The personal computer era has been around for a while, for those that have missed the memo, and during that time the consumers have had very little say in the direction this industry has headed. What I mean by that is that we, as consumers did not get a say as to when advancements were needed or even wanted. We would make our purchase and suddenly 6 months to a year later find out that we “needed” to buy again. The good news for consumers however, is that over the last couple of years that has changed. The technology has been forced to slow down by more clearly defined consumer demands and software jumping off the hardware bandwagon and working with consumers instead of hardware companies to figure out what the next product needs to have.
The good news is many of the tech companies out there have figure out this shift in the way business is done and have begun to adapt. They have changed the business model from telling consumers what they want to instead listing to what consumers want. However a few old die-hards have decided that they know best and we should listen to them, drink what they tell us as it were.
We can see some of this in todays offerings for consumer level computers. We could start with Apple and spend the entire article there, this is basically their business model and always has been. However I think we should instead focus on Microsoft. Windows 8 is an old story so I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about the OS itself. I have covered that pretty well I think and if you missed the three articles I did on it feel free to browse the archives and read them. However I will focus on their efforts to change the way we look at a computer.
Now let me explain this a bit before I make my point. You see Microsoft has always made an effort to help define the image of a what people see as a personal computer. It was after all in their best interest to exercise some level of control in this area. However up until recently that control has been a quiet guiding hand. To use the popular phrase, they led us to water but never forced us to drink. That however has begun to change.
Microsoft has launched a number of sites that are supposed to be designed to help the lay people, such as many of you, make a good choice when it comes to getting a new PC. On the surface this sounds like a great idea, something to help people see the choices they have and help them make solid decisions. We do this all the time on the show and people find it helpful. That would be good it did offer real choices. Every one of these setups I have looked at only offer laptops, tablets or all in one systems. Now this would not be bad except many of these recommendations are being listed as good for gaming. NONE of the recommendations I saw would make a good gaming PC for any but the most casual gamer. Also what about other form factors?
Thing this is just because of the move to Windows 8? You would be wrong, this started before that. Go back and look at the various Windows commercials were Microsoft talks about helping people buy a new PC. Every one of them were laptop and all in one models. You did not even seen an HTPC or tower configuration system in the videos.
One of the things I have always loved about the PC and the PC world is the freedom of choice. You can have a PC that is HUGE or tiny. One that is designed for pure hard core gaming or design for only light web browsing. Companies would offer us a range of choices, often to our dismay because we had so many but still we had choices. Over the years as the focus has shifted from hardware to software we have seen those choices diminish, not in a bad way. We have found that the budget system, at least the cost of it we used to pay, now buys us a more powerful machine. This has caused some overlap in the type of PC we buy but that is a natural progression. A natural change to the way we see PCs might not be something we like but I for one can accept it. However when we see companies that have traditionally let the market direct the path with them offering gentle nudges, switch to heavy handed tactics of forcing a direction, this is a problem to me.
Is our hobby moving to smaller form factors, well of course it is, I mean why do you think our build series is looking at ITX designs? However we can make this move in a way that does not limit our choices. Small Form factor of today is not the same as yesterday. Heck even yesterday was not that bad. Back in 2008 when enthusiasts said you needed a full tower to build a “real” gaming rig, I did a build we called the Itsy Bitsy Might Spider. This was a full powered gaming rig built in a micro ATX case. Now we see the move to even smaller, but the key here is that we can make this move without making a sacrifice. That is not the choice given to us today by some in the industry.
This of course is all my opinion and I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Email in your comments or post them here under comments for this entry. Any comments of course might be used on the air for further discussion on this topic.
With well over a month plus of full time use in Windows 8 by not just myself but my entire family I felt we would end the year with a look at our impressions. This was not a review sampling like most Windows 8 articles where the reviewer spent time in a controlled use to evaluate. This is letting a geek, a non geek and an 8 year old as well as my two very non-geek 20+ year old kids spend time using their computers with nothing but Windows 8 and talking to them about their experiences. Microsoft is claiming with their statistics and focus groups that people are getting use to it, lets see how that is working in the real world.
