To describe the concept of Windows 8 is quite simple. Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a lot of people who were completely turned off by the Metro UI (I’ll be referring to the new UI as Metro throughout this review) layout of Windows 8, claiming that it’s too much like a smartphone or tablet layout. While that’s true, the Windows 8 experience can be summed up in one simple explanation:
Remember the old “Start” button in Windows 7? How when you clicked it, a small menu popped up that had your most recent and most widely used programs? Now imagine the Start menu is now expanded into a full screen interface, with a very eye-catching new look. And this my friends, is the new Metro UI, or the Start Screen, or Modern UI…or whatever it’s being called.
The Metro UI does not represent the entirety of Windows 8. You’re not “forced” into using Metro exclusively. What Metro is, essentially, is an expanded Start Menu layered on top of Windows 7. You see, everything we loved about Windows 7 is still there; in fact, it’s even better and runs more smoothly. The only difference, and the thing that’s been turning the most people off, is that Metro is the new “face” of Windows. It’s what you see in all the commercials on TV. It’s the first thing you see when you boot your computer. However, it’s not the only thing you see.
While everything you hear about Windows 8 embracing a tablet interface is true, understand that it’s not necessarily a bad thing that Microsoft went this route. Something being created to accept touchscreens as an input VS something being created specifically for touchscreens are two completely different things, and while I don’t claim to know what the brains behind Windows 8 really intended, I’m inclined to believe that they decided with the former. Metro runs beautifully with a traditional mouse and keyboard, despite whatever rumors you may have heard. Yes, it’s meant to work with touchscreens, but with a traditional mouse and keyboard, you’ll be fine.
This means you don’t click, hold, and drag to navigate Metro like so many were afraid of; you simply scroll with the mouse wheel. To access the Charms, you simply hover the cursor on the right side of the screen as opposed to swiping with your finger. Microsoft isn’t abandoning mouse users in favor of touchscreens; it’s simply accepting touch as a form of user input.
[quote_right]I was prompted to download the Upgrade Assistant, which basically holds your hand and walks you through the upgrade process step by step.[/quote_right]With that out of the way, how does Windows 8 run? Pretty well, for the most part. The Metro UI runs into the danger of being too much of a sensory overload, as it is a lot to take in all at once. However, in today’s day and age of smartphones and tablets, I don’t think that will be much of a problem. Metro can be as busy or simplistic as you want it to be. These screenshots are from my own computer; I like a lot of things at once, so my Metro is very jam packed. Yours does not have to be.
Installing Windows 8 is a breeze. I chose to buy a digital upgrade of Windows 8 Pro directly from Microsoft’s website (which will run you $39.99 until Jan. 31, 2013). Upon completing the purchase, I was prompted to download the Upgrade Assistant, which basically holds your hand and walks you through the upgrade process step by step. I was given the option to transfer over either all my personal files, settings, and apps, just my apps, or nothing at all and start fresh. I chose to transfer everything over…nearly a terabyte’s worth of stuff.
This is where I ran into a few issues, though to be fair, I was expecting something like this. My computer has a crapload of random devices, from printers and webcams to microphones and game controllers. I have a LOT of stuff hooked up to it, and as expected, Windows 8 doesn’t necessarily have all the device drivers ready to go. The nice thing about the Upgrade Assistant is that prior to actually installing Windows 8, you’re given a list of everything that will be transferred with no issues, and a second list of potential issues. Unfortunately, once of these potential issues was my network card, which could make it difficult to download any subsequent drivers after the switch.
I decided to take the plunge anyway, which may have been a stupid decision, but luckily for me, everything ended up working out just fine. After the list of potential issues, Windows 8 was ready to install, and approximately an hour later, with numerous restarts, picking a Start screen color, and signing in with my Microsoft account, I was ready to rock. I’d like to point out that the less you transfer over from your previous version of Windows, the quicker Windows 8 will install. An hour for nearly a terabyte’s worth of stuff is not too shabby.
As soon as you start Windows 8, you’re presented with the lock screen. A simple click with the mouse or keyboard stroke reveals a welcome screen where you must input your Microsoft account password. Since I’ve always had a MS account, I’m not sure what the options are if you choose against signing up for a MS account, so just keep that in mind.
