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Windows 8, 8.1 and 8.1 update 1. Operating System for the Future or Not?

It has been a few months now since Windows 8 has been available for the general public, so I thought it would be a good time to put down my impression of Microsoft's answer to the Apple products out there.

To be fair, Microsoft have tried to come up with an operating system that looks, feels and behaves the same on all of today's modern devices, phones, tablets, net-books, notebooks and of course full size computers.

The logic behind their thinking appears sound, learn how to use one device and you will know how to use any device running the Windows operating system. Unfortunately, this is where logic and reality part company. These devices are different from each other and each device should have its own install path so that the operating system is tailored to suit each device, instead of a on size fits all approach.

Using Windows 8 is like using 2 different computers at the same time.

It starts up displaying the Metro or modern screen which is designed for use on a tablet device with touch screen using swipes and gestures. Having the Metro screen means that all applications on your computer are replicated, because for every program you have on your computer, Internet Explorer, PDF reader, Photo viewer etc, there is a corresponding Metro or modern app that does the same thing. By default, files are set to open the Metro or modern app by default. This means that if you use Adobe reader to open PDF files, you will have to re-set the default as it will most likely be set to open the Metro or modern version.

Because Metro or modern screen is designed to run on tablet computers, you will notice that there are no traditional "Close" cross in the right top corner, task bars, tool bars etc. when an app is running, because they are designed to swipe in from the top, bottom or sides to bring up options using your finger. As desktop computers don't have the ability to swipe, you have to use your mouse in a way that is totally unfamiliar to most people. To close a Metro or modern screen app, you have to move your mouse up to the top of the screen, (It then turns into a hand), then right click and drag down to the bottom of the screen. This effectively closes the app. I found quite a lot of the apps either, didn't work properly or were pretty lightweight which is to be expected as they were not meant to be used on powerful desktop machines.

The absolute lunacy of Windows 8 is that you still have your traditional Windows 7 desktop, accessible via the desktop tile on the Metro or modern screen, but they took away the start button and start menu. This means that if you are searching for a file, folder or program, on your computer, you are forced back to the Metro screen, Moving your mouse to the top or bottom corner of the screen, clicking the search icon on the "Charms Bar" and then typing in what you are looking for.

By this time, I could have opened up the file I wanted, edited it, re-saved it and sent it via email and probably received a reply in the same time it took me to get the search happening. Talk about 1 step forward and 2 steps back!

What do I think about Windows 8 so far? Well, I wouldn't be rushing out to replace my Windows 7 system. I rarely use the Metro tiles apart from playing games and checking my emails, (Live Mail does work and it gives you a tile). Locating files and programs is generally slower using the search feature than previous Windows operating systems. The Metro apps give you no indication of what you should be doing to navigate once the app is opened. It is a case of waving your mouse around the screen, trying right clicks in various places to try to figure out what to do. Most software that runs on Windows 7 will happily run on Windows 8. One notable exception is MYOB. Windows 8 will only run the latest version of MYOB, so if you are thinking about upgrading your computers and you are using an earlier version of MYOB, you will need to upgrade your MYOB software as well.

Windows 8 should have been the greatest operating system that Microsoft ever produced and it would have been, if only they had engineered it to operate as a tablet on a tablet device and a desktop computer on a traditional computer, laptop, net-book etc. They could have still included the Metro for people that want to
use it, perhaps putting an icon the desktop. If this is the way of the future then this would have been a way to introduce people to new systems gradually and allow businesses to upgrade their hardware without worrying about having to retrain their staff on things that many of them have been doing for years.

At the time of writing this article, Microsoft have announced that they will be rolling out Windows 8.1 in a service pack style upgrade. Apparently, as soon as it is available, it will be automatically downloaded the same as a normal service pack or Windows update. According to Microsoft, Windows 8.1 will address a lot of the issues that people have been having with the operating system. Hopefully, this will make Windows 8 more user friendly and the operating system of choice in the future.

Update:

Windows 8.1 was released about a year after the release of Windows and this update re-instated the start button after months of people complaining that Microsoft had removed it for no good reason. The start button is back, but all it does is open the tiled metro screen, which is not what the complaining majority wanted at all as the computer interface is so complicated now that computer users for years are struggling to do tasks that they would do without even thinking. There are a few instructions on how to do some things now, but the majority of it is still designed to be used on a tablet or phone, not on a desktop or laptop computer without touch capability. I upgraded my hybrid laptop to Windows 8.1. It broke a few things and I reverted back to Win 8 for a few months then tried again. This time, most things worked ok. There are still a lot of the Metro apps either not working or are very lightweight counterparts of their desktop cousins. Nearly all repairers, technicians and administrators are complaining about the fact that Microsoft have removed tools that were available in Windows 7, and replaced them with command line instructions. This link,  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-AU/windows-8/manage-wireless-network-profiles from Microsoft shows how you have to type "cmd" to open the command prompt and type in commands like "netsh wlan delete profile name="ProfileName"" to delete a wireless network profile. There are no Metro tiles that allow you to administer the network or connections and no indicators to tell you what to do if you want to do anything like this. In Windows 7, there is the Network & Sharing Center tool which is intuitive and can tell you at a glance whether you are connected to the Internet, network and even show you a map of how computers and devices are connected to the network. Windows has thrown this all out and instead, when you try to administer your networks, you are faced with a barren landscape where once there were tools to enable you to do the job, now they are few and underwhelming. This holds true for a lot of the Windows tools and software.

They have removed useful tools and applications and replaced them with half baked, seemingly unfinished software simply to get this new interface out in the general public. I have no doubt that Microsoft want to get rid of the desktop altogether and have everyone using the Modern or Metro Interface, the problem right now is that this interface is designed to run low power, low resource machines that are way behind even a modest computer of today.

For my money, I think I will be waiting for Windows 9 to come out and hope and pray that Microsoft come to their senses and put in an option during the installation process, that will give you the option of building a desktop computer, or a tablet computer with touch capabilities. My hope is that if you install the OS as a desktop or laptop computer, it will boot to the desktop with the start button and start menu in place, and all defaults will be desktop programs. That way users could have the interface that they know with the security and advances that Windows 8 brings to the table. They could even have an icon on the desktop called Metro that people could have a little dabble at it if they wanted to. Who knows, maybe it could be the catalyst to get all the business owners that haven't upgraded, to update their systems.

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