Anti-Buzz: Windows 8, Part 2

by Andrew Emmott on April 29, 2013

in Anti-Buzz,Software

newface-620x461Last week I provided and overview of Windows 8. This week I dive more into my personal experience actually trying the software.

Obtaining the Software:

I have the privilege of trying Windows 8 for free, however it should be noted that the price of the Windows OS, (In the $100-$200 range), has come down from previous years where, depending on what version you were getting, you could expect to pay several hundred. Microsoft has also fully embraced the practice of offering their software online, which sure beats going to a brick-and-mortar. An idealized version of this process is:

  1. Purchase an activation key.
  2. Download the software.
  3. Burn the software to a disk.
  4. Install with that disk as if you purchased it in a store.

And this is more or less how it works, but Microsoft, being Microsoft did add an extra layer of redirection, wherein you download a “secure download manager” which then obtains the software for you. This secure download manager seems prepared to help you download all sorts of other Microsoft software, but this reeks of architecture astronauting. Somebody wanted to make a platform for something from scratch but really just a link to the .iso you need to burn would suffice; Microsoft already secures their software via online activation. There isn’t a whole lot you can do with a Windows 8 installer if you didn’t obtain an activation key anyway, so the indirection seems pointless. I only say something here because it makes the process more difficult, both for you and for them, (they had to write a secure download manager that works in Windows … and Mac … and Linux), when all that needs to happen is that you need to download a file. Downloading files from the Internet? That’s a solved problem. Microsoft didn’t need to solve it again. Anyway …

Installing the Software:

Post-Vista, Microsoft has a made a point of getting Windows to install quickly and pleasantly and boot quickly and pleasantly. Windows 8 does not break that promise. While the bulk of your Windows 8 experience will not be spent staring at an installation progress bar, it’s still nice. Also, Windows 8 shows an improvement over Windows 7 in that you are asked to establish a few basic settings while the software installs. This is great in that it can help you get all of your post-install fussing over with early. Aside from the obvious, (Name, computer name, etc), Windows 8 will ask you to pick color themes, adjust update schedules, adjust privacy settings and more. You can skip most of these if you want, but I thought walking through these things was a nice touch. Another notable feature at install time was the establishment of a Microsoft Live ID, which allows you to cloudify all of your settings, (and software purchases), so that your experience can be the same across mutliple computers. Great for multi-machine set ups, especially if you have multiple users per machine, be it in a home or office. In fact, the possibility to have your office machine share settings with your home machine is pretty great.

Actually Using Window 8:

My first impression was that the OS looked great. If you have yet to see a screen shot, consider this as a good token example:

newface-620x461

All of those boxes are apps of varying complexity. You can easily rearrange them with a click and drag, add and delete them with a right-click, and use them with a click. Switching between applications is easy. Downloading new software is intuitive. The initial impression is that they seemed to have succeeded in their basic design goals. The big picture on this sort of design is that using your computer becomes less about where you are, (that is, what folder you are rummaging through), and more about what you are doing. In general, this is a good thing.

You are, however, locked into this task-oriented style. The interface is cleaner and easier, but it is also less flexible. New software is easily and freely obtained in the app store, but you are limited to software that has committed to this new framework. While backwards compatibility isn’t really an issue, my fear for the future, (especially considering that Windows 8 hasn’t been widely embraced), is that you will be stuck dealing with a software dichotomy, where half of your software is a Windows 8 friendly “app” and even does a cute little dance for you on your app grid, and the other half of your software has to go live in a folder somewhere, and more or less installs/uninstalls/operates in the WIMP paradigm that you are used to, but is also banished from making a guest appearance on your sleek new Windows 8 app platter because it isn’t a sleek new Windows 8 app. My fear is that, in a sense, you will be using two different operating systems and they might not even play that well together.

The smart-phone-like app model is an interesting choice for a desktop PC, and it comes with its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is a more standardized way of writing and delivering software, which, in aggregate, encourages more usable software. The older, more wild-west way of obtaining software is that you prowl the web looking for software, you download that software, and then it is up to you to organize it responsibly. This enables a lot of freedom, but it also fails to encourage collaboration and it make finding software a more difficult and less reliable process. An app store let’s you search for software and obtain it directly, rather than having to get at it indirectly through some website. Somewhat ironically, this is not unlike the software repositories used in Linux, where you add and remove components for your machine from a centralized list of accepted components. In fact, Ubuntu has more or less revamped access to their repositories so that it too appears like an app store. However, you lose a lot of software this way; gone is the ability to just try out some simple program wrtten by some simple somebody. Essentially you are limiting yourself to “certified” software in exchange for a much cleaner overall experience.

Less flexible, more useable; and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Compared to previous iterations of Windows, the experience here is much more customizable, which is something I always wished Windows had more of. And as long as it lets me run what I want, I’d much rather float around on the new Windwos 8 app platter than amidst the ice floes of, well, windows, (lower-case w). The problem is that I’m not convinced it will always let me run what I want.

Why I Uninstalled Windows 8:

Unfortunately, for the immediate future, Windows 8 isn’t even going to get a chance to grow on me. Not because I’m throwing some They-Changed-Facebook-Again style tantrum, but because of something much more subtle. Another Windows 8 feature is that it never really shuts down, it simply hibernates. This is a sensible feature, but it has an unintended side effect: it puts a lock on the hard drive in question. I have only one laptop, and I need Linux on it to get my work done. Normally it is no problem to share hard drive space between the two, but this hard drive lock makes my life very inconvenient as I can’t share space between the operating systems any more. Seems like a fitting result, considering that Windows 8 is an obvious step away from the business market and a step toward the entertainment hungry regular person market. In the near future I will be building a home machine with entertainment being its express purpose. Windows 8 can live alone on this machine and I can really put it through its paces in a context more friendly to it.

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