Windows 8 First Month Review: Installation and Interface

Contributing Editor
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Windows 8 Review

Windows 8 Review

Three years have passed since I reviewed Windows 7. The OS was well received but, after the Vista debacle, Microsoft’s flagship OS could only get better. Can Windows 8 improve user perceptions further? Microsoft sold four million copies of Windows 8 in first four days and 40 million in the first month. Depending on who you believe, sales are either sluggish or out-pacing previous editions.

While you’ve probably seen many Windows 8 reviews, I wanted to impart my impressions after using it daily since its launch on October 26. I’m using Windows 8 Professional on a standard PC with dual monitors (not touch-screens), keyboard and mouse. For the record, I’ve been using Windows since version 2 and MS-DOS prior to that; I like to consider myself reasonably competent at navigating Microsoft’s Operating Systems.

This is a long review split into three parts. In part one we’ll look at pricing, installation and the new interface. Part two discusses software, security and stability. The final summary covers productivity and performance.

Windows 8 Pricing

Windows 8 pricing is competitive compared to its predecessors and discounted until February 2013. If you’re happy to download a 2.6GB ISO and burn your own disks, head over to Windows.com where you can upgrade from any version of XP, Vista or 7 to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99 / £24.99 / 29,99€. Those who bought a PC recently can save a little more money at windowsupgradeoffer.com.

If you’d prefer the boxed retail version containing the 32 and 64-bit versions:

Windows 8 Installation

As you’d expect, Windows 8 installation is relatively pain-free. You can select to upgrade from XP, Vista or 7 but I’d always recommend a clean install to de-clutter your hard disk. Answer a few options and Windows 8 will be booting 30 minutes later.

Windows 8 is based on Windows 7; you’re unlikely to suffer from driver compatibility issues and the installation recognizes most hardware. In theory. I was initially missing sound until a BIOS update arrived but, admittedly, this was on a new PC. Most devices were recognized without issues.

Finally, Windows 8 may be a new OS, but Microsoft has already issued a plethora of updates. Be prepared to download a gigabyte of patches following your first boot.

Windows 8 Interface

The interface is the primary reason you’ll either love or hate Windows 8. From here on, I’ll be referring to the tiled Start screen and apps as “Metro”. Microsoft cannot name it that for legal reasons, but I life’s too short to refer to it as “Windows 8 UI style”.

You’ve probably seen the new Windows Metro start screen featuring app tiles but here’s a reminder:

Windows 8 Metro

Tiles are either shortcuts to standard applications or Metro Apps which can feature live, automatically-updating information such as weather reports or stock prices. You can rearrange tiles by dragging or right-click to resize, remove or uninstall.

Lurking behind Metro is the standard Windows desktop. You can switch to it using the ‘Desktop’ link, the Windows key on your keyboard or launching any standard (non-Metro) application.

Windows 8 desktop

While Windows 7 features such as taskbar pinning, jumplists and (Aero) peek are available, Microsoft has de-cluttered Windows to remove features no one used. Like the Start button. Start has been a core part of the OS for 17 years but it can rapidly become a jumbled mess of random application links. That said, I’m one of those people who actively organized shortcuts into a logical hierarchy and I missed the Start button initially. However, you’ll find yourself pinning essential shortcuts to the taskbar and desktop — it soon becomes a distant memory.

The Windows 8 Metro Start screen is the new Start button. You can return to Metro by clicking your keyboard’s Windows key, moving the mouse to the bottom-left of the screen and clicking the popup, or opening the Charms menu and clicking the Start icon (Win+C or move the mouse to the top or bottom-right corner of the screen).

When I first opened a standard desktop application I thought there was a problem with my graphics card; windows are plain rectangles without Aero transparency. While I liked the attractive Vista/7 view, I always considered it to be an unnecessary resource hog. It seems Microsoft agreed:

Windows 8 desktop

It reminds me of Windows Home Basic or — dare I say it — Windows 3.1. It’s reasonably attractive and you can make basic changes to the color scheme but, as the screenshot above illustrates, it can be a little difficult to determine window edges. I often find myself changing the dimensions of the wrong window.

