Windows 8 Review

First Impressions - Windows 8 Review

by Larry Neal Gowdy -December 23, 2012 (updated October 6, 2013)



So Fast That XP Fans Upgrade

So Easy That Even Grandmas Think It's Great


Windows 8 Start Page

Windows 8 Start Page.


Is Windows 8 better than XP, Vista, and 7?


I highly recommended Windows® 2000 and XP when they were released, and I now more strongly recommend Windows 8. Speed, stability, and usefulness are excellent. Vista® and Windows 7 are good, but Windows 8 is simply much better.


Several years ago I tinkered with the idea of using squares on the Windows XP desktop instead of having icons and a taskbar. I wanted squares because I do not like graphic icons, and to me it would be much more preferable to have blocks of text rather than icons. Although the idea was interesting I abandoned it due to my frequent need to access the many different programs in the start menu and control panel. About a year or so later I saw that HP came out with a similar idea on their notebooks, and though I liked HP's layout a lot, still it wouldn't work for a desktop computer.


Windows 8 desk top

Windows 8 desktop.


Microsoft Windows 8 not only creates the desired effect of squares and rectangles, Windows 8 also solved the start menu problem by using two different desktops, one for the Modern UI squares and another one for the normal Windows 7 desktop. Linux® distributions are known for having easy access to two or more desktops that the user can switch back and forth from one to the other with a couple of clicks, and XP also had an add-on for multiple desktops, but for my needs of viewing multiple programs simultaneously I want the programs to remain visible at all times on one to three monitors, which makes the multiple desktops not much useful for me.

I like Windows 8's Modern UI squares, but I still need a start menu. Luckily StarDock's® Start8 start menu works very well for my needs.


Windows 8 start menu

Windows 8 Start Menu (Start8).


Up until a few months ago I was a die-hard XP fan. My one and only gripe about XP was that I had used it for so long that I had become severely bored with the appearances. I tried numerous different themes, one of which was pretty good in a dark gray with wide borders (Modern Gray Windows 2000/XP Theme dated August 1, 2011), but nah it still wasn't good enough. I was wanting a few small improvements that seemed to be next to impossible to have all at the same time: no borders on the taskbar, keep the taskbar color solid (no squiggly transparencies like Vista and Windows 7), no thin borders on program displays, and to either only have text or icons on the taskbar, but not both at the same time. I tried WindowBlinds®, but it seemed to be causing quite a few stability problems on my XP machines. I invested several months into tinkering with Linux distributions and I developed a decent enough theme, but Linux cannot run my favorite programs, so Linux was finally given the axe.

I discovered that Vista can be quite good after it is tweaked for performance and WindowBlinds is installed with the Win8 skin. I was so pleased with Vista that I would still be using it now if Windows 8 didn't have everything I wanted straight out of the box.


Windows 8 volume bar

Windows 8 volume bar.


The Windows 8 skin has almost all of the features that I aimed for, including a wide border around the volume indicator which mirrors the wide borders that I chose for the modern gray XP theme. To me it almost seems as if Microsoft read my articles and designed Windows 8 especially for me. {grin}

I think of the start page Modern UI as a separate program for games and entertainment. When I'm ready for a break I load the start page and spend a few minutes, and when my goofing off is done I head back to the normal desktop. To me the Modern UI is an add-on and not intrusive at all, but it did take a few days to develop new habits with the different commands.

Speed

Many XP users are accustomed to the fast loading of menus and programs, and for many of us it was a bit frustrating for Vista and Windows 7 to open and run programs sizably slower than XP. On my computers Windows 8 runs faster than a tweaked Vista, and though XP still might open the start menu and folders a tiny bit faster than W8 (like maybe 50 milliseconds as compared to 100 milliseconds; barely noticeable), Windows 8 is as fast or faster than XP when opening and running programs. Over all I am of the opinion that Windows 8 is faster than XP, and when used on a computer that has limited memory Windows 8 is a lot faster than XP. My old Compaq Presario V2000 laptop with 1.2g of RAM runs better on Windows 8 than it ever ran in XP even when it had 2g of RAM.

A lot of us have legitimate needs for speed, which kept us using XP and some Linux distributions. At present it is my opinion that Windows 8 has become the leader in speed for the important tasks like running programs. The full screen game apps played through the Modern UI are not much fast to load, although they do play well, but games are not an indication of an operating system's quality.

Stability

XP remained the leader for stability. Windows 7 approached close to XP, and though W7 was plenty good it never quite instilled the sense of trust that I had with XP. Of the numerous Linux desktop distributions that I tested, Puppy appeared to work well as a live CD, and Ubuntu variations usually ran decently enough to be usable for short periods of time, but most of the distributions were terribly unstable. Linux is a good enough choice for techs and command line use, but the Linux graphical user interfaces still suffer a lot of bad bugs.

I trusted Windows Millennium Edition to crash no less than once every two hours (likely hardware compatibility problems), I trusted XP to crash once every five years if I installed buggy software, I trust Vista and W7 to behave goofy at least twice a week, I trust most Linux desktop distributions to fatally crash within an hour, and I am acquiring the opinion that Windows 8 may share a similar trust as XP for stability.

