Design & UX
By Craig Buckler

Windows 8 First Month Review: Productivity and Performance

By Craig Buckler

Windows 8 Review

In part one of this Windows 8 review we discussed pricing, installation and the new interface. Part two examined the software provided in the new OS. In this final part, we look at productivity and performance before asking whether Windows 8 is right for you…

Windows 8 Productivity

Windows 8 retains the best productivity features including taskbar pinning, application rearranging, jumplists, libraries, peek, home groups, etc.

That said, Microsoft has made radical changes so be prepared for a few frustrating days learning how to navigate the new OS without a Start button. Fortunately, there are a number of keyboard shortcuts which make life easier (look out for an article coming soon).

Where’s XP Mode?

One of the primary reasons I upgraded to Windows 7 Pro was XP Mode; a fully-licensed copy of XP SP3 which allowed you to run virtualized legacy software as if it were a native application. The bonus for web developers was that you could run real versions of IE6, IE7, IE8 and IE9 at the same time on the same desktop.

Windows 8 does not include XP Mode. The Pro and Enterprise editions support Hyper-V hardware-assisted virtual machines, but you’ll require an additional XP/Vista/7 license to use it. A shame, but it’s not as though many of us are bothering to test IE6 and 7 any longer.

Windows 8 Performance

Windows 8 Task ManagerI was a little disappointed with Windows 7 performance; it was not noticeably faster than a service-packed Vista. A cold boot took around a minute to reach the login screen followed by ten minutes of sluggish performance while applications were pre-cached.

Windows 8 blasts its predecessors out of the water. Booting takes a matter of seconds and the system is usable immediately after login. The OS seems less resource-hungry than before; CPU, memory and battery consumption have been reduced. Perhaps that will change as I install further applications but, for the moment, I’m more than happy.

The Windows Task Manager has been vastly improved and it will help you discover performance issues:

  • applications and background processes are separated.
  • app history can be monitored
  • start-up processes can be viewed and disabled (goodbye Adobe and Java updaters!)
  • services can be started, stopped and restarted.

To increase speed further, Windows 8 hibernates rather than fully shuts down. This has a number of consequences, e.g. services which are set to start manually will still be running between subsequent shut downs. Only a system restart will stop them.

Should You Upgrade to Windows 8?

Consider the pros:

  • reasonable upgrade price for the next couple of months
  • boots and runs faster than previous editions
  • lightweight desktop application windows (no Aero)
  • simplified configuration
  • excellent security and built-in anti-virus
  • installs a clean system without any junk
  • refresh feature to restore Windows back to a pristine condition
  • Hyper-V virtual machines
  • improved task manager
  • the best features from Windows 7
  • Internet Explorer 10

and the cons:

  • initially confusing, e.g. no Start button
  • switching between Metro and desktop modes can be jarring
  • Metro apps have usability issues on PCs
  • some bizarre configuration locations
  • fewer customization options
  • you’re forced to start on the Metro screen
  • no XP Mode
  • Internet Explorer 10 (yes, it’s also a pro point, but the browser is far from perfect!)

Microsoft has attempted to create a unified system but the Metro and desktop modes are simply different interfaces in one OS. It’s apparent the developers favored touchscreen devices at the expense of PCs where Metro can be clunky and confusing. Admittedly, the tablet market is ascending as fast as the PC market declines, but Microsoft’s core market is desktop business users. Windows 8 could be a little ahead of its time.

Perhaps Metro will feel natural to IT novices but, in reality, how many people have never used Windows before? Windows 8 is initially disorientating and I suspect businesses will be put off by the training costs and lost productivity. I’m not convinced the improvements justify that expense; many people will skip Windows 8 and wait for version 9. (Is Microsoft suffering from classic Star Trek movie syndrome where a ‘good’ release arrives every other version?!)

On the plus side, no one can accuse Microsoft of playing it safe. The company’s biggest competitor is itself and many people are happy to use decade-old editions of XP. Windows 8 tries a new approach and, while it may not convince long-term IT users, it it possible to return to the more familiar desktop and methods.

Windows 8 has one other benefit: Microsoft usually listens to criticism. I expect the OS will evolve rapidly — especially if sales are slow. Most business users wait for Service Pack 1 and the company has a good track record of supplying fundamental improvements. I would not be surprised to see the Start button make a triumphant return.

The first few days are frustrating, but I encourage you to persevere. I cannot claim undying love for Windows 8 — and thoroughly detest some features — but I’m glad I upgraded. For performance alone, it would be difficult to return to Windows 7. Unfortunately, it took several weeks to reach that conclusion and many people will give up before then.

Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro at or Alternatively, buy the 32 and 64-bit boxed retail version at:

All prices are discounted until February 2013.

  • Bacon

    “Microsoft usually listens to criticism.”

    Good one. The ‘modern’ UI with hidden controls was roundly criticized for a year and MS did nothing to change it.

    Also, for your whole piece, there is no “Metro”, that name was killed in August.

    • Well yes, but they weren’t selling it then. I’m sure motivation will be higher if the sales figures aren’t up to scratch.

      I mentioned the reference to “Metro” in part 1. What do you call it now? I for one wasn’t going to keep re-writing “Windows 8 UI Style”! Microsoft may have had to drop the name but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t refer to it as “Metro”.

