Last weekend, before the storm, I installed Windows 8 on my primary desktop computer. The last and only prior time I installed Windows 8 was in a virtual machine from a developer preview ISO. I was hoping to see some improvements since that initial installation. Here we go...
The Good Stuff
Windows 8 installed without a hitch. Actually, this isn't entirely true, but it's my fault. There was an old instance of Agnitum Outpost firewall that had some lingering bits remaining and was nearly impossible to remove. Until I did, Windows 8's installation would not continue. I think it's fair for Windows to refuse to install until it has the computer in a condition that it thinks would be ideal, and it pays off.
All of my programs that were compatible run just fine. During installation, Windows either made me remove programs that were incompatible or warned me that they would need to be reinstalled to work correctly. Anything that was left, which was most of my applications, worked without any problems.
My Aero problems are gone. And so is Aero. I kind of liked Aero, but anytime I tried to do something intense video-wise, the system would kick me out of Aero mode and everything would move so much slower. Windows 8's default desktop rendering works great -- so much better than Windows 7, in fact. I can run full-screen video on all four monitors and Windows 8 doesn't even cough. Windows 7 would sputter and choke. Mind you, running 15+ videos across three monitors was something I could do on this system in Vista without a hiccup either, so it's nice to see this functionality restored.
Devices just work. I'll give this one to Microsoft. It's hard (there's an understatement) to write an operating system that can handle any 3rd-party hardware thrown at it and simultaneously launch it worldwide in who-knows-how-many languages. When I powered on Windows 8 for the first time, all of my attached peripherals worked. No glitches, period. Flawless execution. It's things like this that people tend to overlook as they move into the next section...
The Bad Stuff
It's hard to classify Windows 8's "bad stuff" into discrete categories, because my brain categorizes the majority of the complaints I have into a single large group:
My desktop is not a tablet.
And apparently, Microsoft thinks this is my fault. All of the UI decisions that drive me crazy about Windows 8 stem from the fact that it's easier to use Windows 8 on a tablet than a desktop PC. I'll provide a couple of specific examples.
While re-installing some of the software I mentioned above that needed updates, I was told that I would need to restart my system. I'm used to this, and that's ok. But I wanted to install/configure a bunch of stuff before restarting so that I could minimize the number of restarts I would need to experience. So when the installer for those programs asked me to restart, I said "no". When I was done with my configuration, I looked for the restart option in the Windows 8 UI... and couldn't find it.
I've been using Windows PCs for, well, a long time. I had to open the help application to learn how to turn the computer off. To me, this seems wrong. Granted, with Windows 8, I shouldn't have to do this very often. And maybe my power button can do it. But having been trained for years to use the UI to perform resets and not being able to find it, that seems like a UX failure to me. And that's just one of many.
The reset functionality is tucked into these new "Charms". Charms easily display when you have a tablet by "swiping" in from the right edge of the screen. You can't do this on a desktop with no touchscreen. Instead, you can put your mouse in a little hotspot in the bottom right corner of the monitor. And wait.
So, I have four monitors. Where do I put my mouse? As it turns out, I can do it on any monitor, and the charms appear on that monitor. This is weird to me. It's also strange that if I start a metro-style app that runs full-screen, it runs only on that monitor, and closes any other monitor that has a full-screen app on it. For example, I can't run the mail app on one screen and the photos app on another at the same time.
Also, in many of these corner-idling gestures (the Charms are not the only one), the mouse sticks to the corner. As a result, I can no longer push the mouse up from the top left corner of my center screen into the monitor above it. Likewise, I can't pull the mouse down through the bottom left corner of the top monitor. It's trapped my mouse, which is a nitpick, but something that affects me more often than you might expect.
There are keyboard shortcuts for all of the tablet gestures that feel really klunky. The swipe gesture seems pretty natural if you're using a tablet. But the Win+C keypress is an unnatural substitute, and I feel like the idling of the mouse in the corner is a UX cop-out.
I have some video issues. As with any initial release, there are bound to be some little annoyances that will likely be fixed eventually. My primary problem of concern at the moment is with my top monitor. I used to have Catalyst Control Center available to correct the underscan of my video card to this monitor. The program would allow me to remove the inch of black border from that monitor due to an inexplicable/inexcusable default setting on ATI's part. But I can no longer run Catalyst Control Center on Windows 8. I'm not sure what the reason is, but the existing software (which was not marked as incompatible) will no longer run. Instead, it shows an error message about having no settings to control. Without this software, I can't remove the underscan, and my top monitor's video is fuzzy.
I have tried all of the registry settings I've seen online, rebooted ad nauseum (after I learned how), tried re-installing Catalyst to no avail. And I'm reluctant to mess around too much with it because otherwise my video is so much better than it was under Windows 7, I'm almost willing to live with the issue. Almost.
Suffice to say that I don't think this is a Windows 8 issue per se, but rather a problem of the ATI software which is generally crap and has caused me limitless frustration in the past. ATI/AMD can accept the blame for this, for sure.
The mouse wheel doesn't work on the scrollbars in full-screen apps or certain elements of Windows 8 itself, like the charms flyout. Why? No idea. It's stupid.
Smartglass is a big tease. Every time the kids have turned on the XBox this week, I've seen a notice telling me to join their experience. I keep thinking it would be great if I could pull down a monitor-full of Minecraft being run on the console and play along with them. Alas, I can't do that. I've seen some of the stuff online for what Smartglass can do with the XBox, but I can't imagine any of that would be useful on my desktop, which is nowhere near the Xbox in the family room. Maybe some of the video/audio features will be useful in the future. I'll have to look into it some more.
The app store is kind of "meh". It's nice that Microsoft has integrated a store into their OS. It makes app discovery and acquisition easier and central. I hope that they're able to work out the problem with Valve over Steam and get some real games into the app store. The experience in the Windows 8 store is visually cleaner than Steam with all its stats cruft. That said, sifting through the app store for an app seems like a pointless endeavor. There are so many apps, each described only with an icon and a name, it's impossible to tell which does what usefully without going into each. This kind of defeats the purpose, I think. I expect they'll do something to improve this experience, but I've been let down before.
I haven't fully explored the OS and all of the features. For example, there are sharing features that I haven't even touched, primarily because I can't figure out what apps might use them and what they'll do. The social features are interesting, but not (yet?) as good as the apps I already use, though I'll keep an eye on them.
The bottom line for me is that the system is running more smoothly. It feels more lithe. The UI "quirks" are a serious problem, and I'm hoping to correct them with some hardware. (Am I the only one who is utterly shocked at the lack of 3rd-party touchscreen addons for Windows 8 desktops?)
For the money, I think Windows 8 has a fair price for the improvements I've seen. As the kinks are smoothed out with updates and new apps start to take advantage of Windows 8's new features, I think the benefits of the upgrade will become more apparent.