Windows 8 is great!

Published: November 10, 2012

Windows 8 sports a new interface termed ‘Modern UI’, which was previously called the ‘Metro UI’, but the title has since been changed due to rumoured legal reasons. PHOTO: NOMAN ANSARI

I didn’t expect Windows 8 to be very good. Why? Because Windows 7 was excellent, and as longtime Microsoft consumers understand, the Redmond based software giant hasn’t released two quality iterations of Windows in a row.

Not until now, that is.

Windows 8 has been a pleasant surprise. It looks quite gorgeous, runs lightning fast, and best of all, is rock solid. For the $15 upgrade price I purchased it for here in Pakistan, it is an absolute steal for an officially licensed operating system.

Over the years, whenever Microsoft has tried to take revolutionary steps with Windows, the initial results have invariably been rocky, with Windows 95 and Windows Vista having had especially poor launches. Meanwhile, some of the best versions of the operating system, such as Windows 98SE, Windows XP, and Windows 7, have been refinements of previous iterations, especially the latter, which trimmed the fat off the notoriously bloated Windows Vista to become an instant fan favourite.

So how does Windows 8 manage to take such a huge step forward without stumbling much? Well, the secret is that although it is a revolution on the surface, it is an evolution underneath.

Modern UI:

Windows 8 sports a new interface termed ‘Modern UI’, which was previously called the ‘Metro UI’, but the title has since been changed due to rumoured legal reasons.

Like many, I find the Modern UI to be an aesthetic masterpiece ─ a work of art. This new interface is essentially an arrangement of ‘live’ tiles, where each tile is basically a programme icon, which is visually changing, sometimes with real time updates through the internet. Some of these tiles, such as those related to communication and social networking, offer live updates of a personal nature. The tiles can be customised and switched around to suit users, and are a blast to use.

The intuitive nature of the Modern UI isn’t only limited to the tiles. Any tile double-clicked, leads to a Modern UI based programme which follows the consistency of the beautiful art direction. Programmes such as those that allow you to check your email (Mail tile), exchange instant messages with Facebook and IM contacts (Messaging tile), or allow you to read the news (News tile), are joyful to interact with. The latter especially feels akin to reading a digitised magazine. I have to say that at this point Modern UI has spoiled me, and I seriously love its ‘Messaging’ tile, which easily beats Facebook’s own messenger.

The native Modern UI apps aren’t flawless, however. The messaging application for example, can exhibit slight delays in messaging Facebook contacts. Meanwhile, the market place isn’t extensive yet, with understandably only a handful of options so far.  The ‘Games’ tile is also useless, as it does not feature installed PC games for now. Other annoyances include a lack of customisation on some of the tiles. For example, importing pictures to the Modern UI is a bit of a nightmare in terms of navigation with the options in the ‘Pictures’ tile frustratingly limited. That being said, none of the issues with Modern UI are deal breakers, and future patches from Microsoft should amend these niggles.

The multiple personality disorder:

Traditional users not quite enamoured with Modern UI, or still in love with the tried and tested desktop platform, shouldn’t feel disheartened, as Windows 8 still retains the desktop interface, which can be accessed through the desktop tile on the Modern UI.

Here, you will notice the desktop is mostly the same as Windows 7, except for one major difference: the lack of a start menu. Instead, clicking the start button on the taskbar in Windows 8 switches to Modern UI. This is initially frustrating, as force of habit will unintentionally lead to Modern UI regularly.

Worse is that by default, files on the desktop, such as music, videos, and the like, are assigned to applications on the Modern UI rather than applications on desktop. Also, since there is no start menu to access, Windows 8 users will regularly find themselves switching from desktop to Modern UI to use regular applications such as “defragment”, “calculator”, “MS paint” and such, where they are now located.

