Some thoughts on Windows 8

Since everyone else is weighing in on Windows 8, I thought I’d add my thoughts to the mix.  I’ve been using Windows 8 since the consumer preview, and my first use was on a HP Elitebook 2760p which is a touch capable device.  Since November I’ve been on a non-touch capable notebook.  The things that have really impressed me about Windows 8 so far have been:

  • Speed – Windows 8 seems to be slightly faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware, and is snappy and quick.
  • Battery life – moving to Windows 8 on my Elitebook added about an extra hour and a half to my batter life, just because the OS is a little more optimised for that.
  • Compatibility – everything I’ve needed to run has worked perfectly.  I haven’t found any applications that don’t work yet.
  • Stability – the very solid foundations of Windows 7 have continued through to Windows 8.  I’ve had no blue screens, the only problem I’ve had was during release preview with a dynamic tick issue.

With Windows 8  Microsoft are making a bet on hardware evolution, in much the same way that they did with Vista.  When Vista shipped, the hardware requirements were mostly a bit higher than what was out there in the majority of environments, and rightly or wrongly Vista was perceived as slow.  It wasn’t until hardware evolved (and a service pack or two) that Vista was perceived as performing at least OK.  (And sure, there were some issues which meant Vista wasn’t as fast as it could or should have been).  I think the same thing is happening with Windows 8, but not in the performance space.  This time it’s touch screens.  I think Microsoft are making a bet that touch screens will become ubiquitous, and that even low end computing devices will get them in the short to medium term.  It’s interesting seeing articles over the last few weeks like “Surprisingly, touchscreen laptops don’t suck”, because that exactly mirrors my experience.  Touch doesn’t become the only input mechanism, it becomes an extra option.  Some things you just end up wanting to reach out and touch the screen for because it feels natural (like pinching to zoom an image), others you continue to use keyboard and mouse for.  On a side note, it’s interesting reading some of the comments in that article – particularly the number of suggestions to “use touchpad gestures” instead of touching the screen, totally ignoring the fact that touchpads on Windows devices by and large suck.  As the price of touch input devices drop, more and more manufacturers will include them in their hardware and open more of Windows 8 to a wider audience.

One thing I haven’t been too troubled by is the so-called “split-personality”, where you have the traditional desktop style view, and the new “Metro” style apps.  I don’t see this as split personality – it’s more like two personalities, with occasional bleeding of the Metro personality into the desktop.  This doesn’t trouble me much, I think mostly because I exist in the desktop for 99.9% of the day.  The only time I flick into that second personality is when there is an app which owns the file type that I’ve opened – the Reader & Music apps would seem to be the two main apps here that do this for me, but I’ve installed FoxIt Reader as my default PDF reader anyway.  The new “Metro” Start Menu is actually more convenient and customisable than the old style Start Menu.  I can move the icons around, so that the most frequently used stuff is where I want it, and anything I don’t use is pushed out of the way (the Travel app anyone?).  And the things that I use all day every day are pinned to my Taskbar, just the same way that they used to be on Windows 7.  So for me, using Windows 8 is like using Windows 7 with a more powerful Start menu.  I can’t understand why you would want to cripple Windows 8 with tools like Start8.  I also can’t understand why people are saying Windows 8 is hard to navigate with a mouse – the same rules apply – you navigate by scrolling and click things.

Some will say that the Enterprise experience will be that they will continue planning to roll out Windows 7, and this is likely true, but to be honest I think the days of giant desktop rollouts have gone.  With factors like consumerisation of IT, Enterprise IT departments are going to have to support multiple operating systems anyway, and Windows 8 will simply be another choice.  It will be used incrementally where it makes sense, and Windows 7 will remain where it makes sense as well.  It is as compatible as Windows 7 so the testing required to move will be minimal.  I would suspect based on the optimisations that have gone into Windows 8 that many IT departments will find that it also makes for a more efficient VDI environment as well.

For me Windows 8 has been an overall positive experience, and has enough improvement for me to continue using it over Windows 7.  When I started my new job and was using Windows XP for a few weeks, I realised just how far Windows has come for the better.  Some people will prefer the old Windows 7, but I like to see Microsoft making a bold step, even if their execution hasn’t been as flawless as it could be.  I’ll be recommending that my customers look at it seriously as a component of their desktop environment as well.

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