My Thoughts on Windows 8, and Why I Went Back to Windows 7

I’ve been reading quite a few articles on Microsoft’s latest OS, so I thought I’d chime in with some of my own thoughts.

I used Windows 8 for about 3 weeks. During that period of time, I learned about the new Start screen, the removal of the Start menu, Charms, Hyper-V and Win-X. I enjoyed the speed of the new OS. I thought the new Task Manager and copy dialog were huge improvements. Having the taskbar on both screens was a boon. In the end, however, I concluded that the way I used Windows 8 was too similar to how I used Windows 7, with the difference being that Windows 8 actually removed functionality that I wanted. In other words, Windows 8 offered nothing compelling enough for me to upgrade.

I have never been a fan of Microsoft simply removing features in new operating systems rather than making them optional. For example, I still miss the network activity tray icon that was available (and optional) in Windows XP. When Vista came along, the icon showed activity, but not which direction. With Windows 7, the icon was completely removed. Still, I upgraded from XP to 7 because the benefits of 7 outweighed its drawbacks. I wanted to say the same for 8. Here’s a list of things that did not work (for me) in Windows 8:

Virtual PC 2007 – Yes, I realize that this program is old, but I have a few virtual machines running MS-DOS, Linux, Windows 98, and Windows 2000. I could not get them to work properly under Hyper-V. In addition, Hyper-V does not support sound, which meant no Windows 98 games. It was suggested that I could move over to VirtualBox, but that would have meant learning a new application and probably re-installing my precious virtual machines that I had already configured to my liking.

Desktop gadgets – I really liked the slideshow and CPU usage gadgets in Windows 7. If my PC ever acted strangely, a quick glance at the CPU gadget would tell me if something was hogging up the CPU. The slideshow would brighten up my day with random photos of JC or my family. Again, I’m sure there are 3rd-party offerings for Windows 8 that achieve the same thing, but again, nothing else in 8 compels me to do the legwork to find them.

Some old games – I had issues with Unreal Tournament and Star Trek Armada II. These are ancient games, but they worked perfectly fine in Windows 7. To be fair, it may have been NVIDIA’s drivers, but probably not since the same drivers work fine in 7.

Wireless keyboard – I have a wireless handheld USB keyboard that I use for HTPC purposes. The arrow keys no longer worked to navigate through files in Windows Explorer.

Start Menu – I put this last on the list because unlike a lot of other users, the removal of the Start Menu did not really hinder my use of Windows 8. Actually, I thought that the Start screen was a giant (read: full screen), backwards version of the Start Menu. Like Windows 7, you could simply hit the Windows key and then type the name of the program you want to run. Unlike Windows 7, you can no longer hit the Windows key and type the name of a file you want to find. I forget exactly now, but in Windows 8 you have to hit an extra key combo (I think it is Alt-f?) after the Windows key to search for files. Also, unlike Windows 7 and every other Windows before it, installing Desktop programs means that every shortcut that used to appear in the program’s group in the Start Menu (or Program Manager if you go back far enough) now shows up as a tile in the Start screen. After a while, my Start screen was getting cluttered up with random tiles such as “Read the manual” or “Uninstall”. At least in the old Start Menu, these items were hidden in their respective program folders.

The other odd thing about the Start screen is that clicking a tile for a Desktop program took you to the Desktop (duh?). I think this is the drawback of trying to combine a desktop operating system with a tablet one. Windows 8 starts up to this pretty Start screen, but when I click the Firefox tile I’m taken to a screen that looks like Windows 7. I kept thinking, what’s the point? I ended up never using the Start screen at all, instead opting to simply hit the Windows key upon every start-up.

With Android and iOS encroaching on and taking over a lot of Microsoft’s old territory, I can understand why Redmond would try to make Windows 8 tablet and phone-centric. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t just create a separate product for tablets and call it Surface or something. The few Windows 8 Apps I used took up the entire screen, and other than Desktop mode, nothing in Windows 8 actually uses windows.

My impression of Windows 8 is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. I have both an Android phone and tablet so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with using touchscreens and mobile apps, but when I’m on my desktop computer I have no desire to use it like I do my phone or tablet. My current 24-inch monitor is 2 feet away from me; I can’t even reach it, and even if I could, my arm would get tired. Yet, a lot of PC manufacturers are embracing Windows 8 and creating all-in-ones with touchscreens. Would I really want a huge 27-inch all-in-one in my face so that I could touch-interface with it? Would I type an email on the keyboard and then reach up to touch “send”? I don’t see myself doing that.

I commend Microsoft for trying something new and trying to revolutionize the way we use our PCs (removing the Start Menu after 17 years is arguably revolutionary), but it just seems like they saw the desktop market shrinking and decided to slap something together so they could get a piece of the touchscreen action. For me, the experiment was a failure. I tried to embrace Windows 8’s new features but found myself naturally gravitating back to the desktop space while completely ignoring the Windows Store and Start screen. Looking back at how Microsoft responded to ME and Vista, I hold out hope that Microsoft gives Windows back its identity.

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