Defending Windows 8

This is my second post about software this month, mainly because life is appreciably boring at the moment.

When I say in my title ‘defending’, I’m not talking about installing security software for Windows 8 (in fact you could get away with not doing that as there is some reasonable default security there), I’m talking about putting out opinions contrary to critics.

I like Windows 8. Maybe even love it now.

A fair number of people would think that that’s a straitjacket-able offence, or that I’m a Microsoft shill (I have an iPod and a Linux netbook), but no, I really think that Windows 8 is a fine operating system that requires a little time.

The things I want to do here are to shoot down some shibboleths:

No Start Button? Argh!:
For the first time since Windows 95 there’s not been a Start button but a tiled start screen where you can click apps or search for them by typing. But here’s the myth-busting bit: Move your mouse to the bottom-left corner of your screen and that little thumbnail tile to click is analogous to a Start button. I’m going to be uncharacteristically rude here now: If you can’t move your mouse a little lower than where the Start button was, don’t use a computer. Just stop it, unplug. No need to get any Start button adding software.

Closing apps by holding and dragging down?:
It’s true that Windows 8-specific modern UI apps need to be closed by clicking and dragging the top window border down which is less economical than clicking X, but you can also invoke the hidden taskbar by moving your mouse to the bottom-left of your screen, moving up, and right-clicking on the app and selecting close. That’s virtually identical to how things are done in previous versions of Windows.
Also bear in mind that Microsoft probably don’t want you to close apps unless you really need to free up memory, hence the tablet style default closure. Being a 64-bit OS, memory issues are set to be no big problem for an age.

Full-screen apps?:
Windows 8-specific apps all run full-screen… But here’s the thing, tell me how many apps you don’t run full-screen in previous versions of Windows? Cascading window stacking looks fancy but is of no use. Admit it. Side-by-side app stacking is more useful!

Where’s the traditional desktop?
One click away on a live tile. This is also where you can use file explorer. We need this divide of old and new desktop currently because Windows 8 is a transitory OS. That is to say, until Windows 8 and its successors are the dominant OS, it has to respect what came before it. Plus, if the traditional desktop was killed in this release entirely there would only be more… bitching!

Where’s the battery indicator and clock in the Start screen?
Apart from seeing these in the traditional desktop, just move your mouse to the top or bottom right corner of your screen to display the Charms menu and these features. Oh, and while you’re there, explore and try to frequently conjure the Charms bar.

It takes more clicks to shutdown/restart the computer!
Not really. If you press Alt+F4 in the traditional desktop (with no application selected or you’ll close that) you get the shutdown dialogue just as in previous versions of Windows. The power button on my laptop is solely reserved for sleep/hibernation functions during use, but even in the Start screen, there’s only 1 more step, say, compared to Windows XP:

XP: Start button | Log Off/Turn Off Computer | Select relevant option
8: Charms show | Click Settings | Click Power | Select relevant option

So, all those  foaming negatively about Windows 8 are either a) people who haven’t used it and like to spell MS as M$, b) people who haven’t used it long enough, or c) are serious Apple or Linux shills. 🙂

Getting to grips with Windows 8

Only a few months ago I was experimenting with lightweight Linux distros to put on my 4yr old netbook (aka the underpowered warrior!), and now I’ve been lucky to receive – out of the blue – an Ultrabook. This is like going from a pedal car to er, I guess, a real car.

But I’m not going to talk about the Ultrabook, the more talk-worthy thing is what pulls its strings, and that is Windows 8.

If you’ve followed any news about Microsoft’s latest operating system you’ll probably have heard the Psycho shower scene music as you read about people completely baffled by the absence of the Start button – first introduced in Windows ’95 – for the Start screen.
When Windows 95 replaced Windows 3.x, the Start button was just a neater way of organising programs in the Program Manager. It was intuitive and the whole look was futuristic. Apple was yet to have Steve Jobs return, so Bill Gates was the king of the ’90s.

Now, over a decade later, Apple isn’t an also-ran, and mainstream Linux distros, thanks to Ubuntu and Google (via Android and Chrome OS), are giving more competition to Microsoft. While Windows has always dominated the desktop, Apple and Google seem to have sewn up tablets and smartphones – for the time-being.

So to keep people still interested in Windows and generate touch-gadget interest they had to recreate the wow of 1995 (and I remember that wow when I upgraded my very first PC). And while they’ve been bold, a bigger and lazier market is sluggish about Windows 8.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Windows 8 is perfect (in fact I’m a premature judge with under 2 weeks tinkering), but after the first bits of torn hair I’m actually starting to get used to it; even like it. The blow is probably eased by the fact that I have a last generation Windows Phone and the tile concept is logical on touch devices. Furthermore, this is not Windows Vista – performance is not the problem this time.

There is a classic desktop there, one click away, but it’s divorced of app management. You do all your program launching and tile notification viewing from the colourful (somewhat Fisher Price) Start screen. At first you won’t know what to do, but you will experiment with mouse buttons, move your mouse around, consult Google, and even find a guide, and slowly it will make sense. You’ll find some stuff was better untinkered and other things better changed. But change I think was necessary, just because Windows 7 looks like a very dolled up Windows 95+, and it’s a way of unifying all Windows devices.
It’s a safe move that Apple are keeping iOS and Mac OS distinct, but maybe if Microsoft hit a home-run they’ll be forced to actually copy who they accuse of copying them.

As Windows 8 is cheap until late next month I’d recommend getting it, but maybe on a computer that isn’t your primary one to ‘sandbox’ it a bit. You will grit your teeth, but I think you’ll find that it’s not as terrible as some articles make out. The Psycho knife is made of rubber.