Windows 8 Review – Part Two: The Things I Love

by Rob Williams on November 6, 2012 in Software

As difficult as it may be to tell sometimes, Windows 8 does in fact offer a lot to love. I’ve already had my say about what frustrates me with the OS, so now, I’m taking a look at the other side of the coin. What is it that makes Windows 8 pleasant to use? Select highlights include aesthetic improvements, the improved transfer dialog and the new syncing capabilities.

Office 2013, Uptime, Removable Devices & Final Thoughts

This is an odd inclusion, I admit, but as it’s a rare day when I’m prompted to talk about Office at all, it’s best to do it now. But note – all of what I’m talking about here applies to Office 2003 under Windows 7 as well.

When I first opened Office 2013, I felt a little overwhelmed. It’s of course optimized for a touch device, but it wasn’t those enhancements that struck me. It just felt quite a bit different. After some use, however, I ended up enjoying the latest version a lot, and it boils down mostly to aesthetics once again.

Windows 8 - Office 2013

As “big” an upgrade as Office 2007 was to 2003, Office 2013 makes that seem like no upgrade at all. The entire interface has been revised, and now the program can tie in with your Microsoft account, much like Windows itself. On the surface, Office 2013 simply looks good. When you open a program like Excel or Word, you are quickly greeted to a list of your recent documents and an online template collection to peruse and search.

Then there’s the fact that Microsoft has finally done away with the draconian dialog option boxes that allow you to tweak settings for an object in your document. Now, as you can see below, the same options now expand from the right, improving the look and feel significantly, and also the usability.

Windows 8 - Office 2013

The most noticeable difference between 2013 and all previous versions of Office, though, is the amount of effort Microsoft put in to making the experience as pleasant as possible. Movements in documents are made fluid, transitions are added where they fit well, and even the moving marquee of a selection is now smooth as silk. All-in-all, no single thing here makes Office 2013 a “must-have”, but as a long-time user of Office, the enhancements here actually would cause me to upgrade.

If you’re a heavy Office user, I highly recommend checking out this Wikipedia page that does a great job of summing up all that’s new.

Your Uptime is Easy to Find

In an article of things I “love” about Windows 8, this choice is no doubt going to come off as ridiculous – and it is. Well, ridiculous in the regard that this “feature” should have been made available long ago. In Linux, finding your PC’s uptime is simple. You load up a command prompt and type in “uptime”. In Windows, it’s required some deep digging, or a program that takes the hassle out of it for you, such as AIDA64.

Windows 8 - Uptime

In Windows 8 though, the information is found right in the task manager, where it should be. Microsoft didn’t stop there, either. Also listed here are the number of running processes and their threads/handles, along with other neat information like your CPU cache levels. The only thing that could make this particular screen any better is the addition of system temperatures. Maybe in Windows 9?

Removable Devices

Yet another feature inspired by touchscreens that I actually happen to like on the desktop is the prompt that comes up when you either insert media, or try to play a file after a new application has been installed. This design is similar to Android, where after you install a new media player, for example, opening a video will prompt you to choose a default. Except here, if you don’t want to open it with a program, you can simply have it open up as a folder instead.

Windows 8 - Removable Media

The reason I like this simple feature so much is that I’ve had seriously stubborn programs in the past insist on being a default for something. Adobe Lightroom, for example, insisted on loading up every time I plugged in a memory card, which is not the action I would have otherwise taken. Because of Adobe’s corner-cutting, the fix wasn’t in the program itself, but rather in the control panel under program associations. This implementation in Windows 8 makes fixing a problem like this much easier.

Everything and the Kitchen Sync

With that nonsensical title out of the way, syncing is another feature that’s quite nice in Windows 8, and great if you happen to live in the Microsoft ecosystem. For actual data, there’s SkyDrive. Anything copied to your SkyDrive folder will automatically sync to the cloud and become available on any device that has a Web browser or SkyDrive app. Use Outlook? The Windows Calendar? Contacts? This will all be synced to the cloud as well.

Windows 8 - Removable Media

This level of convenience isn’t something new, but it’s still incredible at its heart. You could install Windows 8 to a second computer, and just by using the same login, you’d immediately gain access to every piece of data that streams through Microsoft’s cloud services. As someone personally tied into Google’s many services, Microsoft’s integration here doesn’t affect me too much, but it’s the feature that counts.

A Realistic Windows Experience on a Tablet

For an OS as blatantly inspired by tablets as Windows 8 is, it’s good to know that it does behave quite well on them. This is important, because many people have required the use of Windows tablets since well before the original iPad existed, but sexy solutions like what we have today just didn’t exist. But today, we can walk around with 10-inch or less tablets and have a full Windows install at our disposal. While we might not all need that, for those who do, this is awesome.

Windows 8 - Microsoft Surface

The biggest difference between a product like Microsoft Surface (pictured above) and other tablets, Android or iOS, is that Windows is a full-blown OS. The OS is the same on the desktop as it is on the tablet, so your limitations are no longer the OS, but the hardware – which, up to this point, is pretty decent (ARM limitations aside).

