Getting used to Windows 8…

I have finally done it.  I have ‘made the leap’ to Windows 8 on my primary laptop.

I am sure a lot of people are surprised that it has taken me this long, and I want to reassure you that no, this is not my first kick at the can.  I was among the first running Windows Vista, I was then among the first to be running Windows 7, and now I know that a lot of you probably beat me to the punch on Windows 8, but it is not a competition.

Of course, I did install the original ‘Developer Preview’ of Windows 8 back in September (October?) and, like many of you, was shocked by the differences.  Those of us who have known Windows for years – my experience with Windows actually does date back to Windows 1.0, but for the sake of modernity let’s call the birth of the Start Menu the genesis for most people, back in 1995.  That makes the modern Windows operating system seventeen years old, and some habits die hard.

When I decided to start running Windows Vista in the early betas I quickly realized that my Toshiba A70 laptop was not going to cut it.  Put simply, it did not have the horsepower for Vista.  I sold it and invested in an Acer Ferrari 4005 which was my first x64 system, had 2.0GB RAM, an AMD Turuon CPU, and the ATI RADEON X700 video chip, sufficient to meet the LDDM (to be renamed WDDM) requirements for Aero Glass and the other hot improvements over Windows XP.  First I had to find a buyer for the Toshiba, because there was no way I could have afforded multiple laptops at the time.

Fast forward to 2012, I have eleven or twelve laptops in the house, each of which has the power to run Windows 7 flawlessly (including the two Macs I have for reasons I cannot remember).  So when Microsoft released their pre-release operating system I was able to hedge my bets… I could run Windows 8 on a secondary system, while keeping my primary system running Windows 7, with all of my applications, data, and settings.

While this decision was not a mistake, in retrospect it would be a hindrance to my immersion in the Windows 8 experience.  The reality is that what I do on a day-to-day basis in 2012 is much more critical than it was in 2005, and the fall-back position of installing on a secondary laptop just made sense… earlier on.  In fact even when the Consumer Preview was released, I still decided to run it on a second machine.

The Release Preview, the latest pre-release version to come out of Redmond, was released on May 28th, which made for singularly bad timing for me.  Firstly, I was on the road (not an uncommon occurrence).  Secondly (and more importantly to the timing) it was the week before I was to test for my Second Dan Black Belt… followed by a three-city whirlwind trip that would not afford me a lot of free time.

Earlier this week, while my students were writing labs, I popped in the installation media and took the plunge.  I have been enjoying the experience, although I do admit that it frustrates me that things aren’t where I expect them to be.  That will take some getting used to.

The one thing that I did with this install that I had not done previously was connecting it to my docking station.  I was glad that everything worked right away, with the exception of one device driver (the Toshiba DisplayLink USB to VGA), but as soon as I went to their site I was able to find the right driver immediately.

Once you are on multiple monitors – extended displays rather than duplicated displays – the experience is a pleasure.    Metro – you will love it or hate it – is no longer all-encompassing, and when it is relegated to a single screen of three (and then only when you call for it) it is easier to get used to the changes.

As well, the corners of all three of my screens are live.  While the display properties still refers to one as the ‘primary display’ the only reason I can see for this is the pop-ups for legacy applications such as Live Messenger.  So with all of my monitors being ‘hot’ I can choose to open my Metro (Start) menu on any of the screens, like this:




or of course my favourite:


I should clarify that the reason this is my favourite of the three is because the smaller display (the primary laptop display next to the two 24” LG Flatron monitors) is a touch screen, and I can still take advantage of all of the touch capabilities of Windows 8 and Metro on that screen – which I cannot do on my desktop displays.


I also like the fact that without any tweaking on my part the three screens display different desktop backgrounds from the same theme.  Of course this is a cosmetic improvement that really offers no usability benefit, it is still nice to have.  I noticed it quite by accident earlier today, and will probably not think of it again anytime soon.