When you first enter Win 8, you’re greeted with the Metro interface. A number of “Live Tiles” are already installed and ready to go; things like E-mail, People, the MS Store, Maps, Bing etc. Windows Phone users will instantly feel right at home, as the layout of Metro is essentially an expanded version of the WP UI. In fact, as a long time Android user, even I was able to jump in with no confusion, as the Live Tiles are basically the same concept as Widgets on any Android device. Clicking on any Live Tile will take you into the selected app, with a full screen interface created specifically for Win 8. Once you’re done with an app, simply move your cursor to the top edge, click, hold, and drag down to shut the program.
As I do whenever I get a new mobile device, I spend the first hour or so pinning programs to Metro, and browsing through the MS Store for new apps. The selection in the Store is pretty sparse at the moment, but Microsoft promises much more to come. I was somewhat disappointed that there was no native Facebook or Twitter apps, but the People Live Tile more than makes up for that, as you can integrate a number of social networks into one main feed (which may or may not be a good thing, especially if you follow a bunch of people on Twitter). Some of my favorites that I found were Netflix, Kindle, Ebay, Google Search (since Metro defaults to Bing), Wikipedia, and TuneIn Radio.
The bad part? No clock is visible onscreen. You have to pull up a seperate menu to even make a clock appear. Luckily, there are a number of third party apps where you can pop a clock Live Tile onto Metro.
There are also a couple of apps for us gamers…us Xbox gamers, at least. The MS Store is integrated with your Xbox Live account, so you can check out your XBLA profile, your Achievements, buy games, add-ons, etc. There’s also the Xbox SmartGlass app, which I suspect works better if you’re running Windows 8 on a tablet. I downloaded it onto my PC, but haven’t had the chance to try it out yet. I can’t imagine there’s much functionality when used on a PC clear on the other side of the house.
Any program that you pin into Metro that isn’t supported by Live Tiles (and therefore, a Metro specific interface) will be opened up by default in “Desktop,” which is the Windows 7 desktop that we are all so familiar with. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said Metro is essentially layered on top of Windows 7. With the exception of the Start button being gone, the Desktop is exactly Win 7 as I remembered it from a few days ago. In fact, since I transferred all my settings and files over, the layout of virtually everything was transferred over untouched. Props to Microsoft for making the transition so seamless.
[quote_left]I might as well get used to spending as much time in Metro as I can. As of right now, it appears that MS wants to ease users in slowly.[/quote_left]The elimination of the Start button means that certain applications like My Computer and Control Panel now need to be either moved onto the desktop, moved into the Taskbar, or pinned to Metro. Either way is fine; it doesn’t really take all that long to back into Metro from the Desktop (all it takes is a tap on the Windows key, or click on the bottom left corner of the screen), and switching back only takes a blink of an eye as well (you can also right click the bottom left corner of the screen to bring up a simplified Start Menu). Because of this, I pinned My Computer and Control Panel to Metro. I get the impression that while I still spend the bulk of my time within Desktop (Win 7), MS is eventually going to push users more and more into using Metro exclusively. I might as well get used to spending as much time in Metro as I can. As of right now, it appears that MS wants to ease users in slowly. If you choose to, you never have to look at Metro again, with the exception of signing in after booting up. Just use Win 8 exclusively in Desktop, and you’ll never know that you’re running a new OS. How much longer MS will keep things this way remains to be seen, but just know that as of now, you have options.
As this is a Microsoft branded OS (duh), many MS specific features are now the default. I mentioned earlier that the default Metro search engine is Bing. Internet Explorer 10 also comes ready to rock in Metro. While IE 10 is nice to look at and fairly eye catching, a few things bugged me. First off, despite the fact that it supports HTML 5, IE 10’s Flash support is severely crippled. Second, in an effort to give users as much full screen space as possible, all the tabs, URL area, and settings are hidden. Now granted, all it takes is a simple right click to bring these features out, but for those that use multiple tabs on a regular basis and need to switch between them in a quick manner, this could be difficult. And finally, there are two versions of Internet Explorer. Yes…two versions. You have a Metro version, and the typical desktop version…and the two aren’t synced. Therefore, anything you do in one version does not carry over to the other…which is something I hope they work out soon.
