I’ve been running Windows 8 on my works laptop since we got access to it via our Microsoft subscription early in September 2012 ahead of the general release on 26th October and overall my impression is good.
There has been a lot of controversy in early reports from the public beta. Many people were upset as they felt the change from the start menu (which is completely gone) to the Metro style interface (from Windows Phone 7) was too radical and that gamers, the last great users of the PC outside of the business would be inconvenienced; well I don’t think that’s true.
Important – From the general release date of 26th October 2012 for a short time you can upgrade from Windows XP, Vista & 7 for only £24.99 in the UK! http://windowsteamblog.com/windows/b/bloggingwindows/archive/2012/07/02/upgrade-to-windows-8-pro-for-39-99.aspx
Biggest changes from Windows 7
Metro & the touch interface are the biggest immediate changes in Windows 8.
Rather than a single desktop application shortcuts are arranged via the metro tiles which can be different sizes and animated with live information. To see more you scroll horizontally to the right as you would on a phone or tablet, which is something of a gimmick I think but we’ll see how it works on the surface later in the year.
Metro applications like IE10 or the (file) Reader app run in full screen and it’s not easy to close them. In reality there is no need. When you minimize the metro app (click the mouse at the top of the screen and drag to the bottom) the application is suspended, using minimal system resources.
No start button or start menu
The second biggest change is that there is no start menu or start button. All your applications installed appear on the metro interface, but what if you wanted to get to the control panel? Easy, just start typing if you are in metro or press the windows key if you are on the classic desktop to switch back to metro.
If you use the keyboard command Windows key + Q then you will jump to the application search and you will be displayed all your application alphabetically.
Best changes from Windows 7
It’s a sea of information, running apps, background processes and Windows processes on the first tab alone. The performance tab is an upgrade of the resource monitor (which is still available) but is much more accessible as a quick performance dashboard.
Finally there is an easy way to manage start up applications and Windows measures their affect at slowing your system down too. The last tab shows services which has been upgraded from the depths of the Administrative management tools.
File transfer dialog
Windows 8 finally gives you the truth about file transfers. No longer does it sit there calculating how long a transfer might take, it just starts! When it finishes, it’s defiantly finished unlike Windows XP.
All transfers now append to the one dialogue box so when dealing with lots of file moved you don’t end up with half a dozen file transfer requests floating around the screen. The whole interface has a nice upgrade with a real time speed graph overlay
Perhaps most overdue is the fact you can pause/suspend transfers until later.
Better multi monitor support
Windows 8 is doing better for multi monitor support. You now get a taskbar on each screen and you can have applications appear on both or just the monitor they are running on. You still only get one notification area and clock which cannot be moved from your primary monitor which is a shame.
Refresh / re-install Windows
There are a host of recovery & repair features built into Windows 8 now. Yes there is still system restore (which I know a lot of people turn off!) and there is a new file backup / file versioning history built in, but the two biggest additions are Refresh and Re-Install.
Refresh takes your Windows 8 install and removes all the applications you installed or downloaded (your Windows 8 app store programs are kept). Your PC configuration is wiped and the Windows 8 system files updated with clean ones. Your account and personal settings remain and your PC should be back to as fast as it once was when you first got it.
If you need more extreme cleaning then you can do a re-install, in place, without needing to dig out your installation media and product key. It removes everything, user accounts and all configuration. Optionally you can do a secure erase on the disk too, useful if you are giving your PC away.
I’ve used both options to test my personal SSD failure recovery plan and it really is a useful timesaver.
Power user command
It was quite useful for connecting to a projector or disabling wireless on a laptop to save battery. Now Windows Key + X has become the menu of choice for power users, it even pops up in the bottom left hand corner just like the old Start Menu.
For me and the way I use my business laptop I think Windows 8 Pro is a worthwhile upgrade. It’s like a really polished version of Windows 7, which let’s face it was way, way better than Windows Vista.
I wasn’t sure that Microsoft could improve much on Windows 7, there aren’t any really big ticket items (OK, Hyper-V virtualisation on a client OS is awesome) but by fixing all the little niggles about Windows 7 its removed the feeling of death by a thousand cuts.
Windows 8 isn’t exclusively for the PC market and the Metro interface makes that immediately obvious but day-to-day I’m running application from the classic desktop 99.95% of the time. I only switch back to Metro by hitting the Windows Key to start a program I don’t have pinned to my classic taskbar.
The bottom line is that from the 26th October 2012 until the end of the year Microsoft will let you upgrade from any version of Windows after and including XP to Windows 8 for £24.99. At that price it’s a no brainer, even for the oldest XP system with only 1GB RAM.
Tips / resources
- Learn the keyboard shortcuts, they are great and really make the interface feel really slick.
- This is a great forum with lots of how to articles for Windows 8 http://www.eightforums.com/
- If you need to start an application with Administrator privileges after hitting the Windows key and typing the program name to search for it in the Metro interface right click on the program (or using the keyboard use Space to select it) a menu bar appears at the bottom, select Run as Administrator
- If you feel stuck in a full screen metro application and can’t escape move the mouse to the top of the screen till the pointer turns into a hand, click and pull down to the bottom of the screen. Alternatively use the shortcut key Windows Key + M to minimise all windows.