Pros: Technologically more sophisticated and secure than Windows has ever been.
Cons: User interface is intitally annoying - overall: tedious.
Though I know I’ll end up purchasing more computer hardware within the next year or two – for business purposes, the Windows 8 performance I can comment on is currently limited to a very powerful desktop - which I’ll be using for office software and gaming and a midrange netbook – which I’ll be using for travel – especially on my upcoming trip to Seychelles.
THE DESKTOP: HP ENVY H8 with a Core i7 3.4 Ghz Cpu, 16GB of RAM and a Geforce GTX 680 (2GB of RAM).
THE NETBOOK: ACER ONE with 1.33 Ghz, 2GB of DR3 RAM and a RADEON HD 6290 with a 256MB GPU coprocessor.
Windows 8 requires a minimum of a 1Ghz CPU, 1GB of RAM for the 32-bit version/ 2GB RAM for the 64bit version and 16GB of Hard Disk space for the install. You can use any modern graphics card that supports Direct X9, but I recommend your card have no fewer than 2GB of dedicated Video Ram on board if you are planning to run games. Direct X11 will be required for newer games and DX11 only runs on Vista, 7 and 8. Stereoscopic 3D is supported in most newergames and you’ll need DX11 to use it.
Windows 8 64-bit didn’t *wow* me as much as the move from Windows XP to Vista. Vista’s translucency effects and browsing speed grabbed me immediately. Windows 8 felt like more of the same, despite it is capable of so much more when given enough RAM and a powerful CPU. On my netbook, I noticed immediately that everything seemed to take more time. The lag between asking the computer to boot up and it actually booting up to a useable screen was higher than I cared for (more than a minute) and even the shutdown from internet browsing to “complete off” without any programs open was annoying (more than 45 seconds). Meanwhile, the HP ENVY averaged 30 seconds to bootup and less than 15 to shutdown. I am convinced Windows 8 is a memory hog. The more memory you’ve got the better. I am currently planning to buy a Kensington Hyper-X 32GB memory kit (and sell my 16GB chips) so I can max out this computer and have a blazing gaming computer for the next few years – or until technology advances.
To test overall 3D capabilities of Direct X11 running on this computer, I ran Far Cry 3 (the most technologically sophisticated game I have – until Crysis 3 is released) in its highest settings (“ULTRA”- with everything turned on and way up). The game ran at a steady framerate, averaging above 60fps and never even chugged when I whipped out a flamethrower and started setting entire villages on fire. That’s pretty damned impressive.
Windows Metro Interface
The Windows “Metro” Interface was originally introduced in Windows XP – which I still consider to be the best overall choice for a netbook Operating System. It’s ubiquitous among netbooks, inexpensive and designed to use far less resources than many current netbooks provide at a low cost. The last desktop I’d used Windows XP on was a Pentium 2.0 Ghz with a Geforce 2 graphics card and 256MB of memory – which literally “flew” from screen to screen. Nowadays, a cheap netbook offers a multi-core processor and many gigabytes of RAM. The metro interface on XP was limited to Media Center Edition computers and by extension the Xbox 360’s media center streamer. I found Metro to be intuitive – in that you could scroll through your pics, videos and music easily with just a few remote buttons, but slow and clunky in terms of presenting titles, track information and artists unless you’d purchased your music directly from Microsoft’s ZUNE service. iTunes used to be this problematic, but apple has cleaned it up since those days.
When you first power on a computer running Windows 8, you will be greeted by a Windows Metro interface which has been restyled to at-first appear user-friendly. Unfortunately this new Metro seems to be designed similar to the modern Android OS many users will have become familiar with through their smartphones. It is not, however, as simple to use as Android.
Let’s take a look at Apple’s iOS – the reason I refuse to buy any other mobile device besides iPhone as a mainstay. Apple designed iOS not to be “pretty”, but to simplisticly present you with every single application on the phone –spreading them across multiple pages - which only scrolled left to right. It was impossible to misplace anything (unless deleted) and with just a small effort, it was possible to organize these apps into pages or folders (later on) for intuitive searching. Android OS, expanded on Apple’s innovation by adding more customization to the individual pages, but the core functionality was perfected by Apple. Sure you could learn more difficult navigation structures, but why should you have to? And how many people buying these devices would want to? An iOS equipped device is far easier to navigate than any Windows device – especially Windows 8. Whether you are using an iPhone, iPad or iPod - all of them function similarly, smoothly and familiarly.
