Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Few thoughts on Windows 8

I loaded Windows 8 on my work PC last week. Although most of you know me as a Linux fan, I’m not a hater of other technologies, and I believe in the right tool for the job. Although it was an interesting experiment to run Linux (Fedora + KDE) on my work machine for a while, I was in reality spending most of my time inside of a Windows 7 Virtual Machine, using Visual Studio, SQL Management Console, VisionApp Remote Desktop and Citrix XenCenter. Since these are the main tools for my job, it simply made sense to abort the experiment and get on with life.

I personally liked Windows 7 just fine, and I find Windows 8 to simply be a natural evolution of that. Many Linux users hated some of the new Desktop shells for Linux such as Ubuntu’s Unity interface and the GNOME shell. Windows 8 also made some sweeping changes to the UI, but they aren’t as jarring as you might think. The biggest difference is the full-screen “Start Menu” (really a Start Screen now) that is evoked either by pressing the Super (Windows) key on your keyboard, or by moving your mouse to the lower left-hand corner where the start orb used to be, and the “Start” icon will pop up, and you can click it.

The Start screen is pretty customizable, and you can choose what apps are pinned there. You can pin Windows 8 metro apps, or simply shortcuts to desktop apps. I’m actually using (and enjoying) the Metro Mail and Messaging app, however I don’t like the full-screen Metro IE app (it’s simply not useful to me – I’d rather have the desktop version). Also, it’s worth noting that IE no longer sucks – I think IE 10 is a really nice browser, and I’ve thrown it into my browser rotation.

Scott Hanselman has a couple of great blog-posts here and here covering some neat tips-n-tricks kinda things you can do with Windows 8, as well as covering some of the changes to the interface and shortcut keys. I won’t cover them here, because his posts are much better than anything I could come up with.

Aside from that, Windows 8 is going to be a solid release – it’s not going to be the end of PC’s as many have predicted. Folks will simply accept the changes, learn the differences and move on. At the core level it is solid – and it’s fast. Did I say it was fast? Oh, yeah, and it’s fast too. (get the hint?).

Check it out with an open mind, and you will probably like many of the changes as well.


  1. Excellent post - and it mirrors my own experiences, thoughts and path forward.

    I, too, am a huge Linux fan and I study UI/UX of all kinds on all platforms, so this means that Linux is a natural for me to explore, with great cutting edge ideas and designs in GNOME, KDE, Unity, E17, and many others.

    However, this is not the only thing I do - I run an engineering consulting business and due to the nature of my interactions with my clients, I must have "official" Microsoft Office. LibreOffice is great, but it does not meet the standards I require.

    Plus, I work full time as a nuclear engineer, I have four children, I exercise daily, I do most of the cooking at home (another pleasure of mine), and so on. Oh, and I offer computer support services from time to time, for Windows, OS X, Linux, *BSD, Android and iOS.

    I am happily busy, of course!

    I also believe in "the right tool for the job" - and the tools I choose should be as effective, efficient and secure as reasonably achievable - the amount of time required to achieve the optimal mix should be minimized, following the Pareto principle, and my optimal mix is unique to my requirements.

    I actually study UI/UX workflow in other users, to determine how to best optimize *their* tools.

    While studying the workflow habits of other users, I started saying to myself, over and over again, "be a user".

    This helped me put myself in their shoes - think first to understand, then to be understood.

    And so, I too came to that point several months ago.

    As I mentioned above, I require Microsoft Office. I have in the past run it via CrossOver and WINE on Slackware, Gentoo and finally Ubuntu, and I was already testing other operating systems and interfaces via virtual machine programs.

    I have a MacBook Pro (2008 vintage) and a ThinkPad T61p (also 2008 vintage), and though I can and have run Linux on both of them natively, quite frankly OS X and Windows 7/8 are quite stable and sufficiently secure for my requirements.

    While they might not reach the "five 9's" reliability of stable Linux releases or FreeBSD, they are good enough for me (I have not had a kernel panic on the MacBook Pro ever, and neither Windows 7 nor Windows 8 have thrown a BSOD).

    Thus, I can run native Microsoft Office on both machines, and VMware Fusion and Workstation for my UI/UX research on Linux, *BSD and other assorted operating systems.

    It is the most effective and efficient use of my time.

    Like you, I approached Windows 8 with an open mind.

    I found that the Metro applications were very stripped down and did not offer much for my requirements, which is okay - the applications I use (Office and VMware) run in the Desktop environment, which is not much different from what was on Windows 7 and previous.

    I just think of the Start screen as an easy to configure Start menu that runs full screen - which I guess is all it is.

    I quite like Windows 8 - performance seems even better than Windows 7 in terms of speed - and the interface is a logical extension of Windows 7, for me anyway.

    Sure, a few things have moved around - but because of my passion for UI/UX, I learn new interfaces extremely quickly. I like to describe myself as "platform agile".

    I am also now in the market for a tablet - I admit, I may look at one of the Windows 8 or Windows 8 RT hybrid tablets (especially if Microsoft's rumoured $199 price for the Surface RT tablet turns out to be true), if it turns out to be a better fit for me than an Android-based offering.

  2. My comment was so long, I got lost in it and forgot to add an important point - you and I are not alone.

    There are other people involved in the Linux community or who use Linux who work this way - Daniel Robbins (original creator of Gentoo, now leading Funtoo and working for OpenVZ - uses OS X and Windows on the desktop to administer Linux/OpenVZ servers); Bret Taylor (CTO of Facebook - uses a MacBook Air running OS X, runs Ubuntu in VMware Fusion); Michael Larabel (Phoronix - uses a Retina MacBook Pro with OS X to run Linux in VMs).

    These gentlemen contribute to the Linux community or use Linux to do great work, with a little help from OS X and Windows.