If you haven’t installed Windows 8 yet; don’t worry, we’re technology writers – it’s our job to test these things out for you. Quite a few MakeUseOf staff including myself have taken the plunge and upgraded to Windows 8 now – and had the chance to play with newer touchscreen models too – so let’s take a summary look at what everyone thinks of it in this Windows 8 review.
Like every Windows installation I’ve ever done, it was from scratch on a freshly formatted machine. However, I was unable to buy a licence key online, because that isn’t available to Europe; the system builder edition is also currently unavailable outside of the US, so the only option is to purchase a retail upgrade. Unfortunately, it then refused to activate with my “upgrade” key, so I had to reformat, install Windows 7, then run the Windows 8 installation from within there, and finally activate. I’m disgusted that Microsoft makes it so hard to actually give them money; it’s a textbook example of a badly mismanaged launch.
For me, my Windows machine isn’t my workhorse; it sits in the living room and plays games or movies – so ease of use of the interface isn’t exactly mission critical for me. I upgraded because frankly, it’s my job to upgrade, and I’d heard there are some performance gains under the hood, particular in start-up times. I’m somewhat impressed by the Xbox connectivity with Dance Central 3 party mode DJ, and the far improved handling of second screens; no more fiddling in display properties just to send a mirrored signal to the TV.
On that note – the Modern UI is great for a 50″ TV, but my favourite apps (VLC and Plex) are still stuck in desktop mode and there’s little functionality of interest to me in the Windows store (as yet). Certainly worth a $40 upgrade for performance boosts alone, but not if you want to be productive because the new UI will absolutely destroy that.
I have also had the privilege of reviewing a Surface RT tablet, as a device with Modern UI only (the desktop mode is basically useless). Even after a week I find the touch gestures to be unintuitive, particularly since they’re completely different to the trackpad and mouse controls. I had trouble using the device for anything productive; even checking email was a chore I’d rather not suffer.
The hardware itself is a classy bit of kit, but with such a poor software implementation I’d advise to stay well away from Surface RT, and instead hold out for the Pro editions due later this year if you really want a touch-based Windows 8 device. As a loss-leader to tackle the low or mid range tablet market this might have succeeded; at a similar price point to the iPad, the choice is obvious.
Our supreme editor in Germany, Mark experienced the same upgrade woes as me. After building himself a new PC and installing Windows 8 fresh, he found the upgrade key didn’t work, having assumed he would simply be able to supply a valid Windows 7 licence key to prove it was legitimate.
Mark also runs a dual-screen setup, and had this to say:
One irritating thing for me is that, having two monitors, if I have to put my mouse arrow in the corner to switch screens, the mouse arrow jumps to the next monitor screen. Getting it in the exact corner to switch between desktop and tiles is a lesson in extreme patience.
He’s also impressed by 5-second boot times, and was kind enough to share his decidely gothic start menu, full of non-metro apps.
Overall opinion – when you first start to use it, you hate it instantly. The lack of a traditional start menu is disorientating and throws you totally off-balance. You have no idea anymore how to work Windows! Like everything in life, eventually it begins to get a little easier with practice.
Tim is lucky enough to have had the chance to play with Windows 8 “as intended” on some touch enabled tablets and all-in-one machines, and he’s still not impressed.
I’m rather surprised it has not gained more criticism, especially from those using the traditional mouse and keyboard setup. On a laptop the experience is jarring … The all-in-one touchscreen experience is better, and the UI makes a lot more sense in this capacity. I still can’t help but feel there’s a lot of wasted opportunity though, particularly when you get back to the traditional desktop and either have to mash the touchscreen with your fingers or switch input devices to the mouse or trackpad. That’s not a pleasant user experience, but then nor is touching your monitor and leaving fingerprints all over the screen.
If you’re looking for the traditional desktop experience with the improved boot times and superior task manager then I think the “Modern” UI is going to mar the experience in a big way. This time round many people have praised Microsoft for doing something different, but different doesn’t mean good. Different shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card, and Microsoft should not have left its loyal desktop users wondering what happened to their favourite OS.
Them sure is fightin’ words, Tim!
Chris is a big Windows fan, and regularly writes about Windows 8 tweaks here and on other sites. He knows his stuff, so what did he have to say?