We begin with my wife Lisa, a computer user, even a pretty serious computer gamer but not a geek by any stretch of the imagination. In fact I would say with the exception of her gaming she is pretty close to a typical user. She uses the computer to check email, look at news, spends time of Facebook, does her banking and listens to music.
When we talked about her experiences with Windows 8, she told me how at first glance it looked like a better way to use Windows. She likes the fact that the programs she wants to use is easy to find, right in front of here, not a small icon that gets lost in a cluttered desktop or the start menu. She then explained that while it looked easier to her it did not feel that way. You see almost everything she does on her computer makes use of programs that drop her back to the desktop, she told me it feels like the computer has to take an extra step to function. Then of course when she closes the program she has to take the extra step to get the computer back to the Start screen.
Since one of her primary uses is the Internet, I asked why she was not using IE in the new interface. She explained to me that it felt odd, it was harder for her to access her bookmarks or even just make quick choices in internet browsing, she did however like IE10 in it’s desktop version and that is her browser of choice. In fact of the two apps for the new interface that she does use she has issues. The first is the mail app which she has all but abandon. She feels it is just a crappy program that is hard for her to use, she finds just going to the new Outlook.com site is much easier for her. She also makes use of the news app which she likes the idea behind but hates the way it works. She told me it feels to closed since it lacks the ability for you to add your own news sources, limited to just what MS choice for you. She also hated the fact it is hard to share what you find. The app kind of “pens you in to what they want you to see” we her words. She hates that she cannot print an article or easily email it to someone.
We talked a little about SkyDrive and she does like the new system. She loves how easy it is for her to share pictures with family. No more mailing out the same think 10 times or hoping the people you want to see them uses Facebook. She just shares a folder and emails everyone the linking letting them pic what they want to download. Again however she saw no need for the app, saying it seemed easier for her to work with through the browser right at the site.
I then asked if she wanted me to put her back on Windows 7. “No, I am finally getting used to this and can work with it as it is. Overall it does the job and I do like the new look better.”
Next up is my 8 year old Raymond. Raymond does not care about how a computer works or what an OS does, he wants one thing, to play his games. He loves some of the game apps we have found like Jetpack Joyride, ARMED! and Pinball FX2. However, like his mom he does not like the fact that his favorite games such as Minecraft, Pirates 101 and Age of Empires Online require him to figure out how to get back to start when he is done playing. Even after more than a month of use he gets lost sometimes at the desktop.
My two older girls are also making use of Windows 8 when they come over and have mixed feelings. My oldest daughter uses IE in the new interface and likes it but then again she only goes to Facebook and that is it. She also likes the mail and people apps that show her updates without her having to go look for them. Another feature she likes is the profile sharing system used in Windows 8. She can use her computer at home or the system at my house and her basic information, the stuff she really needs follows her.
The younger of the two girls is a photo buff and she is not thrilled with Windows 8. Again as we have heard from others she likes the new look but she hates the default photo viewer. She does like the fact it ties in her various photo storage locations and accounts but for her the default viewer is to limited and just not easy to make use of beyond seeing a picture. She would have preferred they take the work they did with the photo viewer in Live Essentials and used it here instead. As for her web use, like her sister she is content with using the new interface version of IE 10 but again she really goes to Facebook and maybe some YouTube but that is about it.
The screen shown at the start of this entry is my Start Screen. As you can see about half of the icons on the screen link back to programs that go to desktop mode. That half BTW is about 80% of my computer use. I have found I loathe the new interface version of IE, the icon is just there and never gets hit. I hate the new email program but because I have five different addresses I need to stay in constant contact with I use it. It gets the job done but that is the only good thing I can say about it.
Of the new interface apps I do like the news app is near the top of my list. I agree with my wife that I would like to add a few more sources that I have found over the years but overall I get a pretty good source selection from the defaults. It is easy to give me a customized news feed, even if I want something less worldly like the local high school news. I can tell you I use this app every day to look for news stories for the show and just to keep up on what is going on in the world. I wish it would allow me to easily print a story but that is the only shortcoming for my use.
