In the first part of this Windows 8 review we discussed pricing, installation and the new interface. In this post I examine the software and applications provided with the new OS.
Windows 8 Software
A fresh Windows 8 installation has surprisingly few applications. Of course, that doesn’t prevent OEMs installing several hundred megabytes of crapware, but even that can be solved by opening the charms menu (Win+C) > Settings > Change PC Settings > General > Refresh your PC without affecting your files.
Windows 8 provides Metro apps (see my opinion of them) such as Mail, Messaging, People, Calendar, News, Finance, Sport, Maps, Music, Photos, Video, Travel, Weather, SkyDrive and Bing Search. Microsoft has implemented account synchronization options to simplify your online life. For example, the People app can import contact details from your Microsoft, Skype, Hotmail, Outlook, Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
However, most of these applications are very simple. For example, Mail is considerably less sophisticated than Outlook Express or Windows Mail. Novices and tablet users may prefer it. I didn’t, but it’s not as though you’re forced to use them…
As you’d expect, compatibility with existing desktop software is excellent. Microsoft work hard to support applications and it’s a safe bet to assume something which works in Windows 7 will probably operate in Windows 8. That said, I did experience a few weird issues which were mostly caused by tightened security. In most cases, temporarily running as an Administrator solved the problem.
To keep costs down, Windows 8 Pro comes without Media Center or many essential codecs for playing DVDs. Fortunately, you can obtain the Windows 8 Media Center Pack for free until January 31, 2013. Grab it while you can.
Windows 8 is the first edition of the OS to provide an App Store — and I suspect it’s another reason why upgrades are so reasonable. Admittedly, it’s a little clunky and doesn’t have a huge selection of titles compared to the Apple and Google offerings, but that’s likely to change. Microsoft provide a range of free apps similar to those installed in previous versions of Windows. It includes Minesweeper but, seriously, how has the game bulked into into a 106MB download?!
Windows 8 also provides Internet Explorer 10 which remains a beta on Windows 7 and will never be available for XP or Vista. My recent review was generally positive; the new browser offers strong standards support, good OS integration and automated updates. It no longer has a speed advantage and offers fewer features than competitors, but it’s a fine browser and there’s no reason to ridicule those who prefer it. European users will see the browser ballot screen but, if IE10’s your default, you can use it in either Metro or desktop mode.
Finally, uninstalling desktop apps is the same as always: Control Panel > Programs and Features. However, Metro apps are different — you need to right-click their tile and choose Uninstall. Another contributor to the general confusion.
Windows 8 Security
Historically, Microsoft caused more security scares than any other vendor. The company has turned the situation around and, despite Windows remaining the top target for crackers, it’s rare to hear of exploits. The key points:
- Microsoft Security Essentials anti-virus application is installed by default and is combined with Windows Defender. It’s lightweight and effective — although anti-virus companies will try to convince you that it’s not enough.
- The OS features Secure Boot Architecture to combat malware as Windows loads.
- Metro apps run in a sandboxed environment and cannot interact with each other.
Windows 8 won’t prevent users installing rubbish, but virus and malware developers have a tougher task ahead of them.
Windows 8 Stability
Unless you were unlucky or installed every dodgy application you encountered, Windows 7 was rock-solid. I don’t recall a major OS crash or blue screen of death in three years. Windows 8 builds on that success.
So far I’ve experienced just one instability issue: my keyboard went screwy and a process failed to shut down during reboot. While I suspect it was a quirky driver issue, Windows remained steady and I didn’t lose work.
In summary, there are few software faults in Windows 8. But the same could be said for most other editions of the OS. Even XP is solid and fairly secure following a decade of security updates. There’s little to get excited about but, similarly, there are no major irritations.
In part three we’ll discuss Windows 8 productivity, performance and whether you should upgrade…
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.
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