I then spent a little bit of time downloading drivers for the devices that weren’t transferred over. In total, I had 10 devices that didn’t make the move; however, upon visiting the websites of each of these devices, it appears that every single one of them had updated downloads that support Win 8. About an hour later, everything was recognized and ready to go.
I want to now touch a bit on Charms. The Charms menu is basically a collection of functions like Search, Share, Settings, etc. These functions are specific to whatever you are currently using, so if I pull up the Charms menu while in the NY Times app and open the Settings, I will have a specific list of settings for that app. Going into Settings also reveals options like Notifications, screen brightness, power options, volume control, etc. It’s nice to have all these things tucked away and not taking up screen space, but it took a little getting used to. While I haven’t used a touchscreen with Metro yet, I have heard reports of people who are scrolling near the right edge of their device, and accidently pulling up the Charms menu. A pain in the butt, yes, but it doesn’t sound like a dealbreaker.
And now for the bugs. As with any new OS, a nice number of bugs are to be expected. The ones I ran into weren’t too bad; so far I haven’t experienced anything that resulted in a crash, or even anything that required a restart. The first issue I ran into was with my Norton antivirus program. The program is running fine, but for whatever reason, my Action Center keeps posting that annoying red flag that says my computer is unprotected. It wants me to use Windows Defender, but when I look at the list of available programs, both Win D and Norton are listed as “Off.” Turning one of them On results in nothing happening. Both remain “Off,” the red flag is still there, yet, Norton is running just fine on my computer.
Second, a number of apps in Metro randomly closed on me. A few times, I opened my Pictures app or People, and within seconds, it shut down. I don’t know if the app was randomly moved to the background or it closed completely, but it was somewhat annoying to have reopen the same app repeatedly.
I also ran into an rather big issue with the Netflix app, as it did not recognize my GPU driver or my audio driver, even though they were both updated. I checked again the next morning, and it appears that both Nvidia and Via had updated drivers that supported Win 8. You guys might want to double check that if you choose to adopt Win 8. Uninstalling and reinstalling the drivers for both devices seemed to fix the issue.
Microsoft has touted Windows 8 as a major and fundamental shift in the way Windows works, and while that claim isn’t 100% true, at first glance, it might seem that way.. For the first time since I was in high school, I had to re-learn how to use Windows. I have to applaud Microsoft’s efforts to unify all devices under one OS; in the long run, assuming Win 8 devices are successful, this could end up being a very seamless way to integrate my Xbox 360, PC, tablet, and phone.
Since Windows 8 is built on the foundation of Windows 7, once you get past Metro, it’s going to feel like greeting an old friend. What was once familiar is still familiar. Just think of it as an old friend that got a facelift.
Windows 8 represents some great, untapped potential. On a personal level, I love what I’m seeing. I’m a pretty sensory guy, so all the Live Tiles and colors and “splashiness” of Metro immediately caught my attention. While Metro on its own would have been too light of an OS, the fact that you have almost the entirety of Win 7 one layer down pretty much seals the deal. I can only imagine what Windows 8 will be like a year from today, when it has a thriving app store and hopefully some service packs to fix whatever issues may pop up between now and then.
You’re either going to love or hate Windows 8. If there’s anything that I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that people are extremely resistant to change. Yet, interestingly enough, releasing the same thing over and over gets a lot of negative responses as well. Microsoft took a HUGE risk by introducing such a radical change to the familiar Windows interface we all know so well. But I have to applaud the way this change was implemented. While some may see the Desktop (Win 7) as a sign of Microsoft’s unwillingness to jump completely into the deep end with Metro, I see it as an opportunity to allow users to adapt to Metro at their own pace. I see this as Microsoft’s way of saying “Here’s a new operating system, but adapt to it at your own pace; don’t let us pressure you into going 100%.”
As a matter of fact, it almost reminds me a bit of blu ray, how most of them are packaged with a DVD copy of the movie as well. It gives people who aren’t ready to switch to blu ray a chance to have the media available whenever they are ready to move on. You’re getting the same kind of concept here.
I’m giving Windows 8 a glowing endorsement. I’m loving my time with it so far, and can’t wait to see what Microsoft has in store for us.