Windows 8: First Month Impressions

Windows 8 Start Menu

This is the new start menu for Windows 8

Unless you really don’t care about technology (and that’s totally okay), you likely know that Windows 8 came out today and unless you have been following closely, the main thing you know about it is they’ve completely redesigned the start menu and navigation for a different user experience. So far, it’s had fairly mixed reviews.

I’ve used Windows 8 for about a month on my laptop, my secondary computer. I use this computer about 10 or less hours a week and use it mainly for email, quick look ups and special programming projects not related to my primary functions of my day job. I’d consider myself a moderate user on this machine. I upgraded a boot camped version of Windows 7, which I had a lot of problems with, but won’t penalize Windows 8 for these problems.

The new menu and interface

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room first- the new changes to the menu and interface throughout the operating system.  It takes a little getting used to.  Your start menu has been converted into this large, bubbly, square mess of buttons.  It’s not necessarily bad but if you had lots of applications it’s a little intimidating and hard to find applications.

Finding settings also take a little bit getting used to.  The standard control panel is still there but it’s hard to find.  My recommendation is to start typing “Control Panel” and you will see it as an option. There’s also a settings area for the Windows 8 interface which are different from the classic control panel so it feels like it’s hard to find all the settings.

Section of Windows 8 style apps. Your desktop shows up here as well. Just drag your mouse to the top half of your screen.

Fortunately, you can switch to the classic view.  Windows 8 treats it like it’s own app.  Other than the lack of start button, the classic interface is fairly unchanged:  You still have a task bar and a tray and the experience hasn’t really changed.

Within the Windows 8 style, you can anchor screens to the left and right of the screen real estate. On a 1680px width, it uses 320px.  Maybe I have to see other apps released but right now, I get no use out of it and wish it had more flexibility, such as allowing me to resize the width.

Finding anything can be difficult at first but once you learn shortcuts (and believe me, you WILL have to learn shortcuts to be productive) it’s it becomes nice to use.  For example, to run a program, you can type the windows key and start typing the name of it and you will be able to easily run it.  I also like the lo gin and start screen for what it is worth.

All in all, I think I understand what Microsoft was trying to accomplish but I don’t believe it’ quite there.  I believe you should be able to mute the Windows 8 style and only use it for the start menu.  Instead, it insists on popping up in certain times, like viewing a photo.  Jumping from classic mode to Windows 8 leaves you lost.  I guess I could set all default file associations to programs which use the classic view but I shouldn’t have to do that.

General Usage and Performance

This is one area where I believe Windows 8 really shines.  They got rid of Aero (which I did like) and made the window management way more responsive without compromising too much of the visual appeal.  Start up also takes a lot less time as well.  Aside from my initial install problems, I’ve had very little to complain about in terms of speed and functionality.

Windows 8 Split Screen

This is the docking mode for the new style, and I just don’t care for it. Windows key + Left, Right are better.

One thing which is really annoying, especially with certain programs using the Windows 8 style, is you may upgrade software (I’m looking at you Chrome) and all of a sudden, it’s in the Windows 8 style!  I don’t want my browser on the new style!  Flipping between the new style and classic is clunky.  You can open Chrome in classic mode, but you have to open it from the classic task bar.

Development (.NET)

If you are a developer who uses Visual Studio, and especially if you are looking to use Visual Studio 2012, you should be happy to know that Windows 8 never gets in your way (Visual Studio opens in classic mode) and IIS 8 works fine.   When Visual Studio was released, I was worried they would try and make Visual Studio use the Windows 8 interface.

Final Verdict

I’m not in love with the Windows 8 style.  I wouldn’t say it sucks.  I get it, and perhaps I’ll grow to like it.  I just think it’s clunky and sometimes causes me to be less efficient.  I’ll be interested to see what Microsoft does with mixed feedback.  I have briefly used the consumer preview on a touch device and it’s very slick for it.  I bet the surface is going to be a cool device.

The speed of the operating system on the other hand is great and I believe a step up from its predecessor.  I’m also happy with the introductory price.  I think while still more expensive than Mac OS X, they are starting to gravitate towards a more friendly pricing model.  I was fortunate and got it for free via MSDN, but knowing what I know now, I might have sprung for the upgrade.

Should You Upgrade?

If you are on Windows XP or Vista, I’d say upgrade, given your computer can handle it.  In fact, why aren’t you on Windows 7 already?

If you are on Windows 7, I’d say it’s probably a good upgrade but not essential, at least not yet.  However, the pricing on it is $39.99 to upgrade until January 31st so it may be worth it.

If you are looking for a new computer and they give you the option, definitely go with Windows 8.  This is definitely not a Vista or XP decision.

Lastly, if you have a mac book pro and for some reason you need windows on a portable computer (I need it for work) then I would wait until Apple and boot camp come out to say Windows 8 has supported  drivers.  My upgrade didn’t go smoothly, but at least it’s working.

Let me know what you think of it.  I think overall, it’s a positive upgrade… once you figure it out.