If any Linux distribution other than Puppy had been stable over the past year I would now be using Linux with XP running in virtual. There is a lot to like about Linux, but until Linux programmers develop a stable user interface it will not be much useful for most of us. Nevertheless, now that Windows 8 is out I doubt that I will ever again seriously consider a Linux desktop.

Usability

Windows 8's Modern UI is different than what we had been accustomed to in the past, and some users will find some difficulty in learning the new commands even though Windows 8 is very similar to XP, Vista, and Windows 7 but with the added command regions located at the four corners of the screen. For those of us who make heavy use of the start menu the new Modern UI requires several additional clicks of the mouse to achieve similar results, but the difficulty can easily be remedied by installing a third party start menu like Stardock's Start8.

The release version of Windows 8 is a bit different than the beta versions. The beta versions did not interest me much because they retained the Windows 7 appearance, and since I was not fond of Windows 7 then I found no thrill in Windows 8. Luckily for me Windows 8 received a modern facelift that agrees with my personal tastes.

Once in the familiar desktop our favored programs load and run quickly, like they should. For me I am finding Windows 8 to be as usable as XP; the speed and stability that we admired in XP is also present in Windows 8.



Compatibility Issues

Of the four personally owned computers that I have upgraded to Windows 8, the one and only hardware compatibility issue was the graphics driver on a Compaq® Presario V2000 laptop. The Windows 8 adviser warned of the compatibility problem before I upgraded, so no surprises there. I was able to properly upgrade the driver by running the driver software in Vista compatibility mode, and the laptop now works beautifully.

The Corel® Paint Shop Photo Pro X3 software had given me trouble in Vista as well as in Windows 8, but after installing PSPP's service pack 5 the program now appears to run fine (I rarely use the program so I am not yet confident that all of the problems have been fixed). However, while Corel's PSPP shares the proper skin as other Windows 8 programs, CorelDraw® 12 defaults to the glossy baby blue Windows 7 skin for the top bar, which is very unattractive to me, but the problem is not so major that it keeps me from using CorelDraw 12.


Outlook 2003 in Windows with the default blue theme

Outlook 2003 in the Windows 8 default theme.


Microsoft® Office 2003 appears to run fine in Windows 8 for what little I have used it, and though the skins were all the default baby blue in the normal Windows themes, using a high contrast black theme enables Office applications to be gray which for me is much more desirable even if the appearances are a bit outdated. After several months of testing various email clients in XP and Vista I landed upon the choice of Windows Live Mail, which does work well, but in the end I went back to using Outlook®. On one of my personal computers I am using Office 2010 Home and Student with Outlook 2003 installed in a different folder so as to help prevent conflicts between the different versions. Since I rarely access emails on the personal computer I am not much concerned with Outlook's appearances.


Outlook 2003 in Windows 8 with high contrast theme

Outlook 2003 in Windows 8 with the high contrast theme.


In the Windows 8 beta version Office 97 loaded and ran fine (except, of course, the old version of Internet Explorer), which I thought was very cool even though I myself would not want to use Office 97 as my only word processor and spreadsheet.

My only sad face is that Windows 8 does not easily run DOS programs nor Doom. My choice was to use an old computer that has Windows 2000 for my game machine.

Microsoft Software

Linux has several features that I very much like, namely those of being able to configure the design howsoever a person wants, the latest versions can be downloaded at no cost, and a live CD is great for servicing a computer with a dead hard drive. The two main problems that I faced with Linux desktops were (1) the time required to reprogram Linux layouts was excessive, and (2) the software available for Linux is rarely aesthetically appealing. The Windows 8 layout is already darn-near perfect for what I was wanting, which simply means that for $39.99 I saved myself hundreds of hours of programming. Open source programs like Libre® Office and Apache's® OpenOffice® are good enough for a lot of users, but their layouts and designs are no less than fifteen years outdated.

I recently installed a Lotus® Improv® spreadsheet program just for fun. Improv is over twenty years old, but the user interface is still more modern than open source office suites. Yes it is true that some of us get giddy when viewing and using ANSI characters, but it is time that we leave DOS behind and move up to designs that purposefully enhance the user's psychological state.

Different cultures have different preferences simply because different cultures have different tastes. Some cultures prefer bright colors of yellows and oranges, while other cultures prefer earthy tones of dark greens and browns, while other cultures prefer neutral grays and whites. The color scheme of software should reflect the color preferences of the culture that is to use the software. Some open source software appears to be programmed well but the choice of skin colors is psychologically disturbing for some cultures, including mine. I do not agree with the color schemes of all Microsoft software (especially not the pastel baby blue menu borders), but as a whole Microsoft's software color choices are psychologically neutral for the greater number of users. Office suites like OpenOffice and Libre would likely gain a large percentage of users if the color schemes agreed with the users' cultures. My intention with Linux was to create a modern skin that was desirable by professionals, but it would not have been too distant from Windows 8, so for now I feel that I will enjoy Windows 8 a few years before perhaps again playing with a Linux layout.

