July 6, 2013

Windows 8 : My Review

"Better late than never" - is what driving me to write this review, because it's almost a year ago that Windows 8 made it in to the public. And I also started using Windows 8 nearly 8 months ago. So this post will mostly look in to the comfortable zones (as well as uncomfortable ones) of using Windows 8, and to this effect, I shall avoid technical terms so that non-techs users can find it useful while shifting from previous releases of Windows Operating Systems.
Windows 8 is the new operating system that tech giant Microsoft Corporation released in order to establish dominance on mostly the "touch-screen" based devices like tablets, laptops (yes! newer releases from HP are touch screen based). Windows 8 Phone is also rolling down smoothly and it is highly anticipated that Windows 8 Phone will capture a good share in the smartphone market. However, many people have questioned the use of Windows 8 OS on desktop PCs and laptops, saying that the new release is quite uncomfortable on desktop PCs. Quoting from Wikipedia,
"Windows 8 was released to mixed reception. Although reaction towards its performance improvements, security enhancements, and improved support for touchscreen devices was positive, the new user interface of the operating system was widely criticized for being potentially confusing and difficult to learn (especially when used with a keyboard and mouse instead of a touchscreen). Despite these shortcomings, 60 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold through January 2013."
So if you ask what does Windows 8 look like, a plain and simple answer would be, if you are used to Windows 7 interface, the inside of Windows 8 is almost identical to Windows 7. Having said that, the overall performance of Windows 8 is an improvement from Windows 7. I have personally felt that my laptop's battery performance improved quite well after switching to Windows 8.
This is how the new start menu looks like ...
[Click on the images to enlarge]

PC account vs. signing up with Microsoft account:
For once, this is an important issue. You will normally create an account in your PC just to keep it secured from others using your PC and accessing your private files and folders. But in case of Windows 8, you will notice differences in user experience with normal PC accounts and signing in to the PC with a Microsoft Account. In each of the cases, you will notice the default apps or I would rather say the apps that are shipped with each Windows 8, having a live tile that changes with time.
With normal PC accounts, you won't be able to enter in to the Windows Store and install apps. But Microsoft account can let you install apps that you think are useful. Apps are rather different than using another desktop software. They have got a rich User Interface. You will simply love some of the apps that have amazing UI. Its more like using a smartphone, but with a larger screen.

Windows Store:
I have found this Windows Store very useful in terms of useful apps having a rich User Interface. The Windows Store is divided in to categories like Games, Sports, Entertainment, Music & Videos, Health, Foods, Shopping, Education etc. These are again divided in to Free and Paid apps categories. The number of useful apps are on the rise significantly.
Windows Store - Games category
Windows Store - Music and Sports
Windows Store - Health and Food
I just found this Windows Store fancy enough to stick with Windows 8. All of these apps have reviews and ratings. Comments also help new users to gain an insight about the User Experience of a particular app.
Being a cricket fan, I would normally follow live cricket games at espncricinfo.com. However, I have found an app just from the same organization, and following live matches with that app is wonderful.
England vs. Australia 4th Ashes match
This app would also provide me other cricketing news with live tiles. The live tiles just make the user experience eventful. On important events (like wicket fall), it provides notifications if you are away from this app.
I also love to follow football. The default sports app is amazing. It lets you choose your favorite teams. During the league season, you will be able to see updated table and points of your favorite team. Nevertheless, I have also discovered a great app from the Windows Store. THE Football App is simply marvelous as you can see in the image below.
THE Football App
The bottom line is, you will be blessed with these apps if you bless your PC with a Microsoft Account.

Desktop softwares and development tools:
This section is more for the developers and programmers. I have found most of the IDEs and compilers working pretty well and faster in Windows 8. All you have to do is to find the newer tools. I kind of faced an issue while installing an older version of CodeBlocks for my C and C++ programs. But later switched to a new version of Dev C++ called Orwell Dev C++.
Windows 8 can be a problem for embedded system developers. I found a friend of mine complaining about that. He could not work on his microcontroller stuffs because of drivers and firmware issues. This is pretty embarrassing.
Other than that, development is pretty smooth and faster on Windows 8.

Navigation on non-touch screens:
Some people complain about using Windows 8 on non-touch screen devices like personal desktop computers or laptops. The solution is quite simple. You don't have to press and hold the mouse and move it just to get a "touchy" feeling. Instead, you can just scroll or move your mouse wheel. That will work pretty good on desktop PCs. Nowadays, PC manufacturers are trying to make laptops having touch screen. These are ofcourse not tablets. HP is manufacturing touch based screen laptops, just read that in a local newspaper.

Virus and malware issues:
Perhaps the most important improvement on Windows 8 is dealing with virus and malware. Windows 8 does that pretty well. I have not yet installed a 3rd party anti-virus software. I am pretty much satisfied with the performance of "Windows Defender" that is shipped with every Windows OS. It automatically detects virus and allows you to scan your external drives. I guess most of the time people rely on free 3rd party anti-virus; they can now take a breathe, because the issue is now dealt really well by Windows Defender. And for those who wish to buy anti-virus software, surely you can, but I think you won't need it at the end of the day.

Now let us keep aside the comfortable zones. The major hiccup on Windows 8 is the disappearance of the "Start" button. What you will normally find and do by clicking the Start button in older versions like Windows 7, Vista etc. can be found in the Start screen, perhaps more than that. 
But what triggered people to lose their mind is the disappearance of the "Shut down" and "Restart" options, two most important options that you would find handy when your PC is malfunctioning. I have even heard from a senior of mine (she started using Windows 8 before me) that she used to shut down her PC using Alt+F4. That was embarrassing when I faced the same problem. I could not understand how to shut down my PC. At first I used to sign out from my account from the Start screen. Later, a Microsoft guy showed me an interesting way out.
Shut down you PC
Just put your mouse on the top-right or bottom-right corner. A "Charm Bar" will appear and from there, click the Settings menu. Then you will find something like the one I have shown in the above image. Click on the Power button. That will do.
I can only deduce the fact that, on this point, Windows 8 is uncomfortable. People loved the start menu. The start menu is gone. But that should not mean that people should sweat profusely just to shut down their PC. The "Shut Down" and "Restart" options should have been made easily accessible, perhaps in the following "Charm Bar" when we put the mouse on the top-right or bottom-right corner. Again this is just my personal opinion.
Where "Shut down" button could have made a good difference
On a general note, I think certain matters should have been considered beforehand. I believe that most of the people around the world are accustomed to Windows OS. You will find few non-tech people using Linux distributions. Most others like me cannot afford an Apple product. So lets take this fact right, the number of Windows OS users are significantly higher than others. Keeping this in mind, I often wonder what some of them would feel like, because for them, the "Start" menu is as easy as a rising sun. I have seen users in their 40s or 50s working in important position in their jobs, they would see and check twice before they click once on a button. I guess they would feel dumbfounded when they discover that there isn't any start menu to go and shut down their PC. Instead of proving your users incompetent to the changing technologies, isn't it better to keep simple things more simpler? That's what I could learn from an undergrad course called Software Engineering and Information System Design, which discusses about designing a system and evaluating its performance. God knows best.
However, you need not to worry anymore. Microsoft got the message and within 11 months, a major update arrived. Windows 8.1 is now on preview version and soon it will become available to the public. See for yourself what's new on Windows 8.1, click here for the official video. The "Start" menu is back in action. Cheers!

To conclude, I personally found Windows 8 kind of uncomfortable and hostile at the beginning. Later I found the Windows Store truly amazing after I signed up with a Microsoft account. I also found other important matters on the battery issue extremely positive. I think this post can inspire you to use Windows 8 if you aren't already.