My two-cents on Windows 8

Hey, everyone! First forum post here that's finally not a just comment. So, someone tell me if I'm doing it right... I just thought I'd chime in with my two cents on Windows 8, seeing how lively the discussion is on the matter (to say the least.) The Internet Gods will most likely determine the significance of this post anyway.

Disclaimer: Regretfully, I do not have any hard bench marks to share so, a lot of what I'm about to talk about is purely subjective and obviously, other user's experience will differ. So really, this is just opinion and observation. The amount of credibility I have depends solely on the reader. This will be lengthy... And I don't fault you for skipping along. But, enjoy!

Intro...

So, for the past few weeks I've taken the time to install and use the Windows 8 Release Preview (RP) on both my laptop, native (Lenovo ThinkPad X120e) and my desktop as a virtual machine (VMWare Player 4-cores, AMD FX-6200, 8GBs of RAM.) On the Desktop... Before I go further, let me point out my desktop specs as I will with my laptop.

- ASUS M5A99X EVO Motherboard

- AMD FX-6200 6-core CPU @ 3.8GHz

- Sapphire Radeon HD 6770

- 16GBs DDR3 RAM 3x 500GB HDDs configured in RAID5 (1TB Total)

- 23.5" 1080p ASUS LCD Monitor

- Windows 7 Ultimate x64

Without having to partition my HDD and dual boot or setup a virtual hard disk to boot from, I decided to setup a VMWare Player virtual machine instead, as mentioned in the intro. My desktop has fairly beefy specs and Windows 8 handled itself no problem running in a virtual environment having thrown all the resources I could possibly throw at it. So performance wise, I'm very eager to see Windows 8 run native on my desktop. Getting down to actually using Windows 8 (keeping in mind that it was a virtual machine), boot times were about on par with Windows 7. However, there was significantly less "lag time" between signing in and hitting the Start Screen/Desktop as there is with Windows 7 loading the desktop and notification icons along with all the other background services. If there's one thing Microsoft has achieved or even excelled expectation with Windows 8/Metro, it's the "fast and fluid" aspect of the UI. Going between the Start Screen, Metro apps and back to desktop just felt very snappy and very responsive.

On the Laptop...

Laptop specs.

- Lenovo ThinkPad X120e

- AMD E-350 APU @ 1.6GHz

- Radeon HD 6310

- 4GBs DDR3 RAM

- 120GB SSD

- 11.6" 1366x768 Built-In LED Back-lit Display

- Windows 8 Release Preview x64

First off... Putting an SSD in a laptop of this spec is the best thing you can ever do for it. With Windows 7 installed, it's boot to desktop in 15 seconds or less; Even faster for Windows 8. With that out of the way, in this scenario I opted to do an in-place upgrade from Windows 7 Professional (x64) to Windows 8 Release Preview. I must say, this processes was significantly longer than a clean install which is totally not unexpected, but I would recommend stepping out for a bit while you run the upgrade.

As it has been pointed out by various blogs, the installer's upgrade adviser is very helpful when it comes to incompatible software. Anyone running Microsoft Security Essentials will want to uninstall that before upgrading. MSE is replaced by the new Windows Defender in Windows 8 which is essentially MSE re-branded and baked right in.

So once again, very impressed by just how quick Windows 8 felt even on a laptop of this spec. Thanks to the SSD and the fact that Windows 8 was running in a native environment as opposed to a virtual environment, the OS just felt incredibly fluid, just like my Samsung Focus Windows Phone. Here's were a mostly understandable issue threw a wrench at the experience: Drivers.

One issue I had was the System process (indicated by Task Manager, which is lovely by the way) was eating 50% of my CPU at all times, or using an entire core and thus draining my battery, reducing it from a solid 3 hours (yes, tiny battery on mostly moderate power options) to a mere 1.5 or less. I come to find out that it was caused by my NIC driver. Oddly enough, re-installing the same driver fixed the problem and I was good to go. So if anyone else has experienced this problem, that is how you fix it. So despite that particular issue, there's still a great amount of backwards compatibility with existing Windows Vista/7 era hardware.

Between the Small Screen and Large Screen... Recently, there's been a lot of debate and some strong criticism about Windows 8 on desktop computers versus tablets and touch screen Ultra Books. To some extent, I agree. In my experience on both a large full HD display (desktop) and a smaller 720p equivalent display (Laptop), the Metro UI just doesn't seem to scale well to large displays in its vanilla form.

In order to do many tasks (let's forget about key combinations for a moment), there's a lot of mouse movement involved. Whether it's invoking the Charms Bar, bringing up the app-menu or hitting the hot corners, it eventually gets tiresome (mouse fatigue, if you want to call it that.)

Then there's some visual elements that I find unappealing, take the number of tiles on the Start Screen for example. In one of my past comments, I mentioned a registry modification that allows you to set the number of rows of tiles on the Start Screen. While there's a little more scrolling involved, there's just less "clutter" and in my opinion, the tiles are a little more manageable with 3-4 rows of tiles instead of 5 on a full HD display. I'll most likely apply this modification when I do upgrade my desktop computer to Windows 8. That also answers the question; Yes, I plan to upgrade despite Windows 8 despite my criticism of "Desktop" Metro...

My other gripe about Metro on large displays if the fact that menus, buttons and other elements just appear too large and cumbersome. I would actually like to see some of these things scaled down if your primary input method is a mouse. I could go on however, at some point I'm just nit-picking and I'm sure it's all been said before.

So, I've pointed out the issues I have with Metro on a large display. Here's where Metro feels right; Small laptop-esque displays and of course, tablets. Because of the smaller screen, there's less mouse fatigue and less clutter on the Start Screen by default. Visual elements appear just the right size. Definitely being in the Metro UI was significantly more enjoyable on my laptop than it was on my desktop. As I discovered, I spent a lot more time in the Metro UI on my laptop. On my desktop, I spent most of my time on the desktop. And you know what? That's okay.

Metro is most likely here to stay and will continue to permeate throughout Microsoft's future products and will be refined along the way. Maybe some of the criticisms that myself and many other have expressed will be addressed sooner than we realize. However, as it is now, you really aren't being forced to use Metro if you don't want to or need to. Some will complain about not being able to "turn it off" however, there's nothing preventing the user for living on the Desktop the entire time or preventing the user from living in Metro the entire time if they want to (unless you need to get to Administrative tools and Control Panel).

Windows 8 can be looked at in two ways; A new UI nobody wants and that Microsoft's trying to shove down our throats OR two operating systems in one as another user pointed out in a previous forum (not going comment hunting at the moment, sorry) I prefer the second.

As Paul Thurrott has mentioned, Windows 8 is still a great operating system. Even if you don't use metro, the desktop is enough reason to upgrade from Windows 7 as I plan to do in the near future. However, I do plan on purchasing Microsoft's Surface tablet and that's where I think Windows 8 and Metro will shine. Thanks for reading!

EDIT: Formatting, typos