I am really looking forward to my primary applications running in Metro.  As far as desktop applications go I spend most of my time in Microsoft Office, Windows Live Writer, and Internet Explorer.  So far IE is the only one that has made the jump, and until the others go I will be glad that I can still switch out of Metro as easily as I can.  I have heard rumours of an Office 15 beta coming up soon, and I look forward to that for the experience.  Windows Live Writer will likely be rebranded – as I said, Windows Live is dead.  I assume the next version will be Metro… but who knows for sure?

Twitter and Internet Explorer go both ways Winking smile On my previous Windows 8 installations I would install a 3rd party Twitter app like MetroTweet, but on this one I am just as happy using Rowi, which is available in the Store.  I tried another of the clients but did not like the experience as much as Rowi.  Internet Explorer, on the other hand, I can go back and forth with… the Metro versus Desktop app seem to work the same for my needs… but on the big screens I tend to gravitate toward the desktop version.

Incidentally I was watching a movie on the train the other day with the built-in Metro app, and it works and feels great… the only thing that I didn’t like was that when you tab to a different application (Metro or Desktop) the movie pauses.  I like being able to have the movie continue in the background if I am doing other things.  I am sure if I were to download a 3rd party player (like DivX Player) it would work… possibly as long as I was tabbing between desktop apps… will have to look into that.

I absolutely love the speed of Windows 8.  From boot time to usability it is simply the best OS I have come across.  As a huge Windows lover over the past several years it has frustrated me that, no matter how good the hardware is (and I usually have some pretty top-of-the-line hardware) it always seems to slow down as I install applications.  The new memory management of Windows 8 – where it puts unused apps into a dormant state so that they free up the memory until you need them again – is absolutely spectacular, and worth the price of the upgrade (I know, I’m being a smart-ass, since the price for me is Zero).

Oh by the way, the fact that there was only one driver that wasn’t completely compatible, and so far no applications that aren’t, makes me glad that I am finally on Windows 8.  I will still need time to get used to a lot of things, but if I start now or at RTM I will still need to do that.

Remember folks, that Windows 8 is still a pre-release operating system.  It is not meant for everyone, and if you are not prepared to work in an environment where you likely will not get support – either from Microsoft or from the application vendors – then it is not for you.  Most people seem to miss the disclaimers about this, and I want to be clear… do not install it on your primary computer if you are not prepared for the worst case scenario!

Other than than… it is definitely worth a try.  If you have a touch screen then you might want to run and not walk to get this… it is just a spectacular experience.  Even if you don’t have touch though, I expect this OS is going to be hot… especially to those of us who are impatient and need to speed everything up to happen NOW!


2 responses to “Getting used to Windows 8…”

  1. You can only hope for Writer but………so far its not looking good I’m afraid. Whenever I have asked if they plan a Metro Writer app, I get no response at all. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the Writer team are at this moment busy beavering away on a Metro app that works fully with Windows 8. I too was running the Preview release, but found that Writer 2011 was not working correctly in it, would not publish to WordPress without an error message, and was not syncing correctly with one of my blogger blogs (HTML) where it was causing me to loose my sidebar. I’ve therefore had to uninstall until such time that they sort it out. If they don’t update Writer, then I simply won’t run Windows 8.

  2. I’m looking forward to this upgrade as well. With the desktop able to run everything that Windows 7 ran there is no reason why I wouldn’t want to use Windows 8. I’m slowly cleaning up my home computer and removing old apps, games, I don’t need to migrate as much. I’m looking forward to the refresh since I’ve not re-installed it in 3 years I think. With the NFR Technet Subscription from TechEd I’ll have my Windows 8 copy ready to go when it’s released.

    I do currently have the Samsung Slate running Windows 8 and I have to say the OneNote application with the pen is hands down the best digital writing experience over ANY other tablet device on the market to date. It BLOWS the Apple Stylus out of the water over and over.

    Good things to come!

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