The new Metro Interface greets you with apps downloaded from the windows store. They are represented by a single cube block and can be resized into a double sized cube block. With more experience, you’ll notice that these apps can be organized into intuitive structures so that games, financial, shopping and office software occupy individual columns. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple on the desktop as it is on a laptop or a tablet.
Laptops typically features touchpads and tablets feature touchscreens. Having a touchscreen is usually the norm in a smartphone (though some Chinese makers still make button-equipped smartphones). The touchscreen allows you to easily swipe, pinch-to-zoom and scroll through the Windows 8 apps, while the desktop is completely left out. To a lesser extent, the touchpad on a laptop allows this, but it’s obvious this level of functionality works better on a touchscreen.
Immediately you will be presented with Internet Explorer, Mail, Skydrive, Weather, Music folder, Video folder, News, Skype, Ebay and a ton of other apps depending what software you purchased the computer with pre-installed and what firmware the company regularly pre-installs in its computers. Users expecting a Windows operating system to boot straight to the “desktop screen” will instead be sent to a mobile OS-like lock screen. On the lock screen, you’ll see time, date and information from a user-defined app presented. Push a button on the keyboard and you are set to the user account screen to choose which user to log-in with.
With the Acer Laptop and with the HP ENVY, the user account was created directly after I was asked for my email during boot-up registration. I choose my Windows Live email address and all of my info was automatically downloaded from the internet by Skydrive. My photos folder presented me with pics from Japan/China I’d taken years ago for example. I didn’t actually want it to do this. I regularly sign into Yahoo rather than MSN, AOL or Google.
To actually get to your familiar “desktop” you’ll need to click on the “desktop” icon. At this point you are transported to the desktop where the interface begins to feel more like the legacy Windows you are used to. My next problem was the missing legacy buttons – i.e. the START button which we all know would be found normally in the bottom left corner. Why Windows felt it necessary to remove this, I have no idea, but it’s omission was an annoyance.
On the HP ENVY, I found I needed to point my mouse into the bottom right corner to bring up the new options for power, search, settings and sharing settings. It is now called the “charms bar” – and it slides into and out of view of these so-called “hot corners”. Devices allows you access to installed printers, scanners, etc while settings is similar to the “control panel” and allows you access to WiFi links, notifications, and screen options such as brightness and contrast.
The new Windows devices include a special “WINDOWS” button very similar to the “APPLE” command button on Apple’s computers. This button takes you back to the Metro interface screen or can be used in conjunction with the keys to give you shortcuts. Windows+ C opens the Charms bar, Windows+L locks the computer to the lock screen and my favorite: Windows+ D takes you directly to the desktop. There are other shortcuts, but naturally, you can edit them in the system registry to whatever you desire with some programming knowledge.
I was initially disappointed by the lack of a START button and found it necessary to scour the internet (including Youtube) searching for ways to make Windows 8 more like Windows Vista/7. My Acer netbook actually included a power button in the task bar – knowing that users might have this initial problem – while my HP ENVY did not. I was able to find a power button icon, download it and now I’m able to turn the computer off, hibernate it or sleep it in just a simple hand motion.
OVERALL USER EXPERIENCE
Once I figured out ways to make Windows 8 more like Vista/7, I got more comfortable with it. But, why should I have to? Why should any user have to? I should not have to search online to figure out ways to use my new devices. I have more programming knowledge than most users do and I’ve even administered servers. If I was a novice, I’d have been so angry, I’d have packed these computers back up and taken them back for my refund. This operating system is designed for a tablet or a touchscreen PC based on its features. For a desktop user, it will take some time before you can use it comfortably.
If Windows Metro could be described as a crib of Apples iOS, then Windows 10 could be directly described as a crib of Apple’s Safari. When you click the IE icon, you are immediately taken to a fullscreen view of the web page with the address bar on the bottom of the page and just a handful of buttons: back, refresh, settings, forward and refresh. While I appreciate the absence of annoying tool bars that automatically place themselves in the menu-bar, I am completely annoyed by the visual switch of the address bar from top to bottom. I’ve been using (we’ve all been using) the address bar at the top of the screen for years. Why the hell would you change that? That’s like going from reading a book front-to-back to doing it Japanese style: back –to-front…
There is no switch to place the address bar back on top within IE10. If you want the traditional view, you'll need to click "view on dektop" which will re-open the web page in IE9.
