Windows 8 Nightmare

My old friend Connell called me up tonight to update me on his saga of getting a new laptop with Windows 8.  From the last installment I had thought everything was great.  Connell is not a computer guy.  He’s been using Windows XP for years and never went to Vista or Windows 7.  Both Connell and my wife Susan bought a new laptop with Windows 8 the same week.  Susan wanted Windows 7, but none of the stores had a machine that came with it, and she didn’t want to custom order one from Dell or HP.  Both Susan and Connell bought their machines and set them up without my help.  I thought that was a good sign.  I did help Susan by giving her a Windows Easy Transfer cable and telling her how to use it.

Connell was quite angry when he called tonight.  Susan’s initial calls claimed Windows 8 wasn’t too bad, but since then she’s been running into some problems, mainly frustrated that some of her games aren’t Windows 8 compatible.  It’s frozen up a couple of times and she had to hold the power button down until it shut off.  But she loves her new machine anyway, especially that it doesn’t run hot like her old laptop.

Connell’s biggest frustration has been with the Charms bar.  He can’t get it to open when he wants it, and it opens when he doesn’t, driving him crazy.  Neither know how to go deep and configure their machine, or find options when they need them.

I’ve set Windows 8 up three times now on test machines at work.  I can use it, but it’s a pain in the ass, and it’s butt ugly.  I really, really, really dislike Windows 8.  Windows 7 is my all time favorite operating system, and I have OS X on an iMac at work.  I’m worried what will happen if I want to buy a new machine and my only choice for a PC is Windows 8.  I guess I’ll have to choose between Linux and OS X, and since I’m too cheap to buy a Mac, it will be Linux.  By the way, I put Ubuntu on my iMac as a dual boot and I really think Ubuntu looks great on an iMac.  But I won’t spend $1200 for that either.

Connell is planning on taking his laptop back and getting a Chromebook.  I’m curious how that will work out.  Susan is adapting to Windows 8, but she mainly plays Farmville and GameHouse games.  She’s going to give me her old laptop and I’m going to buy a SSD drive for it and put Ubuntu on it.  I wonder if she’ll want it back?

I’m also thinking about buying Android on a stick for my television and experimenting with it.

What’s happening is Windows 8 is forcing people to consider alternative OSes.  At work I’ve decided not to roll out Windows 8.  We can still get Windows 7 from Dell.  Many of our professors are now wanting Macs.  The iPhone and iPad have convinced many of our Windows users to try iMacs and MacBooks.  We were 95% PC, but that’s changing.  I still push Windows 7, but the tide might be turning.  Windows 8 will only inspire more switching.  I’ve already gotten several calls from people buying Windows 8 for their home machines.  Some have asked how can they put Windows 7 on their new machines.  Luckily I don’t have to support home machines, but I tell them they need to get used to Windows 8, because going back to Windows 7 is costly and time consuming.  Microsoft should make a Revert to 7 disc and give it away.  Connell was told he could pay $60 to have Windows 7 put on his machine from the store where he bought his new laptop, but he thought that was insulting and a ripoff.  You shouldn’t have to pay $60 to fix a new machine.

Microsoft, I think you need to pull a Coke Classic and bring back Windows 7.

JWH – 11/14/13

How Microsoft Can Make Extra Millions When They Roll Out Windows 8

Dear Microsoft,

When Microsoft rolls out Windows 8 they could make some extra corporate chump change by selling a new version of Windows 7 that’s designed for the “I hate Windows 8″ crowd.   I have a feeling there’s going to be millions of Windows 7 fans that will swear they will give up their favorite OS when it’s pried from their cold dead fingers.

I’ve installed two pre-releases of Windows 8 so far, and I just don’t like it.  Sure it has some slick new functions, but I just don’t like the way it looks.  I keep trying Mac OS and Linux, but I prefer Windows 7 by light years.  I just don’t want Windows 7 to go away.

I build my own computers and I worry that Microsoft will stop selling Windows 7.  So Microsoft, I’d like to buy a copy of Windows 7 that I could put on any machine I build in the future.  I know that operating systems only have a limited supported life, but I’d like to stretch my use of Windows 7 until I die.   I’m 60, and I only expect to live another 15-20 years.