Navigation tips:

The result can initially be slightly confusing, as users will regularly find themselves switching between the two interfaces needlessly. This leaves Windows 8 with what comes across as a multiple personality disorder. However, there are some quick tips that I can offer, which will go a long way towards ironing out the creases in the new OS:

1. The start menu is no more, but the taskbar still exists on the desktop. Right-click on the Modern UI start page to access “All apps”, where you will reach a list of all installed applications. Here, right-clicking on any application will allow you the option of ‘pinning’ applications on to the desktop taskbar. Thus, you can access all your favourite apps from the desktop without having to visit Modern UI. Also, the ‘set default programmes’ option in the control panel can be used to set default access from desktop programmes rather than the Modern UI. These two quick steps will help Modern UI and the traditional desktop feel like independent entities.

2. The Windows 8 ‘Charms’ menu can be accessed by moving the mouse cursor to the far right of any interface, where quick options such as “search” and “shutdown” can be accessed. Conversely, the mouse cursor on the left corner reveals the application tabs menu, where any open application can be accessed. Both of these sub-menus make the navigation of Windows 8 more enjoyable.

3. Those still not happy with the lack of a start menu can use Stardock’s Start8 programme, which seamlessly integrates a customisable start menu into Windows 8. For even more tips and tricks, readers can use the excellent guide by Ars Technica.

Regardless, some issues related to the multiple personality disorder in Windows 8 can’t be fixed at this point in time. For example, browsing the internet in Modern UI will open a separate navigation programme from the desktop. So in theory, you could have an Internet Explorer programme open in the Modern UI, and another, unlinked Internet Explorer on the desktop. Similarly, at this point in time, if you want to view images using the Modern UI pictures tile, you will have to ‘import’ them to your Windows documents folder, even if they already exist on your hard drive elsewhere, resulting in a waste of hard drive space.

Under the hood:

In spite of the fact that Modern UI and desktop sometimes run the same programme separately, Windows 8 is blazingly quick. In fact, it is easily the speediest operating system I have ever used by far. Switching between applications is smooth as butter. Moreover, video games such as Diablo 3, Guild Wars 2, Crysis 2, Skyrim, all run incredibly well, and according to benchmarks I have seen, run at higher frame rates than Windows 7. Gamers who use the Steam platform will be pleased to note that the games on that system also run perfectly.

The stability is incredible with not one application having crashed since I installed Windows 8 two weeks ago. How is it possible that a new Windows, which is seemingly snazzier, runs meaningfully better? The answer lies in the tablet market, which Microsoft is targeting aggressively with Windows 8.

Typically, tablets are significantly weaker in terms of processing power than the average PC, so for tablets to run a very flashy operating system such as Windows 8, the operating system has to be extremely efficient at managing memory and power, while being quite steady at the same time. Windows 8 is up to this challenge with massive refinements under the hood, where it allows for memory sharing of running programmes, and accesses certain executables more efficiently.

Beside that, Windows 8 has gone through other overhauls that allow for better processing. Of course, benefits which allow for faster performance on tablets, naturally translate to even better performance on PCs, where the systems have more muscle. But the improvements don’t end here. The start and shutdown times in Windows 8 are a matter of seconds, while the installation process is easier than ever before.

In Microsoft’s push for Windows 8, I see a lot of parallels with their entry into the console market with the Xbox. In both scenarios, the pricing is aggressive, with Microsoft selling at a sizable monetary loss in order to gain market share into a more lucrative market.

In terms of the video game consoles, PC users benefited with a sudden boost in video game graphics standards. With Windows 8 on special offer till the end of December, PC users are once again benefiting from Microsoft’s interest in a linked market, not only in terms of product quality, but in terms of value as well.

Windows 8 currently can be bought for USD39.99, while it can be upgraded to for as little as USD14.99 in certain circumstances. Compare that to prices of Windows in the past, which ranged north of USD 149.99, and you have a real bargain.

All in all, I find Windows 8 to be the complete package; in terms of usability, performance, and price, this new operating system is a must have.

PHOTOS: NOMAN ANSARI

Do you think Windows has the potential to beat other Operating Systems in the market?

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Read more by Noman here or follow him on Twitter @Pugnate

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

A freelance writer and regular contributor to The Express Tribune magazine and newspaper, Noman tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.risingkarachi.blogspot.com Nouman Ahmed

    “Windows 8 currently can be bought for USD39.99, while it can be upgraded to for as little as USD14.99 in certain circumstances. Compare that to prices of Windows in the past, which ranged north of USD 149.99, and you have a real bargain.”
    Dude just buy it for 0.8 dollors from any local shop in Pak. This is the real bargaining.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    Dear “Dude”,

    I’d rather buy an officially licensed product and get a life time of free updates. The Windows Defender has been integrated with Microsoft Securities, making it the best anti virus on the internet. There are many benefits to buying licensed software.