Desktop gadgets have also been consigned to the Windows graveyard. They were never particularly popular although I had a few useful ones which I’ll miss. Microsoft wants you to use Metro apps instead…

So what is a Metro app? In essence, it’s an application with a simplified interface which runs full-screen. Several are provided, such as Mail, Calendar, Weather and Bing search:

Windows 8 Metro app

The Windows Store offers many more. Apps can also be docked to the left or right of the screen so you can use two at once.

While Metro apps may be useful for smartphones and tablets, I dislike them on a PC. The first problem: other than games, how many apps do you want to run full-screen? A typical example is Skype — the standard desktop interface isn’t great but the Metro edition is shocking. Even on a 24″ monitor, you can only view around six contacts at a time and it’s impossible to chat, send an instant message or upload a file at the same time. This isn’t necessarily an issue on smaller devices where you’re performing a single task, but is fundamentally flawed on a multi-tasking desktop PC.

Another irritating problem: all Metro apps show a splash screen. Why do I need to see a full-screen calendar icon immediately after I’ve clicked it? It may only appear for a second or two, but it’s impossible to switch it off.

Next issue: Metro apps scroll horizontally. Again, this possibly feels more natural on a tablet where you can swipe, but it’s bizarre on a PC. For example, your mouse’s vertical scroll wheel moves the screen left and right.

Discover-ability is another flaw. I’m all for simplifying interfaces, but Metro apps often favor simplicity over practicality. Consider the Windows 8 Reader app. Microsoft has finally realized the world is using PDF documents and provided a built-in reader. It’s fast and reasonably slick. However, once you’ve viewed a PDF, there’s a strong possibility you’ll want to print it. But there’s no menu. Right-clicking displays viewing options, but no print icon. I thought there must be a licensing issue until a Google search revealed that I needed to open the Charms menu, click the Devices icon, choose a printer and hit ‘Print’. That’s right — a single toolbar icon has been replaced by a mouse gesture followed by four clicks. The bloated Adobe Reader is back on my system.

Finally, how do you close Metro apps? You need to move your mouse to the top of the screen, click to grab the app, then drag/swipe off the bottom. Is that really better than a single click on an ‘X’ icon? I’ve started using Alt+F4 for the first time ever.

Despite my negativity, there’s no need to use Metro apps. I rarely do and spend 99% of my time on the standard Windows desktop.

Microsoft has attempted to create a unified operating system which works on PCs and small-screen devices. In reality, Metro and desktop mode are distinctly different interfaces and it can be jarring to switch between the two. While the tablet market is growing as quickly as the PC market falls, the new interface is disorientating for existing Windows users. It becomes easier over time but, for the first time in many years, Windows 8 made me feel like an IT novice.

In part two we’ll discuss Windows 8 software, security and stability…

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Windows 8 Review

Windows 8 First Month Review: Software, Security and Stability >>Windows 8 First Month Review: Productivity and Performance >>

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  • SPM

    (QUOTE)
    Microsoft has de-cluttered Windows to remove features no one used. Like the Start button.
    (UNQUOTE)

    So I take it nobody ran any Windows programs then.

    • John

      I thought that was sarcasm!

    • Ben

      I know right! I may not access anything from the all programs in start menu, but I ALWAYS press the windows key and then type the program name to search.

      Remove clutter from a tucked away list, and replace it with a mash of tiles that all look the same and fill up the screen in no particular order? That is the BEST solution ever! /sarcasm.

      I’ve used windows 8 a bit; but won’t upgrade my development OS from 7 any time soon. It’s unintuitive for those who already know windows back to front.

      • dcads

        It’s dangerous what a little to no knowledge can do. You can still press the windows key and start typing for your software. You can drag the tiles to reorder, re-size them and pin them or remove them.