There are lots of great improvements – boot-time increases, a much better file-copying function, and the best task manager ever. Under the hood, it’s actually the best Windows desktop ever.
The praise ends there though.
That’s what makes Windows 8 so tragic. The experience on a non-touch-enabled desktop or laptop is bizarre and I just can’t get used to it. You can’t avoid the new interface entirely; some parts of it will always intrude on the desktop – for example, if you click the wireless icon on the desktop, it will take up a huge chunk of your screen in Modern-style. It’s just not consistent.
I want multiple windows on-screen at the same time. I want side-by-side multitasking with each window taking up half of the screen. I use these features all the time to get work done and I would be much less productive without them.
Ultimately though, he’s afraid that as a desktop user, Microsoft is abandoning him in favour of a closed device approach. He can easily envision a future in which the only software available is through the Windows Store.
Erez is a constant traveller, and had a ridiculous time of trying to set up a valid Windows store account, having been bounced around a number of different helplines including Xbox support (he doesn’t actually own an Xbox), and has finally resigned to the fact that his main user account simply cannot purchase anything in the Windows store.
Though his situation is somewhat unique, this inability to transfer international accounts with Microsoft and Xbox have been known for a long time (I lost all my gamer points and had to create a new Live ID when I moved back to the UK), it was hoped that Windows 8 and the unified Windows account would sort this all out. It didn’t – Microsoft is still completely unable to handle anything international. Whatever you do, don’t move to a different country.
The screenshot he shared summarises his experiences: he’s installed Classic Shell to bring back the old school start menu, and like most of us is impressed by performance gains and a generally snappier interface.
If I could have just one Windows 8 wish, it would be to make Modern go away for good. The part of Windows that I’m used to thinking about as Windows – the “desktop experience” so to speak – is solid. It helps that I’ve installed Windows 8 on a powerful computer, but the system is extremely responsive, fun, and easy to use. If that’s all Windows 8 tried to do, it would have been a worthy upgrade I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
Christian is a rabid supporter of the Windows Phone platform, so naturally he was excited when the same concept was brought to the desktop. He likes the edginess of it all, and is excited where Microsoft takes it.
There are definitely issues with the Charms and other “edge of screen” aspects being neither intuitive nor easily used on a desktop/laptop, but there is a bounce about the OS that Windows has never had before. I don’t think the OS is perfect, but it is ideal for what Microsoft have in mind over the next few years, is easy to use after a few days adjustment and most of all it feels fun.
Matt is a prolific reviewer of hardware, so he’s had the chance to play with Windows 8 on newer devices including a hybrid tablet from Dell.
On a convertible laptop the new operating system is kind of awesome. Yes, there is a learning curve… but I preferred it to my Google Nexus 7. The convertible laptop is ridiculously heavy for a tablet, so I would not want to use it on a plane or bus – which is about 1% of my use. The other 99% of the time part I use my laptop or tablet on the couch, where I can prop up whatever I’m holding with a pillow or my knees. And in this situation having a huge touchscreen is awesome.
I also like the fact that it is, well, Windows. When I use my Nexus 7 to browse the web some sites are finicky because of performance issues or because they just weren’t built with a mobile device in mind. But touch-enabled Internet Explorer works well and everything renders perfectly.
The duality of the interfaces is something we’re all having trouble with, it seems.
It’s an operating system with two different interfaces, one of which is built for touch, which I must interact with even when I have just a keyboard and mouse. I wish that Microsoft had some sort of UI switch that let users choose if they want to activate the Metro elements or not.
But overall, he’s warming to it.
There’s a lot of useful features, it’s fast, it’s stable, and it’s not nearly as hard to get used to as I anticipated.
My co-host Justin succinctly identified one of the reasons I certainly can’t see the Modern UI being used productively:
From an information diet point of view, it seems designed to distract you. Because of the live tiles on the start screen, every time you go to launch a program you’re presented with emails you need to answer, photos from your friends on Facebook and the latest from Twitter. You can turn this off, sort of, but it’s going to be a productivity pit for many.
I think that summarises things quite well really – very few of us actually like the UI changes, but we’ll take any performance boost thank-you-very-much!
I hope this has given you a good Windows 8 review and some idea of what to expect if you upgrade now. For certain, this is a new product – a new direction for Microsoft – but one that may not sit well with you.
If you’ve upgraded, how’s the transition been for you?
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