Windows 8 – Initial Impressions

As first published at the 20 something

Win 8 start

The new start screen

As a Microsoft Action Pack Subscriber, I was granted access to the full version of Windows 8 Professional last Monday, August 20.  I was excited to download and try it out as I had not tested out either of the previous free preview versions.  They conflicted with my virtualization software, and I was not interested in setting up a new partition just to test out a preview edition. Despite the fact that I am fan of Microsoft, and use their products extensively in my professional career, I was hesitant to Windows 8.  It’s a radical departure from the very well received (and my personal current OS) Windows 7.  While Apple has chosen to blend its Mac OS X with its iOS on an application level (iMessage crossing for instance), Microsoft has chosen the route of one OS to rule them all with PCs, laptops, ultrabooks, tablets, and a lesser extent mobile phones (Applications can more easily be ported over from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 and vice versa). Considering my hesitance, I decided the full release was worth creating a partition for.  Then I remembered that 5 year old Intel Centrino dual-core HP laptop I have and barely use.  I installed Windows 7 on it a while back, and it runs decently for its age.  Keeping this in mind when it comes to performance, I decided to do a full upgrade transferring over applications and settings.  You can just update the operating system while carrying over nothing, or just settings if you’d like. After the roughly 2.5 hours of upgrading was done, I ran through the initial settings and was presented with the new Start screen we’ve all seen by now.  It sure is pretty.   I manually changed the desktop to the upper left, making it the default “app”; just hit enter to go here once booted up.

Win 8 desktop

The Windows 8 Desktop

The desktop looks the same minus my Start orb.  When I initially heard the traditional start menu was gone, I was sad.  Well, not sad but I wondered why can’t you have both?  Turns out Microsoft was right.  Once you get used to it, which took a mere matter of minutes for me, you are presented more in a smart way faster.  It is not without its flaws though. For instance, the default apps are pushed to the left with your most used programs which were before displayed quite prominently upon one click of the Start orb, are now by default pushed all the way to the right on the Start menu.  My laptop is 1280 x 800, so this is a minor inconvenience. Another thing that looks just putrid is the new presentation of “All Programs.”  You could argue this on Windows 7, but the folder structure was neat and easy to read.  Now, you have this.  Yikes.  Perhaps the folders should be condensed by default and you can then expand them like in Windows 7.  Maybe there is a setting for this, but I didn’t see it.

win 8 all programs

How Windows 8 does “All Programs”

On to some good news.  In the Start Menu, start typing and your apps pop up fast.

Win 8 app search

Typing for Excel

Without a doubt, Windows 8 runs faster on my 5 year old laptop then Windows 7 does.  It does indeed boot up and shut down faster.  Noticeably faster.  Applications open almost immediately, and swapping between the new Start screen and desktop applications is instantaneous.  This part is truly awesome, especially for reviving some old hardware that you may not use much anymore. The Windows Store looks great, and if you use an Xbox 360, the layout will be very familiar.  The search is context sensitive, so start typing while in the Windows Store and you’re searching apps.

win 8 store search

Windows 8 Store

I did find it quite amusing that there are already 7 updates to the default apps.  I guess this is a good thing though!

Win 8 store updates

Updates already?

Internet Explorer opened via the Start menu opened in desktop mode, which I thought was incorrect.  I then clicked an option to use it in “Windows 8 style” mode as pictured.  It opened a separate IE.  Then when I wanted to go back to desktop mode, a third IE showing the MSN homepage was shown.  I don’t know if this is incorrect, but the design is not intuitive.  I only want one IE, and it should switch back and forth.

Win 8 IE

IE 10

A few other things I noticed:

  • Windows key + Tab seems to only switch between Start Menu and Desktop by showing previews on the left side of the screen.  Alt + Tab will switch between everything, both “Windows 8 style” and desktop, and looks as it did in Windows 7.
  • The charms menu on the right, accessed by moving the mouse to the top right corner is not hard to use with mouse and keyboard.  You’ll be used to it in seconds.
  • Closing “Windows 8 style” apps on a laptop with just a touchpad mouse is annoying.  You have to grab it at the top of the window, and drag it down.
  • Shutting down was two clicks in Windows 7.  Start à Shut Down.  In Windows 8, it’s top right to the Charms menu, then Settings, then Power, then Shut Down.  There should be nothing that is more complicated in the next generation of your software.  For tablets, people will just push the lock button.  For PC users, this went from 2 steps to 4.
  • As I alluded to earlier, Windows 8 is fast.  Very fast.  My laptop felt like new, and it was great.  Plus with all the under-the-hood improvements to security, I am glad I installed Windows 8 on my laptop.

With all that being said, I will not be rushing to install Windows 8 on my desktop.  I will continue to play with Windows 8 on my laptop and I think eventually I will upgrade on my desktop.  I don’t know if the design is just so new it’s cool, but right now I’m high on Windows 8.  I think once people get over the initial shock, most people will like it.  Don’t know how it will fly with business, but then again, my work computer is still on XP.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince someone to go to Windows 7 soon.

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