(Just over) A fortnight of Windows 8

In which I review the Windows 8 experience so far...

So I installed Windows 8 about two and a half weeks ago. In brief - it's a slightly improved version of Windows 7 with a few quirks and a start-up screen that require getting used to. In more detail:

Installation

I upgraded from Windows 7 instead of doing a clean install. This was very easy. You click go and Windows does everything for you. A few programs had compatibility issues* but the upgrade assistant informed me of that.

The install took around 30 minutes running off a bootable USB instead of an install CD (How to Guide). It was very smooth and I had no problems. It was even kind enough not to overwrite my MBR and left Grub well enough alone. Good Microsoft!

*Dungeon siege won't work currently but I'm not that fussed. iTunes needed updating to the latest version. ASUS tools had to be uninstalled.

Boot

Booting into Windows 8 isn't noticeably slower or faster than Windows 7. Although my boot isn't fast at all anyway because I let Grub hang for 15 seconds and I haven't sorted out all the BIOS faff yet.†

On your first boot you have to make/decide to keep your existing admin account. I decided to link my exisiting profile with my Windows Live account for the extra functionality. Also it was a good excuse to pick a better password!

†My BIOS likes to check for every possible HDD configuration I don't have. This is something I really should sort out but haven't been bothered to.

Unlock Screen

This is clearly designed with tablets/touchscreens in mind. This screen shows you updates from selected programs (no. of emails etc.). For a normal desktop user though it is just a pretty picture that you need to move out of the way in order to logon. I haven't removed it yet but I expect I will soon. Also I encountered a bug where it wouldn't move at all so I couldn't get in to my PC. This was solved by using Windows Repair from the install disc.

Start Screen

The main change you'll notice immediately is the new Windows 8 Start Screen. You can pin your favourite software here for easy access and this replaces the normal Start Menu. However as soon as you load a normal program (anything you had on Win 7 before) you will be taken back to your familiar Windows 7 style desktop.

Search

Quite a few people online have complained about the new search. In Vista & Win 7 you could type into a search bar located next to the Start button to search your entire PC. For anyone with a reasonable amount of storage (1TB or more) this took forever‡. Now there are 3 types of search:

  • Programs/Apps
  • Settings
  • Files

You can access the search menu by using Win+Q or by holding your mouse at the right hand side of your monitor until an overlay appears which includes a magnifying glass icon. Although the searches have now been split up they seem a lot faster, especially Programs & Settings which now don't have to search through all your files to find what you're looking for.

‡Although you could choose to only index certain locations that does kind of defeat the point of a system wide search.

Programs & 'Apps'

Microsoft seem to want to call all your programs 'Apps' now to fit in with tablets and their new app store. Realistically I would say that there is a clear divide between Programs (those which ran previously under 7 and use the old desktop) and Apps (which run natively in 8 without pushing you to the desktop). If you used a program under 7 and it still works there's not really any reason to have the app version as well.§

Microsoft Apps

Windows 8 comes with a lot of built-in apps. My advice is to give them all a quick try and then uninstall the majority of them. I got rid of the following:

  • Video - I have Chrome for Youtube and VLC for files - why would I need this?
  • Music - I have Media Centre, Media Player and Spotify - again why would I need it?
  • Mail - I have Outlook and Gmail so not necessary.
  • Photos - I have enough photo viewing software and Windows explorer.
  • News - I don't want Bing/MSN news thank you very much!
  • Travel - seemed a bit rubbish really.
  • Weather - not as good as AccuWeather (see below).

I kept:

  • SkyDrive - I might use it ... maybe ... someday if Google and DropBox go down.
  • People - I'm giving this one a chance, it's basically like a phone address book.
  • Messaging - I was giving this a chance but I haven't used it at all yet.
  • Calendar - though Google calendar will probably replace this soon.

I installed:

  • AccuWeather
  • A better clock
  • A calculator
  • Minesweeper etc.
  • Xbox live
  • Xbox SmartGlass
  • Skype

Microsoft Games & Xbox

Somehow they have made Minesweeper even more addictive! :) All of the standard Microsoft games‖ have had a facelift and Xbox Live integration. Also they brought back Pinball! :D As part of the Xbox integration these games now have leader-boards, achievements and daily challenges which do add to the experience.

The Xbox Live app is a shinier version of the Xbox Live website (and easier to navigate!) which I think must have come from the Windows Phone app and then been upgraded.

I've also installed Xbox SmartGlass but have yet to try it out.

Skype

The app version of Skype is really good. Video calling on Skype was already something that benefited from being in full screen but this app is very snazzy. You will however need to ensure that the old version isn't running in the background on your desktop as when you answer a call in the app it doesn't stop ringing in the old program :( This app also takes a little getting used to but I think it's an improvement over the desktop version.

Google Chrome

I haven't bothered to install the App version of this as the normal version runs fine. There is also an interesting quirk where if you have synced to the desktop version you still have to log in separately to the app version as well.

§Exceptions listed below.

‖Minesweeper, Solitaire, Free Cell, Mahjong.

Performance

I've not noticed any particular speed gains or losses while using Win 8. I haven't run any benchmarks but it seems the general consensus online is that it is slightly faster. The lack of the Aero theme on the normal desktop might have caused this to some extent. There are also bug fixes behind the scenes which may have improved performance.

I'm not that in to benchmarking as if it runs relatively fast I'm happy. But if you're interested there are lots of blog posts about it:

Conclusion

In conclusion - it's good. Like Win 7 but with a few tweaks behind the scenes and some new snazziness. I've had no major problems so far and the experience and look & feel have been excellent.

If you can get the upgrade cheaply (currently ~£30 and you can get the Media Centre upgrade for free)¶ I would definitely suggest it as future-proofing is always a good idea. If you have a PC running Win 7 currently you'll have no difficulties.*

¶You can actually get Windows 8 for free 'legally' due to a screw-up at Microsoft but you'll have to Google that yourself.

*Well you shouldn't anyway!

Tom Out!

P.S. 5 Reasons You Should Upgrade to Windows 8

P.P.S. 7 People Who will love Win 8 (And 5 Who Will Hate It)