Y’all are still supporting Windows XP which came out in 2001, so I should at least get another 12 years out of Windows 7.  The trouble is the weird activation restrictions.  I don’t blame you for copy protecting your product but it does make my plans more difficult.  How about selling a version of Windows 7 with some kind of activation scheme that ties it to me and any machine I build for home use.  It would be nice to also be able to buy a Family pack version for 3 machines.

I know it’s mean of me to call your new baby ugly, but I’m sure you’re used to old farts not wanting to try newfangled ideas.  Just whip up some kind of marketing campaign – Windows 7 Forever – and make a few extra bucks off us stick-in-the-muds.  I really don’t want to switch to Mac OS and Linux is perennially clunky.

Thanks.

Jim

Waiting for Linux

In the early 1990s my friend Mike bought a copy of Minix that promised to be a home version of UNIX.  At the time I was into GENIE, CompuServe, Prodigy and BBS systems.  I even ran my own 2-line bulletin board.  I liked the promise of UNIX and how it networked.  Luckily I worked at a university and also had access to USENET and FTP.  This was before the web.  I eventually found my way to a USENET group that talked about Linux, and it was free.  At the time I was hesitant to spend $69 for Minix, so Linux intrigued me.  However, the instructions for getting the code, making the install discs, and installing Linux were daunting.  I’ve forgotten all the details, but it involved a DOS program for making the floppies, and I had to make a bunch of floppies.  This might have been Slackware, but I don’t remember.  It was a long way from Ubuntu 12.04.

ubuntu

After much work with FTPed files,  I finally got Linux going on an old machine, but I was frustrated that it wouldn’t do any of the things I normally did with a computer at the time.  It was neat, but Linux wasn’t ready to be my computer OS.  After that I’d try Linux again and again, as it evolved, hoping it would become something I’d want to use as my full time computer system.  I remember I was so excited when I got Yggrasil and I could install Linux from a CD.  I could install it from the CD, but I couldn’t mount the CD afterwards.  This was before standard IDE drives and each CD device had its own drivers.  I can remember being so happy the first time I finally got Linux to mount a CD.

Then came Redhat and things got much easier.  Over the years Linux distributions got so easy to install that it was almost nothing to throw Linux on a computer, but I always took it off almost as fast.  After Windows 95 came out, and then Windows 98, using Microsoft got addictive and standard.  I got used to all the popular programs and games and it was just painful to try and switch to Linux.

And why did I want to switch?  The whole open source programming movement was so appealing.  The idea of free and DIY made so much sense.  I thought Linux would catch on and everyone would eventually make it their OS of choice.  But that never happened.  Linux has become a standard for servers and supercomputers, but for desktops it’s never been able to compete with Windows and Macs because they have so much commercial software that’s a breeze to install and use.  It’s a breeze now to install Linux, but adding other programs, especially those not prepackaged for a specific distribution, can still be a major headache.

I could switch to Ubuntu or Mint today and do most of what I like to do on a computer, but with programs that are clunky compared to the slick ones I use on my Windows 7 machine.  If I was truly tempted to switch operating systems it would be to Macintosh OS X, but even OS X is a pain to use after being addicted to Windows all these years.

I’ve been waiting for a long time for the Linux desktop to surpass Windows, and KDE and Gnome have come a long way, but desktop Linux just never catches up.  Most of the people reading my blog will not even know what I’m talking about because Linux is so esoteric.  Over the years I’ve talked a few people into trying Linux.  Linux is great for people who only use Firefox or Chrome to do everything they do on a computer.  But I still like Word, Photoshop, Audible Manager, iTunes, Rhapsody, Spotify, Webshots, and many other Windows based programs.  But even if I was totally cloud based in all my apps, I just prefer Chrome on Windows much more than Linux or the Macintosh.

I recently install Kubuntu on my home Linux box so I could play with Amarok on Linux, but I quickly grew disappointed with it.  I loved how Amarok will find lyrics to display as it plays songs, and the program is rather nice overall, but it feels years behind other programs on Windows 7 and Lion.  Spotify also does lyrics now, and they scroll as the songs plays, and the lyric being sung is highlighted.   Spotify is blazingly fast, Amarok is not.