    Besides, piracy IS stealing. Just because a product isn’t tangible, it doesn’t mean it is free to rip off as you please. Recommend

  • Samwise Gamgee

    Hey, thanks for a great review overall! could you direct me as to how I can get that Windows upgrade for 15$ here in Pakistan? I’m using genuine Windows 7 home 64 bit. Thanks!Recommend

  • Liberal Democrat

    well windows 8 might be great .. but do we have any other option? except going for MAC :) …. Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    How to get the $14.99 Windows 8 upgrade promo code:

    Here is how I learned about the $15 upgrade:

    http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-33642_7-57444689-292/microsoft-reveals-windows-8-upgrade-path-and-$15-fee/

    To upgrade, just visit the following link:

    http://www.windowsupgradeoffer.com/

    When you are filling out the form, it will ask you when you purchased the OS you are upgrading from. As long as you mention that the date is: “between June 2, 2012, and January 31, 2013“… you shall be good to get the $15 upgrade. There are no checks for this, so I guess Microsoft is relying on you to be honest about the date of purchase.

    They will then email you a code which you can use during the checkout process.

    When you go to the payment page, the price will be set at $40, and you have to enter the discount code, after which the price will go down to $15.

    BTW, I have read that a lot of people in India and Pakistan have been upgrading from illegal copies of Windows, and it is working fine.

    I am not sure if it is a bug, but I think Microsoft is allowing anyone to buy the upgrade, even pirates.

    If you do upgrade, it will give you option to retain your previous programs and settings or do a clean install. Do a clean install, I recommend.

    Also, delete system files once the installation is done using “disk cleanup”. This will delete the 20GB extra files that are no longer in use. And you can delete the Windows.Old folder once the installation is done and you are satisfied. But there is no going back once this is done.

    Finally, if you want to upgrade to a 64 bit version of Windows 8, please make sure the Windows you are updating from is also 64 bit, as it you can’t choose later. Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    @Liberal Democrat:

    haha well staying with Windows 7 is also an option. :) Recommend

  • SSS

    Dear Blogger,
    You must also have written -I wanna be everything at once- :-)
    Well thank you for a thorough review.Recommend

  • Larry

    Going to the “Macs” is really an option?Recommend

  • http://Peshawar Khan Gul

    Get Linux guys. These tiled interfaces are in Linux since 12 years !!!!!!!!!!!! And have been redefined in Gnome3 since 2010.Recommend

  • Waqas Abbasi

    @Samwise Gamgee:
    If you have a credit card you can do all the upgrading online. And i think that is the only way of doing as you cant buy an upgrade dvdRecommend

  • Nick

    I totally agree, I love windows 8, it is so fast, the security is good and ie 10 is brilliant. The app store is excellent aswellRecommend

  • Brutus

    @Noman Ansari
    It is really nice to know that you watch all the seasons on original DVD’s and you dont watch English movies in Pakistan for at least 3 months because that is the time when you get the original DVD’s. Recommend

  • Gint

    Spent a short time with Windows 8 and found it difficult to work with. For example, since Windows 95 we have been used to closing windows with a little X in the corner. The X is gone. Instead you need to move your mouse to the top of the window until you get a hand icon. Then you need to click drag to the bottom. Try doing that with you laptop. It may work find for a tablet but for a lap top it would reduced productivity. Also, since the UI is much different from Windows XP and 7, any company that rolled this out would actually really need to do some training. Theoretically the desktop is the same however the Start button is gone. On first glance the desktop looks familiar but using it you will find it is not the same desktop. Upgrade only if you want learn new habits forgetting navigation habits you may have had since 1995. Recommend