        Win 8 is a pain, but the truth should at least be used when commenting about the letdowns of Win8.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      There was a subtle hint of sarcasm, but it is possible to use Windows without touching the Start button in any version. I still miss it a little but there are several free and commercial options to bring it back too … I might need to post an article about that!

      • msruby64

        I’ve installed Windows 8 on one of my computers, and it’s really like having 2 operating systems. For those who like Windows 7, you can simply operate in the old tried and true desktop mode. No need to even use the Metro apps if you don’t want to. For the Start button, I highly recommend Stardock’s plugin ($4.95) that brings back the functionality of the Start button, universal search, plus more. I understand that the Metro interface can be jarring for all of us, but it should work great on touch screens, and the old desktop works great on traditional PCs. I don’t see that all the hatred to Win8 is justified.

      • Stevie D

        I have a huge number of programs installed on my PC, some of which I use only very rarely. The Start menu is the obvious place for these – I don’t want the icons cluttering up my desktop, whether it’s the ‘classic’ desktop or Metro tiles. Like Craig, I prefer to spend a few minutes organising my Start menu so that it does what I want it to, and I get fed up with successive OS and program systems that take that control away from me, or at least make it more difficult to have that control.

  • reg

    simply put.. either on their own accord or were put up to it… windows 8 is designed with a new paradigm in mind … its not for those who have brought microsoft the billions and billions of dollars in revenues up to this period in its existance .. but is for those generations to come and who will mostly be zombies in the oncoming tech age .. with exception to the few geniuses ..that sprout from such… so.. with that said… dont blame microsoft nor bill gates.. they are pretty much moot.. yesteryear … blame the doinks who now control them.. for its them who want this floating turd to swim upstream … hope this helps :) .. have a nice day

    • vaughnlm

      In one word from our IT department . . . S-U-C-K-S
      In one sentence . . . Just invested in all new Apple devises across the board, yes expensive, but you have lost us completely.
      In one paragraph . . . Does anyone work in IT at MS? In the real world where mass deployment of new pc’s with this kind of change in the operating system interface . . . (hello) who pays for the training on just how to turn off this Win8 station? Not you MS. Lets just say that due to antiquated software programs, that you’re forced to continue using (XP pro sp3) in 85% of the stations in your organization . . . which is due to come to a screaming halt in 2014 or sooner . . . . and as a new engine you want to sell us Win8.
      I have come to loath MS products . . . always using IT as your go to work force for training and updates . . . taking up our valuable time and resources. No MORE . . . reg stated that MS wants Win8 to float up stream . . . it is already at the bottom.
      Ok it was slightly more than a paragraph . . .

      • the

        what

  • sjk

    I hate, loth, detest and despise this new OS! Give me a break! Not everyone uses the new touch screen devices. I use cad and photography software on a PC and this new interface sucks for productivity. What I used to do in one click now takes 3-4 mouse clicks and/or keyboard strokes. Things I need are buried so deep I feel like I am on scavenger hunt looking for it. Give me back my Windows 7. For what I do it was faster and way more stable. I started on DOS many years ago and have come up through the ranks. I am not a wimp, I endured Vista! Please MS, at least put some of the small stuff back on that made Win 7 so great for the PC user! JMHO

  • Jimmy

    I agree with a lot of this.
    I’m a Microsoft fan but I think with Windows 8 they’ve ignored the number one market they’ve had a massive hold of for year and that’s enterprise level and hard core coding.

    Windows 8 seems better for tablet but why would they deploy the same functionality to desktop. It’s bizarre.

    Couldn’t the OS operate in two version or two views?

    Windows 7 could have just had enhancements for enterprise level and been sufficient.

  • Sami_g

    the comments were useful indeed!Waiting for part 2!