A counter-argument to all of this is that some people don’t need a full-blown OS on their tablet. Then there’s the fact that Microsoft’s store at the moment really isn’t too stellar, especially in comparison to Play Store or App Store. Still, this is a great solution to have available, and we can only hope that Microsoft’s mobile marketplace will grow and become better over time. The road ahead is long, especially with Android and iOS having been established in the market for so long.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. You now know not only what I hate about the OS, but also what I love about it. So at the end of the day, do I recommend Windows 8? And if so, who for?

That’s a tough question to answer. While I’m pleased with Windows 8 overall, and have no intention to drop it, there’s nothing here that I’d consider a “must-have”. With Windows Vista, the allure boiled down to the fact that Windows XP was an aging OS, and I wanted something more modern. There was also the promise of cool DX10 games. Well, we all know that Vista was a true chore to use for the first couple of years, which became the allure for the next OS, 7. At the time of 7’s launch, I am not even sure I cared about what it offered. I just hoped it was more stable than Vista. Thankfully, it certainly was.

In fact, Windows 7 is so good, that it becomes the reason most people don’t need to upgrade to 8. Unlike Vista and 7 which brought exclusive DirectX versions, 8 does not. That may change in the future, but with the install-base 7 has, I have doubts Microsoft will pull that trick for this generation.

For me, what makes me prefer Windows 8 over 7 are the aesthetic improvements, niceties such as the program associator, improved transfer dialog and improved Task Manager and its slight performance boost. While there is some bad to deal with, it hasn’t overshadowed my experience. I’ve now been using the OS for well over two weeks, and so far I haven’t run into a roadblock or anything so inconvenient that it’s truly stuck out.

If you’re on a version of Windows older than 7, upgrading is really going to be worth it. If you’re on 7, I’d say stick with it, unless you like all of what you’ve seen here. You certainly don’t “need” it, but it’s a nice upgrade nonetheless.

Page List

1. Introduction, Compatibility and Stability, Transfer Dialog & Improved Aesthetics
2. Office 2013, Uptime, Removable Devices & Final Thoughts

  • Bilal Khan

    I was also quite hateful of Win 8. But after reading this it seems it was abit uncalled for, lol!
    Love the ‘Refreshing Your PC’ stuff!
    Gonna stick with Win7 for now though.. :D

    • Rob Williams

      I don’t blame you. It’s hard to move away from an OS like that when it’s one of the best MS has ever produced!

  • Marfig

    Hate is such a strong word. And unfortunately with its meaning completely ruined by a generation of young cybernauts who decided anyone who didn’t like something, hated it.

    I hate Windows 8, though. It’s that type of hate. I hate that it doesn’t give me full support for the UI that has been in one way or another following us since Windows 95 and that allowed the computer world to still thrive and no one got hurt. And, like a jealous kid, I hate that it’s a pretty UI at places.

    It shouldn’t matter though. I should never have Windows 8 installed on my machine so it can feel my hate with the back of my hand. Do like some of the stuff you mentioned though, Rob. Ironically, nothing that couldn’t have been added to a Windows 8 without Metro.

    • Rob Williams

      I agree on the “hate” thing. It extends far beyond that though… there are MANY words nowadays that mean incredible things, but are used in the most tame contexts. This article is “incredible” and “amazing”, for example ;-)

      The unfortunate thing for Microsoft is… if it had released Windows 8 and offered a choice between Modern UI and the old-fashioned Start menu, a LOT of the hate towards the OS could have been avoided. People would have then been able to look past the Start screen and appreciated all of the other things the OS offered. Instead, Microsoft chose to be stubborn, and I don’t think that decision will pay off.

  • BornRight

    ///but it be nice to see results from all three categories at once, rather than having to click on the filters to the right.///

    This isn’t practical. The filters on the right can even show you web search results if you select a browser, or a wikipedia page if you select the wiki app and so on & so forth. Therefore showing the contents from all the filters together will only produce noise.

    • Rob Williams

      I was picturing a pagination setup where Apps would be listed first, and then Files in the second column and Control Panel stuffs in the third. Windows Vista and 7 had this exact functionality, except it was a list in the Start menu rather than in a full-page search like Windows 8. I’ve included a shot to show what I’m talking about (from W7).

      Perhaps a better fix though would be for Microsoft to retain the category you last had selected. That’d be useful if someone -only- ever searches for documents. As it is right now, they’d have to click on the Files icon to the right after each search (unless I am totally missing something).

      • BornRight

        In Win 7 start menu, the space to show all results is limited. Separating search results allows room for all results to be displayed. Now you can see more details about each file. Microsoft provides a thorough explanation of why they’re using filters on their blog:

        • Rob Williams

          I do agree, but I don’t think giving people an option would have hurt. It kind of reminds me of Apple here… what the company wants is what the company goes with. Linux isn’t far off though, with things like GNOME.

          Microsoft -still- should have given people an option to default to one of the filters there. As I mentioned in the article, I know a lot of people who regularly search their PCs for music and photos, and this manages to add another step to that process (having to filter by Files on the right side).

          Of course, you mentioned Start menu replacements in the other article… perhaps that’s the real solution.

          • Marfig

            “I do agree, but I don’t think giving people an option would have hurt.”

            Indeed. Options is something Microsoft is lacking on their OS division. Don’t really know where the company is taking us with Windows. But ever since Vista, I feel like driving on a road and having this nagging feeling I should have left it when I could.