I keep waiting for Linux, like waiting for Godot.  Linux is always on the horizon, close but far.  For awhile Windows XP was having so many problems that I thought I jump over to Linux, but then XP shot ahead and became reasonable stable.  Then Windows 7 came out, and I even prefer it over OS X.  I’m not sure about Windows 8, but I’ll probably get hooked on it too.  Ubuntu is trying hard to leap ahead, to catch up, but by the time it gets where it’s going, Windows and Mac OS X have shot ahead again.

I want Linux to be my desktop operating system because the Linux philosophy is just so much cooler than the commercial alternatives, but I’m hooked on their crack and I just can’t give it up.

It’s sad to admit, but I’m tired of waiting.  Actually, I’m tired of thinking about computer operating systems.  I started using computers in 1971, and I’ve been waiting over forty years for the future to arrive when computers would do everything, and I’d live with the perfect human/machine interface.  I’m tempted to say Windows 7 is it, and I plan to go no further.  I remember working with a guy who retired and bought a computer with latest WordStar and DOS who told me that system would have to last him the rest of his life.  I wonder if he lived long enough to eat those words?

Computers have been the most fascinating invention in my lifetime, and I have put a lot of my life into learning them, but I think I have reached a point where I don’t want to care about them anymore, not as a hobby or topic of interest.  I just want to use them.  I want computers to be invisible and all I see if my work.  I want the Wizard of Oz to stay unseen behind the curtain.  Linux still demands too much working under the hood, getting grease on my hands, and requiring a toolbox of tools to keep things running.  Windows 8 promises to be the operating system so mundane that it’s transparent.

I guess I’m ready for computers to just be magic rather than advanced technology.

The sad thing is technology changes too fast.  What I learned about the IBM 360 forty years ago is all forgotten now, and there’s a long line of other machines and operating systems that came after it that I’ve forgotten too.  I can’t remember how many programming languages and operating systems I’ve forgotten.  Computer technology has been dazzling, mesmerizing, diverting, but what was it all for?  I used to be able to use a slide rule as quick as some people could use a calculator, but that skill is gone too.  Technology knowledge isn’t like scientific knowledge, or history or mathematics.  It’s not cumulative.  Gadgets just keep changing.

I think computers have become good enough that computer literacy is no longer required.  They aren’t idiot proof yet, but they are getting there.  At one time I thought desktop Linux would be the winner, but I think the race is over and Linux never made it to the finish line for the personal desktop OS.  I also believe, sometime in the near future we’ll buy computers and we won’t even care what operating system is on them, or what version.   We probably won’t even think of them as computers.

JWH – 3/4/12

Windows 8 Consumer Preview–Initial Impressions

I had no trouble getting the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on the first day.  I did an in-place upgrade that quickly installed on my i3 test machine.  Booting up into Metro was like falling into a rabbit hole, or playing a new video game, because I had to click here and there just to find all the new menus.  I’m a computer support person, and I know Metro is going to shock my users.  Metro is obviously designed for tablet users.  One of Metro’s app panes is the desktop – which is great for people wanting to escape Wonderland quickly and get back to the real world.

I stayed in Metro and was sliding through its screens and installing apps almost immediately.  Cutting the Rope was a more fun using a mouse, and reading USA Today was easier to deal with on a big screen using a mouse, which goes to show you that poking the screen with a finger might not be the ultimate human computer interface.

I often wish when using my iPad 2 that my apps were on my big monitor, especially Zite.  I use my iPad 2 because I love Zite, Words with Friends and Kindle for the iPad.  And it’s only the Kindle app that I want to use away from the desk.  And even then, my iPad 2 is so dang heavy that it’s a hassle to use.  I have to prop it up with pillows to get comfortable.

I love my iPad 2 and Kindle 3, but to be honest, I’m perfectly adapted to sitting at a desk using a computer with a mouse and 23” monitor with 1920 x 1080 resolution when interacting with programs.  Passive reading is different.  But back to Windows 8, using Metro is like using a big tablet at my desk, and that’s fun.  I wish it had Zite.

