Musings on Windows 8

I hate it when people refer to the OS as “Windoze”. It’s even more pissing off that internet trolls are so lazy nowadays. The Verge seems to have the best trolls in terms of creativity these days; it’s a pleasure to read. They allow memes to be posted in the comments. So much win!

I’ve been trying out Windows 8 on my computer for the last few days. Typically took ages to download the Release Candidate via ADSL. I finally fished out a 3G dongle I’d previously forgotten about, and managed to finish the download before I could complete my degree (mid-2015). I had tried the Consumer Preview back when it was released around February, and the new release is a major improvement.

Basically Microsoft has decided to put the ordinary Windows OS and a tablet version of Windows together. This means a tablet-desktop hybrid OS that ideally works nicely on any desktop, laptop, tablet or ultrabook (netbook which looks fancy and is less shitty). The result is a form of Windows with no real windows any more. Apps use up the entire screen, although there is the ability to put two apps side-by-side (1:2 ratio of screen width). The Start menu has been axed in favour of a full-screen Start page, with large ‘live tiles’ for apps and shortcuts/links. Obviously these changes have been made to better support tablets and other multi-touch devices, hence providing an interface comparable to that of the iPad or numerous Android tablets.

The main issue with Windows 8 is that ordinary desktop or laptop users (who don’t have touchscreens) have to use the same full-screen apps and Start page with massive tiles. Well, it seems like an issue if you look at it from the outside. Once I’d gotten used to it, it was all quite nice and functional. Not being able to put different programs in windows wasn’t much of an issue as I expected, rather I enjoyed seeing web pages in full screen. It was a different experience to ordinary desktop computing. You’re totally immersed in the app on-screen, and nothing else. If you must, you can have the Messaging app open on the left/right side to maintain constant communication via Facebook or whatever. Also, notifications do come up from other apps. But usually the whole screen is dedicated to the app, and it’s just you and the app, nothing else. It’s interesting, and I certainly don’t mind it.

If you need to use old Windows programs, the desktop is still available in its Windows 7-esque format. Just without a Start button on the taskbar.

Using the menus was rather tricky in the Consumer Preview back in February. I simply couldn’t figure out how to open the menus on the right side (‘Charms bar’) and left side (taskbar). Usually I had to move my mouse there and leave it for a second or two for the menu to pop out, which was annoying. Now I just need to move the mouse to the side of the screen and jig it a little to display the menus, which is quite nice and easy to get used to. The menus work nicely, and I’ve already gotten used to using the right click to make app-specific menus appear. Ideally I’d like to have a touchscreen so that I could properly drag out the menus as intended, but I’ll have to make-do until someone hacks the Asus Transformer to run Windows RT.

Ah, speaking of Windows RT. It’s the version of Windows 8 for ARM-based computers. ARM is the primary processor architecture used these days in tablets and phones. They are power-efficient and cheap-ish enough to put in phones and not have their batteries die within seconds. Ordinary Windows runs on x86 processors, and the ordinary Windows 8 can run any program from previous versions of Windows. Windows RT cannot run old programs, only ones written for Windows 8. Until recently I believed that Windows RT would be massively dumbed down, but some videos show that it does have a desktop mode like ordinary Windows 8, so all hope is not lost.

My friend dismisses Windows 8 as an unnecessary move by Microsoft. He insists that they ought to have had a separate tablet OS based on Windows Phone and left the desktop version alone. Microsoft’s thinking would have been that users will get mixed up by different interfaces, so they put all forms Windows together to look alike. Tablets, phones and desktops looking the same, making it easier for people to use. A geek’s nightmare. Surely millions will finally make the move to Linux, yes?

The thing is, even I’m not sure if Microsoft is doing it right. Well, they’ve done wonders with Windows 8 in putting the tablet and desktop together, and I love the OS (I was already in love with Windows Phone 7 before). But the problem is whether it was all necessary in the first place. Americans have gone crazy that desktops are dying and tablets/ultrabooks/’things that can be touched and look real nice’ are the future, and hence this happens. In Sri Lanka of course we’re still getting over netbooks. But the Amercian (or perhaps Western in general) media says that tablets are the future, and now it shall be, even if it was originally just speculation. So the future is in touchscreen devices that are extremely portable.

It’s not a necessary move (at least for me), but it is nice and not really problematic for the things I do. Eventually a lot of programs should get converted to apps for Windows 8, so everyone can enjoy Metro-style fluidity in any app. I just hope Microsoft doesn’t manage to screw this up like they did Zune. They don’t seem to be on that path this time. And I hope people actually give it a try before declaring that the change is too great for their tiny minds.


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