Thursday, November 29, 2012

A month with Windows 8

I jumped on the Windows 8 boat pretty early; launch week in fact. This isn't typical for me. Normally, I wait until the first Service Pack before I get the newest Windows installment, or advise anyone I know to upgrade, but there was something about this radical change for Microsoft's OS that I didn't want to wait to get my hands on.

Maybe it was the prospect of the old, dated, traditional GUI being phased out; maybe it's that I've been a pretty big fan of the Metro design-language since the Zune; or maybe my early-adopter impulses just won out this time... whatever it was, I'm happy with the decision.

So, I figured that with a month down, I would highlight some of the things I like, dislike, and am hoping for in future updates. I mean, having a whole month with this product on a laptop and desktop has given me a pretty wide scope of the new Windows and how it works in work, school, casual, and gaming environments.

For starters, I love the new start-screen. LiveTiles may be what they pitch it's strengths on, but the ability to organize and size things how I want with a vast amount of screen space is a huge improvement over past Start menu's, and that is where I find it beneficial. Even with the pinned apps in my taskbar and past start menus, I found myself frustrated whenever I had to search for something beyond those programs. I would generally push the Windows key and start typing, hoping I didn't have to look in the mess of folders for what I needed. And I can still do that from anywhere I am in Windows 8, but for the most part, a simple press of the Windows key, maybe a quick scroll, and a click get me everywhere I need to go now.

The charms and multi-tasking dock are also great additions, and I like how they are bringing some standardization across their Windows 8 apps, whether from first or third parties. You know where the settings are, a quick swipe in from the right. You know where their context menus are, a right click anywhere in the app. You know how to get to and from other apps, a swipe from the left. Even with my laptop and desktop lacking touch screens, the motions on a touch mouse and keyboard shortcuts are a breeze.

And speaking of that touch mouse, I grabbed a Logitech T620 and love it. The gestures are easy to pull off, the mouse is small but comfortable, and scrolling is a lot nicer on it than with a travel mouses shitty scroll wheel ever was. Having messed with it, the Apple Touch Mouse, and a brief in-store demo with Microsoft's touch mouse, I greatly prefer Logitech's in just about every way. Apple and Microsoft's mice are a bit heavier and less ergonomical. They also lack the cool visual texture that Logitech's has, which also delineates where the active touch surface is.

As for the downsides... it's a lot of small things that add up to general complaints. In the new Xbox Music, you can't just search by typing like you can in Zune's software. Having to push Windows+F to search inside the app you already have open seems like a chore. They also make you take extra steps to get to the album or song you want to hear when searching by artist. The visual interface is pretty, but it makes navigating and using it more difficult than it should ever be. From what I've seen, all the Xbox branded media software has that same issue.

The reliance on internet is also a possible con for some... one night, my internet was out because Time Warner generally wants everyone in Kansas City to buy into Google Fiber instead of using their service, and I was the last person who used either computer. Devi wanted to log in on his account and since it's not a local account, but a Microsoft account, he couldn't do that; without internet, only the last login could get back into the PC. And when it has been down, or when I was away from the house, most of the Windows 8 apps don't like to work right without internet access. We are definitely moving towards the ever-connected future, but seeing as we aren't quite there yet, Windows 8 may ask a bit too much of users at times.

Sort of a split off of the Xbox apps complaint is that the menus and settings, although in a unified place now, are a few steps away from where they have been previously. You get more screen real estate to use, sure, but the hassle of needing a gesture/shortcut and a few clicks can definitely be a stretch for new users to get accustomed to. Hell, even after a month I sometimes get fed up on days where my patience is stretched.

And those last sentences are a big deal, especially for users stuck in their ways or barely managing to get around within their current interface. Sure, the desktop is still there, and maybe even better than ever... but the new design for apps, the re-imagined Start menu, the touch-centric gesture commands may be too much for them to handle all at once. I still have to remind my parents that a long press brings up a context menu after six months with their phones (and dad has had an Android device for two years before this). The last thing I want is to start fielding phone calls, text messages, emails, and chat windows about where something is on their new computer.

Then again, it's also about time for that 70's GUI to go the way of the dinosaur. Microsoft may not have made the perfect way to get around an OS with Windows8, but it's a move in the right direction and one that has me yearning for a Windows Phone every time I get fed up with Android for one thing or another.

It's been over a month since Windows 8 launched, and just about a month on the nose since I upgraded. The benefits have far outweighed the stumbles, and, at least so far, I'm not looking back. But when it comes to who I would recommend it to, I am hesitant to give a thumbs up to anyone who isn't ready for a challenge.

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