There are some great features in IE10. For example, similar to Safari, you can “pin” webpages to your Start screen in the same manner you can pin icons (such as my coveted power button). There is also a feature called “Flip Ahead” (similar to IE9’s) which allows you to web surf simply by swiping to the left or right on your touchpad – or clicking left/right on your D-pad. While those of us browsing questionable sites online will appreciate the fact there is no web browser tracking firmware enabled out of the box, using the Flip Ahead feature does in fact track your browsing habits and send info back to Microsoft so they can improve the accuracy of the suggested sites you’d be routed towards.
Though many of you probably won’t like to hear this, I personally hate using security programs on my computers. I don’t like them because in my experience with them, they’ve hogged resources and completely annoyed me when their user time has expired and they begin to demand updates which you must pay for. The integrated security programs which Windows includes (and updates) are all I’m willing to use – along with basic pop-up blockers to disable spyware and adware. I am a backup Nazi and I backup regularly to large HDD ever increasing in size. If something happens and my computer’s HDD fails, or gets damaged, I simply restore everything from one of two backups. My business computers are behind a firewall and we have someone to maintain them remotely – as well as back up their information to a closed RAID setup. I shop online using my iPhone5 and my desktop and have never worried or had an occurrence of ID theft. There was a case when I had an ID theft episode (which wasn’t due to the computers), but my bank immediately notified me, shut down my cards and refunded my money. I do not spend extra on security and I never will. My client’s information is safely kept and stored behind a firewall.
The netbook came with McAfee Antivirus software (which I will eventually delete when the period expires) and the ENVY came without it. All Windows 8 computers come with Window’s “Security Essentials” built in – thus making Win8 the most secure Windows operating system to date. Basically, Windows SE only allows software or firmware with valid digital security certificates to run. You can circumvent this using an administrative password to clear unsigned applications (such as an old PC game) to run, but for the most part malware can’t get in – that is – until hackers figure out a way around Win SE – which will probably be “a few weeks ago”. There’s no way to make computers completely safe from hackers. Just backup everything to portable drives is what I say.
The computer also includes Windows Defender. We’ve been using Defender since XP and it’s an effective, free software which protects against adware and malware. My Vista packing HP Pavilion dv6700 had it and I never had a major problem requiring return to vendor or reinstallation of Windows. On a few occasions “something” went screwy and adware did make it in, but a system restore completely restored the laptop to functional in just a few moments.
I used to actually explore ways of hacking system registries. A video I placed on my Youtube shows how to “hack your Mac OSX” if you’ve forgotten your password. While I recognize “nothing is completely safe”, I am slightly worried a hacking point might be Window’s new system “Windows To Go” which allows you to boot Windows 8 Enterprise from USB flash drives. It is designed for business users who need an image of Windows 8, but because there can be a “middleman” tool between the drive and the computer, I am sure this is a point of entry for a hacker. Not to mention I’ve already had to change several portions of the system registry just to make Windows 8 slightly more like Windows 7.
WHY SHOULD YOU UPGRADE TO WINDOWS 8?
If you are currently using Vista, Windows 7 or XP and are comfortable, there is no need to upgrade until it becomes absolutely necessary to do so. The immediate user experience with Win8 will be a shock to most users of legacy Windows systems, but there are several reasons to upgrade – if you’re interested.
#1 If you’re using a Windows Phone, the integration and user experience with Windows 8 will be familiar and smoother transitioning.
#2 The Skydrive integration can backup your settings to Microsoft’s cloud service and allows you to move your experience from one computer to another (i.e. my netbook to my desktop).
#3 The embedded Security essentials makes Windows 8 far safer without having to buy a virus protection software from a 3rdparty vendor.
#4 If you have a touchscreen computer or laptop with touchpad, Windows 8 offers an experience almost as smooth as Apple’s iOS and OSx – without forcing you to sacrifice your ability to run off-the-shelf PC games.
#5 Direct X and Direct Draw 3D are still king in the gaming world. If you want to run the newest, most graphically sophisticated games, you basically have no choice but to use the most advanced version of Windows (Win8 64-bit) to squeeze the most out of them while still having access to fresh downloads and patches.
Eventually we will buy a Windows 8 tablet (sold off the HP Touchpad). When I do, I’ll make yet another review about Windows 8’s experience on the tablet. I do not take back the things I’ve said about Windows 8 in my video of my HP Envy desktop. I feel Microsoft was either stupid or arrogant for removing/moving features and command-tree expectations the average Windows user would expect. Windows 8 isn’t horrible, but when it comes to user friendliness, Apple stands on top.