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First impressions of Windows 8

Today is the day that Windows 8 came out.  Microsoft’s new billion dollar OS that they are betting their future on.  I decided to get a new laptop with windows 8 on it.

For the last 15 years I have made a living by working in the computer industry and I have worked with 1000’s of windows 7 computers in the last few years, and will likely work with 1000’s of windows 8 computers in the coming years.   For the last 2 years I have been very much into the Android OS also, owning 3 different android phones and heavily using 2 different android tablets.  I will write this first look review of windows 8 using all of this knowledge.

I have seen 8 a few times in the last year in various beta versions, I was not really excited with what I saw, but I know I need to master 8 because my living depends on it.  So I bought a laptop with it on it, the laptop itself is very impressive, an Asus K55A, with a ivybridge Intel Core i5, 6GB of RAM and a 750GB HD, the rest of the specs are much like my old laptop.

Turning on the laptop for the first time it was noticeable how much faster the OS was.  I have been told that win7 never really could take advantage of the CPU power of the Intel i series chips, and I believe it after building a lot of them and never really being happy with their speed.  The next thing you notice about windows 8 is that it asks to log into your Microsoft account.  I have had one of these for over a decade but decided not to use it and just sign up for an unlinked account.  That was not good because every minute or two it needed to save something to your Microsoft account and would not let you do it with out typing in your MSFT account info.  Basically you need to think of it like the Android OS, which you can’t use without a Google account.

Once you are in you will see the new interface, I am sure you have seen it, the big boxes of color with white icons.  If you want the desktop there is a button for that, if you click that it looks just like windows 7 except there is no start menu, if you click the windows logo or you click where the old start icon is you get the new bulky menu.  If you scroll all of the way to the right there is a settings menu that does many of the same things that the old taskbar would do, and within that there is a “Change PC Settings” button.  You would think that this would be like the control panel, but it is not, all of things in there are very limited.  For example I tried to fix my wrong selection about the user account and create a new user that is linked to my MSFT account but my new account was just a standard account.  It was very limited about what you could do to any user account.

After a while I found that you can right click in the start menu off of any icon and then there is an “Apps” icon that will show you all of the apps.  In this apps menu you have all of the old things, like the computer menu, and the normal old Control Panel.  I was able to quickly fix the user account mess from earlier, I was also able to make a few other needed changes that were not in the “Settings” menu.  It would have been nice if it was all in the same place.

On a visual standpoint I think 8 is a step backwards so far.  Icons take up more space, and have less color depth.  When you are in the desktop the windows are blocky, gone is all the nice rounded edges, and the nice transparent title bars and borders.  After 30 minutes of looking I still have not found a way to go back.  I also discovered that there is no new screen savers for windows 8 that come with the OS.

One of the best new features of this OS is that there is a Store.  It is like Apples App store or Google Play.  As of today there are 967, about 650 are free, there are also about 800 other apps you can download.  In many ways it is much like the play store, where you can click to install an App and they keep going and it will do it in the background, it also lets you see a list of installed apps, and update those apps, you also can video apps you have installed on you MSFT account with other devices but have not installed on your current device.  All of that is good.  On the bad side there are a few things that I miss that Google Play has, I really like how in Google you can see the maker of the software on the list, you also can click on the vendor name in descriptions to see other products made by the vendor, both of these are things I really like to use.

I think that many more apps will be ported from the other OSes in the weeks and months to come.  Windows 8 will be installed on millions of computers in the next few months and within 6 months more people will be using Windows 8 than those who use Android or iOS.  This will make many people program apps for Win8 RT.  Windows RunTime will really make waves with 10million tablets made and ready for sale running Windows 8 RT, and many millions more phones.  There could be 100 million Windows RT devices within 6 month, making 1000’s of people want to flock to building apps for these devices.  So far I have noticed that the windows RT apps are more costly than the same app on Google Play, I hope that this trend does not continue.  This is why Microsoft is betting the farm on the OS.  iOS was the leader and Android is not outselling iOS devices many times over.  Microsoft is playing catch up and needed to bet everything to do it.  And if they can enough people to buy enough devices to draw in enough developers then they can do it.  If not then it may just leave Microsoft as a second rate company forever because the future is not in desktop operating systems.  I can see exactly why they did what they have done, only time will tell if it works.

The next thing that I have noticed is that windows 8, along with my hardware, is much better with dealing with power.  In windows 7 I suggested that people never would use sleep mode, because it would only have enough power to sleep for a few days if fully charged and much less if less than full and when the battery ran down it could cause damage to the battery and damage to the files that are open, but on windows 8, with the Intel ivybridge CPU, you can sleep for 3 months on a full charge.  Also on a full charge I am getting a lot more usage.  I have up and running for over 5 hours so far with the screen on and the CPU active and I am still at 43% of a charge.  I bet this computer would do more than 8 hours on a full charge, much better than the 2.5-3 hours from my old laptop.

There is a huge change in the Task Manager, it gives a lot more info and looks better.  Control-Shift-Esc still works to get to it.  I have found that many things are hard to find in windows 8, and even when I did find them it takes many more clicks than in windows 7.  Just shutting down the computer is at least 4 times as hard as windows 7, and logging off is in a totally different area than shutting down, every MSFT OS before this had it in the same place.  Lucky for me I am good with keyboard shortcuts and I have been using them often to do functions that I could not find.  From my androids I am used to having a back button and a home button.  The start button is the same as the home button so that is easy, but there is not a back button, in many places you can use the ESC key but in many other places it does not work.  Coming from the Android environment Windows 8 is not as good yet as a tablet OS, but it is better than Windows 7 in speed and how nice the core of the OS seems.  There are many ways to easily make changes to Windows 8 to make it much more like Win 7.

There are no desktop gadgets in Windows 8 so all of those awesome desktop gadgets you used in windows 7 will not work any more.  Also the “Start” menu is flat, there is no way I see so far to put them in sub folders, so once you get a few 100 or so apps it may be a problem.  Also normal windows Apps and Windows 8 RT apps are treated totally differently.  There is actually 2 different versions of IE, one is the normal IE9 you are used to and the other is a Windows 8 RT one that is very annoying.  Also when you run a windows RT program there seems to be no obvious way to exit that program, it is like android where you just click the home button, and the apps just run in the background.  I have found that if you draw a line from the top to the bottom in an RT program it will exit it, but only if the line is on the center 50% of the screen, if it is on the left or right 25% then it will put it on a side bar.  Most of the RT programs are designed for phones and really look like it, they are way to large on a full 15″ screen, I would guess it is even worse on a larger desktop monitor.  Another tip is that if you are in the all apps area, or in the store you simply can just start typing what you are looking for and it will search for it quickly, this is a nice feature, but is very non obvious, it would be nice to have a search bar somewhere.  Also there is no way to exit the store back to the start menu with the mouse, other than the top to bottom gesture.  This gesture may work well on a tablet or phone but seems very odd with a mouse or laptop.

There are many more areas that I have not gotten into on this OS yet but I will in the coming days and likely post another report about that.  So far I have found the OS frustrating and non intuitive, but it does have potential.  I am now going to look to modify it to be easier to use.