  • g

    The worst windows ever seen…

  • http://mypollywogs.com Diane Jezewski

    This is the worst operating system yet. I had issues with print drivers, this program does not know how to remove an device and disassociate the drivers, thus it still thinks the printer is on there. You cannot run the third party Mozilla mail with it, had to use Zimbra mail, had issues Quickbooks 2013, unknown errors. This is operating system is geared toward tweens..give us a break. I put a shortcut on mine to look like the old desktop. Microsoft doesn’t even have Office 2013 ready for the 8 users.

  • Kris

    Thanks craig for posting this.

    Well, I like the time 14:00 (you use 24 hours watch,great).

    I have tried Win8 and amazed on a thing that Microsoft put nowhere a feedback tool. Is this really not understandable that Microsoft put less effort to take user-input then Mozilla. As you see someone can post review on Connect but most of them very easily closed as “No found and unable to reproduce” .

    For me Their is a lot of trouble I figure out when I tried win8.

    1. You need to go with Adobe Bridge for file preview with size-width and many thing else. You can do custom settings in explorer.exe but very terrible UI for beginner.

    2. It’s look funny but I never found it’s really work for me. Suppose for work I can do more work in Win7 and I can play win7 better then win8. You need to pay to Stardock for a small start-button. Microsoft really put no-effort for people who love to have start-button.

    Their is a big list of cons for me when I stick with win8 so I come back to win7 and wait for Win “blue” in 2013 if Microsoft really do a good job on that release.

  • NCL

    If it made you feel like a novice (and it happened to me too and I go back to the ZX81) then I guess it’s called innovation. It sure seems way different and many steps ahead from any other OS I’ve tried. Same disruptive feeling happened to me recently in the cellphones. After playing around with several Iphone and Androids (which all look and feel the same), I moved from a outlook synchronized Nokia E90 (symbian) to a cloud sync Nokia lumia 800 (which still hasn’t the wp8 but already has the Metro concept). After the initial shock (and some angriness) I now find it amazing and very easy to use (just had to realize first that I was already in the cloud, so the security question didn’t pose itself and that some functions that I use to love I didn’t really need them (like the closing button), so overall there was no real reason to get angry, quite the opposite (amazing the way it links with social media) and I’m now very satisfied with the move (note: I now sync to google, though… maybe MSFT should be careful with that). W8 seems a bit awkward (that mouse thing, for example) when used in a traditional PC but 10 years from now (less?), desktop PCs and keyboards will be a memory from the past, touch screens will be the standard, so I think Microsoft it going in the right direction. Better than that, it’s clearly leading the way.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Mmm, do you really think keyboards will be superseded? I’m not convinced. A touch screen could replace a mouse, but keyboards will remain the best form of data entry until speech or thought recognition is accurate. After all, QWERTY was designed to slow down typists and we’re still using it 150 years later.

      • NCL

        Hi, Craig, I just look at my nieces (and my daughter too but she’s younger, doesn’t know how to read/write yet but already knows how to use a touchscreen), they take tablets to school, not physical keyboard PCs. They are able to write/input quickly even with smartphones, which is something that amazes me. Maybe the 10 years period it’s too optimistic (if optimism applies), since the corporate market reacts much slower than the consumer, but i think that speech recognition ITwonder it’s still in a embryonic stage… on the other hand, physical keyboards, as you stated… are way past the third age, so probably Qwerty will still be around for many years to come… just not in a physical sense. Regards.

    • Gerry

      Not so sure about the future of touch-screen pc’s. I use a track ball mouse which only requires the slightest movement of the fingers, and reckon that having to wave my hole arm around a screen would be a step backwards. I also sit back in a reclining chair, feet on the desk with my wide screen monitor over a metre away. I don’t want a monitor right up in my face and I see no benefit in reaching constantly for the monitor other than getting ripped abs.
      Windows 8 lasted three hours on my pc, less time than it took to reinstall and reconfigure Windows 7.