I have found an app that I am putting a lot of use into and that is the My Plate app, which does a solid job of helping me track what I eat so I can eat smarter. While not a default app it is free and shows that there are some good app ideas out there for using this interface. The truth however is that I spend about 90% of my computer use time on the Desktop and as I said over a month ago I hate the kludgy feel of having to take the extra step to get back to the Start Screen.
Since I am a geek I also look at more than the interface. Windows 8 is leaning, meaner and faster as an OS than Windows 7 and it shows as you use the computer. Every task I do has more snap to it. I really love the changes to the file Explorer, especially the information you get when doing file moving and the ability to pause a big file move if you need to. The built in security software may not be winning awards or be the most powerful but I have found it solid enough for everyday use. Out of all the families computers there have been zero malware infections in about a month and a half and trust me, not everyone in this family is wise about what they install or the sites they visit.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that Microsoft is saying their information tells them people are getting used to the new Windows, I think they are correct. However unlike them I think this is NOT a good thing. The entire family loves the look and idea behind the new interface, however all of us also hate the fact that using a Desktop app is not seamless and is actually clunky in the way it works. What they are really getting used to is not so much the new interface, that is actually pretty easy, but rather having their OS not work like it should. We are working around a problem, not liking what We have.
None of the kids nor my wife want to give up Windows 8 but not because it is awesome and super, but rather because they do not want the hassle of going back. They like some of Windows 8 and the stuff they do not like they can work around easier than having to redo the system. I know people from MS are probably not reading this but they should, THIS is what people are getting used too.
In the end I guess the question is, would I recommend Windows 8? The answer is not a simple yes or no. If you are a Facebook user, basically you go on Facebook, check emails and maybe listen to some music or watch a show then yes. I think Windows 8 offers for that type of user a very clean and easy to use interface and a great computing experience. If however you use your computer for more and often use programs that will require a drop to desktop then I would say no. The new interface is intriguing but if you are not going to use it then the cost of the upgrade is not justified. Even at the current low price it is now.
Microsoft wanted to do something new, to put some freshness back into Windows and I applaud them for their effort. However at the end of the day while they may have succeeded they did so at the bare minimum and that is just sad. With only a little tweaking Windows 8 could have been a solid if not marginally compelling upgrade, what they delivered fell short of that goal. What makes it even worse is Microsoft seems to know this. Look at the Windows 8 ads, they are all glitz and show but never give you anything that says I need to get Windows 8. Then look at the new Windows Phone ads, these have some substance and show us why Windows Phone is a good choice. It is pretty obvious from this that Microsoft is more comfortable telling us about the Phone than the PC OS.
You will notice I did not spend time talking about touch screens. The reason is simple, most of us do not have them on our PC and I do not think most want them. My conclusions have nothing to do with touch devices because the majority of you do not use a touch PC. You might have a tablet but lets be real that is a different beast.
Microsoft if you want us to move to Windows 8 on our PCs you need to get some perspective and stop listening to your own press and PR hype, look at the reality. I will not tell any PC user to stay away from Windows 8, there is some good stuff here. However I will not suggest to any PC user to move to Windows 8, there is not enough here to make it worth finding a way around the stuff that still needs to be tweaked.
Now the title of this article is a bit misleading, so let me clarify. I have been using Windows 8 on various test rigs since the initial beta release, so I have a lot more than 80 hours into Windows 8. However since my last entry when I “live blogged” as I was setting up Windows 8 on my primary machine I have put in over 80 hours of active use with Windows 8.
In that 80+ hours I have done a ton of everyday work such as email, web browsing, gaming, audio and video editing, software testing writing and more. So I feel confident in saying that I have put the OS through the ringer this week and wanted to follow up last weeks article.
