Thursday, February 20, 2014

Windows 8.1 is Horrible

Full Disclosure; I am an Apple fan boy and have been since 1986 when I bought my first Mac Plus. I am also an IT professional and just as comfortable with the many varieties of Windows as I am on Mac OSX. I have provided tech support and network administration for companies with a couple dozen users to enterprise wide networks with complex domains and mixed platforms. 

Since my current job requires me to support Windows and Mac users, I was issued a MacBook Pro (MBP) with Bootcamp, allowing me to boot into either Mac OSX or Windows 7 as needed. It was configured with all of my critical applications on the Windows side. Until recently, I spent 85% of my time in the Windows world and 15% on the Mac side. Like most users, I tolerated my Windows environment with its cluttered interface, feature bloat and declining performance. The times I booted to MacOS, I was back with a friend and ally. Booting into Windows felt more like facing an adversary to my productivity.

Recently I was given the opportunity to replace my aging 6 year old MBP with the latest model; a new light unibody, Retina display, SSD storage, 7 hour battery, quad core cpu Mac. This time I configured it with all my critical tools (MS Office, Acrobat Pro, Adobe Creative Suite) on the Mac side, and run Windows side by side as a virtual machine rather than a dual boot situation.

I was issued Windows 8.1 to install and configure. After a week of concentrated use, I can say without hesitation, Windows 8.1 as shipped IS HORRIBLE.

The most recognizable feature of Windows 8 is the Start screen; a colorful display of tiles that link to commonly used apps, news, sports and advertisements for games and media content. You quickly tire of these tiles flashing and sliding around, turning your computer into an electronic billboard. Fortunately, with some time and effort you can rid yourself of the advertising and configure the Start screen to be less garish. In fact you can bypass the Start screen on bootup and make your computer more like Windows 7 (eventually you will be forced to hit the Start button and return to those tiles).
Start Screen or Desktop Billboard
Then there are the "Metro" apps. These are versions of Internet Explorer, document reader, and media viewers that are designed for touch screens and have the same look and feel as a tablet or smartphone. They are designed with giant round buttons and paired down features. They look like apps made for children in the K-3rd grade. These child-like apps are set as defaults. Click on Internet Explorer, you get Baby IE. Click on a PDF, you get Baby Reader, click on a photo, Baby Photo Viewer. Fortunately you can reset all these apps to ones of your preference in the more "mature" Desktop environment. That makes it more like Window 7.
The new Internet Explorer
In fact, in my research to find ways to make Windows 8 more palatable, I noticed that most articles written on customizing Windows 8 are really about sidestepping Windows 8 and making it more like Windows 7.  Being the nerdy type, I actually enjoyed the process of customizing my Windows 8 experience. In the end, I chose to keep booting to the Start screen although it looks nothing like the one that was installed out of the box.

I probably spent 30 hours installing Windows 8 and configuring it to work the way I want. But how many casual users will want to go through that exercise and why should they? What does it say about the Microsoft's latest UI, that so much is written about how to bypass its features?

I am happy to say that with my new MacBook Pro, I can spend 85% of my time with my friend and ally, Mac OS. I have my Windows 8.1 just a three finger swipe away to demonstrate to clients our company's Windows print drivers and utilities.  I'll do my heavy lifting on the Mac. Windows 8, to me is like a novelty, and a neat demo and testing environment that lives in a small corner of my MacBook Pro's solid state drive.