Like I’m sure many of you are, I’m frequently the go-to guy for technology recommendations among my network of family and friends. Aside from the longtime favorite question, “what phone should I buy?”, the most prevalent questions are about Windows 8. It seems like Windows 8 has been a long time coming. In fact, it has; the incredibly successful Windows 7 is now over three years old, and it’s been over a year since the first preview release of Windows 8 was first released to the public. I’ve personally been using Windows 8 in one form or another for that long. With that in mind, I’m going to share my personal opinion on Microsoft’s latest, and hopefully provide some guidance in determining if Windows 8 is a good choice for you.
If you don’t know the first thing about Windows 8, I’ll leave it to Microsoft to educate you on that. This post is written assuming you have a general understanding of the direction Microsoft has taken with their latest release.
For A New Computer
We’re now well past the college-buying season during which many people spring for a new machine, but we’re entering the even larger holiday buying season. You might be shopping for a new PC for yourself or a family member. If you’ve already decided that a Mac is the right choice for you, why are you even reading this post? Assuming you’re sticking with the lower prices and great hardware choices available in the Windows ecosystem, I think it’s pretty clear that Windows 8 is a safe bet on new hardware. The fast boot and instant sleep/wake times are guaranteed to shine on new hardware equipped with UEFI. The Windows 8 desktop is an upgrade to the desktop in Windows 7 – you’re not losing anything. If you must, Start8 is a fine choice to restore the traditional Start-menu feel, but honestly, just get over it. :-) Give yourself two weeks and you won’t even notice the difference.
For Your Computer
This largely depends on a few factors. One is price – did you buy your PC after June 2nd of this year? If so, you can upgrade for just $14.99 – and I’d argue that this makes the price factor essentially non-existent. If not, you can upgrade any PC running Windows XP, VIsta, or 7 for just $39.99 (a limited-time price), so if that sounds reasonable enough, make the decision quickly to lock in that low price.
Windows 8 essentially requires a clean install upgrade for XP and Vista users (thankfully). This means that you’ll be left with a clean and fast install of Windows 8, with your files intact – you’ll just need to reinstall some programs, but with more and more of our day-to-day activities happening in the browser, this will likely be trivial. From Windows 7, you can do an in-place upgrade and keep your applications, which works well in my experience assuming your Windows 7 install is pretty clean. That said, I’d still recommend going with the clean option (this is referred to as “keep my files” in the Windows 8 installer, versus “keep applications and files”).
Assuming your Windows 8 upgrade goes off without a hitch (and I’ve yet to hear any circumstances in which it wouldn’t), you’ll have a fresh OS with some really great features for either $15 or $40 and less than an hour of your time. I’d argue that this is the best Windows upgrade scenario ever. From a technical perspective, I’ve had to download and install zero drivers on any of the PCs I’ve installed Windows 8 RTM on. Zero. That’s huge, and represents the great lengths Microsoft has gone to to ensure widespread hardware support.
As always, if your PC works fine, it’s not imperative that you upgrade. To me, the following reasons make it the most worthwhile for desktop and laptop users:
- Seriously fast boot, sleep, and wake. It’s not hyperbole – it really is faster than Windows 7, which was already a huge improvement over Vista.
- Desktop push notifications – finally, Windows has the same type of instant, unobtrusive notifications that have graced Android, Windows Phone, and iOS for years. If you’re using the native Messaging, Mail, Calendar, and other Metro apps that support notifications, you’ll get nice pop-up notifications in the upper right of the screen. Calendar appointments appear on the lockscreen as well.
- Xbox Music – you’ll get free streaming (like Spotify, but far less obnoxious, in a beautiful service that integrates with your Xbox 360.
- File copying. It’s finally done right – running two jobs at once, or adding on additional files and folders to a job, no longer screws up the whole thing. It finally gives accurate time estimates and shows a nice chart of your speeds.
- Refresh your PC – some (crazy) people like to reinstall Windows all the time. This option does it for you, keeping all of your files intact, taking a 2-3 hour process down to 10-15 minutes.
- Cloud syncing - it’s nice that Microsoft has finally let you use the same Microsoft account (formerly Live ID) to sign in on all your PCs, syncing settings, Metro apps, wallpaper, and more. It’s really nice. The SkyDrive integration is solid as well.
- Built in security – Microsoft has long offered Security Essentials for free, and it provides simple, effective security. However, due to lack of education or some other reason, I still see people paying high prices for bloated products from Norton, McAfee, and the like. Windows 8 takes it a step further – Security Essentials has been rolled into the new Windows Defender in Windows 8. You never need to even think about security software again.
Overall, Windows 8 is a well priced, well featured, and largely painless upgrade. If you’re scared to death of change or are too biased against it to give it a chance, I’d obviously recommend you skip it (but in that case, why are you reading this article anyway?) For most people, I think Windows 8 will start making your life easier after a one to two-week adjustment period.
Tablets are a huge part of Microsoft’s Windows 8 push, as evidenced by the recent onslaught of Surface commercials. If you like what Microsoft is offering with their ecosystem, there are essentially two choices – ARM tablets and x86 tablets, the former offering lower prices, greater portability and battery life while the latter compromises slightly in these areas while maintaining the ability to run traditional desktop programs and use Microsoft’s excellent stylus support for handwriting in apps like OneNote.
I’m not yet about to say that Windows 8 powered tablets are the ultimate solution, but I’ll be getting a Samsung x86 Windows tablet shortly and will have more to share. At present, the incredible portability and battery life of the Nexus 7 are serving me well, and I’m not sure how I’ll end up using a larger tablet. Since Microsoft is focusing on larger tablets, they won’t be competing in the fast growing space that the Nexus 7, Kindle, and soon-to-launch iPad mini occupy.
Windows 8 is far from perfect. In fact, I would have definitely made several choices differently if I had a say in its development. I don’t feel that removing the start menu was necessary – while not terrible, it’s also an easy way to scare new users who are reluctant to experiment with new software. In addition, I feel that some aspects of the new Metro design language have gone too far. The flat style that application windows have doesn’t look any better to me than the previous Aero design in Windows 7. I actually enjoyed using Flip 3D, so I am disappointed they removed that feature. Certain desktop Metro applications – like Office 2013 and Visual Studio – feel awkward at first, with ALL CAPS used in UNUSUAL PLACES as part of the typography.
The fact that Windows 8 is so affordable, and the fact that there is very little truly wrong with it, is what makes it fairly easy for me to recommend to most people. That said, I always encourage people to experiment and find the platform that works best for them. If you work better in Ubuntu, OS X, or even Windows 7, that’s what you should use. I’d also encourage you to have an open mind about combining ecosystems – I spend equal time in Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu) and Windows 8, while using an Android phone and tablet and Google cloud services. There’s no reason why you can’t combine the products and services that work best for you. And it’s easier than ever to make that happen.
If you have any questions, reach me via email.