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.

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