  • http://www.anonymousartofrevolution.com AnonymousArt

    Hello, First of all I wanna tell you I am the owner of windows 8 for about a month and it moves great. I have some problem issues regarding returning from my monitor back to my laptop display, some times the display remain black, no power in it. In rest the windows 8 is awesome. The speed , I’m also using a SSD and is moving quicker than windows 7. The menu is nice, with a lot of breathing space , the themes ok. It’s a great one. I love it,

  • http://dailyprayer.us Mason Barge

    I hope you will run Win 8 with both a) a large number of programs open and alsob) try running some printers and Adobe Photoshop. All of these have caused me major problems, to the point where I’m going back to reinstall Win 7 Pro. (Yes, I was dumb enough to upgrade this in my main partition.)

    In my own case — heavy production desktop usage — Win 8 has been a downgrade in every possible way.

  • Yo

    I was thinking of moving over to Windows 8, just because I heard some rumors (probably not more than that) that it would be faster than 7. Now I read this review and.. well.. mixed with the other reviews I’ve heard I’m going to stay away, even when it’s price is not bad as I expected.
    I like windows 7, it’s just that i want it to be faster. Faster boot, faster reaction, etc. Should be possible.. after all, I’m sure windows 95 will run lightspeed on todays hardware…
    I use the start button regularly, but my main programs are already in the taskbar. PC is set up the way i want, I just would like it to be faster.
    In my (humble) opinion, they should’ve come out with windows 8 as a version coming after 7, so with improvements, rather than something totally different. Why call it 8 then? Anyway.. they should’ve build windows 8 that way with an option to turn metro on (or whatever you want to call it), just for tablet users if they wanted it. Would’ve been so much better… (but hey, who am I.. )

    Would love to know though how people have set up their current windows, so it runs the way they want. What they did to get it that way, etc. (not depending on what version they’re using)

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      If speed is your only concern then Windows 8 is noticeably faster than 7. See the final part of this review coming soon…

      • Al

        They said that about Vista-ServicePack-7 as well, yet it is drastically slower than XP at everything. Especially copying files and deleting files, opening programs, hell even opening folders in explorer.

  • http://www.evolutionsigns.co.uk David Woodthorpe – Evolution Signs

    Worst Windows EVER – and I bought Millennium Edition!

  • David Hucklesby

    Oh to be on Linux
    Now Windows 8 is here.
    :)

    • http://30minuteusabilityreview.wordpress.com/ xclusivesalman

      I strongly agree with you Craig Buckler, that all these issues you just experienced have already made me go frustrated using Windows 8. Since my job is to design the UI/UX for apps and web, I find it really difficult to adopt the change that Windows 8 is trying to impose on us. Being a mature and advanced developer I would like to use a desktop which is faster and responsive to my actions. So the way it acts with switching between metro and desktop is really really annoying. Also there is number of things like you also mentioned which work perfect on tablet and touch but for mouse they are quite frustrating.

      The day I used Windows 8, the same day I re-Installed Windows 7. It made me write a whole blog on its usability http://30minuteusabilityreview.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/windows8/

  • Al

    When I first started using Vista-ServicePack-7, I made the decision to spend a very large amount of money on stock piling a very large amount of XP Licenses. 1 quarter Home, three quarters Professional.
    I have since made a very lucrative business out of “downgrading” brand new Win7 machines to XP. I have had the odd driver issue along the way but it has always been easy to fix due to the vast numbers of XP devotees who can write drivers, or alter existing ones.

    My main customers have been businesses of between 20 to 50 employees, who hated Win7 that much because of the drop in productivity and increase in frustration (the explorer bug is a deal breaker for most people I have come in contact with).

    I tried the same with Office 2003 but very quickly ran out of licenses.

    My only regret is that I didn’t buy more XP licenses as Windows 8 will have people clambering for downgrades, and XP licenses are getting harder and harder to find.

  • http://neteffectstech.com Orlando Computer Network Support

    Before you buy a Windows 8 computer or upgrade any Windows 7 computer to Windows 8, you need to carefully check to make sure that the peripherals you are using, such as your printer or perhaps a scanner are supported in Windows 8. It doesn’t follow that your existing peripherals will be supported by Windows 8.