      • Simon

        I believe TIFKAM (The Interface Formerly Known As Metro) is growing in popularity.

      • Stevie D

        If we’re not allowed Metro, how about “Windows 8 Disaster mode”?

        Of course, in a year, it could well be known as “Hey, do you remember that totally craptastic interface that nobody used? By some company or other … Metrosomething … or was it Microsomething? … Nope, it’s gone, no idea who they were …”

        I’m sure W8 makes perfect sense on a tablet. But for many of the same reasons it makes absolutely no sense on a PC. When you cite two of the benefits of it as “It has the same good points that W7 had” (which isn’t true, they have ditched the attractive interface and gone for something that looks like a step backwards from W3.1) and “They’ve dropped the price to lure people in before everyone realises just how godawful it really is”, I’m struggling to see it as a hugely positive list.

        The problems with it are way too fundamental to be addressed by a service pack. We’re not talking about security or stability issues like we’ve had with previous versions of Windows that have been rushed out with insufficient testing – we’re talking about a total misunderstanding of how people use PCs, particularly in a business context. The entire premise of the OS is fatally flawed, and my prediction is that W9 will be the fastest-appearing successor that MS has ever produced.

  • Fantasm

    Forgot a few cons:
    Not being able to play DVD’s unless using a 3rd party addon.
    No Media Center except as an Add-on
    No Aero effects
    Having numbers of tiles labelled “Uninstall”, or “Setup” after installing older programs… with no idea what they relate to…
    Trouble with hot spots in the corners when usin multiple monitors
    It looks frakking ugly on a big screen
    No real reason to upgrade in the first place unless you have a touchscreen
    Metro Apps are full screen so you can’t avoid built in advertisments
    Anything you install from the App store, you will have to download again next time you reinstall…
    Most apps are not good enough…

  • Tacoman

    As a long-time user dating back to the DOS days, I can unequivocally state that I loathe 8. No start button? Why remove this small useful function? I feel that I have to painfully search for common system controls. Control Panel is hard to find, and these damn pop-up side menus are incredibly annoying, always popping up when you don’t want it. I am not sure what exactly what is meant by the “Metro” view – if referring to that alternative interface that comes up from time to time that does not even sport a toolbar, yeah that blows.
    I cannot imagine any private business or government agency switching to this OS. The UI team should be canned.
    Come on Microsoft, give us a classic view option.

    • Earl Smith

      I agree that I miss the START button, but I have found ways around it, with the special key combinations. WINDOWS+X works pretty okay. Getting a shortcut to where the start apps are located (C:Program DataMicrosoftWindowsStart Menu), and then putting it on the toolbar was pretty difficult, but works pretty good. I agree they shouldn’t have put this out without a way to get the old UI back, so I can take a few months to get used to the new interface while still getting things done would have been a far better thing to do, but I did manage to get things into a useable way.

      • Greg F

        Goggle,classic shell,it will give start button for ie and firefox.

    • The Dome

      You lot make me laugh. Took me 10 mins to learn how to use it. Control panel is hard to find? Where you been looking?
      It’s not that different. The trouble with you lot is your already looking for something to slag off about every new version of Windows and every version that comes out it is the same old lines.
      Whining on about your DOS days. I design for all operating systems and I use them all and they are all different. But I see the good in all of them and you can tweek them to suit. I thought that was part of the fun. What I can’t stand is old hat that holds back the progress of the web. And as for DOS!! thank God I never used it. If you can’t stand change open an antiques shop.

  • I have used Microsoft products since the days of DOS 1.0 I have never seen such a piece of shit with the release of Windows 8. Remember ME well this is ten times worse. I can not begin to list the problems and faults with the OS.

    I am waiting to take my system down to the computer store and have Windows XP installed.

    Save yourself time and money and stay with XP or Windows 7

    There is no need for you to update unless you are required by your company

    Sorry Microsoft you really missed the boat with this puppy

  • Greg F

    Great, win7 has to go finaly to the heap,win 8 has better security,not all that useless apps running in background as win7 has,a far better performer,and will be the way of the future,sure it is a money making os for ms,its a must have os over resourse heavy win7.

  • Catherine

    Thank you so much for this series. I was debating moving to Windows 8, but will hang onto XP for a while longer after reading this, thanks. Ain’t broke, don’t need to look for things to fix.

  • Seun

    People have said it before, and am saying it again; why can’t Microsoft provide a configurable to option to boot to desktop or “Metro” — yea, I’ll call it Metro?
    They have refused to respond because, they are at their stunt again.
    They made windows 95 and shifted the paradigm, but a lot of DOS was left in it. How much of DOS was in windows xp when they released?
    That is what Microsoft is at again. They’re not listening because hey believe Metro is the future.
    They have a left a subset of window desktop in Metro because of existing legacy apps.
    Checkout all the new softwares from Microsoft, they all scream Metro.
    Needless to say I’d rather stick to the pre-metro versions of their applications.
    Therefore we should all wake up and realise that windows 9(Metro 2) may be a further disappointment for we “windows” cravers.
    The least respectable thing Microsoft can do is to keep the tablet what it is and keep the desktop what it is.

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