Dating back over twenty years, one of my favorite hobbies was to download and try every program that I could get my hands on. I watched as word processors, spread sheets, and databases evolved from useful spartan programs to the programs that we now find in Microsoft Office. I have seen how graphics programs, utilities, music players, and most everything else have evolved from the most rudimentary to the most fancy, and when I compare the thousands of known programs currently available, I repeatedly land upon the conclusion that the best quality software almost always comes from only one source: Microsoft.

I would immediately choose Linux and OpenOffice if they were of the best available quality or even if they best served my needs. I choose products by how well they fit my personal needs, not by their brand name nor by their popularity. I might buy a brand of car that is known to be undependable, but if the styling and ride are what I want, then I will buy it and accept the fact that I may have to work on the car more than I drive it (I have had English-made cars like that). The bottom line is that Word, Excel, Expression, Windows Media Player, Zune, Internet Explorer 9/10, Outlook, and several other Microsoft programs are the hands-down best for quality, usefulness, appearance, and dependability, and since they all run in Windows then Windows is what I will choose.

Regardless of what anyone might claim, Linux software is not comparable to Microsoft software; Linux is Linux, Linux has its own advantages, but none of the advantages are worth the cost of abandoning Microsoft. Using command line Linux to ping networks in an industrial setting is useful; trying to imitate Windows with Linux is not useful. Apple® has its advantages as well, mostly in the appearances of its hardware, but Apple relies on productivity software made by Microsoft and Adobe®, the same software that also runs in Windows (and in some opinions the software runs better in Windows).

Windows 8 is the superior choice because it is fast, it is stable, it has attractive styling, and it runs the world's best software programs.

Acid Test

I tend to enjoy new software just because it is new and requires my learning new commands, so although I might think highly of Windows 8, the question is to ask if other people might find a similar enjoyment with Windows 8. The acid test is to install Windows 8 on a wife's computer, a wife that refuses to let go of XP, and who refused to go back to Internet Explorer 8 after trying Firefox®. My wife fit the requirements.

After installing Windows 8 on my wife's computer I showed her the four corners commands and how to install games from the store (it took me a couple minutes to discover all of the hidden commands when I first tried the beta W8, so I saved her a little time while saving me from questions). She quickly discovered how to navigate through the start screen, she found the charms power off button by herself, and within a few minutes she had used several features in Windows 8 and began commenting that she liked Windows 8 better than XP. She is using Internet Explorer 10 without complaint (we still have not bothered to install Firefox, and perhaps never will now), she really likes the games on the Modern UI, and with the help of the Start8 start menu she is using the computer for the same programs that she had used on XP.

My wife had been using Office 2003 Professional for almost ten years, but since she usually only used Word and Excel for her genealogy hobby I installed Office 2010 Home and Student (I use Office 2010 Home and Business on my main computer). She loves the new 2010 layout and how the skin matches the theme she had chosen for Windows 8.

My wife has voiced no complaints at all, while she has repeatedly spoken of the many features that she very much likes.

Summary

To me Windows 8 has a few oddities in the start page that require a bit of getting used to, but the changes are not so dramatic as to render the operating system unusable. Everyone has different needs and tastes, with mine primarily being that of wanting speed and stability within a theme that is visually appealing, all of which Windows 8 provides.

A thought that keeps running through my mind is the idea presented by Boris Sidis, a well known psychologist in the early twentieth century who presented the opinion that it is best to avoid forming habits. I agree with Sidis' opinion in how the mind can better be kept sharp by ensuring that we do not get in a rut and think habitually. Windows 8's Modern UI is a small variance, just enough to help break the normal routine. For me, breaking habits can be fun, but I still insist on a start menu!

(Update October 06, 2013: I recently built a new computer using an AMD A10-5800K APU (three native graphics ports), and a lean installation of Windows 8 Professional. At present I am very pleased with the speed, stability, and usefulness of the setup. I have grown accustomed to using keyboard shortcuts, and I did not bother to install a start menu (I now actually prefer to shut down the computer with ctrl-alt-del plus five tabs, two arrows, and an enter, it's like a quick shake-off of the wrists from having used the mouse for too long, sort of reminiscent of the DOS days). I pinned several of my most commonly used programs to the taskbar (18 actually), while accessing other programs through the start page. In XP I accessed the control panel frequently, but I have noticed that in Windows 8 I rarely enter the control panel. Actually, even if I had a start menu I would now rarely use it, and when I get on another computer with Windows 8 I feel that I don't want to use the Start8 start menu at all. I do not have actual numbers, but to me I often feel as though I am getting more work done and in less time with Windows 8 than what I ever accomplished in XP. I am not having to stop for updates, not accessing the control panel, not recovering from Linux crashes, actually nothing is slowing me down, and it is noticeable. Word 2010 is slightly slower than 2003, but the quality aesthetics and usefulness of 2010 actually do help improve my productivity. On a frequent basis I notice a thing that I never noticed in any other operating system ever: a deep sense of pleasure and appreciation.)




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Copyright©2012-2013 by Larry Neal Gowdy.
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