  • Rizwan Liaqat

    I want to go for the $15 upgrade, I am genuinely eligible too. But having run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant it seems some programs like the ATI catalyst control centre and the bluetooth adapter are still incompatible with Windows 8. I’ve also heard beats audio isn’t running with Windows 8. Guess I’ll just wait until the compatibility issues are sorted out, the offer does extend to the end of February.Recommend

  • http://uptonogood.tumblr.com Red

    Thanks for the article. I ended up buying the upgrade online! :)Recommend

  • Adrian

    Just to comment that I liked your article, and have been using Windows 8 since late October. I agree that it’s a move in the right direction. Recommend

  • Milind

    Excellent review…. Question regarding you statement about Win 8 being rock-solid.. How does Windows 8 fare in handling large workloads e.g. a DW in SQL Server?Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    @Rizwan Liaqat:

    Hey, I think you may have to install them manually?

    http://pcsupport.about.com/od/windows-8/tp/windows-8-drivers.htm

    You are right. I just checked and ATi CCC is having issues starting on Windows 8 for some people. But it seems people are having success with this latest update now:

    http://support.amd.com/us/kbarticles/Pages/Windows8ConsumerPreviewDrivers.aspxRecommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    @Adrian:

    :)

    @Milind:

    From what I’ve read on blogs, it seems to be handling it really well, though there are some changes in the interface.

    @Red:

    haha cool. Hope you are liking it! :)

    @Gint:

    Hey! I understand your frustration. As mentioned in the review, here is an option:

    http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/

    I don’t use it actually, but it is quite perfect for those looking for the regular sort of start button/menu. Free 30 day trial. The price is the cost of a Big Mac for this app. so go for it!Recommend

  • intelektual

    Regarding the vote question:
    “What other operating systems??”Recommend

  • Abdul Moiz

    Great review, But that’s sad that you missed the massive part of the Windows 8 that was IE10 its been good overall since the release of Consumer Preview of Windows 8 whilst it was way improved in the Windows 8 Release Preview. Whilst the $39.99 upgrade is not for the Window PC’s with illegal copies of Windows however it upgrades successfully.

    One more thing to people who are commenting on illegal copy of Windows 8, Windows 8 is a Live OS and its requires live account connected with your Windows 8 account and if you don’t purchase it sooner or later you will get busted in form of account deletion or even more issues such as your legit xbox live account getting compromised as-well etc.

    This was a little Windows 8 Release Preview Review I did back in June earlier this year http://technoen.com/2012/06/24/inside-windows-8-release-preview-79755/Recommend

  • Help

    Having a problem. I successfully installed Windows 8 but now I am unable to install my ATI HD 4670 Catalyst driver. It always freezes.
    What to do? :SRecommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    @Help:

    Hey. If you upgraded to Windows 8, then it will let you roll back to Windows 7 as if nothing happened. Do not delete the Windows.Old folder in this situation as that is where your Windows 7 is.

    I checked on Google, and the only solution I have seen so far involves installing the drivers on Windows 7 before upgrading so that they are already installed. Try AMD’s website? Recommend

  • Ali

    some one please give me the Torrent link to download it :PRecommend

  • Romasa Tunio

    Oh this is like WOW!!!!:DRecommend

  • Relieved.

    I had to reinstall it. May be it was some virus causing it not to install. Had to format my partition and install it again, and it worked. Loving the apps.
    Thanks a lot though. :)Recommend

  • http://uzairsdad-sisyphus.blogspot.com Naushad Shafkat

    Thanks Noman. Just couldn’t agree more. Windows 8 is the best thing to have happened to Operating Systems since computers were invented. And yes; please lets all start using genuine Windows and deter thieves. I tell you there is nothing better than a genuine product; it lets you surf without fear and the free stuff is a bonus.Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/Pugnate Noman Ansari

    Glad to hear it! :) Recommend

  • plarusa

    Use Windows 8, and you likely will discover, as I have, that this OS is a master piece. Its best features?

    Xbox Music (truly wonderful)
    App Store (yep, I like that)
    Touch UI (can you say smooth?)
    Live tiles (I like that too)
    Search (everything is searchable..)
    Sharing (very seamless indeed)
    Still runs all classic applications

    .. and this is coming from a Mac user, owner of one of the latest MacBook Pro Retina.Recommend