’t be using it if I ever switch permanently to Windows 8. Of note is the fact that you might have to be doubly vigilant as this culprit has a Metro counterpart with an extra attribute of touchiness.

MEDIA MANAGEMENT

If you no get decent internet connection, na for here e go PAIN pass! Yes, I mean every word of that. To make the most out of the media apps you have to sign in with a Microsoft account which you could have set up when installing the OS or from PC Settings. I guess Windows 8 it meant to be kept alive with internet traffic flowing through its veins. So you can imagine how limited my experience and invariably, the content of this write-up is. Take for instance the Photo apps on metro which still launches (annoyingly) from the desktop when you open pictures. It can connect your social networks like facebook and flickr and even SkyDrive to provide a seamless experience. But it feels annoying if you don’t have an internet connection or a touch input to slide through your pics.

pics apppics app 2

Windows Store

The Windows Store app can be launched from Metro and it sports downloadable apps. It has a spotlight section like the music and video apps and then has categories like games, sports, books etc. Though it currently looks kind of threadbare, it should be expanded over time. Windows store also offers a decent amount of freely downloadable apps so I guess its usefulness will stretch beyond mere window shopping…lol.

store

Video and Music

Attempting to play a video from explorer will launch the video app. You can also launch it from the tile on Metro. Upon opening, it attempts to sign you in with your MS account. Now it’s a world of difference when you have your internet connection. The app has a spotlight section where it shows you a sort of catalogue of movies and TV shows, and it also shows you your private collection as well. Tap Click on any movie tile and it shows you the details and you can even watch a preview…sweet!

Of course you can always install your legacy video players like Media Player Classic or VLC Media player and keep watching your movies from your hard drive but won’t you be such a loser?!

Video app 6jpg

video app3

Video app 5Video app1

The Music app looks like and works like the video app, displaying a music catalogue and your local collection. Thankfully Windows media player still comes preinstalled. For some reason, I couldn’t sign in with my MS account through any of the apps. I also learnt that WMP won’t come with DVD support (it’s all online now I guess), so VLC or some third party apps will still prove quite handy for those who still watch DVDs on their PCs.

music

Though I had to connect to the internet to checkout some extra features, I certainly wasn’t willing to let some living roof tiles and apps use up my precious kilobytes (yes, I said kilobytes as in 1024 bytes and no I’m not stingy, just conservative), so I never really gave Windows 8 a prolonged shot of jivey internet juice.

 

A LONG CONCLUSION

One of the reasons why previous attempts at having windows on touch devices flopped was because Windows wasn’t really touch optimized. It was obviously designed to work with a mouse and keyboard. Now Microsoft have redesigned the OS to handle touch input quite well…or that was the attempt right? But the desktop to me is still pretty much mousy and clicky while Metro is quite touchy (no pun intended) and it’s all one bundle. I really don’t know but it’s like having oil and milk in one mix. Maybe the tablet version experience with Windows RT will prove to be less of a desktop/windows experience, or at least the desktop/windows feel will become more touch centered, that’s where/how I feel Windows 8 will thrive in a market where the iPad holds sway with the Android tablets following behind.

In all, for we (perhaps I should speak for myself) touch-less dudes, it’s not that bad, beneath the surface sheets of wrappers, mats, tiles and numerous coatings of fingerprint smudges is a solid rock of a reliable Windows 7-like desktop operating system we can mostly rely on. If you never loved flying carpets, colorful boxes, mahjong or those sliding tile puzzles, you probably won’t like Metro on your PC, because it probably won’t prove to be any more useful. The more adventurous and open minded might appreciate it on their PCs but I’m sure even Microsoft never intended for that. For the less open minded dudes who will still give Windows 8 a shot, I believe the desktop experience can still be maximized by installing your legacy apps programs to handle your media files and other stuff.

That said, this little experience has also shown me a little of the immense potentials on the other side, so much so that I believe it won’t be a bad idea at all having a tablet alongside my PC. Tablets will offer a lighter, more fluid and lively experience outside of what the rigid PCs have to offer. Sure it all converges towards easiness and entertainment as against work, that’s why I probably will never abandon my PC. But imagining the Windows 8 experience on a light touch device (particularly the media apps), I’d say it’ll be a swell way to go.

Yeah, I left out a lot of stuff in this write-up, so slot a pre-release installer disc into your drive and give it a test drive, you’ll find it interesting. All in all, I still think Windows 8 will be great on a touch device and manageable on a PC, but let’s all see how it’ll all turn out. I’m sure some months from now you’d refer back to this write-up (if you ever remember reading it) and say, “Yeah, thought so, what did he know anyway?

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5 thoughts on “To 8 or not to 8

  1. Pingback: From 8 to Love | Tech Genius Blog

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