Experience from Erin Cummins
You know that feeling you get when you’re standing on the edge of a cliff? With the wind whipping at your hair and your face, your heart is pounding out a fearful tattoo. Even so, you slowly, almost against your will, shuffle your feet forward, closer and closer to the edge… because as scared as you are to stand there, there’s a tiny part of you whispering “jump… jump…” That’s how I felt about switching to Windows 8: I was standing on a frightening but seductive precipice.
Well. I did the perhaps-inadvisable thing and took the leap. It felt more as if I had been pushed, actually; my previous computer (a Dell) died at an unfortunate moment, and I did not have much time to spend poking around doing more research. I decided to buy a Samsung laptop that came equipped with Windows 8, and for the past few months I have been playing with it.
So now I, as the unfortunate first penguin who has been pushed into the freezing sea, have the duty to tell the rest of you what’s going on down here in the water. Is Windows 8 a glorious sea full of tasty fish? Or am I dinner for the killer whales?
Built to accommodate tablets
If you think I’m being a tad dramatic, yeah–I am. Really, Windows 8 is not so different from Windows 7 (or even Vista, actually). The biggest difference is in aesthetics; Windows 8 is built to be compatible with touch screens and tablets, so you do not get the classic “desktop” view upon first logging in. Instead, when you log on to your computer you come to the Start page, your home screen full of apps.
Many new PC ultrabooks are coming out with touchscreens, so this new start page is really helpful with that: the icons are large enough to tap with a finger. I like the apps, even on a non-tablet device; Windows apps have the “live tile” feature and flip with new news and pictures, so you can be caught up without having to actually do anything. I particularly enjoy the Kindle app and Netflix (both of which are free, like many apps).
Getting down to Business (to defeat the Huns)
When it’s time to actually use your computer as a computer (use a browser, write a paper, etc), it’s easy. Your desktop is an app on the home screen so you can just click on that and you basically have Windows 7 open. You can set things like Microsoft Word or Firefox as apps on the start page as well and those will both take you straight to the desktop. I haven’t noticed any differences in the way Windows 8 handles these programs; it’s just like any other computer.
Having two different home screens (the start screen and the desktop) is revolutionary; at least in the sense that it means I can basically have two computer wallpapers. Now my pictures of a saxophone-playing hamster and my head photoshopped onto Dame Maggie Smith’s body can be given equal billing on my computer, as they do in my life.
The biggest difference between the desktop app and Windows 7 is the lack of a Start button in the lower left of the page. But because of the layout of Windows 8, you actually do not need a start button. If you want to access any program, you can go back to the start page and do it there. If that other program is not part of the desktop app, you can lock it onto the side of your screen and have two apps open at once on your screen. If you have a touch screen, doing this is very easy; it’s a bit harder with a mouse, where dragging things around the screen takes a bit more effort. Luckily, there are plenty of keyboard shortcuts that take the place of the touch screen motions; for example “Windows button + [period]” will automatically snap the app to the side.
Shutting the computer down is less intuitive. But once you learn how to do it, it’s not that tough: just use “Windows button + C” and the settings hover on the right of the page. You can then go ahead and click on the power icon, and can choose from the classic options (“shut down”, “sleep”, “restart”).
You can access the task manager the same way you always have been able to- Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Some things never change. You also still have the Control Panel, which can help you to uninstall programs, connect to the internet, and basically access the behind-the-scenes of your computer. And if you need to do something with your computer that you can’t figure out easily, there is always Google… just saying.
Downsides (let’s rant)
So far this review has been pretty tame, so I might be accused of being some kind of propagandist spy-blogger if I didn’t tell you about all the things I do not appreciate about Windows 8. So here’s a list of rants:
1) The Netflix app causes the screen resolution to overload when you are connecting the computer to your TV (or other screen). WHAT’S THE POINT OF THAT? People often watch Netflix on shared devices… it’s confusing that I would have to use my browser instead of the specially-made app for this. Get yo act together, Netflix. Inconceivable! Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line!
2) A lot of techy people do not like the fact that there is no Start button. And yeah, it kind of sucks if you just used the Calculator and have to go all the way back to the apps to open it again, instead of clicking on the recent items in the menu. But overall, I really don’t think there’s a lot to miss from the Start menu; you still get it all, just in a different place.
3) Internet Troubleshooting. Over the holidays I went home with all my brothers, sisters, and their significant others–and everyone had a laptop. My parents’ router just did not have the bandwidth to support all 8 computers at once, so I ran into a lot of issues trying to connect. At first I thought it was my computer, so I ran a lot of troubleshooting tasks. This was not awesome. It was not-some? Anyway, in Windows 7 you could go to the Network and Sharing Center, click on the globe icon, and Windows would just troubleshoot everything. Now, I’m sent to the Help section, and given 3 options of different types of problems to troubleshoot. And I’m like… can’t you just run all 3 at once and fix whatever it is? If I knew that the problem was my adapter, I’d just fix that.
4) Windows 8 is clearly engineered for “fun”–in my opinion, this is not a system on which a business computer would thrive. Apps are largely built for watching shows, reading books, or playing games–nothing that should be done in the office. Businesspeople will want to go straight to the desktop, and will be frustrated by the new extra step of bypassing the start page. Then again, I have not tested with any business-y apps, which may be out there and be very helpful. And we have also seen the speed with which companies are making the switch to “keep up with the times”–many business executives have tablets they take on trips with them instead of computers–so it’s not crazy to think that businesspeople could adapt to Windows 8. And the question remains as well: will they have the choice to stay behind? The worlds of technology and business obey the law of the wild: Evolve or Die.
Ultimately, out of all the operating systems for PC computers, Windows 8 is one of them. As it was famously said, “we are unable to stem the tide of history.” Whether we like it or not, Windows 8 is part of the future. Chances are, if you have a PC, you will use Windows 8. Even Vista, which is authoritatively regarded as “yucky,” was the primary operating system for years before Windows 7 came out. Windows 8 is happening: software and apps are being developed for it, and newer computers and tablets will be equipped with it.
To return to my original musings about penguins and cliff-diving (two topics definitely relevant to technology…), the choice is still yours as to whether you are actually going to jump into the ocean. This penguin survived (and is doing quite well for herself), so it looks like the coast may be clear. Windows 8 is not incredible, but it’s not terrible either, so you need to answer the following questions for yourself: Are you going to stick with previous operating systems as programs are made more and more for Windows 8? Will you spend your days searching for a non-existent start button (“Are you there Start? It’s me, Margaret”)? If I jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?