I hate that Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are all moving away from the desktop UI that I’ve grown to love so dearly.  Using Metro means living with a different UI.  People will get use to it, but it’s going to be a big move.

I hate icons on the desktop.  I consider my desktop my picture gallery.  Beautiful photographs from Webshots sooth me all day long at work and all evening long at home.  I want 100% of my screen for art and photos, and that’s possible with Windows 7.  All the new OSes for Windows, Macs and Linux want to clutter up the UI with widgets, and that annoys me.  Luckily Windows 8 lets me drop back into the old UI where I can hide all the icons and make the taskbar auto-hide.

I worry that Windows (and all computers) will evolve away from that classic desktop metaphor.  I remember the world of DOS, and the text based interface, so I know the world of computers can go through major paradigm shifts.  If feel that about to happen again, and I’m already nostalgic for the old user interface.

Windows 8 isn’t Windows 7 even when it looks like Windows 7.  I couldn’t even find the shut down menu.  The old view is there for now, but it’s been altered.

To be honest, I’m not giving Windows 8 a proper test drive because I don’t have a touch screen monitor.  Using the mouse, I have to fumble around trying to figure out what would probably be natural gestures if I was using my fingers on a multi-touch display.  It took me awhile to learn that moving the mouse to the corners brought up the “Charms” – translucent menu options.  The elegance of Windows 8 won’t truly reveal itself until I see it on a tablet or a touchscreen monitor.

Windows 8 comes with apps, like tablet and smartphone apps, and not applications, like in the old days of software programs.  Windows 8 also has an App Store, where it’s easy to find more apps to add to Metro.

Metro is a very busy user interface to me, but it works with its own logic, like iOS, but unlike iOS, apps can interact, making Metro more like a multi-tasking desktop OS.  Metro is a new look and I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but it is jarring.   I have Windows 8 Consumer Preview set up on test machine at work, so I’ll be learning it hit and miss when I get some extra time.  Whether or not I recommend we roll it out in the future is yet to be determine.  My users are very conservative.  Many found moving from XP to Windows 7 upsetting, but Windows 7 has won everyone over.  However, in the past year more professors have been wanting Macs because they have iPhones and iPads.  I’ve yet to have a user bring me a Windows Phone to set up.  Microsoft needs to get Windows 8 tablets out there as soon as possible, or the shift between Windows 7 will be to Mountain Lion instead of Windows 8.

Microsoft Office

I installed Microsoft Office 2010 but since there is no Start Menu with All Programs I couldn’t find the Office apps.  I switched back to Metro and found them as small square panes, and rather ugly ones at that.  I’m surprised Microsoft didn’t make eye candy versions of its flagship products.  When I launched Word, I saw  the desktop background for a second and then a full-screen view of the standard Word app ready for me to start typing – all very normal.  If you minimize the window, you’ll see you’re back in the desktop mode.

User Interface

Strangely, Windows seems to be moving away from windows, and dialog boxes, and other standard interface pop-ups.  Windows 8 tries to stay in full screen mode for each app.  Overall, this feels like Microsoft is trying to simplify all actions to their basic nature.  I imagined their engineers asking at every step, “Do we need this?”  And second guessing them, I think most of the time the answer was “No!”

Windows introduced the vertical and  horizontal scrolling windows.  Windows 8 is trying to simplify the desktop by doing away with overlapping windows and using sliding panes, or screen swapping techniques.  Their engineers have been paying attention to the minimal UI of smart phones and tablets.

Impressions

For the average experienced Windows user switching to Windows 8 will take a little time, but not much.  I’m sure, hidden away will be a lot of new subtle features that will take time to discover.  So far I have found no compelling feature to make me want to switch.  Windows 7 is so good that I prefer it over Mac Lion and Ubuntu machines I have at work.  I now have 4 major OSes to use in my office.  I’ll see how Windows 8 grows on me.

- – -

For more of the nitty-gritty details see this article at Computerworld.

David Pogue raves about Windows 8.

JWH – 2/29/12