Windows 8 a Desktop User’s Experience

While we are still two months away from general availability, Windows 8 was released to MSDN and Technet subscribers yesterday.

Much has been written about the juxtaposition of the new Modern UI (the user interface formerly known as Metro) and the legacy desktop.  One is for touch and the other for traditional PCs.  Since I have a traditional PC, I do what I can to avoid the Modern UI; thankfully it is a fairly easy accomplishment.

First though, Windows 8 is polished in the same way that Windows 7 was.  You may disagree with the design philosophy, but there is no arguing with the implementation. It is stable and fast and there is no need to wait for a service pack to make the transition.

But should you upgrade?  On a traditional PC I don’t see enough prominent changes to justify the expense and time involved in upgrading from Windows 7.  XP era computers will not be fast enough to run it and if you have held off upgrading your Vista box to 7, then wait a little longer and get 8.

First, what’s missing or replaced in Windows 8?  To name a couple of obvious examples; the start button, the start menu, aero glass, gadgets, Media Center, and DVD playback.  The start button and menu have been replaced with hot corners and the start screen, these operate the same as their predecessors did in earlier versions of Windows.  If 5 minutes doesn’t familiarize you with these changes, then you may want to get checked for early onset Alzheimers.  If the test is negative, there are lots of OSs available with a traditional desktop.   Aero and gadgets will not be missed while missing Media Center and DVD Playback is a boneheaded move to save a few dollars.  To my knowledge the price of adding these multimedia features back has not been announced and the upgrade is not yet available.

Since I don’t have a touch enabled device, following is what’s new for traditional desktop users.  The log-in screen has been altered substantially, I don’t know if it is better or worse than previous versions, but it is different.  While multi-monitor support is improved (hello multi monitor taskbar) I still find the need to use Display Fusion to manage my monitors.  File Explorer has been incrementally improved, the ribbon is masterful in its implementation (I had my doubts).  The ribbon can be hidden, its features are not needed 99.75% of the time, it both saves screen real estate and aids in feature discoverability.  The task manager has seen vast improvements in both usability and responsiveness.  MS account integration has been added to make syncing settings between PCs easy, iso (and other image files) files can now be mounted without the help of third party utilities (about time).  The recovery options have been revamped but I haven’t had the need to use them yet.  Also, Hyper-V virtualization is baked in but I haven’t played with that yet either.

I’ve installed Stardock’s Start8  which transforms the start screen into a smaller version of itself which overlays the desktop, it also allows you to boot to the desktop.  This free (so far) utility is necessary fare for those without touch enabled devices.

The new theme is so much better than any that has come before it.  Gone are the bloated transparencies, the pseudo-3D effects and gradients.  This leaves a polished and unobtrusive layer of chrome.  While it is entirely subjective, I like the new flat squared look.  The taskbar and selected window bar can be set to change with the background, a nice touch.  There are still a couple of areas that could use some clean-up, I would like to see the transparency removed from the taskbar and the goofy glow removed from hovering over taskbar items (at least they don’t jump;-)  Some settings windows have been updated to the Modern look, a nice improvement over the Windows 95/98 look they have had for 15 years.

I have not had any problems with hardware or software that ran on Windows 7, I think it is safe to assume that this stuff will just work.  Hardware wise, I am really wanting one of MSs upcoming surface mice (or is it mouses?)

In conclusion, I think Windows 8 is a solid incremental update to Windows 7.  I think that this is one where the supposed technorati will hate it while most users will like it.

More interesting is wondering what Windows 9 will be like.  Will it flesh out Modern UI to make it a desktop replacement or will both UIs be maintained in duo?


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