When I first reviewed Windows 8 for the show I discussed that I did not like the cludgy feel of the transition between the Metro interface and the desktop. Last week I talked about ways to help with that and they do but not enough for my tastes. There is still this stark jump between the interfaces when you use either an App or a Program. (Apps are programs designed to run in Metro and Programs in this definition are designed to run from the desktop.)
Basically what is happening is Microsoft tried to segregate the two interfaces while bussing them in at the same time. Sounds like the way schools were running in the South in the 60s, it did not work well then and it does not now.
For my testing I have been spending a lot of time using the Metro interface and actually find a few apps I like such as the News and Weather apps. If I open them in the Metro interface and exit them I am taken back to the Start Screen as I should. However lets say I want to use a program such as playing Borderlands or even using Microsoft Office. When I do that the OS transitions to the Desktop and I use the program, okay that cools. However when I exit the program it drops me to the empty desktop with no preamble. It does not seem to know I am using the Metro interface and thus kind of tosses me out and makes me make the journey back to the interface.
Now what happens if I by pass the Metro interface and use Start8 to give me a nice start menu. The programs work as they should and all seems well with the world, that is until I use an App. You see those Apps can be easily added to the Start menu in Start8 and as I said a few of them to be are very useful. So I kick up the news app and it runs as it normally does and all is well. That is until I exit it and then it dumps be back into the Metro Start screen and leaves me there until I tell the OS to go back to the desktop.
Microsoft has stated from the start that the Desktop version was designed to introduce the Metro style and integrate it with the desktop experience. Yet what they have given us seems to work hard at segregating the two experiences.
Now let me be clear I am not an OS programmer so I will not pretend to understand the underlying code of the OS. However it would seem to me that this experience could have been much better presented. For example, with the default operation of the OS being that of the Metro interface I would expect MS could have designed the desktop to go back to the Metro screen once the program that was run was closed, this should not have been hard to put into place. In fact it SHOULD have been in place from day one.
Microsoft and the rest of the OS world is moving to this new interface style, we all acknowledge that. However they also acknowledge that many programs today do not make use of that style efficiently. Okay that is cool but why can we not run them as they do now and just jump back to the new interface when the program is done?
This cludgy feel is made even worse when you realize Microsoft has a number of very popular programs that should be integrated into this interface smoothly and are not. So it is easy to see that many people feel like this was meant to be a tablet or phone OS and that Microsoft plugged in desktop compatibility as an afterthought, however I am going to disagree.
You see I think those pundits and critics have it backwards. I think Microsoft designed a desktop OS and then made a decision to add the Metro interface to it. The reason for my belief of this is the fact that the core OS underneath is basically Windows 7 with a lot of optimization and clean up. There is a very solid and efficient desktop OS in Windows 8 but it is hidden under the Metro Interface.
So how do we fix this experience? My opinion is Microsoft needs to, as my grandma used to say, “Shit or get off the pot!” The integration should be finished and this is obviously not. The OS should make the transition between the two interfaces with a bit more grace should not work so hard to keep the two sides apart.
Now I am sure there are a hundred different tips and tricks out there to help with this ranging from third party apps to registry hacks, but we should not need them. I am not talking about getting back the Start button, MS made clear they want it gone. They need to make the OS function the way it should based on their own design.
Does this view mean I will stop using Windows 8? No, I am happy with the OS overall. The underlying changes are really nice, the OS feels snappier and as I said I have grown quite fond of a few of the apps. I hate a few others but that another entry for another day.
After 80+ hours of use I can tell you the OS is very stable and I have had zero real usability issues. My games all play as they should, the driver support is outstanding with all my hardware working perfectly.
Should you upgrade to Windows 8? That is a tougher call. For the majority that have Windows 7 I would say no. For most people they want to just use their PC and do not want to learn a new interface, especially one that actually forces you to be the go between for two interfaces. However as I said last week there are some people that would benefit. If you are a web browsing, Facebooking, casual PC user then Windows 8 has a lot to like with the snappier feel and a simpler interface. If you are the hardcore geek that wants to explore a new OS then this is for sure a great way to go. For the rest I would hold off for now.