Some of you know me enough to know that I have a serious retro streak. Back in the ‘70s, when I was a ham radio operator, I hung out with a group that favored tube-based equipment over the newer, solid-state stuff. Tubes were more robust, we said, and could handle a wider variety of conditions:
As a cyclist, I favor friction-shifting systems with down-tube levers, and my current main bike runs center-pull calipers and has a Brooks-style leather saddle. And fenders. You get the idea.
I use fountain pens and paper. And cloth handkerchiefs. I wear wool sweaters. My car (yes, I have a car) has a manual transmission.
In the ‘80s, I bought a computer that ran CP/M and worked on making it faster and better than the DOS machines that were all around us. Then in ‘89 I bought a DOS machine, and until 1995, resisted the plague of GUIs.
Then, in 1995, I got a job as a computer programmer. And at least in the digital domain, everything changed.
I have used every version of Microsoft Windows since 3.0, and every version of Windows NT since 3.51. And I’ve kept up, in spite of the scares. Windows ME was actually pretty good, in spite of all the nasty reviews. And I liked Windows Vista! I did! Though eventually I switched to 7.
A couple of weeks ago, Halloween morning in fact, in a fit of optimism, I downloaded and installed Windows 8, and I’ve been playing with it since. It’s pretty cool.
It runs at least as well on my E350-based ThinkPad X120e as Win7 did. Most of the changes, near as I can tell, are interface-based, but I’m just getting into it. But let’s look at that interface.
There are two—the desktop, which is a slightly reduced version of the Win7 interface, and the “native” interface, which is really intended for touch screens.
I tried to like the native interface. I might have like it better if my machine had a larger touchpad (it’s seriously tiny). I might have liked it better if my machine had a more “standard” screen resolution (1366×768 means that there isn’t a setup within Win8, near as I can tell, that allows me to divide apps so they don’t overlap the right side of the screen). I even bought a large (5”) touchpad to try, but I kept getting screwed up by gestures.
The aps work well, but I feel like I’ve lost a lot of brain cells when I use them. I’m used to more “universal” tools, like browsers. Apps replace browsers, but on a site-by-site basis, so there’s an app for Hulu, an app for Netflix, an app for eBay, and so forth. And the apps tend to be significantly less feature-rich than the websites to which they are linked.
Now, if you have tablet, this would not be bad. Tap on what you want, the limited controls are right there. In fact, I tried a ThinkPad Twist at Staples the other day, and it was pretty cool in tablet mode. And if you had a huge touchscreen on the wall? It would be magnificent.
But! Be aware that the version of Internet Explorer launched from the tablet screen does not support Flash, which can break things. Fortunately, the Desktop-launched version of IE does support Flash. I was worried for some time about not being able to remotely log in to my work machine! But Desktop IE to the rescue. I’m also told that there’s a remote access app you can get in the Win8 store (another tile!).
But I have an 11.6”notebook in front of me, no touchscreen at all. So after playing with the apps interface for a while, I switched back to the Desktop (Win7-like) interface. There’s just one problem with the Desktop.
Well, there are several, but the one that bothered me most was the lack of a Start button/orb/menu. I really used that on my machine, and not having it had me looking around for ways to launch my programs (I keep my most-frequently-used stuff on a taskbar along the left side of the screen, but I need access to the other stuff without hunting for it too much).
The other thing is that if you pop the cursor into the corners of the screen, various menus pop out at you. That’s fine in tablet mode, but more than a little disconcerting when you’re trying to do something else. The window pops over whatever you’re working on.
I installed a program called Classic Shell and, for all intents and purposes, Win7 is back with a slightly new look:
One thing that I really do like about the Desktop is that Glass is (pretty much) gone. Getting rid of that kind of visual glitz probably helps lower the system load considerably (though be warned that the tablet version can have “live” tiles for apps, which means that the tiles return information from the underlying applications (for example, the pictures app flips through everything in your pictures library) and this can be both distracting and—I suspect—CPU-intensive. As you can see, Classic Shell enables launching of apps as well as programs from the start menu, too.
Now, the less good. Video performance—playback on YouTube or Hulu or NetFlix—seems to be more hit-and-miss, though this may be a question of the video driver not yet being up to snuff (or not yet being correctly adjusted). I also installed the preview for Office 13, and I’m not much impressed. Apparently, Word can now edit PDF files…big whoop. Outlook does not do very well, and I’ve gone back to using Outlook 2010.
Win8 has been incredibly stable, all things considered. Oh, did I mention that virus protection is now baked in? Surprising that the antivirus companies haven’t raised the kind of stink that went up when IE got built into the OS, but hey…
Let’s give it a little time.