First of all, here’s some history. When Windows 8 was first shown in ‘Allthings D’ conference last year, I was skeptical The interface was intuitive on a touch enabled device, but for a non-touch device, I was not so sure. And with that in mind, I tried the very first release for the public, the Developer Preview or DP and as expected, I was not impressed. It didn’t feel quite that well when used with a keyboard and mouse. I went back to Windows 7 in around three days. The same was the case with the Consumer Preview. And although I downloaded the Release Preview as soon it was released, for some reason, I didn’t even bother installing it.
Last month, I got access to the RTM version of Windows 8 via the Dreamspark subscription. Since it was the final version, I decided to give it a chance. And on September 29th, I finally installed Windows 8 on my primary system as the only OS. I was certain that if I had installed it along with Windows 7 as a dual boot setup, I would just keep on switching back and forth between the two operating systems and that wouldn’t be doing a fair assessment and would just lead to decrease in productivity. So, here’s my initial experience with Windows 8 RTM and how it has evolved over time.
The installation was smooth with the need of minimal user interference. Microsoft has really worked on improving the installation experience through the years from Vista onwards. Unfortunately for me, the simplicity ended right there. I had to face some driver issues, particularly with the Wi-Fi driver. Since Windows 8 was not yet released, I couldn’t find drivers on the manufacturer’s website. And, there was no generic driver available. I tried installing Windows 7 driver, but it gave me an error. But ultimately, I was able to solve the issue by installing the same driver in compatibility mode.
The next thing to do after installing Windows was of course installing the required apps. Now I use a multitude of apps ranging from big software like Visual Studio and Photoshop to tiny applications like NetWorx. I could install all of them on the new setup without any hassle. But the big change here is the introduction of the new Modern (formerly metro) applications. Although Windows 8 was not released, there were still around 4000+ apps in the Windows Store which I think is incredible. But how many of it were actually usable or more importantly, does it include the apps that I need was the real question. Windows 8 comes with a bunch of useful apps such as Mail, Messaging, Bing News and which are really nice. I was particularly fond of People Hub and Photos app. The People hub connects to various major social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and shows updates and notifications. The Photos app aggregate photos from various services including your photo library to one location.
Although I couldn’t find replacement for the majority of my software, there were quite a few nice apps that I liked. Being a heavy user of various social networks, the first few apps that I downloaded were the ones for various social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. For Twitter, I am using MetroTwit which is very good. I used to have Fliptoast for Facebook, but recently it started crashing on me, even after doing a reinstall. So I am pretty much using the Facebook web interface as of now, until there’s a good app. Another important app that I required was a good reader for fetching feeds from Google Reader. I rely on Google Reader heavily for keeping up with the latest developments on technology as well as information security. Fortunately for me, I keep some good company. Ed Bott directed me to an excellent app called Feed Reader (which is a paid app). I also discovered a free app called Flux which was really nice, but didn’t have all the features that Feed Reader had. For browser, rather than using the default IE10 as my primary browser, I installed the metro version of Chrome. The metro is just in the name and it looks just like the original Chrome window maximized with the title-bar removed. But that did the job for me as I wanted a browser that would display the tabs by default whereas with IE10, one has to right click in order to see the open tabs.
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of the software I am using are legacy desktop apps and although it is not really inconvenient to switch back and forth between desktop and start screen, when you are forced to use desktop for simple tasks like copying files, it feels like a compromise, something that Sinofsky had said you wouldn’t have to deal with.
So, what Microsoft has to do here is to maintain developer interest in the new OS and to make sure that Windows Store gets all those popular apps that people care about. How well the developers accept the new OS will have a huge impact on the market share for Windows, especially for Windows RT which will only be able to run Windows Store apps.
Once I had all the apps in order, the biggest challenge for me was to get used to the operating system itself, especially the Charms bar. For example, while using the Music app, I was foolishly looking for the volume changer while it was in the Charms bar (which had to be opened by swiping from the right edge of the screen or by hovering the mouse to the top/bottom right corner). Charms bar provides a set of commonly used commands and settings option that could change with the app that is currently open. For example, when you have a webpage open, you can share it on a social network or email it to a friend using the Charms bar. Once I got accustomed to Charms bar, it was much easier to use Windows 8. I knew exactly where to look and that made a hell lot of difference. For using general settings or for interacting between apps, use the Charms bar and for viewing the specific app settings or controls, you can right click the app or swipe down from top of the screen. Once you get hold of this, Windows 8 will be pretty much easy to use.
Then there are things that I hated first, but as I got to use it, I started loving it. The snapping of apps was one such feature. I was not a fan of the fact that you cannot snap two apps side by side like in Windows 7. One app will go into a minimized state whereas the other one will take the majority of the screen real estate. But after using Windows 8 for a few weeks, I have started loving this feature. I can read articles from Bing News or Feed Reader while the Music app or Metrotwit is snapped to the side for easy viewing of ‘Now Playing’ list or my Twitter feed. And when I need traditional multitasking, I just go to the desktop.
Some of the issues I had issues with Windows 8 were solved with driver updates. Previously, when I was using Windows 7, after I unplugged the HDMI cable that connected my laptop to an external display, the display would automatically reset to the default laptop panel. But that was not the case with Windows 8. I had to first change the display before unplugging the cable. This issue has since been solved after a driver update. Also the Synaptics driver for the touchpad still has some inconsistencies. Vertical scrolling is only present in desktop mode and doesn’t work with start screen for some reason. I’m hoping that this will also be fixed soon like the display driver.
It’s been a month since I started using Windows 8. And how has it affected my life? I can now safely say that it has transformed me from a web person into an app person. Previously, I just used Chrome to check my mail, Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader. I now use different apps for each of those tasks. My mornings now start with reading news using the Bing News app along with my morning coffee. I listen to my favourite albums using the Music app, surf twitter using Metrotwit and when I stumble on an article I feel like sharing, I just use the share option in the Charms bar. I use Feed Reader to keep up with the latest happening in the world of technology and when I need it, I head to desktop to use Word 2010 or Visual Studio 2012. It’s all good.
And what’s better? The performance of my computer has improved a lot from what was with Windows 7. Now my laptop takes just around 10 seconds to boot which is incredible considering the fact that Windows 7 took around a minute to boot. The battery life has also increased but not by a great margin.
Wrapping up, I would say that Windows 8 is like a roller coaster rider. You might be a little bit afraid to get into one at first and might not feel comfortable during the initial climb, but once you get comfortable, it’s one hell of a joy ride.
It is fast, fluid and intuitive and has improved a lot from the early DP or CP stages that I had encountered earlier. Microsoft’s biggest challenge now would be to educate its user base and to make sure that they do not dump the OS before they realize how great it is. So my advice to everyone going to try Windows 8 is, give it a chance and give yourself a little bit of time to get accustomed to it. Because once you get the hang of it, there’s a very good chance that you are going to love it, just like I did.